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orion Posidonius, Agrippa on Essenes
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Having now read I.G.Kiddís Posidonius I: The Fragments and II a-b: The
Commentary (Cambridge, 1988), I can now comment more intelligently on Stephen
Goransonís theory on Posidonius [Pos] as a pre-Herodian source on Essenes.
(1) While Philo was generally familiar with Posís Stoic philosophy, there
is no evidence he read his History, where an account of the Essenes would
presumably have been.
(2) Most classicists agree that Strabo 16.2.34-41 mostly derives from Pos,
and this description of the Jews contains nothing about Essenes.
(3) Goranson holds that this passage is favorable to Judaism, and that itís
attribution of circumcision to superstitious priests after Moses was an
innocent mistake. This demonstrates no real familiarity with Pos. From
Seneca, Epistulae 90.5-32 we learn Pos believed in a Golden Age when wise
philosophers ruled the nations with justice and piety; but later degeneracy
required the introduction of laws and tyranny. Strabo 16.2.34ff is Posís
view of history imposed on the Jews. (a) The glowing account of Moses
portrays him as one more Golden Age philosopher-king, and doesnít show Pos
viewed the Jews favorably: he also praised ancient Romans and condemned the
modern ones, etc. (b) The slanderous attribution of laws regarding diet and
circumcision to later superstitious priests is typical Pos and shows a
negative appraisal of Jewish law. (c) Later Hasmonean kings as tyrants is
also typical Pos.
(4) The sources on Jewish religion in Strabo 16.2.34ff are Hecataeus
(slightly reworked, but same topics, sequence) and a superficial knowledge of
Jewish circumcision and diet. Pos shows no special knowledge or favorable
attitude to contemporary Judaism.
We may therefore dismiss Pos as a source on Essenes. Ant. 13 reflects
Strabo's arrangement of material, not knowledge regarding Pharisee and Essene
origins. The Judah "the Essene" story reflects court anecdotes regarding the
prophetic powers of Menahem and those associated with him, with the desire to
enhance Menahem's reputation as prophet and thereby Herod's legitimacy. In
the Hasmonean partisan struggles starting in the time of Hyrkanus, the
Essenes are notable only in their absence.
Where does that leave us in regard to evidence for pre-Herodian Essenes?
Agrippa's statement preserved in Pliny that the Essenes had lived below
Jericho for "countless generations"? This vague statement (a patent
falsehood) betrays a specific bias to exaggerate the antiquity of the Essenes
- and incidentally suggests that Essenes in Herod's time were unable to give
any semblance of a historical report of their own origins.
If we can't even credibly demonstrate Essenes existed prior to Herod, what
business have we reading them into Hasmonean history, early Qumran
archaeology, and sectarian origins?
-- Russell Gmirkin