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orion differing perspectives on Essenes (long)
Though I've been corrected before (at times justifiably), to the best of my
knowledge, I had never been accused (unfairly, in this case) of anti-Jewish
intentions. (Anyone who knows me may correct me.) It is hard to know how to
respond to such an accusation, which came in posts from Copenhagen (1 to 4
list members, depending on interpretation) and (perhaps; it was not clear)
from a member who signs as "Paqid 16, Qehilat Ha-Netzarim (Nazarene Jews),"
whatever that modern self-designation means.
In case it is possible to discuss differing perspectives on Essenes
usefully and civilly on orion, I'll give it a try, with some comments and
It appears that some are uncomfortable, for various reasons, with
the history of Essenes. And Qumran is obviously Essene-connected; it takes
an act of will to be oblivious. Some (e.g., Talmon) ask us to wait till
every question about Qumran mss, archaeology, and Essenes is resolved
before writing history. But death would precede history. All
history-writing is provisional; good history plausible. Others (e.g., Golb)
wish us to marginalize Essenes into non-existence, to locate them nowhere.
Some (e.g., Eisenman) reinvent the Essenes into something else (e.g.,
zealots), misunderstanding Qumran and the Greek and Latin writers on
Essenes (and Daniel, etc.).
There is no single Jewish reaction to Qumran, and no single
Christian reaction, though religious views surely often influence scholars.
No publication (to my knowledge) has adequately described the various
religious and political influences. No publication (known to me) has
adequately described history of Qumran scholarship. It may be too complex
by now for a comprehensive account, and the most-publicized developments
are not always the most significant.
Among the issues: how much diversity within Judaism or within
Christianity (ancient and/or modern) is one comfortable with, and how much
was historical. For Christians: how much continuity with Judaism (as a
whole or with a movement or movements within Judaism) and how much newness.
That the relationship may be complex seems not to suit some.
I wrote that Golb's welcome of the scrolls to Jerusalem appeared
doubly-triumphalist to me. Some objected. If I am mistaken that he referred
to the following two things, I apologize. 1) Claiming that his "Jerusalem
origin" theory of the scrolls was vindicated. (He has not shown this,
merely declared victory; in fact, that all the scrolls came from the
Jerusalem temple library is disproven by several means, including his own
observation on the number of hands.) 2)Claiming a political triumph. (As to
the latter, I merely note that opinions vary on the best way to seek peace.)
For another use of the word "triumphalism" may I recommend the
essay by Daniel R. Schwartz, "MMT, Josephus and the Pharisees" in _Reading
MMT_ (Scholars, 1996, esp. p. 74).
E.L. Sukenik called the scrolls "precious Jewish heritage." Fair
enough. But not all Jews saw them the same way. E.g., when the Shrine of
the Book was built, some were pleased, some not. See, e.g., an exchange
between the learned S. Hoenig and Joseph Baumgarten (the latter, without
doubt, one of the greatest Qumran scholars) in vol. 1 (1958-59) of the
Orthodox journal _Tradition_. When Yadin got the Temple Scroll near the end
of the Six Day War, with instructions to build a temple, on land just then
back in Israel's control, did he want to build a temple? Surely not. Not
only did Yadin think the Essenes were rather odd Jews, but he himself
wasn't particularly religious. Does politics enter into the differences in
accounting for the early discoveries between Sukenik and his son and Trever
and Brownlee, the latter two both politically pro-Arab? Of course.
Some have tried to write on this subject. E.g., N. Silberman
recorded some reminiscences of interest, but failed as plausible history.
One of the most direct attempts is by L. Schiffman. Larry is not shy. He's
a great guy, good sense of humor, and he kindly sent me a copy years ago.
"Confessionalism and the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls" _Jewish Studies_ 31
(1991) 3-14. But, despite several worthy and learned observations, this
is a problematic and biased account. He properly raises the issue of
"pluralism" within Judaism and Christianity. But there are unsupported
assertions (e.g., that debate on closeness of Qumran and the early Church
"had to do with internal issues of modern Christianity") and omissions
(e.g., K. Stendahl; insufficient notice of Joseph Baumgarten, etc.) It
properly raises issues of some Christians wishing either to distance from
or connect with Essene Jews, and adds post-Holocaust developments, but
doesn't plausibly join them together. Motives of Christians studying
Rabbinic literature (pre-1948) were more complex than suggested: e.g.,
little Second Temple literature was available. The article sometimes
emphasizes the diversity within Judaism and Christianity, while at other
times (without justifying the switches) positing a Jewish and Christian
dualism. [E.g., Yadin, Carmignac, and Brownlee--Jew, Catholic, and
Protestant agreed on Alexander Jannaeus as Wicked Priest; not all issues as
sorted out by prior commitment. And the idea that the "Essene hypothesis"
was promulgated by conspiracy of like-minded insiders is simply absurd.]
Schiffman argues that the order of scroll discoveries influenced
the characterization, which lately emphasizes halakha. (Though, may I say
again, "halakah," strictly speaking, does not appear in the scrolls.)
Schiffman sees this as revealing their true Jewish character. Yet were the
first scrolls--Isaiah, pesher Hab., Gen. Apoc., hodayot, milhamah, serek
hayahad--not Jewish? Of course the legal texts are of essential importance.
But shall we assume with the author that his rather halakhocentric view of
Judaism is the only or true Judaism, ancient or modern?
I'm not picking on Larry Schiffman, just responding to an ambitious
and learned and flawed article. Also, I do not wish that we constantly
focus on a hermeneutics of suspicion. Much of Qumran scholarship
concentrates on the relevant data.
But, I do suggest, that when a scholar, for whatever reason,
invites us to ignore evidence (e.g., of Pliny read correctly, or of
inkwells, etc.) or asks us erase Essenes from history or to imagine Qumran
mss or archaeology to show what they do not (e.g., Judaism as a whole, or
a zealot army, or a luxury estate, or a salt-seller motel, etc.) we not be
Apologies for the length. Sincerely,
Stephen Goranson email@example.com