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orion response to A.I. Baumgarten
Dear Albert Baumgarten,
I was happy to agree with your comments on context. I have learned from
several of your quite learned articles on Pharisees. The Cole Porter remark
apparently came on a thread that migrated from ioudaios-l. I can agree that
humor is sometimes welcomed; that's why I liked C. Newsom's linking of
serek hayahad's predestination with the advertising blurb "You may already
be a winner."
On the other hand, and as you know, your publications and mine on
Qumran and Essenes are to a considerable extent contradictory. So I found
your remark about those "...busy defending positions taken in the past lest
they be thrown in doubt by new evidence [etc.]" to be neither an example of
your humor nor your considerable learning. Rather, it implies that scholars
should assume the Essene identification should be taken as a clinging to a
mistake. This hardly welcomes the dialogue of which you are certainly
capable. You've helped link the old monopoly resentment with the false myth
of an imposed identity of Essenes, IMO, misleadingly.
Evidence has increased for the Essene identity over the last five
decades. And it is clearer why some attempts to avoid that conclusion are
still rather popular. For instance, your learned namesake, Joseph
Baumgarten (if you don't think it rude to ask, just as human interest, are
you related?) and others showed the "Sadducee" proposal was quite
overrated. Efforts to use Rabbinic names (such as Boethusians, even when
there is the problem of Beth Boethus and the fact that Philo did not intent
Therapeutae as healers, despite Azariah de' Rossi's suggestions) are
understandable, but in this case, anachronistic.
What new evidence? The ostracon? Even putting aside whether to read
LYXD in l. 8, it displays striking verbal links with the initiation
procedure in Serek hayahad, which, additionally, Josephus describes, as an
Essene practice. Even though you have written favorably about M. Goodman's
JJS article which suggested some unknown group may be the answer, the
long-term residence at Qumran and the size of the collection rule that out.
It surely is not Pharisee. The Jerusalem libraries including the Temple are
quite implausible, as L. Grabbe's unanswered review shows.
Yes, some old ideas have gone by the wayside. For example, the
attempt to stretch Qumran archaeology back to fit a Jonathan as wicked
priest scenario appears to have failed. Many other old ideas have had to be
dropped. But some old ideas are true, yes?
I think the flexibility which is called for by this new influx of
data is not the ability to hope it will become politically incorrect to
espouse the Essene identification, but rather the ability to see how the
understanding of the history of this group has been impeded by, e.g., both
mainstream Jewish and Christian later traditions, as well as some current
scholarly agendas. That may help learning.
On the Nov. SBL schedule are at least two papers on MMT. Israel
Knohl, judging by the title (apologies if I'm wrong) will attempt to show
an early, Boethusian date for MMT. Robert Eisenman, again, based on the
title, will attempt to show MMT as a letter involving Izates (Ant. 20).
With such diversity of views, there is little danger of lack of discussion.
I don't wish to discourage questions. But I am a little concerned that
someone as learned as yourself writes a post which includes no evidence,
yet has an apparent message that well-informed observers have abandoned the
Essene identification. I have said before that the Essene identification
will outlive us all, and so I think. But I will consider other views. Are
you prepared to consider that some of the texts are Essene, or do you
prefer to have the question permanently postponed? I read each article of
yours on Qumran I find. I hear you saying you prefer to discuss Essenes and
Qumran separately. Fine, I still read. But nothing you have written (that
I've seen so far) shows that the observation made independently by several
people from diverse backgrounds about fifty years ago--namely that we've
found some Essene texts--was mistaken.
Stephen Goranson firstname.lastname@example.org