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orion And about their bowel habits . . .

Does anyone know what to make of Josephus' report (War 2 [147]) that
Essenes refrain from bowel movements on the Sabbath? I'm unaware of any
corroboration from any of the DSS. Has anyone written on this topic in
detail, other than to merely report it? Among the questions that interest

1. Assuming SOME Jewish group really had such a ruling, how would this
require us to interpret the relationship of its legal structure to its
actual life? Wouldn't we want to assume that law is here largely a
rhetorical stipulation of what OUGHT to be rather than a prescriptive
record (some argue this for the Biblical codes as well, but that's another
story). In the present case, there would seem to be an implicit equation
of the Sabbath day with the holiness of the Temple (a la later Rabbinic
theory). Just as you don't pollute the "camp" with defecation (Dt.
parsha ki tetze), so you don't pollute the holiness of the Sabbath with
defecation. But does anyone really imagine that the Essenes walked around
blue in the face every seventh day? What a place to spend Shabbos! 

2. Could Josephus himself have believed his own report? If so, why? Is
this a commonplace ascribed to other exotic holy types in the hellenistic
ethnographic literature? If not, what are the implications for our
appreciation of Josephus's probity on other less absurd reports?

3. Is it possible that Philip Roth modeled Portnoy's father after Josephus
account of the Essenes?

I'll stop here. MJ

Martin S. Jaffee                      University of Washington
Prof. & Chair, Comparative Religion   Box 353650
Prof., Jewish Studies                 Seattle, WA 98195
Phone: 206-543-9846                   FAX: 206-685-0668
Rabbi Eleazar Hakappar used to say: You were conceived without being 
consulted, you were born without being consulted, you live without being 
consulted, and you'll die without being consulted. And without being 
consulted, you are going to account for yourself before the King of Kings 
of Kings, The Blessed Holy One. (Avot 4:29)

He did NOT say: "Have a nice day!"