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orion Re: Essene ID? (was Various)
Albert Bamgarten wrote (in part):
>(4) To Stephen Goranson: Yes, I recognize the extensive overlap
>between many Qumran practices and those of the Essenes as
>described in classical sources. What, however, do you make of the
>differences? What level of significance do you assign to them?
>I think this is where we disagree. See, for example.....
First, I agree with you that groups such as Pharisees and Sadducees
can reasonably be seen as competing responses to shared concerns, such as
how to interpret and observe torah. I also agree it is useful to be aware
of differences (and overlaps) between ancient self-descriptions and modern
terms. This enters in even to the name "Essene" and to whether we intend
English, Greek, and/or the Semitic Vorlage; e.g., it is indeed probable
that these appeared in reverse order. In other words, it could be the case
that the authors of Jubilees and parts of Enoch were in the movement which
only later had the Greek name Essaioi attached to it.
If I understand your invitation correctly and if I may state it
this way: The question between us is whether the inhabitants of Qumran for
much of first centuries BCE and CE and the owners of the mss and authors of
some of them (including S and pesharim) were Essenes. If you think that
needs to be subdivided, for instance, if you think the inhablitants are not
necessarily related to the mss, you can say.
I have answered yes. You have answered "it ain't necessarily so"--if that's
a fair paraphrase. In other words, is it fair to say you do not rule out
that the Qumranites and some Qumran mss authors were Essene, but that you
find the arguments you have encountered insufficient to be confident that
they were? And you have identified possible counterindications, which need
further attention, in your view?
I would prefer to start from our own views, if you wish to pursue
this, rather than Todd Beall's. I think his book usefully surveys lots of
relevant literature. But I disagree with some aspects of it I consider
important and relevant: e.g., the etymology of "Essenes." (The etymology
relates to the issue of designations of groups.) And, through no fault of
his, it's about ten years old.
It might help to know how much "overlap" you acknowledge and what
would qualify as sufficient evidence. Without mounting a defence from
scratch today, I think the following are relevant:
The yahad was a long-term, large group. This is relevant because, though
not by itself sufficient, process of elimination can be useful. E.g., if
one accepts that 4QpNah refers to crucifixion c.88 of Pharisees, regarded
as a competing group, and that the current powers in Jersualem were
Alexander J. and Sadducees, one must ask whether an entirely unknown group
could reasonably supplant Essenes as the author's group; all three of these
groups are described with terminology repeated through several other Qmran
mss (inclding Ephraim, Manasseh, Judah), and are attested elsewhere. The
use of texts such as R. Yohanan on 24 kitot of minim do not establist
viable alternatives, IMO. Also, that, as a long-lasting group, and as
demonstrated in say, S copies, the penal codes were adjusted over time? The
"land of Damascus" references also self-consciously refer to evolution of
the group. Though evolution and attested subdivisions of the movement
cannot give carte blance when questions are raised, these need to be taken
into account. The Qumran mss include some descriptions of wished-for or
future-expected conditions, rather than always (or ever) describing current
life quite journalistically.
Do you accept predestination, initiation procedures, "inspired"
scripture interpretation, secret teachings and emphasis on preserving
books, and so on as "overlaps"? Do you accept that Pliny, Solinus, and Dio
refer to an Essene settlement for which there is no better archaeological
candidate than Qumran?
Do you accept that the "classical" writers to a large extent relied
on written sources? And that some of these were selected and idealized for
rhetorical purposes including apologetics? And that Josephus et al. did not
fully understand these sources to which they added?
Which do you prefer: to see whether I can supply sufficient
indications of an Essene identity to make it compelling, or whether you can
supply sufficient counter-indications and/or alternate explanations of
equal or better probability? Or both? Or do we need a different procedure,
since the above have been, at least, attempted previously by various
A direct, short answer to your question is that the apparent
"differences" should indeed be identified and examined, but that none of
them are weighty enough to deny the Essene identification; or, alternately,
the indications for the identification outweigh the difficulties
sufficiently to make the chief task better understanding of the groups and
texts involved: e.g., how can we better understand Essenes and Josephus et
al. so as to refine the conseqences and scope of the identification. In
other words, how to move from Qumran mss and other texts and archaeology
towards more plausible history-writing.
All of this is to say: I'm interested in your invitation, I think,
and ask whether we can agree on the ground rules, for if not, we could be
speaking past one another. And I think we agree that that would not be
Stephen Goranson email@example.com
P.S. My keyboard refuses to deliver a "u" sometimes. I go back and supply
them with repeated attempts sometimes, but not always. Apologies.