[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]
orion Etymology of "Essenes"
There are more things in heaven and earth than are contained in Origen's
Hexapla Second Column fragments. If Fred Cryer elects to present an
etymological proposal for "Essenes," then the list can evaluate it. In the
meantime, one thing is clear: the etymology from 'asah, as proposed by
Philip Melanchthon in 1532, by C.D. Ginsburg in the 19th century, and by
various others before me, has by no means been excluded. If all it took was
a simple mechanical reductionist approach, there would not have been such
One can reasonably discuss the context in which the name--now
confirmed in Qumran mss--arose. Perhaps we can agree that the earliest
extant writer who used a Greek form of the name was Philo. In Quod probus
75, Philo--who, we perhaps also agree, knew little or no Hebrew--used the
name. He drew on an earlier Greek source (maybe Posidonius); Philo did not
invent the spelling. Many of us (including, e.g., G. Vermes) agree that the
Greek must have a Semitic Vorlage. Some prefer Aramaic; I prefer Hebrew for
the religious self-description. Philo associated the name with osios --
omicron and one middle sigma. Philo remarked that something about the form
of the Greek name was inexact. Not knowing Hebrew, he was unaware of the
Herbrew Vorlage, from 'asah. (Some, e.g., J. Kampen suggested the Greek for
Ephesus Artemis priests as a Vorlage; but it's a different declension,
among other problems--though it may have suggested a spelling to Philo's
source.) But he persisted, from what source he had, to link these two
spellings. In Quod probus 91 he again set them as synonymous names: Essaion
or Osion. In DVC he presented Essenes as living the bios praktikos.
Epiphanius, who knew more Hebrew than Philo--enough at least to include
some valuable, otherwise lost sources--described the Jewish sect of Ossenes
as especially intent on observing Torah. He has sources on Essenes as well.
As usual, for Epiphanius, he retained both spellings. He (or one of his
sources) did, mistakenly, shuffle Essenes (with epsilon rather than
omicron) to the Samaritans. Samaritans called themselves "the true keepers
of torah"--folk etymology or not in their case, this is a significant
parallel. Neither Sadducees nor Pharisees would prefer call the Essenes
their Hebrew name (except maybe in jest, cf ARNA).
There's more that can be discussed, if a civil discussion can be
ventured. For example, the transliteration by Josephus (Ant 3, 163-218; 9
times)--and our friend Origen's secunda--of the high priest's breastplate,
chosen as esshn. Or the high probability that the N in Esshnoi comes with
the -hnoi ending [h=eta], rather than the Semitic root. Or the -aioi ending
in four interesting names all found in Epiphanius also with -hnoi endings.