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orion WHO SAYS "ESSENES"?



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Re: S. Goranson^“s query on the identity of the Essenes
I have been a little out of touch with the ^”Essene^‘ issue as it has been
discussed on the Orion page. However, I can guess what the substance has
been. As a result of the past year^“s research on the issue and a paper I
delivered recently at the Albright Institute I can share a few of my
ideas. (I will try to provide a more complete treatment of this on the
CSEC web page sometime next week: www.csec.ac.uk)

Concerning the term "Essene": as with other terms used by the ancient
historians when naming a given social group, it is uncommon that they
would use the name by which a group calls itself. Closer to home,
Josephus names other groups along with the Essenes including
"Sadducees", "Pharisees", "Sicarii", and elsewhere "Zealots", all of
which are terms used for these groups by outsiders (as they are also
used in the NT and Rabbinic Literature). These are not terms which they
used among themselves to define who they were. The Sadducees (Tseduqim
in Rabbinic Lit.) would prefer to call themselves ^—beney Tsadok^“ (lit.
"sons of Zadok"). This is similar to the first generation of Christians
who called themselves among other designations "the followers of the
Way" or "saints" or those who are "in Christ". Once the outsiders^“ term
became a more universal (and likely legal) designation for the group,
the title was accepted by the group members (1) at first as a term they
used for themselves to outsiders and (2) later as a term among
themselves. (There are some good modern examples of this process, e.g.,
"Methodist").

If the term "Essene" originated as an outsider's term for the "Sons of
Light" (among other community terms), then we should not expect to find
the term "Essene" to be used as a self-designation within their own
literature. (The etymology of the term ^”Essene^‘ should be a separate and
less relevant issue in this respect)

In Josephus, the term "Essene" was used for some significant Jewish
group with "more than 4,000" male members, who existed in settlements
and in towns throughout Judea. Since Josephus states that there existed
6,000 Pharisees, and we accept the fact that the Pharisees were a
significant group, then at "more than 4,000", the Essenes must have been
at least a moderately significant group.

If the term "ESSENES" doesn't refer to the so-called "covenanters from
Qumran" (for whom we have a significant self-produced library [more than
50% of the texts found in the caves] and now can identify at least 4
settlements and 4 cemeteries ranging from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea,
confirmed regionally by the map of the Copper Scroll) JUST WHERE ARE THE
LITERARY AND MATERIAL REMAINS OF THIS HISTORICALLY SIGNIFICANT GROUP
CALLED THE ^”ESSENES^‘?

Similarly, what of that group that called themselves the SONS OF LIGHT
from Qumran, who had a vast literature spanning at least two centuries
of the group's evolution (reflecting also a significant engagement in
polemic with other contemporary groups), accompanied by significant and
wide ranging archaeological remains: DID JOSEPHUS, PLINY AND PHILO
TOTALLY OVERLOOK THEM OR INTENTIONALLY IGNORE THEM, LEAVING NO TRACE OF
THEM IN ANCIENT LITERATURE?

Josephus: his description of the Essenes matches what we know of the
group from Qumran with remarkably few discrepancies (only 3%). Also,
remember that the Qumran literature, mainly reflects the state of the
community during the early part of the community's history. Josephus'
description comes from the second half of the 1st cent. CE (i.e., he is
describing the state of affairs at the end of at least two centuries in
the evolution of this multifaceted community's history). Try to find any
historian, ancient or modern, who actually has done their homework that
well! (Most mistaken discrepancies have been due to the impression that
this group was lacking the diversity within its ranks expressed already
by Josephus^“ account).

The majority view of Qumran scholars is, and always has been, that the
Essenes are the people of the Scrolls. As more work has been (and will
be) completed on the scrolls and the archaeology of Qumran, I am now
convinced that this identification should (and will) remain the dominant
theory. 

With all due respect to the sincere scholars in the opposing camp.

Stephen Pfann