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Re: orion-list Pliny Qumran analysis (M. Agrippa)

Stephen Goranson writes:

>   Nicolaus of Damascus, to repeat, is *not* listed as a source by
>  Pliny for book 5. 

If a short passage from ND appeared in one of the sources Pliny lists - as 
seems fairly certain to me - it is not to be expected that Pliny would list 
Nicolas separately as one of the geographical authorities he consulted.  (It 
is not certain in any case that the intermediate source ND by name; cf. Pliny 
who often omits to name his own sources.)

>  Agrippa was in the area, as Pliny explicitly prefers. 

I don't think we can assume that the source on much of Pliny's material on 
Judea reported firsthand as you suggest.  For instance, the position of 
Tarichae is misreported (5.71) and Gamala is placed in Samaria, not the Golan 
Heights (5.69), errors not to be expected from someone directly familiar with 
Judea.  Agrippa, collecting information for a definitive Roman map of the 
world, would not have made such blunders.  (And, by the way, does this not 
suggest a possibility that Pliny's location of the Essenes by the Dead Sea 
might also have contained inaccuracies?  Yet it is commonly treated as 

>  Aristotle... is too early... 
>  certainly not in the time of Herod the Great, as Menahem Stern and A.
>  Momigliano instruct us as the relevant time. 

This is a prime example of the egregious misciting of sources I referred to 
in my previous posting.  It is inappropriate to enlist Stern and Momigliano 
for your dating of the Essene excursus to the time of Herod.  Stern states 
that "Pliny does not state his sources [note the plural] for the geography of 
Judea.  It seems... that for describing the _administrative division of Judea 
proper_ he used a source reflecting the conditions of the age of Herod... we 
also find traces of older sources..."  (Menahem Stern,  _Greek and Latin 
Authors on Jews and Judaism_ [Jerusalem, 1976] 1.466; cf. 474-76.)  Stern 
asserts a Herodian Era source for the ten toparchies of Judea listed at Pliny 
7.70; not for the excursus on the Essenes at 5.73.  Similarly, "Momigliano 
holds the view that the list [of Jewish toparchies] is dependent on the 
commentarii of Agrippa" (Stern, 475 - I don't have Momigliano's article on 
the organization of Judea in front of me).  In his commentary on Pliny 5.73, 
Stern nowhere suggests the source is the same as for the toparchies, or is 
even a Herodian Era source.  Indeed, he considers the reference to the ruins 
of Ein-gedi to reflect the aftermath of the Jewish War.  It therefore 
misrepresents Stern an Momigliano to suggest they date the Essene excursus to 
Herodian times.  This is your conclusion, not theirs.  (You do make an 
argument worth considering that Ein-gedi's ruins may reflect the period of 
Herod the Great, but you should be careful to acknowledge that this puts you 
in conflict with Stern.)

>   Now to the style of Marcus Agrippa. I admit that I know very little
>  about his writing style! 

This statement is rather disingenuous.  The writng style of Agrippa in the 
work consulted by Pliny (i.e. his map commentary) is quite apparent from the 
31 passages where he is cited by name in Pliny, some of which are quite 

>  But I can say one thing with some real assurance:
>  his prose style was not limited to expressing measurements of distance, the
>  style you keep noting, as if, as if that were the limit of talent of one of
>  the most prominent Romans of his era. 

To illustrate your point, one may contrast the extremely terse style of 
Ptolemy's Geographical Primer with the more expansive prose of his 
Tetrabiblos [on astrology], both of which have survived in full.  
Nevertheless, the style in Ptolemy's Geographical is consistently terse, as 
was appropriate for that work (which was intended as an aid for the 
production of maps [see Lesky's _History of Greek Literature_ 891] and as 
such directly comparable with Agrippa's map commentary).  The fact that 
Ptolemy was able to write eloquently in the Tetrabiblos is irrelevant to his 
style in the Geographical Primre.  Similarly, Agrippa's writing style in a 
(perished) autobiography is irrelevant to to his characteristic style and 
content in the work Pliny repeatedly consults.  

Certainly Pliny used Agrippa's commentarii in places other than where he 
cites him explicitly.  One example among dozens is Pliny 5.67:  "Its 
[Syria's] length between Cilicia and Arabia is 470 miles and its breadth from 
Seleucia Pieta to Zeugma on the Euphrates 175 miles."  This and passages like 
it appear to be from Agrippa.  The reason why we know this is precisely 
because the style and content corresponds exactly with passages explicitly 
attributed to Agrippa - anyone engaged in scholarship will recognize so basic 
a principle as this.  But no scholar in his right mind would identify Pliny's 
excursus on the Essenes as coming from Agrippa commentarii based on style, 
content, genre or related considerations.

>   As you may know, there has been considerable debate about just what
>  the map commentary included, and about how the map was displayed, and so
>  on. And again, I do not know all the facts. But Agrippa was certainly
>  well-travelled and had ethnographic interests. 

Agrippa's travels as Augustus' governor in the east is hardly evidence of his 
ethnographic interests.  And his work on the map at Rome, commissioned by 
Augustus as a practical aid in the administration of a world empire, was 
hardly an appropriate occasion for fanciful Ripley's Believe-it-or-Not style 
literary excursions on peculiar customs of the locals.  Agrippa died before 
the world map was complete.  The perhaps dominant view, consistent with with 
preserved fragments, is that his commentarii consisted of notes for use in 
creating the world map.  The excursus on the Essenes in Pliny hardly seems 
appropriate to that purpose.

>   Whether this passage came from the map commentary or another work
>  by Agrippa, such as his autobiography--a work which Pliny would surely have
>  been quite interested in reading--is a reasonable matter for consideration.

There is no evidence whatever that Pliny consulted an autobiography of 
Agrippa.  You are on the record as linking the Essene passage with the source 
for the Herodian Era list of Judean toparchies.  Are you now proposing that 
Agrippa's autobiography contained a list of Judean toparchies and other 
geographical information?  And precisely why would an excursus on the 
remarkable customs of the Essenes find place in an autobiography?

     Best regards,
     Russell Gmirkin
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