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orion-list Pliny, Essenes, Qumran
Thanks to R. Gmirkin for a series of informative posts on Pliny and
the Essene passage. Something Gmirkin brought out prompts
> As to the differences between Pliny and Josephus, it seems to me the
> passage in Pliny, deriving from Nicolas' _Remarkable Customs_, focussed
> exclusively on the strange life of the Essenes who chose to dwell near the
> Dead Sea. The Ripley's Believe it or Not character of the Pliny excursus
> and Nicolas' book - was not compatible with the more banal life of teh
> oridinary Essenes scattered in the towns and villages of Judea.
This makes very good sense, and removes the reason for my
earlier suggestion that Pliny's Essenes were not at Qumran,
but were around Jericho. My reasoning went like this:
(a) Pliny's Essenes are a variant of Philo's and Josephus's
Essenes,i.e. they are all the same Essenes. (b) Philo's and
Josephus's Essenes are in large numbers, not in one location.
(c) therefore Pliny's Essenes are also in large numbers, not
in one location. (d) therefore Qumran, which is one location,
and inhabited by small numbers, is not Pliny's referent.
Now I see that may not be right. This is nothing more
than a suggestion for consideration, but could it be that
Qumran both IS and IS NOT Pliny's referent, at the same
time? That is, how about this: Pliny's "tribe" on the west
side of the Dead Sea means they live up and down the
region, so they are around Jericho, and they are all over
the place in that region. Qumran is in this region, and
therefore it is plausible that Qumran can be included
among the referent of Pliny.
This does not establish that Qumran is included in Pliny's
referent. But it would remove the primary perceived reason
(to me) for exluding Qumran as Pliny's referent.
Now let us assume Pliny's Essenes are like a "tribe" not
living in one specific location but in a series of settlements.
How would they be recognizeable archaeologically? How
would they look different in terms of material remains from
other Jews, who were not Essenes, living in the region of
the Dead Sea? Maybe they would not be distinguishable
archaeologically. Or maybe they might be. But is it
And I've been thinking more of Yadin's and Bar-Adon's
argument concerning Qumran's cemetery as a regional
cemetery (i.e. imported corpses not resident at Qumran),
and it just makes more sense than these notions of
that cemetery being all the remains of members of a
community at Qumran. The logic is: (a) the huge number
of graves, (b) the notion of a custom of one central spot
in a region being for burials does not have to be
hypothesized, it is stated in the Temple Scroll (48.11-13),
a text which was itself (like all of the Qumran texts) found
in proximity to the Qumran cemetery. If so, it follows
that (c) Qumran is confirmed to be part of a regional
archaeological interpretation, and cannot be viewed in
The next question would be: if Qumran and its cemetery
is part of a regional process, what is the date for the use
of that cemetery (and the regional process)? And is it
the activity of a sect, or is it the activity of the people of
that region, not limited to a sect? And
is what is true at the time of Pliny's referent true long
before, and long after? Finally, the Qumran texts pretty
obviously are related to the Essenes, the only question is
how. My problem is I also think the Qumran texts are
related to Sadducees too, the only question is how.
Both Essene and Sadducee advocates have problems
explaining the affinities with the other. Someone can get
a Nobel Prize in Qumran studies for really solving this
"How easy it is in this vain show
to speak of things
we don't really know"
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