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orion-list Paciifism of Essenes deconstructed

Like perhaps most on this list, I thought that the Essenes were
peaceful in the portrayal of the classical sources until 9 Dec
when Christophe Batsch, who has offered a number of intelligent
observations on this medium, made this intriguing comment: 

> Le *pacifisme des Essenien* est un mythe historiographique.
> Les Esseniens n'etaient pas particulierement *peaceful*, sauf dans
> l'image que s'en sont fait les chercheurs des XIX et XX s. - quand ils
> les imaginaient pythagoriciens.
> Je me ferai un plaisir de vous en faire la demonstration si ca vous
> amuse.
I invited Batsch to elaborate further.  Batsch replied privately to me
with an attachment of an article in French, saying that due to its
length and its being in French he did not think it was suitable for
posting to the list.  It is with his permission that I speak about his
work here.  I must say Batsch's article is eye-opening.  By tracing
a history of scholarship of Essenes from the 1600's until now,
Batsch shows how it came to be that the Essenes are assumed
to be pacifist or peaceful, when this construction is not soundly
derived from a reading of Philo or Josephus.  At an early stage
modern scholars thought the Essenes and Therepeutae of Philo
were identical and that both groups were early Christians.  Therefore
since early Christians were believed to be peaceful, this Christian
virtue was attributed to the Essenes as well.  At a later stage
scholars decided that the Essenes were indeed Jewish and not
Christian, but identified the Essenes as influenced by pacifist 
Pythagoreans.  The ancient testimonies cited which supposedly
demonstrated that the Essenes were peaceful varied from modern
author to modern author, as if the construction was the only thing
that was certain, and the supporting ancient citations were 
accidental and shifting to suit the needs of the constant, the
construction itself.  And so the momentum carried down to the
present day and the notion that the Essenes would not have 
participated in war or the First Revolt, or would not have written
certain types of texts, etc.

According to Batsch, there is nothing in the classical sources
concerning Essenes that says more than that they were virtuous,
disciplined, and peace-loving in the sense that all virtuous
persons anciently, whether warriors or civilians, were "peace-
loving".  As in (my examples, not Batsch's): "the United States
is a peace-loving country."  Or, "NATO wishes only peace to
a troubled Europe."  (Which is to be distinguished in both cases
from having anything to do with pacifism or an unwillingness to
use force.)

Philo says the Essenes did not make armaments, but Josephus
says the Essenes did travel armed.  Since Josephus is generally
considered better informed concerning Essenes than Philo it is
curious that Philo has been heard but Josephus has not been
heard on this point.  That Josephus says the Essenes were tortured
by the Romans during the First Revolt has sometimes been used
to support the peaceful Essene construction when in fact it more
likely signals the opposite (on the sound historiographic, if not
modern legal, principle that if the Essenes had not been doing
something objectionable the Romans would not have thought 
they were).  And so on.

In short, whatever reality there was behind the classical Essene
descriptions, Batsch deconstructs the notion of "pacifism" as a
defining characteristic of Essenes in any sense other than of
modern construction.  Batsch says he may post the article on
the Orion webpage when Avital returns.

Greg Doudna

For private reply, e-mail to Greg Doudna <gd@teol.ku.dk>
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