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orion-list a real reality check



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On the assumption that there will soon be another round of debate on
Qumran=Essenes let me put forward a short summary of one point which I
believe to be a valid reality check, indicating the flaws of the
Qumran=Essenes conclusion.
1. A few years back I wrote an article on toilet practices of the
Essenes, arguing that their use of a shovel to dig an ad hoc hole each
time they defecated was central to Essene identity. That article was
published as ^”The Temple Scroll, Toilet Practices and the Essenes,^‘
Jewish History 10 (1996) 9-20. As the title of my article indicates, its
conclusions were limited to the Temple Scroll and I left the issue of
larger Qumran identity open (the strictly sectarian nature of the Temple
Scroll is, as we know, debated). A friend encouraged me to call the
article ^”Eliminating the Temple Scroll,^‘ but I resisted the temptation.
2. Since then, Jodi Magness has found evidence in De Vaux^“s notes of the
presence of a latrine at Qumran. This means that Qumran people did not
defecate in the same way as Josephus^“ Essenes. If I were to re-write my
1996 article today I would put the conclusion in much stronger and
far-reaching terms. One can eliminate not only the Temple Scroll as
Essene, but also the Qumran settlement proper.
3. In her discussion of the latrine (^”Qumran Archaeology: Past
Perspectives and Future Prospects,^‘ in P. Flint and J. Vanderkam, The
Dead Sea Scrolls: A Comprehensive Assessment after Fifty Years, Volume I
(Leiden, 1998) 65-70 Magness argues that the presence of the latrine at
Qumran does not impugn the Qumran=Essene conclusion. Josephus should not
be taken as an unimpeachable guide to Essene identity. Contrary to
Josephus, depending on the time and circumstances, Essenes could
defecate in different ways, using whatever facilities were available.
4.  I think this is an evasive argument, intended to avoid the obvious
conclusion at all costs, and somehow maintain the Qumran=Essene
orthodoxy in spite of the evidence. The shovel supposedly used by
Essenes, according to Josephus, was presented to them at their entrance
into the movement. This is not a trivial matter. It was a sign of their
identity and of substantial bodily restrictions which they accepted. If
we take Josephus seriously at all, the use of this shovel was central to
Essene identity. It was not something which could be employed or not,
depending on time and circumstances. The use of the shovel to dig a hole
each time an Essene defecated was a matter of the highest significance
and a reality check of the highest level. If there was a latrine at
Qumran, then it was not an Essene settlement!
Al Baumgarten




For private reply, e-mail to "Albert I. Baumgarten" <baumgaa@mail.biu.ac.il>
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