: הרצאה באנגלית
Rachel Elior Responds to Her Critics
March 15, 2009 — Jim
This note arrived in comments but I’m elevating it to a post of its own.
In regard to the Essenes’ presence and absence in historical context, I would like to note the following points after a short remark
There is no need to mention one more time the well known sources on the Essenes, Philo, Pliny and Josephus who wrote about thousands of people who lived celibate life and communal life– however, there is a reason to ask the following questions in regard to their descriptions.
Are any Essenes mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls? The answer is: no.
Are any Essenes mentioned in this name in contemporary literature written in the Land of Israel (other then Josephus/philo/pliny written elsewhere) such as the Apocrypha, sages, or the New Testament? The answer is: no.
Is it reasonable to assume that thousands of people had lived as celibates in the Land of Israel for many generations, as the well-known Greek and Latin sources suggest, while no reference to this prohibited existence, which contradicts the first biblical law of “be fruitful and multiply”, will be found in any Hebrew or Aramaic text? Is it possible that thousands of people had lived in communities of communal residence and communal money with no private property and not a word will be found about it in any Hebrew source?
Is it possible to identify the Essenes, who have nothing to do with priestly laws or priestly heritage according to the descriptions of Josephus, Philo or Pliny, with the authors of The Temple Scroll, The Scroll of Priestly Watches, The Scroll of Blessings that contains blessings to the High Priest? With the Manual of Discipline and Damascus Covenant, both of which mention Bnei Zadok haKohanim (the priests the sons of Zadok)? With the Qumran Psalms scroll that details the calendar of the priestly service? With MMT or the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice that contains the priestly calendar?
Is it possible to identify the belligerent authors of the scrolls, describing struggles and war between righteous people headed by the Priest of Justice, the head of the sons of Zadok, and evil people headed by a Wicked Priest (War Scroll, Pesher Habakkuk, Pesher Tehilim, etc.), with the peaceful Essenes?
Is it possible to identify the Essenes, who are not known to have any unique calendar, with the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls, who wrote time and again about the solar calendar of 364 days?
If there ever was such a group as Essenes, what was the name of their leader in any source other than Josephus, when were they formed and why? What was the reason of their consolidation as a separate group? How does their celibate existence comply with Jewish law? How come no Jewish source comments on such a separatist group? Where are the books that were authored by the Essenes? Why there is no noun or verb or adjective in Hebrew referring to this group? where is any reference in Hebrew or Aramaic to their communal life, or thousands of years of existence?
If there was such a group that its members usually lived more than hundred years (Josephus) why no one mentioned it other than Josephus?
Is it not true that Philo, the first witness on the Essenes, was interested in ideal utopian communities such as the Theraputae and the Essenes? When he talks of their thousands, but is unable to specify one name, one place, one date, one event, connected with them, should we read his description as history or as utopian literature?
Rachel Elior Responds to Her Respondents
March 17, 2009 — Jim
May I remind the participants what is the nature of the arguments, I would like to briefly sum up what is written about the Essnes and to compare it with what is known about the content of the scroll. I make no remarks about archeology only on texts that everybody can read:
The Essenes were first introduced by Philo (d. 50 CE), a first century Jewish scholar who lived in Alexandria. Philo was interested in the ideas of the Stoa and told his readers that there were more than 4,000 Essenes (Essaioi) living in villages throughout the Land of Israel. He maintained that these people had no monetary concerns, lived a very simple, modest life, did not have any earthly possessions, devoted much of their time to study, and observed the Sabbath according to all the strictest instructions. He further noted their love of God, their concerns with piety, honesty, morality, philanthropy, holiness, equality, freedom, and the importance of communal life. He added that the holy Essenes did not marry and lived a celibate life, and practiced communal residence, money, property, food and clothing. He said that they convened in synagogues every Sabbath and studied the law according to philosophical and allegorical interpretations. He maintained that these people cherished freedom, possessed no slaves, and resented the use of weapons or participation in commerce. Philo did not mention any name, place, date, or historical circumstances, or any background to the consolidation of this group.
However intriguing and interesting as these descriptions might be, we can not substantiate them on any historical or philological evidence: no Hebrew or Aramaic text before the Common Era or in the first century of the Common Era reveals any data about this perfect group that lived according to the highest ideals of freedom, equality, communality, modesty, chastity and liberty. No Hebrew or Aramaic text mentioned such a faultless group numbering thousands of people spread all over the country. No Jewish source written in Hebrew or Aramaic ever mentioned the existence of this celibate group that lived in opposition to the biblical commandment which demanded marriage and procreation from all members of Jewish society. No Hebrew source mentions a group that rejected slavery, denounced weapons, and resented commerce. No Hebrew or Aramaic source is familiar with the word Essenes or Essaioi.
The second witness, Pliny the Elder (d. 79 CE), relates in some few lines that the Essenes do not marry, possess no money (like Philo), and existed for thousands of generations. Unlike Philo, who did not mention any particular geographical location of the Essenes other than the whole land of Israel, Pliny mentioned Ein Gedi, next to the Dead Sea, as their residence. However, there is no room next to Ein Gedi for thousands of people and there is no word in the Hebrew language that refers to any of the above. No noun, no verb, no adjective is associated with the term Essenes, no chronicle or recollection of the legendary Essaioi or Essenes is to be found in the language of the land where they allegedly resided for thousands generations.
Josephus, writing in the last third of the first century in Rome, is the third witness. He relates the same information mentioned above concerning piety, celibacy, the resentment of property and the denouncing of money, the belief in communality and commitment to a strict observance of the Sabbath. He further added that the Essenes ritually immersed in water every morning, ate together after prayer, devoted themselves to charity and benevolence, forbade the expression of anger, studied the books of the elders, preserved secrets, and were very mindful of the names of the angels kept in their sacred writings. He further wrote that their life expectancy achieved more than 100 years.
There exists no known Hebrew or Aramaic text before or after the Common Era which supports any of these exceptional traits and ideal society that presumably had existed for many generations and thousands of years. It seems to me that this is a description of an ideal society in Utopia that Philo had imagined, and not a real society in the land of Israel in the first century CE. Pliny and Josephus were fascinated with this ideal of a holy community that respects the elderly and frees the slaves, cherishes equality and freedom, and has contempt for the values of the mundane world.
The New Testament knows nothing about such accomplished holy communities in the first century CE and the Apocrypha also reveals no sign of such moral achievements in any Jewish community.
On the other hand we have 930 scrolls or remnants of scrolls written in Hebrew and Aramaic which were found in Qumran 60 years ago. The scrolls (all translated into English) are dated in general to the Second and First Centuries before the Common Era. No scroll has the word Essenes or Essaioi or any close word.
All the scrolls are Holy Scriptures: they are associated with the biblical books written during the first millennium BCE; they include the ineffable name of God written in four letters in Paleo-Hebrew; they include the biblical narrative and its expansion. They further include stories told by angels as well as numerous lines of priestly-angelic liturgy, psalms, priestly blessings, Temple worship, priestly watches, priestly dynasty, priestly calendar, and priestly history.
The writers identify themselves in the Manual of Discipline and in the Damascus Document, the Florilegium, and the Rule of Blessings, as The Priests the sons of Zadok according to the biblical tradition of the high priesthood (II Samuel 15:27-29; 19:12; I Kings 1:34; Ezekiel 40:46; 43:19; 44:15; 48:11; I Chronicles 9:11; Ezra 7:2; Nehemiah 11:11). They refer to themselves as the Seed of Aaron, holy of holies, as the children of Zadok and their covenanters [allies], and similar priestly names. They call their leader the Priest of Justice (Cohen Zedek) and they authored texts that were titled as The Temple Scroll, The Scroll of Priestly Watches, The Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, The Scroll of Blessings — all pertaining directly to priestly service in the earthly Temple and the heavenly sanctuaries.
Scholars who studied the legal tradition reflected in the scrolls associated it with the Sadducee’s [=Zadokite priests] legal tradition. Scholars who studied the calendar attested in the scrolls associated it with the Sadducee’s tradition on the calendar mentioned controversially by the Sages. Scholars who studied the language of the scroll attached it to Biblical Hebrew and post-Biblical Hebrew with unique priestly vocabulary.
In light of the above facts there are a few questions that I wish to raise:
Why should we associate the priestly oriented scrolls with the Essenes, who are not connected to the priesthood in any of the above testimonies? Why should we connect a library of 930 holy scriptures written in Hebrew and Aramaic to a group unknown in the Hebrew language [but known as Essenes (Essaioi) in Greek], which group is not associated with sacred writing, priestly worship, a solar calendar or Temple ritual — all of which are central in the scrolls? Why not connect the scrolls to the explicitly asserted identity of the writers — the priests, the sons of Zadok and their allies?
Why should we accept Josephus’s evidence, which was based on Philo’s non-historic description of an ideal community of thousands of people and was written in the last two decades of the first century CE, 250 years after the events of 175 BCE, when the Zadokite Priests were deposed from the Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes and took the scrolls from the defiled Temple in the middle of the second century BCE, in the Hasmonean period, and continued to write and copy them in the desert and elsewhere?
The priestly content of the scrolls — which demonstrates obvious concern with holy time (priestly calendar; priestly watches that kept the sevenfold divisions of 364 days calendar — cf. calendar of MMT; calendar in Scroll of priestly watches; calendar in Jubilees 4-6; I Enoch chapters 72-82; ritual calendar at the end of 11Q Psalm Scroll; calendar at the flood story 4Q252; calendar of festivals in the Temple Scroll; calendar of Sabbaths in Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice), with holy place (Temple on Mount Zion; Chariot vision; Holy of Holies — Jubilees; Enoch; Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice), and with holy ritual (priestly blessings, psalms sung by the Levites, priestly songs; sacrificial ritual — MMT; Damascus Document; Psalm Scroll, Temple Scroll, Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice) — does not allow connecting the scrolls to the Essenes, who are not known to fight for a solar calendar, for holy place, or to debate on Temple rituals, as is obvious in the scrolls. The struggle between the Priest of Justice and the Wicked Priest in Pesher Habakkuk and Pesher Tehilim and in other Pesharim points out again to a priestly context and priestly struggle in the wake of the Biblical era.
Why should we dismiss the obvious priestly concern of the scrolls and the priestly history of the second and first centuries BCE at the Hasmonean period (152-37 BCE), attested richly by the scrolls, and the numerous connections to the world of the Bible, and replace it with the non-historical legendary Essenes of the first century CE, which offers no historical context?
Why should we rely on the questionable testimony of Philo, Pliny and Josephus, written in Greek and Latin outside of the Land of Israel in the first century, about peaceful celibates who lived ideal lives in a Utopia where the expression of anger, lust, greed or desire, and luxury or comfort, were utterly forbidden, and entirely disregard the most valuable testimony of 930 scrolls written in Hebrew and Aramaic by struggling, desperate Zadokite priestly circles and their supporters, who lost the sacred sovereignty of the Temple and the divine worship, promised to them in Exodus and Leviticus, and written clearly in sacred prose and holy poetry, their disappearing Biblical world, in the Hasmonean period, when they were deposed and lost all earthly power and had to rely upon the angelic world and an apocalyptic future?
Rachel Elior - Old Scrolls, New Controversy
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