Thursday, March 12, 2009

Curiouser and Curiouser . . . No Essenes?

Two news stories came to my attention today dealing with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Now I've always thought the connections between the Dead Sea Scrolls, the site of Qumran, and the Essene sect were tenuous (i.e., one big non sequitur), but it never occurred to me to claim that Josephus had just made it all up about the Essenes. He's usually considered fairly reliable when he's discussing the first century C.E.

At the same time, I've also considered the fringe handful of scholars who think the Dead Sea Scrolls have a connection to Christianity to be a bit off. Ha'aretz has an article about Norman Golb and the arrest of his son. To show that not all scholars hold to the consensus position that Golb battles against, the article appeals to Dr. Yaakov Tepler:

Dr. Yaakov Tepler, head of the history department of Beit Berl Academic College and a student of Christianity scholar Prof. Joshua Efron, hews neither to Golb's opinion nor to the mainstream. Rather, he believes some of the Dead Sea Scrolls were written by Christians and says they allude to Jesus.

"I wrote an huge M.A. thesis that was to have become a doctorate about the Teacher of Righteousness - a central figure in the scrolls. I built 300 pages of reasons why I think the allusion was to Jesus. But today no place in Israel will allow me to publish it. It's just impossible to get an article published, not to mention a book, that expresses an idea that deviates from orthodoxy."

Tepler says he thinks the scholarly establishment is silencing a connection between the scrolls and Christianity.

The problem, of course, with connecting the sectarian scrolls and the Teacher of Righteousness to Christianity is that those scrolls are usually dated to the second century or first century BCE.

On the other hand, certain pieces of the puzzle do seem to come together nicely if you connect Essenes and Christians. Even prominent scholars see a connection, not just crackpots.

Prof. James Charlesworth, a senior Bible scholar who also specializes in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus and the Gospel of John, believes John the Baptist lived among the Essenes for at least a year and drew some of his central ideas from them.
Josephus, writing sometime after 70 CE, would probably have known about early Christianity. Did he call them Essenes? I'm sure someone somewhere has worked out all the fine differences between Essenes and Christians. Didn't Josephus claim to be an Essene himself?

I'd always taken it for granted that the Essenes existed because that's what we learn in Second Temple Period history because Josephus is our source. Was there really no other record of them in Jewish literature as Rachel Elior claims?

"There is no historical testimony in Hebrew or Aramaic of the Essenes. It is unthinkable that thousands of people lived abstemiously, contrary to Torah laws, and nobody wrote anything about it," she said.
It would seem odd if rabbinic literature didn't mention them, but I don't know it well enough to know. I know there are affinities between legal interpretations ascribed to Sadducees in the Mishnah and interpretations found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. That and the fact that the War Scroll talks of the "sons of Zadok" is enough to convince me that the Sadducean theory of DSS origins is worth investigating. Elior offers that as the alternative to the Essene hypothesis.

Elior says the Sadducees, a sect descending from the high priest Zadok, who anointed Solomon as king, are the true authors. The scrolls belonged to the Temple and were brought to the Dead Sea to protect them, she says.

"The scrolls speak in clear Hebrew of the priests, sons of Zadok. So why call them Essenes?" asked Elior. "That's a distortion of history. It's like saying that the State of Israel wasn't established by Mapai, but by the Greens."

The apocalyptic prophecy cited in the scrolls of a war between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness is a war between Zadok's sons, who served as high priests until 175 BCE, when they were ousted by the Hasmoneans, the descendants of Matityahu, she said.
So, curiouser and curiouser . . . did the Essenes exist at all? If they really didn't exist before the first century CE, that seems to be a serious problem for the Essene hypothesis.

HT: Jim West, Jack Sasson


  1. Doesn't Philo reference the Essenes as well? True he is 1st century writing in Greek, but he would represent a Hellenistic viewpoint rather than Jewish/Roman like Josephus and Pliny. She argues that the Essenes are a 'Jewish-Roman' invention.

    I don't know what Hebrew or Aramaic sources would exist to potentially reference the Essenes anyway if you throw out the scrolls themselves, especially the Damascus Document.


  2. Dear Doug

    Can you go back to the article on sons of Zadok there was 2 High Priests during the Second Temple Period Onias 3rd and Simon 2nd the Just these are viewed as sons of Zadok as described.

    The invention is a fake i would represent the argument to be Hellenistic and Greek viewpoint.

  3. Dear Doug

    I have the information of legal and rabbinic literature.

    If the real controversy of the main scroll documents was over the law (the Zadokite vs. Hasmonean priesthood and the solar vs. lunar calendar), then the original hypothesis makes the most sense and Onias III is a likely candidate. But if the MAIN (though not only) controversy was a theological opposition from Hellenism and its apostate influence upon the Jewish leaders, the early first century B.C.E. date of the controversies metioned in the commentary on Habakkuk fit the model the best.

    The main alternative viewpoint is that which I presented in my studies; i.e., that the TR lived at least 40 years after the Maccabbean crisis and very possibly later. Wise, Abegg, and Cook present the thesis that the chief enemy of the TR and his immediate students was the Pharisees. To me, THIS is the thesis that makes the most sense in light of the history of that period.

    John Stuart

  4. Dear Doug

    I have the information on Origin of Qumran and Essene.

    In the following statements:

    AND FROM THIS TIME ON THE ESSENES EXISTED AS AN ESOTERIC MINORITY SECT. (Note: When modern scholars assert that the Essenes of Qumran were founded about 200 years before the time of Jesus, they are correct in regard to that one Essene group at Qumran; but the overall Essene movement is far more ancient.)

    The fact that Enoch was considered the "founder" or "initiator" of the Essenes can even be seen in his name; the word "Enoch" means in Hebrew: "founder", "initiator", "centralizer". A modern scholar, Edmond Bordeaux Szekely, in

    Both men had personal knowledge of the ancient Essenes; thus, what they tell us has a high degree of credibility. In regard to the origin of the Essenes, neither Josephus nor Philo can give a specific date, but both make clear that the Essenian roots are incredibly ancient. Josephus declares that the Essenes have existed "from time immemorial" and "countless generations". Philo agrees, calling the Essenes "the most ancient of all the initiates" with a "teaching perpetuated through an immense space of ages". Josephus and Philo -- as well as several other ancient writers including Pliny the Elder -- are in consensus on two points in regard to the origin of the Essenes:
    1.   Their origin is lost in pre-history with certain ancient legends linking them with Enoch;
    2.   There was a major remanifestation of the Essenes by Moses at Mount Sinai.

    headquarters of the entire Essene movement was Mount Carmel in Northern Israel, not Qumran in Southern Israel, and that Jesus was primarily associated with Carmel.

    Qumran, the Essene Monastery where John the Baptist lived (and where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered), was in Southern Israel. THERE IS SOLID CONSENSUS AMONGST SCHOLARS THAT JOHN THE BAPTIST WAS FROM QUMRAN: the location on the Jordan river where tradition tells us John performed his baptisms is exactly where the Jordan river connects with the Dead Sea near Qumran, and everything we know about John matches up perfectly with what is known about the Qumran Essenes.