The Problem for Identifying the Qumran Community as the Essenes

One of my students sent me an email today mentioning an article of this week’s Time entitled Scholar Claims Dead Sea Scrolls ‘Authors’ Never Existed. It reports that Israeli scholar, Rachel Elior, claims that the Essenes never existed at all. Elior insists that “the Essenes were a fabrication by the 1st century A.D. Jewish-Roman historian Flavius Josephus.” Elior claims that all other ancient sources (Pliny and Philo) either borrowed from each other or retailed second-hand stories. At the end of the article, Elior proposes that the authors of the scrolls as “the renegade sons of Zadok, a priestly caste banished from the Temple of Jerusalem by intriguing Greek rulers in 2nd century B.C.” What is Elior’s evidence? She argues that some of the early Hebrew texts dating back to the 2nd century B.C. attest to a biblical priestly heritage. Elior’s main argument is that the author of the Dead Sea Scrolls is not the Essenes but “the renegade sons of Zadok.” What we know about the authors of the scrolls from the scrolls is that they were opponents of Jerusalem Zadokites. The War Scroll (1QM) gives an example of the conflict between the “sons of light” and the “sons of darkness.”  

Elior’s hypothesis is very similar to the hypothesis of Rengstorf (1960) and Norman Golb, who wrote the book, Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?-The Search for the Secret of Qumran (1995). Both Rengstorf and Golb have proposed that the scrolls found in the caves were left there by people who fled from Jerusalem with their manuscripts in order to hide them from the approaching Romans around the time of the First Jewish Revolt.

I’m convinced by Elior’s proposal that the community of the scrolls may be “the renegade sons of Zadok.” But her argument that the Essenes were a fabrication by Josephus is in doubt becuase it is her own interpretation of Josephus.

Now as we know, the theory that Qumran community might be the Essenes is a hypothesis since the word Essenes does not appear in the scrolls; they refer to themselves as men of holiness or sons of light. Thus, it is important to summrize the scholarship concerning the authorship of the scrolls. I will summarize the scholarship based on James C. VanderKam’s book The Dead Sea Scrolls Today (1994, for this issue see also Dead Sea Scrolls). 

The Essenes Hypothesis

eleazar-sukenik1Eleazar Sukenik (1947) was the first scholar who proposes that the scrolls might have a connection with the Essenes described by the historian Josephus. He supposed the connection between Qumran and the Essenes when he read the Manual of Discipline, which defined the way of life for a wilderness sect. The principal argument for identifying the inhabitants of Qumran as Essenes is that the beliefs and practices of the Essenes, as reported in ancient sources (Josephus, Pliny, Philo, and others), agree remarkably well with the beliefs and practices presented and reflected in the Dead Sea Scrolls. See also Who Wrote the Scrolls?
 
Problem with the Essenes Hypothesis
Todd Beall compared 27 parallels between Josephus and the scrolls. He concludes that among 27 parellels 21 are probable parallels, but 6 are apparent discrepancies between them. These 6 discrepancies are consider to be problematic for identifying the Qumran community as the Essenes. But the discrepancies are not certain. Let us examine the entry procedure between Josephus and the scrolls as an example of the parallels.
josephus-and-manuel-of-discipline1
VanderKam points out that the procedure seems to move through the same stages. So the discrepancy here is not certain. He argues that “it is more likely that in the case of the entry process, Josephus and the Manual once again agree.”
 
Other Theories
There are two others discussions concerning the identification of the Qumran group: (1) The Qumran community is Sadducees; and (2) Qumran had not permanent residents and the scrolls were placed by residents of Jerusalem who concealed them for safekeeping during the first revolt against Rome.
 
schiffman_lgFirst, Lawrence Schiffman is responsible for the Qumran-Sadducees hypothesis. What is his eveidence? According to him, several of the legal views on purity defended in Some of the Works of the Torah (4QMMT) as those of the authors-the people of Qumran-have significant overlaps with positions that rabbinic literature attributes to the Sadducees. VanderKam comments on this evidence as follows:
If he is correct and if 4QMMT is a sectarian text that dates from near the time of Qumran beginnings, it would imply-in his opinion-that the sect at its inception was Sadducean or at least exhibited heavy Sadducean influences on its legal positions (94).
golbsmallSecond,  Norman Golb has proposed that the the scrolls have nothing to do with the Qumran residents. He states that the scrolls found in the caves were not left there by the residents of Qumran but by people who fled from Jerusalem with their precious manuscripts in order to hide them from the approaching Romans around the time of the First Jewish Revolt. What is his evidence? He argues that the remote area was a suitable storage for depositing valuables. The copies of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice were found at Qumran and at Masada. It reveals that the preservation of the scrolls is not unique in Qumran.
  
For a more detailed update on this issue, see Douglas Mangum’s post Challenging the Essene Hypothesis.  
About these ads

18 Responses

  1. jin –

    rengstorf suggested the dss were not from qumran before golb did.
    see: Rengstorf, Karl Heinrich, Hirbet Qumran und die Bibliothek vom Toten Meer. (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1960).

  2. Thank you for correcting me that Karl Heinrich Rengstorf is the first scholar who proposed that the DSS originated at the library of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

  3. The word “Essene” in English goes back to several spellings in Greek which in turn go back to a Hebrew self-designation which is indeed in some Dead Sea Scrolls taht are recognized on other grounds as Essene. The source of “Essenes” (and “Ossenes” in Epiphanius) is explained here:

    http://www.duke.edu/~goranson/jannaeus.pdf

  4. Dear Stephen,
    Your paper that the identification of three contemporary, Jannaeus, Absalom, and Judah the Essene, might support the existence of the Essenes.
    Thank you for your paper.

  5. MAYBE IT WAS THE ESSENS WHO NOT ONLY WROTE THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS, BUT THEY WERE THE SAME JEWISH GROUP WHO FLEED TO CUMARM TO EXCAPE FROM THE ROMANS..THE JEWS FROM THE TEMPLE CERTAINALLY WOULD NOT RISK THEIR LIVES TO SAVE OR WRITE ABOUT JESUS ……CHARLES CARTER BAXTER

    CHARLESCARTERBAXTER@LIVE.COM

  6. The issue that I discussed was about the existence of Essenes.

  7. maybe do to the fact that the essens may have written the dead sea scrolls possible sheed some light on their existence as a detatched group who may have settled in cumarm and hid the dead sea scrolls before the romans destroyed both them and the scrolls???.

    charles carter baxter..

  8. As I mentioned above, both Rengstorf and Elior already suggested that the manuscripts were left by people who fled from Jerusalem in order to hide them from the approaching Romans around the time of the First Jewish Revolt.

  9. I NOT ONLY THINK THAT THE ESSENS EXSISTED, BUT THAT BOTH JOHN THE BAPTIST AND JESUS WHERE MEMBERS AS WELL.. WHICH MAY EXPLANE WHY WE HEAR NOTHING OF EITHER ONE OF THEM UNTIL CHRIST BAPTISM BY JOHN AT THE JORDAN.

  10. I have often wondered about the Qumran Community, and have read some of the theories about it. I have thought that it was probably the place where the seventy Hebrew scholars went to live in isolation while they translated the scriptures into the Greek language.
    It must have taken a lot of work which lasted for quite a long time. They would have needed “servants” to sustain their effort. People to cook for them, and do other chores. These servants may have had family member there also. This would account for the grave yard, and the number of people that lived there.
    As to why they stored the Hebrew scrolls in caves, I have this thought:
    They were sacred document which were being replaced by a Greek version.
    What else could they do with them? They certainly would not want to destroy them altogether.

    Dorothy Nicholson

  11. Why did they store the scrolls written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek in the caves? Probably, because they were afraid of the sons of darkness.

  12. Dear Jin Yang Kim

    I have the information for you it might be not the Sadducces that are not the real authors as such there was another group in it’s early years that published the Dead Sea Scrolls called Hasidim.

    The identification of the Dead Sea Scrolls sect with the Hasidim is a hypothesis. The Hasidim to start of this historical period shortly after 200 BCE. The Hasidic beginnings around 200-195 BCE. In the first two decades from the early 190s BCE to the early 170s BCE..

    The Hasidim leader was Onias III who was the High Priest son of Simon the Just, retired into exile at Antioch.

    The Hasidic authors the major sectarians texts was the Hasidim, the militant enemies of Hellenism in the 170s and later supporters of Judas Maccabaeus in the mid-160s BCE.

    The Teacher of Righteousness as Onias III the leader chief of Hasidim.

    Onias III was assassinated in 170 BCE at the instigation of his rival Hellenist High Priest Menelaus.

    thanks

    John Stuart

  13. […] be so controversial! I'm not familiar with the Qumran-Essene link, so I educated myself here: The Problem for Identifying the Qumran Community as the Essenes Old Testament Story I thought it provided a good introduction. I wanted to understand the problem. Eleazar Sukenik […]

    • Dear Jin Yang Kim

      Are you aware of the place of exile was Damascus if so how do you account for Onias III son of Simon II was an Essene along with it’s Zadokite history.

      Damascus is only be a symbolic name for Qumran from being as ‘beyond Babylon’ and ‘beyond Damascus’ was Qumran.

      Are you aware of Damascus Document and Damascus Rule?

      from

      John Stuart

  14. I felt the necessity because of fact felt the importance to actually write it
    eventually. You spent time writing up an activity that I read.
    I understand selecting what I read isn’t particularly constantly my preference. I sometimes skim what I was looking for. So yeah, thanks and saying hello

  15. Dear empower network blog

    I disagree with your comment because as you don’t know in my previous comment i have to happens to have evidence on Onias III.

    How many years did Onias III officiated as High Priest?

    from

    John Stuart

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: