Scholar: The Essenes, Dead Sea Scroll 'authors,' never existedThis has some similarities to Larry Schiffman's proposal that the Qumran sectarians were "Sadducees" or at least came from a "Sadducean" background (Ironically, Schiffman is one of those supposedly mainstrean scholars who were supposedly silencing Norman Golb. See here.) I have more on Schiffman's theory here at the (currently on-hiatus) Qumranica blog. My own take is to maintain a "hold on loosely" approach to the Essene hypothesis. It's probably right on some level, but it isn't necessarily very useful for understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls, and I prefer to use the term "sectarians" rather than "Essenes" most of the time when dealing with the Scrolls. I have some related thoughts here, again at the Qumranica blog.
By Ofri Ilani (Haaretz)
Tags: Dead Sea Scrolls, Israel news
Scholarship suggesting the existence of the Essenes, a religious Jewish group that lived in the Judea before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, is wrong, according to Prof. Rachel Elior, whose study on the subject will be released soon.
Elior blasts the predominant opinion of Dead Sea Scrolls scholars that the Essenes had written the scrolls in Qumran, claiming instead that they were written by ousted Temple priests in Jerusalem.
"Sixty years of research have been wasted trying to find the Essenes in the scrolls. But they didn't exist, they were invented by [Jewish-Roman historian] Josephus. It's a history of errors which is simply nonsense," she said.
In his book "The Jewish War," Flavius Josephus describes the Essenes as an ascetic, mystical religious sect that lived in abstinence from worldly pleasures, including sex.
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."
Regarding Elior's proposal, I do have a question not covered in the article. She is quoted as saying that Josephus made up the Essenes, yet Philo of Alexandria, who lived a generation before Josephus, and the Roman writer Pliny the Elder, who was an older contemporary of Josephus and wrote before he did, both discuss the Essenes - Philo at some length. So what about Philo and Pliny? But an informal media treatment is not the place to expect a full defense of her position.
And one quibble. Hanan Eshel is quoted (as usual, I make no assumption as to the accuracy of the quote) as saying:
"Almost 70 scholars accept the statement that one of the Essenes' groups lived in Qumran and some say we're all morons and only they understand," he said.The fact that there is a consensus position is not in itself an argument in favor of the consensus. A consensus is just the current state of the question, the place where we have to start if we want to advance the discussion. And that's what Elior is trying to do.
For more on Elior's work on the Dead Sea Scrolls, see here.
(Geza Vermes sent this to me yesterday, but I wasn't able to get to it until now.)
UPDATE (15 March): Rachel Elior responds to criticisms here at Jim West's blog.