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June 18, 2005


Figures 2

Whoever the Essenes and the Dead Sea Sectarians may actually have been, the simplest (and most popular) explanation of their identities treats these groups as co-extensive. Although this approach engenders confusing historical incongruities, it relieves us of the necessity of imagining two entirely distinct groups pursuing complementary theological agendas, without their having been compared and contrasted by any contemporary observer.

On the other hand, the Qumran community seems to have lived in ways atypical of what Jospehus and Philo ascribed to Essenes. The scrolls in the Qumran library include texts that depart from typically Essene premises, and some that harmonize with other Judaic groups’ principles.

At the least, the existence of Essenes and of the Qumran community testify to a dissatisfaction with convenitonal Judaic authority and practice deep enough to warrant a hostile separation from the institutions of mainstream Judaism. This perspective on Judaism rejected the Jerusalem Temple and its priesthood as corrupted (possibly in connection with the Hasmonean kings’ usurpation of high-priestly status). This theology advocated withdrawal from the defiled institutions of Judaism in order to constitute a purified family of true followers. The Teacher of Righteousness whom the scrolls mention may have beena founder or early figurehead for the group; his identity remains obscure.

The Essenes seem to have espoused an apocalyptic dualism that parsed the world into good and evil parties. The Essenes moved into the wilderness to separate themselves from the degraded urban world that they construed as antithetical to true worship. The compromised Judaism of Jerusalem was led by false priests; they taught an incorrect interpretation of holiness and purity; they observed the wrong schedule of holy days. Essenes constituted themselves as an alternate Israel, preserved in purity from the deceits of the surrounding culture.

The Qumran movement seems to have been crushed in the Judean War against Rome in the 60’s of the first century, although the cave complex evidently sheltered some of the rebels in the Bar Kochbe Revolt of 135.

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External Links:

Jewish Encyclopedia (1901-06), “Essenes

Wikipedia, Essenes

PBS site: Short statements on the Essenes by Michael White and Shaye Cohen

James Davila, “The Essene Seminar,” seminar notes from a leading Qumran scholar

Yaron Ben-Ami, The Enigma of Qumran” at Bible and Interpretation

Greg Doudna, Redating the Dead Sea Scroll Deposits at Qumran,” at Bible and Interpretation

Other articles on the Dead Sea Scrolls from Bible and Interpretation

Ysmena Pentelow, “The Teacher of Righteousness as a Divine Mediator

Sarah Klitenic, “The TEacher of Righteousness and the End of DaysSources, a University of Chicago journal of undergraduate Jewish Studies

Posted by AKMA at June 18, 2005 07:49 PM