Texts without Qumran and Qumran without Texts: Searching for the Latrines

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By: James D. Tabor, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte

 On the other days they dig a small pit, a foot deep, with a paddle of the sort given them when they are first admitted among them; and covering themselves round with their garment, that they may not affront the rays of God, they ease themselves into that pit.                                                                                  Josephus War 2.148

  This paper explores the complex and shifting dynamics of comparing texts with texts, texts with “sites,” and sites with themselves, but without texts. I use the term “sites” loosely to refer to the material or archaeological evidence that may or may not be related to a given text from antiquity. I see this as an extension of Jonathan Z. Smith’s interest and fascination with  “comparisons” so evident in much of his work over the past three decades.  But more particularly I have in mind the Louis H. Jordan Lectures in Comparative Religion, delivered at the University of London in 1988, subsequently published as Divine Drudgery[1]. Fascinated by the “thick dossier of the history of the enterprise,” i.e., the comparison of “Christianities” and the religions of Late Antiquity, Smith undertakes what he calls “archaeological work in the learned literature” in order to highlight both theoretical and methodological issues. His operative question is what is “at stake” in the various comparative proposals? I am convinced that some of the same dynamics Smith finds operating in the development of the study of “Christian Origins,” namely Roman Catholic and Protestant apologetics and presuppositions, have been present from the beginning in considering the textual corpus known as the “Dead Sea Scrolls,” and in interpreting the physical site of the adjacent ruins of Qumran, as well as in the combining of the two—that is, texts and site. I want to expand a bit the comparisons of “words,” “stories,” and “settings” beyond their purely “textual” levels, and explore the methods of bringing in non-textual evidence, that is, evidence of “place.” In that sense I find Smith’s metaphor of the “archaeological” more than intriguing, and in this paper, with spade in hand (or perhaps I might say with “paddle” in hand!), I want to explore how the proverbial “mute stones” speak, or remain silent, in the presence of texts, and the ways in which the texts inform “place,” and “place” might enlighten the texts. (more…)

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10 Comments for : Texts without Qumran and Qumran without Texts: Searching for the Latrines
    • C.J. O'Brien
    • November 27, 2012

    Are you aware of the views of Gabriele Boccaccini, as laid out in Beyond the Essene Hypothesis?

    Regarding the specifics here, what conclusion are we meant to draw? What kind of evidence (re: disposition of latrines, parasites) should we expect to find if Qumran was not a sectarian settlement? Do your results differ from this, and if so how?

  1. Good question C.J. My guess is that if the settlement was a farm, clay manufacturing facility, country villa, or whatever, the inhabitants would unlikely hike that far, precisely to the NW. The area was, as Joe called it, "a toxic waste dump." If you read the published article, which has much more, in RQ, you will see that Zias also checked other flat areas all around the settlement and they were sterile of human waste deposits. The main point of the article is to play with the idea of "site" and "text" and how one can sometimes direct, supplement, and even shape the other, back and forth. The danger of course is one making assumptions, as is so often the case in "Biblical" archaeology that is "text" driven, so that one always "finds what one wants" so to speak. In this case I don't think we fell prey to that.

  2. P.S. Yes, on Boccaccini. I think the whole "Essene" discussion can be a mincing of words, as I try to express here, maybe not adequately, since how one gets ones definition/impression of what is an "Essene" is drawn from classical sources, and is thus cast in a hellenistic philosophical typology–so of course, that "type" (Pythagorian, Gymnosophist, etc.) would not fit the "sectarian" literature–not to mention genre differences between Pliny, Josephus, Philo, etc. and the ways in which they draw upon the use of the "Essenes." I think the parallels that Charlesworth, VanderKam and others have made is impressive enough to at least say we have two very different ways of referring to the "same" group.

    • C.J. O'Brien
    • November 28, 2012

    Thanks for your reply, James.

    It seems to me that GB's category of Enochic Judaism shows a way forward while still taking into account the typological treatment we find in the sources. There's been a lot of articles and blogs on the DSS and Qumran over the past few months, and I've yet to see even one engage with Boccaccini. I find that surprising. Can you tell me, in general, are scholars unaware of his work, or are there other reasons why it has not been received well?

    Again on the latrines: one of the things that has struck me about the study of Qumran is that possibly the site's most distinct feature is just how extensively it has been excavated. You say it's your belief that the inhabitants of a mercantile or agricultural facility "would unlikely hike that far," but is that based on data? Has anyone gone to this kind of trouble to locate latrines associated with any relatively mundane site from the period? My guess would be that they haven't, and so I sometimes wonder, when this or that "unique" or "distinctive" feature of the settlement at Qumran are trumpeted, to what extent it is known how distinctive it is. Where no comparison or broad survey has even been attempted, when no other site has been examined to such minute detail, how is it valid to claim that this single site is unique?

  3. Thanks James. Very interesting article.

    1) Minor point. It was Dio Chrysostom (rather than Dio Cocceianus) who mentioned Essenes by the Dead Sea. I like that you mentioned Dio, who is an often under-appreciated source for this subject. Joan E. Taylor, in her new book, Essenes, the Scrolls, and the Dead Sea (Oxford U. P., 2012) chapter 6 makes a good case that "Dio Chrysostom, a contemporary of Joseph and Pliny, is an independent source on Essenes." (p. 165) If so, and I think Joan is right about this, his account of Essenes by the Dead Sea, not quoting Pliny (or Pliny's source Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa), provides additional attestation.

    2) Among those agreeing with us on the etymology of Essenes is James VanderKam, in his 2012 book, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible, pp. 100-104.

    More than 60 (!) different Essene etymology proposals have been published, ranging from guesses in Akkadian to Persian Avestan. One self-identification found in the scrolls was proposed in 1532 and in each following century before the Qumran discoveries. The medieval book Yosippon had replaced Essenes with Hasidim (which can't be the source), following rabbinic disinclination to use the name Essenes (not allowing that Essenes were the observers of Torah), and the modern Hebrew Issim is merely a modern retroversion from the Greek.

    In 1532 Ph. Melanchthon wrote "Essei / das ist / Operarii / vom wort Assa / das ist wircken."

    1550 "…to declare the straitnesse and severitie of lyfe with the dede, and would be called

    Essey, that is workers or doers, for Assa, whence the name commeth, sygnifieth to worke…"

    1557 David Chytraeus [Kochhafe], Onomasticon. ESSENI seu Essei, id est, operarii.

    1559 M. Flacius Illyricus et al. Ecclesiastica Hist., Magdeburg Centuries. Basel.

    [1573-75 Azariah de Rossi. Me'or Enayim. Mantua. Aramaic proposal]

    [1583 J. Scaliger, De Emendatione Temporum. on hallucination proposals]

    [1605 Scaliger, Elenchus Trihaeresii. different view]

    1619 Sixtinus Amama ed. De Sectis Iudaicis…, Arnheim.

    1674 J. Lightfoot, Horae Hebraicae et Talmudicae, on Lk. xv, 7.

    1680 Johann H. Willemer. Dissertatio…Essenis….

    1703 J. Triglandius ed., Trium Scriptorum…Judaeorum Sectis…Delft. 107: Essenes as factores legis, doers of the law.

    1743-4 J.C. Happach. De Essaeorum Nomine. Coburg.

    1745 Johann Ulrich Tresenreuter

    1839 Isaak Jost, Die Essaer…, Israelitische Annalen 19, 145-7.

    1858 S. Cohn; David Oppenheim, MGWJ 7, 270-1; 272-3.

    1862 L. Landsberg, Allgemeine Zeitung des Judenthum 26/33, 459.

    1864 C. D. Ginsburg, The Essenes

    1875 J. Lightfoot, Saint Paul's Epistles to the Colossians…appx.

    1881 A. B. Gottlober, …B$M KT H(SS(N(R )W (SS((R HaBoker Or [Warsaw] 170-1.

    1881 Rev. Et. J. 3, 295.

    1894 Kruger, Theologische Quartalschrift 76 [&1887, 69]

    1938 H.M.J. Loewe in Encyclopedia Britannica (14th ed.) 718. (includes `asah as a possible etymology, soon before the Qumran discoveries).

    Then in Qumran pesharim appeared the self-designation, `osey hatorah

  4. Here's a provisional review of Joan E, Taylor, Essenes, the Scrolls, and the Dead Sea (Oxford UP, 2012):

    Joan Taylor in this book strengthens the (already-strong) case that some Essenes lived at Qumran and elsewhere for parts of the first centuries BCE and CE. The book covers much ground, and has strengths and weaknesses.

    Taylor provides detailed analysis of the earliest sources on Essenes. Of course these have been studied often before, but one of the best sections of the book, in my view, is her discussion of Dio Chrysostom on Essenes. Among her conclusions: “Dio Chrysostom, a contemporary of Joseph and Pliny, is an independent source on Essenes.” (p. 165) If this is true, and I think Joan is right about this, and Dio was not quoting Pliny (or his source, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa in my opinion), then Dio adds additional early attestation of Essenes by the Dead Sea, and for several reasons, the northwest part of it, which includes Qumran, where scrolls were found. She gives many other good reasons that link Essenes, Qumran, and many of the scrolls.

    She goes on at length about healing–a subject admittedly of interest to most religious (or even non-religious) groups–but has little to show that healing was a remarkably characteristic feature of Essenes, beyond a few passing words–not specific to the Dead Sea–in Josephus. Previously, the announced title of the book listed on her online CV was The Dead Sea Essenes and Ancient Healing. I think it was a wise choice to change the title to de-emphasize healing. But that leaves the discussion as rather an orphan. She cites a YouTube video by John Allegro (who did say Essenes were healers, but on other days said other unreliable things) averring that Essenes grew healing herbs at Ain Feshkha (p. 306). She writes of "4QTherapeia"–4Q431, 4QM130 (M for a text assigned to J.T.Milik, but traded to Allegro) that J. Naveh and J. Greenfield et al. consider a writing exercise–in a most curious manner, leaving unexplained whether she regards it as evidence for Essene healing (pages 306 & 329–inaccurate in the index). 306: "…Allegro noted texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls that seemed to have associations with healing, particularly a text once known as 4QTherapeia." 329: "Specific medical or pharmacological terms have been suggested in only one text, originally called 4QTherapeia (4Q341). Allegro was particularly interested in this, reading it as designating a variety of medications. However, because of the difficulty in comprehending this, the identification of it as a writing exercise is currently assumed." Given Taylor's claims about healing, leaning on so little, a reader might expect to hear if she considers Therapeia an appropriate name, and why. She cites J.H. Charlesworth (though not J. Greenfield), in a publication of small distribution, without informing readers that he retracted his support for the "Therapeia" reading. She speculates that some empty glass vessels from some (late?) period at Qumran may possibly have once contained medicine. Well, maybe, maybe not. Diagnosis: a weak case. Further, though her survey of the Dead Sea area and its botany may be of interest to some readers unconcerned with the scrolls, her own survey (with S. Gibson) showed that Qumran had no good roads or dock installations, and they concluded that Qumran was not a major trade or commerce center, but was, relatively, isolated. Of course Essenes lived elsewhere, too.

    Similarly weak is any suggestion that the name Essenes came into Greek and Latin (in various spellings) from the Aramaic for healers. And that outsiders named them is mere asserted speculation. I call Joan Joan, but I did not name her Joan. The etymology of Essenes is probably from Hebrew 'osey hatorah (observers of torah), as is self-attested in Qumran Essene texts. Her dismissal of the evidence is meager. She cites J.B. Lightfoot (1875!), who chose another etymology (one she does not accept anyway). Lightfoot raised no philological objection to the now increasingly recognized etymology, but dismissed it on now-invalid historical grounds. If Lightfoot had lived to see the in effect pre-1948 predictions for 'osey hatorah appear in the Qumran texts, I suggest he might have changed his mind. She ventures into the realm of multiple meanings for Pharisees/Perushim but without citing A. Baumgarten JBL 1983 on specifiers and separatists. Consider rabbinic texts that list types of separatists including those who boast "what is my duty that I may do it?" (E.g., Sota 22b)

    The book makes a doubtful assertion that Herodians in the New Testament (Mark and Matthew) were Essenes called by another name. The publisher apparently advertises this book as the solution to "the mystery" ("a solution to the mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls")–as if there were one and only one mystery obtaining here. She credits Constantin Daniel (RQ 1967) with the proposal, not listing his other, sometimes bizarre, hidden-naming New Testament proposals. The proposal had already been made by Ernest von Bunsen in The Angel-Messiah of Buddhists, Essenes, and Christians (1880) p.264. She does not cite the directly-relevant text by Y. Yadin, The Temple Scroll: The Hidden Law… (1985) 80-83 (much less my Biblical Archaeologist 1985 p. 127 review of it, already raising doubts). Herodians are included in her section of sources on Essenes, distorting her composite reconstruction of them. It might have been fairer to analyze recognized sources on Essenes first, then turn to the Herodian conjecture. She claims Herod's descendants continued to honor Essenes; she asserts (p.120) "The Herodians simply cannot be Herod's officials in Mark."

    The book sometimes reads as an academic "corrective," starting with an exaggerated wrong view that Essenes were small and disconnected, then delivering a vision of Essenes as the opposite: large and intensively connected. (I do agree that Essenes were more numerous than Sadducees.) If Pharisees turned to Herodians (healers?) for political help (there is no penalty for disagreeing with just Pharisees), those Pharisees (and those Pharisees were no friends of Essenes!), then oppose Jesus' healing–and this imagines Essenes (healers?) plotting against Jesus? Rather, among the minority of Jewish followers of Jesus were some Essenes, and Paul, said to be a former Pharisee (and no Sadducees). Faith and works arguments pre-dated Jesus. Her analysis of Philo (who used a source, maybe Posidonius or Strabo) suggests–against centuries of readers–that Philo did not present Essenes as peaceful. In her reading she says that peacefulness "evaporates." (p. 33) But, e.g., Josephus called Essenes "ministers of peace." (War 2.135) She rightly dismisses the misreading of Josephus of a rebel leader "John the Essene." She cites S. Mason that this was rather John of Essa (a place)–in effect according again with peacefulness. Actually an earlier scholar (A. Schalit) saw that, in a volume of the Josephus Concordance edited by K. Rengstorf who asked, in the late 1950s, where was the name Essenes in the scrolls, which is answered above. Yes, the War Scroll raises questions, of a war that never happened, a war like one in the worldview of Daniel and John's Apocalypse in which the evil empire will be destroyed, but largely predestined through God and angels.

    She does not cite J. Zias (and others) on the great probability that the east-west oriented burials containing women and children were later bedouin (not Essene) burials. She speculates that the tombs excavated might not be a representative sample, and women (of what time period?) might be present in greater proportion. Maybe, maybe not. About pre-1948 scholarship, she briefly notes debates about faith versus works, but slights the great debates pro and con on monasticism (Philo has the earliest known Greek uses of "monasterion") in which much discussion of Essenes occurred (including guesses that Hebrew was little-used then so Aramaic might be the name-source).

    She uses the word "importantly" a lot–which is fine, but, importantly, she does not feature the great importance to this history of the scrolls' Wicked Priest and Teacher of Righteousness–identified, in my view, online in my "Jannaeus, His Brother Absalom, and Judah the Essene."

    Was Azariah de Rossi's Me'or Enayim published in 1567 (p. 5) or 1576? Does the Adam and Burchard collection of ancient texts include German translations of all of them (p.21)?–not my copy. Did S. Pfann suggest cave 3 and 11 deposits were made by second century zealots (p.288 n68) or first century ones? (Pfann, BAIAS 2007 p.167: "…caves 11Q and 3Q derive from priestly and lay Zealot parties at the end of the First Revolt.") Taylor somehow proposes a later (than most think), post-70 possible end-date for deposits. I do agree with her against the view once expressed online, not by her, that all eleven-cave scroll deposits was "ONE EVENT."

    The book's weaknesses on etymology and Essenes-as-healers and Herodians should not keep readers away from the book's many strengths on Essenes, Scrolls and the Dead Sea, all three. It includes much of interest and should be obtained by all major university libraries.

    • vicki stone
    • December 3, 2012

    Interesting article, but hasn't "the Holy Land" been called Israel for over 60 years?

  5. Whoops. Two different people are named Dio Cocceianus. I forgot. My mistake.

  6. Many thanks Stephen, for this very helpful information…

  7. Thanks a lot, James.

    Now a correction to my review of Joan Taylor's substantial new book (above). I made a mistake.

    Though Joan (on page 85) did cite the proposal by A. Schalit and S. Mason that "John the Essene" may be a mistranslation for John from Essa (a place), she rejected that proposal.

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