The Pokey Finger of God

meditations on religion and culture

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Essene but not heard

May 27th, 2008 · No Comments · christianity, history

I’m enjoying the Marvin Vining book, Jesus the Wicked Priest, but not because I agree with his conclusions. In fact, the more I read, the further removed I become from agreement. He’s another armchair archaeologist, so I feel a certain kinship with him. This despite the fact that the guy has to go through some mesmerizing gyrations to tie his pet beliefs to existing materials. Mmm, gyrations.

One of his foundational assumptions is that the Essenes were the original 2nd Temple scribes trained by Ezra, and who subsequently kept the law and the cultural taboo alive from generation unto generation. His supposition that the ‘scribes’ oft mentioned in the Gospels were, in fact, the dominant Essene group. Vining also projects backwards several centuries the divisions noted by Epiphanius of 4th Century “Essenes” into northern “Nazareans” and southern “Ossaeanes”.

Further, these Essenes were not isolated just at Qumran, but instead had populations in every town. Consequently, Vining finds it a necessary corollary that the library of writings at Qumran were Essene, simply because they were the only group with a large enough population and scribal tradition to have created the myriad works found.

Now if I ultimately disagree with this premise, it wouldn’t be the only thing that would shoot down this guy’s method for me — that’s another post. It had been my understanding that the Essenes developed as a result of the Maccabean usurpation of the Temple leadership. It does make sense that there would have been a power-holding group about the time of Ezra that would have been really hard-core about ‘traditions’ — even more so if the area they were moving into had largely abandoned them (or had never heard of them).

I have a hard time believing that whatever it is we think the Essenes were at the time of Ezra had anything to do with Jesus or whatever Epiphanius was gossipping about. This does not rule out the possibility that the Essenes retained the patina of tradition applied by Ezra, or even that there might have been some direct lines of authority traceable from one group to the next. It’s just that I feel it is unlikely to the extreme that sort of continuity throughout the Greek period is possible to trace.

Anyone have any better ideas about what to call the early 2nd Temple crowd?

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