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Confusions of "Pharisees" and "Essenes" in Josephus

  

Several historical and textual problems emerge from identifying the Dead Sea Scrolls with “the Essenes". Since most of our knowledge about "Essenes" is based on notices from the First-Century Jewish historian Josephus, it is reasonable to suppose that some of these difficulties stem from Josephus' own confusions, distortions, or purposeful obfuscations of data. In this regard, it is often overlooked that Josephus himself admits to working from sources — two of the most well known of which were Strabo of Cappadocia and Nicolaus of Damascus (the source of Acts 6:5's "Nicolaus a convert from Antioch"?).
 
In Maccabees, Zadokites,Christians and Qumran (E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1984), I delineated two groups of "Sadducees", one "Opposition" and the other "Establishment". The latter, for the sake of convenience, I designated “Boethusian". This split is reflected in Talmudic sources (and Karaite as well) in allusion to a split betweenZadok and Boethus”. I also identified an earlier but parallel "split" between "Opposition Hassidaeans", whom 2 Macc. 14:5 labels “war-mongers, anxious to foment sedition", and more temporizing "Establishment  Hassidaeans”, i. e., those who go over to a High Priest of questionable lineage named Alcimus and appointed by Greco-Seleucid Syrian foreigners and opposing the Maccabees (c. 161 BC — see also 1 Macc 7:16). The former group — again for the sake of convenience — I designated "Zadokite Hassidaean" as opposed to the latter, "Pharisee Hassidaean" ("Pharisee" carrying the basic meaning in Hebrew of "Splitting-away from").
 
Both — the first in “the Hassidaean Movement” and the second, “the Sadduceean” — have to do with attitudes towards foreigners generally and in paticular, as just signaled, appointment of High Priests by foreigners. One should realize that in these "splits", one has the origins of Second Temple "Party" or "Sectarian” strife. In fact, these terminologies have tended to slide around quite a bit depending on who was using them and how; and nowhere is this lack of precision more evident than in Josephus' own works. 
 
A proper understanding of the attitude of the Dead Sea Scrolls towards 'the Herodian Establishment' is also essential in approaching this problem. Many scholars have found it impossible to determine whether Qumran was pro-Herodian or anti-Herodian and, therefore, have been unable to make any real sense of its relative abandonment during the reign of Herod (c. 37 BC-4 CE). The crucial material relative to Qumran's attitude towards "the Herodian Establishment" comes in a Document called "the Damascus Document" because of a reference in it to "the New Covenant in the Land of Damascus", particularly the condemnation in it of "fornication" and "Riches" found in Columns IV-VI and elsewhere (and actually paralleled in other documents there like the Temple Scroll and the Psalm 37 Pesher). Though this document has often been placed on paleographic grounds (i.e., handwriting style) by scholars in the Second Century B.C., I strenuously took issue with this on the basis of “the Internal Evidence” or what the documents themselves said (see my blog on "The Eisenman Line", 7/31/13: "Internal vs. External Evidence in the Dead Sea Scrolls").
 
In these columns and in the Temple Scroll, by "fornication" (zanut)  is meant both “marriage with nieces” and “divorce” (an idiosyncratic definition indeed), practices absolutely characteristic of "the Herodian Establishment" in the First Century but not the Maccabean before. Not accidentally, they are also at the bottom of this Establishment's difficulties with so-called "Zealots" (and/or early "Christians"). "Riches" is, of course, another leitmotif of "the Herodian Priestly Establishment" underpinning the basis of Josephus' descriptions of most "Herodian" High Priestly clans, not to mention the "Herodian" family itself which stole just about everything it could get its hands on. The third charge made in "the Three Nets of Belial” section of Columns IV-VI of the Damascus Document, "idolatry", is easily understood within this framework.
 
When Herod came to power, he despoiled the previous aristocracy and bribed the famous Mark Anthony to behead the last Maccabean Priest-King Antigonus (c. 37 BC); "for otherwise,” as he says, “the Jews could in no way be pacified.” He liquidated all the members of the previous Sanhedrin — many of whom had wished to condemn him for executing the nationalist "Bandit" chief Hezekiah (note the "Davidic" name here and the father of the archetypical Revolutionary, Judas the Galilean, c. 4-7 CE) — except for the two he calls "Pollio and Sameas", obviously supposed to represent the Rabbinic “Pair”, Hillel and Shammai (though some think Abtalion and Shamaiah, if the two "Pairs" can actually be distinguished).
 
As Josephus portrays it: Herod, though he promoted "such men of the private men of the city as had been of his party, he never left off avenging and punishing every day those that had chosen to be of the party of his enemies." Where "Pollio the Pharisee and Sameas, a Disciple of his" (sic — this now obviously "Shammai" but note the anachronism), were concerned Josephus unequivocally tells us that Herod "honored them above all the rest; for when Jerusalem was besieged by the Roman General Sossius and Herod (37 BC), they advised the citizens to open the gates to Herod" — here, of course, we have the key indicator and one should never take one's eyes off it.
 
Pollio's advice and Sameas' recognition of Herod's leadership potential (the Herod he characterizes as "an admirable man") should be seen as paradigmatic of the political conduct of those we now call "Pharisees" and whom the Dead Sea Scrolls, apparently lumping several such "Establishment" groups together, refer to as "Seekers after Smooth Things" ("Halakot", recognized by all scholars as a play on the characteristic activity of "the Pharisees cum Rabbinic Judaism seeking Halachot" — "legal traditions", the basis of Pharisaic/Rabbinic Law — and in this context, in particular, according to our definition in "The Internal Evidence" piece above, "those seeking accommodation with foreigners"). It epitomizes Pharisaic political conduct from the time of Alexander Jannaeus and the Demetrius affair (c. 70 BC) to that of R. Yohanan at the time of the fall of the Temple (70 CE). Even Talmudic Literature, just before the Temple was going to fall, portrays R. Yohanan b. Zacchai as "having himself smuggled out of Jerusalem in a coffin" (presumably the only way out at that time) and "having an arrow shot into the Emperor's camp to inform him he was one of the Emperor's friends"!
 
Nor is this to mention two other self-professed "Pharisees", Paul and Josephus. No better picture of Paul's "Establishment" sensibilities can be found than Romans 13.1-7. For perhaps the best picture of the modus operandi of what we should call this "Herodian"/"Pharisaic"/and "Boethusian Sadduceean" Alliance, see War 2.17.3f. where "the Men of Power (i.e., "the Herodians"), the High Priests (i.e., "the Boethusian Sadducees"), and the Principal Men of the Pharisees" try to convince those whom Josephus consistently calls "the Innovators" (really "the Revolutionaries" or "those who wished ideological and institutional change") that their forefathers had accepted gifts and sacrifices from foreigners — here, of course, the basis of the "idolatry" charge leveled against the Jerusalem Establishment in the Scrolls and not particularly true in any case (an important point, too, where "the Pauline Mission" is concerned).
 
Failing this and "perceiving that the sedition was too far gone for them to subdue", it is this combination of "Establishment" groups that actually sent for the Romans — as their precursors had the Greeks in the time of Alexander Jannaeus (c. 75 BC) and before him, that of Judas Maccabee earlier (c. 170 BC) — "to come into the City with an Army and repress the sedition"! Not only is this particularly shocking, but one should note here that one of the intermediaries for this process was an "Herodian" collaborator Josephus specifically identifies as "Saulos" — the same name, of course, as the New Testament's "Paul". Whether Pollio and Sameas are "Hillel and Shammai" or "Abtalion and Shemaiah" or a combination of both is immaterial for our purposes. They are, obviously, one or the other of these Rabbinic "Pairs"; and, since Josephus clearly considers them well known, from my perspective he seems to be speaking about the former. 
 
In the earliest of these kinds of notices about so-called "Pharisees" where Josephus describes, regarding the affair concerning Judas the Galilean's father "Hezekiah" above, how "Sameas" predicted Herod's eventual governance; Josephus tells us — not surprisingly — how "Sameas" alone, of all the members of the Sanhedrin, survived and adds the note about how "greatly honored he was (meaning by Herod!) because, when the City was later besieged by Herod and  Sossius, he persuaded the people to admit Herod into it"!
 
In addition, in these notices, as we just signaled, Josephus confuses Sameas and Pollio with eachother. In a later notice about the latter and probably from a different source than this earlier one, it is "Pollio who, at the time when Herod was once upon his trial of life or death, foretold by way of reproach how this Herod would afterward punish them all which, in due course, comes to pass". In addition, in all these notices about "Pharisees", one should always note — as we have been doing — the general orientation of "seeking accommodation with foreigners" (including what one should call "Herodians") as well as the persistent theme of fortune-telling.
 
Concerning Josephus' "confusion of Essenes with Pharisees", if one now turns to the group he considers to be "Essenes", one encounters similar themes. Josephus first mentions "Essenes" in relation to some one he calls "Judas" at the end of the reign of John Hyrcanus (c. 100 BC). He describes this man as "a prophet” frequenting the Temple precincts "with companions and friends who abode with him as scholars in order to learn the art of foretelling things to come" (i.e., again, "fortune-telling") and "who never missed the truth in his predictions". The "prophesying" or "soothsaying" theme is here, once again, paradigmatic. Like "Sameas", "Pollio the Pharisee", "Menachem the Essene", "Simeon the Essene", Yohanan ben Zacchai, and Josephus himself (to say nothing of Acts 13:1's picture of "the prophets and teachers of" Paul's "Community at Antioch"); Judas supposedly predicts the imminent demise of John Hyrcanus' second son (one "Antigonus") at the hands of his older brother Aristobulus (a man Josephus also designates as the first Hasmonaean "King"!).
 
Aristobulus, portrayed as dying an excruciating death because of this crime even though he had already repented of it, is then succeeded by his "anti-Pharisaic" third brother, "Alexander Jannaeus" (103-76 BC). One should note that the story, whose source — as in the later "Sameas" materials — appears to be Strabo of Cappadocea, is generally hostile to Maccabean "Kingly" pretensions just as "the Pharisees" were earlier presented as hostile to John Hyrcanus' "High-Priestly" pretensions (and a reason why "Jews" — the heirs to Rabbinic tradition — only recently gave Hanukkah very much importance, the Maccabee Books being missing from the Jewish Tanach and found only in the Christian Septuagint — Holy Scripture, therefore, for those who don't even celebrate it).
 
The next reference to "Essenes" comes side-by-side with Josephus' second reference to Pollio and Sameas. It follows Josephus' description of Herod's police tactics and the people's subsequent hostility towards him, including a remark about Herod's own introduction of "Innovations (a word Josephus usually reserves, as we just saw, for the practices of Seditionists and Revolutionaries) to the dissolution of their religion and the disuse of their own customs" — so much for "Herod the Great" (any proud Jew should rather call him "Herod the Terrible"!).
 
In an attempt to overcome the people's hostility, Herod remitted a third of their taxes and introduced a loyalty oath, but "those who could not be induced to acquiesce to his scheme of government he persecuted in all manner of ways". In parallel though non-correlating notices, he describes both "the Essenes" and "Pollio, Sameas, and their company" as being excused from this oath in spite of the harsh repression just alluded to. Pollio and Sameas are described as keeping the company of a large group of "scholars" in exactly the manner that Judas "of the sect of Essenes" had been described as being accompanied by "companions and friends who abode with him as scholars" earlier.
 
In the very next sentence, after noting how Herod excused "the Essenes" — as he had Pollio and Sameas — from swearing their loyalty (obviously out of regard for the ample evidence he already had of their loyalty), Josephus goes on to describe the former as a sect living "the same kind of life as those the Greeks call Pythagoraeans", by which he again appears to be alluding to the camaraderie of scholars just described in regard to "Judas the Essene" and both "Pollio the Pharisee and Sameas." We conclude that, at this point Josephus is interchanging materials from different sources using slightly differing terminologies — perhaps from the separate accounts of Strabo of Cappadocea and Nicolaus of Damascus — but which he has, at least, the perspicuity to realize typologically belong together.
 
Josephus' next reference to "Essenes" follows almost immediately. The confusions and evidence of parallel non—correlating but overlapping sources continue. In this testimony, Josephus tries to explain why Herod "held the Essenes in such honor". As in his "Judas of the sect of the Essenes" story, the folkloric aspects of the presentation are patent. He tells a story about "one of these Essenes, whose name was Menachem". Describing him in terms evocative of those he used to describe Sameas — whom he called "Righteous" — he says Menachem "conducted his life in an excellent manner".
 
For this story, anyhow, it seems the reason Herod held "the Essenes" in such high esteem was because, when Herod was a schoolboy, this "Menachem" saluted him as King and, when Herod protested, Menachem smacked him on the bottom. Not only is this story patently folkloric but, if we are talking about the so-called "Essenes" who supposedly wrote the documents at Qumran and are never sycophantic; this is obviously nothing but a variation on the story of "Sameas the Pharisee" above. 
 
This theme of predicting the future — what by this time goes by the name of "prophesying" — or having "God-given knowledge of future events" is common to all these episodes. The only difference is that Sameas predicted Herod's future Kingship when Herod was a grown man; Menachem, when he was still a young boy. As Sameas refers to Herod as "an excellent man", so Menachem describes him "found worthy by God" and, at a later point, even predicts an exceedingly long reign for him, at which "Herod...gave Menachem his hand and...from that time on, continued to honor all Essenes" (whatever "Essenes" these are, as we have just stressed, they are clearly not those supposedly responsible for the documents at Qumran which by their very tone and tenor, despise everything "Herodian". What they are, of course, are "Pharisaic").
 
The policy of flattering alien or foreign-imposed local rulers with prophecies of future greatness or longevity was typical of Pharisaic practice from the time of Sameas or Pollio (c. 30 BC) until that of the fall of the Temple (68-70 CE), when either Josephus or R. Yohanan b. Zacchai — both self-professed "Pharisees" — have the audacity to apply "the Messianic Prophecy" (i. e., "the Star Prophecy" of Numbers 24:16-17) to Vespasian. In an unguarded moment during his discussion of Vespasian’s “Messianic” qualifications at the end of his account of the fall of Jerusalem in The Jewish War, Josephus also inadvertently reveals to us just the opposite and probably more accurate picture — that this same Messianic "Star Prophecy" was the moving force behind the Uprising against Rome, obviously the real truth which he (and many others — Paul for instance and the Gospels) is reversing! Moreover, that this "Prophecy" was held in particularly high esteem in the Dead Sea Scrolls is borne out by reference to it at least three times in the extant corpus — once in the War Scroll, once in the Damascus Document, and once in one of the collections of "Messianic" proof texts scholar call "The Testimonia."
 
In spite of the palpable hostility of the so-called "Essenes" at Qumran to "Law-breakers", which would include, presumably, "foreigners" like "the Herodians" and everything "the Herodians" stood for (e.g., "niece marriage" which, as we have already observed above, was for "the Herodians" a matter of family policy, "Riches", etc.), many scholars persist in believing Josephus' stories about toadying soothsayers, where Herod's regard for "the Essenes" is concerned (rather than a simple mix-up in terms — "Pharisee" meaning "break-away", i.e., "Break-away Hassidaeans" as in 1 Macc 7:13: "the first among the Israelites to ask for peace were the Hassidaeans, etc.", as opposed to 2 Macc 14:5 above and what should be called the "Purist Hassidaeans" or "Sadducees" of that time and the real Qumran "Essenes") — nor is this to mention Josephus' indications in the context of his more general testimony about "Essenes" of "spies set everywhere" and "many brought to the Fortress of Hyrcania (not far from Qumran), both openly and in secret, and there put to death". 
 
By the same token, many of these same "scholars" attribute the destruction by fire of "the Essene settlement at Qumran" and its relative abandonment through the greater part of Herod's reign to an earthquake (sic - which as scholars have recently come to understand never happened there!). As opposed to this view, whatever these so-called "Essenes" were, it must be understood, as just remarked, that they were never sycophantic, neither in the additional testimony later in Josephus above or in the Qumran texts. Josephus gives incontestable evidence of this, particularly in yet another description of their "unwillingness to blaspheme the Law-Giver" (i.e., Moses — parallel to his description of the "Zealot" unwillingness to "call any man Lord") and their heroic resistance in the War against Rome! In fact, he even designates one "John the Essene" (whichever "John" this may be) as one of its first Leaders and martyrs!
 
As a turncoat and an interrogator of prisoners, if anyone was in a position to know, Josephus was. The "Essene" contempt for "Riches", which forms a large part of his lengthy description of them and is at the bottom of both the omnipresent Qumran and Judeo-Christian use of "the Poor" as a self-designation (i.e., "the Ebionites"), gives further evidence of this. For its part, Qumran is always apocalyptic and, since the documents there are never obsequious, could never have countenanced the application of "the Messianic"/"Star Prophecy" to either Romans or Herodians as both Josephus and the Pharisees did (the latter even vociferously opposing the Bar Kochba Revolt, all but R. Akiba — cf., the Rabbinic mockery of him: "Grass will grow on your grave, Akiba, before the Messiah comes").
 
Let us now apply this idea of terminological confusions between "Pharisees" and "Essenes" to several other examples. In The Antiquities, Josephus tells us about one "Sadduk a Pharisee" — obviously "Zadok", itself a contradiction in terms and by which he clearly means "Sadduk a Purist Essene" or, as we shall see, "Sadduk a Zealot", a Leader of those he accuses of "Innovation" (i.e., "Revolution") and who, along with Judas the Galilean (also c. 4 BC-7 CE) the son of that that "Hezekiah" mentioned above as being executed by Herod. Both of these are Founders of Josephus' so-called "Fourth Philosophy", a "Philosophy", as just intimated, one must designate simply as "Zealot" or "Sicarii", though Josephus never uses these actual terms until much later in his works (and which I would also designate "Messianic").
 
Josephus describes this "Simon"'s doctrines and those of his followers as being "in all things like the Pharisees except that they had an inviolable attachment to Liberty", "would not call any man Lord", and opposed Joezer b. Boethus on "the tax issue" (Joezer being the son of the "Establishment High Priest" Herod brought in from Egypt to delegitimatize the Maccabees and their High Priesthood, i.e., the New Testament's and Josephus' later "Establishment Sadducees") — n.b., too here, the sitz-im-leben of the Talmudic/Karaite presentation of a "Zadok"/"Boethus" split! These are "the Sadducees" pictured in the Gospels not the earlier "Opposition" ones we have been picturing before the Herodian Period. 
 
Keeping in mind our designation of two original "Hassidaean" groups, one "Pharisee" (i.e., "Break-away") and the other "Zadokite", and substituting the terminology "Essene" for "Pharisee" here, this important notice would then read "Sadduk an Essenewho was in all things like the Pharisees, except he had an inviolable attachment to Liberty...", etc., etc., which would add considerable terminological and historical precision to it.
 
During the reign of Herod's son Archelaus (4 BC-7 CE) who, after much strife, succeeded him, Josephus also tells us of yet another "fortune-telling man of the sect of Essenes" —  this time named "Simon" (a favorite New Testament name) — who predicted Archelaus' demise on the basis of a Joseph-like and, therefore, probably mythological dream about "ears of corn". Not without interest, The Slavonic Josephus — a book many look upon with contempt, but an alternate translation into this proto-Eastern European Tongue of our present Greek Josephus and based on a different exemplar, either earlier or later — refers to this same "Simon" as "a Sadducee".
 
Not only is the usage "sect of Essenes" interesting but — regardless of one's opinion of the latter's merits — we can also offer a plausible explanation of why a given "Simon" could be thought of as an "Essene" in one account and a "Sadducee" in another and that is, as we have been indicating, there were two groups of "Sadducees" as well — like it or not, the Qumran documents being at their core originally "Sadducee" Documents in the sense of the earlier "Purist Sadducees" and not "the Herodian Saducees", most reading the New Testament are more familiar with.
 
Even more interesting, The Slavonic Josephus refers to "a scribe of Essene origins", it also calls "Simon" — this one now closely allied to Archelaus. He is, therefore, an important "Pharisee", as his intimacy with Archelaus would conspicuously confirm. Even, according to Josephus' own detailed exposition of "Essene" practices, he cannot by any stretch of the imagination be an "Essene" and, most certainly, not a Qumran "Essene". When "the Wild Man" who came in "the way of the Law" and preached Revolution — and resembles no one so much as John the Baptist whom The Slavonic Josephus also places in the time of Archelaus (as, in fact, the Gospel of Matthew seem to do) — is brought before Archelaus, this "Wild Man" verbally abuses and assaults him just as "John the Baptist" is pictured as doing "Herod Antipas" (c. 4 BC-39 CE) in The Antiquities (though not The War) and in the Gospels.  
 
In this circumstance, it is "the Wild Man" who is the "Essene"-type and "Simon", "the Pharisee". Our exposition of confusions between "Pharisees" and "Essenes" goes a long way towards illuminating discrepancies such as these as well. The "Man" (unnamed, but obviously intended to be a representation of John the Baptist) is correctly portrayed as "anti-Herodian"; the "scribe of Essene origins named Simon" (possibly equivalent to several illustrious Pharisees of the time and whom we would consider equivalent to our "Sameas" and the famous "Shammai" above), "pro-Herodian." Even more than the example of the "Sadducee Simon" above, it is difficult to dismiss such complex notices, which make 'errors' characteristic of the period we are considering and not the Middle Ages, simply as products of a Medieval copyist's inventions or errors. This is so, particularly when they are also at odds with the overt sense of Gospel testimony and such good sense can be made of them, historically speaking, however bizarre they may at first appear.
 
Finally, let us apply this understanding of confusions between "Essene" and "Pharisee" terminologies to the contradictory testimonies about the birth of and nature of the "Hassidaean" Movement in 1 Maccabees 7:8-18 and 2 Maccabees 14:6-10 above. In the latter, "the Hassidaeans" are portrayed as the supporters of Judas Maccabee par excellence; while in the former, back-sliding defectors, who betray him. Substituting the new terminology "Pharisee" (or, if one prefers, "proto-Pharisee") for these last adds considerable depth and clarity to seemingly contradictory episodes of this kind. 
 
When one appreciates that there were two groups descended from the original "Hassidaeans" from Judas Maccabee's time, one Revolutionary and the other "break-away"/accommodating, that "split" (the Hebrew basis of the term "Pharisee", as we have been emphasizing) over the issue of election or foreign appointment of High Priests; one can understand how one or the other of these groups could in some sources pass for "Essenes" and in others, "Pharisees".  According to our view, what 1 Maccabees 7:13, in particular, has conserved in its portrait of the split between Judas and these back-sliding, "break-away" "Hassidaeans" is the birth moment of "the Pharisee Party" not "the Hassidaean". This is a crucial insight and it cannot be stressed too strongly.
 
As the split between those opposed to and those willing to live with foreign intervention continued into the Herodian Period, if one keeps one's eyes fixed firmly on the anti-Herodian strain of such opposition "Essene" groups and the pro-Herodian strain of "Establishment Pharisee" groups (including so-called "Sadducees" or the more accurate idea of "Boethusian Sadducees" whom, as Josephus testifies, were dominated in their post-Herodian embodiment by the Pharisees) as opposed to "Opposition Sadducees" (basically "Zealots"/"Sicarii"/"Qumran Essenes"/and "Proto-Christians"); one will never go far astray. Here, Qumran's application of the terminology "Seekers after Smooth Things" to the former orientation is perhaps closer to the mark than any more-modern appreciations of the group this euphemism is generally held to approximate.
 
 
Postscript: I intend, as a follow-up to this presentation, one about how the groups, we understand as and call "Sicarii" — according to Josephus, supposedly because of the short sword or curved knife they either carried or concealed underneath their clothing and, for him, resembling the famous Roman "Sicae" (something like the Beduin Arab knife today); and their name, therefore, because they used it to assassinate opponents and considered, as a consequence, to be "terrorists" or "assassins" and "the extreme wing of the Zealot Party" — when looked at in terms of the body of traditional Roman legislation known as "the Lex Cornelia de Sicarius", which outlawed bodily mutilation and was used, in particular (after the Jewish Revolts), to outlaw Jewish "circumcision" (just as is occurring in certain European countries today); then one can see "the Sicarii" not as "terrorists" or "extreme Zealots", as Josephus' wishes us to perceive them, but as "the Party of the Circumcision" par excellence — i.e., "James' Party", as Paul refers to them with such antagonism in Galatians 2:12-13 (a letter which positively reeks of an anti-circumcision ethos).
 

 

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