Magness-an Essene toilet


We have the remains of a toilet at Qumran.  Magness , in The Archeology of the Holy Land, draws some significant conclusions from this find.

She describes what we know about toilet practices of both the Romans and the Jews.  Although well-to-do Romans sometimes had elaborate facilities with running water, people usually relieved themselves wherever they could, including in the street.  We know this because of common graffiti asking people to go elsewhere.  The world in Roman times was dirty and stinky by our standards.  People had little concern about modesty, privacy, or cleanliness.

However, the toilet at Qumran is enclosed for privacy and one had to exit by way of a pool for washing.  The washing had little to do with hygiene.  Water at Qumran was collected from running wadis that carried water a couple times a year.  People bathed in the water over and over again. Most of the time it was probably really dirty water.

But the toilet at Qumran should be linked to the description by Josephus of the toilet habits of the Essene sect.  It particularly links up with the behavior that Josephus sees a odd: “And though this discharge of excrements is a natural function, they make it a rule to wash themselves after it, as if defiled.”

This behavior was apparently distinctive to the Essenes. (Josephus also says that they refrained from defecating on the Sabbath.)  So of all the people of that time, we know only of the Essenes who saw poop as ritually unclean.  The toilet at Qumran, therefore, identifies the Dead Sea sect as a community of Essenes.

Magness further thinks that the community saw their outpost as a return of the wilderness tabernacle with God and angels present all the time.  The privacy concern, she thinks, was not about a sense of modesty.  It was about shielding the toilet area from divine presences.

On another topic she explains why, despite similarities, John the Baptist could not have been an Essene from Qumran.  At least, he could not have been at the time the Gospels describe him.  We don’t know what he might have been earlier.  His diet, dress, and purification practices did not match those at Qumran.  The sectaries only dressed in linen, not camel hair.  They ate only the purified food and drink of the sect, not grasshoppers and honey.  And his baptism of penitents in the Jordan did not jibe with Essene purification rituals.

I should walk back something I said in my previous post.  I portrayed Magness as viewing the sectarians as dissident Zadokite priests.  She does not actually think they were all Zadokites.  They were partisans of the Zadokite succession to the high priesthood.  They lived like priests– even those who may not have descended from a line of priests.


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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