Magness-Essene marriage

As I said in my last post, Jodi Magness, the author of The Archeology of the Holy Land, identifies the inhabitants of  Qumran as Essenes.  A problem with this is that ancient historians classify the Essenes as a celibate community of males (Josephus does say that a few Essenes married). Although it is true that the overwhelming majority of the bodies in the cemetery are male, the scrolls that give rules for the community do not anywhere mandate celibacy.

Magness points out that utter celibacy in Judaism would be unprecedented.  Judaism took very seriously the command to be fruitful and multiply.  That the community at Qumran was mostly men makes sense, because only men could be priests and the inhabitants of Qumran  lived like priests. However, Jewish priests were not celibate.  They were not supposed to have contact with their families while they were doing their tour of service in the temple.  This was because of ritual purity concerns.  But they were usually married.

So Magness thinks Josephus, Philo, and Pliny were wrong about the Essenes being celibate.  Pliny may have just had bad information.  Josephus and Philo had an agenda.  They were trying to show the superiority of Judaism to their Greco-Roman readers.  The Greco-Roman world valued asceticism and the contemplative life free from family and material concerns.  This was the philosophical ideal.  So Josephus and Philo devote a disproportionate amount of attention to the Essenes as a Jewish sect that approached the philosophical ideal.  And, in regard to celibacy, she thinks they exaggerated in order to further their apologetic purpose.

We do not know whether occupation of the Qumran site was continuous or seasonal.  Perhaps people went there in shifts or deployments for a certain amount of time.  The Damascus Scroll is one of the documents that seems to be for Essenes who did not live at Qumran.  All Essenes certainly did not live at Qumran.  So withdrawal from family may have been occasional and temporary.

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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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2 Responses to Magness-Essene marriage

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    John Meier in one of the Marginal Jew volumes talked about Essene celibacy to show that Jesus’ celibacy was not unheard of within Judaism. But if the Essenes were not celibate, that would make Jesus even more unusual within his context.

  2. Yes. If it really was celibacy as such. 1 Corinthians 7, I believe, shows that for Paul the unmarried state was a preference in light of the eschatological situation. It wasn’t an absolute. So perhaps also for Essenes and even for Jesus.

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