Ancient societies viewed bodily functions differently from the way we do today. Many cultures also had different views of what was considered pure and impure. However, almost certainly no group seemed as meticulous as the Essenes. Widely known for their rules concerning ritual purity, several known historical authors mentioned them in their writings, including Josephus and Pliny the Elder. Moreover, although the identity of the community occupying the settlement at Qumran has been the object of much debate, many scholars believe that they were most likely members of this Jewish sect.
The Essenes and the Qumran Community
Eleazer Sukenik, who purchased three of the original seven Dead Sea Scrolls, arrived at the conclusion that the group living at Qumran was indeed the Essenes, based on the descriptions given by the ancient historians Josephus and Pliny the Elder. In his writings, Josephus describes three distinct groups or sects of Jews living during his time: the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Essenes (Josephus, War 2.119). Likewise from him, we are given the entry requirements for joining the Essene community, which correlate with the entrance requirements stated for those at the Qumran settlement, with some minor discrepancies. For instance, whereas Josephus cites a three year initiation into the group, the Rule of the Community only describes two years.
During the first year of the probationary period, potential members were issued a loin-cloth, a white robe and a hatchet, presumably for burying excrement. Although they are allowed to participate in the ritual baths after the first year, in contrast, they are not allowed to join in communal meals. Only after another two years passage and swearing oaths...
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.... Translation by F.H. Colson and G.H. Whitaker. Loeb Classical Library. Great Britain: St. Edmundsbury Press, 1929.
Pliny the Elder. Natural History. Translated by H. Rackham Loeb Classical Library. London: W. Heinemann, 1962.
Regev, Eyal. “Abominated Temple and a Holy Community: the Formation of the Notions of Purity and Impurity in Qumran.” Dead Sea Discoveries 10.2, (July 2003): 243-278.
Shanks, Hershel. The Mystery and Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls. New York: Random House, 1998.
Vanderkam, James C. The Dead Sea Scrolls Today. Grand Rapids: William Eardmans Publishing, 1994.
Vermes, Geza. The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English. London: Penguin Group, 1962.
Zias. Joe E., James Tabor, and Stephanie Harter-Lailheugue. “Toilets at Qumran, the Essenes, and the Scrolls: New Anthropological Data and Old Theories.” Revue de Qumran 22.4 (December 2006): 631-640.
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