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Re: [XTalk] Re: JB and Essenes (was JB and Aaronic priesthood) (See Notice Below)

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  • Mahlon H. Smith
    ... Apologies unnecessary, Hope. Your research has saved me a trip to the NBTS Seminary library this weekend. While I usually have due respect for the learning
    Message 1 of 3 , Jun 22, 2000
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      Hope_Rosenbaum_Werner wrote:

      > Sorry for the long quote, but this particular passage really hit me when I read
      > it and I longed to contribute something of substance to the conversation.

      Apologies unnecessary, Hope. Your research has saved me a trip to the
      NBTS Seminary library this weekend.

      While I usually have due respect for the learning & intuitions of my
      neighbor, Jim Charlesworth, this it one case where I think his argument
      sounds like one of my off-the-top-of-the-head brainstorms at 2:30 a.m.
      in responding to a XTalk post. It sounds ingenious, but I'm afraid it
      will hardly stand up to rigorous historical examination of the data.
      Charlesworth is here taking several gospel assertions at face value &
      out of context, blending them with unrelated tidbits from the DSS &
      concluding that his speculation is historically probable because a
      question occurs to him for which no historically verifiable answer is
      possible. This is exactly the sort of thing I was referring to when I
      commented in my previous post that a "plausible" reconstruction can be
      considered historically *possible* only if it rests on a base of
      historically *probable* data. Otherwise it is simply spinning fantasies
      out of vapors.

      First of all, Charlesworth assumes that Mark's description of JB's diet
      & dress is a literally accurate description of the historical Baptizer
      rather than part of Mark's obviously christologically motivated attempt
      to portray JB as Elijah returned [cf. 2 K 1:8]. Secondly, apparently
      influenced by medieval European graphic misinterpretations of the TRICAS
      KAMHLOU of Mark 1:6 (// Matt 3:4), he misrepresents JB's clothing as
      being "animal skins" rather than a rough cloth garment woven of camel
      hair. Anyone clothed in animal skins in the Judean wilderness would not
      survive very long; but a loosely woven garment of camel hair is ideal
      for that environment. Such garments breath in the brutal heat of the
      day & insulate from the chill of the night; & they are tough enough to
      withstand sandstorms & the wear & tear of life in a rocky wilderness.
      Eminently practical. Just ask any Bedouin.

      As for living off locusts & wild honey: that is just resourceful.
      Boyscouts are -- or at least used to be -- trained to do this & similar
      diets are part of the survival skills of many tribes. In fact, in parts
      of Africa locusts are considered a delicacy. And they are eminently
      healthful. High in protein, no fat or cholesterol, crispy crunchy when
      roasted or fried. (Try it, you may like it -- I did). Acc. to Josephus,
      his ascetic tutor Bannus lived on a similar Spartan diet out of choice
      rather than necessity. Also acc. to Josephus Essene *novices* were sent
      out into the wilderness with only an axe, loincloth & nothing more to
      test their devotion & obedience in preparation for the second
      preliminary stage before initiation into the community [JW 2.137 -- see
      my *Into His Own* #86 URL:
      http://religion.rutgers.edu/iho/baptism.html#initiation .
      So I think it is far from evident that JB was an excommunicated member
      of the Essene/Qumran community "because of the food he ate and the
      clothes he wore." And I certainly do not find any evidence in either
      Josephus or the gospels to conclude that JB shared the "wretched life" &
      near death starvation of those whom the Essenes excommunicated. Quite
      the contrary, he must have cut a figure of a rugged robust charismatic
      leader to attract the crowds that both the gospels & Josephus claim
      responded to his preaching.

      Now for Charlesworth's rhetorical questions: "Why did he not accept food
      from those who came by the hundreds to be baptized by him? Why did he
      not accept clothing from others?" My question in return is: Where do you
      get the idea that anyone thought to offer him more civilized food or
      clothes or that he refused them? Is this a speculative interpretation of
      the Q children in the marketplace saying where JB is characterized as
      "neither eating (bread) nor drinking (wine)"? Isn't it more probable
      that JB's rejection of food associated in the OT with pagan agricultural
      cults of Canaan was part of his extreme Nazirite agenda of renewal of
      the covenant in the wilderness (where neither wine nor bread were
      produced)? Besides, Charlesworth again seems to take the exaggerated
      rhetoric in the Q JB sayings literally rather than as hyperbole to
      dramatize contrasts. Does he also think that Jesus was literally a
      "glutton & a drunk"? After all, these descriptions are part of the same
      saying.

      Finally, Charlesworth's brilliant brainstorm that is the basis of his
      claim that JB was probably an ex-Essene: "Is it [i.e., his refusal to
      accept more civilized food or clothes] because he had promised God that
      he
      would keep his vows made in the Community?" Now let's see. Acc. to
      Josephus one of those vows was "he is neither to hide anything from
      party members nor to disclose anything of theirs to others, even if
      tortured to death" [JW 2.142]. If JB was really concerned to keep his
      alleged Essene vows he probably would have hesitated to break this most
      solemn one of all. For to break this could cost him his life. Then how
      is it possible that scholars find so many parallels between our meagre
      accounts of JB's public career in the wilderness & the accounts &
      documents of the secretive Essene/Qumranite sect(s)? Does Charlesworth
      ever stop to consider the public scorn & vitriol that is showered on
      anyone who violates the oaths of secrecy of any fraternal order -- be it
      Jewish Kabbala, Eleusian mysteries, Knights Templar, Freemasons, or
      college fraternities. Since there are obvious parallels in our records
      between JB & the Essene/Qumran communities, I think it is also fairly
      obvious that JB never took a vow to keep these matters secret.

      But if JB did not take that vow, is it likely that he felt bound by his
      vow not to "partake of a meal with others" [JW 2.143]? Isn't it more
      likely that *if* JB had any association with the Essenes (or Qumran) it
      was more likely analogous to that of Josephus, who obviously was not
      constrained by vows of either secrecy or refusal to dine with others.

      So much for Charlesworth's "probable" ex-Essene.

      Shalom!

      Mahlon


      --

      *********************

      Mahlon H. Smith, http://religion.rutgers.edu/mh_smith.html
      Associate Professor
      Department of Religion Virtual Religion Index
      Rutgers University http://religion.rutgers.edu/vri/
      New Brunswick NJ

      Into His Own: Perspective on the World of Jesus
      http://religion.rutgers.edu/iho/

      A Synoptic Gospels Primer
      http://religion.rutgers.edu/nt/primer/

      Jesus Seminar Forum
      http://religion.rutgers.edu/jseminar/
    • Mahlon H. Smith
      ... I m afraid I m not a specialist on JB & I don t know of any book-length treatment of critique of Charlesworth s argument the JB was an ex-Essene. That was
      Message 2 of 3 , Jun 25, 2000
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        Hope_Rosenbaum_Werner@... wrote:

        > In order to fully partake in this disagreement, can you point me
        > to books (either by you or someone else) who I can set off against Charelsworth?
        > That is, where can I read a book-length discussion similar to the one you
        > e-mailed out last night?

        I'm afraid I'm not a specialist on JB & I don't know of any book-length
        treatment of critique of Charlesworth's argument the JB was an
        ex-Essene. That was based not on anything specifically that I'd read or
        previously written but on the type of critical assessment of the
        historical basis of gospel evidence & scholarly hypotheses that 15
        years of participation in JS debates has taught me to perform before
        accepting any historical assertion at face value. But two works on JB
        that I'd recommend are:

        Tatum, W. Barnes *John the Baptist and Jesus: A Report of the Jesus
        Seminar* Sonoma: Polebridge, 1994 --- URL

        http://westarinstitute.org/Polebridge/Title/JBJesus/jbjesus.html

        Webb, Robert L. *John the Baptizer & Prophet: A Socio-historical Study*
        JSNT SS 62. Sheffield:JSOT Press, 1991.

        Shalom!

        Mahlon


        --

        *********************

        Mahlon H. Smith, http://religion.rutgers.edu/mh_smith.html
        Associate Professor
        Department of Religion Virtual Religion Index
        Rutgers University http://religion.rutgers.edu/vri/
        New Brunswick NJ

        Into His Own: Perspective on the World of Jesus
        http://religion.rutgers.edu/iho/

        A Synoptic Gospels Primer
        http://religion.rutgers.edu/nt/primer/

        Jesus Seminar Forum
        http://religion.rutgers.edu/jseminar/
      • DaGoi@aol.com
        In a message dated 6/23/0 1:21:18 AM, Mahlon H. Smith wrote:
        Message 3 of 3 , Jul 13, 2000
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          In a message dated 6/23/0 1:21:18 AM, Mahlon H. Smith wrote:

          <<..........
          Charlesworth is here taking several gospel assertions at face value &
          out of context, ............. a "plausible" reconstruction can be
          considered historically *possible* only if it rests on a base of
          historically *probable* data. Otherwise it is simply spinning fantasies
          out of vapors.

          .....Charlesworth assumes that Mark's description of JB's diet
          & dress is a literally accurate description of the historical Baptizer
          rather than part of Mark's obviously christologically motivated attempt
          to portray JB as Elijah returned [cf. 2 K 1:8]. Secondly, ........he
          misrepresents JB's clothing as
          being "animal skins" rather than a rough cloth garment woven of camel
          hair. ...... a loosely woven garment of camel hair is ideal
          for that environment. Such garments breath in the brutal heat of the
          day & insulate from the chill of the night; & they are tough enough to
          withstand sandstorms & the wear & tear of life in a rocky wilderness.
          Eminently practical. .........

          As for living off locusts & wild honey: ....... Acc. to Josephus,
          his ascetic tutor Bannus lived on a similar Spartan diet out of choice
          rather than necessity. Also acc. to Josephus Essene *novices* were sent
          out into the wilderness with only an axe, loincloth & nothing more to
          test their devotion & obedience in preparation for the second
          preliminary stage before initiation into the community ........

          Mahlon H. Smith
          >>

          Was Josephus also making some implication that his teacher was Elijah, and
          were the Essenic novices becoming little Elijahs? Is it so improbable that
          John the Baptist wore and ate such and such, and is reported correctly by
          Mark, being that so many others at the time - eminently practical and
          resourceful people - did so? I fail to see why Mr. Smith assumes Mark (only)
          is inventing a character, when his stated traits for John were so prevelent.
          Maybe Mr. Smith's methodology is getting in his way.

          William D. Foley
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