Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I Think I Found an Alternative Historical Witness to Josephus

I happen to have a pretty good library at home, so good that I can always pull out an ancient text I haven't read before and find something new in it. That's what happened tonight when I pulled out Cotton's Five Books of Maccabees and was amazed that this text is almost never mentioned in discussions of Jewish history. You can read it on line here.

I did a little digging on line and found this:

V Maccabees, so called by Cotton ("Five Books of Maccabees," 1832), is known also as the Arabic II Maccabees. It is included in the Paris and London Polyglots. It has clear relations to II Maccabees, the Arabic "Yosippus," and the Hebrew "Yosippon." Late in origin and without historical value, the book is, however, of considerable importance from other points of view.J. I. A.

Well that isn't helpful really. How late is 'late' when the surviving manuscripts of Josephus date from the eleventh to fourteenth centuries? 

The one thing that is clear from the scholars is that it probably goes back to a Hebrew original even though it is preserved in Arabic and Cotton's work is an English translation of a Latin version of the original Arabic. 

There are a lot of interesting tidbits tucked away in the book but what struck me was its value for the study of the DSS. The most obvious thing about the narrative is a complete lack of mention of the 'Essenes.' I have always felt that the Essenes were invented. This text confirms that. 

This becomes clear in its description of Jewish sects which reads:

At that time there were three sects among the Jews. One, of the Pharisees, that is, " the separated," or religious ; whose rule it was, to maintain whatever was contained in the law, according to the expositions of their forefathers. The second, that of the Sadducees; and these are followers of a certain man of the doctors, by name Sadoc; whose rule it was, to maintain according to the things found in the text of the law, and of which there is demonstration in the Scripture itself; but not that which is not extant in the text, nor is proved from it. The third sect was that of the Hasdanim, or those who studied the virtues: but the author of this book did not make mention of their rule, nor do we know it except in so far as it is discovered by their name: for they applied themselves to such practices as came near to the more eminent virtues; namely, to select from those two other rules whatever was most safe in belief, most sure and most guarded [p. 339, 340]

This confusing closing sentence might well be cleared up if someone found the Arabic manuscript and did a proper translation (why are we forced to use a Latin translation of uncertain quality?). 

Anyway what makes this so interesting is that there is a clear reference to the Sadducees and Hasidim running off into the wilderness during the reign that Queen Alexandria favored the Pharisees a little later:

There was among the Sadducees a chief man, who had been promoted by Alexander, named Diogenes, who formerly had induced him to slay eight hundred men of the Pharisees. Therefore the leaders of the Pharisees come to Alexandra, and remind her of what Diogenes had done, asking her leave to slay him; which she gave : and they, having it, slew many Sadducees together with him. Which the Sadducees taking very much to heart, went to Aristobulus, and, taking him with them, went to the queen, and said to her: "You are aware what terrible and heavy things we have undergone," and the many wars and battles which we have fought, in aid of Alexander and his father Hyrcanus Wherefore it was not meet to trample on our rights, and to lift up the hand of our enemies over us, and to lower our dignities ; for a matter of this kind will not be hidden from Hartas and others of your enemies ; who have experienced our bravery, and have not been able to resist us, and their hearts have been filled with the fear of us. When therefore they shall perceive what you have done to us, they will iimagine that our hearts are devising plans against you; of which when they shall be certified, trust that they will play false towards you. Nor will we endure to be killed by the Pharisees, like sheep. Therefore, either restrain their malice from us, or allow us to go out from the city into some of the towns of Judah." And she said to them, "Do this, that their annoyance to you may be prevented." And the Sadducees went forth of the city [i.e. Jerusalem]; and their chiefs departed with the men of war who adhered to them; and went with their cattle to those of the towns of Judah which they had selected, and dwelt in them; and there were to them those who were devoted to virtue, (i.e. the Hasidim)[p. 355, 356]

I can't help but think this is the most sensible explanation to the whole 'mystery' of the Qumran sect. The literature seems reflective of the events in this period and the hostility to the Pharisees also finds its proper context. One would think that many of the figures associated with that literature who fit in this cultural milieu. 

Of course I am the furthest thing from an expert on the DSS but I have always bought into Schiffman's basic reconstruction of the context of the material. Why isn't anyone using this text? Is there something I don't know? Better yet - why hasn't anyone bothered to commission an English translation from the Arabic? It seems to me to be another example of the sheep-like tendencies of scholars. One person wrote off the text and now no one wants to touch it. 

Again I may be wrong but that's what my instincts tell me.

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