Wednesday, August 27, 2014

How an Appreciation of Samaritan Sectarianism Helps Us Understand the Origins of the Qumran Sectarian Association

Most people are clueless not only about the Jewish religion but traditional religion as such.  We have as a whole been brought up by something of the British 'practical mind set' so we imagine the practitioners of ancient religion as sharing our faith in inherited 'common sense.'  But this is often leads to difficulties when trying to reconstruct history at the turn of the Common Era because, well - these people really weren't at all like us. 

Let's start with the Book of Daniel and in specific the famous 'Seventy Weeks' prophecy.  It must be acknowledged at the outset that this can hardly be counted as a 'prophecy.'  It was written during the very events it was pretending to 'project into the future.'  In short it was 'about' Antiochus Epiphanes 'encounter' with Judaism c 167 BCE.

This sort of charlantry has existed in every age so in itself it is not the expression of anything distinct to the ancient world or Judaism in particular.  In pretending to be Daniel, the author assumes that the events in his lifetime were going to have lasting impact on Judaism.  The issue here is Antiochus's ritual defilement of the temple altar.  We know that the 'prophecy' must have been written close to the events in question because of what the author does not apparently know - i.e. that the Maccabees are going to 'cleanse' the whole area and make it functional once again in a few short years. 

Most scholars today acknowledge the 'pretend prophecy' aspect of Daniel chapter 9.  However they often stop short of realizing the implications of the authors 'ignorance' of the Maccabean 'spring cleaning.'  Daniel chapter 9 must have been written by an anti-Maccabean reactionary group.  For if it follows that the events of 168 CE is the 'abomination of desolation' the official history of the Maccabean dynasty doesn't see Antiochus as anything more than a hiccup in the continuous functioning of the Jewish religion.  The person writing Daniel chapter 9 by contrast necessarily saw the defilement of the foreign 'ruler' as permanent and ultimately catastrophic. 

This is what is so problematic about our modern 'practical' understanding of religion.  We often take so many intellectual 'short cuts' along the way that we miss a critical juncture.  For instance since the officially sanctioned interpretation of Daniel 9:24 - 27 in both Judaism and Christianity apply the prophecy to the events of 70 CE we have learned to think in terms of the physical destruction of the Jewish religion rather than what is actually meant by the author - ritual defilement.  Ritual defilement is something difficult for the modern mind to get a handle on because it goes against all our inherited assumptions about us being able to uncover a practical solution to problems. 

For instance, it used to be that girls were 'protected' from ritual defilement by remaining virgins until marriage.  To the modern sensibility this is a hopelessly archaic.  Women 'need to know' how to please themselves and their partners in order to be 'practical partners' in marriage and perhaps more importantly to be 'fully realized human beings.'  The ancient interest in 'ritual purity' for women can only be understood now in terms of a 'plot' to disenfranchise women. 

To this end then we pretend by removing the pillar of ancient religion - its interest in preserving ritual purity - we effectively destroy its very raison d'etre.  In its place we put forward an absurd English 'practicality' which is nothing short of the living embodiment of the murder of God.  Now even God bows down before the sanctity of practicality.  Since practicality is more 'rational' than this archaic sense of 'purity' reason itself demands that we have a varied sexual 'history' before marriage so that we fulfill all the practical obligations of being good partners in marriage. 

But the ancient religious mind certainly didn't think this way.  It wasn't that the Jewish people didn't have sex or weren't familiar with arguments for sexual promiscuity or even participated in premarital or extramarital sex.  Rather they values ritual purity above and beyond all other considerations.  We can debate the merits of this belief but it stands before anyone who hopes to make sense of ancient history and in particular Daniel's contemporary view of the defilement caused by Antiochus Epiphanes. 

For 'Daniel' there was no going back - the altar had been defiled and the old religious order was incapable of being restored.  It is interesting to note that a similar situation emerged in the parallel northern religion of Samaria around this time which offers us some context.  The major difference between the Samaritans and the Jews was that the Jews abandoned the prescribed sanctuary in the original Torah - that associated with mount Gerizim.  However sectarians argued - in the same manner as Daniel - that this altar had become defiled in the age. 

There is of course no instruction in the Torah about how to "undefile" something holy.  1 Maccabees makes it seem the priests quickly "solved" the problem of defilement with a bucket of Lysol. Daniel implies some catastrophic and irreparable has occurred. How can the two be reconciled?  1 Maccabees and Daniel 9 and can't reconcile them to one another. They don't reconcile because they are not the same event.  Did all the Jews really accept that the Maccabean 'spring cleaning' got rid of the defilement? Certainly not.  After the rise of the Maccabean dynasty a group of priests took over the sacrifices and necessarily excluded another group of priests who formerly had authority there. But it is difficult to believe that Daniel's prophesy could have been deemed authoritative unless a large group of Jewish priests accepted the idea that the altar was still ritually defiled. How else could anyone take Daniel 9:24 - 27 seriously.

I imagine then that the prophesy was written after the events of Antiochus Epiphanes and was highly valued among a priestly group that was marginalized after the events of 168 BCE. This may account for the early rabbinic ambivalence about the canonical status of Daniel.  One scholar notes for instance that all the chapters are represented in one form or other in the fragments at Qumran he notes:

It is a highly surprising phenomenon that no fewer than eight manuscripts of Daniel have been identified among the materials discovered in three of the 11 caves of Qumran. In order to appreciate the significance of this fact, we need to compare it with the manuscript finds of other Biblical books from the same caves. To my knowledge, the most recent listing of published materials (as of 1992) from the Dead Sea scrolls appeared in 1977. The listing speaks of 13 fragments of scrolls from the Psalms; nine from Exodus; eight from Deuteronomy; five from Leviticus; four each from Genesis and Isaiah (Fitzmyer 1977:11–39); and no fewer than eight scrolls representing Daniel. Although we have no sure knowledge yet of the total scrolls that have been preserved from the Bible at Qumran, it is evident from this comparison that the book of Daniel was a favorite book among the Qumran covenantors

While the author here proposes that the high frequency of Daniel fragments at Qumran suggests that the text was written before the Antiochus Epiphanes crisis I think my hypothesis better explains or at least offers a viable alternative view. At this juncture we need to make another point.

According to current historical-critical opinion, the book of Daniel originated in its present form in the Antiochus Epiphanes crisis, that is, between 168/167–165/164 BCE. It seems very difficult to perceive that one single desert community should have preserved such a significant number of Daniel manuscripts if this book had really been produced at so late a date. The large number of manuscripts in this community can be much better explained if one accepts an earlier origin of Daniel than the one proposed by the Maccabean hypothesis of historical-critical scholarship, which dates it to the second century BC.

And again:

A reconstruction of 4QDan., the oldest manuscript of the book of Daniel (second half of the second century BC). Shown are the positions of the fragments of 4QDanc across four columns of the original scroll (reading was from right to left). Linda Manies For those supporting the historical-critical date of the book of Daniel new issues are being raised. Since there is a manuscript of Daniel that supposedly dates within 50 years of the autograph, is there enough time for the supposed traditio-historical and redaction-critical developments allegedly needed for the growth of the book? Supporters of the Maccabean dating hypothesis of Daniel will be hard put to explain all of this in their reconstructions. To express it differently, do the early dates of the fragments from Cave 4 leave enough room for the developments, editorial and redactional as well as others, that are so often proposed (e.g., Koch 1986:20–24)? The verdict seems to be negative, and an earlier date for Daniel than the second century is unavoidable.

I would suggest however that if we assume that the Qumran community shared Daniel's negative assessment of the purity of the altar it would be reasonable to assume that Daniel was written by the Qumran sectarians and it may help identify them as holding the view that the temple was still impure even after the Maccabean 'spring cleaning.'

The classic definition of the Qumran community: The disputes apparently prompted the founder of the sect – an unknown figure referred to in the scrolls as the “Teacher of Righteousness” (Heb. Moreh Zedek) – and those who gathered around him (all or most of them from priestly circles) to renounce the Temple, which they considered impure, and break away from the Jewish people. Going into voluntary exile, they decided at some point to establish a settlement by the Dead Sea. The point of course would then be that if there was a community which held that the altar was still defiled and they lived until the time of the destruction of the temple - which I think is highly probable - then at once we find the solution to why the sacrificial religion of Judaism wasn't restarted after the end of the Jewish revolt.

As I have said many times here, there is no reason why Judaism couldn't have continued to sacrifice animals at Jerusalem in spite of the defeat in 70 CE. The decision must have been based on the idea that Daniel - and the Qumran community - was right. In other words, ever since 168 BCE the altar had been in a state of defilement. But let's move on to the discussion of a similar understanding of ritual defilement at mount Gerizim in Samaria.  First some background to the sacrificial religion of Israel.

The Torah says the lambs are to be slaughtered outside the Sanctuary. But there is no Sanctuary, not in Jerusalem and not on the mountain. If there is no holy place, there is no profane place outside it to be contrasted to it.  There were sectarian Samaritans and the Dositheans in particular who said that Gerizim was no longer sacred for a contrasting view of the Qumran community. The Dositheans would not have slaughtered any lambs on the mountain. Their religious service after sunset on the 15th of the first would have been in a synagogue or near the booth on the Balata Meadow at the foot of the mountain, or otherwise in a synagogue wherever they lived. They could not have had any slaughtering of lambs, for exactly the same reason as modern Jews can’t have it. Note that I said “can’t”, not “don’t”.

Let's turn to the appropriate discussion in Abu'l Fath the fourteenth century Samaritan chronicler for whom we are indebted most of the surviving information about the sects.

“He (Sakta, the Dosithean sectarian) said there was no holiness in the time of error” (A.F.) “They (the followers of Sakta) made the Festivals common” (A.F.)

in other words 'not sacred' in the full sense of having Priests in a state of holiness inside the Sanctuary. This is the Jewish position since the PROFANATION [not destruction at first] of the sanctuary. We should disregard the prevalent reading of Abu'l Fath “They made a substitute for the Festivals”. I am told by Boid that this comes from inability to read Arabic mss. The word is not بدلوا [baddalû] but rather بذلوا [badhdhalû] ). At the service, in the synagogues or on the meadow in the central Dosithean provisional worship place set up by Sakta, they expressed the hope of restoration of the Sanctuary. The mountain had no holiness in itself, though it was the appointed place for the Sanctuary.

“They (the Dosithean followers of Sakta) said Mt. Gerizim was a mountain like any other mountain, and whoever prayed facing Mt. Gerizim might as well pray facing a graveyard” (A.F.).

The Sanctuary was expected to reappear, at the prayers of the Ta’eb, and then all the sacred days could be observed on the mountain in a state of holiness.

“He (Sakta) said: ‘From this booth we will go up to Mt. Gerizim’ “ (A.F.).

This is why Josephus says the Samaritans were not on the mountain, but intended to go up the mountain. They did intend to go up, but not till the appearance of the Ta’eb and the reappearance of the Sanctuary. They certainly would have expressed this hope in their liturgy. Boid agrees that they probably expected something special on the night Jesus was arrested. The Dositheans probably did have religious services in a synagogue on the mountain, but not as part of the observance of any of the three Pilgrim Festivals [Hebrew regalim] which require appearance at the Sanctuary if feasible, that is, Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles or Booths [Sukkot].

“He (Sakta) died without ever having gone up Mt. Gerizim in his life” (A.F.).

This sentence in its context only means he never went up the mountain in the sense of fulfilling the requirement of the three Regalim. Boid thinks that what they did at Passover was to have a Passover meal on the meadow, but without having slaughtered any lambs, and then go up the mountain after sunset and pray for the restoration of the Sanctuary.

I think it is important to compare the Samaritan sectarian position with the Jewish one at Qumran to gain some perspective. Let's look at the concluding phrase of the whole passage in Abu'l Fath about Sakta:

“But he never went up Mt. Gerizim in his life”.

From the context, what is meant is that he never went up the Mountain on the occasion of one of the Festivals or on the Day of Atonement. His reason was logical:

“He said there was no Holiness in the Time of Error”.

The holiness meant here is the higher degree of ritual purity required of the Priests if they are to eat the meat of the sacrifices of the Sanctuary, or are to officiate in the Sanctuary (kodesh קדש) which is a step beyond tohorah (טהרה). [The Passover MUST be performed outside the holy part (in the technical sense) of the Sanctuary, so it was not affected for other Samaritans by the ending of the sacrificial service]. The view that the sacrificial sevice could not be carried out was shared by everyone else, but Sakta was remorselessly consistent, and denied the validity of the requirement of a special prayer service on the Mountain.

“He declared the Festivals profane” and not “He made a substitute for the Festivals”.

Presumably there was a special prayer service, but not on the Mountain. All this is the same as the practice and theory of Rabbinic and Karaite Judaism to this day. Judaism has discontinued the Passover sacrifice as well. The argument is that it must be performed in the outer courts of the Temple, in a state of purity (tohorah) not holiness (kodesh). This is impossible. For the Samaritans, the outermost courts of the Sanctuary are the ground on the Mountain. As Sakta denied the intrinsic sacredness of the Mountain, saying it was dependent on the presence of the Tabernacle, he must have denied the legitimacy of the Passover sacrifice as well.

“He said Mt. Gerizim was a mountain like any other mountain, so praying facing the Mountain was no better than praying facing a graveyard”.

His constant waiting for the reappearance of the Sanctuary is much the same as the practice of the Mourners of Zion אבלי ציון who merged with the Karaites when the Karaites moved to Jerusalem two generations after ‘Anan ben David, or one generation after their founding. (‘Anan himself was not a Karaite. The Karaites say they could only be so named one or two generations later. It could be argued that they only took on this name on moving to Jerusalem and merging with the Mourners of Zion). The Samaritan altar was also defiled a number of times in the second century. I wonder if this had a role in developing this point of view too.

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