Josephus and the Qumran

Written on September 8, 2022 – 12:38 pm | by dave |

One of the most famous non-Christian historians in the early part of C.E. He mentions historical details about Jesus, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. He was a patron of the Flavius family and was paid to record his historical works on Jewish history.

Four Books

Josephus wrote 4 books about the history and culture of the Jewish society during the time of Qumran. Though his works have been copied and ’embellished’ over the years, the general messages are there.

  • The Jewish War – a detailed account of the events leading up to the Jewish Revolt (after Herod) and the Revolt itself.
  • Jewish Antiquities – a narrative presenting the entirety of Jewish history, based on the Bible and post-biblical sources.
  • Contra Apion – a shorter work, written in response to anti-Jewish charges from Apion
  • My Life – autobiography of Josephus. He was born into a religious family in Jerusalem. We learn that he actually lived with each of the different groups of the period.

The Four Groups of Jewish Culture

Josephus establishes four distinct groups that rose up during the Hasmonean period and talks about them all, but he gives special attention to the Essenes.

  • Pharisees – The religious legalist group that built many ‘fences’ around Jewish faith during the post-Temple period.
    • Supported by the majority of rank and file Jewish people
    • Believe communal worship is an appropriate mode of worship
    • The Study of the Torah is a sacred act, equal to the worship of God
    • Obsessed with clean hands and even had their servants wash their hands after they personally washed their hands.
    • Believe in the existence of angels, and adhere to the concept of the immortality of the soul.
    • Believe in the concept of the Oral Law
    • Compatibilists – believe in fate and free will.
    • Often depicted negatively in the Gospels because the early Christian community sought to distance themselves from the Jews.
  • Sadducees – The ‘high priest’ group that believed temple sacrifice was the only way to maintain Jewish faith.
    • Main priestly group with support from the nobility and aristocracy of Judea
    • Sacrifice in the Temple is the sole manner by which God can be worshipped
    • Deny both the existence of angels and the immortality of the soul
    • Deny the existence of the Oral law
    • Did not believe in the resurrection (Mark 12:18)
  • Essenes – The highly detached, semi-hermit people whom we believe wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls
    • Live communally with no private wealth
    • A strict approach to Jewish Law
    • Believed in Immortality of the soul and the existence of angels
    • Deny free will and believe that everything is preordained or predetermined by God
    • Some are celibate
  • Zealots – militant group who advocated independence from Rome as their sole cause.

Comparing the Beliefs of the groups:

Essenes —> Predestination
Pharisees —> fate + free will
Sadducees —> free will only

Christian Subgroups Described by Josephus

  • Judaising Christians – Associated with James (brother of Jesus) who wished to continue Jewish ritual practices
  • Non-Judaising Christians – Led by Paul who believed that Jewish rituals have no place in the Christian movement
  • Ebionites – Jewish Christian group who accepted Jesus as the Messiah, but did not believe him to be divine
  • Therapeutae – an ascetic group in Egypt
  • Boethusians – offshoot of the Sadducees
  • Samaritans – early offshoot of Judaism with the split occuring around 500 B.C.E.
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