Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Here's a short extract from Pliny the elders Natural History:

On the west side of the Dead Sea, away from the coast, where there are
harmful vapours, lives the solitary tribe of the Essenes. This tribe is
remarkable beyond all others in the whole world, because it has no women, has
rejected sexual desires, is without money and has only the company of palm
trees. Day by day the crowd of refugees is renewed by hordes of people
tired of life and driven there by the waves of fortune to adopt their
customs. Thus through thousands of ages - incredible to relate - the
race in which no one is born lives for ever; so fruitful for them is other men's
dissatisfaction with life!

Below the Essenes was the town of Engeda, second only to Jerusalem in the
fertility of its soil and in its groves of palm trees, but now, like Jerusalem,
another heap of ashes. Then comes Masada, a fortress on a rock, not far
from the Dead Sea. This is the extent of Judea. (V:73 - 4)

A few things to note. First, Pliny is happy to use the word 'hordes' to refer to the people joining the Essenes. This is an example of Latin hyperbole, much like Tacitus describing the Christians killed by Nero as a 'multitude'. Those who claim the use of the word 'multitude' as evidence of Christian forgery in Tacitus clearly know nothing about Latin literature. Second, and more interestingly, this passage strongly implies that the Essenes kept going after the Romans had destroyed Jerusalem in the First Jewish War. They are usually assumed to have packed it in about this time. Pliny could easily be mis-informed but we cannot just assume the Essenes ended as Vespasian's legions marched into Judea.

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