En-Gedi, Qumran, and Qasr al Yahud

Hyrax, En GediThe last day our the 2019 Israel tour began at En-Gedi, where David hid from King Saul in a cave (1 Samuel 24). This is one of the more beautiful hikes on the trip since the Israeli Parks service has developed Wadi David as a nature preserve. The mile and a half walk is relatively easy since there are cut stairs and handrails, but there are a few steep flights and one passage through dark tunnel made of river reed. The walk also has several waterfalls and pools, the highlight being the final one at the end of the canyon. We saw a few hyrax with their pups on the hike and a large group of ibex on the way out of the park.

From En-Gedi we drove north to Qumran, the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The archaeology of the site is relatively simple, although the water system collects far more water that the site might need to survive. The reason for this is large number of ritual baths used by the community for purification. Almost everything at Qumran is controversial and the Dead Sea Scrolls have encouraged a wide variety of fringe ideas about the nature of both early Judaism and Christianity. Even the video at the beginning of the tour tacitly suggests a relationship between John the Baptist and the Qumran community. This provided an opportunity to talk about these theories with the students. At the viewpoint overlooking Cave 4 we had a good discussion about the contents of the Scrolls and their value for Biblical studies.

Since we have a long drive to Tel Aviv, we stopped only briefly at Qasr al Yahud, the more likely of the traditional sites for Jesus’s baptism. This site has been open since 2011 and is now on the Israel National Parks card, so it is an easy add-on for for groups using the parks pass (see this Times of Israel story on the re-opeing of the site for tourist groups). Qasr means castle, and Greek Orthodox Monastery of St John the Baptist does indeed look at bit like a castle. Unlike the site at Yardenit in Galilee, this is a far more authentic location since it is in the general area John the Baptist was active (although it is still not certain this is the place). Another clear difference is the lack of commercialism compared to Yardenit. The majority of the crowds queuing to be baptized in the muddy stream of the Jordan were Orthodox, although there appeared to be a handful of protestants. The site on the other side of the Jordan is only a matter of feet from this location in Israel. The Jordanian site is called Al-Maghtas, “immersion” in Arabic. UNESCO listed the Jordanian side as a world heritage site, but not the western side (likely due to the political situation in West Bank).

Qasr al Yahud, Baptism of Jesus

My plan was to return to the Old City in Jerusalem for final shopping, but it was the first Friday of Ramadan and many streets were closed to traffic. We could have walked to Jaffa Gate, but that would have cut down on our time. Our guide suggested driving to Jaffa instead. As it turned out this was a good idea. He walked us through several points of interest in Jaffa, although there is little I can say is authentic. There is a traditional site for the home of Cornelius and a Franciscan church commemorating Peter’s departure from Jaffa to Rome (although that is not in the Bible, if he left for Rome by ship Jaffa is the likely port). After a 45 minute walk, we turned the group loose in the shops and they contributed much to the local economy.

We stayed at the Tal Hotel in Tel Aviv, just a block from the Mediterranean. This was a very nice stay, although it was far too short: our wake up call was for 2:00 AM and we were at the airport by 3:15 AM for a 6:15 departure. Since I am now back in Michigan, I can cay they long day of travel went well despite an hour delay in Vienna for engine maintenance and extremely long lines at immigration in Chicago (easily the worst I have ever experienced there).

Jude and His Sources: Non-Canonical Books

Jude makes use of at least two books that were not considered to be inspired by the Church or the Jews. In v. 9 he alludes to the Testament of Moses and in vv. 14-15 he quotes 1 Enoch.

Bauckham points out that besides the direct citation of 1 Enoch 1, the writer knows 1 Enoch 1-36 and perhaps sections later in the book. 1 Enoch was popular at Qumran and there may be allusions to the book in Revelation as well. This section of 1 Enoch is an expansion of the story of the Nephlehim and the Giants a found in Genesis 6. Jude does not allude to that plot line at all, but rather to the rather generic statement that God is coming to execute justice on ones who have rebelled against him. In the context of 1 Enoch, this is the angels who have intermixed with humans and created “the Giants” and taught humans all manner of sin.

Michael and SatanThe reference to the archangel and Satan discussing the bones of Moses does not appear in the Testament of Moses, although it is likely that the words Jude uses are quoted from the lost ending to that book. Richard Bauckham has a considerable excursus on the sources for Jude 9 which includes a catalog of all of the variations of this story in Jewish and Christian sources as well as a list of references to the Assumption of Moses, a lost book usually confused with the Testament of Moses (Jude, 2 Peter, 48, 67). Bauckham concludes that the Assumption is a re-worked version of the Testament (76). There are a number of Christian sources that seem to have known the story in detail, and a few pre-Christian Jewish sources contain disputes between the devil and an angel over various events (Isaac’s sacrifice, for example).

That Jude would allude to these Jewish texts is a good argument for the circulation of the book within Jewish communities in Judea, perhaps in the “near diaspora” communities. We know that 1 Enoch appears at Qumran. Although the Testament of Moses has not been found among the DSS, it is not unlikely that this is evidence for an early date and Jewish Christian context for the book.

The common way to explain Jude’s used of these texts is to say they are simply “illustrations of truth: similar to a pastor using a commonly known story, film, or T.V. show as a sermon illustration. Jude is not trying to tell his readers that these books are inspired and worthy of inclusion in the Bible, but rather using texts that they are already familiar with in order to make a point. The reference to Enoch is a bit touchy, since it says Enoch in fact prophesied the Lord’s return – although one could argue Jude is saying the popular book of Enoch says this, rather than “historical Enoch.”

It is possible that Jude uses these texts because they are popular with the false teachers. In my post on Jude’s use of the Hebrew Bible I commented that Jude alludes to the wilderness tradition frequently, perhaps his opponents used the wilderness tradition and a book like 1 Enoch in their own teaching. The allusion to the Testament of Moses may be appropriate since the event took place in the wilderness and the end of that period of Israel’s history. The Qumran Community immediately comes to mind, since they are in the wilderness, not far from Nebo and made use of 1 Enoch. But Jude seems to imply the opponents are a perversion of Christian teaching, so perhaps they are a Essene like group which has accepted Jesus as Messiah.

In any case, Jude is turning their own favorite books around on them to show that they are heretics. Jude’s purpose is to combat a false teaching which has “smuggled” itself into the church.

What are the implications of Jude’s use of these sources?

Hiking at En-Gedi

Our second-to-the-last day in Israel began at En-Gedi, where David hid from King Saul in a cave (1 Samuel 24). This is one of the more beautiful hikes on the trip since the Israeli Parks service has developed Wadi David as a nature preserve. The mile and a half walk is relatively easy since there are cut stairs and handrails, but there are a few steep flights and one passage through dark tunnel made of river reed. The walk also has several waterfalls and pools, the highlight being the final one at the end of the canyon. We saw a few rock badgers on the hike and a group of ibex on the way out of the park. An ibex is a wild goat common in the Negev. 

For the first time that I have been coming to En-Gedi there was a security guard at the final waterfall to make sure hikers do not try to go under the waterfall. One of my students said he warned one person, “rocks fall with the water-do you want to die?” Perhaps there was an incident which forced the park to post the guard. (Not that any of my students ever went into that waterfall…) 

From En-Gedi we drove north to Qumran, the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The archaeology of the site is relatively simple, although the water system collects far more water that the site might need to survive. The reason for this is large number of ritual baths used by the community for purification. Almost everything at Qumran is controversial and the Dead Sea Scrolls have encouraged a wide variety of fringe ideas about the nature of both early Judaism and Christianity. Even the video at the beginning of the tour tacitly suggests a relationship between John the Baptist and the Qumran community. This provided an opportunity to talk about these theories with the students. At the viewpoint overlooking Cave 4 we had a good discussion about the contents of the Scrolls and their value for Biblical studies. 

Since this was our last day in the desert, we ended with a Dead Sea float. The place I have taken groups in the past is a spa with a small restaurant which allows free swimming. We usually order some pizzas when we arrive and they are ready by the time we are finished in the Dead Sea. The spa has either changed owners or the owner has shifted his business model, because we paid a higher fee for the beach and a buffet. Although the food was good, they played glaringly loud techno music (which I approached less than some of the students) and we amused ourselves at dinner watching several drunken America servicemen drink on the patio. This was disappointing, and I am not sure I will return to this spa in the future. 

We have two people who are sick, and all are tired. Tomorrow we return to the Old City for final shopping and our last night in Tel Aviv. We fly home Sunday morning and return to Grand Rapids later Sunday night. I hope to get a final post finished before we leave and add a few pictures to the previous posts. 

GBC Israel Trip 2015, Day 12 – En Gedi and Qumran

This was our final full day touring the Dead Sea region. We started early at En Gedi, a nature park with a 1.8 mile hike back into a canyon to “David’s Waterfall.” This is the location called the Crags of the Wild Goats in 1 Samuel 24:2 and the general environment on the wadi give the story the ring of truth. It is very easy to imagine David and a few men hiding back in the bushes in a small cave when King Saul comes and takes some time to relax in the shade and “cover his feet.”

IMG_0677 EnGediSince we arrived earlier than the big tour buses from Jerusalem we were the only people at the  waterfall for most of the time we spent there. I thought there was far less water than in the last two or three visits, the pool was certainly much smaller. We saw a very conservative Jewish family hiking in full black coats a first for me at En-Gedi. Aside from being hot in the sun, I thought it was interesting the children were playing in the water in there long black coats!

One warning for anyone driving to En-Gedi: there is a serious road construction project in front of the En-Gedi with a detour and traffic jam caused by one-lane traffic. The public beach across from En-Gedi is closed as is the gas station and resturant. I had planned to picnic at the beach, but had to adjust and eat at Qumran.

Getting to En-Gedi early means a hot afternoon at Qumran. After the vertigo-inducing video we walked out the the archaeological site, working our way quickly to the shaded viewing area of the cave. This was a particularly good time of discussion of who the Essenes were and why the the Dead Sea Scrolls are important. It also gave me a chance to correct the goofy suggestion in the video that John the Baptist was once part of the Qumran community.

Funny story: when I was giving some explanation in the little museum after the video, a young Jewish couple from New York hanging around listening. I chatted with them a bit and they were visiting Qumran for the first time. The stayed with us for most of our talk and seemed really interested. Strangely this was the second time someone has joined us on the tour.

Everyone Takes this Picture

Everyone Takes this Picture

After some shopping at Qumran, we drove to a beach for a float on the Dead Sea. There was a large group of American Jewish high schoolers, but they left soon after we arrived. Most of the students chose to float in the warm water, several collect some salt to stink up their luggage on the trip home. We enjoyed some excellent kosher pizza before heading back to Tamar for the night. Most of us are very tired after ten solid days of hiking, yet as I write everyone is hanging out playing games and snacking.IMG_0722 Dead Sea

I hear some of the students are planning on hiking up a hill behind Tamar to watch the sunrise. It really is a spectacular view and I wish them well. We head to Jerusalem tomorrow for final shopping in the Old City and then to the airport for home.

 

Book Review: John J. Collins, Beyond the Qumran Community

Collins, John J. Beyond the Qumran Community: The Sectarian Movement of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2010. 266 pp.; PB; $25.  Link to Eedrmans

Collins’ latest book on the Dead Sea Scrolls has provocative title, but his conclusions are fairly conservative. Despite the title, Collins states that the “reasons for identifying the Sect as Essene are still cogent” (p. 10). He argues that the Greek and Latin witnesses to the sect were simply unaware of the apocalyptic and messianic beliefs of the sect, or perhaps. He states that site at Qumran was a settlement for these Essenes based on the proximity of the scrolls and the presence of a large number of mikvoth. Since there is no evidence the site was occupied by other groups, the notion that Qumran was an Essene settlement is likely. Collins does, however, admit that the archaeological evidence is incomplete and therefore must always remain inconclusive.

The book is based on five articles which have previously appeared in several recent Festschrift published by Brill (Garcia-Matinez, 2007, Knibb, 2006, Tov, 2003, Ulrich, 2006, Freyne, 2009). This book gathers these articles on the origin of the sectarian movement normally called “the Essenes” and gives some editorial framework tying the essays together. In his introduction, Collins narrowly defines his topic to the nature of the communities described by the Dead Sea Scrolls.

So how does he propose to move “beyond” the Qumran Community? Certainly not in direction of Gabriele Boccaccini in the Beyond the Essene Hypothesis: The Parting of the Ways between Qumran and Enochic Judaism. In fact, Collins rejects the view that the Essenes reflect either a Sadducean or Enochian form of Judaism. Simply put, the Essenes were a sect dedicated strict observance of the Mosaic Law. But the group was not a semi-monastic community living at Qumran.

In fact, Collins says that Essenes were a widespread community to be found throughout the land. For this reason he says that the common description of the scroll-writers as “the Qumran Community” is misleading, since the site at Qumran is but one of many places where Essenes gathered for study. As Collins states, “many ideas about this movement that have gained wide currency in recent years appear to be ill-founded” (p. 51). I was not aware this was a radical idea, since the notion that Essenes were to be found in other communities seems common. What Collins wants to avoid in the phrase “Qumran Community” as if Qumran was a kind of holy place for the Essenes.

In his third chapter, Collins suggests that the most commonly accepted origin of the Essenes stands in question. The Essenes are usually thought to have been a reaction to the Hasmonean Priest-Kings in the mid second century B.C. The “wicked priest” is usually identified as Jonathan Maccabee (or Simon), the first of the Hasmoneans to assume the high priesthood. Collins examines this evidence and suggests that the pesharim are better read as referring to Alexander Janneaus or Hyrcanus II. There really is no basis in the texts found at Qumran for a mid-second century split from Jerusalem, rather the origin of the Sect is to be found in the mid-first century B.C. This thesis is supported by the fact that most of the scrolls date to 100-50 B.C. and the establishment of the settlement at Qumran can be dated to approximately the same period. (But Collins does not tie the origin of the community to the establishment of Qumran.)

There is something about the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls which brings out fringe scholars trying to prove conspiracies. There is nothing like that here. As Collins says, “the flood of publications following the release of all the unpublished scrolls in 1991 has shed little light” in matters of the origins of the Essenes or the Qumran site. Collins is an example of serious scholarship examining the question of the Sectarian Movement which produced the Dead Sea Scrolls.

This book gives an excellent window into current thinking about the Essenes and avoids the wild sensationalism which plagues so many books on the Dead Sea Scrolls.