I suspect that — in the wake of this Golb business — media outlets will overreact by giving attention to every fringe theory … a case in point is Ha’aretz’s item on Rachel Elior’s views on the Essenes. While I think it is reasonable to question whether the Essenes were the ‘authors’ of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it seems kind of strange to deny the existence of the Essenes outright … here’s the conclusion of the Ha’aretz piece:
Elior says Josephus, inspired by descriptions of life in the Greek city of Sparta, made the Essenes up.
“There is no historical testimony in Hebrew or Aramaic of the Essenes. It is unthinkable that thousands of people lived abstemiously, contrary to Torah laws, and nobody wrote anything about it,” she said.
Then who did write the scrolls?
Elior says the Sadducees, a sect descending from the high priest Zadok, who anointed Solomon as king, are the true authors. The scrolls belonged to the Temple and were brought to the Dead Sea to protect them, she says.
“The scrolls speak in clear Hebrew of the priests, sons of Zadok. So why call them Essenes?” asked Elior. “That’s a distortion of history. It’s like saying that the State of Israel wasn’t established by Mapai, but by the Greens.”
The apocalyptic prophecy cited in the scrolls of a war between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness is a war between Zadok’s sons, who served as high priests until 175 BCE, when they were ousted by the Hasmoneans, the descendants of Matityahu, she said. Prof. Hanan Eshel of Bar-Ilan University claims that denying the Essenes’ existence is groundless.
“Almost 70 scholars accept the statement that one of the Essenes’ groups lived in Qumran and some say we’re all morons and only they understand,” he said. One of the scrolls, “describes a small group of people living communally. Can anyone explain to me how this could have come from Jerusalem?”
Read what you like into the Wikipedia entry on Dr. Elior … outside of the attitude toward private property, I’m really not sure how she gets a Spartan connection to what Josephus writes; see, e.g., Steve Mason’s translation of the main chunk of Josephus relating to the Essene way of life at Biblical Archaeology Review …
UPDATE: Joseph Lauer alerts us to a much more detailed criticism of this theory by Dr. Stephen Goranson on the Biblical Studies list: