Ever since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in caves near the site of Qumran in 1947, this mysterious cache of manuscripts has been associated with the Essenes, a "sect" configured as marginal and isolated. Scholarly consensus has held that an Essene library was hidden ahead of the Roman advance in 68 CE, when Qumran was partly destroyed. With much doubt now expressed about aspects of this view, The Essenes, the Scrolls and the Dead Sea systematically reviews the surviving historical sources, and supports an understanding of the Essenes as an influential legal society, at the centre of Judaean religious life, held in much esteem by many and protected by the Herodian dynasty, thus appearing as "Herodians" in the Gospels.
Opposed to the Hasmoneans, the Essenes combined sophisticated legal expertise and autonomy with an austere regimen of practical work, including a specialisation in medicine and pharmacology. Their presence along the north-western Dead Sea is strongly indicated by two independent sources, Dio Chrysostom and Pliny the Elder, and coheres with the archaeology. The Dead Sea Scrolls represent not an isolated library, quickly hidden, but burials of manuscripts from numerous Essene collections, placed in jars in caves for long-term preservation. The historical context of the Dead Sea area itself, and its extraordinary natural resources, as well as the archaeology of Qumran, confirm the Essenes' patronage by Herod, and indicate that they harnessed the medicinal material the Dead Sea zone provides to this day.
Joan E. Taylor is a historian of early Christianity and Second Temple Judaism. She is also known for her work in other areas of history, literature, archaeology, and biblical studies. A New Zealander, she currently lives in England, and works in the department of Theology and Religious Studies, King's College London.
"Taylor brings to bear formidable erudition, and works out her argument with impressive thoroughness." --Robert Alter, The London Review of Books
"This controversial book is essential reading for all scholars interested in Qumran and the scrolls. It is especially strong in its use of literary and archaeology sources to suggest that Qumran's history extended well beyond the First Jewish Revolt." --Kenneth Atkinson, University of Northern Iowa, Dead Sea Discoveries
"We owe Joan Taylor a great debt of thanks for bringing to life, with such detail and care (and with her own evocative photographs), a community, its setting, and the parts that it played, which have been for so long misunderstood." --Rev. Robin Griffith-Jones, Church Times
"This is an excellent book, beautifully and lightly written, and clearly organized. It is packed with a wealth of fresh perspectives on many issues and it is full of helpful information, not least concerning the history of scholarship on all aspects of Essenism." --George Brooke, Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis, University of Manchester
"This is an erudite book, full of rare information and bold suggestions." --John J. Collins, Journal of Jewish Studies
"It is hoped that the fresh breeze of new insights breathing from Taylor's work will start a 'chain reaction' that will lead to more new answers to the old questions." --Enoch Seminar