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On Pliny, the Essene Location and Kh. Qumran

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image of Dead Sea Discoveries

Pliny wrote that the Essenes lived west of Lake Asphaltites, and that infra hos was En Gedi. Some scholars associate Pliny's reference with Qumran, others with a location above En Gedi. Given that Pliny writes about Judaea by following the course of the land's remarkable water, it would be most natural to read infra hos as "downstream from them." The Dead Sea itself has a current, and there was a belief that the lake had a subterranean exit in the south. From a survey of scholarship produced prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it appears that Pliny's reference was usually believed to indicate a wide region of the Judaean wilderness, understood to stretch from En Gedi northwards and/or inland. When En Gedi was identified in the mid-19th century, the suggestion that Essenes occupied caves just north of and above the ancient settlement was made, but this was not seen as exclusive. If we again read Pliny appropriately, as referring to a region which the gens of the Essenes held, we can move away from either-or dichotomies of possible Essene sites.

Affiliations: 1: Dept. of Philosophy and Religious Studies, University of Waikato, P.B. 3105, Hamilton, New Zealand


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