Until a very short while ago, the origin of the Dead Sea Scrolls seemed destined to remain one of the insoluble mysteries of history—at least so far as a small minority of skeptics was concerned, for majority opinion aligned itself very early and never saw any reason why its comfortable conclusions should be disturbed. It is necessary to recapitulate, very briefly. The Scrolls first came to light in 1947 in a cave near the northern end of the Dead Sea, and further finds were subsequently made in similar repositories in the same region. In this area also there were excavated in due course the remains of a nexus of buildings apparently adapted to a sort of group-living arrangement, to which the documents presumably bore some connection.
At the outset, the nature of the group in question, and consequently the provenance of this new literary hoard, seemed quite clear. There were a number of Old Testament scrolls and fragments which at first created the greatest excitement, for they were approximately one thousand years older than any texts of the Hebrew Bible hitherto known. In addition, there were many liturgical, exegetical, and organizational documents, pointing to the existence in this region of a sect organized on semi-monastic lines, and obviously standing outside the tradition of Rabbinic or Pharisaic Judaism—i.e., of Judaism as we know it today. Now, according to the writings of Pliny, the west bank of the Dead Sea was in the 1st century the center of the Essenes, the unworldly Jewish monastic sect who, because of the light they and their doctrines throw on the origins of Christianity, have attracted so much attention from historians of religion. Since the findings on the west bank of the Dead Sea obviously pertained to an ascetic sect dating back to the same period, it seemed equally obvious that what had been so amazingly discovered was the basic literature of the Essenes. Few disagreed with this natural conclusion, the one prominent exception being an American scholar, who in the face of all evidence to the contrary that has since accumulated, stoutly maintains, in season and out, that the Scrolls are medieval forgeries (whatever, precisely, that self-contradictory phrase may imply).
After the basic documents had been published and studied in detail, however, certain difficulties became evident. The area of Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered was not, as it turned out, quite where Pliny says the Essenes had their center. According to Pliny, moreover, the Essenes continued to flourish after the conclusion of the great war against the Romans in 66-73 C. E., whereas the archaeological evidence indicates the Qumran center was utterly destroyed during the course of the hostilities. More important, the Essenes were, as we know, basically a sect of celibates, whereas the denizens of Qumran definitely were not. And above all, the Essenes were pacifist and therefore (as is clear from Pliny) respectfully tolerated even by the Romans, whereas the Qumran sect was nothing if not bellicose. Indeed, one of the most remarkable of the documents in question, “The Book of the War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness,” is dedicated solely to describing in minute military detail the last triumphant campaign of the Jews against their enemies.
All this made the original unquestioning identification of the Qumran sect with the Essenes improbable, to say the least. But the inability to change one's mind—or, at all events the reluctance to admit having done so—is one of the weaknesses of the human race. Scholars in general continue to adhere to the original view, entire volumes having by now been published which depend wholly on the flimsy hypothesis of an identity between the Qumran sect and the Essenes.
The key figure to emerge from the Scrolls as the leader and, as it were, prophet of the sect is designated the Teacher of Righteousness. This personage appears in a series of Biblical glosses discovered among the Scrolls, the most remarkable being a kind of commentary on the Book of Habakkuk which formed part of the original cache, and which is preserved almost in its entirety. We are given a good deal of information about the Teacher in various respects, but one episode stands out above all: how he was at loggerheads with “the Wicked Priest,” apparently the representative of “official” Judaism at the time; how this same Wicked Priest was sent against him on the holy Day of Atonement to “swallow him up” (whether in a physical or spiritual sense, or whether this implies that the Teacher was killed, is not quite clear); and how God intervened to save him in due course. This episode seems to have been the sect's central historical experience (the Scrolls are full of allusions to it, direct or indirect), and scholars have accordingly been busily engaged in attempting to identify it and the principal persons involved.
One elaborate theory—which greatly excited uninformed opinion—located the episode in the pre-Christian period: the saintly Teacher of the sect was first persecuted by his enemies, then put to death by them (it was even added “by crucifixion,” though this was nowhere stated, and though it is even doubtful whether the Teacher's persecution had a fatal outcome), and subsequently raised from the dead (because the Scrolls say at one point that God will “raise up” the Teacher of Righteousness at the “end of days”). In short, here, it seemed, was the basic Christian story in the literature of a Jewish sect which was believed to have flourished one or two centuries before the birth of Jesus. It is this sensational possibility rather than the real scientific or historical or literary interest of the documents—so important for Biblical study and for the history of the Jews and Judaism in the early centuries—which has been largely responsible for the widespread interest of the general public in the subject.
I do not think it presumptuous to say that a new stage in these investigations began about six years ago when my own theory was first published.1 I am a historian—having been engaged for forty years now in the profession. Although I have a working knowledge of Hebrew, I make no claim to being an expert in the events of the 1st century, for my researches have been restricted on the whole to medieval and modern times. But methods of historical scholarship are the same, whatever period one is dealing with; and it seems to me I have been able to bring to bear on the problem in question a more reliable technique than that of the philologists, archaeologists, and theologians, all enormously expert in their own fields, in whose hands the inquiry at first rested.
We must start from the assumption that the documents belong to the period round about the beginning of the Christian era, an assumption generally conceded by all scholars but one and confirmed by the carbon-14 test. The documents reflect the following historical circumstances: Palestine and the Jews are menaced by a people from overseas (referred to in the Scrolls by the Biblical name Kittim), a people of irresistible military power, who with their mighty armaments are massed at the country's borders, ready to sweep down and crush any resistance in their path. As almost all investigators have agreed from the beginning, the only people of the age to whom such a description could possibly apply are the Romans. (It has been demonstrated that even the armaments and weapons described in the Scrolls are those which were in use in the 1st century by the Romans.) The country itself, according to the documents, was at the time ruled by a national Jewish government led by the Priesthood (there is no suggestion of a monarchy), and with the so-called Wicked Priest at the head of the administration.
Now, all these conditions were exactly fulfilled at one point in Jewish history, and one point alone—at the outset of the great revolt against Rome in the year 66, when the Romans had been forced to withdraw temporarily but were preparing to return in overwhelming might, and when there ruled in Jerusalem a coterie of aristocratic priests (who had, in some cases reluctantly, put themselves at the head of the revolutionaries and were suspected of wishing to come to terms with the Romans).
But was there at this time any persecution by the Priests of a particular sect, or a particular sectarian leader who might have been designated by his followers the Teacher of Righteousness? We turn to Josephus, to all intents and purposes our only authority, and reread his account of those stirring days—and there it is. Among the Jewish sects of the period were the followers of the “Fourth Philosophy” of Judah the Galilaean—the extreme wing of the Zealot party which led the resistance against the Romans-known because of the violence of their methods as Sicarii or “dagger men.” At the start of the revolt in the summer of 66, they seized the great fortress of Masadah overhanging the Dead Sea, equipped themselves from the store of arms they found there, and then marched under Menahem, Judah the Galilaean's only surviving son, to Jerusalem, where they took the lead in the final and decisive stage of the military operations against the Romans. But there was friction and rivalry between Menahem and Eleazar the Priest, Captain of the Temple, who had formerly been regarded by the malcontents as their leader. In consequence, when Menahem (whom Josephus terms, like his father, a “sophistes”—i.e., a teacher) went up to the Temple with his followers to sacrifice, they were set upon by Eleazar's followers. Menahem fled and was ultimately slain. His surviving followers made their way back to Masadah under the leadership of his nephew Eleazar ben Jair (also to be regarded as a religious teacher, like his uncle and grandfather). There they held out for another seven years in defiance of the Romans on the one hand and of the “corrupt” Priestly regime in Jerusalem on the other.
The correspondence between Josephus's account and the scene depicted in the Scrolls could not be more exact. And two small details seem to make the identification certain. First, the Teacher of Righteousness was assailed, we are told in the Scrolls, on the Day of Atonement; the attack on Menahem in the Temple took place, we are informed by Josephus, shortly after the sixth day of the month of Gorpiaeus—i.e., at approximately the same date. Secondly, Josephus informs us that Menahem had an associate named Absalom, who suffered at the same time as his leader; in the Dead Sea Scrolls it appears that the Teacher of Righteousness had an associate named Absalom, whose followers failed to come to his aid in time, thus sealing his fate. Given so close a parallel, it is hardly possible to doubt that this was the central historical episode in the theology of the Dead Sea sect, and that the Teacher of Righteousness, if he was indeed put to death (which is improbable) was the sophist Menahem, or, if he survived (as seems more likely), was his nephew and fellow sophist Eleazar, who escaped alive and subsequently headed the resistance movement from his stronghold at Masadah. The Dead Sea sect, then, were not pacifist Essenes, as had so stalwartly and indeed so plausibly been maintained, but rather war-like Sicarii-Zealots, whose chief center was in approximately the same area but somewhat further to the south.2 If this identification is denied, it becomes necessary to postulate that at the time of the revolt against Rome which began in 66 there lived not far apart from one another on the west bank of the Dead Sea, at Qumran and Masadah respectively, two different sects, each of them intensely anti-Roman and at the same time in fierce opposition to the central Priestly administration in Jerusalem; each of them venerating the personality of a Teacher (of Righteousness in the eyes of his followers) who was persecuted by the Priesthood in Jerusalem on or about the time of the Day of Atonement; and each of these Teachers, moreover, having a close associate by the name of Absalom!
If, on the other hand, the identity of the Qumran sect with the Sicarii-Zealots is accepted, very much more in the Scrolls can be explained, including details of the Roman armaments, of their armies' advance, of the fate of the revolutionary leaders, and so on.
One single point may be mentioned to illustrate this. The Habakkuk commentary refers with loathing to how the Kittim offer up sacrifices to their military standards. That was a Roman practice—and the first time it is known to have taken place was when the legionaries captured Jerusalem in the summer of 70 and set up their standards in the Temple courtyard. This piece of evidence alone should have been sufficient to determine the date of composition of the work in question, and its general setting. Moreover, the Zealot hypothesis would explain the further discovery in one of the caves near Qumran, with other documents of the same type as the Dead Sea Scrolls, of two mysterious copper scrolls apparently giving details of where the Temple treasure was hidden after the fall of Jerusalem.
These conclusions, which I arrived at by means of the usual historical reasoning, seemed to me inescapable. The only thing that continued to mystify me was why something so obvious had not been realized before, and by scholars far better qualified than I am to work upon this period. When, however, I published the preliminary results of my investigation (in a small volume and a series of articles in 1957-8), my views were greeted not merely with disagreement but with almost universal derision. To my amazement, I found that in the circles dealing with this period and this subject there obtained a standard of language and conduct, as well as of research, the like of which I had never experienced in my career as a historian. I may cite as characteristic a statement by a Professor Sandmel, which was seized upon and quoted with gusto by other critics. My hypothesis, said the professor, “wins by a length . . . the race for the most preposterous of the theories about the Scrolls.” Most of the “learned” periodicals did not even trouble to notice the book at all, the sales were negligible, and my theories did not make the slightest impact. Meanwhile work after work on the Scrolls continued to appear, still based on the old and certainly untenable (whether or not my own views were correct) Essene hypothesis. Some even contained maps of the area copiously indicating the purported location of the Essene settlements!
With very few exceptions, even those who did me the courtesy of reading my book did not think it worthwhile to reply seriously to arguments that they considered wholly fantastic. So far as any rebuttals were made at all, they were sporadic and to a great extent inconsequential. These reactions may have been due, I fear, to resentment (and not always unconscious) at the intrusion of a medievalist into this specialized field. As one highly respected American archaeologist remarked, my book showed the dangers of trying to solve such problems on the basis of history alone. A curious criticism, it seems to me, for do not the same methods of historical investigation apply to all periods?
More reasoned opposition was advanced by Father de Vaux in his celebrated Schweich lectures delivered before the British Academy in 1959, and subsequently published. But here, too, the historian found himself in a new world where the scholarly standards and methods to which he was accustomed evidently did not apply. For Father de Vaux postulated quite arbitrarily that none of the documents found in the Dead Sea caves could have been composed after the destruction of the monastic center at Qumran—this notwithstanding the discovery there of the copper scrolls listing the Temple treasure, which it is universally agreed are posterior to that event. When, then, in Father de Vaux's opinion, was Qumran destroyed? On the evidence of a token of the Tenth Legion which was discovered at Qumran, and on the basis of the assertion that according to Josephus, Vespasian advanced in the summer of 68 with the Tenth Legion from Caesarea down the Jordan valley and reached Jericho, near Qumran—Father de Vaux asked whether it was not self-evident that the token was mislaid at Qumran at this time, thus fixing precisely, almost within weeks, the date of the center's capture by the Romans. None of the Dead Sea documents could therefore be later than this period, the summer of 68. Consulting Josephus, however, we find that in the campaign in question Vespasian did not march from Caesarea; his line of advance was not down the Jordan valley; and he did not have with him the Tenth Legion, then on special duty elsewhere! In addition, it subsequently transpired that what had been identified as a token of the Legion was in fact a coin of Ascalon of a later date which had been wrongly identified.
Another argument brought up against me was that my assumption that Masadah and Qumran belonged to the same geographical area was erroneous. A fair distance separates the two, as well as almost insuperable natural barriers, and hence—so I was told—it is out of the question that there could have been any close association between the two centers. However, during the past couple of years, legal documents from Masadah of a somewhat later date have been discovered in the Qumran area, so that this argument (for what it was worth) automatically collapsed. And, as we shall see presently, there is now the most positive evidence of close association between the two centers.
My critics have also raised other objections. If the Qumran sect did, in fact, exist in the period of the war against the Romans of 66-73, why were they so bitterly opposed to the revolutionary leaders? Why did they not march to the relief of the Holy City in its agony in the spring and early summer of the year 70? These arguments, however, present no problem at all, for my postulate concerning the leaders of the Qumran sect corresponds in any case with Josephus's description of the Sicarii of Masadah. Besides, the line of conduct pursued by the Qumran leaders must seem to the student of history natural enough, for it accords perfectly with standard revolutionary and, indeed, sectarian psychological patterns. The extreme revolutionary wing invariably accuses the more moderate one in due course of counter-revolutionary tendencies; the original leaders are then frequently discarded and in many cases switch back their allegiance and “betray the revolution”; a wave of terror often follows, inspired by the purest of motives and sometimes implemented by the most spiritual of demagogues, against those who were once idols of the people. The scene as I reconstructed it appeared paradoxical, if not incredible, to my philologist or archaeologist critics. But to any student interested in the history of sectarianism or the history of revolution, it is absolutely logical and even, one might say, inevitable.
The basic objection to my views, however, whether expressed or not, and the one which caused them to be characterized as wholly preposterous, stemmed from my suggestion that the God-intoxicated sect whose literature has survived in the Dead Sea Scrolls was actually the Zealots, the bloodthirsty political extremists so unfavorably depicted in the pages of Josephus. In this crucial divergence, the importance of a trained historical approach becomes apparent. For what the non-historian could not recognize was that Josephus was employing all the standard counter-revolutionary commonplaces invoked by their enemies against revolutionaries in whatever era: that they are immoral, godless, corrupt, and love destruction for its own sake. What Josephus said about the Zealots of his day is no different from what was said about the fathers of the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution and the American Revolution and the English Revolution of the 17th century. It is similar to what was said in the communiqués of the German High Command about the resistance movements in France and Italy and Poland during World War II.
Elsewhere, however, Josephus makes it clear that the Zealots (or rather the Sicarii) were far from being mere political extremists and advocates of violence. He includes them among the various religious sects into which the Jewish people were divided in his day, by the side of the Essenes and the Sadducees and the Pharisees. He also indicates the basis of their distinctive theological outlook—the dogma that it was a mortal sin to admit any sovereignty over the Jewish people but the sovereignty of God. From this dogma, the rest followed ineluctably—both the Romans and those Jewish leaders who advocated submission to the Romans must be disposed of by whatever means, including assassination.
The political intransigence of the Zealots was thus implicit in their religious doctrine, even as their implacable violence was a logical consequence of their all-embracing religious dogma. Moreover, the essentially doctrinal rather than merely political nature of this sect is quite clearly suggested by Josephus when he alludes to the successive leaders, Judah and Menahem (and presumably the latter's successor Eleazar ben Jair as well) as “sophistai” or, teachers. It is true that Josephus nowhere explicitly states that the Sicarii followed any distinctive religious practices as the Qumran sect apparently did (especially in the matter of the religious calendar), but there was no particular reason why he should have. Except as regards the Essenes, whose ascetic organization had a certain publicity value for his purpose, Josephus precisely delineates only the characteristics which differentiated the sects from one another—in the case of the Sicarii, for example, their insistence on the exclusive sovereignty of God over the Jewish people. A moment's consideration, however, is enough to tell us that this doctrine itself must have implied certain variant religious practices—for example, the prohibition (referred to in the New Testament) against touching money bearing the likeness of the Roman emperor. On the one hand, nothing in the code of the Qumran sect is at variance with what we know of the Sicarii-Zealot religious observance; on the other, it is possible to say positively that the Qumran sect can be identified neither with the Essenes nor the Pharisees nor the Sadducees as those groups are described by Josephus. Unless there existed yet another group of which we have no record whatsoever, then, the sect in question must have been the Zealots—the only contemporary body against which, at least so far as the religious issue is concerned, there is at all events no contrary evidence.
Nothing, it seemed to me, could challenge the validity of this historical reasoning, but it seemed equally clear that nothing could have any impact on those unable to follow it—except the emergence of new evidence that would decide the matter incontrovertibly. Such evidence has now, I am happy to say, come to light, and the result is that the mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls is no longer a mystery.
During the past winter, Professor Yigal Yadin of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem under-took, in his usual superbly organized fashion, a campaign of excavation at Masadah, a hitherto imperfectly explored site. Masadah is situated at the summit of an almost unscalable hill overhanging the western bank of the Dead Sea, about thirty miles south of Qumran, where the bulk of the Scrolls were found. The late Hasmonaeans constructed a fortress there, which was transformed by Herod the Great into a luxurious palace. (Josephus describes this structure in minute detail, and his description had been confirmed point for point in the course of earlier excavations, even before Yadin began his operations.) On the death of Herod, the Romans converted the palace into a garrison-fortress which was used to overawe the neighboring terrain. Early in 66, the garrison was captured, as mentioned above, by Menahem ben Judah at the head of the Sicarii, who equipped themselves from its lavish arsenal before marching on Jerusalem. After Menahem's assassination that autumn, his nephew and successor, Eleazar ben Jair, withdrew to the fortress with his surviving followers; repulsed successive expeditions sent from Jerusalem to quell them; joined for a time with other extremists only to quarrel with them soon after; extended his hold on the surrounding area; carried out forays both against isolated Roman forces and against villages which had remained loyal to the Provisional Revolutionary Government in the capital; and continued to glower defiance at the outside world from his impregnable fortress, his hand against every man and every man's hand against him. In all this, Eleazar and his followers were obviously buoyed up by the belief endemic to religious revolutionaries everywhere—that only when God's will was made supreme and their internal opponents overthrown would they be able to triumph over their external enemies and the “end of days” foretold in prophecy be brought to pass.
In these circumstances they continued to hold out, not only until the Romans had occupied most of the surrounding area, but even after the fall of Jerusalem itself in the summer of 70. The Roman offensive against this remote outpost of revolt was for one reason or another delayed—a fact which no doubt helped raise Eleazar's expectations. But finally, in the year 73, siege was laid to Masadah. (The Roman siege-works at the foot of the mountain are still virtually intact, again confirming Josephus's description.) In the end, the defenders were starved out, and committed collective suicide rather than surrender. The legionaries then surged into the fortress, which they systematically destroyed.
From that day on, the site was desolate, and being so remote from any inhabited area, remained almost completely untouched. Thus we have an invaluable dateline for anything discovered in the ruins: any findings must necessarily antedate the fifteenth of the month of Xanthicus (i.e., about the beginning of May) in the year 73. Leaving out of the present account the other recent discoveries at this site, let us concentrate on what concerns us most here. Near the ruins of what was apparently a hall that served as a synagogue, Professor Yadin found fragments of various scrolls, mostly Biblical, in a script resembling that of the Dead Sea Scrolls and obviously (if only on paleographical grounds) belonging to the same milieu. Among them is part of a curious liturgical document containing hymns to be sung week by week to correspond with the Sabbath sacrifice—of which other substantial fragments had been found some time before in the Qumran caves! Moreover, this curious liturgy is conceived in accordance with the peculiar, as it were “heretical,” calendar of the Qumran sect about which there has been so much discussion among scholars during the past few years.
Thus we now know for certain that the literature and theology of the Dead Sea sect were current at Masadah also: i.e., that the denizens of Masadah belonged to the same body as the sectarians of Qumran, just as I demonstrated in 1957-8. It must be emphasized that the document in question is not of the “casual” Qumran type—such as a book of praise or psalms, for example, which might have validity anywhere. It is a document of the most clear-cut nature, embodying the most distinctive, and from the point of view of universal Judaism most objectionable, feature of the Qumran sect—their adherence to a unique calendar of their own on the basis of which they calculated their own proper times for the observance of the feasts and even of the Day of Atonement, which times alone were pleasing (and in the last-named case, truly efficacious) in the sight of God. If this literature was current in Masadah, and was read (as seems clear) in the liturgy there, there can be no doubt whatsoever that the defenders of Masadah and the monks of Qumran belonged to the same religious faction. Hence the Qumran sect were neither the ascetic Essenes, nor the aristocratic Sadducees, nor the studious Pharisees, but beyond any doubt the aggressive, bellicose, Sicarii-Zealots, dedicated to the doctrine of the sole sovereignty of God over his people.
Professor Yadin, who is responsible for this discovery, but has been from the beginning a stalwart champion of the Essene thesis, has attempted to denigrate its significance. He explains the presence at Masadah of this remarkable document by the possibility that an Essene fugitive brought it there after the fall of Qumran, the Essenes having by then given up their pacifist principles.3 But we have no evidence that this was so, or that refugees from Qumran ever found their way to Masadah—where, with their pacifist record, they could hardly have been welcomed. (I cannot help remembering ironically in this connection that one of the arguments brought up against me in the past was precisely that Masadah is inaccessible from Qumran!) Were Professor Yadin's thesis admitted, we would indeed be faced with the quandary described earlier in this article in an even more extreme form: we would have to assume that there existed in Masadah itself at the beginning of the year 73 two different sects, each of which venerated a Teacher of Righteousness who was assailed in Jerusalem by a Wicked Priest on or about the Day of Atonement, and that both Teachers had a close associate named Absalom.
The conclusion is inescapable. The two sects were one, and Qumran was part of the republic of the Sicarii-Zealots of Masadah.
Now that the Qumran sect is finally identified with the Sicarii-Zealots of Masadah, it is irrefutably established that the literature of the Dead Sea Scrolls is in fact the literature, not of a pre-Christian mystery sect nor of medieval Karaites nor of contemplative Essenes, but rather of the extremist leaders in the great revolt against Rome in 66-73. We were already informed by Josephus how in the last days of the siege the streets of Jerusalem were filled with prophets and prophesies. Now we know something of the nature of those prophesies. We know the language in which they were conceived, as well as something of the ideas and ideals behind them. And we know what incited these grim fighters for freedom to continue the struggle when their whole world had toppled into ruins around them.
What we knew formerly of all this came from the partisan reports of the contemptible Jewish quisling, Flavius Josephus. Now at last we have a glimpse of the spiritual background of the period as it appeared to those whom he betrayed when they were living and vilified when they were dead. I am, I suppose, a bit of a jingoist, but I can hardly imagine a discovery which from the Jewish point of view is more exciting than this final identification of the literature of the last defenders of Jerusalem and Masadah.
1 See Dr. Roth's article, “A Solution to the Mystery of the Scrolls,” COMMENTARY, October 1957.—Ed.
2 The term “Zealot” does not refer, as so many who write on this period imagine, to all those who fought to the end against the Romans. It is used by Josephus to designate a section of this element—a section which had its own leadership and was held together by specific beliefs and doctrines. The Sicarii of Masadah may be considered the extreme wing of this section. When writers on the Dead Sea Scrolls have casually asserted (without proof, indeed), that the Essenes became associated with the Zealots at the close, meaning that they took up arms against the Romans, they have confused the issue. An Essene, even if he joined in the Revolt, could not became a Zealot, for their basic doctrines were fundamentally different.
3 Professor Yadin relies for his hypothesis solely on the record of the ill-starred insurgent general mentioned by Josephus, John the Essene, to whom so much attention is now being paid after nearly two thousand years. Except for his name, we know nothing whatsoever about John except that he was appointed a provincial governor at the outset of the Revolt in the autumn of 66, and fell in the disastrous attack on Ascalon almost immediately afterward. Obviously, therefore, he must have made his name known as a partisan leader either before the Revolt started, or else in the course of the initial operations. Just as obviously, the fact of his existence cannot be used to prove that later on, when the country was in danger, the Essenes as a body (or in large numbers at least) gave up their pacifist principles and took up arms. John may, in fact, never even have been a member of the sect: the designation “Essene” in his case may also mean “the taciturn.”