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Bodily Functions And Ritual Purity In The Qumran Community, Judaism And Ancient Rome

2308 words - 10 pages

Although the identity of the community who occupied the settlement at Qumran has been the object of much debate, most scholars believe that they were most likely members of the Jewish sect called the Essenes. The Essenes were widely known for their rules concerning ritual purity and several known historical authors mentioned them in their writings, including Josephus and Pliny the Elder.
Eleazer Sukenik, who purchased three of the original seven Dead Sea Scrolls, arrived at the conclusion that the group living at Qumran was indeed the Essenes, based on the descriptions given by the ancient historians Josephus and Pliny the Elder. In his writings, Josephus describes three distinct ...view middle of the document...

Philo of Alexandria also gives us information on the Essenes, depicting them as a reclusive group who avoided dwelling in the more populated areas, choosing rather to live in remote villages and locations. Furthermore, Philo describes them as avoiding moral impurity by not manufacturing any good or service attributing to the act of war. Based on his description, we also gather that they were a peaceful group, not seeking riches, and content with their belongings.
Among the scrolls found in caves near Qumran in 1947 was the Rule of the Community, sometimes known by its other name, Manual of Discipline. This manuscript provides valuable insight into the rituals and beliefs of the community which resided there.
Closely related to the Rule of the Community is the Damascus Document. Both documents seem to express the regulations and rules of the sect. However the Damascus Document refers to the group as the “congregation” and scholars conclude that this document may have projected the rules for Essenes outside the Qumran community, possibly those living in Jerusalem. On the other hand, the Rule of the Community uses the word “community” to describe the group and is believed to have been written expressly for those living inside the Qumran settlement.
“They also avoid spitting in the midst of them or on the right side (Josephus. War 2.8.9).” According to this passage from the writer Josephus, we learn that the Essenes had laws against not only spitting during an assembly but also for spitting to their right. Likewise, we learn from the Rule of the Community (1QS) that the community at Qumran had a similar rule as stated in 1QS 7:13, “Whoever has spat in an Assembly of the Congregation shall do penance for thirty days.”
Moreover, it appears that Jews also had some restrictions on spitting as well. In Leviticus 15:8, there is discussion in regards to a person with a discharge spitting on a clean person thus rendering them unclean. Likewise, the Jews also had laws in place against spitting in the Temple as evidenced in the Tosefta. In the Palestinian Talmud, spitting to the front, to the left and to the right is prohibited but spitting behind oneself is allowed. The exact nature of the Qumran group only specifying the ban on spitting to the left is unknown.
In his book, Natural History, Pliny the Elder states that according to Roman superstition, if someone met a person with a lame right leg, they would spit to “ward off witchcraft and the bad luck which follows.” On the other hand, in the Gospel of Mark 7:33 and 8:23, Jesus uses spit to restore sight to a blind man.
According to passages in Leviticus 14:34, Deuteronomy 28:27, and II Chronicles 26:19, a person having abnormal fluids emitting from the genitals, were required to purify themselves by ritual bathing. This would be followed by isolation for an allotted time and repentance of sin.
Although some scholars have concluded that Qumran was an all-male monastery, both the...


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