"Sects and the City: The Essene Hypothesis in Imperial Rome"
Wed, February 1, 2012 • 5:30 PM - 6:30 PM • PAR 203
Ryan Byrne, Adjunct Professor, UT-Austin
Our reconstructions of religious diversity in Greco-Roman Judaea and the sectarian origins of the Dead Sea scrolls are rooted in the late first-century CE cultural apology written by the Jewish historian Josephus for his Flavian patrons. This portrait of Judaism presented to Roman elites was succinct, but it also dated three centuries later than the earliest Qumran texts associated with germinating Essene theology. The traditional scholarly approaches to sectarian description — whether the Essene Hypothesis or its alternatives — have largely imported this static ethnography to gloss a dynamic literature with complex evolutionary and text-critical issues. Was Josephus describing or constructing the sectarian taxonomies we now use to debate the significance of the Dead Sea scrolls? We see a classic postcolonial crux in the selective preparation of local flavors for imperial consumption.