Part of the Dead Sea Scrolls
Part of the Dead Sea ScrollsIsrael News Photo

An Israeli scholar on Jewish mysticism, Rachel Elior, has challenged the long-accepted theory that the Essenes sect authored the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls. She claims the supposed sect never existed and blames Jewish Roman historian Flavius Josephus for falsely recording the existence of the Essenes.

The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered approximately 60 years ago and include segments of the Bible as well as reports on communal living and a disastrous war. Scholars have described the Essenes as celibates who lived near the Qumran caves where a Bedouin shepherd found the scrolls.

Elior, a scholar at Hebrew University, wrote in a book to be published next month that it is unreasonable to assume that observant Jews, as the Essenes are described, would not observe the Biblical commandment to “be fruitful and multiply.”

She maintained that if the Essenes indeed existed and drifted from accepted Jewish practice, they would have earned a place in other texts.

Elior claims that Josephus “wanted to explain to the Romans that the Jews weren't all losers and traitors, that there were many exceptional Jews of religious devotion and heroism. You might say it was the first rebuttal to anti-Semitic literature. He was probably inspired by the Spartans… Josephus wanted to portray Jews who were like the Spartans in their ideals and high virtue.”

The Hebrew University researcher and lecturer theorizes that the real authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls were the sons of Tzadok, a "caste" of priests who were banished from the Holy Temple by Greek rulers and took their scrolls with them.

She notes that “the scrolls attest to a Biblical priestly heritage."

Replying to critics who abide by the theory that the Essenes existed and wrote the Scrolls, Elior states, “They should read the Dead Sea Scrolls — all 39 volumes. The proof is there.”