Then who were these Mourners of Zion?Following the Jewish–Roman wars, revolutionaries like the Zealots had been crushed by the Romans, and had little credibility (the last Zealots died at Masada in 73). Similarly, the Sadducees, whose teachings were closely connected to the Temple, disappeared with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. The Essenes too disappeared, perhaps because their teachings so diverged from the concerns of the times, perhaps because they were sacked by the Romans at Qumran.
According to The Targum of Lamentations, Volume 17, Part 2 edited by Philip S. Alexander:
It then goes on to say on page 79:Their enduring characteristics appear to have been: (1) they spent their time mourning for Zion and praying for the restoration of the Temple; (2) they lived an ascetic way of life that involved abstaining from certain foods; (3) they did not engage in trade or commerce, but relied on the charity of their brethren.
https://books.google.com/books?id=kmUaW ... on&f=false
To me this sounds like a post-70 CE version of the Dead Sea Scrolls sect (yes, I do see them as a "sect," at least in a broad sense like the Fourth Philosophy, which was a conglomeration of people from all the first century CE sects). Take this passage from the Community Rule col. 8 regarding the Council of the Community, for example:The Mourners for Zion feature prominently also in Pesiqta Rabbati in Pisqas 34-35 and 37, which surely pre-date by some margin the rise of Qaraism. These play a pivotal role in our argument. Pisqa 34 in particular reads like a manifesto of the movement, and no great leap of faith is needed to assume that its author was himself an 'Abel Siyyon ... A number of points can be made about these passages. First, their sectarian mentality is striking: the Mourners for Zion clearly regarded themselves as a small, marginalized, persecuted group, misunderstood and mocked by the majority of their co-religionists, who would one day, however, come to see the Mourners in a very different light. Second, the emphasis on the intercessory, mediating, priestly role of the Mourners within the community is noteworthy: it is they who by their devotion and self-affliction atone for Israel and ultimately secure the redemption. Third, the ideology of the Mourners is not just concerned with the destruction of the Temple, but also with its restoration. The group is, therefore, intensely eschatological and messianic in its orientation. Fourth, the emphasis on prayer and the hint of the existence of liturgical texts the Mourners for Zion use three times every day to lament the fall of Jerusalem is noteworthy ... this raises the intriguing possibility that the Mourners were offering themselves, their lives of extreme self-denial and penitence, as atonement for the sins of Israel, as a substitute for the Temple sacrifices.
In the Council of the Community there shall be twelve men and three priests, perfectly versed in all that is revealed of the Law, whose works shall be truth, righteousness, justice, loving kindness, and humility. They shall preserve the faith in the Land with steadfastness and meekness and shall atone for sin by the practice of justice and by suffering the sorrows of affliction. They shall walk with all men according to the standard of truth and the rule of the time.
When these are in Israel, the Council of the Community shall be established in truth. It shall be an Everlasting Plantation, a House of Holiness for Israel, an Assembly of Supreme Holiness for Aaron. They shall be witnesses to the truth at the judgement, and shall be the elect of goodwill who shall atone for the Land and pay to the wicked their reward. It shall be that tried wall, that precious corner-stone, whose foundations shall neither rock nor sway in their place.
And col. 9 regarding ordinary members of the sect:
Notice the reference to being "set apart" and "separating themselves" from other Jews, cf. the Mourners being "a small, marginalized, persecuted group, misunderstood and mocked by the majority of their co-religionists, who would one day, however, come to see the Mourners in a very different light."When these become members of the Community in Israel according to all these rules, they shall establish the spirit of holiness according to everlasting truth. They shall atone for guilty rebellion and for sins of unfaithfulness that they may obtain loving kindness for the Land without the flesh of holocausts and the fat of sacrifice. And prayer rightly offered shall be as an acceptable fragrance of righteousness, and perfection of way as a delectable free-will offering. At that time, the men of the Community shall be set apart as a House of Holiness for Aaron for the union of supreme holiness, and (as) a House of Community for Israel, for those who walk in perfection. The sons of Aaron alone shall command in matters of justice and property, and every rule concerning the men of the Community shall be determined according to their word.
As for the property of the men of holiness who walk in perfection, it shall not be mingled with that of the men of falsehood who have not purified their life by separating themselves from iniquity and walking in the way of perfection. They shall depart from none of the counsels of the Law to walk in the stubbornness of their hearts, but shall be ruled by the primitive precepts in which the men of the Community were first instructed until there shall come the Prophet and the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel.
To me the Mourners have Qumran written all over them. And page 81 of the above book goes on to say:
Again, this sounds very much like the pre-70 CE Dead Sea Scrolls sect, who arguably opposed the Pharisees. And this marginalization of post-70 CE asceticism is in evidence in Baba Batra 60b:How far back can we trace such mourning for Zion? There are grounds for placing it in the immediate post-70 [CE] period. This is suggested by an important passage in t. Sot. 15:10-15, which states: "After the Temple was destroyed, abstainers (perusim) became many in Israel, who would not eat meat or drink wine" (15:11) ...
If these penitential groups had a continuous existence from the late first to the sixth century [CE] and even beyond, why do we not hear more about them in rabbinic literature? The answer, I would suggest, is relatively straightforward. Though some Rabbis may have been sympathetic to the ideals of the Mourners for Zion, they were not a rabbinically oriented movement and may have had an uneasy relationship with the rabbinic establishment. It is not hard to think of reasons why the Rabbis might have viewed them with suspicion and attempted to marginalize them.
Page 79 of the above book also cites Benjamin of Tudela regarding Mourners who were living in Yemen in his time:Our Rabbis taught: When the Temple was destroyed for the second time, large numbers in Israel became ascetics, binding themselves neither to eat meat nor to drink wine. R. Joshua got into conversation with them and said to them: My sons, why do you not eat meat nor drink wine? They replied: Shall we eat flesh which used to be brought as an offering on the altar, now that this altar is in abeyance? Shall we drink wine which used to be poured as a libation on the altar, but now no longer? He said to them: If that is so, we should not eat bread either, because the meal offerings have ceased. They said: [That is so, and] we can manage with fruit. We should not eat fruit either, [he said,] because there is no longer an offering of firstfruits. Then we can manage with other fruits [they said]. But, [he said,] we should not drink water, because there is no longer any ceremony of the pouring of water. To this they could find no answer, so he said to them: My sons, come and listen to me. Not to mourn at all is impossible, because the blow has fallen. To mourn overmuch is also impossible, because we do not impose on the community a hardship which the majority cannot endure ...
http://www.come-and-hear.com/bababathra ... html#PARTb
It is interesting that Jewish Christians and their allies were also associated with asceticism (and were similarly marginalized by Rabbinic Judaism). For examples, according to Hegesippus, James "drank no wine nor strong drink, nor did he eat flesh" (EH 2.23), and Acts 23:12-21 mentions Jews who took an oath to not "eat or drink anything" until they killed Paul:"...present day ascetics called 'Mourners for Zion' and 'Mourners for Jerusalem' who eat no meat and drink no wine ... and who seek mercy before the Lord concerning the exile of Israel ..." Benjamin's account of the Yemen is somewhat suspect, but his description of the Mourners of Zion rings true and is supported by other sources. Moreover, the existence of the Mourners for Zion in the Yemen is consistent with the well-documented messianic orientation of that community.
The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. More than forty men were involved in this plot. They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul" ... more than forty of them are waiting in ambush for him. They have taken an oath not to eat or drinkuntil they have killed him.