Mourners for Zion

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John2
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Mourners for Zion

Post by John2 » Mon Aug 28, 2017 8:01 am

I've been wondering about a shadowy post-70 CE group called the Mourners for Zion (the pre-Karaite version). I've had them on the backburner for twenty years and am finally getting around to taking a look at them. You often hear that only Pharisaic/Rabbinic Judaism survived after 70 CE. For example, the Wikipedia page on the Pharisees says:
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.
Then who were these Mourners of Zion?

According to The Targum of Lamentations, Volume 17, Part 2 edited by Philip S. Alexander:
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
It then goes on to say on page 79:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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."

To me the Mourners have Qumran written all over them. And page 81 of the above book goes on to say:
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.
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:
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
Page 79 of the above book also cites Benjamin of Tudela regarding Mourners who were living in Yemen in his time:
"...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.
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:
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.
Last edited by John2 on Wed Aug 30, 2017 7:04 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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John2
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Re: Mourners for Zion

Post by John2 » Tue Aug 29, 2017 7:21 am

Like the post-70 CE Mourners for Zion and the pre-70 CE Dead Sea Scrolls sect, Jewish Christians were messianic and had a penchant for asceticism and saw themselves as "a substitute for the Temple sacrifices." 1 Peter cites Is. 28:16 and mentions suffering and being a spiritual "house" and witnessing the "judgement" and "doing good" like the Community Rule:

1 Peter 2:4-6:
As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
2:19-23:
For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps ... When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
4:1:
Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.
4:12-19:
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? ... So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
Community Rule col. 8:
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 ... 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.

It shall be a Most Holy Dwelling for Aaron, with everlasting knowledge of the Covenant of justice, and shall offer up sweet fragrance. It shall be a House of Perfection and Truth in Israel that they may establish a Covenant according to the everlasting precepts. And they shall be an agreeable offering, atoning for the Land and determining the judgement of wickedness, and there shall be no more iniquity.
So whether or not there is any direct relationship between the post-70 CE Mourners for Zion and the pre-70 CE Dead Sea Scrolls sect and Jewish Christians, they appear to have at least been cut from the same cloth and were opposed by Rabbinic Judaism
Last edited by John2 on Wed Aug 30, 2017 5:41 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Nathan
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Re: Mourners for Zion

Post by Nathan » Tue Aug 29, 2017 1:28 pm

John2 wrote:So whether or not there is any direct relationship between the post-70 CE Mourners for Zion and the pre-70 CE Dead Sea Scrolls sect and Jewish Christians, they appear to have at least been cut from the same cloth and were opposed by Rabbinic Judaism
I don't know that it's safe to say the Mourners were opposed by rabbinic Judaism per se. The Pesikta Rabbati only identifies the Mourners' opponents as "the children of Israel," without any further clarification, and at the same time seems to advocate on the Mourners' behalf. The Midrash claims, for instance, that it is "because of the unending prayers of the Mourners for Zion that the Messiah will appear" (34.1).

John2
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Re: Mourners for Zion

Post by John2 » Wed Aug 30, 2017 9:34 am

Nathan wrote:
I don't know that it's safe to say the Mourners were opposed by rabbinic Judaism per se. The Pesikta Rabbati only identifies the Mourners' opponents as "the children of Israel," without any further clarification, and at the same time seems to advocate on the Mourners' behalf. The Midrash claims, for instance, that it is "because of the unending prayers of the Mourners for Zion that the Messiah will appear" (34.1).
Alexander argues that the Pesiqta Rabbati was written by a Mourner for Zion ("no great leap of faith is needed to assume that its author was himself an 'Abel Siyyon"), hence the statement in 34:1 you cite. Regarding the reference to their opponents as "the children of Israel," what other sect would it be more aptly directed towards after 70 CE than Rabbinic Judaism? This is supported by the account in Tosefta Sotah 15:10-15 that Alexander cites, regarding which he notes on page 82:
What the Rabbis are opposed to is not mourning per se, but excessive mourning accompanied by extreme ascetic practices. The description of the people who indulge in such practices as perusim is suggestive. The problematizing of this term is a noteworthy linguistic development within Rabbinic discourse: it moves from being a positive designation of the pre-70 Pharisees, whom the Rabbis recognize as their spiritual forebears, to a very negative usage, as here. It may be employed in the present context in a minimal sense to denote people who abstain specifically from meat and wine, but more probably it is used quasi-technically to denote ascetics who withdraw from the community. This is probably its meaning in Hillel's famous dictum, "Do not secede ('al tifros) from the community" (m. 'Abot 2:5). Note also its association with extreme ascetic practices in y. Ber. IX, 14b, bot., perhaps an allusion specifically to the Mourners for Zion.

Second, the Rabbinic authorities would have also been troubled by the implicit messianism of the Mourners for Zion. As we have already seen, Mourning for Zion had an eschatological, messianic dimension. By definition it looked forward with keen anticipation to the restoration of Zion. But the Rabbis of the Tannaitic and early Amoraic periods were wary of messianism and did their best to play it down.

A third reason why the Rabbis may have had reservations about the Mourners for Zion is that they may have been a priestly group and hence a potential locus of authority that could challenge the religious hegemony of the Torah-scholars. There is circumstantial evidence pointing in this direction. It would stand to reason that at least in the early period that the Mourners for Zion would have had a strong following among the priests. it was the priests who suffered most from the destruction of the Temple ... Recall also the subtle denigration of Torah-study in Pesiqta Rabbati 34 we noted earlier.
Last edited by John2 on Wed Aug 30, 2017 5:43 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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John2
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Re: Mourners for Zion

Post by John2 » Wed Aug 30, 2017 10:00 am

Another interesting similarity between 1 Peter and the Dead Sea Scrolls is the use of the word "overseer" to describe Jesus in 2:25:
For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
This word and position is commonly compared to the mebaqqer in the DSS, as Chilton, for example, notes:
That term in fact means "overseer," just as episkopos does, and the mebaqqer was charged to do many of the same things that an episkopos was to do ... As Jermemias points out, comparisons are made between the mebaqqer and a father and shepherd (Damascus Document 13:9); he does not mention, but the point is worth making, that Christ himself is said to be an episkopos, to care as a shepherd does in bringing us to God [1 Peter 2:25] ... Divine care and the institution of the overseer appear to have been linked in both Essene theology and primitive Christianity.

https://books.google.com/books?id=YS_d3 ... op&f=false
Damascus Document 13:9:
He [the mebaqqer] shall love them as a father loves his children, and shall carry them in all their distress like a shepherd his sheep.
Last edited by John2 on Wed Aug 30, 2017 2:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Sometimes the light's all shining on me, other times I can barely see.

John2
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Re: Mourners for Zion

Post by John2 » Wed Aug 30, 2017 10:28 am

I wrote:
So whether or not there is any direct relationship between the post-70 CE Mourners for Zion and the pre-70 CE Dead Sea Scrolls sect and Jewish Christians, they appear to have at least been cut from the same cloth ...
For me this "cloth" would be the Fourth Philosophy. In other words, both Jewish Christians and the Mourners for Zion were post-70 CE remnants of the Fourth Philosophy (if different factions of it). The key element of the Fourth Philosophy, according to Josephus in War 6.5.4 (which I see as being a reference to messianism), was that:
But now, what did the most elevate them in undertaking this war, was an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings, how, about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth. The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular, and many of the wise men were thereby deceived in their determination.
Even Acts explicitly says that Christians were viewed by authorities as being similar to other Fourth Philosophers (even if it mixes up the chronology):

5:34-39:
But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
21:37-38:
As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, “May I say something to you?” “Do you speak Greek?” he replied. “Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?"
From Luke's point of view then (writing after 70 CE), Christians were a successful faction of the Fourth Philosophy. And not all Fourth Philosophers followed the same "Messiah"; some of them followed Theudas, some followed Judas the Galilean, some followed the Egyptian, some followed Simon bar Giora (for examples), and, from Gamaliel's point of view above, some followed Jesus.

So in my view the Mourners for Zion and Jewish Christians were whoever was left of the Fourth Philosophy after 70 CE, following (or expecting) their particular Messiah.
Sometimes the light's all shining on me, other times I can barely see.

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