Pile #5 The Essene Book of Everyday Virtues by Kenenth Hanson

12 Dec

The Essene Book of Everyday Virtues: Spiritual Wisdom from the Dead Sea Scrolls / Kenneth Hanson.  San Francisco: Council Oaks Books. 2006. 201 p.  Includes bibliographic references and index

The original review is here  “The Essene Book of Everyday Virtue” http://www.amazon.com/review/RY9XXORXX8U9E/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

“How are we then, to live?”

Ever since the days of of Plato and Socrates, this question above all others -the question of values and purpose- follows each person throughout his or her life, and has been the constant refrain of reformers, ascetics, families, communities, nations, and religions the world over, down through the millenia. Answers are sought through philosophy, religion, and  science. As far back as ancient Greece, India, and China, founders of philosophical schools and religions have enshrined a way of life in their teachings. In the present day answers abound across faith traditions:  the Christian perspectives are to be found in the Evangelical Counsels of the Gospels, in the examples of  The Acts of the Apostles, and in the models of monasticism, as well as from numerous sermons, spiritual books, and retreats. The answer from the Jewish perspective requires active, lifelong study of Torah and Talmud. Islam combines adherence to the 5 Pillars (the arkān-al-Islām (Pillars of Islam) or  arkān ad-dīn (Pillars of Religion) with the study of Qu’ran and Hadith. Confucianism and Taoism both have answers to a fulfilled life that celebrate either  the well-ordered life, or a balance of order and randomness  Buddhism offers it’s Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.  Less religious answers have included American transcendentalism., British Utilitarianism, even Marxist socialism.

An alternate answer is offered by Dr. Kenneth Hanson, of the Judaic Studies department of the University of Central Florida.

In his book, The Essene Book of Everyday Virtues, Professor Hanson offers us, as his subtitle suggests “Spiritual Wisdom from the Dead Sea Scrolls”, which he has studied for over 30 years. Professor Hanson takes from the Scrolls and the community of which they formed a part the following ten virtues: Simplicity, Community, Vision, Labor, Time, Learning, Perseverance, Silence & Right Speech,  Manna, and Abundance and presents them as valuable and viable virtues to be followed even today, as a path toward a more meaningful lives.

The book is comprised of a short personal introduction, ten chapters (one for each virtue to be covered) a (minimal) section of notes, and an index.  He combines historical accounts, archaeological findings and his own paraphrase translations of source documents (designed to make the text more readable to a general audience).

Horizontal Living

Its more a meditation on a way of life and an assertion on how to live,  than a scholarly assessment of the Qumran community’s accomplishments. As he admits, “I have attempted to draw from [the Scrolls] some of the most meaningful, graspable and spiritually suggestive passages and to construct a series of ten disciplines from the ancient world that are relevant to contemporary life.” (p5-6). It is also, though, more a secular approach then a religious, for of his enumerated virtues, not one is primarily ‘religious’ in nature  -that is, relating to the vertical dimension of life (there are for instance, no virtues associated with prayer, or sacrifice, or conversion and repentance)- though this is not necessarily in itself a weakness, more an observation.

Take precautions

What is missing from the text, though,  is a precaution against taking any one virtue to the extreme, or warnings about taking a virtue (or virtues) out of context, or even an analysis of the weakness of the virtue in isolation, or what part of a broken life the particular virtue fills, although this weakness is mitigated, as after the first “Simplicity” every virtue builds on the one preceding it. The implicit conclusion is that the fullest expression of any one virtue requires the living out of all the virtues.

A Place to Start

These are, then, not necessarily the traditional virtues of an institutional monasticism (Christian or otherwise), and readers should be aware that this is not a Christian presentation or understanding of the enumerated virtues, but one that springs from a lifetime of scholarship on the sectarian documents of the Jewish sect of Essenes found at Qumran (without necessarily being a Jewish response to “how shall we live?”).  Hanson’s book has many worthwhile insights and does provide the outline of a program for right living, but it should not be taken in isolation, apart from the (written, oral, social,  and emotional) resources of a supportive community, but it is a good first step.

Until next time then,  Read on my friends, and stay thirsty


edited on 12 December for consistency sake


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