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May 2016

Josephus on the Essenes

Steve Mason argues that the texts of Josephus cannot be relied upon to support the conclusion that the Essenes were the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the inhabitants of Qumran.

Flavius Josephus was a first-century Jewish historian, politician and soldier whose literary works provide crucial documentation of Roman Palestine in the first century A.D. At age 29, he was appointed general of the Jewish forces in Galilee. He was eventually captured by Vespasian, who was at that time the supreme commander of the Roman army. Josephus capitulated and sought to ingratiate himself with the Roman general, eventually becoming part of the imperial court in Rome. He was an eyewitness to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple by the Roman army in 70 A.D. He spent the rest of his life in Rome pursuing his literary career, the surviving results of which comprise a vital source of historical information.

Josephus’s commentaries on the laws and characteristics of the Essene community have been invaluable to scholars studying ancient Jewish laws and customs. They have also been the subject of much debate, particularly as they pertain to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Researchers have relied heavily on Josephus’s works as they try to determine who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls, who inhabited Qumran, and whether or not the authors of the scrolls and the community at Qumran were in fact one and the same.

Professor Steve Mason asserts in his article “Did the Essenes Write the Dead Sea Scrolls? Don’t Rely on Josephus” (BAR, November/December 2008) that the texts of Josephus cannot be relied upon to support the conclusion that the Essenes were the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the inhabitants of Qumran. So what does Josephus have to say about the Essene community? Following is a translated excerpt from The Jewish War, in which Josephus provides his main description of this fascinating group.

This deliberately literal translation of the Greek is from Steve Mason, Flavius Josephus: translation and commentary, vol. 1b: Judean War (Leiden: Brill, 2008).

The Jewish War, Book II, Chapter 8

(8.2)

119 For three forms of philosophy are pursued among the Judeans: the members of one are Pharisees, of another Sadducees, and the third [school], who certainly are reputed to cultivate seriousness, are called Essenes; although Judeans by ancestry, they are even more mutually affectionate than the others. 120 Whereas these men shun the pleasures as vice, they consider self-control and not succumbing to the passions virtue. And although there is among them a disdain for marriage, adopting the children of outsiders while they are still malleable enough for the lessons they regard them as family and instill in them their principles of character: 121 without doing away with marriage or the succession resulting from it, they nevertheless protect themselves from the wanton ways of women, having been persuaded that none of them preserves her faithfulness to one man.

(8.3)

122 Since [they are] despisers of wealth—their communal stock is astonishing—, one cannot find a person among them who has more in terms of possessions. For by a law, those coming into the school must yield up their funds to the order, with the result that in all [their ranks] neither the humiliation of poverty nor the superiority of wealth is detectable, but the assets of each one have been mixed in together, as if they were brothers, to create one fund for all. 123 They consider olive oil a stain, and should anyone be accidentally smeared with it he scrubs his body, for they make it a point of honor to remain hard and dry, and to wear white always. Hand-elected are the curators of the communal affairs, and indivisible are they, each and every one, [in pursuing] their functions to the advantage of all.

(8.4)

124 No one city is theirs, but they settle amply in each. And for those school-members who arrive from elsewhere, all that the community has is laid out for them in the same way as if they were their own things, and they go in and stay with those they have never even seen before as if they were the most intimate friends. 125 For this reason they make trips without carrying any baggage at all—though armed on account of the bandits. In each city a steward of the order appointed specially for the visitors is designated quartermaster for clothing and the other amenities. 126 Dress and also deportment of body: like children being educated with fear. They replace neither clothes nor footwear until the old set is ripped all over or worn through with age. 127 Among themselves, they neither shop for nor sell anything; but each one, after giving the things that he has to the one in need, takes in exchange anything useful that the other has. And even without this reciprocal giving, the transfer to them [of goods] from whomever they wish is unimpeded.

(8.5)

128 Toward the Deity, at least: pious observances uniquely [expressed]. Before the sun rises, they utter nothing of the mundane things, but only certain ancestral prayers to him, as if begging him to come up. 129 After these things, they are dismissed by the curators to the various crafts that they have each come to know, and after they have worked strenuously until the fifth hour they are again assembled in one area, where they belt on linen covers and wash their bodies in frigid water. After this purification they gather in a private hall, into which none of those who hold different views may enter: now pure themselves, they approach the dining room as if it were some [kind of] sanctuary. 130 After they have seated themselves in silence, the baker serves the loaves in order, whereas the cook serves each person one dish of one food. 131 The priest offers a prayer before the food, and it is forbidden to taste anything before the prayer; when he has had his breakfast he offers another concluding prayer. While starting and also while finishing, then, they honor God as the sponsor of life. At that, laying aside their clothes as if they were holy, they apply themselves to their labors again until evening. 132 They dine in a similar way: when they have returned, they sit down with the vistors, if any happen to be present with them, and neither yelling nor disorder pollutes the house at any time, but they yield conversation to one another in order. 133 And to those from outside, the silence of those inside appears as a kind of shiver-inducing mystery. The reason for this is their continuous sobriety and the rationing of food and drink among them—to the point of fullness.

(8.6)

134 As for other areas: although there is nothing that they do without the curators’ having ordered it, these two things are matters of personal prerogative among them: [rendering] assistance and mercy. For helping those who are worthy, whenever they might need it, and also extending food to those who are in want are indeed left up to the individual; but in the case of the relatives, such distribution is not allowed to be done without [permission from] the managers. 135 Of anger, just controllers; as for temper, able to contain it; of fidelity, masters; of peace, servants. And whereas everything spoken by them is more forceful than an oath, swearing itself they avoid, considering it worse than the false oath; for they declare to be already degraded one who is unworthy of belief without God. 136 They are extraordinarily keen about the compositions of the ancients, selecting especially those [oriented] toward the benefit of soul and body. On the basis of these and for the treatment of diseases, roots, apotropaic materials, and the special properties of stones are investigated.

(8.7)

137 To those who are eager for their school, the entry-way is not a direct one, but they prescribe a regimen for the person who remains outside for a year, giving him a little hatchet as well as the aforementioned waist-covering and white clothing. 138 Whenever he should give proof of his self-control during this period, he approaches nearer to the regimen and indeed shares in the purer waters for purification, though he is not yet received into the functions of communal life. For after this demonstration of endurance, the character is tested for two further years, and after he has thus been shown worthy he is reckoned into the group. 139 Before he may touch the communal food, however, he swears dreadful oaths to them: first, that he will observe piety toward the deity; then, that he will maintain just actions toward humanity; that he will harm no one, whether by his own deliberation or under order; that he will hate the unjust and contend together with the just; 140 that he will always maintain faithfulness to all, especially to those in control, for without God it does not fall to anyone to hold office, and that, should he hold office, he will never abuse his authority—outshining his subordinates, whether by dress or by some form of extravagant appearance; 141 always to love the truth and expose the liars; that he will keep his hands pure from theft and his soul from unholy gain; that he will neither conceal anything from the school-members nor disclose anything of theirs to others, even if one should apply force to the point of death. 142 In addition to these, he swears that he will impart the precepts to no one otherwise than as he received them, that he will keep away from banditry, and that he will preserve intact their school’s books and the names of the angels. With such oaths as these they completely secure those who join them.

(8.8)

143 Those they have convicted of sufficiently serious errors they expel from the order. And the one who has been reckoned out often perishes by a most pitiable fate. For, constrained by the oaths and customs, he is unable to partake of food from others. Eating grass and in hunger, his body wastes away and perishes. 144 That is why they have actually shown mercy and taken back many in their final gasps, regarding as sufficient for their errors this ordeal to the point of death.

(8.9)

145 Now with respect to trials, [they are] just and extremely precise: they render judgment after having assembled no fewer than a hundred, and something that has been determined by them is non-negotiable. There is a great reverence among them for—next to God—the name of the lawgiver, and if anyone insults him he is punished by death. 146 They make it point of honor to submit to the elders and to a majority. So if ten were seated together, one person would not speak if the nine were unwilling. 147 They guard against spitting into [their] middles or to the right side and against applying themselves to labors on the seventh days, even more than all other Judeans: for not only do they prepare their own food one day before, so that they might not kindle a fire on that day, but they do not even dare to transport a container—or go to relieve themselves. 148 On the other days they dig a hole of a foot’s depth with a trowel—this is what that small hatchet given by them to the neophytes is for—and wrapping their cloak around them completely, so as not to outrage the rays of God, they relieve themselves into it [the hole]. 149 After that, they haul back the excavated earth into the hole. (When they do this, they pick out for themselves the more deserted spots.) Even though the secretion of excrement is certainly a natural function, it is customary to wash themselves off after it as if they have become polluted.

(8.10)

150 They are divided into four classes, according to their duration in the training, and the later-joiners are so inferior to the earlier-joiners that if they should touch them, the latter wash themselves off as if they have mingled with a foreigner. 151 [They are] long-lived, most of them passing 100 years—as a result, it seems to me at least, of the simplicity of their regimen and their orderliness. Despisers of terrors, triumphing over agonies by their wills, considering death—if it arrives with glory—better than deathlessness. 152 The war against the Romans proved their souls in every way: during it, while being twisted and also bent, burned and also broken, and passing through all the torture-chamber instruments, with the aim that they might insult the lawgiver or eat something not customary, they did not put up with suffering either one: not once gratifying those who were tormenting [them], or crying.153 But smiling in their agonies and making fun of those who were inflicting the tortures, they would cheerfully dismiss their souls, [knowing] that they would get them back again.

(8.11)

154 For the view has become tenaciously held among them that whereas our bodies are perishable and their matter impermanent, our souls endure forever, deathless: they get entangled, having emanated from the most refined ether, as if drawn down by a certain charm into the prisons that are bodies. 155 But when they are released from the restraints of the flesh, as if freed from a long period of slavery, then they rejoice and are carried upwards in suspension. For the good, on the one hand, sharing the view of the sons of Greece they portray the lifestyle reserved beyond Oceanus and a place burdened by neither rain nor snow nor heat, but which a continually blowing mild west wind from Oceanus refreshes. For the base, on the other hand, they separate off a murky, stormy recess filled with unending retributions. 156 It was according to the same notion that the Greeks appear to me to have laid on the Islands of the Blessed for their most courageous men, whom they call heroes and demi-gods, and for the souls of the worthless the region of the impious in Hades, in which connection they tell tales about the punishments of certain men—Sisyphuses and Tantaluses, Ixions and Tityuses—establishing in the first place the [notion of] eternal souls and, on that basis, persuasion toward virtue and dissuasion from vice. 157For the good become even better in the hope of a reward also after death, whereas the impulses of the bad are impeded by anxiety, as they expect that even if they escape detection while living, after their demise they will be subject to deathless retribution. 158 These matters, then, the Essenes theologize with respect to the soul, laying down an irresistible bait for those who have once tasted of their wisdom.

(8.12)

159 There are also among them those who profess to foretell what is to come, being thoroughly trained in holy books, various purifications, and concise sayings of prophets. Rarely if ever do they fail in their predictions.

(8.13)

160 There is also a different order of Essenes. Though agreeing with the others about regimen and customs and legal matters, it has separated in its opinion about marriage. For they hold that those who do not marry cut off the greatest part of life, the succession, and more: if all were to think the same way, the line would very quickly die out. 161 To be sure, testing the brides in a three-year interval, once they have been purified three times as a test of their being able to bear children, they take them in this manner; but they do not continue having intercourse with those who are pregnant, demonstrating that the need for marrying is not because of pleasure, but for children. Baths [are taken] by the women wrapping clothes around themselves, just as by the men in a waist-covering. Such are the customs of this order.

An Unexpected Consequence of the Christian Crusades

From a western point of view, the Christian Crusades have a glorified and righteous history: countless films and books recount how the shining knights of Christianity set out to save Christendom from the “infidel.” Ironically, the reality of Crusades history is that probably the best thing to come out of the Christian Crusades for western civilization was not the conquest of, but rather the exposure to, the Muslim “infidel.” Below, J. Harold Ellens details this twist in Crusades history in “The Fihrist: How an Arab Book Seller Saved Civilization.”

At a time when western Christian society could be accurately characterized as superstitious, brutal, dogmatic and repressive, the Arab world during the Christian Crusades period was reaching a zenith of learning and enlightenment. Once such example of this is the watershed work called the Fihrist (meaning “the catalogue”), a compendium of all of the significant written works on religion, the humanities and science available at the end of the first millennium A.D. The Fihrist, and the scholarship it represents, is one of the shining positives that emerged from a Crusades history that was otherwise brutal and bloody.

As explained by J. Harold Ellens below, from the Fihrist western scholars gained from the Christian Crusades the wealth of human knowledge that spanned the preceding several millennia—even Aristotle’s will was included in the masterwork compendium. It could be—and has been—argued that in Crusades history the best and unanticipated consequence of the Christian Crusades is that the western world now had the opportunity to regain ancient knowledge—through works like the Fihrist—that centuries of political instability and religious superstition had lost.

It took time. The western Renaissance several hundred years later is largely attributed to this reacquisition of ancient learning from works like the Fihrist. But gradually this consequence of the Christian Crusades trickled down to men (and some women) of learning in later generations, who were able to incorporate this aspect of Crusades history into a revival of knowledge in the humanities and sciences.

What the Christian Crusades gave to the Muslim world in terms of destruction, death and conflict was nowhere near the unexpected and unanticipated gift that the western world obtained from Crusades history in the form of works like the Fihrist. The Christians set out to conquer the “infidel,” but the “infidel” ended up educating the Christians.

The Fihrist

by J. Harold Ellens

The Fihrist: How an Arab book seller saved civilization

In a fiery speech delivered at Clermont, France, in 1095 C.E., Pope Urban II called on Western Christians to expel the “Infidel” from the Holy Land. Thus the Pope unleashed the Crusades, during which European armies gained control of most of the Levant, including Jerusalem. The Pope also unleashed something else—a kind of frenzied destructiveness that frequently accompanies righteous fury. The wars of the following two centuries were marked by unimaginable and often irrational acts of rapine and murder, not the least of which was the Crusader attack in 1203 upon Constantinople, in which hundreds of thousands of Eastern Orthodox Christians were slaughtered.

In return, the West received one of the greatest gifts ever presented by one civilization to another. The Crusades opened up a rich mine of Eastern scholarship. The West would be civilized by the “Infidel,” informed by refined Persian and Arab scientists, historians, physicians, poets and philosophers.

An important instrument in this cultural exchange was a remarkable book, the Fihrist (Catalogue). This tenth-century C.E. book is a catalogue of all the significant written works on religion, science and the humanities that were available at the end of the first millennium C.E. It includes a digest of ancient Greek and Roman literature, much of which was lost to the West after the fall of the Roman Empire and the destruction of the Alexandria Library.a The Fihrist also lists classical texts that were preserved by Eastern scholars in the great imperial libraries of Baghdad, Aleppo, Damascus and Khurasan.

The breadth of learning revealed by the Fihrist is astonishing. It treats language, calligraphy and holy scriptures such as the Torah, the Gospels and the Koran. It contains chapters on Arab grammarians, history and politics, pre-Islamic poetry, the literature of the Umayyad (661–750) and Abbasid (750–1258) caliphates, as well as chapters on prominent jurists and legal authorities. It provides a summary of philosophy from the Hellenic thinker, Thales of Miletus (c. 620–555 B.C.E.), to the end of the first millennium C.E.—devoting considerable ink to Plato and Aristotle, even recording the entire text of Aristotle’s will. TheFihrist discusses mathematics, astronomy, medicine, fables and legends, Christian and Islamic sects, alchemy and bookmaking, and it tells what was known of such faraway places as India, Indochina and China.

The author of this signal work, Abu ’l-Faraj Muhammad ibn Ishaq al-Nadim (c. 935–990 C.E.), was probably born in Baghdad, where his father ran a bookstore. The name “al-Nadim” (literally, “courtier”) means that he was a court official of some sort. His father was a warrag, or entrepreneur. Al-Nadim probably received a normal education: beginning instruction at the mosque at age six, memorizing much of the Koran by early adolescence, and then entering one of the mosque’s study circles. During the course of his life, he also had the opportunity to study under some of the luminaries of his day, such as the famous jurist Abu Sa’id al-Sirafi, the mathematician Yunus al-Qass and the historian Abu ‘Abd Allah al-Marzubani.
Al-Nadim’s greatest source of learning, however, was his father’s bookstore, where he was employed. No doubt his research was extremely useful to his father and their potential customers, especially his detailed knowledge of important books and authors. One imagines that his daily routine included copying manuscripts, entertaining scholars and acquiring books.1 In chapter four of the Fihrist, al-Nadim explains that his life’s work was “to present the names of the poets and the amount of verses written by each poet among them … so that whoever desires to collect books and poems can have this information.” Perhaps not accidentally, this system closely corresponds to that developed by the third-century B.C.E. scholar Callimachus for recording books in Egypt’s Alexandria Library.2

One of al-Nadim’s biographers refers to him as a Mu’tazili—that is, a member of a heretical Islamic sect that embraced the rationalistic and humanistic aspects of Islamic thought. The Mu’tazili, for instance, rejected traditional Islamic determinism, according to which everything happens because of the will of God. They believed, instead, that God’s justice could only exist if human beings were the authors of their own actions—and thus were punished or rewarded according to what they, not only God, willed and did. Even though al-Nadim was a Shi’ite who considered the rival Sunni Muslims crude and ignorant, he must have been seriously interested in the Mu’tazili, since he devotes a large part of chapter five to the sect.3 Mu’tazilism also seems like the sort of philosophy that would appeal to a man of al-Nadim’s learning.

Al-Nadim added to, arranged and rearranged his encyclopedia until his untimely death at the age of 55. On the title page of the Fihrist manuscript in Dublin’s Chester Beatty Library (see the second sidebar to this article) is a note, almost certainly penned by the great historian al-Maqrizi (1365–1441), indicating that al-Nadim died on the tenth day before the end of the month of Sha’ban in 990/1. Manuscripts of the Fihrist in al-Nadim’s own handwriting were probably placed in the royal library at Baghdad. In 1229 an Arab scholar claimed that he had worked from a manuscript of the Fihrist in its author’s hand; in 1252 the lexicographer al-Saghani made a similar claim.

One of al-Nadim’s persistent interests was the Arabic language. He cites scholarly debates about the origins of Arabic script—whether it was developed in a small Midianite Bedouin encampment in modern northwest Saudi Arabia or was borrowed from foreigners. Some sources say that Adam passed the script down, al-Nadim tells us; others claim that Ishmael gave it to his descendants. Al-Nadim is not much concerned with these folk traditions, but he is very interested in transcriptions of the Koran in the various dialects, scripts, hands and illuminations available in his day.

Al-Nadim not only sold and catalogued books, he was passionate about them. In the Fihrist, he comments on books and scripts of the Persians, Greeks, Hebrews (archaic and current), Syrians, Saxons, Chinese, Turks, Indians, Nubians, Russians, Bulgarians, Franks and Armenians. He loved all aspects of bookmaking, from orthography and calligraphy to methods of sharpening pens and making paper. Books, for al-Nadim, were almost alive; they were friends and teachers. “[B]ooks are the shells of wisdom, which are split open for the pearls of character,” he records one source as saying. From another source he quotes: “If books had not bound together the experiences of former generations, the shackles of later generations in their forgetfulness would not have been loosed.” Books represented an ideal existence without the failings to which men and women are prone. As one source says,

We have companions of whose conversation we never weary;
Confiding and trustworthy whether absent or present,
They give us the benefit of their knowledge … of what has passed,
With wise opinion, discipline, and instruction well-guided,
Without cause to be dreaded or fear of suspicion.

It is not surprising that al-Nadim devotes an extensive section of his volume to how the Koran was supposed to have been assembled from the revelations of the prophet Mohammed. He discusses the various sources, editions and interpretations of the Koran, along with the Islamic sages who commented on the holy book and the people and places mentioned in it. Al-Nadim also includes careful notes on discrepancies in the Koran— inconsistencies, special characteristics of language or ideas, as well as other notable peculiarities in the sacred texts.

The Fihrist: How an Arab book seller saved civilization

Apparently al-Nadim visited official libraries, bookstores, authors and private libraries in his search for books. Of one book collector, Mohammed ibn al-Husayn, who lived near Aleppo, al-Nadim writes: “I have never seen anyone else with a library as extensive as the one which he had. It certainly contained Arabic books about grammar, philology, and literature, as well as ancient works. I met this man a number of times and, although he was friendly with me, he was wary and tight with his possessions.”

Hand-copied books were valuable objects—prized particularly by the feudal chiefs who ruled Aleppo from 944 to 967 C.E. and who were commandeering books to build their own library. Al-Husayn was “tight” because he was worried that the Aleppo sheiks would learn of his beloved volumes and then confiscate them. Among his precious antique manuscripts, al-Nadim reports, were “trusts and contracts in the handwriting of the Commander of the Faithful, Ali,” the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed, along with documents in the hand of Mohammed’s scribes.

While making his way from library to library and from city to city, al-Nadim was always on the watch for especially rare books. He knew of two eighth-century C.E. Arabic grammar books that had apparently been lost, since he could find no one who had ever seen a copy or knew of anyone who had. One can sense the palpable grief of a true bibliophile in al-Nadim’s account of his futile search for these tomes.
Of a well-known man named al-Suli, “one of the brilliant men of letters and collectors of books,” al-Nadim reports a long list of admirable things, from his writing important books to his being a champion chess player. But the news about al-Suli is not all good. In his magnum opus on poetry, entitled Leaves, al-Nadim observes, “he relied upon the book of al-Marthadi about poetry and the poets; in fact he transcribed and plagiarized it. I have seen a copy of [the work of] this man [al-Marthadi] which came from the library of al-Suli and by which he was exposed.”

The Fihrist: How an Arab book seller saved civilization

One intriguing passage in the Fihrist concerns ancient Persian astronomy. After carefully describing how Persian scientists treated the bark of the white poplar tree to produce a durable writing material, al-Nadim informs us that they wrote down detailed astronomical tables collected from as far back as the Babylonians. Then the ancient scientists looked for a city where the climate was optimal for preserving these records. They determined upon the Persian city of Jayy:

Then they went … inside the city of Jayy, to make it the depository for their sciences. This [depository] was called Sarwayh [Saruyah] and it has lasted until our own time. In regard to this building … many years before our time a side [of the building] became ruined. Then they found a vault in the cleft-off side … in which they discovered many books of the ancients, written on white poplar bark … and containing all of the sciences of the forefathers written in the old Persian form of writing.

Al-Nadim reports further that he had it on “reliable authority” that in 961 or 962 “another vaulted building cracked open … Many books were discovered in this place, but nobody found out how to read them.” The author then informs us that a decade before he had seen for himself books in Greek that had been found in a wall of the city (presumably Jayy). Al-Nadim closes this account by observing that in ancient times learning was forbidden except for those who were scholars or known to be able to receive learning by natural genius. Although the Greeks and Romans promoted learning, the Byzantine Christians forbade literacy except for the study of theology. In contrast, al-Nadim believed that Islam encourages the pursuit of literacy and knowledge.

Although the Fihrist is probably most valuable as a compendium of knowledge, it also preserves the spirit of its times through informative and entertaining narratives. One such story tells of a cotton worker named Mohammed ibn Kullab, who had a running theological debate with an acquaintance. Ibn Kullab contended that the Word of Allah, notably the Koran, is also Allah. His interlocutor then accused ibn Kullab of being a Christian, since Christians believed, on the basis of the Gospel of John, that the Word is God, and asked, “What do you have to say about the Christ (al-Masih)?” He would say the same thing about Christ that the Sunni Muslims say about the Koran, ibn Kullab responded: He is the Word of God.

This story nicely illustrates al-Nadim’s tone of mind: tolerant, curious, often bemused. Not only does the Fihrist show the breadth of al-Nadim’s knowledge, it is also a testament to his compassion. This devout Muslim, extremely proud of his culture and heritage, honored the beliefs of other peoples and gave them residence in his life’s work. He knew much about Judaism and Christianity, for example; he knew their histories, their scriptures, their religious beliefs. He knew the works of ancient Greek, Hindu and Chinese scholars. He was fascinated by the world beyond his own, so he built a monument to it, the Fihrist, which shines brightly with his humane spirit.

Notes

1. Al-Nadim provides numerous accounts of book collections in remote places. For example, he tells of one sage, Khalid ibn Yzid ibn Mu’awiyah, who ordered a group of Greek philosophers from a city in Egypt, presumably Alexandria, to translate Greek and Coptic scientific books into Arabic (p. 581). Al-Nadim gives one unusually interesting account: “I heard Abu Ishaq ibn Shahram tell in a general gathering that there is in the Byzantine country a temple of ancient construction. It has a portal larger than any other ever seen with both gates made of iron. In ancient times, when they worshipped heavenly bodies and idols, the Greeks exalted this [temple], praying and sacrificing in it. He [Ibn Shahram] said, ‘I asked the emperor of the Byzantines to open it for me, but this was impossible, as it had been locked since the time that the Byzantines had become Christians. I continued, however, to be courteous to him, to correspond with him, and also to entreat him in conversation during my stay at his court. … He agreed to open it and, behold, this building was made of marble and great colored stones, upon which there were many beautiful inscriptions and sculptures. I have never seen or heard of anything equaling its vastness and beauty. In this temple there were numerous camel loads of ancient books … Some of these [books] were worn and some in normal condition. Others were eaten by insects.’ Then he said, ‘I saw there gold offering utensils and other rare things.’ He went on to say, ‘After my exit the door was locked …’ He believed that the building was a three-day journey from Constantinople” (pp. 585–586). It is likely that this was the famous Celsus Library at Ephesus, built in the second century C.E.

2. Callimachus (c. 305–235 B.C.E.) served under four successive chief librarians as the collector and collator of the Alexandria Library. He produced a 120-volume catalogue, called the Pinakes, of the library’s 500,000 books (that number would reach 1,000,000 by the time of Jesus). The Pinakes contained information on each book’s contents, provenance and author. After the library was destroyed in the seventh century C.E., many of its surviving books were apparently carried off to the imperial libraries of the caliphates, where they were translated into Persian and Arabic. For more information, see J. Harold Ellens, “You Can Look It Up!AO 02:02; “The Ancient Library of Alexandria: The West’s Most Important Repository of Learning,BR 13:01; The Ancient Library of Alexandria and Early Christian Theological Development, Occasional Papers no. 27 (Claremont, CA: Institute for Antiquity and Christianity, Claremont Graduate University, 1993).

3. In the Fihrist, al-Nadim provides a summary of what others think of the Mu’tazilah (meaning “Those Who Separate Themselves”): “The Zaydiyah and Ibadiyah said that they did not believe in [God’s] grace, and were neither polytheists nor Muslims, but sinners. The companions of al-Hasan said that they were hypocrites and also sinners. All of the Mu’tazilah separated themselves from the things about which these [groups] differed. They said, ‘We agree about what they join in calling sin, but we avoid matters about which they disagree concerning unbelief, belief, hypocrisy, and polytheism’” (pp. 380–381).

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