Dear Geoff,

Thanks for the questions.  You write:
"1.  Jehonadab son of Recab (2 Kings 10.15) was around before
the exile described in 2 Kings 17.  So presumably the Rechabite lifestyle
was  already in evidence."

Yep, according to the biblical editors.  This could either
have some historicity to it, or be an "etiological" tale to
explain where it comes from.  The deity that is archaeologically
attested to the Rechabite lifestyle is the Aramaean Shai al' Qaum,
who is traditionally translated as "Companion/Protector of the
Caravan".  But it could also be a pun on the term "Qaum", and
mean BOTH "Caravan" and "stone".

In anycase, there seems to be close congruence between the
Rechabites and the peoples that were devoted to Shai al Qaum.

 
You also ask:
"2.  How do you reconcile the nomadic, tent dwelling, Maverick 
> Rechabites with settled, law-bound, controlled, agricultural
Essenes?"

This happens to dovetail quite nicely with the discussions
of Shai al Qaum.  While the Hellenized version of this anti-wine
God would eventually become Lycurgus, there seems to be strong
evidence (per Diodorus's famous texts about Nabataeans), that 
devotees of Shai settled in the land of Edom and were known as
Nabataeans.  

And LONG before there was a people we would call Essenes, 
the Nabataeans themselves had undergone a transition from
"tent dwelling mavericks" to agriculturally supported people
living in urbanized centers.

There are discussions as to whether even this development
was "universal" - - in other words, perhaps a section of 
Nabataean peasantry CONTINUED to endorse the Rechabite ideals.

In anycase, as far as the Essene phenomenon goes, it would appear
that mentions of them being an agricultural people is emphasized
by Josephus about the Jewish version of Essene-dom.

And even here, the story about Banus/Bannus emphasizes that 
he only ate what grew wild, and did not cultivate his foodstuffs.
And that Essenes also varied as to what trades they did pursue.

So, in short, I would see Essene communes based on agriculture
as part of the VARIED expression of Jewish Essene activity, rather
than as the norm.  And that, in any case, it seems likely that
what was perceived as "ascetic" continued to evolve over time, so
that controlling sexual behavior became more of a "hallmark"
than avoiding agriculture.

Best wishes,

George


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