The Essenes

 

THE DIVISION OF JUDAISM

A group of particularly pious priests, elders, and laymen are the outstanding group who form the Essene sect.  They considered themselves the righteous remnant of the Zadokite Priesthood.  They break away from the Hellenized, or corrupted Zadokites, known to us as the Sadducees.  Three groups, or divisions, of Essene, soon form the Enochian sect, the Nazarenes and the Osseaens.  There were other splinter groups.

Qumran (Osseaen) complex

Many varied groups and individuals
would have visited Qumran. The
dispersal of manuscripts would have
been one reason.

Depicted, Egyptian Nazarene Essenes at Qumran

 

The surrounding area is arid, but with many springs.

 

ENOCHIAN

The Enochian adherent believed there would be an end time and everyone must be prepared.  The Nazarenes and the Osseaens held a similar belief.  Enoch 6:4-12, “The elect shall possess light, joy, and peace; and they shall inherit the earth” (9), and “wisdom shall be given to the elect” (11).  The idea of a special group, as well as those who join them, is either indicated or stated throughout the Book of Enoch.  The Enochian believed a Messiah would at some point be needed, Enoch chapters 38–40: “The first is the merciful, the patient, the holy Michael,” 40.8.  Obviously, the main scriptures followed by the Enochian would be the Book of Enoch, but otherwise very little is known about them.

However, the text of Enoch became a continued influence within the Hebrew Bible.  New Testament teachings are represented in the Book of Enoch.  Revelations 1.13-14 referencing the Ancient of Days, “His head and his hairs were like wool, as white as snow,” with Enoch’s 46.1-3, “…whose head was like white wool.”  Enoch 48.2-5, “In that hour the Son of man invoked before the Lord of spirits, and his name in the presence of the Ancient of Days.  Before the sun and the signs were created, before the stars of heaven were formed, his name was invoked,” compared with John 1.1-2, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.”  Both scriptures and there are others, would lead one to believe that both disciple John and John of Patmos must have had familiarity with Enochic beliefs, even though both were many generations removed from Enoch.

Extended theology such as in the above scriptures requires time, refinement, and a continued and organized effort to keep them accepted and practiced.  This would infer the Enochic vision as ongoing, a root of Judaism almost from the beginning, perhaps as early as the times of Enoch himself.  What later is designated as the Zadokite Priesthood is thought to have its roots with Enoch, Brothers of the Righteous, then directly extended into the developed teaching of the Way.  Isaiah 9.6 (c. 725 BC) is another good example of the continuation of Messiah theology: “For unto us a child is born, a Son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder.  And his name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  This clearly gives attribution to the longer-standing messianic vision, which is very much in line with Enochian and Essenic thinking generally.

All Essene would consider themselves the Sons of Zadok, or Zadokites. “The Priests are the converts of Israel who departed from the land of Judah, and those (those of the Levitical priesthood) who joined them.  The Sons of Zadok are the elect of Israel, the men called by name who shall stand at the end of days…” from the Damascus Document IV, Dead Sea Scrolls, taken from Ezekiel 44.15.  The Sons of Zadok were the most knowledgeable of the Zadokite priesthood or the Temple Priests.

 

OSSEAENS (Ossuary)/ NAZARENES (Nazara-branch)

The Qumran Essene is known as Osseaens, also spelled Ossaeans.  The establishment of Qumran (Q’um Ran) is believed to have originated, as we know it today, in 160–150 BC.  The separation within the body of the Essene will represent legalists (Osseaens), and those whose teachings remain uncluttered by the legalistic approach, those better described as spiritual or enlightened (Nazarenes).  However, Osseaens would consider themselves the holiest of the Zadokite priesthood.  They maintained strict adherence to Mosaic law but also created other purification laws to make one even more holy.  Jesus the Nazarene would condemn these new laws in Matt. 15.8-11, “Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men,” (9).

Osseaens are generally considered synonymous with the scribes.  The lawyers were more learned scribes.  The word ‘lawyer’ comes from this group.  The Qumran priests and scribes considered their main task to copy, or multiply, scriptures (scribes), but they also provided commentary on the law (lawyers), which were used in Essene synagogues, and were taught in Pharisee synagogues as well.  Scribes would be very well versed in the law, and the lawyers themselves would be higher-ranking priests within the Osseaen order.

Pharisees would be much more closely associated with the legalist Osseaen Essene, indulging in many of the purifications, and the prayers which accompany such purifications.  Essentially, Pharisees and Osseaens spent a good deal of time in useless prayers concerning physical matters, endless hand washing, etc.  For these reasons, Pharisees and scribes are found almost always together within scripture.  Jesus, as a Nazarene, would be forced to contend with both.

Even though legalists, the Qumran Essenes shared one common view with all Essene— that the Essene priests were the proper temple authority and would eventually assume authority within the Temple.  As a faction of the original Zadokite priesthood, they did have a rightful claim.  However, there remain a few issues: first, the Qumran Essene would have continued animal sacrifice in the Temple, as Jesus would not (Jn. 2.16-17); second, they seemed habituated to ritual cleanliness, and in line with this lived relatively Spartan lives, not at all like Jesus, nor the mainstream of Judaism; third, and most importantly, they were celibate and tended to be elderly.  Set in their ways and the firmness of the law, they generally removed themselves from society.  Legalism increased.  Nor would they accept immersion from John the Baptist, essentially to convert to the new revelation, and for that reason would be left out of God’s plan (Lk. 7.30).

Jesus and the Nazarenes, who were located in Galilee and northward, were not known to have ever participated in sacrifice, nor is Jesus noted to have practiced sacrifice himself.  Scripture would surely have mentioned such an event.  Jesus is very clear that mercy (love) must be preeminent over sacrifice (Mt. 9.13).  The love principle Jesus teaches accentuates the inner man (spirit-man), and thus puts man first before God instead of first the law, requiring a whole new spiritual order, and inferring a whole new standard for humanity and for humane treatment under the law.  Jesus disdained the cleanliness practices of the Pharisees (probably borrowed from the Osseaens), and celibacy was not a known practice by Nazarene priests.  By contrast, one might say the Qumran Essene became intellectual legalists, as opposed to interpreting the spirit of the law as Jesus did.

 

KEEPERS  of the  LIGHT  and the  WAY 

All Essene would view themselves as Sons of Light, keepers of the ‘light of truth’.  Later, the continuation of this theme in the New Testament, as in “…but was sent to bear witness to that light, That was the true light which gives light to every man,” Jn. 1.8-9 –all lead to the basic Essenic vision of Messiah who is the light of God, shining forth in purity, which in their view should not be denied by any Jew.  “… true light which gives light to every man,” denotes that not only would Messiah reveal God in a manner not yet known to the Jews, “true light”, but in doing so would become evident to others outside Judaism, “every man”.  Those who could not recognize Messiah, those who thought otherwise, would become usurpers of one kind or another.

The Community, as it is written, established its group around strictness within obedience to the law.  As mentioned, they would become the ‘lawyers’ who would write the commentaries, an effort to provide what they considered deeper clarity.  By contrast, Nazarenes would interpret law much as Jesus did, by the nature of enlightenment, or by the effusion of the spirit of God.  “…but shall impart true knowledge and righteous judgment to those who have chosen the Way [unto God],”* would be the intent of both divisions of Essene— by the Nazarenes at the arrival of Messiah and the new revelation that would set men free, essentially what we know today as the “Good News,” and by the Osseaens through more purity laws and strictness to the law.  Is it righteous to do good on the sabbath (Matt. 12.10-14), or is it more important to obey the law, this is perhaps the best biblical example of the two differing mentalities.

*Dead Sea Scrolls, Community Rule IX

The Osseaen view pronounced legalism combined with purity rituals as the core of the Judaic reformation.  Nazarene Essenes interpreted the theology of the Way described as much more mystical.  A useful example of this more mystical understanding is the use of the term “Son of Man,” (Lk. 22.66-71).*  Son of Man is understood as a proper name and a soul of heavenly origin, literally, a divine anointed one who had not yet been revealed.  The Son of Man would embrace the greater enlightenment of grace as preeminent, as Jesus teaches, and would give the final interpretation of the Law and the Prophets, which essentially is the final teaching of the Way.  Jesus would leave the law subjugated to forgiveness and mercy.  For this and other reasons Jesus is observed to have had Nazarene Essene roots–he would personify the Essenic-messianic vision for man, both in his teaching and in his person, rather than a continued or expanded vision for the law.

*(67) “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he (Jesus) said to them, ‘If I tell you, you will by no means believe, (68) and if I also ask you, you will by no means answer me or let me go. (69) Hereafter the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of the power of God.’ (70) Then they all said, “Are you then the Son of God (interchangeable with Son of Man)?” And he said to them, “You rightly say that I am.”

The far northern location of the Nazarenes is important.  “Here toward the end of the first century AD, we have members of the family of Jesus residing at places significantly called Nazara (Sproutville) and Cochaba (Starville)… not far from the Greek cities of the Decapolis. If we accept the statement of Epiphanius… that Cochaba was in Batanea, then we should look for Nazara in the same district.”*

*Jeffrey Butz. The Secret Legacy of Jesus (quoting Schoenfield), chap. seven. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions.

In line with the above description, most scholars now believe the lost years of Jesus were spent in retreat locations preparing for what would become his ministry work.  It is almost certainly true that Jesus traveled, perhaps extensively, as this was a part of the priestly discipline.  He may well have traveled to Damascus, much closer to the Hauron region of Nazara and Cochaba than Jerusalem.  That Saul later has letters of arrest to prosecute in Damascus tells us much about the widespread influence of the Nazarenes, and the teaching called the Way.  Jesus may have visited Qumran as well, for Jesus seems more than a little bit knowledgeable concerning the legalist Osseaens.  Other foreign journeys may have included India, and possibly northward into the Caspian.  Alexandria as well as the southern reaches of the Nile (Elephantine) were known places of visitation and study.

The enlightenment teaching of the Way would sound strange to those not so familiar with Nazarene thinking.  The Enochian and Nazarene Essenes held more visionary and mystical views, more especially that a Messiah was necessary (and not just arriving).  It was believed that man could not sort the evils of this world, which only a heaven-sent being may do.  As for the Sadducees, they did not see a need for Messiah, as they thought the Torah was complete, and that man needed only adhere to it.

In light of this difference the scribal authority (lawyers & scribes), and the priestly authority (Sadducees & Pharisees) battered Jesus with intricate legal questions in an attempt to entrap him, and thus either expose him to the Romans as a rabble-rouser, else turn the people against him.  However, many common people of the Essene sect, and some of the Pharisee adherents, did convert and believed Jesus to be the Messiah.  Nicodemus, a ranking Pharisee, and member of the Sanhedrin would be the most obvious example.

Sabbath law and practice had evolved in the previous two centuries, but unfortunately not for the better.  The disagreement with Jesus’ interpretation of sabbath law became the main concern.  Sabbath observation, observing sanctity within the context of this new legalism (you may take with you one fig, but not two figs) soon becomes the conflict.  Jesus obviously presents a much more compassionate and revelatory view on life and the sabbath yet at the same time a far more practical outlook.  The fact that most of the Qumran Essene priests did not recognize their own Messiah leaves them in the legalistic basket with the Pharisees.

Most scholars agree that many if not most of Jesus’ Galilean followers came from the Essene community.  Later, more Pharisaic followers would have joined the ranks.  No one could deny their eyes, as healing and miracle became evident.  To give one important example, palm trees have never grown in Jerusalem, thus the palm fronds laid before Jesus at the Eastern Gate had to come from Jericho.  This effort would require organization and a knowledgeable commitment to assemble such a welcoming.  Even so, for his perceived blasphemies the Essene scribes and lawyers continued a dark outlook on Jesus.  Near the end of the Jesus ministry, at least some of the Essene priesthood were vehemently against Jesus, and are thought to have played a role in pressing for his crucifixion.

 

God Bless!

5 comments on “The Essenes

  1. Loved this commentary! I learned a great deal. I’ve just recently started studying the Essences Q scrolls and you’ve added a great deal more.
    Just, concerning the Damascus document; is this city different than the one in Syria?

    • Not clear as to your question, but thanks for the compliment. I upgrade articles from time to time, always looking for accuracy, clarity.

      • Damascus: Would have been considered capitol city for the Nazarenes. Paul went from Damascus into Arabia, and then returned to Damasacus before beginning ministry. Paul spent seven years in Arabia (Cochaba, Nazara) receiving his priestly training. This training would have been similar to other priests, but it seems clear Paul had delivered unto him a special calling of the Holy Spirit. Paul would have taught what he had been taught, which provides for a messianic being, noted as Messiah and heaven sent.

  2. Great article! Though I would note a few corrections I think are necessary. The first major point is that it is errenous to suppose the Qumran group must have been Essenes, and if they were, which is indeed possible, it would be a greater error to gather their identity by the books in their library. What we know for sure about the essenes from the references that can be found in original sources from the first few centuries CE, is that the Essenes in total were against the Jerusalem second temple cult of blood sacrifice, and that what distinguished the Essenes from the Nazarenes was primarily that they were celibate. Jesus would have began his life as part of a Nazarene community but in his training and ministry was further set apart and continued celibate as the other Essenes. All these groups represented the “root of Jesse” and stood for the religion of Old Israel before the reforms of Josiah and usurpation by the false Babylonian priesthood and the second temple blood cult. Old Israel was based on Lady Wisdom and the temple cult had no blood offerings, and these “root of Jesse” communities claimed that blood sacrifice was not given in the Law by Moses.

    • Thank you JDB, good addition to the Essene article. The Essene separation (150 BC) continued into Jesus’ time, providing a greater spiritual tension. By the times of Jesus, the attention to the law was ascendant (scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, lawyers, many Essene priests). The law, and thus the religion had to be reformed (Jesus, Nazarenes, probably Enochians and other splinter groups). As to the law, Jesus expounded on what had become severity, condemnations without compassion (broadly speaking), Jn. 8.1-10, as an example. Most of Jesus’confrontations came from scribes, readily available in Jerusalem, from Qumran. “books in their library”, since they were scribes (copiers of manuscripts) they would naturally copy more requested manuscripts, such as Isaiah. It is not their books that are in question, but by removing the ‘spirit of the law’ and maintaining a firm legalistic view, the only spiritual pathway becomes reduced to the legal quest; thus not to quest after the Spirit, or God Himself. This structure of thought provides for no further growth within Judaism, only the better obeying of the law, if possible. The roots of the Qumran vision had fallen into a legal redundancy. All Essene were against the usurping Sadducees and their control of the Temple. But the new revelation to remove them could never come from various legal or power moves, as the Sadducees themselves were the legal authority (Great Sanhedrin).

      Do not be so sure that Jesus continued within celibacy. “Wife’ and ‘Companion’ are synonymous, many scholars accept this word study as the correct interpretation. Also, even though a celibate Essene priest might begin ministry, he would never be accompanied by women, and certainly not a ‘strange’ or ‘loose’ woman, as those terms were used in that day. Also, the Qumran priests were generally older, and certainly had been married and had children. It was a very different matter for a priest of any kind to be giving counsel concerning wife, children, or household matters, had he never been married. This would not be acceptable, and Jesus would have been confronted on this matter, especially by those resisting his advice or teaching. Traveling with a ‘strange’ woman was allowed by no one.
      The “root of Jesse” is the most important factor. The Nazarenes considered themselves that root, but did not consider the Essene legalists in the same manner. The “root of Jesse” was about to correct the imbalance upon law into balance within God. Thank you for mentioning the Babylonian Temple, which was largely orchestrated through Ezra, the highest-ranking scribe and was also a priest. Most scholars agree Ezra was heavy on Torah but perhaps left the spiritual attribution wanting.
      ‘Jesus the Nazarene’ gives more information relative to Jesus’ ministry.

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