The enlightenment teaching of the Essene was known as THE WAY. The Way became the final interpretation on the Law and the Prophets, as revealed by Yeshua Messiah, and later became the transitional teaching into the early church. Many of these principles are included within modern religious thought, many are not.
This article focuses on the general history of the Way preceding the advent of Jesus.
“…impart true knowledge and righteous judgment to those who have chosen the Way,” Community Rule IX. From Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, Penguin, London, revised edition, 2004, p. 111.
The roots of the Way are first revealed in the Hebrew Bible and culminate in the Jesus enlightenment teachings. Jesus accomplished what the Essene Community believed the Messiah would do— to give the final interpretation on the Law and the Prophets. This interpretation of the Law also becomes the final interpretation of the teaching called the Way. In doing so, Jesus revolutionizes Judaism to such an extent that a new religion, first known as Nazoreans and later as Christians, came into being.
Abraham & Melchizedek:
Note Jesus figure overseeing both,
representing his ministerial supremacy
over the Levitical priesthood
The earliest roots of the Way are generally attributed to Enoch. Noah has grace bestowed upon him, and God later provides the Noahide Laws. However, most biblical readers more easily recognize the beginning of the Way as originating with Abraham. It is Abraham who is called by God to immediately leave and go to the land of Canaan. It is he who is first ‘set apart’, he who first breaks bread and drinks wine in shared communion with Melchizedek,* and by departing Haran at instruction from God, represents a messianic vision all sojourners can relate to.
Hebrew: Melek Zedek. “King (of) Righteousness;” covenant blessing, proto-Christ, communion, real person, Order of Melchizedek highest Nazarene Essene order.
As a teaching, the Way then takes another great leap through Moses, then most notably through Samuel, who establishes a firm heritage of prophets for the Jewish people. Soon after, the Way becomes more firmly established as David (1000 BC) appoints Zadok (2 Sam. 8.17; 1 Chron. 29.22) as his first high priest. These priests become known as Zadokites, or the Zadokite Priesthood. Under Solomon the Zadokites would become known to history as the high priesthood, or the Temple Priests (I Chron. 6.10).
In 332 BC the Greek invasion begins. A strongly held and well concerted knowledge teaching and wisdom pathway is now entrenched within the Zadokite priesthood. It is the enlightenment teaching of the Way. Yet, with the invasion of the Greeks, and then following a one hundred year span of occupation, a growing clique of the Zadokite priesthood (Sadouk in Greek, and whom we know as Sadducees) becomes corrupted.
The three corruptions were money, political power and a growing allowance of Hellenistic thinking, or syncretism. The money came from the Tobiad families, who were tax collectors for the Greeks. The political power came from their associations with those Greeks who held authority (see, Sadducees). Hellenistic views of the world had to be prospered, else the first two sinful misuses of power and money the Greeks would not have allowed. This continued corruption will lead to a split in the Zadokite priesthood.
NAZARENES and OSSEAENS
Nearer the end of the Maccabean War, under a leader named the ‘Teacher of Righteousness’, and with his righteous remnant of followers whom scholars now identify as the Essene, the righteous separate from the religiously dissolute Sadducees (150 BC, approx.). Two main groups later comprise the Essene. The northern Essene, or Nazarenes (Nazoreans, meaning sprig or root), were typified as very marriage and very family oriented.* The Nazarenes would carry on the enlightened vision of the Way, from which the teachings of Jesus would later spring.
*Wars, Bk. II, Ch. VIII, 13. “Moreover, there is another order of Essenes, who agree with the rest as to their way of living, and customs, and laws, but differ from them in the point of marriage, as thinking that by not marrying they cut off the principle part of human life, which is the prospect of succession…”
The southern Essene (Judean), or Osseaens (from ossuary), who were generally older, celibate and were based in Qumran, comprise the second group. The Osseaens were a separate and much more legalistic group, those whom Jesus will later confront as the lawyers and the scribes. A third smaller group, of which little is known, were named Enochians, and are thought to take as their main emphasis in scripture from the Book of Enoch. At this time many other splinter groups began to abound, mainly Pharisaic derivations.
The Nazarenes settle near the Dan River, far north of the Galilee and out of the reach of Jerusalem religious authority (see, Nazarene Jesus). They arrive to establish towns named Nazara and Cochaba in what was then the Arabian Desert, just south of the Damascus region. They also settle in Damascus itself. As the reader might remember, Saul carried to Damascus letters of arrest for the leaders of those who “belonged in the Way” (Acts 9.1, also 24.22). If Jerusalem is the heart of Orthodox Judaism, Damascus would qualify as the religious and spiritual center for those who followed in the Way.
The northern (Nazarene) and southern (Osseaen) Essenes are described by Josephus. Of the two, the Osseaens obviously take the much more legalistic stance. For this reason many scholars now seem confirmed that the scribes (scribal authority) were of this legalistic group. Scribes sought uniformity within the law, leading to a preponderance of analysis, and were mentioned more often than any other group within the New Testament. The view that Qumran Essene (Osseaens) and scribes were identical is the view taken within this work (see Essenes).
The Osseaen Essene’s celibacy and their legalism give rise to the scripture, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like the whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness,” Matt. 23.27. The Qumran Essene wore white robes, also mentioned in Josephus, and gives reference to the white sepulchers or “whitewashed tombs.” The reference to uncleanness deals with legalism and a loss of a basic spirituality, perhaps a lack of compassion and mercy, the cursing of their enemies instead of projecting love as a basic tenant. “…dead men’s bones” would mean dead to the spirit. Jesus viewed them as tainted by extreme legalism, to the point of dispassion.
A second scripture focuses on this scribal group as well. Matt. 23.15 mentions that these scribes, “compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.” Pharisees and Sadducees were allowed to marry, as were all other groups. It was only the Qumran group who had sworn celibacy, and thus it is they who had to have ‘new recruits’ to maintain their group numbers. Most notable of these children would be John the Baptist (see, Nazarite John), even though John later ascended into a special calling well above Qumran’s legalistic approach and viewpoints.
As people grew older, some would commit to legalism in an effort to achieve sanctity. Celibacy was also much easier to achieve. The retreat at Qumran would work well for them. Those willing to commit to an intellectual, yet tortured interpretation of scripture, in Qumran found a comfortable home.
The fanatic legalism of the Essene/scribes and lawyers increased due to their separatist notions and behavior. They were known to not speak to others outside their sect unless for good reason. They lived almost wholly unto themselves. Along the southwest wall of Jerusalem the Essene Gate is still noted upon maps today. The main Essene synagogue was nearby, allowing for an even greater avoidance of normal society.
The scribal authority compounded law upon law, and left the spirit of God to wander endlessly through such laws and commentaries. Jesus took contention. They pay their tithes, “…but omit the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith…” (Mt. 23.23). Jesus preached that satisfaction cannot lie in such an unenlightened intellectual journey. A certain knowledge may abound within it, but the spirit is lacking.
From the introduction to The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, Geza Vermes writes, “Thus, compared with the ultra-conservative rigidity of the Essene Rule, rabbinic Judaism reveals itself as progressive and flexible, while the religion preached and practiced by Jesus of Nazareth stands out invested with religious individuality. Also, by comparison to all three, the ideology of the Gentile Church sounds a definitely alien note. …the common ground from which they all sprang, and their affinities and borrowings, show themselves more clearly than ever before. It is no exaggeration to state that none of these religious movements can be properly understood independently of the others.”
He writes shortly thereafter: “And although the Teacher of Righteousness clearly sensed the deeper obligations implicit in the Mosaic Law, he was without the genius of Jesus the Jew who succeeded in uncovering the essence of religion as an existential relationship between man and man and man and God.”*
*Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, Penguin, London, revised edition 2004, p. 25.
Under Community Rule IX of the Dead Sea Scrolls: “He (the Master) shall conceal the teaching of the Law from men of injustice, but shall impart true knowledge and righteous judgement to those who have chosen the Way.” Note cap ‘W’ as the formal name of an actual teaching. That the Essene maintained the enlightenment teachings of the Way is now very clear. The problem had become one of division, of which the Osseaens had doubled down with even more laws, purity rituals and behaviors, which to them initiated a certain righteousness. Jesus just as clearly represents those who maintained the true spiritual base of the enlightenment teaching of the Way.
In the thinking of the Essene/scribes, man’s relationship was to the law, and the law was unto God. A person could only know God through the Law, and to more precisely keep the law. This teaching had subsumed Judaism. To Jesus this leaves man one step removed from God. Contrarily, engaging in the Jesus teaching of enlightenment man steps fully into his proper relationship– he becomes a full member in God’s family. Each man becomes equal in God’s eyes, and that nothing should exist or prosper to separate the full unity.
Jesus intends that the law must be sublimated to mercy, and then grace, which brokers a true fellowship with God. Righteousness does not come of sacrifice, or of man’s works or man’s configured obediences (legalism), but develops from relationship. This revealed knowledge becomes astounding truth. Much like Moses established the sabbath, so Jesus now comes with a further and final revelation. Jesus states that God loves you whether you are better at keeping the law, or perhaps not so good, but to enter into relationship with Him now becomes the clarion call for the ages.
By simple deduction the law becomes the stumbling block. This explains why Jesus went out of his way to break the law, especially on the sabbath. In the Jesus teaching, true understanding or revelation must replace staid laws expected to deliver righteousness unto the practitioner. Mercy expressed as forgiveness reverses all legalistic thinking, turns the law inside out, and must take the place of religious law. The ground work for the enlightenment into God becomes laid out. Commitment becomes the workhorse, and conversion from the old into the new provides the impetus. Sin becomes mitigated by the foremost principle of forgiveness.
A person may have a discipline of rules or laws, but by discipline alone one can never arrive at the greater enlightenment. The intent is to know God directly, and then to obey from that perspective: not groveling from the bottom ever looking upward, but to assume standing, and to assume the ever expanding enlightenment into His nature and His ways. Jesus’ preachment of the kingdom-of God-within places God close with each individual, a hitherto unknown understanding to the common man. The Shekinah, as was later experienced by many converts, becomes wonderful and glorious in a manner never before conceived of.
God the Father (and Mother) is at last revealed and experienced for all who seek, personal and direct, and that is what Jesus begins to teach– the journey of enlightenment becomes the continued revelation into God. Born out of the ever deepening knowledge of the Way, and pointing toward practice through relationship instead of rules, allowing the full breath of the spirit of God to be exhaled through us, such is the outstanding pathway and teaching of the Way, and it is to these ends that this work is dedicated.
Both groups of Essene would nonetheless denote themselves as the Sons of Light, keepers of the ‘light of Truth’. Continuation of this theme is found in the Essenic vision of Messiah, “I will raise up for them a prophet,” from Deut. 18.18. Also, the light of God shining forth is a recurring theme— “Let your light so shine before men, that they my see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven,” Matt. 5.16. The Matthew scripture would typify Nazarene Essenic beliefs. Other Jewish sects would generally agree. However, they would focus on the legalism within the task, with pretentious behavior toward holiness (Mt. 5.20, ch. 23). The Essene/scribes believed these good works concerned the law; Jesus believed that the good works concerned the spirit of God moving through man himself.
The Nazarene Essenic vision is relationship with God, practicing wholeness (or perfection) with God, “just as your Father in heaven is perfect,” Matt. 5.48. Nazarenes sought the light of God, the enlightenment received from God, communion with Him, and were foremost of all Jews in anticipating Messiah. Jesus gives the final witnessing on the Law and the Prophets. This final testimony coincides with the final interpretation of the Way, the proper pathway and the proper teaching reformed Judaism would then be obligated to follow. For those who awakened, love and forgiveness would become the new standard. They would become the Zaddakim, the ‘righteous’.