The teaching of the Essene was known as THE WAY. The Way became the final interpretation of the Law and the Prophets, as revealed by Yeshua Messiah. The Way became the enlightened transitional teaching in the early church.
This article focuses on the history of the Way.
“He shall conceal the teaching of the Law from men of injustice, but shall impart true knowledge and righteous judgment to those who have chosen the Way. He shall guide them all in knowledge according to the spirit of each and according to the rule of the age, and shall thus instruct them in the mysteries of the marvelous truth, so that in the midst of the men of the Community they may walk perfectly together in all that has been revealed to them.*
*Community Rule IX. From Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, Penguin, London, revised edition, 2004, p. 111.
Jesus accomplishes what the Essene Community believed the Messiah would do—give the final interpretation of the Law and the Prophets. This final interpretation of the Law also becomes in part the final interpretation of the teaching called the Way—the structure of Law becomes restrained; mercy, love, and forgiveness are emphasized; the speaking of the prophets is given renewed meaning. In doing so, Jesus revolutionizes Judaism to such an extent that a new religion, those first known as Nazoreans and later as Christians, came into being. The roots of the Way are first revealed in the Hebrew Bible and culminate in Jesus’s enlightenment teachings.
Abraham & Melchizedek:
Note the Jesus figure overseeing both, representing his ministerial supremacy
over the Levitical priesthood.
Abraham is called by God to travel to the land of Canaan. By departing Haran at the instruction of God, Abraham represents a true vision to which all spiritual sojourners can relate. It is Abraham and Sarah who are first ‘set apart’. It is Abraham who first travels in the new way God has outlined, and it is he who breaks bread and drinks wine in shared communion with Melchizedek.*
*Hebrew: Melek Zedek “King (of) Righteousness:” real person, covenant blessing, communion, High Priest, Order of Melchizedek is highest Nazarene Essene order.
With the ascension of David to the throne of Israel (1000 BC), David appoints Zadok as the high priest (2 Sam. 8.17; 1 Chron. 29.22). These priests become known as Zadokites or the Zadokite Priesthood. This priesthood will remain in place until the coming of Jesus. Under Solomon, the Zadokites would become known to history as the Temple Priests (I Chron. 6.10), and it is within this body that the teaching of the Way will become firmly established.
The Second Temple is established under Ezra (450 BC). Mainly due to syncretism amongst the Jewish population, the Hebrew Bible now takes a stronger bent toward legalism. The ending of the great speakers (prophets) is now curtailed, and the rule of law under an ever-growing scribal authority takes its place. The pursuit of and training within mysticism continues within the higher levels of the priesthood.* It is not passed down or shared with the populous at large.
*Mt. 3.32, “But His secret is with the righteous.” Secret=secret counsel (within); sealed from all except those chosen to whom He would reveal.
Whether imparted in parable or more directly taught, many of these secrets portray a hierarchy of character attributes, often illustrated by the attributes of God, and how these attributes interact. Give unto Caeser that which is Caeser’s, and to God that which is God’s is a good example (Mt. 22.21). Other secrets are referred to by Jesus (Mt. 24.27, 13.10-17; Mk. 4.11), and in I Cor. 13, Paul reveals the mystery and power of love. There is no doubt that the ascendancy of God’s character in man is to be sought, and by contrast to godly standards, the individual becomes revealed. Much of the Hebrew Bible teaches this lesson, and much of Jesus’ teachings will express this godly ethos.
In 332 BC the Greek invasion of Palestine begins. Within Israel, a strongly held knowledge teaching and wisdom pathway are now adhered to within the Zadokite priesthood. It develops into the enlightened teaching of the Way, understood as the pathway to God. Even so, 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 today as Sadducees) becomes corrupted.
The Sadouks entertained three corruptions, money, political power, and a growing allowance of Hellenistic thinking within Judaism or syncretism. The money came from the Tobiad family, who were Jewish tax collectors for the Greeks. The political power came from associations with Greeks who maintained military and civil authority (see, Sadducees). This continued corruption will lead to a split in the Zadokite priesthood. Naturally, the Greeks prospered under the Hellenistic worldview.
The enlightened vision of the spirit of God becomes fractured, causing the rise of the Pharisees (200 BC), and finally, the exodus of the Teacher of Righteousness with those many who follow (150 BC), known as the zaddikim, the righteous.
NAZARENES and OSSEAENS
A religious leader named the ‘Teacher of Righteousness’, with his ‘righteous remnant’ of followers, and whom scholars now identify as the Essene, separate from the religiously dissolute Sadducees (150 BC, approx.). Two main groups later comprise the Essene: the northern Essene, or Nazarenes (meaning sprig or root), and the southern Essene later known as Osseaens (from the word ossuary). Nazarenes were typified as very marriage and family-oriented.* The Nazarenes would carry on the enlightened vision of the Way, typified as a greater love for all people (love enemies, Mt. 5.43-44), while Osseaens continued in the vein of condemning enemies. Soon, Jesus the Nazarene would carry this teaching into the world.
*Josephus, 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 principal part of human life, which is the prospect of succession…”
The southern Essene, or Osseaens, were generally much older, embraced celibacy, and were based in Qumran. The Osseaens were a separate and much more legalistic group. Jesus later confronts this group as the lawyers and the scribes. They attempted to reach spiritual purity through an ever more perfect obeying of the laws. By the times of Jesus over two thousand laws, many of them Sabbath and purity laws, had become extrapolated from the Ten Commandments. Further, during the Roman occupation, many other splinter groups began to emerge, mainly Pharisaic derivations.
The Nazarenes settled near the Dan River, far north of Galilee, well out of the way of Jerusalem’s religious authority (see, Nazarene Jesus). They arrive to establish towns named Nazara and Cochaba in what was then the Arabian Desert, south of Damascus, known as the Hauran. They also settled 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 the Way.
The northern (Nazarene) and southern (Osseaen) Essenes are described by Josephus. Of the two, the Osseaens obviously took a much more legalistic stance. For this reason, many scholars now confirm that the scribes (scribal authority) were of this legalistic group.* Scribes and lawyers sought uniformity within the law, leading to a preponderance of analysis (legalism), with the scribes themselves mentioned more often than any other group within the New Testament. The view that Qumran Essene (Osseaens) and scribes are identical is the view taken within this work.
* Some lawyers were also Pharisees.
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 by Josephus, and gives a 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, and the cursing of their enemies instead of projecting love as a basic tenant. “…dead men’s bones” would interpret as death 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 ‘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 standards and viewpoints.
As men grew older, some would commit to legalism in an effort to achieve sanctity. Celibacy was also much easier to maintain. The retreat at Qumran would work well for them. A women’s retreat must have also existed, for there are hundreds of female burials nearby. Those willing to commit to an intellectual, yet tortured interpretation of scripture, found a comfortable home in Qumran.*
*”The possibility that John the Baptist had an association with the Qumran-Essenes is for most modern and early scholars much stronger than they allow for Jesus. The enigmatic last verse of Luke (ch. 1, regarding John living in the desert) makes little sense unless it is saying John the Baptist was, from his childhood, a member of the Qumran community: the verse becomes clear, asserts l’abbe (Rene Laurentine), when the testimony of Flavius Josephus is considered, when he says of the Qumran community it was their custom to adopt ‘children from others, at an age when their spirit is still malleable enough to easily accept instruction’ (Jewish Wars 2).” Robert Feather, The Secret Initiation of Jesus at Qumran, Watkins Publishing, London, first edition 2006, p. 178.
The fanatic legalism of the Essene/scribes and lawyers increased due to their separatist notions and behavior. Unless for good reason or the person was an associate, they were known not to speak to others outside their sect, they lived almost wholly unto themselves. Along the southwest wall of Jerusalem, the Essene Gate is still noted on maps today. The main Essene synagogue within Jerusalem 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 further 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.
In 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 judgment to those who have chosen the Way.” Note cap ‘W’ as the formal name of the actual teaching.
That the Essene maintained the secret teachings of the Way is now clear—the elect receives secret knowledge, others do not. Since most citizens were of the Pharisee sect, real knowledge was greatly lacking among the populous.
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 certain righteousness. Jesus just as clearly represents those who maintained the true spiritual base of the enlightened teaching of the Way, not the legalist 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 thus more precisely attempted to keep the Law. Grace, as a principle, was understood. The problem would come from the legalistic interpretation of grace. Are you the righteous as Noah? If not, you need to practice and study within the law until you are. Naturally, those who were more advanced thought of themselves as already achieving this goal. Jesus would propose that grace is not an achievement but a state of being.
Pharisees were somewhat similar in their legalistic outlook. What had started as a service-oriented ministry had become bogged down. This legalist approach subsumed Judaism. To Jesus, this leaves man one step removed from God. Contrary to the Osseaen Essene, Jesus preached that man himself is God’s focus, not the law itself. Engaging in Jesus’ teaching of enlightenment into the spirit of God, a man steps fully into his proper relationship—he becomes a full member of God’s family. Each man becomes equal in God’s eyes, and nothing should exist or prosper to separate the full unity.
Jesus intends that the law must be sublimated to mercy (love), and then grace (forgiveness), which brokers a true fellowship with God. These two attributes, love, and forgiveness, will become cornerstone values, even operating as the functioning logos, as Jesus provides the final interpretation of the Law and the Prophets.
Righteousness does not come from sacrifice, or of man’s works, or man’s configured obedience (legalism), but develops from the relationship itself. Much like Moses established the Sabbath, 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. To enter into a relationship with Him becomes the clarion call for the ages. From such commitment, the now awakened mind can be taught (renewed) by the spirit of God within and enlightened into God’s nature, essentially the teaching of the Way.
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 Jesus’s teaching, true understanding or revelation must replace staid laws. Mercy expressed as forgiveness reverses all legalistic thinking. Mercy turns the law inside out and takes the place of religious law, or purity rituals. Jesus seeks clean hearts, not clean hands. Thus, the groundwork for the enlightenment into God becomes laid out. Commitment and conversion go hand in hand and drive the impetus. Particularly, spiritual sin is no longer only subject to the law but becomes mitigated by the foremost principle of forgiveness (grace).
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 enlightened understanding of His nature and His ways. Jesus’ preachment of the kingdom of God within places God close to each individual, a hitherto unknown understanding for the common man. The Shekinah, 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 enlightened renewal becomes the continued revelation into God’s nature, in turn, reflected back to you by the kingdom within. Born out of the ever-deepening knowledge of the Way, and pointing toward practice through relationship instead of rules, allowing the full breadth of the spirit of God to be exhaled through us, such becomes the outstanding pathway and teaching of the Way. It is to these ends that this website 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 may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven,” Matt. 5.16. The Matthew scripture would typify Nazarene Essenic beliefs.
Although other Jewish sects would generally agree with the above statements, 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 the relationship with God, practicing wholeness (or perfection) with God, “just as your Father in heaven is perfect (whole),” Matt. 5.48. Nazarenes sought the light of God, the enlightenment received from God, communion with Him, and as a group foremost of all Jews in anticipating the Messiah. Jesus gives the final witnessing of the Law and the Prophets. This final testimony is essentially the final interpretation of the Way, the proper pathway, and the proper teaching those who awaken would follow. For those who awakened, love and forgiveness became the new standard. They would become the Zaddakim, the ‘righteous’.