The enlightenment 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 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. The roots of the Way are first revealed in the Hebrew Bible and culminate in Jesus’s enlightenment teachings.
Abraham & Melchizedek:
Note 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 from God, Abraham represents a true vision all spiritual sojourners can relate to. It is Abraham who is first ‘set apart’, and 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. See, Chabad.org for more on Melchizedek.
With the ascension of David to the throne (1000 BC), Zadok (2 Sam. 8.17; 1 Chron. 29.22) is appointed as David’s first high priest. 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 becomes firmly established.
In 332 BC the Greek invasion of Palestine begins. A strongly held knowledge teaching and wisdom pathway are now adhered to within the Zadokite priesthood. It is the enlightenment teaching of the Way. 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.
Their three corruptions were 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.
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. 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, celibate, 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. Their attempt was 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 purity laws had become an addition to 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. 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 (see Essenes).
* 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 ‘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 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 would allow for Jesus. The enigmatic last verse of Luke regarding John living in the desert…makes little sense unless it is saying John the Baptist was, from his childhoods 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, 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 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 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 thus more precisely attempted to keep the Law. This teaching had subsumed Judaism. Pharisees were somewhat similar in their outlook. To Jesus, this leaves man one step removed from God. Contrary to the Essene, Jesus preached that man himself is the focus, not the law itself. Engaging in Jesus’ teaching of enlightenment, 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, and then grace, which brokers a true fellowship with God. Righteousness does not come from sacrifice, or of man’s works, or man’s configured obedience (legalism), but develops from the relationship itself. This revealed knowledge becomes an astounding truth to many Jews and then later the whole of the Roman world.
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. 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 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 enlightenment into 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 enlightenment (renewal) 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 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 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 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 this statement, 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,” Matt. 5.48. Nazarenes sought the light of God, the enlightenment received from God, communion with Him, and as a group was 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’.