Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament Please turn cell phones to silent mode. Thanks!
Class 8 The Essenes & Sadducees
II. The Essenes Since we have already discussed Dead Sea Scrolls, we will now focus on the group whom most scholars believe produced, or at least possessed in their library, a good many of the documents. Again, most scholars have identified the community that lived at Qumran with the Essenes. Such identification is based upon the numerous similarities between ancient literary accounts regarding the Essenes, along with the archaeological evidence and scroll remains from Qumran.
A. Qumran & The Essenes The Essene sect flourished from the second century B.C. through the first century A.D. Scholars are divided regarding the meaning of the name, Essene. It is likely that the term meant "pious ones" or even, "healers." Philo suggests that it is related to the Greek word for holiness. Modern scholars hold that it is derived from the Aramaic word, hasayya, which = the Hebrew Hasidim, "pious ones."
B. The Sources The earliest mention of the group comes from a work of Philo of Alexandria, written prior to 40 A.D. He does not seem to have a first hand knowledge of the group. His attitude toward them is quite favorable. Pliny the Elder, in his Natural History 5.15 pericope 73, written in 77 A.D. Josephus (37 A.D. – 100 A.D.) Jewish War (J.W. 2.8.2-13 pericope 119-61) and The Antiquities of the Jews (Ant. 18.1.2, 5 pericope 11, 18-22)
C. General Summary Philo and Josephus indicate that the number of Essenes was more than 4,000. The Essenes lived in strict accordance their unique interpretations of the Law, as set forth by the Teacher of Righteousness. The Qumran community understood themselves as the redeemed, elect community of which one must be a member in order to be saved. The saw themselves as the members of a New Covenant community. There was a great distinction between the "sons of light" and the "sons of darkness." Clear lines of demarcation existed between the priests and laity who belonged to the community. Great emphasis was placed upon holiness and ritual purity. The group had settled in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord, according to Isaiah 40:3.
The group believed that the priesthood in the Jerusalem temple was corrupt, so they shunned the Jerusalem temple. They were definitely a highly eschatological group. They believed that they were living in the last days. They, like the early church, interpreted the prophets as referring to their own times. They were awaiting divine intervention, anticipating the day when the wicked among the Jews and gentiles would be destroyed and a perfect temple, city, and people would be realized. The group was a separatist group within Israel, avoiding contact with less observant Jews, who were considered as living in unfaithfulness to the covenant.
One of the main things that set the Qumran community apart from other Jewish groups was that of their calendar. The Essenes lived by a solar calendar (364 days, 52 weeks, 12 months of 30 days, and one extra day every three months: like that spoken of in the book of Jubilees), while the rest of Judaism (the Jerusalem priesthood) lived by a luni-solar calendar. What this meant is that the festivals (God's appointed times) fell on different days at Qumran than they did in Jerusalem. This was a major point of contention between the Qumran community and the Jerusalem priesthood. Qumran Sundial
When discussing the Essenes, it is very important to remember that the group went through several stages of development over the course of their existence. There was a very strict order of hierarchy among the group and full accountability was required of its members. They prayed, ate, and studied scripture together. All property was held in common and was used for the upkeep of the entire community. Josephus, Pliny, and Philo all mention that the Essenes were male and did not marry. However, later on Josephus mentions that there as a second group of Essenes that id marry (J.W. 2.8.13 pericope 160-61). Therefore, while speculation exists, it appears that the Essenes who lived at Qumran were celibate. (female skeletal remains discovered on the outskirts of the Qumran settlement, while once believed to be ancient, appear now to be only several hundred years old). It appears that the Essenes that lived in villages and cities married and had children.
There was a three-year initiation period to attain full admission to the group. In the first year, the individual followed the Essene way of life, but remained outside the community. In the second and third year, he could join in the ritual purification baths but still was forbidden from eating the sacred common meals. If he successfully completed the probationary period, he swore the sacred oaths and he and his possessions would be integrated into full membership within the community. This description is very similar to the admission requirements found in the Dead Sea Scroll, Rule of the Community (1QS 6:13-23).
D. Common Rituals • Per Josephus and Philo: Ritual purity was of great importance to this group. A daily purification bath (in the mikveh) was undertaken by all members (except novices). They all dressed in white garments. The common meal was viewed as a sacred meal, wherein the priest would pray before and after the meal. The meal was then eaten in absolute silence. As stated above, prayers were offered each morning before sunrise. The group was very strict in its obedience to the law. Of all Jewish groups, they were the most strict in the observation of the Sabbath, to the extent of not relieving themselves on this day!
Per the DSS: Both the Damascus Document and the Rule of the Community describe the ritual purifications observed by the Qumran group (1QS 5:13-14; CD 11:21-22). These are in agreement with what is provided by Josephus and Philo. A good many mikva'ot and seven large cisterns with steps have been discovered at Qumran which were used for ritual immersions. Reference to a common meal, as mentioned by Josephus, is also found in the DSS; Rule of the Community (1QS 6:2-5; etc.). A large common dining area has been excavated at Qumran, adjacent to a pantry where over 1,000 dishes and vessels were found. The DSS, like Josephus and Philo, also refer to the Qumran community's devotion to the Law and their strict views regarding Sabbath observance (1QS 1:1-3; CD 10:14-11:18; etc.).
E. Various Other Beliefs and Practices • Per Josephus and Philo: The Essenes were very interested in the study of "the writings of the ancients" (Josephus, J.W. 2.8.6 pericope 136; Philo Omn. Prob. Lib. 12 pericope 80-82). This included the biblical and non-biblical books. The group also believed that "fate was the ruler of all things" (Josephus Ant. 18.1.5 pericope 18), thus they were deterministic. According to Josephus, some within the group were known as prophets. He notes, "rarely, if ever, do they err in their predictions" (J.W. 2.8.12 pericope 159). • Per the DSS: That the Qumran community was very interested in both biblical and non-biblical books is very evident in the DSS.
F. The Essenes and the New Testament John the Baptist and the Essenes Was John the Baptist an Essene? The following is certain: (1) he would have been familiar with the group (2) many similarities exist between John and the Essenes.
Note the following: John ministered in the wilderness of Judea, near the western shore of the Dead Sea, near where the Jordan enters into the Dead Sea. His father was a priest (his parents were aged, and some have suggested that John may have been raised at Qumran following the death of his parents, as the Essenes were known to take-in orphans, Josephus J.W. 2.8.2). His diet and his lifestyle were ascetic. His baptism of repentance for the remission of sins was similar in some regards to the purification rituals of the Essenes, although John's baptism of repentance was a once-for-all act. The Qumran community practiced self-administered immersion. It appears that John did this as well, simply presiding over the baptism to ensure that the individual was completely immersed. The accounts of Jesus' baptism indicate that Jesus came up out of the water by himself. An early catacomb drawing reflects this imagery. Finally, and perhaps most strikingly, the same passage of Isaiah is associated with both John and the Essenes: Isaiah 40:3, "Behold, a voice of one crying out, in the desert prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. . . "
A question John asks in the gospels (Luke 7) may reflect some Essene influence. The Essenes anticipated the appearance of two messiah figures: A messiah like unto Joseph and a messiah like unto David (1QS ix.9-11 and 4QTest). Thus, John's question, "Are you the one, or should we expect another?" s
If John was an Essene, it appears that he left the group at some time prior to his public ministry, most likely due to his universal beliefs: For John, the Kingdom was open to all who would repent and enter into the waters of baptism (an individual did not have to join a sectarian group to enter the kingdom, etc.).
Jesus and the Essenes No where in the gospels does Jesus specifically mention the Essenes. There is one passage that is likely addressed at a well-known Essene teaching. It is found in Matthew 5:43-48 and Luke 6:27-36. 1QS 1:9 reads, "love sons of light and hate the sons of darkness." In connection with Matt 5:48, "Be perfect, therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect", 1QS 1:8-11 and CD II, 14-16, understand "perfect" as 'walking according halakah.' Jesus says, loving your "enemy"/ "persecutor" / "tax gather" is walking in proper halakah (accordance with the law- i.e. carrying out the law in everyday life).
Paul and the Essenes As I mention in my article, there are a number of similarities between Paul's writings and the Essene literature. Similarities include the following: The utter sinfulness of humanity (Rom 3. This is rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures); light and darkness imagery (II Corinthians 6:14-7:1); the use of the term, Belial; the concept of "divine mysteries" (secret things once hidden but now revealed to members of the group).
The Essenes and the Johannine Literature As with the writings of Paul, a good many similarities exist between the Essene literature and the writings of John. The two most notable similarities are the use of light and darkness imagery and the pairing of truth versus lies.
Ancient Literary Accounts Selected passages from Josephus & DSS from Nickelsburg & Stone, Faith and Piety in Early Judaism, pps. 32-39
Stairway Outside Caiaphas’ House