02.01.06 Essenes

02.01.06 Essenes

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 19, 2016  -  Comments Off on 02.01.06 Essenes

02.01.06 Essenes.  The origin of the Essenes has been a subject of debate among scholars, as some believe the group broke from the early Sadducees, while others believe the group separated from the early Pharisees.  The former point to Dead Sea Scroll 4Q MMT (Heb. Miqsat Ma’ase ha-Torah meaning Some Principles of the Law)[1] that is dated to the early Hasmonean Period.[2] This scroll is believed to have been written by conservative Sadducees and sent to their Hellenistic brothers in Jerusalem.  In it, the author(s) compared Hasmonean rules to biblical rules and said that God’s rules would result in divine blessings. The scroll pertains to those who would not accept the rulings of the Hasmonean and scholars believe this suggests that the Essenes came out of the early Sadducean movement.

However, other scholars believe the Essenes were a group of Jews who separated from Pharisees early in the second century B.C. and they were the descendants of a group known as the Hasidim.[3] Like the Pharisees, their primary concern was purity and strict observance of the Mosaic Law, although they differed on some doctrines and practice.[4] The name “Essene,” is thought to have originated from the breastplate that was worn by the high priest.[5]  They were descendants of the Zadokite Dynasty and some of them moved to the desert regions of Damascus after Antiochus IV Epiphanes killed the High Priest Onias III around 171 B.C.[6] Other Essenes relocated to the wilderness near the Dead Sea to escape persecution by the Hasmoneans (ruled Jerusalem 163-63 B.C.).[7] The first members of the Essenes were priests, but by the time of Alexander Jannaeus (104-76 B.C.) many others joined the group.  According to Philo and Josephus,[8] approximately four thousand Essenes lived in Israel,[9] although archaeological studies reveal that only about three hundred lived in Qumran.  That leaves a majority of them to have lived in other areas such as the western part of Jerusalem, Damascus, Alexandria, and Cairo, Josephus said they established their own orthodox theology,[10] which was considerably more restrictive than the Oral Law, but like the Oral Law, was held as superior to the Mosaic Law.  They also believed Moses was almost equal to God.[11] They were highly disappointed by the spiritual corruption of both the Pharisees and Sadducees in Jerusalem as well as the leaders of government. They had such a great disdain for the religious establishment that they chose not to be involved in any sacrifices or religious observances in the temple. This was in part because the Essenes adopted a 365 day calendar as opposed to the 360 day calendar used by the rest of the Jewish world. This meant that their festivals were observed at different times of the year.  In response, the ruling Sadducees excluded them from worship at the temple which intensified the hatred between them.[12] Some scholars believe that Jesus observed Passover a day earlier than did other Jews, because He observed it according to the Essene calendar.[13]

Since the temple was the only place where sacrifices could be made for the atonement of sins, the Essenes taught that any Jew could abolish his or her sins by repentance and strict observance of the laws of Moses.  However, this abolishment of sin would occur only if the repentant Jew observed the Essene interpretation of Scripture and practiced the Essene laws.  They coined phrases in observance of these laws, such as, “sons of  light, sons of darkness,” and “Belial,” [14] a name given to Satan (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-15).  In addition, they called themselves “The Way,” “The Elect,” “The New Covenanters,” and the “Yahad” (Heb. meaning “those who have become one”).[15]  They considered themselves to be the “voice in the wilderness,” calling upon people to repent from sin and return to the one true God.

As to their daily activities at Qumran, they arose at sunrise in the nearby caves, where they slept every night, and then came to the community center.  They spoke no words, prayed certain prayers, and performed their assigned tasks until about 11:00 a.m.  In this communal village, they held all property in common, shunned trade, wore white garments, and maintained a strict lifestyle of work, study, and worship.[16] Then they had a ritual bath and a communal meal in strict order.  The evening meal was the same as the previous one.  Strict discipline was their way to earn salvation and encourage the coming of the messiah, which was the major emphasis of their theology.

They believed that God demanded purity and holiness, but such virtues needed to be developed by their own efforts and not by His grace.  Their worldview was rather Calvinistic in that they believed they were predestined to be the holy sons of light, being the exclusive ones to enjoy the blessings and approval of God, while those outside their group were damned unto death.

As to the messiah, they had difficulty separating the Old Testament prophecies that referred to Him as a suffering servant from those that referred to Him as a victorious king.  So they concluded that there would be two messiahs: The messianic king who would be a descendant of David and the other, a descendant of Aaron who would be a priest and suffering messiah.[17] The messiah of Aaron would restore the temple and the messiah would lead the sons of light into war against the sons of darkness, and the present evil age would end, Rome would be defeated, and the Davidic Kingdom would be restored.[18] The Essenes, as well as so many other Jewish people, had four faulty concepts of their messiah.

  1. They were interested in a messiah who was only for the Jews
  1. They were interested in a messiah who would accept every Jew
  1. They were interested in a political messiah who would overthrow the Romans
  1. They were interested in an economic messiah who would restore the prosperity their forefathers enjoyed during the reign of King David and, hence, the name, “son of David.” The phrase “son of David” was an allusion to the Davidic Covenant that was expected to be restored.[19]

All the Jews wanted a messiah who would pander to Israel but instead, they were confronted by a Messiah who confronted Israel – and consequently, they rejected Him.  The Essenes were also observers of the end-times, as they believed the messiah would come and destroy the Romans. Therefore, the Romans considered this non-violent group potentially dangerous and killed thousands of them after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. They would have faded into history were not for their Dead Sea Scrolls which were discovered in the years 1947 to 1956 (See 02.02.06). Note that “messiah” is with a lower case “m” because they did not associate deity with him.

Critics have long said that phrases such as “sons of light” did not exist in the first century Jewish world, but were inserted in the gospels by later editors. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, the truth was revealed – those phrases were in common use in the days of Jesus.[20]


02.01.06.Q1 How did a one become a member of the Essene sect and how does this relate to the Pharisees?


The Essenes, like the Pharisees, were very legalistic.  How a young man became a full pledged member of the Essene community would generally not have any interest to the study of the life of Jesus, until one scholar[21] concluded that the Pharisees may have had similar requirements of membership.  If so, that presents insights of their Pharisaic attitudes as revealed in the gospels. Therefore, if it is possible to review the Essene requirements, we can “look backwards” and obtain a better understand of the Pharisees.

There are some interesting common factors between the Essenes and the Pharisees. It is common knowledge that both groups originated in the early second century (B.C.) in response to the advances of the Hellenistic culture. Both groups were separatists and, in fact, the name Pharisee originated from the Hebrew phrase meaning the Separated ones. Both groups were also highly legalistic in their doctrines and lifestyle.

Fortunately, the Dead Sea Scrolls, written by those Essenes living in the Qumran community near the Dead Sea, contained two important documents that tell us much about their lifestyle and the requirements for entrance into their community of believers. According to the Damascus Document and the Manual of Discipline, the Essenes had the following beliefs and practices:

  1. They categorized members as priests, Levites, Israelites, or proselytes.[22]
  1. The minimum age of admission was twenty.[23]
  1. New members had to learn and observe all admission requirements.[24]
  1. Once a candidate felt he was ready for membership, he had to pass a preliminary examination. Evidently notes were carefully taken as the exam was administered by a scribe.[25]
  1. The candidate was required to give an oath of loyalty, after which he was informed of the secrets of the community.[26]
  1. Upon the completion of the ceremonial oath, the candidate was on a two-year probationary status.[27]
  1. Any transgressions during this time could result in either temporary or permanent expulsion from the community.[28]
  1. All supervisory scribes had to be between the ages of thirty and fifty.[29]
  1. Since supervisory scribes were experts of the Hebrew laws, as well as the community rules, they could either “bind” or “loose” the judgment of a transgressor[30]
  1. Supervisory scribes as well as judges collected charitable gifts from the community and distributed them to the needy.[31] They also functioned as shepherds of the flock and, in that sense, they were like a pastor or rabbi.[32]

While these legalistic requirements cannot be imposed upon the Pharisees per se, these do give some insight as to what a legalistic group might have required of a new candidate.[33] Scholars are examining these requirements with the possibility that very similar procedures existed for new Pharisee candidates.

[1]. Schiffman, Lawrence H. “A Short History of the Dead Sea Scrolls.” 49.


[2]. Fischer, The Gospels in Their Jewish Context. (Lecture on CD/MP3). Week 5, Session 2.


[3]. See 02.01.14 “Pharisees”; Bruce, New Testament History. 65-66, 96.


[4]. Recent scholarship has explored the possible relationship between the Essenes and Pharisees. See 02.01.06.Q1 “How did a one become a member of the Essene sect and how does this relate to the Pharisees?”


[5]. Schmaltz and Fischer, Messianic Seal. 12.


[6]. Schmaltz and Fischer, Messianic Seal. 10-13; Bruce, New Testament History. 55.


[7]. Schmaltz and Fischer, Messianic Seal. 10-14.


[8]. Josephus, Wars 2.8.4.


[9]. Cited by Charlesworth, Jesus within Judaism. 60.


[10]. Josephus, Antiquities 18.1.5 (18-22).


[11]. Ironically, Moses is a prophetic picture or “type and shadow” of Jesus. See comparisons in Appendix 2.


[12]. Crutchfield, “The Essenes.” 104-07; Bruce, “Essenes.” 1:478.


[13]. See 14.02.05.V See 14.02.05 for more details, including the video The Last Passover and Possible Connection to the Essene Calendar by Dr. Paul Wright.


[14]. Schmaltz and Fischer, Messianic Seal. 10-14; The name “Belial” in Hebrew is Bee-Ya’al, and means utterly worthless.


[15]. Schmaltz and Fischer, Messianic Seal. 18.


[16]. Buchanan, “Essenes.” 2:152-55; Connick. The Message and Meaning of the Bible. 116; Bruce, “Essenes” 1:478.


[17]. Buchanan, “Essenes.”  2:152-55; Harrison, “Essenes.” 2:370-74; A few scholars do not agree with the two messiah concept, including L. D. Hurst of the University of California, Davis, who believes that the Qumran texts do not necessarily support the two messiah viewpoint. See http://www.ibr-bbr.org/files/bbr/BBR_1999_09_Hurst_QumranMessiah.pdf. Retrieved October 10, 2013. See also Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 1:459-61.


[18]. Mellowes and Cran, Producers. From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians. (DVD). Part 1.


[19]. The messianic title “Son of David” appears in the following three groups of passages in the gospels where it is always reflective of the Davidic Covenant: 1) In various healings by Jesus – Mt. 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30-31; Mk. 10:47-48; Lk. 18:38-39. 2) In connection of the harassment the religious leaders gave Jesus – Mt. 22:42-43, 45; Mk. 12:35, 37; Lk. 20:41, 44, and 3) The praise the crowds gave Jesus at His entry into Jerusalem – Mt. 21:9, 15; Mk. 11:10. See Rogers. “The Davidic Covenant in the Gospels,” Bibliotheca Sacra. Part 1 of 2. 158-78.


[20]. See 02.02.06 and the video 02.02.06.Vof Dr. Bryant Wood who discusses the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls.


[21]. Moseley, Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church. 86-88.


[22]. Dead Sea Scrolls, Damascus Document 13:12; 14:3.


[23]. Dead Sea Scrolls, 1 Qsa. 1, 8; This age limit may have been derived from Numbers 1:3.


[24]. Dead Sea Scrolls, Damascus Document 13:1, 2; 15:5, 6.


[25]. Dead Sea Scrolls, Damascus Document 13:11, 12; 15:11.


[26]. Dead Sea Scrolls, Damascus Document 15:6.


[27]. Dead Sea Scrolls, Damascus Document 20:1-13; MD 1QS 4:24 – 7:25.


[28]. Dead Sea Scrolls, Damascus Document 20:1-13; MD 1QS 4:24 – 7:25.


[29]. Dead Sea Scrolls, Damascus Document 14:8.


[30]. Dead Sea Scrolls, Damascus Document 13:10; 9:18, 22; 12:12.


[31]. Dead Sea Scrolls, Damascus Document 14:13.


[32]. Dead Sea Scrolls, Damascus Document 13:10.


[33]. Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus. 260.

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