The Nazarean Essenes
The three main branches included the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were in direct opposition to one another concerning politics and Jewish rites, rituals and beliefs. Both believed in the sanctity of the Torah, although they had differing interpretations concerning the content. The Essenes on the other hand, were a peaceful and self-contained branch of Judaism that referred to the other branches of Judaism at that time as “The Breakers of the Covenant.”
The Nazarean Essenes believed in a communal lifestyle of collective ownership, with an elected leader who attended to the interests of the community as a whole. They were forbidden from swearing oaths and sacrificing animals. They controlled their tempers and acted only in ways of peace. They carried weapons, but only as protection against robbers. There were no slaves among the ranks of the Essenes, as all were seen as equal. After a three year probation period, new members would take an oath to be faithful to Yahweh, and hold righteousness in their hearts toward all of humanity. They promised to maintain a pure life style, to abstain from criminal and immoral activities, and to preserve the books of the Essenes.
Some of the teachings attributed to the Essenes were discovered between 1947 and 1956 in eleven caves in and around the Wadi Qumran (near the ruins of the ancient settlement of Khirbet Qumran, on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea) in the West Bank. These later became known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. This collection portrays an amazingly vivid picture of early Judaism and Christianity.
The picture that has been pieced together about the Essene community is fascinating. Here we have a group of people who literally abandon Jerusalem and head into the desert to show protest at the “worldliness” that had invaded both the temple and Jerusalem itself.
The ancient Essene Manual of Discipline tells the story of a community which lives in almost total isolation, self contained, and strictly governed. According to the Manual of Discipline, “Everyone who wishes to join the congregation of the elect must pledge himself to live according to the rule of the community.. To love all the children of light and to hate all the children of darkness.”
And of course, the Essenes saw themselves as “the children of light,” and everyone else as the “children of darkness. The Essenes were an apocalyptic sect. They believed that their sect was the only one true form of belief, and that they were God’s “chosen” people, who would survive the upcoming end of “the age of darkness.”
Many of the teaching of John the Baptist and Jesus himself reflect the beliefs of the Essenes. We might well gather from the message Jesus presents to the Pharisees that he was not a member of this sect. We can also assume that given his views concerning love, peace, and fairness that he was not a Sadducee either. So, could it be that he was an Essene? If so, that would explain his treatment at the hands of both the Romans and his fellow Jews. Many of the Essenes also choose a life of celibacy, which would also explain his apparent lack of a spouse.
And, of course, there is the newly released Gospel of Judas, in which Jesus and Judas share an interesting conversation based almost exclusively on Essene thought.
I don’t know about you, but I like to think that perhaps Jesus chose the community of the Essenes as a home base for his teachings and his message to humankind. What better society for a prophet and teacher to emerge from than one based on peace, vegetarianism, non-violence and unity?
To read more about the history of the Essenes and modern day Essenes, follow the links attached to this article.
Love and Light…
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Who were the Essenes?
The Nazorean Gnostic Essenes
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