Did Early Christians Copy The Essenes?

There Is Similarity Between Early Christians And The Essenes

Although there is no historical evidence that there was a relationship between the Essenes and early Christians there is undeniably a significant similarity between the two.

isaiah-scroll

An example of the similarity between the Dead Sea Scrolls and some of the Gospels
This is the complete Isaiah Scroll which was found in Cave 1 by the Bedouin and is known as Isaiah A. It is open to Chapter 40, verse 3, which states, “A voice cries out in the wilderness: Prepare a way for the Lord: make straight the desert a highway for our God.” This passage is quoted in all three Synoptic Gospels, Mark, Matthew and Luke.

In fact it is difficult to distinguish between the language and thinking of the followers of James and that of the Essenes. Because of this similarity some scholars think that the early Christians were from the Essenes or at the least that early Christianity was influenced by Essenism. It is also possible that the two sects had their roots in a common past. Both Eisenman and Burton Mack agree that Jesus was as yet not central to early Christianity which began as a form of Essenism. Scholars have observed that in fact Essenism itself splintered into factional groups – those loyal to Jesus became the Ebionites, those loyal to John the Baptist became the Mandaean sect and those loyal to James the Just became the Qumran sect (1).

Josephus who actually spent time in an Essene monastery studying their doctrines and way of life came to the conclusion that the principles and lifestyle of the early Christians were quite similar. While the Gospels and the book of Acts state that the Pharisees and Sadducees were against the early Christian movement, there is no talk about of the Essenes being hostile to the new movement probably because Christianity itself evolved from “Essenism”.

Both the Essenes and the earliest Christians called themselves “the poor in the world,” “the sons of light” and “the chosen of God who shall judge the nations at the end of time.” The earliest Christians called themselves “the saints,” “the brethren,” “the elect,” “the believers,” “those in Messiah,” “those of the Lord,” “the sons of peace,” “the disciples” and “the poor.” The word most used to refer to Christians in the New Testament is “brethren.” The Manual of Discipline and other Essene texts, found in the Dead Sea Scrolls, indicate that they spoke of each other as “brethren.” The similarity between the early Christians and the Essenes was not limited to the titles used in the communities. The similarity also existed in their teachings.

The Essenes were vegetarians. The Zadokite Document, one of their earliest scriptural texts, states: “Let not a man make himself abominable with any living creature or creeping thing by eating them.” They were also pacifists: “As for darts, javelins, daggers, or the helmet, breastplate or shield, you could not find a single manufacturer of them nor, in general, any person making weapons or engines or plying any industry concerned with war; nor, indeed, any of the peaceful kind which easily lapse into vice.” noted Philo. Josephus noted that they faced death peacefully at the hands of the Romans.

The Essenes referred to the “truth of God” as “the Light”. Compare this to John 1:1-9 “(John) came for witness, that he might bear witness of the light … There was the true light, which lighteth every man, coming into the world” and John 8.12: “I am the light of the world.”

Learned members of the community referred to themselves as “Sons of Light”. Contrast this with John 12.36 “While ye have the light, believe on the light, that ye may become sons of light” and Ephesians 5.8 “Walk as children of light”.

The spiritual teacher of the Essenes was referred to as “the teacher” or “the right-teacher”. Jesus is often referred to as the teacher and some scholars claim that he is indeed the “righteous Teacher” referred to by the community.

In the Essene Manual of Discipline it has been explained that the community will be the “temple of God, a true holy of holies” if it abided by the set laws. Compare this to I Corinthians 3.16-17: “Know ye not that ye are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man destroy the temple of God, him shall God destroy, for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are”.

Christianity Borrowed Ideas And Doctrines From The Dead Sea Scrolls

Not only did Christianity borrow “ideas and doctrines” from the Dead Sea Scrolls, the early church also structured itself along the same lines as the Essene community. Many of the names used to denote the constituents of the primitive church were used earlier by the Essene organization, which in turn seems to have borrowed these terms from the Old Testament.

The Essenes referred to themselves as “Edah” a term the early Christians used to refer to the church. Similarly the term the Essenes used to refer to their lawmaking council is the same term the Christians used to refer to the council of the early Christian church. Besides this the Essenes had twelve men who served as general guides for their community. So too the Christians; they had twelve men in the form of twelve apostles who were expected to propagate the teachings. These men had three superiors who were designated as the pillars of the community. The early Christians too had three pillars in the form of John, Peter and James. Further both Essenes and Christians were referred to by same or similar names. Early Christians used to refer to each other as “brethren”. We know from Essene texts such as “The Manual of Discipline” that Essenes referred to each other as “brethren” (2).

In addition to this, the community is often referred to as “God’s plantation”. Compare this to1 Timothy 3.6 a learner is referred to as a “neophyte” which literally means “newly planted”. In addition to the above there are several “parallels”, “literary devices”, “stereotyped catalog”, “verbal analogues” and exactly same metaphors exist in the New Testament borrowed from the scrolls.

Consider the fact that the Essenes referred to themselves as the ‘the elect’ or ‘the elect of God’. Compare this to Titus 1.1 “Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect” and to Peter 1.1: “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ to the elect who are sojourners of the Dispersion”.

There are other similarities between the Essene scriptures and Christian writing.

However not everything that was written about the Essenes is strictly correct. For instance in “The Jewish Wars” Josephus says that the Essenes were normally celibate although he mentions one sect that did marry. Pliny and Philo also thought the Essenes were celibate. However excavations at Qumran revealed graves of women and children. Besides, the Community Rule of the Dead Sea Scrolls lists the regulations relating to marriage and the raising of children.

References:

(1) Baigent, Michael. (2000.). The Essenes And The Dead Sea Scrolls. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.cornerstonesociety.com/Insight/Articles/essenes.pdf

(2) Baigent, Michael. (2000.). The Essenes And The Dead Sea Scrolls. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.cornerstonesociety.com/Insight/Articles/essenes.pdf

Picture Credits:
(Fig 1) The Isaiah Scrolls
Dead Sea Scrolls Archives – Biblical Archaeology Society
http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org

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