Nazarenes, Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls
Yeshua, his Talmidim and the Essenes
James Scott Trimm
Yeshua came to be immersed by John in the wilderness at about the age of 30 and was proclaimed by John to be the "lamb" of Isaiah 53:7 (John 1:29). Certain of John's students then became students of Yeshua (John 1:35-51). Yeshua then began to proclaim, as John had proclaimed: "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is offered." (Matthew 4:17). Later He sent his twelve students out with the same proclamation (Matthew 10).
Despite the fact that Yeshua's teachings largely agreed with that of the Pharisaic School of Hillel, there were occasions where Yeshua's teachings agreed with the School of Shammai against the School of Hillel. An important example of this is the issue of divorce where Yeshua agreed with Shammai against Hillel (Matthew 5:31-32 & m.Gittin 9:10). There were also occasions when Yeshua's teachings agreed with that of the Essenes against that of the Pharisees. One example is on the issue of oaths (compare Matthew 5:33-37 & Damascus Document- Geniza A; Col. 15; Lines 1-3).
While Yocahan was essentially an Essene, Yeshua did not appear to live the Essene lifestyle, as we read in Matthew 11:18-19:
"Yochanan came neither eating nor drinking…"
"The Son of man came eating and drinking…"
Nonetheless there are many important similarities between the teachings of Yeshua and those of the Essenes/Qumran community. Yeshua went out into the wilderness to be tempted (Matthew 4:1f). Yeshua’s twelve talmidim (students) remind us of the council of twelve at Qumran (Manual of Discipline 1QS 8:1). Yeshua’s twelve talmidim seemed to be headed by three (Kefa (Peter), James (Ya’akov) and Yochanan (John) and the twelve laymen of Qumran were headed by three priests (1QS 8:1).
In Matthew 10:9-11 Yeshua instructs his Talmidim as follows:
"Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor lesser coin in your belts. Pack not for the journey, either two coats, or sandals, or a staff, for the laborer is worthy of his food. And into whatever city or town you will enter, enquire who in it is honorable, and there abide until you go out from there."
Some light on this text may be acquired by examining a statement by Josephus concerning the first century Essene sect of Judaism:
"...and if any of their sect come from other places, what they have lies open for them, just as if it were their own; and they go into such as they never knew before, as if they had been ever so long acquainted with them. For which reason they carry nothing with them when they travel into remote parts, though still they take their weapons with them, for fear of thieves. Accordingly there is, in every city where they live, one appointed particularly to take care of strangers, and provide garments and other necessaries for them."
(Josephus; Wars 2:8:4)
Yeshua’s talmidim had for the most part, come from an Essene background. It would appear that they were therefore able to travel within Essene circles from town to town without having to carry additional supplies.
Also note that Yeshua and his Talmidim traveled armed (Luke 22:38) Were Yeshua and his Talmidim circulating to some extent within the Essene community network?
Also in Luke 22:24 (see also 9:46):
"And there was also strife among them about who among them was greatest..."
What? What kind of prideful, arrogant, self-righteous men had Yeshua chosen as his twelve emissaries? Are they really bickering over which of them is better than the other? The Dead Sea Scrolls offer some insight on what otherwise looks like a childish squabble that should be totally uncharacteristic of the kind of men Yeshua would have chosen as his twelve talmidim and emissaries (see comments to Matthew 10:2). In the Manual of Discipline we read:
"This is the rule for the session of the general membership, each man being in his proper place. The priest shall sit in the first row, the elders in the second, the rest of the people, each in his proper place…. So that each man may state his opinion to the society of the Yahad. None should interrupt the words of his comrade, speaking before his brother finishes what he has to say. Neither should anyone speak before another of higher rank."
(Manual of Discipline 1QS 6, 8-11)
The Essenes of Qumran were informed of their rank once a year at an annual review as we read elsewhere in the same document:
"They shall do as follows annually... the priests shall pass in review first, ranked according to their spiritual excellence, one after another. Then the Levites shall follow, and third all the people by rank, one after another, in their thousands and hundreds and fifties and tens. Thus shall each Israelite know his proper standing in the Yahad of God..."
(Manual of Discipline 1QS 2, 19-22)
And regarding the Great Messianic Banquet:
"The procedure for the [mee]ting of the men of reputation [when they are called] to the banquet held by the society of the Yahad, when [God] has fa[th]ered (?) the Messiah (or, when the Messiah has been revealed) among them: [the Priest,] as head of the entire congregation of Israel, shall enter first, trailed by all [his] brot[hers, the Sons of] Aaron, those priests [appointed] to the banquet of the men of reputation. They are to sit be[fore him] by rank. Then the [Mess]iah of Israel may en[ter], and the heads of the th[ousands of Israel] are to sit before him by rank. … all the heads of the congregation’s cl[ans], together with [their] wis[e and knowledgeable men]. Shall sit before them by rank. [When] they gather [at the] communal [tab]le, [having set out bread and w]ine so the communal table is set [for eating] and [the] wine (poured) for drinking, none [may r]each for the first portion of the bread or [the wine] before the Priest. For [he] shall [bl]ess the first portion of the bread and the wine, [reac]hing for the bread first. Afterw[ard] the Messiah of Israel [shall re]ach for the bread. [Finally,] ea[ch] member of the whole congregation of the Yahad [shall give a bl]essing, [in descending order of] rank. This procedure shall govern every me[al], provided at least ten me[n are ga]thered together."
(1Qsa 2, 11-22)
Since Passover is the spiritual new year for Israel, it stands to reason that this annual review coinsided with Passover. Yeshua’s talmidim are sitting down for the Passover Sader, for the acting out of the Messianic Banquet . To their mainds they may have even been having the actual Messianic Feast. Yeshua’s talmidim, being mostly of Essene background and sitting down for the Seder were anticipating that Yeshua would be assigning them each a rank so that they would each “know their proper standing”. This was not out of arrogance but out of humility. They did not want to be speaking presumptuously ahead of their rank. The statements involved in this dispute were likely not arrogant presumptuous claims of “I am greater [in rank] than you” but rather “_____ is surely greater [in rank] than I”.
In Matthew 21:23-27 The Pharisees challenge Yeshua as to where his s’mikhah, or authority comes from. Yeshua responds by asking them about where Yochanan’s authority came from. Yeshua was not evading their question. Yeshua was raising this point because Yeshua’s earthly authority (s’mikhah) came from Yochanan (John 1:6-8, 15, 26-27, 29-37) and Yochanan’s authority was from an Essenes rather than a Pharisaic source (see comments to Matthew 3:1). Thus Yeshua’s s’mikhah traced back through Yochanan to the Essene line of s’mikhah. Yeshua was putting the Pharisees in the position of either acknowledging Essene Halachic authority or declaring it to be false. It would appear that the Pharisees were hesitant to question the s’mikhah of a sect that was known for being even stricter on observance than they were.
Many of Yeshua’s halachic teachings parallel those of the Qumran community. Yeshua opposed the taking of oaths (Matthew 5:34) as did the Essenes (Josephus; Wars 2:8:6; Manual of Discipline 1QS 15:1-3). Yeshua's use of Genesis 1:27 to prove his halachic position on divorce is paralleled in the Dead Sea Scrolls:
"...they are caught in two traps: fornication, by taking two wives in their lifetimes although the principle of creation is: "male and female He created them."...they are caught in two traps:"
(Dam. Doc. Col. 4 line 20 through Col. 5 line 1)
Yeshua’s halachah on the issue of "CORBAN" (an offering) being used as an excuse to violate Torah in Matthew 15:1-8 parallels a similar ruling at Qumran (Damascus Document 16:13).
Matthew records a very interesting event involving Yeshua and the Temple Tax:
"...they that received tribute came to Kefa (Peter), and said, 'Does not your master pay tribute?' He said, 'Yes.' And when he came into the house Yeshua prevented him, saying, 'What do you think, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? Of their own children, or of strangers?' Kefa (Peter) said to him, 'Of strangers.' Yeshua said to him, 'Then the children are free. Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go you to the sea, and cast a hook, and take up the fish that first comes up; and when you have opened his mouth, you shall find a piece of money: that take, and give to them for me and you.' "
Here Kefa indicates the Yeshua pays the Temple tax, but Yeshua indicates that neither himself, nor Kefa nor aparantly any of his followers owe the Temple tax. Yeshua does not seem to argue that he does not owe such a tax because he is the Messiah, for he extends the same privilage to Kefa and aparantly all of his followers. Is Yeshua teaching against Torah? The answer is no. The Torah does command that a Temple tax must be payed by every male 20 and older (Exodus 30:11-16) but is ambiguos as to how often it must be payed. The Pharisaic Halachah (and aparenetly the Sadducean Halachah) had the tax being paid annually during the month of Adar (m.Shek. 1:1, 3) However the Qumran community had a different Halachah. They taught:
"...concerning the Ransom: the money of the valuation which a man gives as ransom for his life shall be half a shekel in accordance with the shekel of the sanctuary. He shall give it only once in his life."
(4Q159 Frag 1; Col. 2; lines 6-7)
Now if Yeshua held to this Essene Halachah then He would not believe that he or his followers owed the tax, if they had already paid it at least once in their lifetime. This would explain why Kefa said that Yeshua pays the tax, while Yeshua claims that he and his followers don't owe the tax.
Like the Qumran community Yeshua speaks allegorically of "Living Water" coming from a well. . In John chapter four "living water" is symbolically drawn from Jacob's well, and brings salvation and eternal life. In the Manual of Discipline "living water" is the teachings of the community and is symbolicly drawn from the well of Num. 21:18 which is identified by the Scroll to be symbolic of the Law. Thus we may conclude that in John 4 Yeshua draws upon a Midrash (allegorical interpretation) which existed in his time (John 4:10 & Dam. Doc. VI, 4-5; VII, 9-VIII, 21).
Yeshua’s use of the Passover Sader as a sort of Messianic banquet certainly reminds us of the Messianic banquet of the Qumran Essenes (Josephus; Wars 2:8:5; Manual of Discipline 6:3-6 & 1QS Sa. 2, 17-20). The Qumran material even reads "the Messiah of Israel shall reach for the bread" (1QSa. 2:20-21) a phase which certainly reminds us of the "Last Supper" account of the New Testament. There were however some very important point with which Yeshua greatly disagreed with the Essenes. The Essenes held the strictest rules of resting on the Sabbath than any of the Jews (Josephus; Wars 2:8:9) The Qumran community, with its stricter Halacha likely did not permit healing on the Shabbat at all. They did not allow carrying medicine on the Shabbat nor did they allow using a tool to save a life on the Shabbat (Dam. Document col. 10; lines 14-18). Now Y'shua's Halacha on the issue seems to have been less strict. There is conflict between Yeshua and Qumran on the plucking and rubbing of wheat in Matthew 12:1=Luke 6:1=Mark 2:23. The activity described is clearly permitted by the Torah in general, though not necessarily on the Shabbat (Deuteronomy 23:26 (23:25 in non-Jewish editions)). This was forbidden by Qumran halacha which stated:
"A man may not go about in the field to do his desired activity on the Sabbath... A man may not eat anything on the Sabbath except food already prepared."
(Dam. Doc. Col. 10; lines 20-22).
Also Yeshua’s teaching that it is permitted to rescue an animal from a pit. (Matthew 12:11 and Luke 14:3-6) is in direct conflict with Qumran Halacha.(Dam. Doc. col. 10; lines 14-18).
Yeshua’s followers had much in common with the Essenes. Both were called "The Way" (Acts 9:2 & 1QS 9,18) and "B’nai Or" (Sons of Light) (Luke 16:8; John 12:36; Ephesians 5:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:5; Man. Of Disc. 1,9; 2, 24; 1QM). Like the Essenes they shared all things in common (Acts 2:44-45; Josephus; Ant. 18:1:5; Wars 2:8:3) and lying about such assets was regarded as a great sin (Acts 5:1-10). Although further study is needed, there may be some good connections between the Qumran hierarchy and that of the Nazarenes. Both groups seemed to have made some use of the Book of Enoch (1 Enoch 1:9 is quoted in Jude 1:14-15; seven fragmentary copies of Enoch were found at Qumran). Like the Qumran community, the Nazarenes also seem to have used Hebrew manuscripts of Tanak books which agreed in places with the text behind the Septuagint. The Nazarene belief in two comings of the Messiah is similar to the Qumran belief in two Messiahs. The Qumran community believed in a priestly Messiah who was a Melchizadek figure whom they termed EL, ELOHIM and YHWH (11Q13), a figure they believed was prophesied of in such passages as Dan. 9:24-27; Isaiah 52 (and presumably 53) and Isaiah 61:1. In like manner the Nazarenes saw their Messiah Yeshua as a Melchizadek figure (Hebrews 7) who fulfilled the very same prophecies.
Overall the evidence would indicate that the original Nazarene followers of Yeshua had some important roots in Essene Judaism and that the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as the writings of Philo and Josephus concerning the Essenes can shed some important light in our understanding of the Hebraic Roots of our faith.
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