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Christianity and the Essenes

Christianity and the Essenes

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Published by nmavor9783
Relation between Christianity and the Essenes
Relation between Christianity and the Essenes

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Published by: nmavor9783 on Feb 21, 2012
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07/16/2013

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Christianity and the Essenes
It is popular for various persons to hypothesize that Christianity was some sort of outgrowth of the Essene movement inJudaism, and from there to hypothesize until Doomsday in an effort to make Christianity a natural religion. They do notneed the Essenes to try that course, naturally, but since it is a popular way of business, we have decided to offer a brief outline of differences (and similarities).Our sources are Geza Vermes' The Dead Sea Scrolls: Qumran in Perspective, Schubert's The Dead Sea Community [Sch],and VanderKam's essay "The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christianity" appearing in Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls [Kam].Our first point is somewhat of a surprise, for Vermes [117] tells us that it was two scholars (Teicher and Baer) who firstsuggested a connection between Essenes and Christians. The removal of such a thesis to the province of "fringe" scholarslike Allegro, Thiering, and Dupont-Sommer, and thereafter conspiracy theorists, is therefore one that has been developedafter consideration by scholarship -- not because it has never been tried or suggested before.It is well to acknowledge that one will certainly find much that is similar between these two groups. The error of thosewho find derivation is what we might expect: similarities are highlighted, while differences are ignored, and the similaritiesare found in places like universal traits of religious traditions, OR universals within the pale of Judaism (i.e., a parallel wouldalso hold to the Pharisees, and thus be pointless in context).In the end however, Vermes concludes that "the two ideologies differ fundamentally" [211] such that a "common roots"explantion for both movements is to be preferred, though without adding that there would have been NO influence at all.To that end, here is a simple list of fundamental differences:There is "heavy emphasis on the punctilious observance of the Mosaic Law" at Qumran, versus the "peripheralimportance" in the Gospels.This alone, Vermes tells us, makes a linear descent seem "extremely improbable". [212] Schubert [144Sch] notes forexample that though Jesus allowed life-saving rescue on the Sabbath, the Essenes forbade it "if any instrument wasrequired" to do it [144]. Essenes were more fanatical about the Sabbath than the Pharisees Jesus rebuked.The Qumranites saw their movement as the fulfillment of OT prophecies. Christianity saw OT prophecy fulfilled in Jesusand activities related to him.For example whereas Essenes applied Is. 40:3 to themselves, Christians applied it to John the Baptist. John himself,sometimes regarded as an Essene or a rogue Essene on the basis of his location, may well have had associations withEssenes, but Schubert [128] retorts that it would be odd if such an association were not reported by Josephus (as well as theNT) and that there was another such "desert hermit," one Banus reported in Josephus, who lived in the desert and evenbaptized himself daily without being an Essene.The Qumranites expected a restoration of Temple worship. Christians expected the Temple to be destroyed, to bereplaced by God and Jesus [215; cf. Rev. 21:22] and a Jerusalem with no Temple.Given the Temple's central role in Judaism, this difference is itself monumental.Celibacy was compulsory for most Essenes, but only a limited ideal for some in the Christian movement [217]. ForEssenes celibacy was a matter of ritual purity, but for Jesus, a goal for those who would serve in the Kingdomwholeheartedly.The Essenes would not engage in controversy with outsiders [220]. In contrast Christianity was a missionary faith inconstant conversation with outsiders.Related to this, Christianity welcomed sinners and the unrighteous to repent while at Qumran there "rested elements of intolerance, rigidity and exclusiveness." [221] Christ purified the sinner; the Essenes avoided the sinner.Jesus taught live for enemies. The Qumranites taught hatred for enemies [143], which was tied in to their view of thevengeance of God on their enemies.Christians baptized once and for all; the Qumranites took repeated lustrations for purity. [Sch, 129]The Essenes apparently believed in two Messiahs, one priestly, the other Davidic [Sch130]. In Christianity Jesus was seen asfilling both roles (cf. Hebrews).A worthy side note on this topic is that the Essenes expected messianic salvation to be revealed in the wilderness -- in directopposition to Jesus' warning to not follow anyone who claims that that is where the Messiah will be found [Sch134; cf.Matt. 24:46). The only clear role the Essenes assigned to their Messiahs was to preside at the communal meal [Kam, 196].There is no indication of atonement for sins.Jesus repudiates any idea that his followers will conduct a physical war to begin the Kingdom, whereas Qumranites saw awar as the instigation, with angels fighting on their side [Sch136].An oft-noted similarity is the sharing of goods as communal property (Acts 2:44-5).This is offset by two points: 1) This would not have been atypical for any social "ingroup" of the period to some extent; 2) atQumran, initiates were not allowed to share in community property for a year, and then their property was handed over tothe Bursar who held it for another year. Only after that was the property merged with that of others [Kam, 193].

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