Yeshua The Jew and His Essene Beliefs

Today we tend to think of Yeshua (Jesus) as an independent “loner” with a group of 12 disciples and a lot of “followers” eager for his teachings. However, recent Dead Sea Scrolls archeology and scholarship supports the idea that Yeshua was a member of a very influential Jewish family consisting of four brothers and at least two sisters. Yeshua’s family functioned, as leaders, within the Essene communities’ worldview of Judaism. In addition, Yeshua’s teachings strongly reflect an Essene/Ebionite philosophy.

Yeshua (Jesus) was a Jew living in first century CE Palestine, a Roman occupied client state.

The above statement contains a lot of information not well understood by modern day Christians. The simple title “Jew” relates to a person’s ethnic identity, national identity, and religious identity. In addition, first century Palestine was under the cruel and oppressive occupation of the Roman Empire, which resulted in the Jews being fractured into a number of sects with regard to how they viewed God and the Roman occupation. This all makes for a complex backdrop to the activities of Yeshua and his family. What Jewish group did Yeshua identify with, what scriptures influenced his worldview, and lastly, what religious values did Yeshua, his family, and disciples hold as sacred? Over 60 years of research on the Dead Sea Scrolls has yielded some insight into these questions.

While there were a number of Jewish sects proliferating throughout Palestine at this time, with a confusing variety of names, there tended to be three “major” sects based on politics and religious beliefs. They were the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and a group of related sects collectively called the Essenes.

The Dead Sea Scrolls and the books of the “Christian” New Testament overlap in terms of the time frame in which they were written. The Dead Sea Scrolls collection dates from 200 BCE to 80 CE while the New Testament collection dates from 45 CE to 160 CE. All the books in BOTH collections were composed by practicing, Torah observant, Jews. The New Testament was written by both the Pharisee Sha’ul (Paul) and Yeshua’s Essene followers who acknowledged him as the Jewish Essene/Ebionite/Nazarean Messiah.

 


1) The Sadducees, a sect of Jews that were priests of the tribe of Levi, that date back to the time of the Exodus. They were influential in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period, starting from the Babylonian exile return, through the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. They drew their name from Zadok, the first High Priest of ancient Israel to serve in the First Temple, along with the leaders of the sect priests called , the “sons of Zadok”, descendants of Eleazar, son of Aaron. This sect, which functioned as the de facto Jewish political leaders in Palestine at this time, were identified with the upper social and economic echelon of Jerusalem society.

The Sadducees believed that there is no fate, God does not commit evil, the soul is not immortal, and there is no afterlife, They did not believe in either angels or demons. There were no rewards or penalties after death, and they did not believe in resurrection of the dead.

sadducees-11a-cutout_orig

The Sadducees rejected the Oral Law as proposed by the Pharisees. Rather, they saw the written Torah as the sole source of divine authority. The written law, in its depiction of the priesthood, corroborated their power and enforced the hegemony of the Sadducees in Jerusalem society. During Yeshua’s time, the Jerusalem Temple was of paramount importance since God physically resided in the Holy of Holies and animal sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins could only be performed in the Temple precincts. The physical Temple and the animal sacrifices performed there was essential for Sadducee forgiveness of sins.

Lastly, the Sadducees were politically aligned with their Roman occupiers, which meant: they administered the Jewish state, collected taxes for Rome, equipped and, to a degree, led the Jewish army, and regulated relations with the Romans. They were not well liked by the general Jewish population.

 


2) The Pharisees were at various times a political party, a social movement, and a school of thought in Judea during the time of Second Temple Judaism. The Pharisees were a more scholarly movement that emphasized the study of Scripture and wanted all Jews to live by high standards of ritual purity. They accepted a larger group of sacred books similar to the modern Jewish Bible (Tanakh) or Protestant Old Testament.

After the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, Pharisaic beliefs became the foundational, liturgical and ritualistic basis for modern Rabbinic Judaism. The Pharisee (“separatist”) party emerged largely out of the group of scribes and sages intent on scriptural study. Their name comes from the Hebrew and Aramaic parush or parushi, which means “one who is separated.” It may refer to their separation from Gentiles, sources of ritual impurity, or from irreligious Jews.

scowling-pharisee

They differed with other Jews on the importance of the Second Temple with its rites and services, and those who emphasized the importance of other Mosaic Laws. Another  point of separation, specifically religious, involved different interpretations of the Torah and how to apply it to current Jewish life. The Pharisees also believed in the resurrection of the dead.

The Pharisees are largely responsible for the “oral law” collected over the past two millennia. While the Torah remains the original form of God’s Law, it must constantly be re-interpreted and made relevant in relation to the current era. Modern Jews no longer stone their wives and children for talking back, nor do they kill people for touching a pig. This “oral law” was originally memorized by Pharisees and passed down from generation to generation. During the Middle Ages the oral law was eventually collected into written forms through the volumes of the Talmud and the Mishnah.

Think of the Torah as the US Constitution and the oral law as Constitutional Amendments, congressional legislation, and Supreme Court decisions that interpret and add to the original intent of the founding document.

 


3) The Essenes were a sect of Second Temple Judaism which flourished from the 2nd century BCE to the 1st century CE. The Essenes led a strictly communal life, often compared to later Christian monasticism. “Essene” probably derives from the Hebrew word ‘ôssîm, “doers,” meaning “doers of the law,” They devoted themselves to the study of Scripture, and especially to prophecy, having many prophets among them and being renowned for the accuracy of their predictions.

They had customs and observances such as collective ownership of money and goods, electing a leader to attend to the interests of the group, and obedience to the orders from their leader. Also, they were forbidden from swearing oaths and from sacrificing animals for forgiveness of sins. They controlled their tempers and served as channels of peace, carrying weapons only for protection against robbers. The Essenes chose not to possess slaves, but served each other, and as a result of communal ownership, did not engage in trading. The Essenes met for ritual bathing for the forgiveness of sins as well as communal meals. They were widely recognized by their white robes.

0 _VcNTb4UcgoafHG-

The Essenes consisted of basically two orders: one celibate and the other marrying. The Damascus Document (Dead Sea Scrolls) reflects this very division into two orders:

“In short, for all who conduct their lives by these laws, in perfect holiness, according to all the instructions, God’s covenant stands firm to give them life for thousands of generations. But if they live in camps according to the rule of the land and marry women and beget children, then let them live in accordance with the Law, and by the ordinance of vows according to the rule of the Law.”

This fascinating passage describes two ways of life for those in the movement. First, there is the path of “perfect holiness” (Hebrew tamîm qôdesh). The word “perfect” here (tamîm) has the sense of “complete” or “whole.” Such a lifestyle involved abstention from many things, including sexual intercourse, which—according to Mosaic Law—made one ritually unclean. Thus, one who engaged regularly in the marital act could not be “completely holy.” Therefore, the men of “perfect” or “complete holiness” rejected the married life, but the document assures them that, though they have no natural progeny, they will gain eternal life “for a thousand generations”.

On the other hand, those who married and lived in Essene communities scattered throughout Israel, described as “camps” in the “land”, were held to a lower standard of religious behavior. It was enough for them to “live in accordance with the Law”, which really meant in accordance with the Essene interpretation of the laws of Moses, which frequently differed the Pharisee and Sadducee interpretation. If Yeshua were an initiate of the tamîm order, it would easily explain why he never married, yet still had disciples who lived “in the world” and were married with families.

It is correct to identify the community at Qumran with the Essenes. The community at Qumran are the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls. According to the Dead Sea Scrolls the Essenes’ community school was called “Yahad” (meaning “community”) in order to differentiate themselves from the rest of the Jews who are repeatedly labeled “The Breakers of the Covenant”. The Essenes were vigorously in opposition to the Sadducees on a number of topics including fraternization with Rome, the function of the Jerusalem Temple, animal sacrifice for forgiveness of sins, and the function of the Messiah. There is much confusion regarding who was an Essene, since they were called many different names; Nazarean, Ossaeans, and Ebionites (The Poor) to name a few. Yeshua, his family, and John the Baptist appear to be associated with the Ebionite/Nazarean sect.

 


Christians Did Not Exist

To use the term “Christian” to refer to the followers of Yeshua before 200 CE is very confusing and problematic. Why? Because Christianity, as we know it, simply did not exist as an independent religious entity apart from Judaism before then. For most of the first century CE, and a good part of the second century CE,  followers of Yeshua and their leadership were all Jews operating within some sect of Judaism.

Now I know someone is going to say, “What about Paul”? By his own words, Sha’ul was a Pharisee and remained a Pharisee until the day he died.

Philippians 23:6 – I was circumcised on the eighth day, from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews. I lived according to the law as a Pharisee.

Acts 23:6 – Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.”

Sha’ul did not, and could not “convert” to Christianity. Why? Because Christianity did not exist during his lifetime. After Sha’ul’s ecstatic vision of the risen Yeshua, he was still a Jew and a Pharisee, but with a new worldview given to him by the Jewish Messiah as he understood the term. Sha’ul’s “conversion” was not to Christianity, but to the belief that Yeshua was the “true” Messiah that would come to usher in the Kingdom of God.

Sha’ul’s mission was to bring Gentiles into the Judaism of the Messiah. He did not intend to start a new religion apart from Judaism, he wanted to expand Messianic Judaism to include the Gentiles. It was a common understanding in some sects of Judaism that the Messiah would come again only after all the world’s people embraced the one true God and Judaism. Sha’ul was expecting the immediate return of the Messiah, so he was possessed with a sense of great urgency to “plant” as many Messianic Gentile communities as quickly as possible across the known world. The requirements of how these Gentile believers were admitted into the ranks of Judaism caused heated friction with Yeshua’s family, Yeshua’s disciples, and leadership of the Jerusalem church (see the first part of Sha’ul’s Letter to the Galatians).

 


 The Essenes, Ebionites, and Nazareans

Yeshua was heavily influenced by and frequently quotes the prophets, in particular Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Danial, as well as many Minor Prophets, and the Psalms. In addition, Yeshua appears to have been heavily influenced by the books of Enoch as well as the Book of Jubilees. Yeshua and his family all observed both the Torah and the Oral Law until they died.

From Essene/Ebionite/Nazarean sources we know that they believed the following:

1) Yeshua bar Joesuf is the true prophet in accordance with Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15-18. The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you – from your fellow Israelites; you must listen to him. This accords with what happened at Horeb in the day of the assembly. You asked the Lord your God: “Please do not make us hear the voice of the Lord our God any more or see this great fire any more lest we die.” The Lord then said to me, “What they have said is good. I will raise up a prophet like you for them from among their fellow Israelites. I will put my words in his mouth and he will speak to them whatever I command.

2) A simple lifestyle with few possessions. The name ebionim means “the poor” in Hebrew and comes from the time when Yeshua’s followers held all their possessions in common, as in Acts 4:32-35  The group of those who believed were of one heart and mind, and no one said that any of his possessions was his own, but everything was held in common. With great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on them all. For there was no one needy among them, because those who were owners of land or houses were selling them and bringing the proceeds from the sales and placing them at the apostlesʼ feet. The proceeds were distributed to each, as anyone had need.

3) Baptism (Essene ritual bathing) is important for salvation and replaces animal sacrifice as a mechanism for the forgiveness of sins. This baptism is performed on a daily basis along with prayer. John the Baptist was an Essene who practiced a unique, one time, baptism in flowing water. John’s “special” baptism involved a life changing repentance commitment to turn back to the “ways of God and spirituality”. Sha’ul later changed baptism into an initiation rite for his gentile converts, thus its Jewish salvific component was lost to later Christian misinterpretation.

4) In addition to baptism Yeshua included the practice of Shaloch as another essential aspect of salvation . Shaloch is the self-liberation from spiritual bondage to the consequences of our sins, by releasing others from the consequences of their sins against us. The forgiveness of sins resides solely within the responsibility of the individual person and is not the product of any external intervention. The concept of Shaloch is embodied in the Lord’s Prayer and many of Yeshua’s parables.

5) Strong opposition to many Sadduceen beliefs and practices, most importantly the practice of animal sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. Yeshua is quoted in the Gospel of the Ebionites, “I came to abolish sacrifices and unless you cease sacrificing, my anger will not cease from you”, Panarion 30.16.5.

6) Yeshua insisted on ethical vegetarianism, this was required for all of his followers. This is strongly connected to the rejection of animal sacrifice where all killing, even to eat, is considered an affront to God.

7) Alcohol is forbidden, except in extraordinary circumstances. Water was used instead of wine for the common shared meal.

8) There is only one God and that God has one law for everyone. The distinction between Jew and Gentile is abolished for all followers of Yeshua.

9) Warfare and all forms of violence are condemned. The sole exception would be for extreme self-defense or preservation of life.

 

 

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s