The Nazarene Way of
Essenism and Christianity are strikingly alike in their fundamental teachings. Essene theology is much older than Christianity and contains nearly every essential doctrine and precept of the Christian religion.
It is often thought that the religion and morality taught and practiced by Jesus was without parallel or precursor and that his ideas were divinely inspired.
These teachings are not unique however, when compared with Essenism. The Essenes existed as far back as BC 150, in the days of Jonathan Maccabaeus, thus pre-dating Christianity by nearly two hundred years. Along with the Pharisees and Sadducees they made up the three main Jewish sects written about by Josephus.
There are now differences between the Essene and Christian teachings, but these differences have arisen after the death of Christ. Throughout its history, the Christian religion has frequently changed its doctrines to suit the particular needs and circumstances of the times.
Nevertheless, so much remained the same that the identity of the two sects at their root cannot be denied. Essenism and Christianity are strikingly alike in their foundational teachings. Essene theology is much older than Christianity and contains nearly every essential doctrine and precept of the Christian religion.
List of Commonalities
1. The Essenes believed and taught it was their first duty to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Philo).
Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all else shall be added (Mt 6:33; Luke 12:31).
2. They abjured all amusements, all elegances, and all pleasures of the senses (Philo).
Forsake the world and the things thereof.
3. They lay up nothing on earth, but fix their minds solely on heaven (the kingdom of God).
Lay not up treasures on earth. (Mt 6:19)
4. They, having laid aside all the anxieties of life and leaving society, make their residence in solitary wilds and in gardens (Philo).
They wander in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens, and in caves of the earth (Heb 11:38).
5. They neither buy nor sell among themselves, but give of what they have to him that wanteth (Josephus).
And parted them (their goods) to all men as every man had need (Acts 2:45).
6. They utilized baptism, not animal sacrifice, as a mode of repentance for the remission of sins.
And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; (Luke 3:3)
7. They forsook father, mother, brothers and sisters, houses and lands, for their religion (Eusebius quoting Philo).
Whosoever forsaketh not father and mother, houses and lands, cannot be my disciples. (Luke 14:26, 33)
8. They being sometimes called monks was owing to their abstraction from the world (Eusebius).
They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world (John 17:16).
9. They were called Ascetics because of their rigid discipline, their prayers, fasting, self-mortification, as they made themselves eunuchs (remained chaste).
There be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. (Mt 19:12)
10.They maintained a perfect community of goods, and an equality of external rank.
Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant (Mt 20:27).
11. They had all things in common and appointed one of their number to manage the common bag.
And had all things in common (Acts 2:44; Acts 4:32).
12.They detested all ornamental dress and considered it vanity of heart.
Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, and putting on of apparel (1 Peter 3:3).
13. They would call no man master.
Be not called Rabbi, for one is your Master (Mt 23:8).
14. They said the Creator made all mankind equal.
God hath made of one blood all them that dwell upon the earth.
15. They renounced oaths, saying, He who cannot be believed with out swearing is condemned already.
But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation. (James 5:12)
16. They would not eat anything which had blood in it, or meat which had been offered to idols. Their food was hyssop, and bread, and salt; and water their only drink.
That ye abstain from meat offered to idols, and from blood (Acts 15:29).
17. They took nothing with them, neither meat or drink, nor anything necessary for the wants of the body.
Take nothing for your journey; neither staves nor scrip; neither bread, neither money, neither have two coats apiece.
18. They expounded the literal sense of the Holy Scriptures by allegory. ( Symbolic representation)
Which things are an allegory. (Gal 4:24.)
19. They abjured the pleasures of the body, not desiring mortal offspring, and they renounced marriage, believing it to be detrimental to a holy life.
They that shall be counted worthy of that world and the resurrection neither marry nor are given in marriage. (Mt 22:30, Luke 20:35) The unmarried careth for the things of the Lord (1 Cor 7:32).
20. They strove to disengage their minds entirely from the world.
If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15)
21. They provide not for future subsistence, devoting themselves to the Lord.
Take no thought for the morrow, what ye shall eat and drink. (Matt 6:34)
22. They were ashamed to give the body sustenance, Regarding it as a prison.
Who shall change our vile bodies? (Phil 3:21).
23. They spent nearly all their time in silent meditation and inward prayer.
Men ought always to pray. (Luke 18:1). Pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17).
24. They vowed perpetual chastity and poverty, believing the poor were the Lord's favorites.
Blessed be ye poor (Luke 6:20). Hath not God chosen the poor? (James 2:5).
25. They devoted themselves entirely to contemplation in divine things.
Mediate upon these (divine) things; give thyself wholly to them (1 Tim 4:15).
26. They fasted often, sometimes tasting food but once in three or even six days.
Christ's disciples fasted often. Fasting is mentioned over fifty times in the A.V. (2 Cor 11:27; 5:34).
27. They offered no sacrifices, believing that a serious and devout soul was most acceptable.
There is no more offering for sin (Heb 10:18).
28. They believed in and practiced baptizing the (spiritually) dead.
Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead (1 Cor 15:29).
29. They gave a mystical sense to the Scriptures, disregarding the letter.
The letter killeth, but the spirit maketh alive (1 Cor 3:6).
30. They had many mysteries in their religion which they were sworn to keep secret.
To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom; to them it is not given (Mt 13:11). Great is the mystery of godliness. (1 Tim 3:16)
31. They taught by metaphors, symbols, and parables as not to reveal their inner teachings.
Without a parable spake he not unto them. (Mt 13:34)
32. They had in their churches, bishops, elders, deacons, and priests.
Ordain elders in every church (Acts 14:23). Deacons (1 Tim 3:1).
33. They would often sing psalms when assembled together.
Teaching and admonishing one another in psalms (Col 3:16).
34. They healed and cured the minds and bodies of those who joined them.
Healing all manner of sickness (Mt 4:23).
35. They practiced certain ceremonial purifications by water.
The accomplishment of the days of purification (Acts 21:26).
36. They were clothed in white garments.
Shall be clothed in white garments (Rev 3:4).
37. They disbelieved in the resurrection of the external body.
It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body (1 Cor 15:44).
38. They were the only sort of men who lived without money and without women (Pliny).
The love of money is the root of all evil (1 Tim 6:10). Christ's disciples traveled without money or scrip and eschew the lusts of the flesh.
39. They practiced the extremist charity to the poor.
Bestow all thy goods to feed the poor (1 Cor 13:3).
40. They were skillful in interpreting dreams, and in foretelling future events.
Your sons and daughters shall prophesy and your old men shall dream dreams. (Acts 2:17).
41. They believed in a paradise, and in a place of never- ending lamentations.
Life everlasting (Gal 8:8). Weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth (Mt 13:42).
42. They affirmed, says Josephus, that God foreordained all the events of human life.
Foreordained before the foundation of the world (1 Peter).
43. They believed in Mediators between God and the souls of men.
One Mediator between God and men (1 Tim 2:5).
44. They practiced the pantomimic representation of the death, burial, and resurrection of God —Christ the Spirit.
With respect to the death, burial, resurrection of Christ, see 1 Cor 15:4.
45. They inculcated the forgiveness of injuries.
Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).
46. They disapproved of war between brothers.
If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight (John 18:36).
47. They inculcated obedience to magistrates, and to the civil authorities.
Obey them which have the rule over you (Heb 13:17; 26:65).
48. They retired within themselves to receive interior revelations of divine truth.
Every one of you hath a revelation (1 Cor 14:26).
49. They were scrupulous in speaking the truth.
Speaking all things in truth (2 Cor 7:14).
50. They perform many wonderful miracles.
Many texts teach us that Christ and his apostles did the same.
51. They put all members on the same level, forbidding the exercise of authority of one over another.
Christ did the same (Mt 20:25; Mk 9:35).
52. They laid the greatest stress on being meek and lowly in spirit.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. (Mt 5:5; 9:28)
53. They commended the poor in spirit, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, and the merciful, and the pure in heart.
For proof that Christ did the same, see Mt.
54. They commended the peacemakers.
Blessed are the peacemakers. (Matt 5:9)
55. They performed cures, as signs and proof of their faith.
Christ's disciples were to cast out devils, heal the sick, and raise the dead as signs and proof of their faith (Mk 16:17).
56. They sacrificed the lusts of the flesh to gain spiritual happiness.
You abstain from fleshly lusts (1 Peter 2:11).
57. They broke bread as a ritual.
He (Jesus) took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it (Luke 22:19).
58. They were wont to sell their possessions and their substance, and divide among all according as any one had need so that there was not one among them in want, even as it is related in the Acts of the Apostles (Eusebius).
For whoever, of Christ's disciples, were owners of estates or houses, sold them, and brought the price thereof, and laid them at the apostles' feet, and distribution was made as every one had need. So Philo relates things exactly similar of the Essenes.
Neither was their any among them that lacked, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the price of the things that were sold (Acts 4:34).
59. They enjoined, Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.
The Confucian golden rule, as taught by Christ.
60. They considered (all) men and women to be equal.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28)
61. They enjoined the loving of enemies (Philo).
Love your enemies. (Matt 5:44, Luke 6:27)
The church fathers also assert that the Essenes originated the Christian religion. Modern day clerics vehemently deny this fact. Christian writers said quite clearly that Essenism and Christianity were the same religion, the former name being used at an earlier period. Eusebius, a standard ecclesiastical writer of the fourth century, asserts in his History of the Church:"Those ancient Therapeuts (Essenes) were Christians, and their ancient writings were our gospels."
In Matthew 18:17, Jesus clearly says, "tell it to the church" before Christians claim there was a church. The Essenes, held assemblies and congregations, which are words translated as church.
The Essenes had not only churches, but bishops, deacons, elders, priests, disciples, scriptures, gospels, epistles, psalms, hymns, mystery, allegory, and so on, long before Christianity. Christ and his apostles had nothing to originate, either with respect to doctrines, precepts, church polity, or ecclesiastical terms—all being established for them long before. The Essenes and Christians could not have existed at the same time as separate institutions—they were too similar. The latter must have emerged from the former.
Josephus says, the Essenes were scattered far and wide, and were in every city, being quite numerous in Judaea in his time, but he makes no reference to any sect or religious order by the title of Christian.
He and the other classic writers tell us the Essenes had a high appreciation of the inspired law of God, an apparent difference from Christianity explained by the transfer of Essenism to gentiles. The highest aim of their lives was to become fit temples of the Holy Ghost (1 Cor 6:19), to perform cures especially spiritual cures and to be spiritually qualified as forerunners of the Messiah. They strove to be like the angels of heaven. They taught the duty of mortifying the flesh and the lusts thereof. They avoided impure contact with the heathen and the world's people and lived apart from the world, being in numbers about four thousand. There were no rich and poor or masters and servants amongst them.
Total silence was observed while eating. A solemn oath was required on becoming a member of the secret order, after which they scrupulously avoided oaths. Admission to the order required three things:
- Love of God;
- Merciful justice to all peoples, avoidance of the wicked, and assistance to the righteous;
- Purity of character, which implied love of truth, hatred of falsehood, and strict observance of "the mysteries of godliness" to outsiders—heathens and publicans.
They endured suffering for righteousness' sake, and even sought it. They recognized eight different stages of spiritual growth and perfection:
- Bodily purity;
- Spiritual purity;
- The suppression of anger and malice, and the cultivation of a meek, lowly spirit;
- The attainment of perfect holiness;
- Becoming fit temples for the spirit;
- The ability to heal physically but especially spiritually and raise the dead, meaning saving the lost sheep of the Jewish people from eternal death outside God's kingdom;
- Becoming forerunners of the Messiah.
Clearly Essenism and Christianity are strikingly alike in their essential features. The former system contains nearly every important doctrine and precept of the Christian religion.
- They are fundamentally alike, and Essenism is much the older system;
- Both religions are an outgrowth of Judaism;
- They were known and taught in Judaea and in Alexandria.
Neither Josephus living in Judaea nor Philo in Alexandria speak of Christianity, yet both describe a remarkably similar religion in doctrines and moral precepts which they call the Essenes. The gospel writers, claiming to describe the events which led to the foundation of Christianity, tell us of three main sects of Judaism. The Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Nazarenes. The followers of Jesus the Nazarene were to later become the sect known as Christians.
This would suggest that Essenism was another name for Christianity but that it had not yet changed its name—an event which happened, not in Judaea so much as when the sect was usurped into the Roman Empire. Gibbon in Decline and Fall thought so.
We are driven to the conclusion that Christianity was derived from Essenism. What then was the significant difference? It was that Christianity grew among gentiles while Jewish Christians remained Essenes. Tacitus in 104 AD is the first of the three hundred writers of that era that makes any mention of Christianity, Christ, or a Christian. This was a decade after Josephus' last book. Until then the name Christianity had not yet been widely recognised as something different from the Jewish original. Around 100 AD the new name, Christianity, which had been coined a few decades earlier, came into widespread use to distinguish gentile Essenes from Jewish Essenes.
We still find Christians desperately denying the obvious:The Essenes did not believe in the resurrection of the physical body but believed in a spiritual resurrection, and omit from their creed the Trinity and Incarnation doctrine, and therefore they could not have been the originators of the Christian religion.
Philo seemed to be expecting a messiah and he spoke of the incarnate word. As for the doctrine of the Trinity, we have the authority of Eusebius that they taught this doctrine too. So that it is not true that they did not recognize these two prime articles of the Christian faith, the Incarnation and Trinity doctrines.
Some modern Christians assert that the Essenes not only omitted to teach these doctrines, but that, on the other hand, they taught other doctrines not taught in the Christian New Testament. This is not unlikely. The Christian religion frequently changed its doctrines to fit the circumstances throughout its history. How this fits with the doctrine of an infallible word of God, is anybody's guess.
The name of the Essenes had been changed previously from Hassidim to Essenes. Philo calls them Therapeutae, and Eusebins says the Therapentae were Christians.
The Essenes had their Exoteric and their Esoteric doctrines. The latter, which seems to have included the incarnation, atonement, trinity, and all the other standard eastern doctrines now included in the term Christianity, they never published to the world. Hence only their Exoteric doctrines have been noted. Christianity is merely a continuation of eastern beliefs as taught by the Essenian sect.
In summary, Christianity and the Essene sect have too many features in common for it to be chance.
- They both believe in baptism. Vermes tells us the Community Rule ordained that the initiate "shall be made clean by the humble submission of his soul to all the precepts of God" but only after "his flesh is sprinkled with purifying water and sanctified by cleansing water".
- The earliest Christians "held all things common"—they were primitive communists. Yet the Community Rule states that all shall bring their "knowledge, powers and possessions" into the Community, that they shall "eat in common and pray in common" and that a new member's property shall be "merged…to the Community".
- The early church in Jerusalem was led by the twelve Apostles (still twelve even after Judas had died showing that the Apostles were not particular persons but positions to be filled when vacant—fourteen or possibly fifteen Apostles are mentioned in the gospels) of whom Peter, James and John had special responsibility. The Community was led by a Council of 12 people, apparently with three priests having special responsibility.
- Both the Community and the first Christians were messianic: the Christians regarded Jesus as the Messiah; the Community had their "Teacher of Righteousness" with a similar history.
- Both communities also use the same phraseology. Jesus said: "blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth", an exact expression of the Community's beliefs about itself for they called themselves "the Poor" and "the Meek" and they were preparing themselves to inherit the earth when God's kingdom on Earth was created. Many other instances can be quoted especially from Matthew which was the one closest in language to the Aramaic.
- Both communities originally cleaved rigidly to the Law of Moses and so, evidently did Jesus because he says in the Sermon on the Mount that he has not come to destroy the Law but to fulfil it and that "one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the Law till all things be accomplished".
- If the confusion of the timing of the Last Supper in the Bible is anything to go by the calendar used by Jesus did not match the official Jewish one. The Community used a solar rather than the official lunar calendar which might have allowed Jesus and his disciples to have had their Passover meal a day earlier so that he was crucified before Passover started.
- Both communities had an identical ritual meal. The Christian one supposedly specially instituted by Jesus at the last supper, the Community one laid down in the Community Rule in which the priest shall "bless the first fruits of the bread and new wine" after which the Messiah, who is present in spirit, or the Nasi, who is really present, extends his hand over the bread that they might begin.
- Both communities referred to their leader as "Master".
- Both communities held an important gathering at Pentecost.
New Testament scholars believed John was the last of the gospels written and was strongly influenced by Persian religion and Platonic philosophy. From the scrolls however some scholars now take a different view—John follows the tradition of the Essenes. John has the conflict of Light and Darkness and expressions like, "the light of life", "children of light", "walking in darkness", "the spirit of truth" and "eternal life" all of which occur in the Community Rule. John has:And all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.
The Community Rule has the following:And by his knowledge everything has been brought into being. And everything that is, he established for his purpose; and apart from him nothing is done.
The scroll fragments prove to be messianic, make use of the same frequent scriptural quotations used in the New Testament books, have similar concepts of Righteousness, Piety, Truth, Justification, Works, the Poor, the Meek and use similar vocabulary. The Hebrew word "hesed" in the Qumran fragments is translated by traditional Qumran scholars as "Piety" but it can also be rendered as "Grace" which is the translation used in Paul's epistles. Scroll words are Christian words.
Finally they took a solemn vow to exercise piety toward God and justice toward all men, to renounce the wicked, assist the good to keep clear of theft and unrighteous gains, to conceal none of their mysteries of godliness from each other, or disclose them to others. They were to walk humbly with God, shun bad society, forgive their enemies, sacrifice their passions, and crucify the lusts of the flesh. They disregarded bodily suffering and even gloried in martyrdom, preaching and singing to God amid their sufferings. They wore their clothes until they became ragged. Their food consisted of bread and water, and wild roots and fruits of the palm tree. They enjoined their duty, not only of forgiving their enemies, but of seeking to benefit them, and of even blessing the destroyer who took life and property. Such was the religion, such the moral system, such the devout piety and such the practical lives of the Essenes, a religious sect which flourished in Alexandria and Judaea before the birth of Christ and was replaced in history by Christianity.
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Essene and Christian Parallels and Commonalties