Black Spirituality Religion : JESUS WAS AN ESSENE...

Discussion in 'Black Spirituality / Religion - General Discussion' started by Aqil, Mar 8, 2003.

  1. Aqil

    Aqil Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    The Christian church, in its organization, its sacraments, its teaching and its literature is related - and in its early stages may have been identical - with the New Covenanters who were known as the Essenes, some of whom wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls.

    Some of the consequences of the new knowledge that has come into our possession with the Qumran discoveries - and which is still accumulating - is the way in which it revises our understanding of events and circumstances in the New Testament narrative. Although as yet more questions are raised than answered, they are questions that in themselves imply a changed viewpoint.

    What in the past was so often silhouetted against a blank background is suddenly seen in its natural context. Although this does not mean that we are immediately able to establish a firm relationship between an event or discourse and this new context, it does mean that in many cases we can see indications clear enough to suggest that they be explored.

    In taking up some of these indications we are asking the reader to remember that we are not portagonists of particular hypotheses or anxious that suggested explanations be sustained; we are eager only that there be an honest effort - diligent and responsible, but not held back by an excessive reverence for tradition - to give what is told us in the canonical scriptures its most natural and probable interpretation. What follows merely illustrates what the approach of such an effort might be.

    What are we to say, for instance, in the light of our new knowledge, of John the Baptist, who the Gospels tell us was brought up in the desert, the wilderness of Judea? Can we any longer imagine him wandering about, sustaining himself somehow in solitude in the unrelieved desolation of this wilderness, and then coming forth and preaching a doctrine that is only coincidentally similar to that of the covenanters whose monastery was in the area where John was reported to have lived?

    Where did John get his ideas? And his ascetic practices? And his baptism? It is true that he departed from the ideas of the Dead Sea sect, but it is also true that he had to have some ideas from which to make departures. Where else shall we look when the evidence pooints so plausibly to the Qumran monastery? That John was, in the broader sense of the term, an Essene can scarcely be doubted. In this same broader sense, were not his followers also to be numbered with the Essenes?...

    Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. Some of his disciples were drawn from John's following. Can Jesus, any more than John, be thought of as having been unconnected with Essenic communities before he decided that John's version of the Messianic faith was the one he was ready to adopt? Just as Jesus later made considerable departures from John's emphasis, had not John previously made similar departures from the emphasis of the community to which he had belonged? (We say "had belonged," but actually we are not entitled to assume that John had left his community or had been expelled from it because of nonconforming practices any more than we need assume that in establishing his own teaching, Jesus had made a definite break with John.)
     
  2. Aqil

    Aqil Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    How did Jesus find his disciples? Why were they 12 in number? Were they - or some of them - his brothers in one of the Essenic sects? How better can we account for their lack of hesitation in laying aside the matters in which they had been employed and immediately joining him? Surely, in the mission to which he felt he had been called, he needed to set up at least a simple organization, and so he used the pattern of the Essenic sects, and called to himself from his own sectarian community these men whom he knew and made them his "Twelve." Whether he himself forsook this community (and if so, when?) is a question to which we will come a little further on.

    There is a story in the Gospels which tells us of Jesus disputing with scholars in the Temple when he was only 12 years old. Some commentors have thought this story more likely to be legendary than the report of an actual event. But suppose that Jesus was taken when he was a boy - as we know other boys were - to be taught by the "masters" in one of the Essenic sects? Not only would he learn the "canonical" scriptures - those that all Jews accepted - but also the sectarian writings with their special point of view. What difficulty is there, then, in seeing Jesus as an unusually responsive student who already had committed many of the scriptures to memory and who, being Essenic, was contending in the Temple against the Pharisaic scholars, who were fascinated by his use of proof-texts, and to keep him talking so that they could marvel at so much learning in one so young?

    It may seem as though we are assuming too much in supposing that Jesus was brought up as an Essene. But he was certainly not brought up as a Sadducee; and in view of his hostility to the Pharisees, he is not likely to have been brought in that sect either. So it was an Essenic sect or nothing. As Jesus obviously knew the scriptures well, it is impossible that he had not been schooled. We cannot believe then, that he belonged to no sect at all. Thus, even by a process of elimination, we see the strong probability that his education was Essenic, and that his entire outlook relates him to the Essenes.

    In sending his disciples on a missionary campaign, Jesus tells them that they shall go forth "by two and two," taking "a staff only, no bread, no wallet, no money in their purse" [Mark 6: 7-8]. How were they to be maintained? Where would they sleep? Who would feed them? In the past, the only answer that could be given to these questions was that there were hospitable people in Galilee who would do these things for strangers with a religious message, or else that the disciples of Jesus were unusually well-equipped with relations and friends.

    What now immediately leaps to mind is the suggestion that they were expecting to be received in the Essenic colonies, which we know existed in the cities and villages, as described by Philo and Josephus. From the Damascus Document too, we learn of the "session of the cities" and that there were "camps." Since the disciples of Jesus belonged to the Essenic movement, they were entitled to hospitality in accordance to its rules.

    But Jesus anticipates the possibility that they will not invariably be welcome. Not all of the colonies or camps are favorable to Jesus, perhaps because of his claim to be a prophet. (We are leaving out of account the contested question as to whether Jesus, at this point - or at any - made a larger claim than this.) In the event that the disciples were not received by the colonies, they had instructions from Jesus as to what to do. "And whatsoever place shall not receive you, and they hear you not, as ye go forth thence shake off the dust that is under your feet for a testimony unto them" (Mark 6:11). Which in itself has an Essenic flavor!
     
  3. Aqil

    Aqil Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Where did Jesus spend his "forty days in the wilderness?" Perhaps the phrase is metaphorical. Some commentators have thought so, believing that a literal sojourn of several weeks in a deserted place was unlikely. Perhaps they are right. But we see now how they may have been only partly right. Jesus would not have had to spend these several weeks unsheltered. He could have gone to the monastery in Qumran. He could have lived for a while, as some monastics did, in one of the caves. After fasting, he might have noticed some of the stones that are so abundant in this area, and wished that they might be "turned into bread." Indeed, it could have been more than a wish; hunger brings on precisely such hallucinations. And he saw it as a temptation to believe in magic, in his power to perform a miracle, and quoted a verse from the scripture he knew so well: "Man shall not live by bread alone."

    A much more controversial hypothesis may be suggested as a new and more illuminating interpretation of the expulsion of Jesus from "Nazareth" after he had identified himself as the one predicted by a passage in the book of Isaiah. We will leave to the next section the question of whether Nazareth was an actual city or a much wider area. Luke's Gospel merely says that Jesus "came to Nazareth where he had been brought up: and he entered, as his custom was, into the synagogue on the Sabbath day.")

    It has usually been assumed that in the cities of Palestine at this period there was a synagogue in each city, of which all the inhabitants who wished to do so made use, both for sabbath worship and for instruction in religion. This may indeed have been the case. But we do not know. The origin of the synagogue is shrouded in obscurity. Even the name itself involves questions that it would take many pages barely to outline. In Greek - and the word synagogue is Greek, not Hebrew or Aramaic - the primary meaning is an assembly rather than a building. There is, of course, a Hebrew word that the Greek word translates. But this too, means an assembly, originally for any purpose, but eventually almost always for religious purposes...

    The question that arises, however, in the context of this story in Luke (4:16-30) is whether the "general" synagogue, if such existed, was not a meeting place of the Pharisees. It was they who developed the synagogue as the word is usually construed. Did Essenes attend the Pharisaic synagogue? Or did they make their own quite independent provisions? Everything we know from the Scrolls indicates the latter. So does what we know about the Essenic sects from our other sources. If the Essenes and Pharisees observed the sabbath together, in a common place of worship, the fact is so remarkable that it would revise considerably our view of the relationships between the Jewish sects...

    Where, then, did Jesus go when he went to the synagogue? Was it to the synagogue of the Pharisees? It seems hardly likely. He was sharply opposed to the Pharisees, and criticized them freely. In the light of our new knowledge, linking him so definitely to the Essenic sects, it is all but certain that he went to the meeting place of an Essenic order - indeed the very community where, to use Luke's language, "he was brought up." In this case, the "synagogue" was not a building, so designated, but an assembly, a sabbath meeting of "The Many." May we not suppose, then, that he belonged still to this community, and having become widely known as a teacher, it was appropriate that "The Many" should desire to hear him and consequently had a scroll of Isaiah delivered to him, so that he could read and expound on it?...
     
  4. Aqil

    Aqil Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    The passage Jesus chose was from the 61st chapter of Isaiah, verses 1 & 2. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor: He hath sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind; to set at liberty them that are bruised; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." This prophecy, said Jesus, when he had given back the scroll to the attendant, was there and then being fulfilled. And the assembly marveled at the excellence of his exposition. Presently, however, having warned them at he did not expect them to believe him, since a prophet is never "acceptable in his own country," he told them that he himself was the "Anointed" who was fulfilling the Isaiah prophecy...

    To the assembled "Many" this was blasphemy, and they hastened to "cast him forth," even trying to throw him down headlong from a precipitous place at the brow of a hill, but he managed to escape them. Was this the rejection of Jesus by his own sect? Is it an indication of what he meant when he warned his disciples that some of the Essenic "colonies" might not receive them? And what he had in mind when lamented that there were places where he could do nothing "because of unbelief"?

    As we shall see later, no matter what the case was with early Christian communities, Jesus, as the Gospels depict him, besides giving evidence of belonging to an Essenic order, also shows many signs of independence - and even of being critical of certain Essenic practices...

    None of the above is set forth as assured exegesis. All that is intended is the application of our new insights to events that may become more meaningful if we can learn to see them in a clearer context. Any one hypothesis may be set up only to be knocked down by further information or clearer perception; but it then becomes possible to erect a better hypothesis, and this is what the scholars should be doing...
     
  5. Aqil

    Aqil Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    One of the most perplexing of New Testament problems is the question of how it came to be that the Jerusalem church was ruled by James the Just. What happened to the original Twelve as such we do not know, although we know something of the activities of a few of them such as Peter. Peter himself, however, although an influential figure among the Jerusalem Apostles, was less so than James the Just.

    The latter seems to have had his own "Twelve," and to have arrived at the superintendency of the Jerusalem church with no association with Jesus during the time of his ministry. He is said to have been the brother of Jesus ("brother of our Lord"), but this has led to many difficulties, such as the doctrinal one of maintaining "the perpetual virginity" of Mary, and the historical one of explaining how James acquired a position that Jesus in the Gospels seemed to have given to Peter...

    Moreover, we learn from the Church Father Eusebius, quoting Hegesippus (circa 160 AD), that James was "holy from his mother's womb, drank no wine nor strong drink, nor ate animal flesh: no razor came on his head, nor did he anoint himself with oil or use the bath. To him only was it permitted to enter the Holy of Holies. His knees became hard like a camel's, because he was always kneeling in the Temple, asking forgiveness for the people"...

    The description here is that of a Nazarite. Why did Mary dedicate James "from his mother's womb" to Nazaritic austerities and do less than that for Jesus? Let us, since we cannot answer the question, accept the assertion. But there is a much harder question: How could James enter the Holy of Holies, which the High Priest himself was only permitted to enter once a year? Moreover, what does it mean that he kneels in the Temple, constantly asking forgiveness for "the people"? Was it because he saw in James too dangerous a rival that the High Priest Ananas had him assassinated, for which he was deposed by Agrippa II? That the community over which James presided did spend a good deal of time in and about the Temple is attested, apparently, by the story of Paul and the riot that occurred there, incited by the charge that Paul was no longer a faithful Jew...

    Eusebius also quotes a lost book of Clement of Alexandria, The Institutions, in which Clement writes that "Peter and James and John, after the ascension of our Saviour, though they had been preferred by the Lord, did not contend for the honor, but chose James the Just as bishop of Jerusalem." From this it would seem that the three who had been closest to Jesus felt unequal to the situation that confronted them after his death - or that they came to feel so after a time - and nominated James to be the superintendent of the community in which they were the most natural leaders.
     
  6. Aqil

    Aqil Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    But what was the community over which James presided? His prestige was evidently very great, and with a large number of people. The title "The Just," "The Righteous," is definitely of the Essenic variety, and even reminds us of the Teacher of Righteousness. If the chronology of allowed it, James would have to be seriously considered as the one to whom his name was given. But he would need to have lived at the very least a half-century earlier. Even so, he was plainly a man of wide influence among the Jews of the period. It is also clear that he was definitely Judaic. He made certain concessions to Paul so far as the Gentile churches were concerned, but his own community was of Moses' law, Essenically organized, and looking for a Messiah...

    The fuller analysis of the problem of James, Bishop of Jerusalem, would carry us farther afield than is appropriate to the scope of the present work. It is much to be wished that there are scholars with the intrepidity to conduct such an analysis in the light of our new knowledge with an objective attitude towards the outcome. But it is in any case clear that the figure of James casts a very wide shadow.

    Now that we know the Essenic sects and the Christian apostolic community were so extremely close in organization, in sacraments, in doctrine, in the Messianic hope, must we not ask whether James the Just was the leader of the entire movement? And must we not suppose that the group that had been led by Peter accepted its position as subordinate to James because he was the revered "High Priest" of all the Messianic Jews, the acknowledged head of all the sects that belonged to the New Covenant?...

    (According to Donovan Joyce, author of "The Jesus Scroll," many theologians and religious scholars now believe that James the Just was the earthly father of Jesus.)
     
  7. Aqil

    Aqil Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    In our discussion of Christian origins down to now, we have taken what might be called a generally canonical position. That is, we have assumed for the most part the centrality of the New Testament tradition even while we have been reviewing and evaluating it. If we had not done this, there would have been no meaningful way of unfolding to the reader the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls in their effect upon the standard view of early Christian history...

    It may not have escaped notice, however, that - so far as we could do so without hindrance to communication - we have avoided the use of such names as "the Christian church," "the Essenes," "the Essenic sect" (singular), in a way that would indicate that we were speaking of separate bodies. To have assumed that Christians and Essenes were independent entities, closely related but external to each other, would have put too great a strain upon the evidence...

    What we had in mind was the question that we now must raise. How certain is it that the position that we have called "generally canonical" is unassailable? The Scrolls, in what they imply about Jewish sectarianism in the 1st century AD, invite us to inquire - without preconceptions - just when it was that what we now call Christianity actually became such. This is obviously too large a question for a detailed treatment here. But as to the question itself, and how it arises, we have some obligation to explain...

    Let us again notice that those to whom the name Essene is given did not use that name in speaking of themselves. Nor was the name Christian used by those who are called the early Christians. The people who came to bear these names called themselves "the saints," "the brethren," "the elect," "they that believe," "they that are in Messiah (Christos)," "they that are of the Lord," "the Sons of Light," "the disciples," "the Poor," "they that are of the Way," and other similar appellations...

    The name "Essene" does not appear in the documents recently found nor in any of the books that might be called "Essenic." The names that appear in their writings as those they applied to themselves are the same as those used by the Christians...

    For the latter, however, another name was used in the New Testament and appears twice. We read in Matt. 2:23 that Jesus is to be called a "Nazarene." In the book of Acts (24:5) Paul is referred to as a "pestilent fellow, and a mover of insurrections among all Jews throughtout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes." We also know from some of the early Church Fathers that the Christians were originally called (and apparently accepted) "Nazarenes," a name that is supposed to be derived from the name of the city from which Jesus came: Nazareth.

    But scholars have always had to accept the possibility that at the time of Jesus there was no city called "Nazareth." They have resisted this possibility, it is true, and sometimes quite vigorously, but it definitely remains, as the reader may discover for himself by reference to the standard Bible dictionaries.

    Moreover, Nazareth is not mentioned either in the Old Testament or the Talmud. This is an argument for silence, but is not negligible. Of far greater weight, however, is the silence of Josephus. For besides being a widely traveled writer who never missed anything, and who described voluminously all that he saw, Josephus was the Jewish commander-in-chief in the war with the Romans in Galilee, which he describes at great length, and yet never mentions Nazareth. This too, is said to be an argument from silence, but it might be observed that it is a very profound silence. If Nazareth was an important Galilean city, as so many of the scholars insist, how did Josephus fight a war in which all the resources of Galilee were mustered and overlook Nazareth?
     
  8. Aqil

    Aqil Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    The scholars allow, however, that there is a strong possibility that Nazareth, instead of being the name of a city, is a synonym for all of Galilee. In this case, "Nazarenes" would mean the same as "Galileans," and we know that the Christians were called Galileans as late as the time of the Emperor Julian. What this amounts to is that the Essenes of Galilee were sometimes called Galileans, sometimes Nazarenes, and that they became strongly identified with a Galilean - and therefore a Nazarene - whose name was Jesus...

    There is still a further possibility. Matthew, who was always much concerned for the literal fulfillment of prophecy, tells us that Jesus went to Nazareth (Galilee?) so that "it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, that he should be called a Nazarene." The only prophecy known to us to which this could refer to is the one in Isaiah 11:1, that there shall be a "shoot" or offspring of Jesse, "and the spirit of Jehovah shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding": one of the passages connected with the Messiah...

    Since the Hebrew word for "shoot" (netzer) is the root word for Nazarene, it is considered that the Nazarenes may have been a Messianic sect, perhaps connected at some time with the Nazarites, a sect of ancient origin (it will be remembered that James the Just followed Nazaritic practices), whose emphasis was the Messiah of David, Jesse's son. If so, what we have is another Essene sect, and the one that existed before the time of Jesus...

    So again we find the distinction fading. "Nazarene" means "believer in a Messiah." So does "Christianos." And we know that all the Essene sects believed in a Messiah. The truth about Nazareth may well have been that it was a Nazarene encampment or monastery to which Jesus and James both went, either as blood brothers or as brothers in the community. Some scholars find in the word "Nazareth" the meaning of a "watchtower," and this, too, is quite plausible since there was a tower connected with the monastery in Qumran. There is nothing the people of this period and area liked better than to find a word with many meanings, so that it had cryptic (as well as self-evident) significance...
     
  9. Aqil

    Aqil Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    It may seem as though we are assuming too much in supposing that Jesus was brought up as an Essene. But he was certainly not brought up as a Sadducee; and in view of his hostility to the Pharisees, he is not likely to have been brought up in that sect either. So it was an Essenic sect or nothing...

    As Jesus obviously knew the scriptures well, it is impossible that he had not been schooled. We cannot believe then, that he belonged to no sect at all. Thus, even by a process of elimination, we see the strong probability that his education was Essenic, and that his entire outlook relates him to the Essenes...
     
  10. Aqil

    Aqil Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    The scholars allow, however, that there is a strong possibility that Nazareth, instead of being the name of a city, is a synonym for all of Galilee. In this case, "Nazarenes" would mean the same as "Galileans," and we know that the Christians were called "Galileans" as late as the time of the Emperor Julian. What this amounts to is that the Essenes of Galilee were sometimes called Galileans, sometimes Nazarenes, and that they became strongly identified with a Galilean - and therefore a Nazarene - whose name was Jesus...
     
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