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Who Were The Essenes? Pt 2

by | Tue, Aug 2 2022

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In our last program we learned about the Essenes, a group not directly mentioned in the Bible, but possibly alluded to by Paul when he wrote to the Colossian church. These were a group of breakaway religious Jews who chose to live away from the corruption in the Temple and the error of the teachings of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes. They were established about 100 years before Christ, probably because the corruption amongst the religious groups had been well and truly established going back to before the prophet Malachi rebuked them.

However, they had some peculiar beliefs including mysticism, end times theology, the veneration of angels and a whole lot of self-debasement and hardship as a means of demonstrating their piety and godliness. They were quite self-righteous although I’m sure they were genuine in their desire to live uncorrupted lives and live close to God. They lived away from society, and while they lived in various places, they’re most well known for their community in Qumran in the Judean Wilderness opposite the Dead Sea.

One of the greatest gifts we have from the Essenes are the Dead Sea Scrolls. They were discovered in 1946, 47 and 56, where they were hidden in clay jars in 11 different caves where they lived. Every book of the Bible was discovered except for the book of Esther, and there were many scrolls about their lives, practices and religious beliefs.

When the scrolls were discovered, it became apparent that these were in fact, the greatest archeological discovery of the 20th century and the reason for that, is they prove the accuracy and trustworthiness of our Bible.

I mentioned the rigorous and strict rules applied to Scribes when they copied from original scrolls to new scrolls. The rules are quite tedious but what these rules have ensured, is an accuracy level unheard of in all antiquity. As the scrolls were removed and carefully unrolled and studied, it was proven that they were 99.9% accurate to the oldest manuscripts in existence at that time, even though the Dead Sea Scrolls were over 1000 years older.

Not only that, but the Hebrew writing, even though it was ancient, was readable and legible by modern Hebrew speakers even though Hebrew was considered a dead language for centuries, and only used in religious ceremonies. Amazing!

So while they were mystics and monastics and held to some extreme non-Biblical beliefs and practices, their dedication to faithfully copying and preserving Scripture has been an immeasurable blessing for us as well as blowing apart the argument that Scripture has been corrupted over the years in the same way Chinese Whispers results in a distorted message.

An interesting though unprovable curiosity is that it’s believed by some that Joseph of Arimathaea may have been a member of the Essenes…anything’s possible. However, Joseph was quite wealthy unlike the Essenes who basically embraced a life of poverty. Also, his family tomb was only about half a km from the city walls of the Old City, and the Essenes wanted much greater distance between them and the corrupt leaders in Jerusalem. So at best, it’s just a curious rumour.

Another curiosity is that there’s some fairly strong speculation that John the Baptist may have lived with the Essenes as well. When he was born, his birth was miraculous and once his father, High Priest Zacharias had his speech restored miraculously, they disappeared from the historical record, probably so Herod the Great couldn’t get to him and kill him. Where did they go?

We don’t know where his parents lived, but when he became an adult, perhaps John lived a quiet ascetic lifestyle among the Essenes, studying the Scriptures until it was his time to begin his ministry in the wilderness, very close to where the Essenes set up their community. It’s possible.

There’s a record in the scrolls of Qumran that records an event of a visitor to the Essenes who told them about a man known as John the Baptist whose ministry resulted in his murder. One of the members asked their High Priest if it’s possible John was a former member who’d lived with them for a few years before leaving abruptly. The High Priest denied it was him, but the speculation remains. If he did live with them, even for a short time, it was convenient for John to begin his ministry of baptism at the crossing of the Jordan River which is very close to Qumran.

We don’t know, it’s speculation but it’s interesting to consider.

What we do know is that the Essene community was only around for about 180-200 years and then they disappeared. Our greatest gift and blessing from them are the Scriptures copied on the Dead Sea Scrolls, the greatest archaeological discovery of the 20th century.