Was Jesus an Essene?

Was Jesus, or key leaders of the early Christian community, members of the “Dead Sea Scrolls” community at Qumran?

Cave #4 at Qumran, at the Dead Sea. The vast majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in the late 1940s, date back to within a few hundred years BEFORE the time Christ. Many scholars contend that the community at Qumran, who maintained the scrolls, were the Essenes, a Jewish ascetic sect. Was Jesus an Essene? The evidence suggests that the answer is “NO.” But that does not prevent people from promoting a type of conspiracy theory thinking that Jesus WAS an Essene. Did the early Christian movement hide this fact from the rest of us?

When I was in the Holy Land some 25 years ago, I heard a lecture delivered by a small cadre of scholars, who were discussing the possibility that either John the Baptist and/or Jesus was an Essene. Others, like retired Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, Robert Eisenmann, have suggested that James, the brother of Jesus, was a member of this group, and wrote a bunch of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

This eclectic group went onto propose a variety of “theories,” suggesting that the original, authentic Christianity of Jesus was essentially hijacked by the Apostle Paul, or some say the “Roman Catholic Church,” to give us today what we think is Christianity. Instead, the real Christianity was hidden away in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and now such fringe scholars have figured out how to bring the “truth” to the light of day.

In some circles, these are very popular views. Nevertheless, such fringe scholarship promotes conspiracy theory thinking that oddly ties the Dead Sea Scrolls to the New Testament. The most popular “theory” advanced by this fringe movement made its way into Dan Brown’s blockbuster novel and movie, The Da Vinci Code, which many bizarrely think is based on “fact.” But other competing, and frankly, contradictory “theories” abound as well.

Nevertheless, the bulk of the Dead Sea Scroll documents do NOT contain the New Testament. What the Dead Sea Scrolls contain, in direct relevance to our Bibles, is a complete record of all of the books of the Hebrew Scriptures, what Christians typically call the “Old Testament,” except the book of Esther. Nearly all of these scrolls can be dated to roughly 300 to 100 years before the birth of Christ. The community at Qumran was abandoned near the time of, or a few decades after, the destruction of Jerusalem, in 70 A.D.

As with any conspiracy theory, there is always some element of truth. Yes, the Essenes were critics of the ruling Jewish establishment, just as was the early Christian movement. But this does not necessarily imply that either Jesus, John the Baptist, or James the Just (brother of Jesus) were members of the Qumran community.

Furthermore, it is true that a relatively small number of Dead Sea Scroll documents, that can possibly be dated to the 1st century C.E., may possibly contain small fragments of the New Testament. However, there is no evidence to indicate that any New Testament documents originated at Qumran. Nor were there any members of the 1st century C.E. Jesus movement writing Dead Sea Scrolls documents clearly dated prior to the birth of Christ (unless the Essenes figured out a way travel back through time!!). Unless you can demonstrate that the twin lines of evidence to support the dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls, namely paleography and radiocarbon dating, can not be trusted, then you are pretty much wasting your time.

As an aside: When it comes to political matters, we all have various convictions. But when it comes to matters of church history and the Dead Sea Scrolls, Christians should avoid whacky ideas being promoted by media personalities, like Glenn Beck. Stick to the evidence instead. Truth is based on evidence, not on wild concoctions.

For further information, I would direct the Veracity reader to consider Dr. Michael Heiser’s FringePop321 video on the topic to get the real story behind the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the caves at Qumran. Dr. Heiser is one of the top Old Testament scholars today, but what I appreciate about him the most is that he knows how to take high-quality, scholarly content and make it accessible to normal people. FringePop321 is a great resource, available on YouTube, that addresses many of the wild and wacky claims, coming from the popular fringe:

About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

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