Bible Commentator


Rabbi Moshe Reiss

The Dead Sea Scroll Text of Isaiah

The Dead Sea Scroll Text of Isaiah


A. Introduction

In the Qumran texts found near the Dead Sea another group of Jews adopted (and helped create) the thoughts of some of the pseudapigrapha literature to foresee a new era. The era to come after an eschatological battle (as described in Ezekiel chapter 38-39) will be ruled by two anointed Messiahs; a Priestly Messiah (as described in Leviticus 4:3,5,16) and a Kingly Messiah. The Qumran founders were probably a priestly group leaving Jerusalem due to the combining of the Priesthood and Kingship under Simon, the Maccabee. They adopted from Zechariah the idea of a dual Messiah with the Priest Messiah as the superior partner.

Kohler and Frankel considered them ‘a branch of the Pharisees’ 1 The Essenes considered themselves ‘hasidim’ (pious ones), ‘zenuim’ (chaste ones) and ‘anavin’ (humble ones). These terms are sometimes used in the Talmud possibly to refer to the Essenes. 2  

As noted before during the time of Jesus there was no one Halakhic system. The differences between the Hillelites, the Shamaites, the Essenes, the Sadducees and the Galileans were quite significant. In addition the Talmud tells us of the acceptance of two pharisaic Halakhic systems, Hillel and Shammai and rejected five others not defined. Eventually as noted the Shammaite was also rejected. So in addition to the five Halakhic we have defined there were apparently five others noted in the Talmud we cannot currently define. 3

The `Teacher' is called the `interpreter of the law' and their Halakha - their law - was quite different than pharisaical Halakha. Their solar based calendar made all holidays fall on different days than the traditional Jewish lunar calendar. This difference in calendars is more important than any of the disputes discussed in the Christian Bible since it meant that communal life between the two groups was impossible. 4

The commentaries of Habakkuk in the DSS is the largest of the commentaries. It refers to a `Teacher of Righteousness’ 5 and a Wicked Priest’.  The former is thought to the founder of the movement, perhaps a Zadokite priest and the latter Simon, the Hasmoneum  king/priest or one of his successors, who are said to have defiled Jerusalem and attempted to kill the former. It also seems likely to be the beginning of the idea of the Anti-Christ which paradoxically meant anti-Messiah. In the Zadokite Document (found first in the Geniza archives and then in the DSS) the Teacher of Righteousness is to return or be resurrected and become the Messiah(?). It refers to two Messiahs; the Messiah of Aaron and the Messiah of Israel. The latter is the Messiah ben David and is subordinate to the Messiah of Aaron.  The wars of Gog of Magog are described in the `War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness’.

The Essenes were a priestly sectarian group of Jews who believed they were the elect of God.  They perceived themselves and were perceived by others as a group of holy men.  There influence was much greater than is often recognized, partly because they were dissolved two thousand years ago and partly because we moderns, have difficulty understanding the power of small sectarian holy men.  But if we can think of the Jesuits, a small group of holy men, and the impact they have had on the world in the last five centuries, or the Knights Templar and their impact on the crusades, or St. Francis who created a sectarian group of holy men and made the idea of poverty and penance holy and whose great vision of the stigmata impacted Christian mystics for hundreds of years, we can better understand the Essenes.

The Essenes theology and rituals were well known among the Jews of the second Temple period.  These included their ideas of the elect, dualism of spirit and flesh, a new covenant, predestination and immersion (baptism).  Just stating these ideas makes us realize the impact on Christianity from these holy men.

They left Jerusalem for Qumran, to form a Jewish sect, called themselves the elect of God.  At some point some of them also gathered in Damascus, which had a large Jewish population and elsewhere.   The Damascus group was a lay group versus the Qumran group who were monastic.  There were also groups living in other cities and villages who were adept in farming and some crafts.
The Qumran group in unlikely to ever have been more than 4,000 persons (according to Josephus).  Only several hundred could have lived in Qumran. The remainder lived in the various cities and villages where Jews congregated. Those in Qumran lived their lives revolving  around group meals, scriptural readings, instruction, religious and spiritual observances and prayers.  They were largely celibate.  They used a solar calendar based on twelve months of thirty days each (plus one extra day at the end of each quarter) which made their holidays different from those of other Jews. The conflict between a lunar and solar calendar is a longer term problem amongst Jews and may go back to building of the second Temple.  The solar calendar as defined by Essene documents goes back to the Book of Jubilees (possibly a fourth century BC document) and to the apparently earlier Similitude’s section of the Book of Enoch (also possibly a fourth century BC document). The connection between the Essene calendar controversy predating the Essene movement is unclear.  6  What is clear is the significance of the different calendars.  When one is celebrating Yom Kippur, the holiest of days for Jews, the other is working.

The Qumran community was founded by the Teacher of Righteousness who fought a man called in the texts a `Wicked Priest'. He was probably the High Priest in Jerusalem. 7  The `Wicked Priest' persecuted him and may have killed him.  The founder may have the man of the Zadok High Priest family; in fact he may have been the High Priest removed by Jonathan. The most important figure in the community was the `Teacher of Righteousness'.   The `Teacher' is called in the Dead Sea texts the High Priest.   He was considered by them a Prophet.  In fact he was thought to be the greatest Prophet, for he could interpret the Jewish Books of Prophets in ways even the original Prophets could not.  In particular he knew when the end of days would come.  

"The teacher of righteousness, to whom God made known all the mysteries of the words of his servants, the prophets."  8

The community lasted for over 200 years being destroyed by the Romans in 70-72 CE. The prophetic utterances of the Jewish scriptures was obviously very important to the Essenes.  They were also very important to the Christians who continually tried to document Jesus'  Messiahship from the scriptures.  The Teacher of Righteousness, Hillel and Jesus all were said to have special authority.  

"Jesus had now finished what he wanted to say, and his teaching made a deep impression on the people because he taught them with authority, unlike their own scribes." 9

Was the Teacher of Righteousness the Messianic figure himself?  

"And save them they shall get nothing until there arises the Teacher of Righteousness in the end  of days." 10

Further he is described as "the Teacher whom God called to arise ... and guided him to His truth."  11 He described himself in the Thanksgiving Hymn.

"I [praise you, O Lord, because you] placed me as an overflowing fountain in a desert, as (as) a spring of water in a land of dryness, and (as) the i[rri]gator of the garden. ... Before they shall cause (it) [Cyprus, elm and cedar trees] to sprout they strike root, then send forth their roots to the river and its trunk shall be open to the living water; and it shall become the eternal fountain" 12

He sees himself as having been chosen by God, chosen to fulfill as an irrigator to the needs of the people, the garden. The garden, the trees, the river, the living water and its eternal fountain are also an allegory of the Garden of Eden, but eternal, therefore the place of redemption.

Whether he was considered a Messiah or not, his movement was clearly Messianic, in fact Christianity and the Essenes are the only clearly Eschatological Messianic movements prior to the destruction of the second Temple.  The Teacher fought a man called in the texts a `Wicked Priest'   The `Wicked Priest' persecuted him and may have killed him.  If the Essenes came from the Zadok family, the legitimate priestly family, and were usurped by the Maccabee family (first Jonathan and then his brother Simon) their hatred of the Maccabees would be understandable.  The `Teacher' is also called the `interpreter of the law', a term used in the Talmud for Elijah, the precursor Messianic.

According to Josephus the Teacher of Righteousness was known in the world for his ability to foresee the future, his purity and for the Essene holy books.  Understanding the hidden meaning in the Bible allowed him to forecast the end of the world.  And the Essenes were apocalyptic; they believed the end of the world was coming and in their lifetime, as did the Christians.  They were well known for the was use of holy books to effect the healing illness.

"They ...  single out in particular those which make for the welfare of soul and body; with the help of these, and with a view to the treatment of diseases, .." 13

Josephus also describes an exorcism he had seen by the Essenes in the presence of Vespasian Chief of Staff and later Emperor of the Roman Empire and his soldiers.   14 The Essenes believed in dual Messiahs, one the anointed of Israel, and ben Aaron, a priestly Messiah.  Jesus is called a High Priest Messiah in Hebrews (Heb. 9:25). They were following the concept of Zechariah and Haggai in which the return from Babylon included a dual Messiah; Zerubbabel, a descendant of David and Joshua, the High Priest.  According to Zechariah they shared power between the monarchy and the priesthood.  In this shared power structure the power of the High Priest increased with the disappearance of Zerubbabel. Interestingly the redeemer is never called a ben David.  Perhaps because they (and who else is unknown) thought of the Davidic Messiah as a restorer Messiah and they were already suffering from a restorative Israel. They were only interested in a redemptive Messiah. Or perhaps they thought of the Messiah of Israel as ben Joseph. In Moses’ blessing to the tribes just before his death each tribe gets a blessing with one or two verses; except Levi who get four verses and Joseph who gets five verses and two separate blessings, one as the Sun and Moon and as the first born Bull (Deut. Chapter 33).  The priestly Messiah is clearly for the Essenes superior based on the order of seating as well as the order of blessing at the Messianic banquet. The Essenes believed that would be the case in the Messianic age.

"This is the sitting of the distinguished men invited to the communal council. When God begets the Messiah with them the priest will come as head over all the congregation of Israel and all the fathers of the sons of Aaron, the priests who are invited to the feast.   , and they shall take their place, each according to his rank.  And afterwards shall enter the Messiah of Israel." 15

The Essene Messianic Banquet seems more mythological and idealized than real. Was Jesus ‘Last Supper’ a Messianic banquet? David Flusser has told us of Jesus’ self awareness; could this banquet have happened during his lifetime or is it more likely only after Easter?  Could it be thought of as a ‘liturgical text’?16

The Essenes believed the High Priests in Jerusalem were usurpers and were only concerned with wealth and power.  They called them `prostitutes and fornicators'.  Jesus also had trouble with the sanctity of the Temple.  He tried to cleanse it of money changers an act which is related to his execution. He claims he would destroy it and rebuilt it in three days.  Both Jesus and the Essenes believed that prayer and inner holiness were more important that sacrifice.

B. The  Essene Messiah

The Essene Messiah is the first Jewish Messiah to be a suffering servant and to have what can be called divine attributes
Some of the fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls are notoriously difficult to translate. Two versions of a hymn called the ‘Canticle of the Just’ by Morton Smith and a Messianic Hymn by Israel Knohl.

`Canticle of the Just’ – translated by Morton Smith

    [El `Elyon gave me a seat from among] those perfect forever,
    a mighty throne in the congregations of the gods....
    And none shall be exalted save me, nor shall come against me.
    For I have taken my seat in the congregation in the heavens,
    and none [find fault with me].
    I shall be reckoned with gods ...
    And who will attack me for my utterances?
    And who will contain the flow of my speech?
    And who will call me into court and be my equal?
    In my legal judgments [none will stand against] me.
    I shall be reckoned with gods, 17

Messianic Hymn – The Suffering Servant – translated by Israel Knohl 18

A. ‘[Who] has been despised like [me? And who] has been rejected [of men] like me? [And who} compares to m[e in enduring] evil? .  . .
B. Who is like me among the angels?
[I] am the beloved of the King, a companion of the ho[ly ones].
C. A throne of power in the angelic council. No king of yore will sit theirin. I sit  . .  in heaven’
D. I shall be reckoned with the angels, my dwelling is in the holy council.

A. Compare to Isaiah’s suffering servant ‘He was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief’ (Is. 53:3).
B. Compare to ‘Who is like thee, O Lord, among the gods (elim).

The above are different parts of this long hymn.

Jesus believed himself to be a suffering Messiah. He predicted his death and suffering; his disciples led by Peter did not understand (Mk. 8:31-33). He called himself ‘Son of Man’. `Who do men say that the son of man is?' (Matt. 16:13).
Jesus says `the son of man is about to come in the glory of his Father with his angels' (Matt. 16:27; 25:31)) and similarly in Luke (9:26) and Mark (8:38) he is referring to an eschatological Messianic figure. ‘The Son of Man has a superhuman, heavenly sublimity. He is the cosmic judge at the end of time.’  19
During the `trial' of Jesus he was asked by the `Sanhedrin' whether he thinks of himself as a ben enosh, aramaic for Son of Man, who in Daniel will appear on the clouds (Dan. 7:13). The questioner was clearly asking whether Jesus thought he was an eschatological Messiah.  Clearly the questioner was referring to Daniel.

When the Psalms use the term ‘son of msn’ (Psalms 8:4, 80:18, 144:3) the Targum (the Aramaic text) translates the term as the Messiah.  In Enoch the `son of man, to whom belongs righteousness' is closer to a title. 20  As Fuller notes

    "He is a pre-existent divine being. He is hidden in the presence of God from before all creation. He is revealed `on that day', i.e. at the end. He appears in order to deliver the elect from persecution. He judges the kings and rulers who have persecuted the elect. He presides as a ruler in glory over the elect as a redeemed community in eternity." 21

It is clear from I Enoch, and  the Targum that the son of man is eschatological.  And it is probably a further development of Daniel's son of man. 22  Enoch refers to the elect righteous ones (plural, implying as does Daniel in his reference to the holy ones) to whom the son of man will appear. 23 He or at least his name was born before the world was created, again a Jewish tradition.  His job is to destroy the wicked and protect the righteous.  He comes at the end of the age i.e. he is eschatological.  

The most clear view of the Son of Man as an eschatological figure is in the Gospel of John. There it is used thirteen times.  "In all truth I tell you, you will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending over the Son of man" (John 1:51).  The Gospel of John created the idea of the Incarnation of God. The stated that ‘ the Word was God’ (Jn. 1:1), ‘the Word was made flesh and the Word was God’ (Jn. 1:14) and Jesus ‘called God his own Father, making himself equal to God’ (Jn. 5:18) and ‘I and the Father are one’ (Jn. 10:30). In the prologue ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14). In this Gospel ‘ the deity and incarnation of Jesus are unequivocally proclaimed’. 24 If Jesus had claimed these qualities he, as a Jew, would have been guilty of blasphemy.

By the time we get to John as R.H.Fuller has stated:

"a full-blown doctrine of incarnation was evolved. The redeemer was a divine being who became incarnate, manifested the Deity in his flesh and was consequently exalted to heaven." 25

It was often been stated that these concepts cannot have come from Jewish thoughts. We have seen from the Essene hymns defining a messianic figure that in fact they could. Can we determine who was this Essene figure? Professor Israel Knohl believes we can.

When Hillel was Nasi (president) of the Sanhedrin his av-bet din (vice president) was Menahem. Menahem left and become Menahem the Essene. He was succeeded by Shammai as av-bet-din. Later probably after Hille’s death (10-20 CE) Shammai became ‘nasi’ and led the Pharisees. During this time Sanhedrin or Bet Din the majority elected the Nasi and the minority elected the av-bet-din. 26  Menahem left that position to join the Essenes. Shammai and his descendants continued the majority position until after the destruction of the 2nd Temple.

This is identification of Menahem the Essene as the former ‘av bet din’ is attested to by Kohler and Ginzburg. 27 The Babylonian Talmud (Sukkah 28a) states that Hillel had 80 disciples. The Jerusalem Talmud (Nedarim end chap 5) claims Hillel had 80 pair of disciples. Could one of the pair of 80 have left with Menahem to join the Essenes? 28  It appears from this Talmud that Menahem and his associates were excommunicated. The only mention of Menahem in the Mishna is in chapter three of tractate Hagiga. Chapter two describes forbidden teachings: ‘What is above, what is beneath, what was before and what will be. Whoever takes no thought for the honor of this maker it would be better for him not to be born’. In chapter three we are told that Menahem ‘went forth’. Is there a connection – did Menahem invade the heavens? Did his thoughts of the divine dishonor His maker? Did the Mishna and the Talmud consider that he was blasphemous? This is the position taken by Knohl.

C. The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christianity:

There are a number of ideas of the Essenes similar to those of the early Christians.  John the Baptist is a priest who lived in the desert of Judea;  Luke tells us that John

"grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness till the day of his manifestation to Israel" (Luke 3:3)

Is it likely that John the Baptist lived in the wilderness in Qumran?

The Essenes had a social message, a belief in dualism, predestination, a new covenant and baptism.  They even called their ascetic `Torah' the `way'.  

1. Social Message:
The Essenes believed in the Holiness of poverty. They were well known for their strange idea of all property being held in common.  The term `poor in spirit' appears in the scrolls.  John the Baptist more clearly associated with the Essenes said "anyone who has two tunics must share with the one who has none." 29
Jesus told his followers

" if you wish to be perfect, go and sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, ... It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for someone rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven."  30

The rich man is not stated as being evil just for being rich.  After Jesus' death, community property was introduced in the Jerusalem church.

The Essenes were pacifists and believed in returning good to evil.  
"I will not return evil to anybody, with good will I pursue man for with god rests the judgment of every living being, and he is the one to repay man for his deeds." 31

It is hard to believe Paul did not read this when he said

"bless your persecutors; never curse them, bless them. ...  Never pay back evil with evil, ... Never try to get revenge:  leave that, my dear friends, to the retributor.  As the  scripture says; vengeance is mine, ...  And more if your  enemy is hungry, give him something to eat; if thirsty,  something to drink. ... Do not be mastered by evil, but  master evil with good." 32

2. Dualism:
David Flusser quotes the Dead Sea Scrolls as follows: ‘In the source of Light are the origins of Truth and from the spring of Darkness the origins of Evil’. And in the hand of the Prince of Lights is the rule of all the Sons of Righteousness and in the ways of Light they do walk, and in the hand of the Angel of Darkness is all the rule of the Sons of Evil, and in the ways of Darkness they do walk.  33 He then compares Paul’s words: ‘Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship has with righteousness with unrighteousness? And what in common has light with darkness? And what concord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has he that believe with an unbeliever? (2 Cor. 6:14-16). Belial is used as the Devil only in this text is common in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is clear from this as well as other Christian texts (Gospel of John) that early Christianity understood the world as divided into good and evil; light and darkness.

It is clear from the scrolls that at least the elect or leaders of the community were Sons of Light. Their opponents were clearly Son of Darkness. In the Gospel of John the same is true and perhaps in Paul’s theology. In John we have ‘that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit’
(Jn. 3:6). The community was ascetic and thus believed that evil was related to flesh and good to spirit. Their concern was not only ritual impurity (from the dead and from women) but was inherent in being earthly creatures. Purification (baptism) and repentance was possible and if fact required. (Neither the community not Christianity were alone in these believes; Greeks, Indians and Buddhists had similar believe systems. 34)

The manual of Discipline stated the need ‘to love the sons of light’; this is meant to spread the Noahide laws to Gentiles. Jesus said that he preached ‘that you may become sons of light ‘ (John 12:36) and Paul ‘walk, then, as children of the light’ (Eph. 5:8). Hillel had stated ‘love mankind and bring them to the Torah (Avot 1:12).

The Essene community firmly believed in the Temple and its sacrificial and cultic requirements. They believed that the Temple was architecturally wrong, had the wrong priests and as a result was impure. They thus created a spiritual Temple in the desert. The Christians picked up this idea and created their Church as a spiritual Temple and a holy priesthood. ‘He is the living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen by God and precious to Him; set yourself close to him so that you too may be living stones making a spiritual house as a holy priesthood to offer the spiritual sacrifices made acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’ (1 Pet. 2:4-5).

3. Predestination:
The wonderful idea behind predestination is that once chosen by God it is forever. Thus David is chosen as King of Israel forever, his descendants will rule.
Aaron and his first-born are chosen as High Priest forever. 35 This concept became the Divine Right of Kings in the middle ages.

‘[F]rom the God of knowledge [comes] all that is and shall be, and before their being He established all their designs, and when they became whatever they had been destined to become according to His glorious design, they fulfill their task and nothing can be changed’. 36 This is divine predestination. The community calls its members ‘the elect of God’. These terms was also used in Romans (8:33), Colossians (3:12) and Titus (1:1). 37  

Since God’s knowledge is according to some believes is perfect, predestination is inevitable. The people of Nineveh, much to Jonah’s disgust repented, as he had predicted. It was predestined by God. This can, of course, only be known after the fact.  
Both Paul and the Gospel of John accept parts of this theology. John has Jesus state “Whoever comes from God listens to the words of God; the reason you do not listen is that you are not from God’ (Jn. 8:47). According to the author of John Jesus is talking to ‘the Jews’, who Jesus had already said were ‘from your father, the Devil’ (Jn. 8:44). Paul’s Letter to the Ephesus states ‘It is in Him that we have received our heritage, marked out beforehand as we were, under the plan of the One who guides all things as He decides by His own will, chosen to be, for the praise of His glory, the people who would put their hopes in Christ before he came’ (Eph. 1:11). ‘We too were all among them once, living only by our natural inclinations, obeying the demands of human self-indulgence and our own whim; our nature made us no less liable to God’s retribution than the rest of the world. But God being rich in faithful love, through the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our sins, brought us to life with Christ – it is through grace that you have been saved - and raised us up with him and gave us a place with him in heaven, in Christ Jesus’ Eph. 2:3-6). Romans is more explicit ‘He decided beforehand who were the ones destined to be molded to the pattern of His son so that he should be the eldest of many brothers. It was those so destined that he called; those that he called, he justified, and those that he has justified he has brought to glory’ (Rom. 8:29-30). It should not be surprising that some Christian denominations following Luther follower the predestination theory.

4. New Covenant:
Christians believe they are the new Israel with a new Covenant. So did the Essene sect. 38 Of course this comes originally from Jeremiah and secondarily from Ezekiel. Both communities believed they were the ‘remnants’ prophesized in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel as well as other prophets. The remainder of the community had sinned and were consequently cut off. They alone remained with their own halakhically interpreted law. Their new covenant was different than Jeremiah’s where the heart was circumcised, thus the new one was inward. Jeremiah did not expect people to choose life he wanted them to no longer be able to the choose freedom to sin. 39  In Paul’s concept of the two covenants; the old one was based on flesh, the new one of the spirit (Gal. 4:24-31; 2 Cor. 3:6). Paul’s new covenant brought to the new Israel Christian freedom. It is unclear to what extent this correlates with Jeremiah’s new covenant.

5. Baptism:
In the Essene community the Temple and its priests were impure. Atonement came from baptism. Originally baptism was part of the atonement system for ritual impurity in the Torah, a second part being preparing a sacrifice. In Christianity because John the Baptist (who may well have been of the Essene community) baptized Jesus the concept became more important. But Paul changed its concept. Since Paul’s conversion happened after Jesus’ death and after its Easter aftermath he developed the concept of baptism unto death.   

6. Holy Spirit:
The term `Holy Spirit' never appearing in the Bible and only three times in Jewish apocryphal works, was uses extensively by the Essenes, appears often in the Dead Sea Scrolls and in the Gospels.  40 Both the elect of the community and of the Church had the Holy Spirit bestowed on them in various degrees (Heb. 2:4 and DSD IV 15-16). 41 Paul write ‘Each received his manifestation of the Spirit .  one man is granted words of wisdom by the Spirit, another words of knowledge; one man has the gift of faith, another the gift of healing; one has miraculous powers another the gift of interpreting tongues. But all these effects are produced by one and the same Spirit’ (1 Cor. 12:7-11; Rom. 12:3-8; Eph. 4:3-16).  

D. Dual Messiahs

The Essenes had a clear belief in a dual Messiah; a Messiah of Israel and a Messiah of Aaron.  The Christians called Jesus the Messiah.  Christ is his primary title in the letters of Paul.  The Essenes emphasis on redemption and salvation was unique in Judaism at that time, the end of the Second Century BCE and into the First Century CE.  The Essenes even held a sacred meal, at which they awaited the coming of the two Messiahs.  This meal was required every time ten of the members would eat; thus their anticipation of the Messiah was almost constant. This is not very different than the "our bread for tomorrow give us today" the version of the Lord's prayer in the apocryphal Gospel to the Hebrews.  42  The main foods referred in the manual of discipline are bread and wine.  Each Messiah will first bless the bread then the wine.  

"When they solemnly unite at the communion table or to drink wine, and the communion table is arranged and the wine [mixed] for drinking, no one shall stretch out his hand on the first portion of the bread or wine before the [Messiah] priest, for he shall first bless the first portion of the bread and wine, and [stretch out] his hand on the bread for all;" 43

Note that the order of bread and then wine as in the Eucharist, as opposed to the order of other Jews.  And it is only in a Messianic Banquet.  Jesus said

"And as they were eating he took the bread, and when he had said the blessing he broke it and gave it to them.  `Take it,' he said, `this is my body.'  Then he took a cup, and when he gave thanks he handed it to them, and all drank from it, and he said to them, `this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, poured out for the many.  In truth I tell you, I shall never drink wine any more until the day I drink the new wine in the kingdom of God.'".  44
Jesus said at the `Last Supper' when he was in a foreboding mood. He expected to be arrested and crucified by the Romans.  He believed that he was the eschatological Messiah, but still he expected to be tortured and suffer a painful death.  This is indeed his last supper, a Passover seder.  He breaks the matzoh, a symbol of Jewish suffering but also of escape from exile.

The order of the Eucharist, bread before wine, was established by the church.  The Essenes were the only Jews who typically reversed the order making the blessing of bread before wine.  And they considered that an ordering that they would follow in the Messianic age.  But none of above makes the Eucharist a magical or mystical event; the transubstantiation of the bread into Jesus' body and the wine into his blood, rather it is a redemptive event. It became so for Paul.

"For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed.  The Lord Jesus took some bread, after he had given thanks broke it, and he said, `this is my body, which is for you, do this in remembrance of me,'  and in the same way, with the cup after supper, saying, `thus cup is the new  covenant in my blood.  Whenever you drink this cup, you are proclaiming the Lord's death until he comes.  Therefore anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily is answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone is to examine himself and only then eat of the bread or drink from the cup; because a person who eats and drinks without recognizing the body is eating and drinking his own condemnation.  That is why many of you are weak and ill and a good number have died." 45

The new covenant can be found only in Luke, not in Mark or Matthew.  The idea that drinking the blood is a proclamation of the death and salvation is clearly new as is the `magical' power to destroy those who eat and drink but do not believe in the death and salvation of Jesus.  In fact, in the early church, the symbol of Christianity is bread and fish, not bread and wine. Richard Hiers and Charles Kennedy in a study of early Christian art say it is;

"fairly certain... That either for Jesus himself or for quite early, and probably, Jewish Christians, the meal of bread and fish, of which we learn in the Gospels, was understood as a Eucharistic anticipation in not epiphanic participation in the blessed life of table-fellowship in the kingdom of God." 46

Paul developing his own ideology of the final cosmic drama picked up from the Essenes the method of preparing themselves for the final cosmic drama.  Since it would start with a war against Gog of Magog they prepared to fight evil.  Christianity became a religion of salvation.  It seems clear that the Essenes influenced John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul and John, the author of the gospel. In an article James H. Charlesworth claims that some remaining members of the Essenes joined the Johannine community after the great revolt.  47

And it is equally true that Jesus differed from the Essenes in at least two significant ways: one his willingness and in fact desire to associate with impure persons and secondly the Hillelite liberal view of the Halakha. But the  comparison of the similarities between Christianity and the doctrines of the Essenes is remarkable. Thus perhaps the Jewish background (Essene) of Christianity is closer than had previously been understood.  So states David Flusser.

"The world is divided into the realms of good and evil; mankind consists of two large camps: the Sons of Light - actually the community itself - and those who are of the Devil.  The division is preordained by the sovereign will of God (double predestination).  The Sons of Light are the elect of Divine grace and were granted the Spirit which frees them from the sins of flesh.  Baptism functions as a means of atonement.  The company of the Elect is a kind of spiritual temple; this company is constituted by a new covenant with God; this covenant is eschatological and addition to the old covenant made with Israel."  48

As he further writes
"The material was not only collected, but fused, refashioned and enriched by the impact of the personality and teaching of Jesus and the tremendous creative forces unleashed by the new faith." 49

Flusser though believes that the synoptic Gospels (as opposed to the Gospel of John and to the letters of Paul) are in fact closer to Pharisaical Judaism than to the Essenes. He is distinguishing as we will between the Jerusalem church and Pauline and Johannine Christianity.  50

While there are similarities there are also differences. 51 The Essenes were extremely legalistic and priestly, to the extent of leaving the Temple community; Jesus was not.  They were particularly obsessed with ritual purity, Jesus associated with underdog classes, and particularly with women.  The Essenes were, at least, textually violent, Jesus emphasized the importance of love.  Jesus and John the Baptist before him, emphasized repentance making people equal before God and missionizing that ideal ; the Essenes were elitists.  The Essenes wrote, Jesus told parables. As a result the Gospels were meant for commoners, the scrolls were not. There are many other implications of a group of elitists and a group of commoners; whom they associated with, issues of purity and legalism, a missionary open society versus a closed society with a clear hierarchy, asceticism, the use of simple oral parables versus complicated symbolic texts and the use of angelology, the use of miracles, formal training and initiation. And as we seen the Essenes used a different calendar; it would have been difficult for Jesus living in the Jewish community to use a solar calendar.

Just as Gershom Scholem has documented that the theological basis for Sabbatai Zevi's Messianic movement; there had to be a theological basis for Jesus' eschatological Messianism.  It is likely to have been developed in the Essene community which we know now had in its library parts of the Books of Enoch.  As we have just seen, many of the doctrines of Christianity were originally Essene doctrines. The other factor in Sabbateanism was the crisis generated by the expulsion from Spain and the massacres in the Ukraine. The downfall of the Hasmoneum Kingdom and the growing power of a Hellenized Rome, were the crisis in Judaism in the First Century.  52 I am not suggesting that Jesus was a closet follower of the Essenes,  only that he was influenced by them. He was more influenced by Hillel, but Christianity itself was more influenced by the Essenes.


1 Jewish Encyclopedia 5:224.

2 BT Kiddushin 71a, see Falk, pg. 40.

3 Quoted in Flusser, D., Jesus, (Herder & Herder, NY, 1969) P. 53, from BT Sota 22b and BT Berachot 14b.

4 And yet despite the importance of this difference, after the end of the Hasmonuem Kingdom in 60 BCE, the two groups lived separate but peacefully until their destruction at the Great Revolt.

5 It is also possible that each leader was called a ‘Teacher of Righteousness”.

6 See article by S. Talmon in Charlesworth, Messiah.      

7 The Wicked priest may have been King Alexander Janneus (a latter Maccabean King) or his earlier ancestors Jonathan or perhaps his brother Simon, the High Priest. See Charlesworth, Jesus and Dead Sea Scrolls, Pg. 144.

8Vermes, G., Dead Sea Scrolls, Forty Years On (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1987).

9 Matt. 7:28-29, Also Mk. 1:22

10 Damascus Fragment 8:10

11Stegman, H., Jesus and the Teacher of Righteousness, Bible Review, February 1994, Pg. 44.

12 Charlesworth, J.H., Jesus and Dead Sea Scrolls, (Doubleday, N.Y., 1992) P. 146.

13 From Josephus, BJ 2:136; in Vermes, Jesus the Jew P. 63.

14 Josephus, Antiquities, 8:46-47

15 QI DSD, in  Davies, A.A.,  Christian Origins and Judaism p. 115

16 Dennis Smith, The Messianic Banquet, in Pearson, B.A., The Future of Early Christianity, (Fortress Press, Minn., 1991) pg. 72.

17 L.H.Schiffman, L.H., ed. Archeology and History in the Dead Sea Scrolls (JSOT/ASOR, Sheffield, 1990). Article by Morton Smith, Ascent to the Heavens in 4Qma,  pg. 184-185.

18 Knohl, Israel, The Messiah before Jesus, (University of California Press, Berkeley, 2000) pg. 15-18

19 Flusser, D., Jesus, pg. 129-130.

20 I Enoch 46:3.

21 Fuller, R.H., New Testament Christology, (Fontana Library, London, 1969) Page 39-40.

22 The Bible puts Daniel in the `writings' not in the prophets,   suggesting that Daniel was a wisdom writer and that the canonizers knew that at least part of the book was written after the Jews considered the age of prophecy over. The church put him in the prophet section thus making the Son of Man creator a prophet predicting Jesus as an eschatological figure.   

23Enoch 38:1.

24 Casey, pg. 23.

25 Fuller, New Testament Christology, Page 232.

26 PT Hag. 2:2

27 Falk pg. 49.

28 Falk pg. 49. -50

29 Luke 3:11

30 Matt 19:21,24

31 Flusser, Judaism, P 198.

32 Romans 12:14-21

33 Quoted by David Flusser in Cohen, J., Essential Papers of Judaism and Christianity in Conflict, (N.Y. Press, N.Y., 1991) pg. 41.

34 Flusser, David, The Spiritual History of the Dead Sea Sect, (MOD Books, Tel Aviv, 1989) pg. 54.

35 The problem with hereditary descent is obvious. David’s descendants quickly lost the Northern Kingdom, David descendants lost Judea, the High Priesthood went to the Hasmonuem’s when the original  family went ‘Greek’ and the Hasmonuems then adopted Greek initiatives.

36 Quoted in Flusser, in Cohen, pg. 43.

37 Flusser, Cohen, pg. 45.

38 Flusser, Cohen, pg. 54.

39 See chapter on Jeremiah in ‘Messengers of God’ – ‘’.

40 Charlesworth, Jesus and DSS, P. 20-21.

41 Flusser, Cohen, pg. 63.

42 Stendhal, The Srolls, Pg. 10-11.

43 Vermes, DSD 9:11

44 Mark 14:22-25

45 I Corin 11:23-30, my underline

46 In Crossan, Historical, P 398.

47 Biblical Archeological Review, February 1993

48 Quoted in Jeremy Cohen, Essential Papers On Judaism  And Christianity  In Conflict, P 76 from David Flusser.

49 ibid p 6

50 ibid p 40

51 Charlesworth, James, Ed. Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls, (Doubleday, N.Y., 1992) pgs. 7-40.

52 Davis in Bloom, Scholem