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Sandra CashMay 10, 2012ID#: 971382HIS3116 New Testament Archaeology A Comparison of Essene and Christian Beliefs There are some similarities between Essene doctrine and Christian doctrine, butthere are also some differences between these two beliefs. For example, they bothbelieved in eschatology, the coming of the end times. But a major difference betweenthese two beliefs is the Essenes were legalistic, which is something Christ taught againstand Christians try their best to stop from happening. In order to fully understand thesesimilarities, and differences one must first, understand what the Essenes believe in. Then,one must understand what the Christians believe in. The Essenes were members of a small group that developed in the Jewishcommunity during the last two centuries B.C. (Froehlich, Karlfried, Howard Kee, andFranklin Young 57). The main sources of information about the Essenes are Philo’sQuod omnius probus liber, Josephus’ Jewish War, and Antiquilties of the Jews, and theDead Sea Scrolls (“Essenes”). According to Josephus in Jewish war 2.154-58, theEssenes promoted the doctrine that was very alluring for many people, that the body isthe fleeting prison of the immortal soul (Stemberger 72). He goes on to say that, the soulis released by death, and, depending on if the soul was righteous person it would enjoyeternal reward on the other side of the ocean, but if the soul was of an evil person, thesoul would punished for eternity (Stemberger 72).
The Essenes lived together in very organized community, where possessionswhere everyone’s (“Essenes”). They had their own community so that they could be pure.They prohibited luxury, detested untruthfulness, and prohibited trading because it led togluttony and cheating (“Essenes”). Purity was an important part of their belief; they worewhite robes to symbolize their purity (Gundry 49). The Essenes rejected to offer animalsacrifices in the temple at Jerusalem, because they viewed it as contaminated by a corruptpriesthood (Gundry 49). This being said, Jesus would not have made a good Essene sincehe mingled with sinners. Essene theology is that there is only one God, and that God is the source of allpower and would eventually defeat the Evil One (Charlesworth 9). Only the one Godcould give forgiveness who freely offered his grace, love and mercy to all who calledupon him (Charlesworth 9). They also had purification through a ritual of immersion ofwater, like baptism (“Essenes”). Second, they read scripture under the guidance of theSpirit and affirmed that God’s promises were now being fulfilled (Charlesworth 10).They also stressed Isaiah 40:3, which states that a voice says prepare the way of the Lord(Charlesworth 11). Another common aspect of the Essenes was that they were extremely legalistic(Gundry 49). An important part of their belief was also in prophecy; they continued toaffirm prophecy (Charlesworth 12). Like the Jews, they believed in a Messiah, the onlydifference is that the Essenes might have believed in several Messiahs (Gundry 49).Lastly, they believed the end of time was near and with end time, redemption was nowbeing offered to the poor (Charlesworth 13). The Essenes figured the moment of theapproaching Last Judgment to be the year 70 B.C. (Stegemann 123).
Christianity states that there is only one God, who sent his only son to die on thecross for our sins (Reardon). If we confess our sins, and accept Christ as our savior wewill be forgiven and will have eternal life. This salvation is for everyone who is willing toaccept Christ as his or her savior. To acknowledge the forgiveness of one’s sins (which iscalled being born again), they are baptized (Reardon). After Christ rose from grave, he told his disciples that he was going to prepare aplace for them in Heaven. Although he was leaving them, he told them that God wouldsend them the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit helps Christians have a personal relationshipwith God by guiding them and teaching them. Christians refer to the Trinity, which areGod, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They are one, but in different forms. Before Jesus was born, there were prophets who prophesied about a comingMessiah as seen in Isaiah and other books of the Old Testament. Then there is alsoprophesies about a second coming of Jesus when the world will end. When this timecomes, it will be obvious to everyone that God exists and that salvation only comesthrough Christ (Milne 314). The purpose of the second coming is to complete theredemption (Milne 315). It is hard to know when the second coming will happen, but thewhole book of Revelation deals with the second coming. There are a lot of similarities between these two beliefs. First off, they bothbelieve in one God whom all life and power comes from. Second, they both believe thatGod was fighting against the Evil One, but would/did defeat the Evil One. They alsobelieve in a spirit that helps guide, and understand the scriptures. Jesus and the Essenessaw their actions as constituting a new covenant (Charlesworth 12). Third, they bothbelieve in a Messiah, the only difference is the fact that the Essenes believed in more than
one Messiah. Also, they both believed in a new covenant; Jesus is the new covenant byhow he died for the sins of man, where the new covenant to the Essenes was establishedby God through the Righteous Teacher (Charlesworth 12). Both of these beliefs in angelsand demons, and an eternal good place like heaven and a place where evil souls go likehell. They both seem to have practiced baptism and symbolism of water being the “livingwater” (Charlesworth 18). Lastly, they both believed in a second coming and this wasimportant to both of their beliefs. Although there are many similarities between these beliefs, there are alsodifferences between them. Christians are more of an open group, where as the Esseneswere a closed community, to the point that their teachings were secret (Charlesworth 23).Second, the Essenes idea of purity was an extreme for they could not be associated withcommoners, outcasts, and sinners, where Jesus was known for visiting these people(Charlesworth 25). The Essenes believed in more than one Messiah, where Jesus is theonly Messiah. Lastly, the Essenes were extremely legalistic, to the point where it is saidthat they out-performed the Pharisees in their punctilious legalism; where as Jesusdenounced the pharisaical legalism, and calls Christians to stay away from it (Gundry49). If one looks at both beliefs one can see the similarities and differences more fully.A good example of a similarity both of these beliefs believe is that they but believe in oneGod and that only God can offer salvation, there are also many differences. An exampleof the differences between them is that Christians believe that there was only oneMessiah, who is Jesus, where the Essenes believe in more than just one Messiah. Due tothe similarity between these two beliefs, the Essenes have been compared to Christians.
Works CitedCharlesworth, James H. Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls. New York: Doubleday, 1995-1992. Print."Essenes." Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6Th Edition (2011): 1. Academic Search Premier. Web. 10 May 2012.Froehlich, Karlfried, Howard Kee, and Franklin Young. Understanding The New Testament. Third Edition. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersery: Prentice Hall, 1973. Print.Gundry, Robert. A Survey of the New Testament. Revised Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981. Print.Milne, Bruce. Know the Truth: a Handbook of Christian Belief. Rev. ed. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1999. Print.Stegemann, Hartmut. The Library of Qumran, On the Essenes, Qumran, John the Baptist, And Jesus. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans , 1998. Print.Stemberger, Günter. Jewish Contemporaries of Jesus: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995. Print.Reardon, JoHannah . "The Nicene and Apostles Creeds." Christianity Today. Christianity Today, 2008. Web. 10 May 2012. <http://www.christianitytoday.com/biblestudies/articles/churchhomeleadership/08 0730.html>.