This is a follow-up with more information with respect to my post Nazareth or Nazarene of a couple of days ago.
Additional historical information that I have reviewed (which it appears I read about 5 years ago) based on both the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (born 37 AD) who included in his historical writings information on the sects and sub-sects among the Jews of his homeland. He reports there were three main philosophical groups:
Again, from my own life and experiences and exposures I am certainly well aware of the Pharisees and Sadducees for they are frequently referenced in both the Old and New Testaments of our Bibles.
According to Josephus their community cultures were quite distinct and different in many respects and I guess you could call the Essenes “odd men out.” You see the Pharisees and the Sadducees, somewhat like our big corporation, were primarily interested in the laws, rules, regulations, money and all that good stuff, whereas the Essenes were, as Josephus says, “more liberal and Hellenized.” Josephus says they had “a greater affection for one another than the other sects have.”
We get a taste of the Pharisees love to enforce their observance of Jewish laws in Luke 19:39 where they ordered the disciples rebuked for creating disturbance when they came to town (Jerusalem). The Sadducees were a little more modern in their outlook but were largely non-spiritual.
He describes the Essenes, on the other hand, as being “inclined towards mysticism.”
Essenes were influenced by Hellenist culture and were great advocates of the Greek philosopher Pythagoras (c 570-500 BC). Josephus reports that the Essenes were:
- practised in the art of healing
- received their therapeutic knowledge of roots and stones from the ancients**
**F Josephus Wars of the Jews, bk II, ch VIII:2
The term Essene refers to this type of expertise, for the Aramaic word asayya mean physician and corresponded to the Greek word essenoi.
If you’ll recall Scripture, Yeshua was frequently at odds with the Pharisees and Sadducees over the legalistic mandate and rule over the people, and similarly they were at odds with him, trying to use the Law as a basis for condemning him and the apostles. Of course, it is no where more obvious than when Yeshua is hauled before Pilot by them for “breaking the law”, for “blasphemy,” etc.
Yeshua’s behaviour was more akin to the Essene lifestyle of healing, esoteric philosophy and liberal attitude.
As documented in The Antiquities of the Jews, the Essenes were “excluded from the common court of the Temple.” It was this rebuke and exclusion that caused Yeshua to enter the Temple and over turn the tables of the traders and money changers.
The Bible tells us about Yeshua going into the Temple and turning over the tables, etc., but there is no information at all as to what caused him then and there to do such a thing. We’re left guessing, and I can guess as good as the rest, and simply supposed it was because you’re not supposed to be buying and selling in the Temple. This, of course is not the case.
Josephus was a Pharisee but he was very complimentary of the Essenes and wrote:
Their course of life is better than that of other men, and they entirely addict themselves to husbandry. It also deserves our admiration how much they exceed all other men that addict themselves to virtue … This is demonstrated by that institution of theirs which will not suffer anything to hinder them from having all things in common; so that a rich man enjoys no more of his own wealth than he who had nothing at all.
Locale(s) of Essenes
The main residential hub was at Qumran on the northwest coast of the Dead Sea, east of Jerusalem. There were other nearby settlements at Murabba’at, Ain Feshkha and Mird. The overall region was known as the wilderness of Judaea. It was in the local caves that the Dead Sea Scrolls of Essene records were discovered in 1947. They’d been hidden in earthen ware jars for nearly 2000 years; accidentally discovered by a shepherd boy when searching for a lost goat.
How cool is that; I mean Scripture talks about the lost lamb and how the Lord would go after even one who had gone astray. Isn’t this just like Creator to orchestrate such a find, a humble shepherd boy! Somewhat prophetically spoken of by the prophet Jeremiah in the Old Testament over 2000 plus years earlier.
Jeremiah 32:14 “Thus saith the Lord of Hosts … Take these evidences … and put them in an earthen vessel, that they may continue many days.”
Some of the Essene traditions dated back to 250 BC and they were secreted during the Jewish uprising against the Romans (AD 66-70) and had never been retrieved.
The Essene community was referred to as the Nazrie ha Brit (Keepers of the Covenant) and it was from this name that the term Nazarene derived. The Islamic Koran refers to Christians as Nazara, and a general Arabic expression for them is Nasrani.
There is an apparent misleading “error” in the New Testament that occurs in the translation of this Palestinian terminology. At the outset of Yeshua’s story, Matthew 2:23 makes it clear that Yeshua was a Nazarene, but it is suggested that this was because his parents came from Nazareth.
Nazarene NOT Nazareth
There is no record of Nazareth’s existence at that time. It is not mentioned in the
Hebrew Talmud nor in any of the letters of St. Paul. The name is absent from Roman archive and from all historical writings of Josephus. In fact, Nazareth is not to be found in any book, map, chronicle or military record of the period, so far discovered.
Nazarenes of the Gospel era had nothing to do with a town called Nazareth that was to be settled and named in later times. If you read my previous post, I posted copies of two maps indicating that the newer map doesn’t mean it existed in Yeshua’s time; and the more historical map shows Nazareth in a totally different location. Again, it could have come about after the time of Yeshua and his disciples.
The Nazarenes were a sub-sect of the Essenes and their status is described in Acts 24:5 when Paul is brought on charge of sedition before the Governor of Caesarea:
“For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.”