Qumranians Essenes or Zealots

Before we can say anything more about the origins of orthodox Christianity, or Pauline Christianity (which Eusebius helped promote in the time of Constantine), we must identify the people whom we have been calling 'Qumranians', and learn of their fate in the turbulent century that saw the birth of Christianity. The orthodox view -the view of the International Team that is - holds the inhabitants of the Qumran ruins to have been a people known as the Essenes mentioned in the works of classical historians like Josephus, Philo and Pliny. According to this view, they were recluses uninvolved in the religious and secular affairs of Jerusalem and the Temple. The picture we obtain from the primary sources, however, is entirely different.

The Essenes, according to Josephus, were living in every part of Palestine; there is nothing in the literature to warrant the position that they were confined to the Qumran settlements. Josephus also tells us that there were four thousand Essenes living all over Palestine including Jerusalem itself; and this was based on his personal knowledge, there were probably many more. In fact, there was even a 'Gate of Essenes' in the walled city of Jerusalem, before it was destroyed with the rest of the city in AD 70.

Then there is another point: if the 'pacific' Essenes were the sole inhabitants of Qumran, where was the need for the Romans to send some fifty thousand soldiers under Titus - their ablest general - who went on to destroy most of the settlement? Also, the Qumranians had at first inflicted a crushing defeat on a smaller Roman force - hardly possible had they been nothing but pacifists.

Similarly, there is nothing also to suggest that the Qumranians were isolated from the affairs of the state and the Temple; in fact there exist Qumran texts suggesting that they were indeed closely involved. One text in particular - known as the 'Temple Scroll' - shows that the Qumranians were involved in the daily affairs of the Temple. This contradicts the position taken by scholars of the International Team (and the Catholic Encyclopaedia) who continue to insist that they were totally dissociated from the Temple and its officers. Further, the International Team claims the Temple Scroll to be pre-Christian; but as we saw earlier. it contains references to practices like uncle-niece marriages that make sense only in the context of the Herodians - that is to say, the period of early Christianity.

The main point is: there is now ample evidence to conclude that the Qumranians, far from being pacific hermits, were militant warriors belonging to an extremist Jewish sect. To begin with, the character of the Qumran texts themselves -uncompromising in orthodoxy and militant in tone - is completely at variance with the pacific picture of the Essenes given by classical authors and now propagated by the International Team. So too is the language _ Hebrew and Aramaic rather than Greek - attesting to their orthodoxy. Some Essenes may have lived in Qumran settlements, but were by no means the sole inhabitants of Qumran; nor were they confined to il. Josephus for one tells us that they lived all over Palestine.

There has been much etymological speculation around the word Essene, about its origin and meaning. Most of it strikes one as idle ingenuity. It is difficult to avoid the sense that the Essenes are relatively unimportant people of whom much has been made, especially as regards their supposedly pacific nature. Despite a great deal of etymological juggling, no convincing reference to Essenes can be traced to the Qumran texts.48 Thus the assertion of the International Team, that the Dead Sea Scrolls are of Essene authorship, is seen to rest on no support whatsoever; it is simply the position least damaging to Church dogma and doctrine. It is difficult to avoid the feeling that all the feverish activity surrounding the efforts to tie the Essenes to the Qumran settlements is only a red herring - part of a concerted effort by the International Team to divert attention away from the true nature of the Qumranians and their significance. We must therefore look elsewhere to learn who they were, beginning with what they had to say about themselves.

The theologically conservative nature of the Qumranians is confirmed by the fact that they called themselves Nozrei ha-Brit which is Hebrew for 'Keepers of the Covenant'. This is more significant than it may appear at first sight, for Nozrim derived from Nozrei ha-Brit is probably the earliest Hebrew term for the sect that came to be known as the Christians. So the early Christians saw themselves as 'Keepers of the Covenant' or preservers of orthodoxy. From the same source, as scholars have noted, derive Nasrani - Arabic for Christian - as well as Nazarone and Nazorean used by the early Christians to describe themselves in the New Testament. By a slip of the tongue or the pen, 'Jesus the Nazorean' became Jesus of Nazareth, bringing sanctity to a town that may not have existed at the time.

Then there is also the evidence of the Habakkuk Commentary - one of the Qumran texts. It tells us that the governing council of Qumran was at that time actually in Jerusalem. They both referred to themselves as the 'Followers of the Way' - and these were the early Christians. The early Church of Jerusalem was, therefore a Qumranian institution. But then a deliberate distortion was introduced in the New Testament aimed at reducing the importance of James, the brother of Jesus. The Qumran texts when studied alongside the Acts of the Apostles suggest that James was the leader of the early Church presumably following the death of Jesus; more likely, James was its real leader even while Jesus was alive. This is something that will become increasingly clear as we examine other ancient sources: there is ample evidence for James, but Jesus grows shadowy.

(The Habakkuk Commentary seems to have been a major source for early, and even later Christianity. Some of the most important ideas of Christianity including its Doctrine of the Faith can be traced to it.)

So, all paths of investigation lead us to a single destination - to wit, the conclusion that the Qumranians were the early Christians. And all the new evidence as it keeps coming in is only adding strength to this conclusion.

Then there is something else also of interest: the Qumranians were not only militant in defence of their religion, but also warriors in the more literal sense. This too is suggested by the Gospels - recall the statement from Matthew, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." A careful study of the archaeology of Qumran shows it to have contained defensive towers, foundries for forging weapons and other features designed to withstand

48 Robert Eisenman traces it to the Hebrew Osei ha - Torah found in a Qumran text known as the 'Habakkuk Commentary.' It means 'Doers of the Law' from which he goes on to derive 'Osim', Osseme and Essene. There is no comfort in this for the International Team for this changes the Essenes from pacifists to Zealots - a situation they are trying desperately to defuse. See Maccabees. Zadokilu. Christians and Qumran. Leiden, 1983, p. 109. See also Baigent and Leigh, op. cit. pp. 172-73.

prolonged sieges. Of one thing we can now be quite certain: Qumran was destroyed during the Jewish War of AD 66-74 when Jerusalem was also destroyed. But Pliny tells us that the Essenes were still flourishing in the region, long after the destruction of Qumran. So they were little the worse for it. The Zealots on the other hand were not so fortunate as we shall soon see.

Just as the rebellion of Mattathias Maccabaeus was waged as a struggle to preserve the purity of Judaism against the Hellenising influences of the Seleucids, the Jewish War of AD 66-74 was fought by an orthodoxy against what were seen as the corrupting influence of Rome and its puppets - the Herodians and the upstart priesthood installed by Herod. As one might expect, the battle on behalf of orthodox Judaism was led by the Zealots. This was not a sudden outburst, but one that had been preceded by earlier uprisings. In 4 BC, immediately following the death of Herod, a Zealot known as Judas of Galilee led a revolt against Rome and its puppets. Judas and his Zealot band left a trail of destruction across the Holy Land, plundering a royal armoury and eventually setting fire to Herod's palace in Jericho, not far from Qumran. The cause of the uprising is revealing: Josephus tells us that it was for the replacement of the High Priest by another one more acceptable to the Zealots. Then, as now, the Holy Land was always in a state of political and social turmoil in the name of religion.

One can readily understand that the Romans must have been heartily tired of their turbulent subjects of Palestine with their hypersensitivity about religious matters. It mattered little to Rome whether or not the High Priest was a Levite who could claim descent from Aaron as long he could maintain peace. Palestine - or Judaea - had relatively low priority in Roman eyes. Rome's main concern was the great Parthian Empire in the east, making Armenia and the Pomic regions far more crucial. In 53 BC, the Persian commander Surenas had inflicted a crushing defeat on a Roman army under Crassus at Carrhae in southern Anatolia. Seven Roman legions had been destroyed by Surenas' brilliant victory, placing the Roman hold over the east in jeopardy. Not long after, Amony and Cleopatra had been up to their intrigues in the east, taxing both Roman diplomacy and military power to the utmost. And now Parthia was on the move again, repeatedly frustrating Roman ambitions in Pontus. The last thing Rome wanted was further distraction in Palestine pinning her legions down. But this is exactly what happened when Menahem led a revolt in AD 66 that was soon to erupt into a full scale war.

Basically, the problem was again a difference of outlook in matters relating to religion. Rome demanded that the subjects recognize the divine nature of the emperor - Rome was now an empire - while to the Jews this was blasphemy. A compromise could probably have been worked out if the Zealots, or at least their leaders like Menahem had been willing, but compromise was not in their nature. Menahem took the fortress of Masada and shut himself in. Rome did not desire war and had no intention of destroying Jerusalem or Qumran, but her hands were forced by leaders like Menahem. When a Roman army marched against him and laid siege to the fortress, he and seven hundred of his followers committed suicide rather than fall into the hands of the Romans. And this was to be repeated at several other places where the Zealots fought to the last man or committed mass suicide, after first dispatching their women and children to death.

In all this the goal of the Zealots was the same: ridding their land of the pagan Romans and the restoration of their legitimate royal and priestly line - a pipe dream seen from our present vantage position. The historian Josephus who fought on the side of the Jews (but later went over to the Romans) has left us a vivid account in his great work Wars of the Jews.

The Romans put down the rebellion with a heavy hand. At first they seem to have underestimated their adversary and suffered some early reverses. The campaign was probably botched, and the Roman twelfth legion was put to rout by the Zealots (which goes to show that the Qumranians could not have been pacifists). Eventually, both Qumran and Jerusalem were destroyed, with a powerful army led by Titus (better known as Vespasian, the future emperor) making a thorough job of At . good part of the Qumran community disappeared under the onslaught. As already noted, several Zealot communities committed mass suicide along with their wives and children rather than fall into the hands of the hated Romans.

But this still did not end all Paresis tan cw as never entirely peaceful. Sporadic fighting continued until it erupted again sixty years later under Simeon bar Kochba - a descendant of the Zealots in spirit if not by blood. This was a well-planned and tough challenge to Rome that required a major effort by the Romans to quell. In the end, however, Roman military might proved too great. Julius Severus, later followed by Hadrian himself advanced from Syria at the head of an army of nearly a hundred thousand men, and laid waste to the land. Simeon held out in Qumran for a while, and later at Battir near Jerusalem, until the last vestige of Zealot resistance was wiped out. The Zealots, the creators of the early Church, disappeared from history around AD 135. The field was now left free for the followers of St Paul to spread his version of Christianity, while the early Christians and the faith they followed were both casualties of the Jewish Wars.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Responses

  • zufan
    Can history tie the essenes to the zodokites?
    3 years ago

Post a comment