The Essenes and the Nazarenes

It is my opinion that the Jesus Movement (which I will call Yeshuine Judaism to avoid anachronistic confusion with gentile Christianity) and the Essenes were "branches" of the same Daniel-Enochian-Messianic subset of 2nd temple Judaism that arose in the last two centuries before the common era. Both sects were part of the developing messianism of this period with, I believe, the Essenes eschewing the temple and representing an apocalyptic eschatology and the Yeshuines worshipping at the temple and espousing an ethical eschatology.

We will follow the 4 stages of Messianism as outlined by J. Starky in New Testament Abstracts 8 (1963-64) 430 #1185. This identifies 4 stages:

Maccabean Period

Hasmonean Period

Roman/Pompeian Period

Herodian Period.


1. Maccabean Period. (c. 160 BCE) in the time of the Righteous Teacher of the DSS.

Jonathan is the High Priest and the "wicked priest" of PHab. The Moreh ha Tsadik (Teacher of Righteousness) writes Thanksgiving Psalms and the Manual of Discipline. The term NESER (shoot, sprout) occurs and can be found in 1QH6:15; 7:19; 8:6; 8:;10 (see Isa 60:20). These reflect on the community (yahad) itself and not to an individual. The TR did not consider himself a messiah. These are the earliest texts which do NOT contain messianic expectation. This will develop later.

2. Hasmonean Period (134-63 BCE) A new generation of Essenes emerge at the time of Hyrcanus and Alexander Jannaeus when persecuted Pharisees come into the group. This is when the 4QTestimonia was written and the Manual of Discipline expanded. Suddenly we have full blown messianism which includes the advent of a PROPHET and the priestly (Aaronic) and royal (Davidic) messiah (1QS 9-11). It was Pharisees, therefore, who brought messianic expectation to the community of Essenes in the 2nd centuury BCE. This is also the time when the basic foundations of the T12P (Testimonies of the 12 Patriarchs)...previous thought to be of later Christian composition..was laid with its priestly and royal messiahs. T12P was a pharisaic work.

3. Roman/Pompeian Period (63-37 BCE) is represented by the Damascus Document (CD), the oldest copy of which (4QDb) of 75-50 BCE now conjoins the two messiahs into ONE, the Messiah of Aaron and Israel (CD19:10-11; 20:1; 12:23; 14:19). Now we are getting closer to the N'tzarim for this document also foretells a PROPHET who comes back at the end-time with the messiah. 4QarP says:

"I shall send you ELIJAH before......"

The "Annointed of the Lord" of the Psalms of Solomon also belongs to this period. Starting to sound familiar?

4. Herodian Period (37BCE-68 CE) Anti-Roman and Zealot tendencies arise. The War Rule dates to this period and the MD, CD are recopied again repeating the expectation for TWO messiahs (1QM 11:7-8) but the expectation for a single messiah still continues among some of the community and is represented in several Cave 4 texts. We now have (4QPatBls 1:34) the Scion of David who will rise with the Interpreter of the Law (prophet) and (4QFlor 1:11) the Scion of David will arise at the end of days (4QpISa). Here is where I would plot the trajectories bifurcating (that would eventually be the Essenes and the N'tzarim) through the Enochian literature which is appended by the "parables" at this time. The Parables of the Book of Enoch merges the "Son of Man," "Elect One," "the Anointed," and the "Just One" into ONE person. The Elect of God text dates to this time. All of this conflates to a messianic expectation in both temporal and sacerdotal forms and the revival of the "Son of David" at the time Y'shua strolled out of the Galilee to be baptized by a former Essene/prophet/Elijah/interpreter of the Law/John the Baptist.

Did Jesus of Nazareth represent a subset of 2nd temple Judaism that was already in existence prior to his birth or ministry? The debate goes on among scholars concerning the origin of the term "Essenes" and equal debate continues over the confusion between NAZARAIOS/NAZARENOS and "Nazareth." I call this the fight between the zayin and tsade. Keeping in mind the above trajectory, my attention goes to Isaiah 11:1-10 and specifically:

And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:

Note the juxtaposition of and

This is where the "Jesus People" got their designations as N'tzrim "Branchers" and "Jesseans."   Epiphanius suggests that the Yeshuine group was called IESSAIOI very early on (Panarion 29 1, 3-9; 4,9) and that they were also called the N'TZRIM is well known. Acts 13:22-23, Romans 15:12, Romans 5:5, 22:16 give witness to some of these early designations.

The Qumran community could have been the hardline apocalyptic sect and the Yeshuines may have called themselves "The Way" to indicate "our WAY is better than their WAY." Soon IESSAIOI seems to have fallen out of use and the Yeshuine group were called the N'tzarim.  It cannot be a coincidence that the only OT passage with clear messianic interpretation, "The Netzer of Jesse" lies behind the two earliest self designations of the Yeshuines.  Has this anything to do, however, with the Essaioi?  Before we discuss this, let us return for a moment to the etymological free-for-all over the derivation of the Nazaraioi, Nazareni, Nazerini (Pliny), etc.  There may also have been a pre-Jesus, pre-Essene forerunner called  Nazarioi.  In this respect, we find Epiphanius speaking about a sect in Bashan and Galaatides called Nasaraioi (Panarion 18; 20, 3; 29, 6, 1; 19, 5) who rejected temple sacrifice and the Torah but adhered to other Jewish practice.  Were the Nazarenes (alternately Nazoraioi, Nazorei, Nazaraei) a continuation of the pre-Jesus Nasaraioi, Nasarenoi, Nazorei?  Nazorei was used by Jerome in de vir. ill. 3 to refer to the Nazarenes and by Filaster to refer to the Nasarenes.

What does become clear by reading the patristics is that they were totally confused on the matter.  

    The Essenes were not Christians, nor even pre-Christians and the Christians were not Essenes.  The Nazarenes and the Essenes, however, may have had a common inheritance of tradition in the 2nd century BCE from which we see some of the common terminology in spite of what may have been a parting of the ways on  eschatology.

That's my take on things.  I could be wrong, but hey! It's my website!

Jack Kilmon

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