Christianity From Qumran?
Tomorrow's World Magazine
December 1971
Volume: Vol III, No. 12
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Christianity From Qumran?
Lester L Grabbe  

WAS CHRIST an Essene? Was John the Baptist? Did Christianity actually begin in a "monastic" commune in the wilderness near the Dead Sea?
   These very ideas have been advanced in pamphlets and articles. Yes, even whole books appeared on the subject in the first few years after the initial Dead Sea Scrolls find near Qumran in 1947. The idea was that Christianity originated among the Essenes, a sect which withdrew from the regular Jewish community. Some few even "traced" the origin of Christianity to the Essene "monastery" at the site of Qumran on the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea.
   Even now, there are probably still followers of this line of reasoning.
   But Professor Miller Burrows, widely recognized authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls, expresses the general trend of thinking today: "Not only John the Baptist but even Jesus himself has sometimes been thought to have been an Essene. This is quite out of the question, as all competent historians now recognize" (The Dead Sea Scrolls, p. 329, emphasis ours throughout).
   Definitely! One of the basic tenets of the Essene beliefs was asceticism. But Christ was no ascetic (Matt. 11:19). He even ate with the common people, something no Essene would ever think of! (Compare Matthew 9: 11 with Josephus, Wars of the Jews II, viii, 8.) Christ went freely into the Temple on the Holy Days (John 2:23; 5:1; 7:14). While the Essenes would sometimes send dedicated objects to the Temple, they would not go up themselves (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, XVIII, i, 5, plus note in Whiston translation).
   Of course, the Dead Sea Scrolls point out some of the streams of Jewish thought during the same period that God's Church began. They give a further background of what was going on at the time. That one would find resemblances between some of the Qumran writings and the New Testament is not surprising at all it is what would be expected.
   But some have deduced completely unsubstantiated theories from the few parallels, forgetting the far louder cry of the differences: "Parallels between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the sayings of Jesus concerning the future have been noted, but there the differences are even more striking" (Burrows, p. 331).
   There is not so much as one mention of any Essene much less the Qumran sect in the whole of the New Testament. Quite strange, if one wishes to believe there was some connection ! Professor Burrows, after having studied the Scrolls for seven years, saw no connection between the New Testament and Qumran:
   "It is not necessary to suppose that any of the writers of the New Testament had ever heard of the particular sect that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls, and I see no definite evidence that they had. Why are the covenanters [Qumran group] or, for that matter, the Essenes nowhere mentioned in the New Testament?" (Page 343.)
   Let's face it: Fads run in the scholarly world just as they do in the fashion world. Those who first concluded there must be a connection between Jesus and the Essenes were somewhat hasty in their judgment. But the idea caught on and was taken from there by some. Unfortunately, these ideas continued to circulate even after the studies of sober researchers have shown them wrong.
   We should not overlook the contributions which the Scrolls have made and can make to the background study of the New Testament. But neither should we allow sensational claims about a "revolution in Bible understanding" to unsettle us:
   "The continued study of the scrolls should contribute to the better understanding of New Testament background and origins. But there is nothing in the contents of the scrolls or in a careful comparison of them with the New Testament which warrants hasty statements that the Christian gospel was taken over from the Qumran sector is basically dependent on that sect for its message and way of life" (F. V. Filson, "The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament," New Directions in Biblical Archaeology, p. 138).
   On the positive side, the Scrolls have helped establish something which conservative scholars have always maintained that the New Testament was complete by the end of the first century and that there was no "evolution" of doctrine in the books. Some liberal writers had asserted the last books were not written until 150 A.D. or later.
   Now Dr. William F. Albright points out his conclusions in this regard after a study of the Scrolls:
   "First, the books of the New Testament were composed during a period of possibly half a century [about 50-100 A.D.), more likely thirty or forty years. Second, there is no trace of an evolution of doctrine within these books" (New Horizons in Biblical Research, p. 51).
   For further detailed information on the Dead Sea Scrolls and their meaning for the Bible, read our free reprint article "Significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls."
   It becomes apparent then that Christianity did not begin in a monastic commune near the Dead Sea wilderness area! And neither John the Baptist nor Christ Himself was an Essene. Such ideas stand disproved and have no foundation in actual fact.

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Tomorrow's World MagazineDecember 1971Vol III, No. 12