A shepherd boy was throwing rocks in a cave—what else was there to do while tending his flocks in the mid-1940s?—and heard something crack. Going into the cave, he found a ceramic pot with pages inside that much later became known as the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Many subsequent discoveries in eleven different caves yielded thousands of fragments of manuscripts and a large number of whole scrolls stored in jars. Some are copies of the Hebrew Scriptures, some are commentaries on biblical texts, and some are the rules of the community that wrote them—the Essenes.
The Essenes were a sect of Jews who had left the worldly ways of the big city of Jerusalem, several hundred years before the time of Jesus, for the quiet and seclusion of the desert in order to prepare the way of the Lord. They were a monastic community in almost total isolation, with no private property, strict discipline, and no women (and therefore few children). They saw themselves as holding the sacred and the true, while feeling that the Temple and its priests had fallen into wrong or even wicked ways. They were not involved in the politics of the Sadducess and Pharisees, and practiced a lifestyle that was later imitated in some ways by the first Christians.
There has long been speculation that Jesus and/or John the Baptist were Essenes or had studied with them in the desert. They certainly held some of the Essene beliefs on the kingdom of God, baptism, sacred meals, the position of a central teacher, and how the communities were organized. The ascetic John the Baptist seemed to fit the picture of an Essene, while Jesus was more in line with the teachings of the Pharisees. His disciples didn’t follow the strict observance of the Sabbath or the Essene views on other practices, especially with regard to women.
Jesus must have traveled far and wide and studied with various holy men during the years before he began his mission. No one, of course, really knows. Listen in to my Hay House Radio show on Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 2:00 pm pacific to hear all about Jesus and his healing ministry; I’ll tell you what my study of his life has revealed.