Resistance to Christianity

Chapter 4: The Men of the Community, or the Essenes


Only Flavius Joseph and Philo of Alexandria use the words essènoi or essaoi (from the Hebrew esah’, “council” or “party”), which Dupont-Sommer[1] translates as “congregation” (“men of the community”), to refer to the Jewish dissidence that was hostile to the two sects that dominated Judea and the Diaspora: the Sadducees and the Pharisees.

Hadot does not rule out the influence of the Aramaic word ossio, “doctor,” in the origin of the appellation Therapeutes or the “doctors of the soul,” which Philo gives to an Essene sect located not far from Alexandria.

If it is possible to judge from the manuscripts discovered at Qumran, they called themselves the “Men of the Community,” “Council of God,” “Council of the Community,” “Sons of Sadoq” (or Tsadoq, Sons of the Just, or Sons of Justice). In a general way, they called themselves the “Loyal” or the “Pious.” In Hebrew, the word is chasse; in Syrian, it is hasaya, which means “pious” or “holy,” and is phonetically similar to “Essenean”). “The eastern door of Jerusalem, which overlooked the country of the Essenes, kept the name Bab Essahioun, which seems to recall the name of this mysterious community.”[2]

According to Qumranian texts from a later date, the Essenes formed a sect of the “New Alliance,” a formula that Marcion – in all probability inspired by the Christian Jew Saul – would translate as “New Testament” in order to oppose it to the Old one (with a measure of success that cannot be denied).

In its two centuries of existence, Essenism – the expansion of which followed the tracks of the Diaspora – did not fail to borrow from diverse streams and embrace many doctrines. Philo speaks of the “Therapeutes” of Lake Mareotis. In certain texts, the Men of the Community are identified with the ebbyonim, the “poor,” who had every reason to approach the Judeo-Christian sect of the Ebionists, who were close to or rivals of the Nazarenes, and against whom the rebym, the “many” (a term used by Saul/Paul to designate his disciples) seemed to be opposed.


History of the Sect

Rejecting the early hypothesis that fixes the origin of Essene dissidence under the Asmoneans Jonathan and Simon, Dupont-Sommer instead situates it under Alexander Jonathan (103-76 [B.C.E.]).

Opposition to the monarchal pretentions of the great priest Alexander Jonathan incited the leader of the Essenes to withdraw into the desert with his partisans, just as Moses did.

“We know through Flavius Joseph that Aristobulus the First, successor to the great priest Jean Hycran, his father, would add the title of king to that of great priest. A year later, in 103 [B.C.E.], his brother Alexander Jonathan succeeded him and did not disavow this bold initiative: he took the title of king in his turn. Of the three great Jewish parties, only the Essenean party was strongly opposed to this innovation.”[3]

The resolution to leave Jerusalem and enter the desert is evoked in The Rule of the War of the Sons of the Light Against the Sons of Darkness.

Where was the community located? The historian Dio Chrysostom (around 42 to 125) speaks of Essenes living near Sodom. For Saulcy, Qumran would be Gomorrah.[4] Doresse contents himself with stating “Sodom and Gomorrah count among the places in which their colonies were established.”[5]

In Writing from Damascus, the first master of the sect carried the title of priest. He issued from the sacerdotal family of Gemul and his dissidence derived, at the origin at least, from a power struggle in the Sadducee caste, mythically attached to Sadoq, the great priest under Solomon.

His title referred to the sacred notion of justice, to those just or holy people whom God designated as his chosen; in Christianity, Jacob/James would be an example of such a person. This was also the destiny of Melchizedek, a secondary biblical personage who, among certain Essenes, was elevated to the dignity of Messiah by the symbolic consonance of his name (tsedek, “justice”). Fragments that came from midrashim, reprised in the notes attributed to Saul/Paul, again attest to the veneration shown with respect to an alter ego of the Master of Justice.

Around 100 [B.C.E.] there developed in Qumran a Jewish sect that disagreed with the Sadducees and was hostile to the Pharisees, whom Alexander Jonathan persecuted. Upon the death of the monarch and great priest, his widow, Alexandra (76-77), occupied the throne and set up her son Hycran II as the sovereign pontiff.

Upon the death of Alexandra, a war broke out between Hycran II (67-63) and his brother, Aristobulus II. The Pharisees took the side of the former, while the Sadducees chose the latter.

Around 65 [B.C.E.], persecution by Hycran II fell upon the Essenes who had taken refuge in Damascus, the holy city of which the Hebrew name (DMS) means “sanctuary.”[6] Its mythical foundation is attributed to Seth, the Son of Man (that is to say, the Son of Adam), whose importance – emphasized in the Qumran manuscripts, as well as in the texts discovered at Nag-Hammadi – demonstrated the existence of the sects that believed Seth was the Messiah. The Writing from Damascus situated the event a little before the arrival of Pompey into Judea in 63 [B.C.E.].

Between 65 and 63 [B.C.E.] a drama exploded, the eschatological consequences of which surpass the history of the Essenes: the putting to death of the Master of Justice, who was, according to the Commentary of Habacuc, “the priest whom God had placed in the (House of Judah) in order to explain all of the words of his servants, the prophets.” Was this Onias the Just, put to death in the camp of Hycran II, as suggested by Dupont-Sommer? (According to J. M. Rosenstiehl,[7] the ancient kernel of the Apocalypse of Elie dates from the epoch of Hycran II. A king who was not anointed persecuted the virgin Tabitha, who is the Community of Qumran, but the Anointed One, the Messiah, came to deliver her and lead her to terrestrial paradise. The return of Enoch evokes that of the Master of Justice.)

Whatever the case, the Qumran texts thenceforth combined veneration of the victim, the “Last Priest” or the “Messiah of the Spirit,” with execration of the despot or the “Impious Priest.” Philonenko sees in the martyrdom of Isaiah a transposition of the history of the sect and the sacrificial execution of its Messiah.[8]

When Pompey seized Jerusalem and razed the Temple in 63 [B.C.E.], the Essenes propagated the rumor of a just punishment inflicted by God on the Judeans, who were guilty of the death of the Messiah. This scenario, which colored anti-Judaism with anti-Semitism, would, in the Second Century, enter into the fictional elaboration of the death of Jesus.

Little by little, the Men of the Community regained the region of the Dead Sea, not without leaving important colonies in the cities of the Diaspora and in Damascus, the sanctuary city in which the legendary biography of Saul/Paul situated the illumination of the prophet and his revelation of the Messiah.

An invasion by the Parthian Empire, which ravaged the Qumran region between 40 and 38 [B.C.E.], and an earthquake combined to ruin a secular community whose numerical importance was attested to by the architectural development of its buildings, the extensiveness of its agriculture, its irrigation system and even its cemetery, in which [both] men and women reposed.

The tolerant attitude of Herod (37 [B.C.E.] - 4 [C.E.]) favored the Essenes’ freedom of movement. They traveled the roads that, from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, followed the banks of the River Jordan. There an important Baptist movement was born. Can one see an evolved Essenism, stripped of its elitism, or the perpetuation of the teachings of the Messiah called Dunstan/Dositheos, who was crucified, in the Nazarenism established in Judea, Galilee and Samaria well before the Christian era?

From 4 [B.C.E.] on, the guerrilla war against Rome provoked a new flow of people into Qumran. It is more than probable that a faction of Essenism furnished doctrinal weapons to the Zealot movement. At Masada, there were Essenes for whom The Rule of the War of the Sons of the Light Against the Sons of Darkness brought together eschatological combat and nationalist warfare.

In 68 [C.E.], Qumran was devastated by the Decima Legio Pretensis, the elite military horde sent by the Romans to crush the Jewish insurrection. But the development of Essenism was not broken; in fact, it had just begun.

With the divine punishment that fell upon Jerusalem and the Temple, which they never ceased to execrate, the Men of the Community showed themselves – in the broad daylight of the Diaspora – to be what they had always been: Messianic Jews expecting the imminent return of their kyrios, their Savior; enlightened ones whom the Greeks at the beginning of the Second Century called chrestianoi or christianoi, that is to say, quite simply messianics and not, as the historians have falsely suggested, disciples of a unique Christ.

Contrary to what Renan affirms, Christianity is not an Essenism that succeeded; it is nothing other than the ensemble of the Essene sects, which embraced the general term Judeo-Christianity and were opposed to the Pharisees.

Spared from Roman repression, the Pharisees tightened their ranks, fell back upon a rigorous canonicity that was concretized by the Talmud and its commentaries. They fought two heresies: the nosrim or Nazarenes, who were preoccupied with the reform of Mosaic law, and the minim or Gnostics, “those who know,” which included the dualists, who opposed the Good God and YHWH with the Simonian doctrine of individual salvation through self-creation.


Monachism and Ecclesial Organization

Essenism evolved a great deal in two centuries. If its archaic form, which was of the monastic type, had not disappeared (due to the persecution pursued by Dece) from the hermitages and Coptic monasteries founded by Pachomius and Macarius around 251, then its doctrines would have taken on the more modern colorations that were expressed by Ebionism, Nazarenism, the Epistle attributed to Barnabas, the teachings of Saul/Paul, nay, the Elchesaitism of the Homilies of Peter attributed to Clement, not to mention the Enochians, Melchisedechians and Sethians.

The excavations at Qumran have uncovered a square building, flanked by a tower that was perhaps intended to watch for the return of the Messiah, who was put to death around 63 [B.C.E.].

A system of canals that began at a mountain stream fed seven pools equipped with a stairway and several round basins, which were reserved for the baptism of neophytes and purifying ablutions.

Dedicated to worship and meetings, the monastery did not shelter the members of the Community, who were lodged nearby. A meeting hall served as a place for the reading and exegesis of biblical texts, rewritten and revised without scruple by sectarians who were convinced that they were the only ones who held the truth. Did they not praise their Christ for having revealed to them the meaning of the Scriptures, thus elevating them to the status of God’s chosen ones, saints, “perfect ones”?

There [in the monastery] were celebrated the sacred banquets or “Holy Communions,” ritual meals of bread and wine (or water) by which the faithful communed with the presence of God (the Catholic Eucharist would be inspired by it and added the symbolism of the Flesh and the Blood, borrowed from the Phrygian cult of Attis).

According to estimates, the average population of Qumran was around 200 people. Its autocratic system was founded on agriculture, which was given over to the care of neophytes, while the Perfect Ones devoted themselves to praising the Savior, singing hymns and the exegesis of sacred texts. Flavius Joseph estimated the number of Essenes in Alexandria (where Philo knew them by the name “Therapeutes”), Damascus, Greece, Asia Minor and Italy at 4,000.

The cemeteries have yielded the skeletons of men and women, probably the wives of the converts assigned to labor activities, who had been accorded the right to marry with the goal of procreating. They interred their dead with their heads facing north, which was different from other Jews, whom they considered to be non-believers: they judged themselves to be the only representatives of the true Israel. They included in this execration the Sadducees and the Pharisees, who were deemed guilty of spilling the blood of the Messiah. Refusing the sacrifices made under the aegis of the Great Priest, they called for divine vengeance upon the Temple, the object of infamy rebuilt by Herod.

As for Jerusalem, they nourished the ambition to deliver it from the Jews who, through their impious doctrines, had profaned the holiness of the place. Among several attempts effectuated in this regard, there was the tumult stirred up by Theudas/Thomas and his 4,000 “poor people” (ebbyonim), who partook of the Essene spirit.

Their apportionment of time also distinguished the Essenes from their co-religionists. The only true observers of Mosaic laws, they claimed their calendar came from divine revelation. Unlike the Judean calendar, theirs was solar, not lunar.

Following the indications that Ezekiel advocated, the year was divided into four trimesters and into months of 30 or 31 days, with the result that festivals fell on fixed dates. Easter echoed Wednesday 14 Nizan, two days before the Easter celebrated in Jerusalem.[9]

This was the calendar to which the evangelic novel of Joshua/Jesus referred and was later adopted by Catholic orthodoxy when – appropriating the control of time in its turn – it would arbitrarily anchor at zero the beginning of the Christian era.

The Essenes replaced sacrifices at the Temple with the sacrifice of the body: mortification extinguished the fire of desire and stoked the ardor of the spirit, to which their miserable existence reduced itself. Their fanatical asceticism nourished the ordinary misogyny of patriarchal peoples and pushed it to the state of neurosis. The Qumran manuscripts include a poem against women, the source of all the evils and troubles that afflicted men.[10]

The Rule of the War proscribes sexual relations and excludes women, young men and the impure (understood to be those who ejaculate) from the ranks of the Enlightened Ones.[11]

A subsequent text, issued from Damascus, tolerates the last resort of marriage, but with the sole goal of procreating and perpetuating the sect.

Scorn for women runs in counter-point through all of the divisions of Christianity. Saul/Paul (an Essenean or Nazarene) only tolerated their presence in the ecclesiastical assemblies on the condition that they keep quiet; the Marcionites, Elchesaites, Montanists and Catholics all treated them like they were impure beasts. To support the idea that, given the prejudices of the times, this was quite ordinary would be to ignore the fact that, at the same time, the schools – nay, even the sects – recognized in women and love the priceless privileges of creating life and saving humanity. This was the case with Simon of Samaria, certain Naassenes and the Barbelites.

No doubt Pliny the Elder was right to paint an unlikable portrait of the Essenes as a “people without women, without love, without money.” Love was travestied by their adoration of God and their clannish solidarity. As far as the absence of money, which was the result of an autocratic economy or voluntary poverty (as it was among the Ebionites), it would later on haunt the collective and millenarian dreams that, taking root in the crises brought on by economic and social transformation, would demand the return to an egalitarian, fraternal, and disinterested Christianity – the cathartic prelude to the reign of the holy.


Essenism was the real original Christianity

In the Eighteenth Century, the scholar Bernard de Montfaucon stirred up a polemic on the subject of the Therapeutes described by Philo of Alexandria. To Montfaucon, they were a Christian sect, an assertion he backed up with serious argumentation.[12] His critics retorted that other Jewish milieus presented the same singularities. Both were right: the Therapeutes were both Jewish and Christian. Until the beginning of the Second Century, the only form of Christianity was inscribed in the framework of a reformed and anti-Judean Judaism – that is, before Marcion rejected it in the name of a Greek Christianity.

Essenism brought together all the traits of primitive Christianity: it was baptist, believed in a Messiah, founded Churches and was marked by the duality of paths, Light and Darkness, nay, by the duality of the Demiurge and the Good God.


The Sadducees and the Pharisees used baptism as a ritual of purification, but among the Essenes it did not take on the value of a spiritual engagement and a communitarian rite of initiation. Thus a hymn proclaims:

It is by the humility of the soul with respect to all the precepts of God
That the flesh will be purified
When one sprinkles it with purifying [lustrale] water
And sanctifies it in running water.[13]

Symbolically, water cleanses the body of its natural impurity, washing it of sensual passions, exonerating it of its material gravity and elevating it towards God in the ascendant movement of the spirit. Baptism remains without effect if it is not accompanied by a conversion of the heart. The doctrine of Saul/Paul gives to baptism the same spiritual meaning, inverting the baptismal conception honored by certain Alexandrian Gnostic sects, for which water meant the return to the maternal matrix and re-birth in the heart of the host community.

The current state of research does not permit us to conjecture if Dositheosian or Nazarenean baptismal practices influenced Essenism, but undoubtedly certain Essene traits proceeded from Samaritan freedom with respect to Judaic orthodoxy.


The Messiah

The doctrinal system of the Men of the Community and the Book of Enoch I shared the lineaments of the Gnosticism and Messianism that would dominate first the Jewish and then the Hellenic Christianities up to, nay, beyond the Second Century.

In this system, the angels, the Princes of Light, confronted the fallen angels, the Princes of Darkness; the “couples” or syzygies opposed Michael and Raphael to Belial and Satan.

The theory of the Son of Man (Adam) is expounded in the Ascension of Enoch. When Enoch asks the angel who accompanies him about the Son of Man, “Who is he? From whence does he come?” the angel responds: “It is the Son of Man who possesses justice, who will reveal all of the secret treasures because the Savior of Spirits has chosen him.”

The angel specifies that he is also “engendered by Justice,” which is a reference applicable to the Essene Master and to Melchizedek, his parèdre [consort] or alter ego.

As the Son of Man was incarnated in the Master of Justice, he will return in the features of a new Messiah, whom Enoch’s parable names the Chosen One, according to the tradition inaugurated by the stanzas on the “Servant of YHWH” in the Book of Isaiah (42, 1).

Thus, as Philonenko[14] emphasizes, there exists a veritable Christology in the Qumran texts. It reaches such precision that people have supposed that in certain writings – such as the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (the parting remarks of the twelve sons of Jacob to their children: Ruben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zabulon, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Joseph and Benjamin) – there must be interpolations by various Greek Christianities, nay, by Catholicism. Comparing the manuscripts found at Qumran with the revised versions, Philonenko reveals a small number of interpolations, most of them limited to the addition of the word Christos. Here was a Messiah ready to assume the emblematic name Joshua/Jesus.

Essene Christology evolved from a primitive conception to a modern vision of the Christ. The most ancient texts evoked two Messiahs: one, sacerdotal, who indicates to the faithful of the road to sanctification; the other, royal, who leads Israel to victory over the goyim. Forty years later, a single Messiah was expected: the Master of Justice, the Chosen One, the Kyrios chosen by God to reveal the “New Alliance” (the Novum Testamentum of which Marcion would speak).

The wait had begun many years before the Christian era. While the Rule Annex (1 Q. Sa 2/11-12) speaks of a time when God “will have engendered the Messiah,” the part devoted to Benjamin in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs clearly evokes the coming of a unique Messiah, the reincarnation of the Master of Justice.[15]

“Then we too will arise, each in our tribe, adoring the King of the Heavens who will appear on the earth in the form of a humble man; and all those who have believed in him will rejoice with him. And then, all will arise, some in glory, others in shame, and the Savior will at first judge Israel for the injustices committed (against) him; when God comes in flesh (as) liberator, they will not believe in him.”[16]

Let’s recall that this is a question of a text unearthed at Qumran that does not include any subsequent interpolations. It is difficult not to discover in it the source of the mythical person called Jesus and the essentials of the doctrine attributed to Saul/Paul. Amplified by midrashim, completed by particular communitarian practices and by modern polemics, and adapted to the Greco-Roman mindset, the speculations arising around the Essene Messiah who was tortured around 63 [B.C.E.] would sketch out the scenario of a syncretic Messiah derived from Joshua, whose drama would be transposed so that it took place during the Zealots’ war under Tiberius, while James and Peter, the heroic witnesses and disciples of the Kyrios, who had guided their acts, died while being crucified.

The secret name of such a Messiah formed the stakes in a long struggle in the places that had been penetrated by Jewish eschatology. Each Essene community or Church produced its own proofs and testimonies with a view towards winning approval for its Christ.

Grotto #4 at Qumran yielded an Aramaic text, the terms of which entered into the composition of the future Joshua/Jesus.

“He will be great on the earth (O King, and he will make) peace and each will serve him. He will be called the Son of the Great God and by this name he will be called. He will be saluted as the Son of God and we will call him the Son of the Most High and his kingdom will be an eternal kingdom.”[17]

He will be the heavenly figure of the Son of Man announced by the Book of Daniel, “the Chosen One in the presence of the Savior of Spirits.” “The Light of the people,” he will possess the spirit of wisdom, science and strength, the three qualities that would appear in the Logia or the remarks attributed (in the Second Century) to Jesus.

A number of traits anecdotally arranged in Jesus’ evangelic novels abound in the Qumran writings. The apocalypse included in the Testament of Joseph nourished the legend of a virginal birth: “And I saw that from Judah was born a Virgin, wearing a linen robe, and from her emerged a lamb without blemish.”[18]

The manuscript labeled 1 Q H 6, 12 imputes to this Christ-Lamb a calling that is no longer nationalist, but universal, following an overture that the Church ordinarily attributed to the school of Saul/Paul: “All nations recognize your truth and all people glory you.”

Moreover, the Master of Justice appears in the manner of the future Joshua/Jesus as a suffering Messiah and the founder of Churches: “God had wanted it that, in his sorrows, the Master of Justice built his glorious Church and, although the Hymns of the Master of Justice do not explicitly present his sufferings as capable of expiating the sins of the others, it is a fundamental doctrine of the sect and one finds in the Songs of the Savior (which figures in the Book of Isaiah and inspired Qumranian hymns) that that the Savior ‘was pierced because of our rebellions, destroyed because of our iniquities [...]. He takes care of the sins of many and he has interceded for the sinners’ (Isaiah, 3, 9, 12).”[19]

Another function of the Master of Justice was attributed to Joshua/Jesus and to Saul/Paul: announcing the Good News, which in Greek is the Evangelion, the Gospels.

The Qumranian hymns stipulate that God gave him the mission to be “according to His truth the one who announces the Good News (in the time) of His Goodness, evangelizing the humble ones, according to the abundance of His mercy (and watering them) at the source of holiness and consoling those who are contrite of spirit and the afflicted” (XVIII, 14-15).

This hymn inspired the “Songs of the Savior” in Isaiah.[20]

The spirit of the Savior YHWH is upon me,
Because YHWH has anointed me.
It is to announce the Good News to the humble that he has sent me,
To bandage those who have a contrite heart [...]

Nothing is missing from the ensemble of the fundamental materials that, through re-writing and revision, ended up in the texts of the various Hellenic Christianities and Catholicism, and even in the text of “New Testament” that Marcion would brandish like a weapon against the “Old” one.

Dupont-Sommer does not fail to reveal it.[21] Essenism (or at least an Essene party that was perhaps Saul’s, one that was opposed to the partisans of Jacob, Peter and Thomas) claimed to be the sect of the New Alliance, otherwise called the New Testament (Hymn, V, 23; Writing from Damascus).

R. H. Charles, after studying the Books of Enoch, which were a part of the Essene canon, remarks that the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs is “a product of the school that prepared the road to the New Testament.” He goes further, emphasizing that the famous Sermon on the Mount attributed to Jesus “in several passages reflects and goes as far as reproducing the same phrases from our text.” Charles adds that Paul seems to have used it like a vade-mecum.[22] Dupont-Sommer reveals the following, among other examples, in the Manual of Discipline: “I will not render retribution for evil upon anyone,” and there are even recommendations of the apostolic type: “They collectively observe truth and humanity, justice and law, and the love of kindness and a modest conduct in all of their ways.”[23]

Regarding Saul/Paul, Teicher has collated a great many analogies between the fragments of his letters and several Qumran manuscripts (according to Teicher’s thesis, the manuscripts are of late date and express the opinions of Judeo-Christianity and, in particular, those of the Ebionites).[24]

Nevertheless, the divergences between rival groups were inscribed on a common foundation, but the cleavage seems to be of a political – not to say, strategic – nature. The Essenean Churches of the Ebionite or Nazarene type that claimed for themselves the choices of James, Peter and Thomas, nay, even those of John the Essene mentioned by [Flavius] Joseph, conserved a relatively firm, elitist, and perhaps esoteric structure, whereas the schools propagated by Saul appealed to the rebbim, to the “many,” and thus affirmed themselves to be exoteric and populist.


The Essene Churches

The Church of the Master of Justice claimed to be present in the whole world, to be universal, which is a term that translates the Greek word catholicon. This Church was built to “serve as an impregnable refuge for the Chosen Ones during the war that, at the end of time, the forces of evil would conduct against them.”[25]

Hymn VII (8-9) reveals the origin of the Kephas, the “rock,” the “stone/Peter” [pierre] that – combined with Simon the Zealot and Essene – would end up in the wordplay that would found the Church of Rome (“And on this stone/Peter, you will build your Church”). Sure enough, one can read in it the following.

And you have founded on the rock [le rocher] my edifice,
And the eternal bases serve me as foundation,
And all my walls have become a tested rampart
That nothing can shake.

The Church is the community, the Assembly: “The source of justice and the reservoir of power [...] it is to those whom he has chosen that God has given as an eternal possession. And he has accorded to them a share in the fate of the saints and, with the Son of the Heavens, he has united their assembly, that of the council of the community.”[26]

The Essenean Churches organized themselves in relations of hostility to and competition with the Pharisee synagogues of the Diaspora. While the synagogal assemblies drew their unity from a Phariseeism endowed with a spiritual center (the holy city of Jerusalem, whose orthodoxy was guaranteed by the Temple), the Essenean communities, which were devoted to the unceasing revision of the sacred texts, decreed the end of time, speculated on the imminence, nature and name of the Messiah, and constituted rival Churches that were fecund with new doctrines. Three centuries would be needed for ecclesial monarchism to end up with the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome, which was contested up to the Seventh Century, and the imposition of the universality – the catholicon – desired by the Master of Justice, the “Just Messiah.”

The Manual of Disciplinemakes clear the mode of organization in effect: “In all places where there are ten people from the party of the Community, there will not lack among them one who is a priest. And according to his rank, each of them will sit before him.”[27]

As among the Pharisees, the first places were reserved for the old ones, prebyteroi, that is to say, long-sighted people [presbytes], priests. One of them, called “the inspector of the many” (the rebbim or “many” refers to the faithful and are distinguished from the “perfect ones”), became the leader, archon, the episcopos (Greek for “bishop”). He was invited to carry himself like a shepherd, like a pastor, which is a title that around 140-150 would inspire the writing of a Judeo-Christian novel attributed to Hermas in which the author deplores the discord among the diverse Churches of Rome.

Towards the end of the Second Century, certain Churches obeyed a collegiate leadership structure, a council of archons, while others adopted the monarchal form privileged by the politics of unification.

When Marcion provoked the rupture with Jewish Christianity, he attempted to found unified Churches that he wanted to have under the control of Rome: federations of Churches that were favorable to Saul’s school and that rejected the communities that had chosen to place their legitimacy under the patronage of Zealot heroes, Ebionites, Nazarenes, James, Peter, Thomas, and Clement, the partisans of which treated “Paul” like a false prophet. It was still the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs that justified the number of the companions of a Messiah whose name, unknown to Hermas in 140, would begin to impose its revelation: Joshua/Jesus, the one who “saved, saves, will save.” This was a minimal battle among the multitude of sects that bordered and confronted each other in Alexandria, Antioch, Corinth, Colossee, Edessa, Rome. . . .


A Dualist Tendency

The Jewish, Sadducee and Pharisee orthodoxies abominated all dualisms that, suspiciously revoking the uniqueness of YHWH, threatened the State and the national mystique. On the other hand, the Samaritans, who were often reticent with respect to the imported Judean God, never made a mystery of their attachment to the plural God El-Elohim, nay, to the dualism of the Divine Father/Divine Mother.

Essenism did not totally extirpate the Samaritan influence from its heart. The Jewish Gnosticism attested to by the Books of Enoch (which in fact combated other Gnostic tendencies) continued to exist in the diverse primitive Christianities – which were Jewish in the case of the Elchesaites’ Homilies of Peter (around 110), Judaicized in the case of The Shepherd of Hermas (around 140), and Hellenized and anti-Semitic, in the case of Marcionism – as late as the second half of the Second Century, which ended with the popular development of the New Prophecy or “Montanism.”

Dualist thought manifested itself in Essenism in diverse ways. No manuscript from Qumran implicitly expounds the idea that two Gods can exist. Nevertheless, certain currents accredited the syzygy of the Good God and the Demiurge, which was present in the doctrines of Cerinthus, Marcion, the Naassenes, the Sethians, the Barbelites and many other sects, Christian or not.

The Arab historian Shahrastani (ca. Seventh Century) affirms that, in the Fourth Century, Arius borrowed the doctrine according to which the Messiah was the first angel of God for the Magharians, “who lived four hundred years before Arius and were known by the simplicity of their way of life and their serene abstinence.”

Who were the Magharians, whose existence dates back to the First Century before the Christian era? Their Arab name leaves little doubt; it means “people of the cavern or the cave,” because – Shahrastani makes clear – they hid their sacred texts in caverns.

There is nothing surprising in the fact that the doctrine of the Angel-Messiah (the angelos-christos) was originally Essenean, since it was shared by the [various] Christianities and prevailed until the second half of the Second Century, when the campaign began to make Jesus an historical figure began.

In addition, this Arab historian explains that the refusal of an anthropomorphic YHWH induced them to impute the creation of the material universe to a Demiurge.[28] Thus it is not impossible that the dualist conception of a good and inaccessible God and a God who created the bad world (whom Marcion in his hatred of Judaism identified with YHWH the Bloody) existed in certain Essenean Churches and was defended by Marcion.

Without crediting Essenism in general with a position that was perceived as a scandal by the Pharisees (and much later by the monarchal current – for which there was only one God and one Bishop – to which the leaders of the Christian communities would attach themselves in reaction to Marcionism), dualism was unambiguously expressed in the doctrine of the two roads and even in the “couples” or syzygies that were still attested to by the Homilies of Peter. The struggle between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness dominated the thought of the Men of the Community. To them, God “disposed for man two spirits [...] the spirit of truth and the spirit of perversion” (The Rule of the War).

In each generation, the Sons of the Prince of the Light and the Sons of the Angel of Darkness confront each other in a war from which the saints (the pure ones), who renounce the flesh and possess knowledge (gnosis), will emerge victorious.

Due to the privileges that they accorded knowledge, the Essenes belonged to Jewish Gnosticism, which would be perpetuated in Kabalistic investigations.

“You have given me the intelligence of your faith and the knowledge of your admirable secrets,” declares Hymn VII (25). Gnosis is nothing other than secret knowledge. But from its essential root grew a great diversity of options, of choices (which translates the Greek word hairesis, heresy): dualism; the refusal or the surpassing of religion; monotheism; salvation by the individual himself, by a community, or by a Christ; and rational, mystical or magical approaches to the Logos. Gnosis implies the primacy of knowledge over pistis, faith, and the secret (the apocryphon, an apocryphal text that the Church – as part of its seizure of language and meaning – would identify with the “false, falsification”).

In the cities of the Diaspora, the esotericism of the Essenean groups more easily became an exotericism that was better suited to compete with the Pharisees’ proselytism. Such, no doubt, was the tendency of the school of Saul/Paul. Esotericism itself borrowed from different sources. The secret Gospels (the Apocrypha) and the Hermetic remarks of Jesus (the Logia) could only have come from the same Churches that – according to a manuscript from Grotto 4 at Qumran studied by S. T. Millik[29] – inferred from the morphology of individuals born under certain zodiacal signs their belonging to the cohort of the “spirits of Light” or the horde of the “spirits of Darkness.” (Such speculations could be found in the Christian astrology of Bardaisan, and also in divinatory magic, in the spirit of the quarrels over predestination, and in the art of recognizing sorcerers and sorceresses in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries.)


Towards a Judeo-Christian Syncretism

The thesis, accredited by the majority of historians, of a prophet named Jesus who founded a Church upon dogmatic truths that in fact only emerged after a long and painful period of labor in the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Centuries underestimates the marginal character of these religious speculations by hiding from sight the profusion of messiahs, sects, schools and communities in the particular milieus that they touch upon.

Dositheos, the crucified Samaritan Messiah; the Master of Justice, put to death by the Judeans; Melchizedek the Just; Enoch, who guided by the Son of Man; Barbelo, who collected sperm in order to save the world; Naas, the Ophis-Christos or Serpent-Redeemer; Three-Times-Great Hermes; Seth, the Son of Man with the head of a horse or donkey; Abrasax, with ophidian legs and a cockscomb, the saver of souls threatened by the Archons – so many Christs among whom Joshua/Jesus, whose name secretly means “God saved, saves, will save,” would later carve out a place for himself in the form of an angel sent by God.

And, among the four or five thousand Essenes of whom Flavius Joseph speaks, what a confusion! Partisans of James the Just, Simon-Peter, John the Essene, Jochanaan also known as John the Baptist, Theudas/Thomas, Saul known as “Paul” (in accordance with Marcion), Cerinthus, Zacchaeus/Clement and so many others who commented upon and adapted the biblical texts by taking extracts from the midrashim (sometimes translated into Greek), the majority of which had disappeared, but about which it was possible to get an idea through a text that was not accepted by the Church and that illustrates the passage from Judeo-Christianity or Essenism to a Hellenized Christianity that was ready to ride roughshod over its Judaic roots: the Didache.

In the current of the First Century, there circulated among the non-Pharisee Judaicized milieu (Essene or Samaritan) a moralizing pamphlet titled Doctrine of the Two Roads, the title of which indicates its origin.

Re-copied, revised, developed and Hellenized, it ended up in a version that its last redactor (circa 140-150) gave the title Didache Kyriou dia ton dodeka apostolon tois ethnesin (“Teaching of the Savior addressed to strangers [to the faith] through the mediation of His twelve apostles”).

An analysis of the various states of this text and the strata of its rewriting has permitted us to extract the oldest kernel of the Didache. It was inspired by the Manual of Discipline and it makes clear “the disciplinary order that is imposed on the community.” In it, the higher-ups are called episkopoi kai diakonai, bishops and deacons. Moral comportments are ordered according to the “two roads.” Also covered are baptism, fasting, prayer, and the sharing of bread (much later called the Eucharist).

The second great revision dates from 140-150 and is thus contemporaneous with the hostility adopted with respect to the original Judeo-Christianity. The text, known under the title Didache or Doctrina apostolorum, was honored in the Greco-Roman churches that, in the Diaspora, had separated themselves from the Jewish and Christian churches issued from Essenism. It is contemporaneous with the Shepherd attributed to Hermas of Rome (still Judeo-Christian), the Homilies of Peter attributed to Clement (based upon a Elchasaite text contemporaneous with Trajan), and the Epistle attributed to Barnabas (around 117-130, according to Erbetta).[30]

A Trinitarian doxology would be added in the Fourth Century, due to polemics against Arius.

For a long time held as canonical, the Didache would finally be excluded from the Catholic Scriptures. A modern version of Judeo-Christianity, it refused the Judaic sacrifices and rituals, especially circumcision, which it spiritualized and interpreted symbolically. The name “Jesus” appears in it, but under features that were particularly embarrassing to the future Catholic orthodoxy: in the manner of the Master of Justice, he carried the title of Servant of God, and, in addition, he is perceived as an Angel-Messiah, an angelos-christos, in accordance with the traditions of the time and notably in agreement with the Epistle attributed to Barnabas, in which Jesus is simply the biblical Joshua.


[1] A. Dupont-Sommer, Les écrits esséniens découverts près de la mer Morte, Paris, 1980, p. 408; J. Hadot, op. cit. p. 35.

[2] J. Marques-Rivière, Histoire des sects et des sociétés secrètes, p. 92.

[3] J. Picard (or de Picardie), “Histoire des bienheureux du temps de Jérémie,” in Pseudépigraphes de l’Ancien Testament, p. 34.

[4] Saulcy (Fr. de), Dictionnaire des antiquités bibliques, Paris, 1859.

[5] J. Doresse, Les livres secrets des gnostiques d’Egypte, Paris, 1958-1959, II, p. 328.

[6] B. Dubourg, L’invention de Jésus, op. cit., II.

[7] J.-M. Rosenstiehl, L’Apocalypse d’Elie, Paris, 1972, p. 69.

[8] Philonenko (M.), Pseudépigraphes de l’Ancien Testament et des manuscrits de la mer Morte, Paris, 1987, t. I.

[9] A. Jaubert, La Date de la Cène, Paris, 1957.

[10] N. Toci, I manoscritti del mar Morto, Bari, 1967.

[11] J. Duhaine, “Etude comparative de 4 QM FGGG 1-3 et 1 QM,” Revue de Qumran, XIV, #55.

[12] B. de Montfaucon, Lettres pour et contre la fameuse question si les Solitaires, appelés Therapeutes, dont a parlé Philon le Juif etaient chrétiens, Paris, 1712.

[13] A. Dupont-Sommer, Les écrits esseniens. . . , op. cit. p. 16.

[14] Philonenko, op. cit.

[15] Id., Les interpolations chrétiennes. . . , Paris, 1960, p. 31.

[16] Ibid. p. 20.

[17] J. Fitzmayer, S. J., “The Q Scrolls and the NT after forty years,” Revue de Qumran, XIII, #49-52, p. 613.

[18] Philonenko, Interpolations, op. cit., p. 29.

[19] A. Dupont-Sommer, op. cit., p. 377.

[20] Ibid., p. 373.

[21] Id., Observations sur le Manuel de Discipline decouvert près de la mer Morte, Paris, 1951.

[22] Ibid., p. 384.

[23] Ibid., p. 6.

[24] J. L. Teicher, “The Teachings of the Pre-Pauline Church in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” Journal of Jewish Studies, 1952, III, #3-5.

[25] A. Dupont-Sommer, Les écrits esséniens. . . , op. cit., p. 235.

[26] Règle, 11, 6-8, in Philonenko, Pseudépigraphie . . . , op. cit., in Picard, p. 4.

[27] A. Dupont-Sommer, Observations . . . , p. 24.

[28] Fossum, The Name of God and the Angel of the Lord, Utrecht, 1982, p. 154.

[29] J. T. Milik, Discoveries in the Judean desert. I Qumran, Cave I, Oxford, 1955.

[30] Erbetta, Gli apocrifi del NT, Turin, 1964, t. III.


(Published by Fayard in 1993. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! April 2013. All footnotes by the author.)

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