June, 1965

Any hope of establishing the significant teachings of Jesus by studying the Dead Sea Scrolls leads into a Dead Sea of preconceptions and suppositions. The one plant able to grow in such salty environment is the evidence of the stark contrast between Jesus' way of life and teaching and that of the Essenes, the sect which supposedly left behind the Scrolls. The simple fact is, the Essenes were ascetics, and taught withdrawal from society and strict ritual; whatever you may call Jesus -- fool, prophet Messiah -- he was no ascetic and did not withdraw from society nor teach strict ritual.

In the last issue we pointed out the consistency of the Synoptic Gospels -- Matthew, Mark, Luke -- and the disparity between these Gospels and the Gospel of John. We pointed out that the contradiction between the Prophetic teachings of Jesus and the apparent claims to Messiahship attributed to him could far better be explained as being from his later followers, who had held Messianic hopes all along, putting their words in his mouth to give them the stamp of his authority, rather than by trying to believe that Jesus held contradictory points of view, or could have had the impact on the people he did, had he spoken with the same old predictions, instead of with some new conviction and compassion. If anyone wishes to examine every passage in the Gospels with me, I will undertake to show that such a view explains the apparent contradictions and agreements more consistently than any other view.

But the contrast between the probably historical teachings of Jesus and the traditional assumptions of Christianity become more evident when we examine the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles of Paul. It becomes apparent that Christianity began with the conversion of Saul into Paul who then fused Zoroastrian duallism, traditional Pharisaic attitudes, Greek asceticism and Greek philosophy into a religion which taught belief in a resurrected Jesus as proof of God's love and forgiveness (by some logical contortion) whereas Jesus had taught a religion of inner examination and deeds and universal ethical behavior and at no time lived in any ritualistic fashion. It is in the earliest New Testament writing, the First Epistle to the Corinthians that Paul explains how Jesus ordained the rite of communion and the fact that the Gospels contain an identical pronouncement can only be interpreted as quoting from Corinthians since both traditional and contemporary scholarship place the dates of the gospels as subsequent to the earliest epistles of Paul. Besides at no time in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles do we see the earliest disciples practicing or preaching this ritual as a necessity or a consummation of their faith. So we assert, Christianity with its "binding in heaven and earth" arose out of the Paulline letters and the Johannine Gospel, which was written later than the other three Gospels, in complete and bewildering opposition to the teachings of the prophetic tradition as formulated by Jesus: the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath; or, Rules and ritual were made by man, man does not exist for the rules.

Now let us return to the bearing of the Dead Sea Scrolls on the matter. The Essenes were a sect which probably taught pacifism of a sort, withdrew from Jerusalem into their own desert community, practiced baptism and strict rules about ritual and prayer derived from Judaic law and used a method of exposition of Scripture which contemporary scholars assume is the model which Jesus followed. We have already pointed out that Jesus did not withdraw from society, but lived among the people whom he called the salt of the earth and the light of the world, and was accused of consorting with sinners and prostitutes, and otherwise breaking the Judaic rules.  We are told that Jesus' first knowledge of his sonship of God came at his baptism from John the Baptizer but there is no evidence that Jesus ever practiced baptism or taught it; the Gospel of John tells us specifically that Jesus baptized not. Matthew claims in the Great Commission at the tail-end of his Gospel that Jesus ordered his disciples to go forth and baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; but this whole ending is suspect, by its utter divergence from the endings of the other Gospels, by the contradictions among the endings of all the Gospels and the lack of consistency of these endings, especially the Great Commission, with the teachings of Jesus in the rest of the Gospels. It simply is inconceivable that Jesus would not have given these instructions earlier in his career to his disciples instead of waiting until the last verse if he had really meant to give them. Plus which, it is the only time in the New Testament where the Trinity is even mentioned and we know that the Trinity did not even become official Church dogma until the Council of Nicea circa 400 A.D.

The Essenes were apparently used to having each of their members, or perhaps one special one, known or referred to as the "Master" or "Teacher" of Righteousness risinq before the assembly, reading from the Scriptures and then delivering expository remarks. This is recorded of Jesus when he appeared in his home town. And on this tenuous thread hangs most of the purported evidence that Jesus was an Essene. The Dead Sea Scrolls show that the Essenes used phrases like "the sons of light and the sons of darkness", and the "elect", all of which occur profusely in the Epistles of Paul, and in a few of the passages in the Synoptics where Jesus is reported as stating a kind of "Chosen People" theory which we have shown must have been added by later editors in the light of the universal love which he taught in the Sermon on the Mount and the parable of the Good Samaritan. The evidence therefore leads us to conclude that the Essenes may have contributed to the development of Paulline Christianity, especially since we know that they abandoned their pacifism and joined in the attempt to oust the Romans which culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Diaspora in 70 A.D.; but if Jesus was ever an Essene he rejected their methods, perhaps originally learning pacifism from them, and proceeded to teach in his own way and on his own authority. But we can find Jesus' teachings rooted in the Prophets, in Amos and Hosea, and need not assume (as Charles Frances Potter and others anxious somehow to debunk something which is already enough debunked and has nothing to do with Jesus) that he got them from the Essenes, or (as still others have done) that he studied in India. The whole question of where he got his ideas is irrelevant; their validity hangs upon their validity, not whether he learned them or invented them or got them from his father or on tablets of gold from heaven.

Finally, it seems that the disciples most misunderstood Jesus, in using him and his name as authority, when Jesus as noted above had taught on his own authority and as noted in the previous issue enjoined us to "judge of ourselves what is right". We need no authority but our own "inner light"; we need no rule save that of being open to each new situation and person; and Jesus recognized that and no doubt wished we would too. So the scholars who try to argue that the Dead Sea Scrolls contain the roots of Jesus' teaching seem ot us to be not only mistaken in their conclusions but also misdirected in their zeal to prove anything important or relevant by them.

(originally published under the name of John Fitz)