Jesus in History and Myth

By R. Joseph Hoffmann; Gerald A. Larue | Go to book overview

David Noel Freedman


Early Christianity and the Scrolls
An Inquiry

The thesis of this paper is that the differences between Essenes and Christians are much more numerous and significant than their similarities, that what they held in common was part of the biblical tradition and of the faith and practice of Judaism generally. Their differences reflect the true nature of the two movements, in light of accumulated evidence that they were diametrically opposed to each other in most critical matters. To put it a little differently, the Essenes were ultraorthodox conservatives while the Christians were radical revolutionaries and innovators, at least those whose Christianity survived and is recorded and reflected in the New Testament.

Before we proceed, a digressive word may be in order. There was no direct contact of which we have knowledge between the two groups. This was partly a matter of time and partly of space. Their period of overlap was relatively short, i.e., 30-70. The Essenes were a spent force when Christianity was beginning to be a force in Judaism and the world. Additionally, Christians were widely spread but were apparently centered in Galilee, while the Essenes were in Qumran. But there is a larger point: the Essenes were secretive and reclusive. They kept away from outsiders, including Christians. The chances of contact between the two were limited from the start: a Christian Essene was a contradiction in terms.

This leads to the following points. One, Essenes were essentially a closed and secret society while Christianity was essentially an open one. To illustrate the point we mention the subect of personal names. To this date we cannot be sure from the Dead Sea Scrolls of the actual name of a single Essene, although there are some plausible guesses and a few names

____________________
David Noel Freedman is Professor of Biblical Studies at the University of Michigan and Editor of the Anchor Bible.

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