God’s People, part 129: Essenes

Read Titus 3:9-11

“He knew their thoughts, so he said, ‘Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. A family splintered by feuding will fall apart.’”  Luke 11:17 (NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Week 36b The Essenes_0Part 129: Essenes. Most people are familiar with, or at least have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls. These scrolls were found in a number of caves in Qumran, which is in the Judaean Desert of the West Bank. These caves, some natural and others made by humans, are in the Dead Sea region, hence the name Dead Sea Scrolls.

Discovered by Bedouin shepherds named Muhammed edh-Dhib, Jum’a Muhammed, and Kahlil Musa, these scrolls were an entire library of ancient Jewish Scripture. Some of the texts were the same books, or expanded books, we find in the Tanakh (or the Old Testament in the Christian Bible). Other scrolls were of texts not found in our Bible, such as The War Scroll.

This ancient library of Scripture belonged to a group of ancient Jews known as the Essenes. They were an ancient sect of Jews who, under the Hasmonean Dynasty, grew dissatisfied with the Temple and political leadership. They saw the Temple as having been corrupted and they believed most of Judaea had gone wayward from God and were awaiting final judgment.

The Roman occupation and the appointment of Herod the Great as King only solidified the Essenes belief that the political and religious system had become completely corrupt. This sect grew increasingly suspicious of the mainstream Jewish leadership, which they saw as being in bed with Satan and the world order. It is also important to note that the Essenes were no small sect, but numbered in the thousands.

Viewing other Jews as being “breakers of the covenant,” the Essenes took vows of celibacy, poverty and refused to eat or sacrifice meat. They were also forbidden from swearing oaths, were disciplined to control their anger, and they only carried weapons for self-defense against bandits and/or robbers. They practiced baptism as and entry ritual into their community; however, one could not be baptized unless they repented and turned from their sins first.

No one is sure of what exactly happened to the Essenes. When the Romans marched through Judaea and the surrounding areas in response to the Jewish uprising, the Essenes hid their library of Scripture and writings in a series of caves in the Dead Sea region and seemingly disappeared. No one knows exactly what became of them; however, their legacy lives on in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

All of these devotions so far should make it clear that Jesus’ time period was as divided of a time as ours currently is. Perhaps it was even more divided than ours. The divisions, by the way, ultimately led to the demise of Jewish sovereignty. The Romans were notorious for making use of the “divide and conquer” method and the Jews were no exception. The challenge for us is to reflect on what divisions exist in our lives and whether or not God would want those divisions to exist. Some may be necessary; bus most dividing lines are not. Christ came to unite us to God, not to divide us away from each other. So, let us seek Christ and, to do so, is to seek unity.

“Not one of us can rest, be happy, be at home, be at peace with ourselves, until we end hatred and division.” – John Lewis

Lord,. Help me evaluate myself and remove those things that divide me from others. Amen.

Leave a Reply