Sunday, November 11, 2018

Jesus, the Essenes, and Christian Origins - reviewed in Reading Religion





In a 1955 article for The New Yorker, literary critic Edmund Wilson drew attention to the recent discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, clearly identifying the Scrolls with the Essenes and noting “the resemblance of the Essenes to the Christians.” Wilson suggested that Jesus could have been a member of the Essenes, and that the Essene monastery at Qumran may have been the “cradle of Christianity.” Wilson thought that the Scrolls revealed the spiritual beliefs and practices of an historical movement that “nourished a leader who was to transcend both Judaism and Essenism, and whose followers would found a church that was to outlive the Roman Empire.” Wilson also thought that he sensed a “fear that the uniqueness of Christ is at stake” among Christians and noted the theological "tension" surrounding the the Essenes as "a dissident branch" of Judaism.

A recent review of my new book, Jesus, the Essenes, and Christian Origins for Reading Religion illustrates the lengths some scholars will go to in order to avoid the conclusion that there was historical contact between Jesus and the Essenes. Aryeh Amihay (a scholar of Jewish law at UCSB), describes my book as "a forceful argument in favor of an actual connection and familiarity between Jesus and the Essenes.” While he admits that "one of the more compelling examples" of influence between Jesus and the Essenes is how the Jesus of Matthew 11:4-5 // Luke 7:22 lists the eschatological blessings performed during his ministry in similar ways to the Dead Sea fragment known as 4Q521 - he doesn't conclude that this "compelling example" of "connection and familiarity" compels him to agree that there actually was contact between the two scribal traditions. 

Instead, the reviewer focuses on (in his own words) "other parallels" that are "less compelling," thereby skipping over numerous indicators of cultural proximity, including Jesus and the Essenes' similar arguments about marital law, their shared affirmation of celibacy, and their innovative interpretations of sacrifice and the Temple. The reviewer thus fails to engage the holistic framework of this comparative study. Focusing his attention on an obscure, text-critically difficult, and historiographically intractable Jesus-saying in the Gospels in which Jesus criticizes Pharisees for being willing to rescue animals, but not allowing him to heal on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:11/(Q) Luke 14:5), the reviewer ignores the fact that Jesus' position disagrees with known Essene tradition. Instead, he proposes that this particular passage can be read in a different way: 

      "Joseph sees this as a sign that Jesus was familiar with the Essene law and ‘explicitly
       contradicted’ it (114). However, there are at least two further possibilities,
       both more plausible to my mind. First, the decree in the Damascus Document could 
       be proof of an alternate practice that the Essenes decried. Jesus could simply refer 
       to the more widespread practice with no awareness that some group opposed it. 
       More importantly, the text does not necessarily mean that Jesus considers this 
       the correct practice. The rhetoric in these verses might be compared to Jesus’s 
       statement in John 8:7. Jesus does not condone adultery there, nor does he reject 
       the decree that adulteresses should be stoned. He merely protests the hypocrisy
       of those who seek to punish others rather than attending to their own sins (in keeping
       with Matthew 7:1-5 and Luke 6:41-42) [re: Judging Others?]. Read this way,
       the text, at least in Luke 14:5, may not even claim that it is legitimate to rescue
       an animal on the Sabbath, but rather to underscore the hypocrisy of his critics.”

While Amihay rightly notes that Jesus does not need to have known about the Essenes' ruling on animal rescues on the Sabbath in order to criticize "Pharisees" for doing so, the problem is that there is no evidence that Pharisees were doing so. Rather, it seems to presuppose what some ordinary, non-sectarian Jews might have been doing. Consequently, Amihay must posit an undocumented "alternate" folk-tradition pre-dating the Damascus Document in order to invent a different cultural context for Jesus' position. And while Amihay may see this as a "plausible" suggestion, there is no need to multiply hypotheticals that we don't have evidence for (some "alternate practice") to dismiss the textual data that we do have (the Damascus Document). The Essenes could have objected to another Jewish tradition, but we simply don't have any evidence of this. 

Amihay suggests that Jesus could have agreed with the Essenes in forbidding an animal to be rescued on the Sabbath and that a "more plausible" explanation is that Jesus was criticizing Pharisaic "hypocrisy." But again, this saying does not correspond to Pharisaic practice, so Jesus could not have been criticizing Pharisees for something they didn't do. Amihay suggests that the Gospels misrepresent Jesus by portraying him as more lenient about the Sabbath than he was, but the rhetorical point of this saying presupposes its permissibility. If Jesus agreed with the Essenes and disapproved of rescuing animals suffering on the Sabbath, then the evangelists certainly have a funny way of showing it! 

Amihay misses the point of my comparison. I begin my discussion by stating that “it would seem . . . that Jesus explicitly contradicted a Qumranic halakhic ruling” (114). Amihay misreads and misrepresents this as my conclusion. No. I don't think that Jesus was familiar with the legal rulings, let alone had a physical copy, of the Damascus Document! The point is simply that Jesus' assumed position (that it was permissible to rescue an animal on the Sabbath) contradicts known and documented Essenic thought. This conclusion does not require direct contact between Jesus and the Essenes, only ideological difference. If Jesus objected to rescuing animals on the Sabbath (as Amihay implies), the Gospels are silent on the matter and argue otherwise. 

Jesus and the Essenes lived in the same region at the same time. They were both critical of the Temple. They were both engaged in legal controversies with Pharisees and Sadducees. They both looked forward to a new age. They both shared a mutual devotion to the Torah, extended social networks based on ethnicity, ancestral customs, a common language, and deep-seated loyalties to the land and the deity inscribed in their sacred texts. Given this confluence of chronological, ideological, geographical, terminological, organizational, and legal correspondences, it seems far more plausible that such creative interaction simply was part of the complex and dynamic world that was Second Temple Judaism. To imagine otherwise - that these two coexisting Jewish groups somehow managed to completely avoid knowing each other for decades - defies reason. 




Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Jesus and the Essenes: An Esoteric History





The Essenes represent an historical enigma within Early Judaism. They are variously imagined as a small, marginal community, an idiosyncratic group that disappeared itself into oblivion, a thriving multi-regional network of village communities, and/or as a militant sect of apocalyptic pacifists ready to participate in great eschatological acts of violence. The Gospels never mention the Essenes. The Rabbis seem to have forgotten all about them. Is that because the Essenes were so ideologically and sociologically different from Jesus and the Pharisees that they moved in completely different orbits? Or is it because the Essenes represented an integral component of Second Temple Judaism that both early Christians and the Rabbis sought to marginalize by omission?

In a previous article in Bible and Interpretation, "On Jesus, the Essenes, and the Anxiety of Influence," I suggested that the Essenes represent ambiguous border lines and boundaries between Early Judaism and Christian origins. Like the historical Jesus, “the Essenes” can easily become a screen upon which one projects one’s own interests and ideological location(s), whether that be Jesus’ “hidden years,” a window into the “secret history” of early Christianity, or an historically non-existent fabrication by Philo, Josephus, and Pliny.

Unfortunately, the reception history of this historical inquiry has a checkered past, for where the biblical scholar working within the evidentiary limits of the ancient evidence may hear only silence, others less constrained by such limits claim to have heard other voices. In 1877, for example, Helena P. Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society, suggested that Jesus had secretly been trained by the Essenes,[i] but left their community in order to become a travelling healer.[ii] Blavatsky, however, did not invent this alleged connection. The idea that the Essenes influenced Jesus and the early Jesus movement had already fascinated scholars, Deists, forgers, and esotericists for well over a century.

Since the classical sources of Josephus, Philo, and Pliny represented the Essenes as a secretive, initiatory community given to the study of “mysteries” and the pursuit of esoteric practices, healing, and various forms of divination, it was not all that difficult to imagine the Essenes as playing a secret, hidden role in facilitating and orchestrating public and political events from behind the scenes. In the late 1700s, Karl Bahrdt and Karl Venturini both attempted to expose Christianity as an Essene plot to change Judaism, combining Enlightenment rationalism and political intrigue to portray the Essenes as a “secret society.” Reform and Orthodox Jewish scholars could also appeal to the Essenes as a marginal reformer of an obscure sect to counter Christian claims that Jesus was the Jewish messiah. At the same time, the Essenes became a staple fixture in various esotericist projects, one of which was Helena Blavatsky’s Isis Unveiled.

Following Blavatsky, Annie Besant, the second President of the Theosophical Society, claimed that Jesus was sent “to be trained in an Essene community” and went to an “Essene monastery” in Egypt, where he was “fully instructed in the secret teachings which were the real fount of life among the Essenes.”[iii] Similarly, Rudolf Steiner, described Jesus as an “Initiate” of the Essene “Order,”[iv] a “lay-brother” of the Essenes who “received” him “as a kind of extern, or outside member.”[v] Although the writings of Blavatsky, Besant, and Steiner appealed to historical and sometimes even scriptural references, most of their assertions were baseless speculation implicitly and explicitly obtained through psychic insights. In a similar vein, Gideon Jasper Ouseley claimed to have found an ancient Aramaic Essene manuscript hidden in a Buddhist monastery in Tibet,[vi] as well as through spiritualist communications from Emanuel Swedenborg, Anna Kingsford, and a discarnate Franciscan friar named “Placidus.”[vii]



Combining the skills and hubris of both the forger and the esotericist, Edmond Bordeaux Szekely wrote the Essene Gospel of Peace, claiming to have found it hidden in the “secret archives” of the Vatican Library and the Royal Archives of the Habsburgs in Austria.[i] According to Szekely, this “lost gospel” presented the “true Jesus” who talked about the “Earth Mother,” the health benefits of vegetarianism and colonic treatments. Szekely’s text repeatedly echoes the gospels. Note the following passages:

            Come to me all that are weary and that suffer in strife
            and affliction! For my peace will strengthen you and comfort you.
            For my peace is exceeding full of joy . . .
         
            And Jesus answered ‘Happy are you, that you hunger for the truth,
            for I will satisfy you with the bread of wisdom.
            Happy are you, that you knock, for I will open to you the door
            of life . . . Your Mother is in you, and you in her . . .

            For no man can serve two masters. For either he serves Beelzebub
            and his devils or else he serves our Earthly Mother and her angels . . .
          
            It was said to you: ‘Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days
            may be long upon this earth.’ But I say to you, Sons of Man:
            Honor your Earthly Mother and keep all her laws,
            that your days may be long on this earth . . .

            And your true brothers are all those who do the will
            of your Heavenly Father and of your Earthly Mother,
            and not your brothers by blood.[ix]


To the unsuspecting, the Essene Gospel of Peace may appear to be authentic as the frontispiece of the book uses a copy of the photograph of the Copper Scroll taken from DJD I, obviously displayed in order to lend mystique and credibility to Szekely’s claims. Yet the Copper Scroll was not discovered until the 1950’s, over twenty years after Szekely’s so-called “discovery.” Unsurprisingly, Szekely’s claim to have discovered an ancient manuscript in the Vatican has never been confirmed. There are no references to an Essene Gospel of Peace in any ancient source. There are no photographs, facsimiles, transcriptions, or translation notes on this alleged ancient Aramaic text. Consequently, pending the unlikely arrival of this long-lost document, it seems fairly clear that The Essene Gospel of Peace is “a sheer forgery, written entirely by Szekely himself.”[iii] Szekely almost admitted as much in a subsequent publication: 

            I myself wrote and published a number of books on the Essenes,
            most of them some twenty years before the discovery of the first scroll            
            in 1947. Starting in 1927, these books were based on certain
            historical sources such as the works of Josephus, Philo and Plinius,
            and on manuscripts in the Archives of the Vatican, the Library
            of the Habsburgs in Vienna, and the Library of the British Museum.[iv]

Considering that these alleged “manuscripts” have never been seen, studied, photographed, or catalogued, it seems fairly certain that the Essene Gospel of Peace is solely “the fruit of nearly twenty years’ purely historical study and research into the origins of Christianity.”[v] A closer look at Szekely’s writings reveals that his motives were nothing less than to expose Christianity as “one of the greatest deceptions in human history,”[vi] to deride biblical scholarship as “hopelessly sterile in substance as it is monotonous in form,” and mock its methods as “grounded upon falsehoods,” its conclusions being “either childish or obscure, or else so extravagant as to be almost laughable.”[vii] Szekely describes the Gospels as “the literary fabrication of Jewish scribes”[viii] and Christianity as “the product of innumerable forged documents.”[ix] Without a trace of irony, Szekely accuses the earliest Christians of forgery and fraud while asserting that “for me, a historian, fraud is just plain fraud. I leave it to the reader to decide whether ‘pious’ fraud . . . is not all the more contemptible.”[x] 


The most elaborate and detailed esoteric representation of the Essenes as the “cradle of Christianity,” however, comes from the Edgar Cayce Readings.[xi] These “Life Readings,” performed between 1934 and 1945, represent an extraordinary database of dozens of Cayce’s clients’ past lives spent in ancient Judea and Galilee at the time of Jesus.[xii] Cayce claimed to have accessed this information (via trance) directly from the “Akashic Records.”[xiii] On one hand, however, these Readings reflect what seems like genuine faithfullness to the Gospel narratives of Jesus’ birth, life, and death, especially the Nativity stories of the Virgin Birth, Jesus’ Davidic lineage, the Inn at Bethlehem, the visit of Wise Men, the Slaughter of the Innocents, and the Flight to Egypt. On the other hand, these Readings contain numerous historically unsupported assertions of an Essene “Brotherhood” on Mount Carmel led by a teacher, healer, and prophetess named “Judy” who supervised Jesus’ education, ministry, and foreign travel.
  
According to Cayce, the Essenes not only expected and anticipated the arrival of the Messiah, they also “prepared the way” for Jesus.[xiv] They were “a group of individuals sincere in their purpose, and yet not orthodox as to the rabbis of that particular period.”[xv] John the Baptist and Jesus were both raised with Essenes although “John was more the Essene than Jesus. For Jesus held rather to the spirit of the law, and John to the letter of same.”[xvi] Cayce claimed that the Essenes were not a monolithic group, but had internal “divisions,”[xvii] and it was among a special inner group of Essenes that the most rigorous preparations were made for the advent of the Messiah:

            In the days when there had been more and more of the leaders
            of the people in Carmel – the original place where the school
            of the prophets was established during Elijah’s time, Samuel –
            these were called then Essenes; and those that were students
            of what ye would call astrology, numerology, phrenology,
            and those phases of that study of the return of individuals –
            or incarnation . . . These having been persecuted
            by those of the leaders, this first caused that as ye have
            an interpretation of as the Sadducees, or ‘There is no resurrection’
            or there is no incarnation, which is what it meant in those periods . . .
            Here there was continued preparation and dedication of those
            who might be channels through whom the chosen vessel
            could enter through choice – into materiality. Those in charge
            at that time were Mathias, Enos and Judy. Thus in Carmel
            where there were the priests of this faith . . . twelve maidens
            were chosen who were dedicated to this purpose, this office,
            this service. Among them was Mary, the beloved, the chosen one;
            and she, as had been foretold, was chosen as the channel.
            Thus she was separated and kept in closer associations
            with and in the care of this office. That was the beginning,
            that was the foundation of what ye term the Church.[xviii] 

Cayce claims that this inner group of Essenes was led by a prophetess named “Judy.” It was Judy, moreover, who sent Jesus “to Persia, to Egypt, yea to India, that there might be complete the more perfect knowledge of the material ways in the activities of Him that became the Way, the Truth!” According to Cayce, then, Jesus received his final training in Egypt just prior to his appearance in Israel and baptism by John.[xix] Although there is no ancient evidence that the Essenes accepted women as their leaders or Gentiles as members, Cayce not only claimed that the Essenes “took Jews and Gentiles alike as members” but had developed into a group “where women were considered as equals with the men in their activities, in their abilities to formulate, to live, to be, channels. They joined by dedication – usually by their parents.” Consequently, both Mary and Joseph were “dedicated by their parents” to the Essenes as potential “channels” for the birth of the Messiah.[xx] The cumulative picture gained from the Readings is not simply a complex network of various members of Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment (ARE) seeking hidden knowledge about their past lives, but an already well-developed alternative esoteric narrative of Christian origins. In the 1940s, the Cayce Readings represented the culmination of a two hundred-year long esotericist fascination with the Essenes – an intellectual-esoteric reception history and tradition almost as fascinating as the ancient Essenes themselves – even if this esoteric history has not added much to the scholarly conversation.

To this day, New Age works show clear signs of being influenced by Szekely’s Essene Gospel, taking his forgery as inspiration, not only for constructing contemporary “neo-Essene” communities, but also for an alleged ancient recipe for baking “Essene bread!”[xxi] Rabbi Gabriel Cousens, the founder and director of the Tree of Life Foundation, is the leader of the “Modern Essenes” who trace their lineage directly back to Szekely and refer to themselves as “doers of the Torah” who follow “the Great Torah Way of enlightenment” based on “the Essene Archetype.”[xxii] These modern Essenes adhere to a vegan diet “as an authentic Essene expression” under the working assumption that Jesus and John the Baptist were Essenes, resurrecting, once again, the “Essenes” in a twenty-first century esotericist framework.[xxiii]

This reception history of esoteric speculation(s) on Jesus and the Essenes – as fascinating as it is in its own right – also reflects a much wider cultural suspicion – apparently supported by ancient discoveries like the Dead Sea Scrolls – that there is much more to the Jesus story than we know, always just beyond the reach of our present evidentiary limits.


Notes

[i] H. P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled: A Mastery-Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern Science and Theology (2 vols, Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press, 1976 [1877]), 133. See also The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion, and Philosophy, vol.1, Cosmogenesis, (Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press, 1963 [1888]).
[ii] Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, 144. Thus “the Nazarene Reformer, after having received his education in their dwellings in the desert, and been duly initiated in the Mysteries, preferred the free and independent life of a wandering Nazaria, and so separated or inazarenized himself from them, thus becoming a traveling Therapeut, a Nazaria, a healer.”
[iii] Annie Besant, Esoteric Christianity: Or the Lesser Mysteries (5th edn.; Adyar, Madras, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 1950 [1901]), 97.
[iv] Rudolf Steiner, The Fifth Gospel: Investigation of the Akasha Chronicle; Five Lectures given in Christiania, 1st to 6th October, 1913 (trans D. S. Osmond and M. Cotterell; London: Rudolf Steiner Publishing Co., 1950), 79.
[v] Steiner, The Fifth Gospel, 79.
[vi] G. J. R. Ouseley, The Gospel of the Holy Twelve: known also as the Gospel of the Perfect Life, translated from the Aramaic and edited by a disciple of the Master, and with former editions compared and revised; Issued by the Order of At-one-ment and United Templars’ Society (Paris, Jerusalem, Madras, Brighton, 1901); The Gospel of the Holy Twelve (London: John M. Watkins, 1957); The Gospel of the Holy Twelve (The Christian Gospel Trust, Henley Bridge House, Ashburnham, Battle, Sussex, 1972); Gideon Jasper Ouseley and E. Francis Udny, The Gospel of the Holy Twelve (Kessinger Publishing, 2004).
[vii] Apparently the spirits made the translation from the Aramaic and gave Ouseley the text in English. On the other hand, according to the English 1972 edition, St. John wrote it in prison in Rome and then it was taken to a Tibetan monastery, it was found in the 1870s and hidden in the Vatican. For a brief discussion of the text, see Per Beskow, Strange Tales About Jesus: A Survey of Unfamiliar Gospels (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983), 66-74.

[i] Edmond Bordeaux Szekely, The Essene Gospel of Peace (Nelson, British Columbia, Canada: International Biogenic Society, 1981). According to Szekely, this manuscript was saved by “Nestorian priests who, under pressure of the advancing hordes of Genghis Kahn, were forced to flee from the East towards the West.” Yet “exactly how the texts traveled from Palestine to the interior of Asia into the hands of the Nestorian priests, archaeologists are not yet able to reconstruct for us.”
[ii] Edmund Bordeaux Szekely, The Essene Origins of Christianity (Nelson, British Columbia, Canada: International Biogenic Society, 1993), 184, 187, 191, 192, 205.
[iii] Beskow, Strange Tales about Jesus, 89; 84: “reading through such a large Aramaic manuscript is a difficult task demanding months of work. The copying is in itself an extensive procedure with many difficulties. Szekely, however, never seems to have had any problems with this. He just ‘read’ the manuscript.” Beskow points out that though Szekely claims to have discovered an ancient Aramaic manuscript, no copy of this document has ever been presented in any shape or form nor have Szekely’s academic credentials ever checked out. Indeed, the University of Paris, where Szekely claimed to have done his doctoral work and reporting his findings, does not have any record of his dissertation nor is the professor who assessed his research known.”
[iv] Szekely, The Essene Origins of Christianity, 174. This work seems to have been originally intended as the introduction to Szekely’s Essene Gospel of Peace.
[v] Szekely, The Essene Origins of Christianity, 27.
[vi] Szekely, The Essene Origins of Christianity, 8.
[vii] Szekely, The Essene Origins of Christianity, 15.
[viii] Szekely, The Essene Origins of Christianity, 28.
[ix] Szekely, The Essene Origins of Christianity, 66.
[x] Szekely, The Essene Origins of Christianity, 27.
[xi] Cayce identified a number of clients and ARE members as “Essenes.” See John Van Auken and Ruben Miller, Edgar Cayce on The Mysterious Essenes: Lessons from Our Sacred Past (Virginia Beach: ARE Press, 2016). Cayce himself believed that he was the reincarnation of “Lucius,” purportedly the same “Lucius of Cyrene” mentioned in Acts 13:1 and Rom 16:21. For a past-life regression therapist’s attempt to recover the Essenes, see Dolores Cannon, Jesus and the Essenes (Ozark Mountain Publishing, 1992; They Walked with Jesus: Past Life Experiences with Christ (Ozark Mountain Publications, 2000).
[xii] An inventory of clients identified as “Essenes” in their past lives (with their identification number, age at the time of the reading, and the date of the reading), includes the following:
(1) 489-1; “Essene” named “Veronicani” [female, 53; January 17, 1934];
(2) 649-2; “Essene” [female, 18; August 8, 1935];
(3) 540-4; “Essene” named “Mary” [female, 32; February 20, 1936];
(4) 1196-2; “Essene,” (Keeper of the Inn); [male, 58; June 23, 1936];
(5) 1211-1; “Essene” [male, 36; July 3, 1936];
(6) 1283-1; “Essene” prophetess [female, 61; October 31, 1936];
(7) 1391-1; “Essene” leader named “Eloise” [female, 62; June 22, 1937];
(8) 1424-3; “Essene” named “Simeon” [male, 50; August 31, 1937];
(9) 1152-3; “The Inn Keeper’s Daughter”; [November 27, 1936];
(10) 1450-1; “Essene” named “Philo” [male, 19; October 6, 1937];
(11) 1472-1; “Essene” named “Judy” [female, 57, November 6, 1937];
(12) 1463-2; “Essene” named “Marlan/Sardenia” [November 8, 1937];
(13) 1479-1; “Essene maiden” [female, 54; November 17, 1937];
(14) 1472-3; “Essene” named “Judy” [Judy/Julia Chandler, 57; November 18, 1937];
(15) 1151-10; “Essene” [male, 48; November 21, 1937];
(16) 1468-3; “Essene” [female, 47; January 6, 1938];
(17) 1592-1; “Essene” [female, 56; May 16, 1938];
(18) 1472-6; “Essene” named “Judy” [female, 58; June 19, 1938];
(19) 1851-1; “Essene” named “Zacheus” [male, 65; March 27, 1939];
(20) 1981-1; “Essene maiden” [female, 18; August 22, 1939];
(21) 1602-4; “Essene” [female, 41; September 26, 1939];
(22) 2067-1; “Essene” [female, 52; December 22, 1939];
(23) 1877-2; “Essene” named “Anna” female, 45; [April 18, 1940];
(24) 2173-1; “Essene” named “Sofa” [female, 50; April 19, 1940];
(25) 2425-1; “Essene” named “Sophie” [female, 21; January 3, 1941];
(26) 2441-2; “Essene” named “Durkon” [female, 36; March 11, 1941];
(27) 2505-1; “Essene” named “Jarael” [male, 53; May 21, 1941];
(28) 2603-1; “Essene” named “Anna” [female, 67; October 15, 1941];
(29) 2608-1; “Essene” named “Japhter” [female, 56; October 18, 1941];
(30) 420-6; “Essene” [male, 62; January 24, 1942];
(31) 1010-17; “Essene” named “Josie” [female, age 71; June 21, 1942];
(32) 2795-1; “Essene” son of  “Judy” [male, 28; August 9, 1942];
(33) 2175-6; “Essene holy woman” [female, 30; October 17, 1942];
(34) 2148-7; “Essene” [male, 2; November 19, 1942];
(35) 2880-2; “Essene” associate named “Zermada” [female, age 47; March 22, 1943];
(36) 2982-1; “Essene” student [female, 34; April 27, 1943];
(37) 2946-3; “Essene” maiden [female, 48; June 18, 1943];
(38) 3652-1; “Essene” mother named “Macha” [female, 22; January 12, 1944];
(39) 5148-2; “Essene” [female, 55; May 29, 1944];
(40) 3175-3; “Essene” named “Martha” [female, 43; June 17, 1944];
(41) 2072-15; “Essene” [female, 34; June 20, 1944].
[xiii] Levi Dowling, The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ: The Philosophic and Practical Basis of the Religion of the Aquarian Age of the World (Marina del Rey, CA: Devorss, 1907); Jeffrey Furst, ed., Edgar Cayce’s Story of Jesus (New York: Berkley Books, 1968); Anne and Daniel Meurois-Givaudan, The Way of the Essenes: Christ’s Hidden Life Remembered (Rochester, VT: Destiny, 1993). See also Claire Heartsong, Anna, Grandmother of Jesus: A Message of Wisdom and Love (Santa Clara, CA: S.E.E. Publishing Co, 2002). Heartsong’s book is “channeled” by Anna, the grandmother of Jesus who describes her life as a 600-year old Essene living at the Essene community on Mount Carmel. Finally, for another case of purported “Source Readings,” see the work of Paul Solomon (“Jesus & His Essene Teacher”) http://www.wisdomofsolomon.com/psr13.html.
[xiv] On May 20, 1941, Cayce was asked the “correct meaning of the term ‘Essene’?” and answered “Expectancy” (254-109), although it is not clear whether Cayce was attempting to define the etymological origin of the term as opposed to interpreting its “meaning” (that is, its significance). Cayce also reported that the “individual preparation” of the Messiah was the “first purpose” of the group and the Messiah’s “being sent out into the world” was “secondary.”
[xv] 2067-11.
[xvi] 2067-11.
[xvii] 2072-15.
[xviii] 5749-5. Dated June 27, 1937, a reading for Mr. Thomas Sugrue, an “Active Member” of the ARE in Virgina Beach.
[xix] 1472-3.
[xx] 254-109. On June 21, 1942, Edgar Cayce gave a reading for an “Associate Member of the Association for Research and Enlightenment” in Virgina Beach. The member is simply identified as “1010,” but she is identified as the reincarnation of the soul known as “Sophie” or “Josie, a handmaid to Mary, Jesus and Joseph.” This particular reading is highly detailed. The Essenes included “special groups of individuals who had made some preparations for the expected activities that were to come about during that particular period; especially those of the Essenes who had chosen the twelve maidens to indicate their fitness. The choice was to be made by those selections indicated by the spirit, and Josie was the daughter of Shem and Mephibosheth that was among these . . . This entity, Josie, was close to Mary when the selection was indicated by the shadow or the angel on the stair, at that period of consecration in the temple. This was not the temple in Jerusalem, but the temple where those who were consecrated worshipped, or a school – as it might be termed – for those who might be channels. This was a part of that group of Essenes who, headed by Judy, made those interpretations of those activities from the Egyptian experience, as the Temple Beautiful, and the service in the Temple of Sacrifice. Hence it was in this consecrated place where this selection took place. Then, where there was the fulfiling of those periods when Mary was espoused to Joseph and was to give birth to the Savior, the Messiah, the Prince of Peace, the Way, the Truth, the Light, - soon after this birth there was the issuing of the orders first by Judy that there should be someone selected to be with the parents during their period of sojourn in Egypt . . . Do not understand that there was only Joseph, Mary, Josie and the Child. For there were other groups that preceded and followed; that there might be the physical protection to that as had been considered by these groups of peoples as the fulfilling of the Promised One . . . The return was made to Capernaum – not Nazareth – not only for political reasons owing to the death of Herod but the division that had been made with the kingdom after the death of Herod; and that there might be the ministry or teaching that was to be a part of the Brotherhood; - supervised in that period by Judy, as among the leaders of the Essenes in that particular period . . . There was the sending or the administering of the teachings to the young Master, first in Persia and later in India, and then in Egypt again – where there were the completions . . . [the training] from six years to about sixteen, which were in keeping with the tenets of the Brotherhood; as well as that training in the law, - which was the Jewish or Mosaic law in that period.”
[xxi] Karen Knowler, “Essene Bread,” The Raw Food Coach, March 19, 2011, http://therawfoodcoach.com/essene-bread/ [accessed May 28, 2018]; Owen Bond, “The Benefits of Essene Bread,” Livestrong.com, October 3, 2017, https://www.livestrong.com/article/325385-the-benefits-of-essene-bread/ [accessed May 28, 2018]. For a cookbook for “Essene bread,” see Karen Romani, Everything Essene Bread: Simple Guide to Essene Bread (Manna Bread/Sprout Bread) with Recipes (2015). For neo-Essene communities, see, for example, the web-site of the “Order of Nazorean-Essenes: A Buddhist Branch of Original Christianity” (http://essenes.net/subindex8.htm); the “Essene Church of Christ” led by “Brother Nazariah” in Elmira, Oregon (http://www.essene.org); the “Essene Nazarean Church of Mount Carmel,” the congregation of the B’nai-Amen Temple” (www.essene.com); and the “Essene Healing Ministries of the Sevenfold Peace” (http://www.sevenfoldpeace.com).
[xxii] Gabriel Cousens, “Who Were the Essenes?,” Gabriel Cousens’ Blog, June 25, 2014, http://treeoflifecenterus.com/who-were-the-essenes/ [accessed May 28, 2018]. Cousens states that “The Modern Living Essene Way is not an attempt to go back to or mimic what we think the ancient Essenes were and did, but it is energetically aligned with these primordial energies” and seems to blend Kabbalistic principles (of develkut and the Ein Sof) with “The Essene consciousness.” Moreover, “All life includes the four shamanic Essene kabbalistic categories of the living planet.” Cousens further claims that “oral tradition” holds that Enoch was “the first Essene” and that (Islamic!) Sufis and the Essenes “may indeed have been one and the same mystic group at one time.” Again, much of this esoterica is creatively adapted from the work of
scholar and Essene translator Dr. Edmond Bordeaux Szekely.” Cousens’ appeal to “Mount Carmel,” however, seems to be a distinctive borrowing from the Cayce Readings. Although Cousens claims not to be atempting “to go back” to the ancient Essenes, he nonetheless claims that “The Modern Living Essene Way represents the authentic historical teaching and practices of Jesus as it comes from his spiritual and historical context as an enlightened Essene, who many of the Essenes felt was the messiah of that generation.” See also Rebbe Gabriel Cousens, Creating Peace by Being Peace: The Essene Sevenfold Path 
(Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2008).
[xxiii] “The Essene Archetype,” Tree of Life Foundationhttp://www.treeoflifefoundation.org/service/peace/modern-essenes/ [accessed May 28, 2018].





Thursday, September 27, 2018

Lecturer in Early Christianity at UCLA!





Excited to start my new position as Lecturer in Early Christianity at UCLA! I'm teaching two new classes this quarter - on two of my favorite topics - Religion and Violence and Religion in Los Angeles. The former is a smaller seminar held in Royce Hall and the latter a large (100+) course surveying the incredibly diverse religious landscape of LA - in the ideal setting and place, especially since I researched and wrote a documentary film on just that topic (Finding God in the City of Angels). Looking forward to teaching a History of Religion course in the winter and two courses on Christian origins in the spring!



Thursday, September 13, 2018

Jesus, the Essenes, and Christian Origins - Reviewed in The Bible Today!




“In this marvelous work Simon Joseph . . . offers a detailed, well-researched, and eminently balanced assessment . . . Joseph’s judicious study of this complex relationship not only addresses this ongoing question but also throws light on the origin and development of early Christianity in its own right.”

Donald Senior, CP, The Bible Today


Monday, June 4, 2018

Jesus and the Chaos of History - A Review





The Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus has just published my extended review of James Crossley's  Jesus and the Chaos of History. It is entitled "Exit the Great Man: On James Crossley's Jesus and the Chaos of History." James has also written and published a response to my review, "A Chaotic Jesus: A Response to Simon Joseph."

James and I share a number of scholarly research interests, including the historical Jesus, Second Temple Judaism, and Christian origins. We also share a mutual interest in identifying how the study of Judaism (and Jesus' "Jewishness") functions in scholarship. My review focuses on four areas of common interest: the general reliability of the "Early Palestinian Tradition" (as opposed to privileging any particular solution to the Synoptic Problem), the identification of Jesus as a "Great Man," the ideological site of Jesus' Jewishness and the Law,  and the relationship between Jesus and violence.

James and I have different perspectives, of course, on Jesus’ relationship to the Torah, the Temple, and (non)violence. James proposes that “there is no obvious unambiguous opposition to the notion of animal sacrifice per se in the Synoptic tradition” whereas I propose that the Gospels presuppose the central theological claim that Jesus is the sacrifice which replaces the Temple’s sacrificial system and portray Jesus as symbolically abolishing the Temple cult in various ways (by "cleansing" the Temple, cursing the fig tree, expelling the animals, etc.). James concludes that it is “certainly possible that a more violent Jesus was ‘covered-up’ by later Gospel writers to ensure Christianity was not seen as a societal threat.” I conclude that a less violent Jesus was "covered up" by later Gospel writers who preserved these earlier nonviolent traditions nested inside an increasingly violent narrative directed at unbelievers. This violent narrative of “eschatological retribution” represented a particularly effective way to articulate and envision the promise of a better future. James agrees that Jesus could possibly have had a nonviolent orientation, but it was a temporary strategy anticipating a future kingdom while “acknowledging other possible reasons behind a nonviolent message.” I see Jesus’ nonviolent ethic less as a temporary political strategy, and more as grounded in his theological convictions.

Despite these differences, we still share the common goal of identifying Jesus as a first-century Jew facing colonial oppression, socio-economic disintegration, and sectarian conflict. We share the common conclusion that he worked within an apocalyptic worldview, and the goal to construct some kind of order out of the "chaos of history."


Thursday, May 24, 2018

"Jesus and the Essenes" at Christ Church!






I’ll be giving a public presentation on my new book, Jesus, the Essenes, and Christian Origins, at the Christ Church Forum in Ontario, CA on June 3, 2018. Many thanks to the Rev. Dr. Gianluigi Gugliermetto for the invitation! If you're in the area, come on by!