The Jewish Story of Yeshu and the Essene Teacher of Righteousness
From studying manuscripts found among the 'Dead Sea Scrolls,' author Martin A. Larson in his epic book "The Story of Christian Origins" follows the development of the Jewish Essene community from the time of the formation of the Zadokites, later known as the Chasidim who along with the Sadducee called themselves the 'Sons of Zadok.' From historical references, it is impossible to determine exactly when these sects first came into existence. The first known references to them is during the reign of the Hasmonean ruler John Hyrcanus (134-104 BCE). The Sadducee denied the existence of providence and believed in free will while the Pharisee which became one of two sects split off from the Chasidim, the other being the Essene, believed in determinism. It was the Chasidim who absorbed into Judaism the Zorastrian eschatology. While the Essene accepted the teachings of Zoraster and gradually withdrew from the evils of society, the Pharisee rejected those teachings and became more worldly and interested in the acquisition of wealth.
Evidence from the 'Damascus scroll' indicates that this group of Essene, also known as 'The Way,' first organized outside of Israel in Damascus, Syria. The name Essene comes from 'Es' which means 'fire' and 'sene' meaning 'worshipper.' Initiates had to go through a ritual purification by fire. Hence, in the future Khirbet-Qumran would be known as 'Damascus,' among members of the sect. This was during the early to mid second century BCE. Texts from the scroll indicate that at that time the group consisted of rather typical Torah observant Jews with little Zorastrian eschatology and no Pythagorean influence. It is in this document that we find a reference to the Testament of Judah, "A Star shall come forth out of Jacob" which the community interpreted as the coming of an interpreter of the law who would be known as the 'Unique Teacher.' It is this individual, c 170 BCE, who prophesied the coming of the Messiah and the annihilation of the wicked c 130 BCE. This period was to be known as the 'the whole period of wickedness.' Often in these documents we have references to the wicked or 'wicked priest.' To the Jews and in this case the Essene, wicked simply meant not Torah observant, and it is clear that they considered the non-Davidian, non-Zadokite Hasmonean rulers who usurped the throne of Israel and the office of high priest to be just that.
While the Pharisee awaited the arrival of a Davidian Messiah who would enable the Jews to rule over a vast empire, the Essene envisioned a supernatural Messiah of Moral Judgment. It was the Pharisee who developed Temple worship and the ritual of blood sacrifice both of which were rejected by the Essene. Around 100 BCE there is evidence that a leader arose among the Essene, who having travelled the known world absorbed influences from other religions in the region and introduced the doctrines of Pythagoras to the Judaeo/Zorastrian community.
From archaeological records, we know that the mission at Khirbet-Qumran was first inhabited by this sect c 104 BCE until it was abandoned after an earthquake c 31 BCE. It remained vacant until c 4 BCE when the sect again made it their home right up to the time of its desolation by the Romans in 68-69 CE. The enclave had a scriptorium with seats and benches for studying scrolls, a commissary for storing the sects common goods, and just outside a cistern used for the daily baptismal ritual, and there was also a large upper room. "And he will show you a large upper room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us."óMark 14:15
From the Essene document 'The Book of Enoch' we find a co-mingling of both Jewish and Zorastrian religious concepts. This document must have been written over a considerable period of time since the latter sections also incorporate Pythagorean religious traits such as communal living and celibacy. It is also here that we find an early formulation of Christian eschatology like the immortality of the soul and rewards and punishment after death. While it is clear that the Essene considered wealth and personal property evil, it is even more clear that they much like the Buddhists only considered these things evil when they were possessed by their enemies. For they expected that when the Messiah returned, he would establish his kingdom under which they would acquire houses through their righteousness and that the sinners would be delivered into the hands of the righteous. Their utter hatred towards those who currently possessed wealth is clearly evident in this document.
From the Habakkuk Commentary we learn of the 'Teacher of Righteousness' and the 'wicked priest' or the 'man of the lie' which could only have been Aristobulus II, last of the Hasmonean kings. It is here that we learn of the Essene leaders execution. Now, a major item of contention between the Essene and the Hellenized Hasmoneans was the 364 day calendar of the Essene as opposed to the 365 1/4 day calendar of the Hasmoneans. Aristobulus was determined to exile the Teacher and summoned him for inquisition and trial. On the day of Passover, which differed because of the use of different calendars used by the priesthood and the Essene, he appeared before the priests and challenged their calendar for which he was arrested, tried and convicted. He was scourged and executed during the Passover festival.
Although there seems to have been more than one individual who was known by the title the teacher of righteousness, there is only one of these who was 'Thee Teacher of Righteousness.' History knows less about this Teacher than it knows about the Gospel Jesus, for the Essene were sworn to silence. Members of the community believed that the Teacher possessed divine powers to interpret scriptures. Based on scant evidence, it is believed that this 'Teacher of Righteousness' was condemned to death and executed during the reign of Aristobulus II (Jewish High Priest and King 66-63 BCE). It is possible that this individual was the 'Onias' a righteous man.
From the 'Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs,' originally written during the reign of Hyrcanus, but ammended after the fall of Aristobulus II, we learn that this period became known as 'the end of ages.' There also exist a few latter day Christian additions probably added during the first century. About the year 60 BCE a number of interpolations were added in which the Teacher is referred to as the 'savior of the world' and 'God incarnate' a term not used to describe Jesus by the Apostolic Church. At first, members of the early Catholic Church accepted this document as referring to Jesus and numerous copies were made, but by the third century theologians began to doubt its authenticity. Scholars eventually established that the document was originally a second century BCE composition which had undergone numerous additons and interpolations mostly right after the conquest by Pompey. The early dating of this document is clear from references to the fall of the Temple and the end of the independent Jewish kingdom which only happened when Pompey took Jerusalem. Further evidence of pre-Christian origin is first, the failure to make any mention of the Romans, but only that the Teacher was murdered by the Jewish priests, and secondly the writers total lack of knowledge of history beyond this time frame.
The Essene community believed that the 'Teacher of Righteousness' would "establish the kingdom of heaven upon earth. The entire concept is parallel to that which Jesus entertained concerning Himself. Immediately upon returning to the earth in power, the Teacher was to conduct the Last Judgment and become the head and ruler of the new kingdom; the Gentiles would be enlightened by him, accept his gospel, and become regenerate;"óMartin A. Larson, "The Story of Christian Origins."
The Essene community now possessed the most precious of all religious elements in the Greco-Roman world. They had their very own sacrificial godman. Rumors quickly spread among the Essene community that this 'Teacher of Righteousness' had ascended into heaven and would soon return as the all-powerful 'Son of Man' first mentioned by Isaiah and later by Ezekiel, Daniel (lifted from the Persian Zoraster) and most recently in the Essene Book of Enoch. Now, other members of the Essene community would probably have suffered the same fate as the Teacher had the Romans, under the leadship of Pompey, not taken Jerusalem c 63 BCE.
From the Jewish writings we hear nothing concerning the Jesus of the Christians, but there exists a wealth of information concerning a certain Yeshu son of Pendira (this is a Hebrew-Aramaic form of the Greek name Panderos). It is written that during the reign of King Jannaeus, 103-76 BCE, a disreputable young man named Joseph Pendira seduced the chaste and lovely Miriam by pretending to be her betrothed husband. The relationship bore a son named Yehoshua or Yeshu who fled to Galilee when it became known that he was illegitimate. There he practiced magic by learning the letters of the Ineffable Name and declared that he was born of a virgin. In accord with Isaiah 7:14, he declared himself the Messiah. According to Toldoth Yeshu (Tale of Jesus or Generations of Yeshu) he was captured and brought before Queen Helene, probably the wife of Aristobulus II, and accused of sorcery. A corpse was brought in and Yeshu restored it to life which made the Queen an avid devotee. A man named Judah Iskarito was also taught the Ineffable Name so that he too could practice magic. Both were tried by the Queen, but both lost their memory of the Name and fell powerless. (This is the weakest part of the story, as this was purported to have ocurred at Tiberias, a city which did not exist in the first century BCE and was still under construction during the life of Jesus of Nazareth and was named after the Roman Emperor Tiberius who had not even been born at the time that this story supposedly happened. However, this story comes from the Toldoth which was written during the Dark Ages which could account for the error. The Babylonian Talmud dates from the late second century.) It must also be noted that there were many versions of the Toldoth, dating from as early as the 4th or 5th century, The Florence manuscript, The Munich manuscript, The Paris manuscript, The Genizah Manuscript fragments found in Cairo are probably the earliest Yeshu in the Talmud stories. Although Toldoth and Talmud Yeshu probably refer to the same person, it must be noted that Talmud Yeshu was a mature Jewish priest during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus, while Toldoth Yeshu was only just born at this time.
There are many scholars who believe that Toldoth Yeshu is nothing more than a parody of the now lost Gospel of the Hebrews or more likely Mar Yesu. These Jewish writings along with the Book of Elxai, which supplied the true identity of Jesus Christ, were destroyed by the Church, in 1415 CE, under the orders of Pope Benedict XIII. It is quite probable that all of the Jewish writings pertaining to Jesus were Jewish attempts at mocking, not the Christian Jesus, but the Essene Teacher. But, then it must be admitted that if not for the Essene Teacher, there never would have been a Jesus Christ.
Yeshu was seized scourged and given vinegar to drink and a crown of thorns was placed on his head, but Yeshu escaped to Antioch or Egypt where he remained until the Passover when he returned to Jerusalem to once again learn the letters of the Ineffable Name in the Temple. To fulfill the prophesy in Zechariah, he rode in on an ass, but was identified by Iskarito as a false prophet. He was seized and put to death on the eve of the Passover. If he were born near the beginning of the reign of King Alexander Jannaeus he would have been in his 30s at the time of the execution. After he was interred, his followers came to Queen Helene to report that he was not in his tomb, but had ascended into heaven as prophesied. It seems that the gardener fearing a conspiracy by his followers had taken the body from the tomb and buried it in the garden. The queen had the body seized and tied to the tail of a horse and dragged before her where she renounced the false prophet.
Yeshu had five disciples: Mattai (Matthew), Naqai, Neitzer, Buni, and Todah (Thaddeus). The story ends by describing how Yeshu and his followers sought to overthrow Judaism by re-dating their feast days and repudiating their rituals and dietary laws. His followers then declared that their leader was now seated at the right hand of God and would return someday as the almighty Messiah. The issues of the feast days and the divergent calendar are both similar and the lack of any mention of the Romans or any of the characters from the gospel accounts make it quite possible that the story of Yeshu is the Orthodox Jewish version of the execution of the Essene 'Teacher of Righteousness.'
Little did the Essene know, but they and their 'Teacher of Righteousness' had written the script for the destruction of the Jewish people and the desolation of Jerusalem. All that was left, was for the Romans to find the script and act out the tragedy. Since the Teacher is believed to have introduced Pythagoreanism into the Essene community, it is best that we learn a little bit about its doctrines.
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