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Was Jesus an Essene?


I was wondering how big of an influence you think the Essenes had on Jesus and his teachings, and if there’s any evidence that he and John The Baptist were students of that philosophy. Jesus’ apocalyptic teachings seem to align with them a lot.


Great question!  When the Dead Sea Scrolls (= DSS) were discovered in 1947, it was quickly realized that this was a library of documents produced by the Jewish group known from other ancient authors (such as Josephus and Pliny the Elder) as the Essenes (this identification is debated among some scholars; but the solid majority of scholars agree today that the “Essene” hypothesis is right).   The Essenes were known from antiquity for being a rigorously ascetic group.  The DSS themselves were an entire library of writings.  Some of them were copies of biblical books (Hebrew Bible) – significant because they were about a thousand years older than the oldest copy otherwise available.   Others were previously unknown works: commentaries on biblical books, apocalyptic treatises, instructions for how the community was to be organized and run, books used for worship, and others.

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Q & A with Ben Witherington: Part 2
Q&A With Ben Witherington: Part 1



  1. Avatar
    Jerry  June 8, 2012

    Really liked your description of how the Essenes lived versus how Jesus lived.
    Were there followers of John the Baptist still active after his death? If yes, are there any sources that you can point me to?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 8, 2012

      Yup! Acts 19 is the earliest reference.

  2. Avatar
    maddcow  September 21, 2012

    Bart, I am a very big fan and have been reading your work for a long time now. I was just wondering if you would elaborate on your opinions of a couple scholars like John Marco Allegro and Hugh Schonfield. .. Possibly the belief in which Allegro held about the Fertility cults and the evoultion of beliefs, and Schoenfield’s theory about synergisms of reserpine and the ressurection. I have heard the neurologist Michael Persinger reference the Druids and the Essenes having access to thes “magical” synergisms. Just kind of one of those theories that I have always wanted your take on. It would be awesome to hear your brief thoughts on these radical ideas postulated by some well known scholars…

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  September 21, 2012

      My brief thoughts: I’m not inclinied to their opinions at all, I’m sorry to say. They were both brilliant scholars, but something kind of happened to both of them, and they developed completely implausible views about the historical Jesus. (I don’t know about their other views.) I deal with Schonfield’s Passover Plot in my book Forged.

      • Avatar
        maddcow  September 25, 2012

        Thank you for your response.. I will grab my Forged book and revisit the portion you reference Schonfield. Do you have any opinion on what may have bounced them into the implausable views of the historical Jesus? Just curious if you have read Allegro’s Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Myth and his Sacred Mushroom and the Cross? Or are there works produced by him to radical to even postulate any truth or relevance in the theories they provide? Once again, I am flattered to have even had my comment responded to by you. It is an honor to hear even the briefest portion of your thoughts about these scholars!

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  September 26, 2012

          I don’t know their biographies well enough to know what led to their flipping. But no, I don’t think either of their popular books has any historical credibility.

  3. Avatar
    csmarshall  September 2, 2013

    Dr. Ehrman – I’ve been searching all over for a sane approach to this question, Was Jesus an Essene? Thank you for this helpful post.

  4. kt@rg.no
    kt@rg.no  March 24, 2020

    In my mind I’ve considered Jesus closer to the Pharaseen tradition, just because he seemed t be deeply involved in Pharaseic theachings. If so, he was for sure a rebellious Pharasee. If I have understood it correctly his discussions, theological disputes are with the Pharasees, or conserning Pharaseic doctrines. For me it seems that he is within a larger group of Pharaseic thinkers,,,perhaps and basically different from rebellious Zealots – nonviolence, different from the Saddusees – the incident in the temple and the incident with Jews (Saddusees) and Pilate, and different form the Essene ,,perhaps because of his outward missionary). It seems for me that he also quote early Mishnaic figures as the famous Hillel in particular (another claimed decendant of King David). Some of his teachings seems to me also be derived from the teaching of Hillel (including the Golden rule which Hillel claim is the entire Torah, the rest is all commentary)
    Then, it seems that there are some references to Jesus in the Talmud, and in one of them, when he split with his teacher Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perahaya because of a misunderstanding and a disciplinary act from this Rabbi. Well, this might be a legend or a saga,,but this scripture (including Mishnah, Midrash and Mystisim) was in my mind particular accepted by the Pharasees. For me, this seems to relate Jesus close to the Pharasees than the other groups.

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