Humane Religion Magazine
January - February 1997 Issue
by Upton Clary Ewing
The Prophet of the Dead Sea Scrolls provides a fascinating look at the kind of world into which Christ was born. Until the discovery of the scrolls in 1947, there were no extant records which showed the strong religious/spiritual influence which the Essenes had on the Judaism of that time.
There had been tantalizing references to this sect in the records of Josephus, an historian of that period, and the Gospels describe attitudes and practices which were not attributable to the influence of either the Pharisees or Sadducees. And other references to a sect like the Essenes, were scattered throughout the writings of the early Church Fathers.
But those who made a case for the extensive influence of this group on early Christianity, and in the decades following the death of Jesus, were ignored until the discovery of the scrolls at Qumran. Until then, no one knew that thousands of Essene families lived side by side with the other Jewish people of their time. Previously it was thought that the Essenes were a group of celibate, dedicated men who lived a communal lifestyle in in the wilderness area near the Dead Sea— isolated from contact with the mainstream of Judaism.
Let not a man make himself abominable with any living creature by eating of them.
The discovery that there were Essene families, living within the larger Jewish community at the time of Christ, has enormous implications for the beginnings of Christianity—the Essene way of life antedated the lifestyle of the earliest Christians. The Essene families were pacifists who did not believe that God ordered the killing of other human beings. They also shared their possessions with each other and refused to participate in the sacrifice of animals at the Temple in Jerusalem. And a refusal to eat the flesh of other creatures also characterized the Essenes: "Let not a man make himself abominable with any living creature or any creeping thing by eating of them" (Essene manual).
The author of The Prophet of the Dead Sea Scrolls makes it clear that this vegetarianism was not a result of dietary concerns. "They preached a doctrine of repentance...Only through works of righteousness, of kindness, mercy, and reverence for all of God's creatures could one be assured of [spiritual] life instead of death...They believed that all creatures, being endowed by God with sensate knowledge were, even as man, part of the great cosmic plan."
The Prophet is well written, with the general reader in mind. However, it needs to be understood that the author—like all writers—does have a bias of his own. In this case, Dr. Ewing's book is dedicated "To the Essenes, who have guarded the flame of true spirituality throughout all ages." And although he honors the life and ministry of Jesus, some of his conclusions are influenced by his tendency to see early Christianity only as a continuation of Essenism.
But in some ways this bias has its advantages. Unlike books written by Christian commentators and apologists, Dr. Ewing is able to emphasize the nonviolent message of early Christian teaching in regard to both humans and animals. Traditional Christian scholars prefer to avoid the subject, since the established churches have completely ignored these teachings since the fourth century A.D. #
The Prophet of the Dead Sea Scrolls is available from