THE ESSENES by Matt Kelly

No ancient group can elicit our curiosity today as can the Essenes. How powerful their influence on the Judeo-Christian contributions to Western history is the subject of much discussion. Many issues are intertwined with Essene history, including whether Jesus was a vegetarian. There are Essenes alive and well today, and may still have much to offer.

Early Essenes

About 2,000 years ago, much of the Middle East, including Egypt, was inhabited by the Jews. Then, as now, there were many sects in Judaism. One major sect was the peace-loving, vegetarian Essenes. The contemporary historian, Josephus, describing characteristics of the Essenes notes:”…they are Jews by birth and are particularly attached to each other. They eschew pleasure-seeking as a vice and regard temperance and mastery of the passions a virtue…They possess no one city, but everywhere have large colonies.”

In his description, Josephus portrays the Essenes as charitable, devout, totally honest, and trustworthy. They based their decisions on majority consent, pooled their wealth and possessions together, made no wars, were peace-loving, were frugal, were healthier than most others, and lived to a very old age, often over 100 years. Josephus is purported to have been influenced by some of these attributes in his early years.

Evidently, there was then, as there is now, an ongoing debate about the relationship of mankind with the rest of creation, including that with non-human animals. One line of thought looked upon all creation as sacred, and abhorred the use or harm of any animal. Many ancient Greek philosophers, notably Pythagoras, preached vegetarianism and respect for all life, and had a big impact on the thoughts of the ancient world. This same line of thinking was also commonplace in the ancient Jewish world. I’m sure there are many connections. There are examples of this reverence expressed in the books of Daniel, Micah, Hosea, Ecclesiastes, and especially Isaiah. 

The Essenes could have certainly been influenced by religions from the East, like Jainism or Buddhism. It is known that the Essenes, with their pacifist tendencies, ate no animal flesh. It is believed by some biblical scholars that the Essenes and the early Christians were one in the same people. Much evidence exists to indicate that Jesus was born into the Essene world and was its most famous member.

Was Jesus Vegetarian? The Essene Gospel of Peace

In 1937, Edmond Bordeaux Szekely, Ph.D., professor, traveler and philologist (among many other things) translated a collection of secret ancient Aramaic manuscripts which he discovered in the secret vaults of the Vatican and in the Royal Archives of the Hapsburgs (now in possession by the Austrian Government). The “Essene Gospel Of Peace,” which this collection is called was said to have been written in the 3rd century BCE. 

Book One of the Gospel of Peace puts quite an interesting view to our traditional outlook on Christian teachings. Here, there exists a different trinity; The Heavenly Father (to whom we commend our soul/spirit), The Earthly Mother (of whom we are from, and who nurtures our physical bodies) and the Son Of Man, the Master (who has come down to Earth to show us the way). The Master teaches us to embrace the Angels of Air, Water and Sunlight for our bodily health.

The Master (Jesus) teaches us to pray to the Heavenly Father in the familiar Christian prayer we know as the “Our Father,” and also teaches us to pray to the Earthly Mother (nature), sustainer of all life with a parallel prayer, the “Our Mother.”

In this text, which is noticeably absent from our modern bible, Jesus spells out a lifestyle which resembles that which today we call “Natural Hygiene,” including a raw foods diet, water fasting, clearly a vegetarian diet, and an admonition to do no harm to other forms of life. We can see some of the same lifestyle today with the Seventh Day Adventists

The Master emphasizes that cooking “takes the life” out of foods. The plant kingdom abounds with live healing and restorative powers, which we should take use of for optimal health. The body, created by our Earthly Mother, houses the spirit which is destined for our Heavenly Father. Therefore, we need take the utmost care of this holy and sacred vessel, our body.

The Dead Sea Scrolls

Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, the position that Jesus was a vegetarian Essene has been even more solidified. Some of the scrolls contain Essene traditional parables and phrases, which pre-dated Jesus by a hundred years, yet read almost verbatim the lines and verses attributed to Jesus in the New Testament. This is thought to show that Jesus was trained in standard Essene philosophy, and these New Testament verses reflect standard Essene teachings.

Much of the Dead Sea Scrolls still remain locked away from our eyes by religious authorities. Both contemporary Christian and Jewish scholars, in conjunction with modern religious authorities, feel that the general population “is not competent enough to interpret” what is in the scrolls. I wonder if these contemporary writings are too challenging to the modern religious dogma, with which most people are familiar?

Modern Essenes

There still is a modern Essene movement in motion. “They possess no one city, but everywhere have large colonies.” Modern Essene thought still holds fast to a Natural Hygiene lifestyle, replete with a vegan raw foods diet and regular fasting. With the ability to combat cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and a whole range of common but serious ailments, the raw food diet is one we are hearing more and more about. Maybe this has something to do with Jesus’ reputation as a great healer. There are more and more vegetarians experimenting with raw foods, and getting great results!


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