Much like the body of believers called Christians today, the Essenes are largely misunderstood. This is unfortunate, due to the amazing kinship Christians have had with the Essenes, spanning the last two thousand years and the end of two ages, as we will look at more throughout this series. Among the few who have heard of this mysterious group, many think of the Essenes as one homogeneous entity; they were either “this” or “that,” or “either, or” rather than “both, and.” Again, this is very similar to how the world views Christianity today. Christians are considered by many to have one specific set of beliefs or another, without much variety. This concept is clearly mistaken, but not unique. In fact, it’s human nature to make such generalizations instead of adopting a more nuanced understanding. To prove this, try simply entering into Google Search “Christians are,” “Republicans are,” or “Liberals are,” and allow the search engine to autofill for you what others have previously searched. Chances are, you won’t receive autofills that say “a wide variety of unique people who all have a few common beliefs.” Rather, you’ll probably see words similar to “negative,” “cruel,” and “stupid” (three results that popped up when I did this myself). The same kind of misconception can be found in our modern understanding of the Essenes
This is only the beginning of the parallels between the Essenes and Christians today. There were Essenes who believed in the Tanakh (Old Testament) who lived throughout the various cities of Israel from around the second century BC to the first century AD.[i] However, around the same time, there were also groups of Gnostics and heretics who called themselves “Essenes,” much how today’s Christianity includes groups of New Agers who call themselves “Christians” but who do not in fact adhere to the tenets of authentic Christian faith. Throughout history, the Essenes have had other heretical groups take on their name as well.
Even within the Essene community in ancient Israel, at least three different factions broke off from the believing remnant. Piecing together information gathered from the works of Josephus and Hippolytus, we learn that one faction considered typically normal activities to be idol worship. Carrying coins, for example, was to be considered idol worship because he image on the coin was considered a “graven image” such as what is referenced in Exodus 20:4.[ii] A modern example of this might be those who claim decorating a Christmas tree is actually a form of idol worship and no Christian should take part in the holiday celebrations and traditions.
A second faction of Essenes was violently obsessed with bringing Christian believers back under the Law of Moses, especially regarding the rite of circumcision, even to the point of slaughtering those who refused. This would be comparable to modern-day, hyper-Hebrew-roots believers who teach that Christians must submit to the Law of Moses to be saved, though admittedly in America, this group hasn’t yet gone to the extreme of putting to death those who don’t.
The third faction of Essenes was very careful about not calling anyone “lord,” even while under torture or threat of death. At first this sounds reasonable, as we shouldn’t equate any person with our Lord. However, at the time, the word “lord” was just a title, like “king” or “prince.” The belief was that even calling a person who held the title of “lord” would offend God, thereby putting a heightened emphasis on the importance of names and titles. It is similar to those called “sacred-namers” today who insist that we must pronounce Jesus’ Hebrew name perfectly or He won’t hear our prayer. Further, they believe we must never call someone by the title “rabbi.” It is interesting that the Essenes were dealing with very similar offshoots from their believing remnant that we’re dealing with today.
On top of that, there were other divisions amongst the Essenes as well during those ancient days. Some groups abstained from marriage and others were married.[iii]
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Anyone could define all of Essenes by any one of these groups. This is why some people say “Essenes were celibate,” “Essenes were mystics,” or “Essenes were vegetarians.” Any of these claims could be true, but not all are true of the entire group. Similarly, we could make any number of generalized claims about Christians, some of which might be true about certain groups of people calling themselves Christians, but none of which are probably true about all Christians. Therefore, for sake of clarity, when Essenes are discussed throughout the rest of this chapter, we’re talking about the remnant of believing Essenes who did not fall into these heretical factions.
The Essene Calendar
The first-century Essenes had a much different calendar than the one used by the Pharisees and Sadducees. In fact, according to Essene writing, the Pharisees were using a corrupt pagan lunar calendar, and the Essenes preserved the original solar calendar that God gave Adam. Even more astonishing, this was prophesied in the Dead Sea Scrolls! The Book of Jubilees, which was kept by the Essenes in Qumran, states:
And there will be those who will make observations of the moon, for this one (the moon) corrupts the stated times and comes out earlier each year by ten days. And in this way they will corrupt the years and will observe a wrong day as the day of testimony and a corrupted festival day, and every one will mix holy days with unclean ones and unclean with holy; for they will err as to months and sabbaths and festivals and jubilees. (Jubilees 6:34–35)
This corrupted calendar of the Pharisees would become the Hillel II calendar in the middle of the third century, which is what modern Judaism uses today.[iv] The Essene calendar, however, is a bit more difficult to figure out, as much that was known about it in ancient times was lost, only to be rediscovered in the 1990s. Dr. Ken Johnson has done some amazing work with the Dead Sea Scrolls in an effort to restore the Essene calendar.[v] What he has turned up is nothing short of amazing.
The Essene calendar is based on the seven-day week. Saturday is still the Sabbath, making Sunday the first, Monday the second, and so on. Interestingly, because the sun, moon, and stars were created on the fourth day, the Essene calendar has the beginning of every year start on a Wednesday. This emphasis on the fourth day continued even in the early Church, as evidenced by some of the writings of the Church Father credited with writing the first commentary on the book of Revelation, Victorinus of Pettau, who wrote:
Victorinus, On the Creation of the World—“On the fourth day He made two lights in the heaven, the greater and the lesser, that the one might rule over the day, the other over the night,” Genesis 1:16–17—the lights of the sun and moon and He placed the rest of the stars in heaven, that they might shine upon the earth, and by their positions distinguish the seasons, and years, and months, and days, and hours. Now is manifested the reason of the truth why the fourth day is called the Tetras, why we fast even to the ninth hour, or even to the evening, or why there should be a passing over even to the next day. Therefore this world of ours is composed of four elements—fire, water, heaven, earth. These four elements, therefore, form the quaternion of times or seasons. The sun, also, and the moon constitute throughout the space of the year four seasons—of spring, summer, autumn, winter; and these seasons make a quaternion. And to proceed further still from that principle, lo, there are four living creatures before God’s throne, four Gospels, four rivers flowing in paradise; Genesis 2:10 four generations of people from Adam to Noah, from Noah to Abraham, from Abraham to Moses, from Moses to Christ the Lord, the Son of God; and four living creatures, viz., a man, a calf, a lion, an eagle; and four rivers, the Pison, the Gihon, the Tigris, and the Euphrates. The man Christ Jesus, the originator of these things whereof we have above spoken, was taken prisoner by wicked hands, by a quaternion of soldiers. Therefore on account of His captivity by a quaternion, on account of the majesty of His works—that the seasons also, wholesome to humanity, joyful for the harvests, tranquil for the tempests, may roll on—therefore we make the fourth day a station or a supernumerary fast.[vi]
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The Essene calendar is based on a 364-day year that begins on the spring equinox (when there is an equal amount of day and night). It is also set up so that everything comes out the same every year, because 364 days mean the year is exactly fifty-two weeks with no leftover days (52 x 7 = 364). For example, Passover is always on the 14th of the Hebrew month Nisan, which is always on a Tuesday. By contrast, the Pharisee and even our Gregorian calendars are imperfect, as we can’t pinpoint down to the day when a holiday will occur. We can know Christmas is on December 25, of course, but every year, the day itself might change. For example, in 1998, Christmas Day was on a Friday, while in 2014 it was on a Thursday. Every year is different. There is even a reference to the 364-day year starting on the spring equinox in the Book of Enoch, which was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls:
Enoch 72:32b – …and the night is equal to the day and the year is exactly as to its days three hundred and sixty four.
Leap years on the Essene calendar are handled differently as well. Our Gregorian calendar includes 365 days per year, which generally means that every four years we add an extra “leap” day.[vii] The modern Jewish calendar has only 354 days per year, meaning that once about every three years, a “leap” month is added. The Essene calendar, however, maintains the Sabbath cycle, meaning that when the calendar becomes seven days “off,” a “leap” week is added. This keeps all of the Sabbaths in sync—a very important practice for the rituals of priests.
The Essene calendar is also based around the prophetic year of 360 days, such as what is used in the books of Daniel and Revelation.[viii] However, to compensate for the fact that an actual earth year is longer than 360 literal days, the Essenes added four extra days called tekufahs. A tekufah was always on the two solstices and the two equinoxes of every year.[ix] These were days considered outside of the calendar, so while the new year would technically begin on the spring equinox (Tekufah Nisan,) on a Tuesday, this day isn’t considered the first calendar day of the year; tekufahs are more like place markers, or dividers, of the four seasons. This is why the first day of the year is actually the day after Tekufah Nisan, which would be Wednesday. The Essene calendar has twelve months of thirty days. Every season (spring, summer, winter, and fall) is ninety days long. A tekufah day splits each ninety-day season from the following one. Every year, there is a Tekufah Nisan (spring equinox) followed by a ninety-day period, then a Tekufah Tammuz (summer solstice), followed by another ninety-day period, then a Tekufah Tishrei (fall equinox), followed by a third ninety-day period, then lastly, a Tekufah Tevet (winter solstice) followed by the final ninety-day period before the start of the next year.[x]
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[i] Josephus, The Wars of the Jews.
[ii] Hippolytus of Rome, The Refutation of all Heresies. Book IX. Chapter XXI
[iii] Ibid. Chapter XXIII
[iv] Bernard Dickman, The Beginning of the Jewish Calendar.
[v] Dr. Ken Johnson, The Ancient Dead Sea Scroll Calendar: And The Prophecies It Reveals.
[vii] Technically, it’s not as simple as adding an extra day every four years; there’s a more complicated way to figure out leap years on the Gregorian calendar. For any given year to qualify as a “leap” year, the year must be divisible by four. If the year is also divisible by one hundred, then it is not a leap year. However, if the year is also evenly divisible by four hundred, then it is a leap year. For more information, visit https://www.timeanddate.com/date/leapyear.html.
[viii] Daniel 7:25; 9:27; 12:7; Revelation 11:2; 11:3; 12:6; 12:14;, and 13:5 all talk about 42 months, 1,260 days, half one set of 7, or time, times, and a half. These are all based around a 360-day “prophetic year” and not on the Essene or Pharisee calendar.
[ix] “Tekufah” entry in Jewish Encyclopedia, http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14292-tekufah.
[x] To help visualize the Essene calendar, visit dsscalendar.org.