The Essenes also had an understanding of the total number of years of human history, from Creation to the time of the establishment of the new heavens and new earth, and how this long period is to be divided. The totality of human history, according to the Essenes, is to be seven thousand years from the creation of Adam. For example, we learn from Genesis chapter 5 that Adam was 130 years old when his son Seth was born. For this way of figuring time in years, it doesn’t matter how long Adam was in the Garden of Eden, how old he was when he and Eve rebelled, how old they were when they were kicked out of the Garden, etc. For our purposes here, what matters is that we know Adam was 130 years old when Seth was born. Therefore, according to Essene understanding, Seth was born in the year 130 AM (for anno mundi, “the year of the world”).[i] Instead of having the BC/AD system we currently use, the Essenes counted their years from Creation forward. With careful calculations, and working on the assumptions that the AM calendar hasn’t been tampered with over time and that certain biblical, extrabiblical, and historical data likewise hasn’t changed, we can determine the date of Creation, which would be the year 1 AM (which, technically, would be a year after Creation, since we name years based on how much time has already passed and not on what year is starting; for example, a baby is considered to be one year old a full year after birth rather on the day of birth. “Year 1”), would correspond to our year 3926–3925 BC (depending on the month and how we are counting the years).[ii]
The seven thousand years of human history were split into three periods of two thousand years and one final period of one thousand years called “ages.” This final one thousand years was seen as the ultimate Sabbath. Each age was split into periods of five hundred years called Onahs, each of which was split into ten periods of fifty years called “jubilees.” Each jubilee was split into seven periods of seven years, called shemitahs, and one additional “jubilee” year. Therefore, according to the Essenes, all time is understood as subsets:
- A year is 364 days.
- A shemitah is seven years.
- A jubilee is seven shemitahs plus one year, or fifty years.
- An onah is ten jubilees, or five hundred years.
- A millennium is two onahs, or twenty jubilees, or one thousand years
- An age is two millennia, or four onahs, or forty jubilees, or two thousand years.
- The last age is a half-length Sabbath, or one millennium, or two onahs, or twenty jubilees, or one thousand years.
- All of human history is four ages (technically three and one-half ages, or three ages and one millennium), or seven millennia, or fourteen onahs, or 140 jubilees, or one thousand shemitahs, or seven thousand years.
As of the time of this writing, we just ended the year 5945 AM, meaning that, in a little less than four years, we will be entering the final jubilee of our current age.
We find additional information about these ages by tying together some ancient writings by historians and Church Fathers, as well as in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible. An ancient tradition recorded in a Jewish text called Tanna Devei Eliyahu is thought to have been written between the third and tenth centuries AD. When reading through this work, it is clear that revisions have been added throughout the centuries; however, it seems to preserve a tradition of the general understanding of ages. It reads:
It was taught in the school of Elijah: The world will endure six thousand years: two thousand desolation, two thousand Torah, two thousand the messianic age, but because of our many sins some of [those final two thousand years] have already passed.[iii]
Of course, this being a Jewish source and not a Christian one that would recognize that the Messiah has already come (teaching instead that, because of the sins of Israel, God decided not to allow the Messiah to come when He was expected), we need help from the Dead Sea Scrolls and Church Fathers to recognize what these ages are and what happened during them.
The first age was called the Age of Confusion or the Age of Chaos, and lasted from Creation to the call of Abraham (the first set of two thousand years, or 1 AM–2000 AM). The second age was the Age of Torah, lasting from the time of Abraham to the end of the sacrificial system in AD 75 (2000 AM–4000 AM). The third age is called the Age of Grace, which starts in AD 75 and ends in AD 2075 (4000 AM–6000 AM). Finally, the last age is the Messianic Kingdom, or Kingdom Age, lasting from AD 2075–AD 3075 (6000 AM–7000 AM).
The Church Fathers continued this tradition in their writings. The Epistle of Barnabas, written between AD 70 and AD 132, says:
Give heed, children, what this meaneth; He ended in six days. He meaneth this, that in six thousand years the Lord shall bring all things to an end; for the day with Him signifyeth a thousand years; and this He himself beareth me witness, saying; Behold, the day of the Lord shall be as a thousand years. Therefore, children, in six days, that is in six thousand years, everything shall come to an end. And He rested on the seventh day. this He meaneth; when His Son shall come, and shall abolish the time of the Lawless One, and shall judge the ungodly, and shall change the sun and the moon and the stars, then shall he truly rest on the seventh day. (Barnabas 15:4–5)[iv]
Irenaeus, a Greek bishop who studied under Polycarp, the last living connection to the Apostles,[v] wrote:
For in as many days as this world was made, in so many thousand years shall it be concluded. And for this reason the Scripture says: “Thus the heaven and the earth were finished, and all their adornment. And God brought to a conclusion upon the sixth day the works that He had made; and God rested upon the seventh day from all His works.” Genesis 2:2 This is an account of the things formerly created, as also it is a prophecy of what is to come. For the day of the Lord is as a thousand years; 2 Peter 3:8 and in six days created things were completed: it is evident, therefore, that they will come to an end at the sixth thousand year. (Against Heresies, Book 5, 28:3)
Victorinus of Pettau, who wrote the oldest known commentary on the book of Revelation around AD 260, wrote:
He says, the thousand years should be completed, that is, what is left of the sixth day…which subsists for a thousand years thousand years. (Commentary on Revelation, 20:1–3)
Several other Church Fathers expressed a belief in the same seven thousand-year period of human history—past, present, and future. However, even earlier than the days of the Church Fathers, we find the Essene calendar referenced in the Dead Sea Scrolls, even in documents that were unique to the Essenes and were never included in the biblical canon.
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The Essenes had a surprisingly large number of prophetic predictions in the Dead Sea Scrolls relating to the coming Messiah. They knew He would be God incarnate, die for our sins in AD 32, and initiate the coming Age of Grace. Modern scholarship says no one knows what happened to the Essenes; it seems they just vanished one day: “The Essenes disappear from the historical record after the first century C.E.”[vi]
However, when we understand what they believed and what they were looking forward to, what happened to them is obvious. The believing remnant of Essenes who did not fall into heretical factions were expecting the Messiah. When Jesus came, died, resurrected, and ascended to heaven, the Essenes became Christians and went out to preach the Gospel to the world. They became a part of those of us who are Christians!
To show what the Essenes were looking for in the Messiah within the context of their calendar and understanding of ages, we can look at some of their writings that still exists today. An interesting document called 11QMelchizedek found among the Dead Sea Scroll in the Qumran caves is believed to have been written around a century before the birth of Jesus Christ, at the latest.[vii] It accurately predicts the arrival and death of the coming Messiah, right down to the exact year, and uses the Essene calendar and understanding of the ages of human history to explain it:
And as for what he said: (Lev 25:13—In [this] year of jubilee, [you shall return, each one, to his respective property), concerning it he said: (Deut 15:2—Th]is is [the manner of the release:] every creditor shall release what he lent [to his neighbor. He shall not coerce his neighbor or his brother, for it has been proclaimed] a release for G[od) Its interpretation] for the last days refers to the captives, who…and whose teachers have been hidden and kept secret, and from the inheritance of Melchizedek, fo[r…]…and they are the inherita[nce of Melchize]dek, who will make them return. And liberty will be proclaimed for them, to free them from [the debt of] all their iniquities. And this [wil]l [happen] in the first week of the jubilee which follows the nine jubilees. And the d[ay of aton]ement is the e[nd of] the tenth [ju]bilee in which atonement shall be made for all the sons of [light and] for the men [of] the lord of Mel[chi]zedek. over [the]m… accor[ding to] a[ll] their [wor]ks, for it is the time for the (year of grace) of Melchizedek, and of [his] arm[ies, the nat]ion of the holy ones of God, of the rule of judgment, as is written about him in the songs of David, who said: (Ps 82:1—Elohim will [st]and in the assem[bly of God,] in the midst of the gods he judges). And about him he sai[d: (Ps 82:2—How long will you] judge unjustly and show part[lity] to the wicked? [Se]lah).[viii] (11QMelchizedek, Col. 2, 2–11)
That might be a bit difficult to read, but it’s written that way because these texts were found in fragments and had to be reconstructed over time. That aside, what we learn here is stunningly accurate and comes across as incredibly Christian, even though it was written no later than 100 BC. We first learn that, according to the writer of this text, the Law of Moses in Leviticus and Deuteronomy points to the coming Messiah. The biblical passages that are quoted are interpreted as having to do with the last days, when the Messiah will free the captives from the debt of their iniquities—or, in other words, will forgive sinners of their sins. It says this will happen in the first week (seven years) of the jubilee (again, a fifty-year period) that follows the nine jubilees. So, once we have passed nine jubilees, in the first week of the tenth jubilee, that’s when this is supposed to happen. Remember, there are ten jubilees to a five hundred onahs cycle, so they are talking about the onah they’re currently in. Additionally, they were in the final onah of their age, so this tenth jubilee would have been the final jubilee of their age. When we use their calendar (keeping in mind that we already calculated the beginning of Creation to 3926 BC,[ix] meaning the beginning of their age would have been in 1926 BC), we find out their age would conclude in AD 75. This means the final jubilee of their age (the tenth jubilee, or “the jubilee which follows the nine jubilees”) began in AD 25. Now we only have to add the “first week,” which is a week of years, or a shemitah, and we arrive at AD 32. Did something happen in AD 32 that resulted in the sins of humanity being forgiven? Of course—the death of Jesus Christ! Even more, it goes on to say that at the end of the tenth jubilee, the “year” (or “Age”) of Grace will begin, and it even connects the Messiah with Elohim, who judges in the assembly of God (or the Divine Council, for those who are familiar with the work of Dr. Michael Heiser).[x], [xi] The true, believing Essenes knew that the Messiah would be God incarnate, coming to forgive the sins of the repentant by dying and initiating a final Age of Grace before His triumphal return that begins the millennial reign!
Lastly, it becomes obvious the apostles and even Jesus Himself held to this understanding of ages. This context can help us make sense of passages that are often misunderstood and become the object of disputes— sometimes animosity—among believers:
Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3)
But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.(2 Peter 3:8)
The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. (Matthew 13:39–40)
So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just. (Matthew 13:49)
Go, therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen. (Matthew 28:19–-20)
He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (Hebrews 9:26)
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It is interesting to read through these with the question in mind: Are they talking about the end of their age, the end of our age, or the end of all ages? One passage that talks about the transition from the previous Age of Torah to our Age of Grace can be found in the letters of Paul:
Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. (1 Corinthians 10:6–11)
In his letter, Paul states that what happened to those who didn’t obey God was an example and a warning to those for who are alive when the end of ages has come. Paul was writing from his own perspective; he was a convert to Christianity who was originally from the end of the Age of Torah and who was about to enter into the Age of Grace. We, as Christians today, find ourselves in a position similar to that of Paul. If the Essene calendar is correct, we are Christians living in the end of the Age of Grace, and we are getting ready to see the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will usher in the final Kingdom Age.
UP NEXT: The Final Jubilee of Man — 2025–2075
[i] Johnson, Ancient Dead Sea Scroll Calendar..
[iii] Bav. Sanhedrin 97a; Bav. ʿAvodah Zarah 9a; Tana de-bei Eliyyahu, ed. Shmuel Yehuda Weinfeld (Jerusalem, 1991), 2:1, p. 14.
[iv] Epistle of Barnabas. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/barnabas-lightfoot.html.
[v] Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History Book v. Chapter v.
[vi] New World Encyclopedia. Essenes. https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Essenes.
[vii] Florentino García Martínez Qumran and Apocalyptic: studies on the Aramaic texts from Qumran 1992 p176 “11QMelchizedek. This is a clearly eschatological Hebrew fragment.”
[viii] 11QMelchizedek, https://www.marquette.edu/maqom/11QMelchizedek.pdf.
[ix] We wouldn’t say 3925 BC because, first, there’s no year “0” so it goes from 1 BC to AD 1, and also the name of a year signifies the time that’s already passed, so by 3925 BC, while that’s technically “Year 1,” the creation would have already existed for a year. The BC/AD system we use can be a bit confusing, but a good resource to find the number of years, days, and months between two time periods can be found at https://keisan.casio.com/exec/system/1247118517.
[x] Dr. Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm.
[xi] Also, speaking of the work of Dr. Michael Heiser, we can confirm the date of the birth of Jesus with this as well. Based on the Essene calendar, if we assume Jesus’ death at Passover of AD 32, assume His birth at September 11 of 3 BC, and calculate the time between, we arrive at 33 1/2 years (the age many have come to believe Jesus was when He died; He started His 3 ½-year ministry at age 30). According to Dr. Heiser, September 11, 3 BC, is the day the astronomical alignment mentioned in Revelation 12 occurred and is the most likely date for the birth of Jesus: https://drmsh.com/september-11-happy-birthday-to-jesus/.