think the first century Christians are included under the Essenes label that Josephus used as a generic label. He uses this label for the prophets--the communal group described in the Old
Testament. He also uses this label for
several individual seers--interpreters
of dreams. And he uses it as the label
for the high priest's breast plate.
was trying to make the Jews more understandable and more acceptable to his
Roman patrons. And that causes him to
over simplify and distort. So, for
example, in his Life he compares the Pharisees to the Stoics. It is not likely
that either group would have acknowledged the accuracy of the comparison.
are several clues that Josephus was using Essene
as a generic label, even while he presents it as if it were a proper name. 1. In Antiquities
3.7.5 he applies it to the breast plate of the high priest which was used for
divination. And he explains that it
means oracle. 2. He applies it to the communal group in the
Old Testament who were known collectively as the prophets. 3. He applies
it in the singular to individuals who interpret dreams. It is clear enough from the context that this
is all he really means by it.
he uses this label for a thing or a person or a group of persons through which
or through whom God delivers messages. Oracle was the approximate Roman / Greek
equivalent to what is found in Judaism and Christianity.
is obviously a mis label in the case of the High Priest's breast plate which
was properly called Urim and Thummim. And it is a mis label for the group who were
known as the prophets--not the Essenes. [ 1 Samuel 10.10, Jeremiah 23.16 etc. ] And this mis-labeling is what has caused the
subsequent confusion as to whether there really was such a group as the Essenes, unknown to either the Old
Testament or the New Testament, which Josephus alone knew about. Josephus was putting a number of things
together under one head to make them more comprehensible to the Romans.
is probable that the 1st century pacifist and communal group which Josephus
describes as the Essenes was in fact
the Christians. He may have taken the name from a short
notice found in the Natural History of Pliny the Elder (5.73) which describes a celibate community
west of the Dead Sea by that name. But
then he used it indiscriminately as a generic label. [ An article by Stephen Goranson of Duke
University argues that Pliny's short paragraph is based upon the writing of
Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, a Roman governor of Syria circa 15 B.C. ]
is not to say that Josephus has given us a completely accurate description of
the first century Christians. He was
living in Rome in a dependent situation and his sources of information for what
was happening in Israel were limited,
even without taking into account his bias--his desire to make the Jews
more presentable to the Romans.
Essenos or Essaioi
the similarities in their accounts, it appears that Josephus had access to the
account of the Essaioi described by
Philo in Every Good Man is Free and Hypothetica. That is one of the reasons for the assumption
that the name Essaioi used by Philo
is the same name as the Essenos name used by Josephus. They are obviously the same group.
Lightfoot and others argued that Essaioi--Philo's
name--and the Essenos label used by Josephus were variant forms of the same
name--from a hypothetical Hebrew original. I don't think they were. Philo's account shows that he did not invent the Greek word he used: Essaioi. Which can be plausibly translated as followers of Jesus.
Christians were not called Christians at first, and Jewish sources and writers would have
resisted adopting the name because it in effect concedes that Jesus was The Messiah--the Christos--which they continued to deny. [ Josephus actually hailed Vespasisn as The Messiah, in a peculiarly shameless hour. ]
In Acts 22.4 and 24.14, Paul
refers to people of The Way to
describe the Christians. [ cf. 9.2
24.22 ] In Acts 24.5, the spokesman for the high priest and the
Pharisees describes Paul as a ringleader
of the sect of the Nazarenes. Acts
11.26 tells us that in Antioch the
disciples were for the first time called Christians.
was living in Alexandria Egypt when he wrote his account of the Essaioi.
But he visited Jerusalem in 40 A.D. and he would have gotten information
from others who traveled there. Josephus
was living in Rome when he wrote his account of the Essenos. He apparently had
seen Philo's account and would have had other sources of information in
cosmopolitan Rome including exiles from Israel.
It is possible that he had met Christians or seen early Christian
writings. There are some striking
clue that the account of Josephus was based upon the account of Philo is that
he also estimates their number at 4000. Since he describes them as raising families
and living in many different cities, this figure cannot have been still
accurate so many years later, if it was accurate in Philo's time. Their numbers may have been reduced by
persecution but they would also have increased from conversion and having
children. Acts 2.41 4.4 and 6.7 show that the early Christian community was
assumption that Josephus put the Christians under the Essenes label explains why he wrote nothing about the christians (absent the he was the christ later
interpolation) even though he must have been aware of them. Mis-naming explains why the
essenes abruptly disappeared--why the name disappeared--after
the first century, while Christians
usually happens that the newspaper accounts of controversial movements are
never very accurate, even when the reporter is trying to be objective. And that factor would tend to produce
discrepancies and distortions in the accounts that Philo and Josephus
give. Nonetheless, what they did write
seems to be a halfway accurate caricature of the Christians of the first
century as we know them from their own accounts.
accounts of the Essaioi/Essenos found in
Philo and Josephus show that they: 1.
lived in a communal way and shared everything, while avoiding wealth; 2.
rejected slavery on principle and had no slaves; 3. refused to take oaths and were pacifists
who suffered persecution in the war of 66-70 AD which ended in the destruction
of The Temple. There is good reason to
suppose that this is a description of the early Christians. It provides supporting evidence that the
original Christians were opposed to war, wealth and slavery
See Church of the Empire page 59 and 118 for
evidence that the non conforming donatist
Christians of North Africa were still opposing slavery in the 4th century. Their position has been obscured and
falsified because the Imperial Church of Constantine, Eusebius and Augustine
abandoned the early Christian opposition to war, wealth and slavery. ---Terry Sullivan September 1st