Jesus and the Essene Passover

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What evidence is there that Jesus celebrated his last Passover according to the Essene reckoning? Is there evidence to the contrary? And most importantly for Christians, if it were true, what are the consequences for our understanding of the historical Jesus?

Fifty years of scholarship concerning the Dead Sea Scrolls have brought clearer understanding concerning a fascinating stream of Jewish piety which existed during the final days of the Second Temple.

In past articles I have tried to demonstrate that at points the writings of the Qumran library are important for recognizing the Hebraic linguistic milieu for the vocabulary of the New Testament. Beyond these linguistic parallels, however, modern scholarship has attempted to identify whether there existed direct contact between the Essene Congregation and figures in the New Testament. In particular, similarities between John the Baptist and the Qumran Congregation regarding their baptisms, their self-identification with Isaiah 40:3 and their apocalyptic rhetoric, have drawn some scholars to the conclusion that John may have at one time had direct contact with the Essenes.

While similarities between the Essenes and John do exist, the parallels with Jesus are by contrast lacking. In the words of Professor David Flusser, “Jesus and his followers were nearer to Pharisaic Judaism than to the Qumran Sect.” In spite of his and other reservations by Dead Sea Scrolls scholars, there continue to be unfounded theories that seek to establish a direct link between Jesus and the Essenes. One of the more distressing theories is that Jesus abandoned the traditional Jewish celebration of the Passover and embraced the Essene solar calendar to observe the feast two days early.

This novel idea was first suggested by A. Jaubert, a French scholar,[1] but she received little support from the scholars who knew the Qumran Scrolls. Nevertheless, the idea has survived and thrives in popular books found in Jerusalem. In fact, it has become a standard part of the training curriculum for Israeli guides. Consequently, thousands of Christian pilgrims each year are subjected to this bizarre theory.

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  • [1] Annie Jaubert, La date de la Cène: Calendrier biblique et liturgie chrétienne (Paris: Lecoffre, 1957) (ET: The Date of the Last Supper [Staten Island, N.Y.: Alba House, 1965]).

Comments 2

  1. I understand the focus of this article was on the Essene issue. However, there are many questions about the events of Yeshua’s last ‘Passover’ that were glossed over or maybe even misrepresented. Yes, the synoptic gospels all represent this occasion as a Passover meal. On the other hand John indicates it was before the Passover. The next morning the priests were worried about being ritually clean so they could ‘eat the Passover’ (John 18:28). Indeed, Matthew & Mark are clear that the chief priests and scribes didn’t want to take Yeshua during the feast (Mt 26:5, Mr 14:2). If He was taken the night after the meal that would have been during the Feast, yes, the very night of the meal when everyone else would have been celebrating too.

    Mr. Notley presents the Passover lamb as if it were a peace offering. Although similar there are a number of distinctions. Pesachim 5 that he references certainly recognizes a difference, particularly in paragraph 2. The priest is given the breast and right thigh of a peace offering (Lev 7:30-32). I’ve found no similar instruction regarding the Passover. Anything left over was to be burned in the morning. Of course there is no record of this being done in conjunction with Yeshua’s Passover. Certainly there were bones needing disposal. Yet, they left before the morning. Pesachim 5:5 reinforces that the Passover sacrifices were all killed at the same general time. If John and Peter came from the temple with their Passover sacrifice how is it that the priests had still not eaten the Passover as of the next morning?

    There is also no record of any women or children being there. This is especially odd since a number of women evidently traveled with Yeshua for the purpose of serving His needs (Mt 27:55, Mr 15:41, Luke 23:55). Passover is a family event, but there is no indication of any family being involved. The evening of the Passover meal begins the first annual Sabbath of the Unleavened Bread festival. How is it that the Jews wanted to get everyone off their cross that same evening to evening day so they wouldn’t be still hanging when the Sabbath came (John 19:31-33)?

    So, while Mr. Notley may have cast serious doubt on the connection between Yeshua and the Essene’s he seems to want to leave the reader thinking everything was done according to standard tradition. Apparently it was not. Perhaps something else was happening. If we’re content to believe all was normal we will probably never understand what was really happening.

    Everett Leisure

    1. JP

      Dear Everett,
      Thank you for your interest in this fascinating topic. You may be interested to know that Dr. Notley elaborates further on this issue in two of his recent books:

      1. R. Steven Notley, In the Master’s Steps: The Gospels in the Land (Jerusalem: Carta, 2014), 61-67.
      2. R. Steven Notley, Jerusalem City of the Great King (Jerusalem: Carta, 2015), 46-54.

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  • R. Steven Notley

    R. Steven Notley

    R. Steven Notley is professor of Biblical Studies at the New York City campus of Nyack College. A member and past director of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research, Notley earned his Ph.D. in Comparative Religions at the Hebrew University (1993). He studied in Jerusalem…
    [Read more about author]

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