Geographical Juxtapositions of Christian and Essene Settlements
If, as I claim, geographical factors underline the contention that Jesus and John the Baptist emanated from Qumran, the traditional view that Jesus was a Galilean and came from Nazareth in Galilee seems to go against this possibility.
In fact even more telling, in some ways, than the geographical coincidentally of early Christian establishments with Essene settlements, is the lack of Christian establishments in Galilee--the one region where one would expect a glut. Historians, such as Joan Taylor or H. Kasting, minimize the possibility of the Judaea Wilderness as a stomping ground for Jesus, ostensibly to distance him from Qumran, and place his ministry as having taken place predominantly in Galilee. Yet if this were the case and his origins were in the Galilee, the direct information on the existence of early Christianity or any churches in Galilee is virtually non-existent. Even the gospels, as Professor Sean Freyn of the University College of Dublin notes in his monumental study on the province of Galilee, are surprisingly silent on the mention of Galilee. Luke and Acts have evangelists going to Samaria, Gaza, Lydda, Joppa, Caesarea, and Judaea--anywhere but Galilee.
The obvious question remains: Why are so many places named in Galilee in the New Testament and why do both Matthew and Mark assert that Jesus commenced his ministry in the Galilee? There is no clear answer. It must be assumed that Jesus (and the twelve apostles and seventy evangelists) did indeed spend periods preaching in the Galilee, in addition to Judaea and the area around Qumran, as there was a greater population there. Perhaps Jesus concentrated on that area, initially, because John the Baptist was already more active in Judaea.
Nevertheless the readings of the first two gospels are ambiguous on the point, while Luke is fairly clear in his positioning of Judaea as being more significant to Jesus. When it comes to the Gospel of St John, Galilee is certainly of importance to Jesus, but John reiterates no less than five times that Jesus came from Judaea into Galilee when he was received at Cana. The New Testament readings are, in fact, entirely consistent, and more indicative, with Jesus “coming out” of Judaea having spent his early life of study there, and “coming into” Galilee at a later date.
It is now possible to review the geographical juxtapositions of Christian and Essene settlements in relation to Qumran, Christianity, and the key persons of the New Testament, and to establish a base position that is consistent with what many respected scholars assert:
• John the Baptist was at some stage in his life a member of the Qumran-Essene Community
• Jesus had a close association with John the Baptist and may have had some association with the Community and certainly would have had knowledge of it
• Early Christianity was rooted firmly in Judaism
• Early Christianity and the early New Testament had many exclusive features of commonality with the teachings, beliefs, and practices of the Qumran Community
• The texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls may prefigure someone identifiable with Jesus, but they do not mention Jesus per se--although there are similarities in the messianic expectations of the Community and the role fulfilled by Jesus, they did not conceive of a messiah, in the Christian sense, who was the divine Son of God, born of a virgin, or spiritual resurrection before the End of Time. In the light of emerging scholarship from Dead Sea Scrolls, this base position can, I believe, be moved to a much firmer understanding, and the balance of probability is strongly indicative that:
• John the Baptist was a member of the Qumran Community and kept in close contact with the Community in his role as a mobile Essene
• Jesus was almost certainly a member of the Qumran-Essene Community at some period of his life, commencing his ministry after his graduation at the age of 30
• The earliest Christian communities were closely associated, in a spiritual and geographical sense, with the existing locations of Essene communities.
• The New Testament authors drew heavily on the Dead Sea Scroll texts, beliefs, practices, and community structure of the Qumran-Essenes
Conservative and fundamentalist Christian theologians have traditionally viewed many of the Dead Sea Scrolls as an enemy, fearing they could compromise the originality of Jesus and the New Testament story. Perhaps the scrolls should be looked at in an entirely different way. In fact they could be the truest friend of Christianity. Apart from the New Testament and Josephus, there are no near-contemporary witnesses to the life of Jesus, John the Baptist, and his disciples. Even the earliest of the New Testament books were allegedly written at least 40 years after the deaths of Jesus and John the Baptist, and the earliest authenticated versions we have of these testimonies are dated to at least 200 years after the events.
The Dead Sea Scrolls that anticipate some of the information in the New Testament, the teachings of Jesus and the life of John the Baptist, are the only original contemporary writings we have covering the period of their lives and they are written in their own ethnic language. They are the greatest supporters of the validity of the New Testament, and even if 90 percent of the New Testament could be shown to have been derived from Dead Sea Scroll sources the core values of Christianity would not be affected. On the contrary, the existence of Jesus and John the Baptist would, for the first time, be buttressed by verifiable fact.