Go therefore and make disciples of all nations: Christianity as anti-Essenism

In his response to the way in which Michael Wise relates the “Teacher of Righteousness” (מורה הצדק) of the Qumran sect to the “Servant of YHWH” in Isaiah, John J. Collins concludes with a thought provoking description of Christianity:

There was, of course, another fundamental difference between Jesus of Nazareth and the teachers of the Essene sect. This lay in the nature of their teaching. The sectarian teaching focused on purity and the exact fulfillment of the Torah. The teaching of Jesus, as preserved in the Gospels, focused on the spirit of the law and relativized ideas of purity. Essenism and early Christianity were both products of the same culture and society and shared many beliefs about messianic expectation and the end of days. The famous dictum of Renan, cited approvingly by Dupont-Sommer, held that Christianity was “an Essenism that has largely succeeded.” But this dictum was wide of the mark. It would have been truer to say that Christianity was an anti-Essenism that succeeded because it rejected the inward turn of the older sect, with its obsession with purity, and sought instead to spread its message to the broader world.

John J. Collins, “A Messiah Before Jesus?” in Christian Beginnings and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Baker, 2006), 35.

Of course there are ways to state this conclusion with some additional nuances, but this seemed to be a nice way to capture the import of Matt 28:18-20, a commission whose evangelistic passion is unparalleled at Qumran.

R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)
Anaheim, CA

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