Ask a Scholar

John the Baptist by Ian Werrett

Q. Was John the Baptist an Essene?  If so then wouldn't Jesus have a direct link to the Qumran community?

A. The overwhelming consensus among scholars is that John the Baptist was neither an Essene nor a member of the Qumran community.  Although there is a great deal of circumstantial evidence that John may have been affiliated with Qumran, there are several notable differences. 

In particular, the New Testament describes John the Baptist as preaching an inclusive message to all Jews, regardless of sectarian persuasion.  Not only did John encourage his countrymen to reclaim their birthright as sons of Abraham through a ritual act of repentance, but he challenged them to “bear fruits that befit repentance” (Luke 3:8) through acts of compassion. 

By contrast, the Qumran community seems to have embraced a position of religious exclusivism whereby only those who had embraced the community’s dualistic worldview and orthopraxy were eligible to call themselves the true Israel.  Entry into the community was restricted to those who were perfect in body and mind and Qumran’s ritual purifications were reserved for those who had undergone lengthy probationary periods. Social justice was not a pressing concern.  If John the Baptist was affiliated with the Qumran community, he appears to have distanced himself from them and their teachings by the time he baptized Jesus in the river Jordan.

Ian Werrett, "John the Baptist", n.p. [cited 29 Apr 2017]. Online: http://bibleodyssey.com/en/tools/ask-a-scholar/john-the-baptist

Contributors

Ian Werrett

Ian Werrett
Associate Professor, Saint Martin's University

Ian Werrett is associate professor of religious studies and director of the Spiritual Life Institute at Saint Martin's University in Lacey, Washington. He specializes in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Dead Sea Scrolls, ancient Judaism and early Christianity. Werrett is the author of Ritual Purity and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Brill Academic, 2007).

A collection of first-century Jewish and early Christian writings that, along with the Old Testament, makes up the Christian Bible.

An archaeological site on the western shore of the Dead Sea, in modern Israel, where a small group of Jews lived in the last centuries B.C.E. The site was destroyed by the Romans around 70 C.E. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in caves near the site and are believed by most scholars to have belonged to the people living at Qumran.

Collective ceremonies having a common focus on a god or gods.

Related to a particular religious subgroup, or sect; often used in reference to the variety of Jewish sects in existence in the Roman period in Judea and Samaria.

Luke 3:8

8Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise ... View more

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