Many writers are fondly determined that Jesus was brought up as an Essene, though no records exist to verify this. The word "Essene" is never mentioned in our Bible, nor were his followers living in a special community, since he chose them from various walks of life. But it is a common assertion that Jesus spent some of the unrecorded years of his life, between the ages of twelve and thirty, in an Essene community, and that perhaps his parents were householding Essenes.
There is actually not a great deal which contradicts this either, and when Jesus returned to Galilee in his early ministry, it was indicated the community accepted him as a local resident, the son of Joseph the carpenter. The Essene teachings are quite similar to those which Jesus gave, in that their lives were more exemplary than those of the average Jew. But it is not necessarily true that Jesus needed this strict way of life to become what he already was, particularly since his parents were chosen to bring him up at a high level of spiritual understanding. It is quite logical that he may have spent a little time in their midst, as this was not uncommon among Hebrew youth, and Josephus himself wrote of passing three years under the disciplines of an Essene community.
The Essenes of Jesus' time were said to number about 4,000 throughout Palestine. They were a plain people, from many levels of society, mainly those who had found business or worldliness offensive to the soul and had sold or bestowed their goods and properties and returned to the "simple natural faith of their fathers," by choosing the life of a devotee. They were not opposed to the world, but to worldliness.
The Essenes lived the simplest of lives, rising at dawn for sunrise devotions and working in the fields at whatever job they were assigned, returning before noon to bathe and don a ritual garb, then to eat a frugal lunch blessed by the priest, and after proper devotion changing again to return to work until evening.
Their freedom from complexity was conducive to long life, and they practiced discipline of the flesh to release the mind and heart from bondage. They are said to have had certain mystic rites not made public, but the larger part of their service was in labor. They held communal prayers before sunrise and observed time for private prayer. They said grace before meals.
Their lives were divided between labor and learning. The intellectual level was high, and they were preferred as counsellors and as teachers of the young, even by Roman officials in Palestine. Children taught by these godly men received not only learning, but also a degree of enlightenment, for emphasis was placed upon unfoldment of character. They could be trusted as they were always truthful and incorruptible.
The group was supported by its own members who kept a common purse. They believed in lawful, honest work and considered no activity superior to any other. Each bestowed his talents and abilities. He could create or produce, but not barter or exchange in merchandising. Some were craftsmen, while others farmed the surrounding land.
Some were doctors or professional people, but working with the hands was particularly commendable, so carpentry and building were favored. They interpreted holiness as unselfish service to God through helping His children. They adopted orphans and trained them, but these were not required to join their community. Their communities served also as a place of refuge or temporary retreat -- an unforgettable experience in that gentle brotherhood of peace.
Their studies were similar to those of the Apocalyptic Pharisees, in their use of the apocalypse of Daniel, Enoch and Ezekiel, but they went still further and wrote some books of their own, supposedly of a gnostic trend. Some ascribe to the Essenes certain mystic teachings, but this may be wishful thinking, since their way of life was a philosophy in itself.
They held everything in common, much as did the early Christians, and the Essenes may have provided an example for the Christians, for they also formed self-sustaining co-operative communities and did not sacrifice animals in the temple as did other Jews. Some believe they were vegetarians, but certain animal bones have been found in excavation.
The word "Essene" is supposed to have derived from a Syrian root meaning "physician," and it is true that the Essenes bent their goal toward the achievement of perfect health, and healing of body, mind and soul.
Actually, there were two distinct groups within their Order. The higher was dedicated to celibacy and rejected all human ties and relationship except spiritual fellowship. Men and women could both belong, but women could not sit at the table of the Master. There was a one-year novitiate period, plus a two-year probationary period, before the final vows could be taken.
The lower group was composed of householders who could raise families. Those who were married regarded marriage as a mystical sacrament and sought to live purely. Childless couples adopted children.
Whether or not Jesus was ever an Essene, he preached similar beliefs, differing only in a few points. The Essenes repudiated slavery, which the Old Testament, and even Paul in the New, condoned. They referred to a great "Teacher of Righteousness" who had been taught by God all the secrets of the words of His servants and prophets. It is claimed by some that John the Baptist, Mary and Joseph were all at some time associated with this sect.
When a man entered the Qumran community he was baptized, but it was not the water which cleansed him from sin; the water baptism availed only if the candidate had also the Spirit of Light and Truth in his soul. His iniquities would be atoned for when he looked upon the Light of Life, and he would be cleansed from his sins "through the Holy Spirit of Truth." They sought repentance of the people in preparation for the coming Messiah.
These may have been later absorbed by the Christian sect, after ransacking by the Romans, for they disappeared from history not long after the time of Christ, having endured for several centuries.
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"And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man." This is all the Scripture says concerning the time between his twelfth year and his beginning of ministry as a man. But could anything more be asked of anyone?
Though he was from eternities endlessly the most perfect being, there is no stopping place for even the greatest, beyond which he can grow still greater.
Jesus spent his early years learning the ways of human beings. He lived a fairly natural life as a babe and small child. He played and studied, and perfected himself in the trade of his father.
The "lost" gospel of St. James contains a biography of the childhood of Jesus, originally compiled by James the Less, who according to some was the youngest son of Joseph. In the course of time this gospel was gradually falsified, and was, therefore, ultimately declared spurious. It was for some time part of the New Testament used in certain churches, but was finally eliminated.
Jacob Lorber in the nineteenth century claimed that Jesus gave it back to mankind through the inner voice saying, "I will give you the genuine Gospel of St. James, starting with the time when Joseph took Mary into his home."
In this revelation, the Lord said, "Throughout the period up to my thirtieth year I lived as Jesus, just like any other well educated boy, then as a youth does, and thereafter like a man. Through my way of life, I had first to awaken the Divinity within me according to the law of Moses, just as every human being must awaken in himself the spirit-spark, the Holy Spirit.
"Thus I, the Lord Himself, was a living example for every man, and therefore any human being can now put me on -- as I, within a physical body of this earth, put on the Divinity within me -- and can independently become completely one with me through love and faith, since as a divine man I am completely one with the Deity in all Its endless fullness."
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"Lord Jesus, you are the center toward which all things are moving: if it be possible, make a place for us all in the company of those elect and holy ones whom your loving care has liberated one by one from the chaos of our present existence and who now are being slowly incorporated into you in the unity of the new earth"