The Book of Acts describes the first-century Jewish Christ-followers in a way unexpected to most modern believers. They are described in terms reminiscent of a Utopian society, where believers held all things in common and none had need (Acts 4:32-35).

But what was their basis for this communal lifestyle in Christ Jesus? The Torah, with all its care for the poor and needy (Lev.23:22), does not ever talk about shared property. In fact, private property rights are upheld (Ex. 20:17). The Hebrew prophets did not teach that all the faithful must abandon everything they ever owned. Jesus did challenge one young man to sell all of his possessions (Matthew 19), but that was to expose and challenge that man’s love of worldly possessions. There’s no indication Jesus meant this teaching to be normative for all of his followers.”

Our best available reconstruction links this group of Christ-followers with Essene communities that (according to Josephus Flavius) had already practiced just this kind of lifestyle for centuries. In describing them, the Jewish historian writes, “…one cannot find a person among them who has more in terms of possessions… those coming into the community must yield up their funds to the order …assets of each one have been mixed in together, as if they were brothers, to create one fund for all.” (Wars, II, 8, 3)

If the Acts community was made up of an Essene majority that allied itself with Jesus, then their continuation of this centuries-long communal practice would make sense.

Let’s take this intriguing proposition a step further. On one occasion, Jesus made a curious promise to his disciples. He said: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you ANOTHER Comforter” (John 14:16). This implies, of course, that he himself was the PRIOR Comforter. I am not denying that the Spirit of Holiness/Holy Spirit is the Comforter of whom Christ spoke, but why did he phrase it this way? Why say ANOTHER Comforter?

Based on hymns found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, Israel Knohl, a professor at the Hebrew University – and a guest lecturer with us here at Israel Bible Center – argued that one generation before Jesus, a messianic leader arose and became known as the Teacher of Righteousness. It is possible to identify this person with Menachem the Essene who held an advisory position in the court of King Herod.

Menachem led a very dangerous life, secretly preparing for what eventually proved to be an unsuccessful revolt. His followers believed that he was the Messiah, but he was disgraced and killed by Roman soldiers during the revolt in 4 B.C.E. (Later, his surviving followers believed him to be the fulfillment of the suffering servant texts in Isaiah).

The Hebrew word that lies behind the above-mentioned “Comforter” is, in fact, Menachem (מנחם) – the same as the name of the Essene leader mentioned by Josephus Flavius. (The Greek παράκλητος (Paraclete) is the Hebrew Menachem translated into Greek). 

It is possible that Jesus, by referring to the coming Holy Spirit as “another Comforter,” was identifying himself as the true/ultimate Menachem (מנחם); and that he was calling the Essene community to put its trust in Him instead. Unlike Menachem the Essene, the Ultimate Comforter (Jesus) led a successful rebellion against all the enemies of Israel and by his resurrection overcame even sin and death.

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136 COMMENTS

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  2. Interesting, I thought the esenes were a sect, who were wanting a Messiah who would destroy the Romans just as the Maccabees did. Thus their Messiah was not the "one" they wanted. Thus when Rabbi Acheva sent his messiah they all followed. Also I aways thought that the Spirit of Holiness was the Comforter. As Moses cried, that the people would know G-D in their hearts.
    • Clerification (perhaps it was not clear in the article Spirit of Holiness/Holy Spirit is the Comforter, but notice he is ANOTHER Comforter.
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  3. Ex. :20:17 “Do not desire and take etc." has nothing to say about “God-given right to private property.” Where is that?
  4. Jesus was the comforter, in the flesh. After His ascension, Christ is the Comforter in all believers who have received Him through the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire. In acts 19:2 when paul asked some disciples, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” Though believers, they had not so much as heard of the Holy Spirit and after Paul laid his hands on them they received the Holy Spirit. My point being, that without the Comforter, Christ, (being the 'Another' Comforter, was sent only after Jesus ascended) to lead and guide us to all Truth.
  5. The Talmud writes about a certain "Menahem" who was a Pharisee colleague of Hillel who "left". The Talmud itself is not clear about what it means that he "left". Did he "leave" the Sages for the service of the king, who at the time was Herod, or did he "leave" Pharisaic Judaism for a heretical sect. What do you think about this?
    • The baraisa seems to support Rava, in Chagigah 16b. "He left for the service of the king." The Yerushalmi also concurs, he went into politics. Assuming that Rava was referring to Herod and not the Almighty...
  6. Dear Professor Eli. Do you think there was some kind of relationship between the "Essenes" and John the Baptist or Jesus of Nazareth? Why, apparently, the "Essenes" are not mentioned explicitly in the writings of the New Testament?
    • They are mentioned in NT (actually all over the place). I made the same mistake ones thinking that they MUST be mentioned by the name that Josephus Flavius calles them (the essenes), but instead we should see what he says and then look for behavior that fits the description. Relationship between Essene and John the Baptist... I think that it is possible to think that John may have been once part of the Essene movement and even Qumran community, but then separated from them. There is many many signs for that, one of which both Qumranites and John thought that
  7. Dear Professor: I only have to say who Jesus commanded to the tycoon: "give all you have to the poors, and then come and follow me", or I am wrong? More over I agree with the words" another comforter" (the Holy Spirit), because Jesus in person was the first one. Best regards.
  8. I appreciated you recent post on Jesus and the Essene community. When I read the quote you cited from Josephus I was struck by an interesting difference between the early Christian community and the Essenes. Holding property in common and divesting yourself of all private property was compulsory for the Essenes, but voluntary for the early Christian community. The similarities are striking, but that's an important and fundamental difference. Just a thought.
    • There a lot of differences between Essenes and Jesus movement, because in many ways they represented a relative, but departing-from-each-other movement. What is for sure that they breathed the same religious air around them. Thanks for the input, Jim (for those of you who don't know Jim is one of our most valued volunteers)!
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