Pope Notes Hypothesis on Date of Passover
Says Christ Likely Followed Essene Calendar
VATICAN CITY, APRIL 6, 2007 (Zenit.org).- It is likely that Jesus followed the calendar of the Essenes of Qumran, possibly explaining some contradictions within the Gospel accounts of the Passover, says Benedict XVI.
The Pope made this observation Holy Thursday in his homily during the Mass of the Lord's Supper at the Basilica of St. John Lateran.
In his address, the theologian commented on the historical investigations on the manuscripts of Qumran, found in the Dead Sea in 1947....
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THE CATHOLIC KNIGHT: The more historians study first century Judaism, it seems the more they discover what powerful an influence the Qumran community (Essenes) had on the culture and religion of the time. Certainly, St. John the Baptist was heavily influenced by Essene ideology, and even the teachings of Jesus also reflect an Essene way of thinking, at least on some things.
To my readers, I submit the following for consideration. First century Judaism was by no means a monolith religion. The Judaism we see today (even with its four major divisions) is far more streamlined and systematic than the Judaism of the first century. While there may have been multiple sects and divisions of Judaism in the first century, today we are aware of four major groups that seemed to define the Jewish culture and religion of the time.
The first group was by far the largest, and found its influence stretching throughout the entire Roman Empire. This was Hellenistic Judaism, which was a form that embraced the Greek language (using the Greek Septuagint scriptures), and the Greek disciplines of reason and logic. In some cases, this also may have involved the adoption of Greek culture as well, which presented a huge problem to Jews living in first-century Judea. We know the apostles of Jesus came to embrace Hellenistic Judaism, frequently citing the Greek Septuagint in their New Testament writings, probably because they saw this type of Judaism as a bridge toward turning Christianity from a Jewish sect, into a universal religion, and quickly converting the Gentile peoples.
The second group was the Pharisees, which were predominant in Judea, but apparently had some influence among Jews in the greater Roman Empire as well. (Incidentally, the Pharisees came to be the dominant force in Judaism today, most clearly seen in the Orthodox Jewish communities.) Theologically, Jesus seemed to agree with the Pharisees on a great many issues, but the major problem he had with the Pharisees of his day was their corruption and hypocrisy.
The third group was the Saducees, which were a small party limited almost exclusively to control of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It wasn't so much their size that made them note worthy, but rather the importance of the area they controlled. It would seem that most Jewish priests and Levites were Saducees, though not necessarily all of them. Jesus appeared to have major theological issues with the Saducees, and also seemed to view their rule over the Temple with contempt. Historians of the time point out that the Saducees were heavily corrupted by Roman influence, wherein many of the priests appointed to serve were planted in their ranks by the Romans, some of which weren't even Jewish. The Romans did this to maintain control over the people and spy on their religious leaders. The Saducee party became defunct after the fall of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD.
Third and finally, the Essene community (headquartered at the monastery in Qumran) seemed to be a party of growing influence among Jews living in Judea. They rejected the current rule of both the Saducees and the Pharisees, seeming to be indifferent toward the Hellenists. They also considered the Temple administration completely illegitimate, and therefore the sacrifices offered there null and void. They stressed holy purity in their personal lives, and awaited an apocalyptic coming of the Messiah. The Essene community seemed to disappear simultaneously with the rise of Christianity, and it is speculated by some that most Essenes went on to become early Christians.
There is a fifth party worth mentioning, but their influence was far more political than religious. They were called the Zealots. These were the Jews who sought to create the political rebirth of the sovereign Kingdom of Israel, similar to what existed under King David. They were responsible for the majority of rebellions and mischief going on during that time, which resulted in the most severe retaliation by the Romans.
Based on this understanding of the Jewish world at that time, it is reasonable to conclude that Jerusalem served as a kind of "mecca" for Jews of all persuasions every year at the Passover. It is also reasonable to assume that there was no monolithic celebration of the Passover either, and that Jews of various persuasions simply observed the Passover in the manner they were most accustomed to according to their various beliefs. Some sacrificed lambs at the Temple. Others regarded those sacrifices as null and void due to the illegitimate priesthood. Some may have kept the Passover according to the dating of the Pharisees, others according to the dating of the Saducees (which we know were close but different). Now we know the Essenes had their own method of dating the Passover, which again was close, but a little different than the other groups. So it would seem Jerusalem during the Passover became a kind of religious festival, with various groups observing the Passover in their own way and at their own particular dates, all of which were similar, but not exactly the same. Into this environment came Jesus with his disciples. The Gospel accounts seem to indicate the date of the Passover they celebrated was according to a tradition other than the one used by the Saducees who controlled the Temple.