Jesus An Essene, by E. Planta Nesbit, , at sacred-texts.com
Christianity, its rise, progress and influence on the human race, must necessarily ever cause the deepest interest among thinking men. In the present day, in particular, reflecting persons in various parts of Christendom appear to be moved by one common spirit to examine the foundations of the faith in which they have been brought up. In doing this they are only accepting in a cordial and sincere spirit the invitation so often held out to them by the orthodox teachers of Christianity, who seem never tired of affirming that the more this religion is investigated the more it will shine, the more divine it will appear. But, notwithstanding the apparent confidence of these zealous advocates, it is a remarkable fact that really able and earnest religious inquiries have ever, as a rule, been looked upon with great suspicion and distrust by the accredited custodians of the faith, and in those instances in which investigation has been followed by a departure from the common creed itself, motives of the most unworthy character have been freely
and unscrupulously imputed to the seceders. It appears to be a foregone conclusion, with many persons, that no fair inquiry into religion is possible except by those who, at the commencement, in the progress, and at the termination of it, have been the professed friends of Christianity, as they themselves understand this religion. But truth is usually ignored by warm partisans, circumstances suggestive of doubt are sedulously avoided by them, facts admitting of an interpretation unfavourable to their own cherished views are silently suppressed, and a conclusion determined upon from the beginning is often triumphantly paraded as the necessary but expected result of a searching investigation, which, perhaps, is afterwards presented to the world in some work on the evidences of Christianity, declared, most probably, by its admirers to be unanswerable and incapable of refutation. Nothing can be a more legitimate and worthy pursuit for any man to undertake than a conscientious inquiry into the truth of the religion in which he has been reared, especially if he possesses the means and the ability to prosecute such an investigation, and a sufficient balance of mind to enable him to conduct it with fairness.
The great fact of the existence of a Deity rests on immutable grounds to the vast majority of mankind, as few exercising even a little reflection fail to perceive the
marks of a Divine intellect and of omnipotent power in the works of creation. But all mere dogmas rest on historical bases, and if we accept these in good faith, we ought surely to be thoroughly convinced that the facts, upon which it is affirmed they rest, really happened. If these never occurred, but are simply fabulous or mythical, how is it possible for the doctrines which spring from them to be worthy of credit here, or of vital consequence hereafter? For example, the doctrine of the incarnation rests upon the historical record which tells of the supernatural influence to which the mother of Jesus was subjected previous to his birth. It is, then, of the utmost importance to investigate the value of the narratives which relate to us the meagre particulars of the so-called miraculous nativity; for unless these are found, upon the closest scrutiny, to be worthy of the highest and most implicit belief, our reception of the doctrine of the Divinity of Jesus must necessarily be shaken, if not destroyed. Again, the doctrine of the atonement rests upon the historical account of the resurrection of Jesus, or, more correctly speaking, of his ascension. It is therefore of the greatest consequence that we should be thoroughly, and on sufficient grounds, convinced not only that Jesus actually died and rose again, but that he was really taken bodily into heaven, as we are informed he
was in those documents which contain the story of his life and death. The evidence that these latter events occurred should be of the strongest description that it is possible to present to the human mind on historical subjects. The vital issues which are said to rest on the truth of the birth, crucifixion, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, are such that no flaw whatever should be perceptible in the chain of evidence by which these events are connected together, even when subjected to the most rigorous and impartial scrutiny. If all these circumstances happened as recorded, every sincere inquirer who takes a reasonable amount of trouble to ascertain their reality, should certainly have conviction brought home at once to his mind. Is such undoubting assurance as we speak of always produced in the minds of sincere, ardent and able investigators of the life of Jesus? and if not, what is the cause of the irrepressible doubts and unbelief so many of them feel? All reasonable belief is based upon knowledge and credibility. There are many true events which are but partially believed because they rest on uncertain data. It may be laid down as an indisputable axiom that the obligation to believe anything is diminished in proportion as it is in itself discredited and rejected by our minds, owing to a want of evidence or innate improbability. A thing must
be true in itself to be really a fit subject for belief, and no amount of faith will make that to have happened which never took place. The unreasoning nature of real orthodox faith is a matter of constant rejoicing among certain classes of Christian believers. They tell us that their faith triumphs over all difficulties, of whatever kind, and that it "laughs at impossibilities." Such faith as this is strikingly illustrated by that which a child once showed in its mother's word. Speaking to a youthful companion concerning something its mother had told it, the former exclaimed, "It is so because my mother said so; and, if it was not, it would be, if she said it was." The child's faith was great, and its belief in its mother's veracity perfect; but it left out of its infantile calculations the possibility of her being mistaken; and neither its faith in her truthfulness nor in her testimony could possibly make that to be, which was not. And so in matters relating to Christianity. If certain assumed facts on which this religion is based really never occurred, all the faith in the world will not suffice to create them.
Surely, then, it is of the greatest importance to ascertain the absolute value of the historical records upon which doctrines of the highest significance are built and promulgated, for, if the former are weak, uncertain or untrue,
little weight can be attached to the latter. It is also of consequence to inquire whether all the phenomena which have attended the rise and progress of Christianity are not capable of explanation on natural grounds. If so, this method ought certainly to be preferred to any which require the assistance of supernatural agencies for their support.
It is admitted by persons of all religions, that there are thousands of individuals not connected with their own respective creeds who believe what they themselves hold to be positively false and untrue. The Christian despises, for reasons of his own, all the miraculous incidents connected with the mission of Mahomed, and the Jew does not believe the events recorded in the New Testament. The Christian never condemns himself for his unbelief as regards his nonconformity with the followers of the prophet of Mecca, and the Jew has no misgivings because he cannot believe with the disciple of Jesus. And, again, there are at the present day thousands upon thousands in the Christian Church itself, whose belief is not uniform as regards even the first elements of their own religion. This remark extends to all the teachers of Christianity as well as to the laity. It is notorious that Roman Catholics, who constitute the vast bulk of professing
[paragraph continues] Christians throughout the world, and the ever-increasing variety of Protestant sects, have each and all some special dogmas which they evidently consider it in their particular province to conserve and propagate, above all others, and which doctrines, in fact, are held by them to be almost, if not absolutely, essential for the salvation of mankind. While Roman Catholics openly profess to believe that few or none can reasonably hope for celestial bliss who die outside the pale of their Church, there are numerous Protestants who hold almost similar views respecting their own sect.
The suspicion that Jesus probably belonged to the Jewish sect of the Essenes, was first strongly awakened in the author's mind by a careful perusal of the works of Josephus and of Philo Judæus, but he is quite aware that the same idea has sometimes been entertained, more or less strongly, by others. But nowhere has he seen the details which these two Jewish writers have given of the Essenes so fully compared with the teachings and the life of Jesus, and their agreement so fully demonstrated, as they are in the following ages. It seems surprising that the striking similarity which exists between the purest of the Jewish sects and the founder of Christianity should so long have escaped prominent remark. Readers will be able to
decide for themselves, after perusing all they will meet with in this work, as to the probability or not of Jesus having been an Essene. Whether they determine in the affirmative or not, they will probably meet with such facts as will cause at least many of them to acknowledge that the great Teacher was deeply imbued with the spirit and doctrines of the Essenes, and that there are ample materials supplied to allow of an explanation being given of his life, and supposed death on the cross, with his after resurrection and ascension, in accordance with natural and ordinary principles.
It was impossible, in an inquiry such as this book contains, for the author to ignore the influence which Judæism and Christianity have mutually exerted on each other. The opinions which the Jews entertain of the fulfilment of the Messianic prophecies in the person of Jesus are entitled to the greatest respect, because they, of all people, are the most interested in tracing out, and, if true, in acknowledging their accomplishment in him. But when Christian teachers, of the highest position in the Church of the present day, themselves admit that these prophecies cannot in reality be regarded as literally consummated in the life and death of Jesus, can it be a matter of surprise that the Jews have always held those opinions on
this subject, to which even Christian divines are now reluctantly and slowly arriving?
In early days and for many years the author was a thoroughly orthodox Christian; but, extending his reading beyond the narrow limits which are the favourite confines of those who dread to have the seeds of doubt sown in their minds, he was compelled to admit to himself that those from whom he had been accustomed to think differently, had some reasonable grounds for their opinions. After being disturbed by this conviction for a long time, he commenced a private inquiry into the foundation, rise and progress of Christianity, in the course of which he had occasion to write the greater part of this book. This plan led him to make numerous extracts from writers of very different views, and in presenting these pages to the public he considers it better to allow the citations he has made to remain, in most instances, in their integrity, than to recast them into his own language, with a marginal reference to the original writers. The latter method of giving one's authorities is excellently adapted for books on history, and has been employed by most of our recent and eminent writers in that department of knowledge, but such a course has special disadvantages in theology. In this science too great exactness cannot be insisted upon
when quoting the opinions of others, as exception might otherwise often be taken to the manner in which these had been expressed, and a charge of unfairness unjustly advanced which it might be inconvenient and difficult to disprove. Besides, many readers of theology like to have the words of ecclesiastical authorities placed before them for their future use; and although this can often be done in the form of notes, there are objections to this method as being calculated to distract the attention of the reader from the text of the book itself. It is hoped the foregoing reasons will amply excuse the author for the numerous extracts which he has given.
The majority of the quotations in this volume are taken direct from the works of the authors cited, or have been verified by a careful comparison with their writings. In a comparatively few instances this has not been possible, but it is believed, however, that all citations will bear the fullest investigation as regards representing the opinions of their original writers.
If the publication of this book produces no other effect than to induce a kindly toleration, on the part of those who still remain within the ranks of orthodoxy, towards those who recognize the paramount duty of thinking for themselves on matters of religion, instead of paying others to think for them, the object of the
author will be abundantly answered, and he will feel amply rewarded in having contributed, in however slight a degree, to such a desirable and happy result.
December 13th, 1894.