This blog is about New Year celebrations in the Bible, about both of the first-century Jewish calendars, the Essenes, and John the Baptist. The Old Testament has commands about a lunar-based calendar. This can be sub-divided into a religious and civil year with their beginnings in the spring and fall (Exodus 12:2-6, Exodus 34:22). Priests also offered sacrifices every New Moon (Numbers 28:11-15). But the Essenes had their own solar-based calendar since they were reacting against the Chief Priests’ corruption in Jerusalem.
Jesus obeyed all Old Testament commands because he came to fulfill all the law (Matthew 5:17-20). We’ll appreciate Christ’s perfect example better with more light on the difficulties of his time. And John the Baptist’s example will also be significant to us.
THE JEWS’ 2 CALENDARS
The lunar-based calendar was more mainstream in New Testament times, and the only calendar used in the Old Testament. The Essenes’ solar-based calendar was much like ours, with 52 weeks and 4 seasons. (Or at least, it was the Qumran sect who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls which used this calendar for sure.) And Josephus said there were probably about 4,000 Essenes during the New Testament times.
The discovery of the Qumran scrolls raised the question of John’s possible relationship with the Essenes. Some openly suggested that John might have been a member of the Essene community. This is not surprising, for there are at least six important parallels between the Baptist, the content of the DSS, and descriptions of the Essenes found in ancient sources.
From The Dead Sea Scrolls
Philo was another ancient Jewish writer (Hellenized) who lived in Egypt. He wrote a lot trying to make the Jewish religion appealing to the predominant Greek beliefs of his era. Philo may have been influenced by the writings of Josephus, or vice versa. But Philo and Josephus didn’t agree on everything as they each describe the Essene sect at length.
Philo said the Essenes never marry or have kids. Josephus wrote sometimes they’ll marry just to have kids to continue their religion, but sometimes they’ll adopt to raise more Essenes, too. John the Baptist’s parents were old when he was born. They may have died while he was young. So some scholars think Essenes adopted John the Baptist.
JOHN THE BAPTIST MAY HAVE BEEN AN ESSENE FOR A WHILE
Compare Luke 1:80, which is about John the Baptist.
…both John and the men of Qumran (presumed to be Essenes) appealed to Isaiah 40:3 (“A voice of one crying out: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness'”) as their rationale for retreating to the wilderness and engaging in ministries focused on the redemption and restoration of Israel…
From The Dead Sea Scrolls
I’ll explain more about John the Baptist and the Essenes in next week’s blog. But for today, I must add a little more about the two calendars.
The lunar calendar during Christ’s era wasn’t predictable. Approximately every 2-3 years the Jewish authorities would add an extra month to re-align the lunar calendar’s seasons with the solar-based calendar’s seasons. But it was sometime after Christ was here that they made this into a predictable pattern. During Christ’s era, they always added it on an ad hoc basis. Which means the Jewish majority followed the Jewish leaders on their ad hoc decisions.
WHY JOHN THE BAPTIST WOULD’VE STOPPED BEING AN ESSENE
Meanwhile, the Essenes had nothing to do with temple worship except perhaps at Passover every year. Since the Chief Priests were indeed very corrupt, the Essenes added rules to the OT about cleanliness, work, austere living, prayer, etc. to replace the sacrifices. And if John the Baptist was adopted by them, at some point he would’ve had to break away. Because the Essenes went so far as to believe their works could earn their way to Heaven. But Leviticus 17:11 says, “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”
Thank God for Christ’s perfect example and for John the Baptist’s faithfulness. Praise God for another year to serve him and enjoy his presence.
The above diagram and artwork were both scanned and lightly edited from Pinterest.