A few days ago I heard a stimulating lecture by Craig Evans, renowned NT scholar, from Acadia Divinity College. He was addressing NT connections with the community at Qumran. He made the point that the Essene community there never amounted to probably more than 100 at one time, but that there were probably thousands more living in various communities throughout Judea. So the question was asked, Why is there never any mention of them in the NT, and why did Jesus not encounter them in his travels? Evans argued that it was probably because the Essenes, living strictly by the Torah, would have been totally scandalized by Jesus and his violation of taboos. His neglect of washing before eating, his fraternization with sinners and tax collectors, his profanation of the Sabbath–all these would have clearly put Jesus beyond the pale of even being considered a holy man. If the Pharisees were scandalized by Jesus’ behaviour, what would the Essenes have thought! They did not even operate on the same assumptions. For example, when Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath, he justifies his action by saying that even his accusatory audience would help get an animal out of a ditch on the Sabbath. This argument wouldn’t have worked with the Essenes, as they specifically address this matter and argue that the animal must remain in the ditch since to help it out would be to violate the Sabbath (CD 11:13014).
My point is simply this: Jesus operated with a more inclusive concept of Torah, a more liberating one, which seemed to move out into the world while the Essenes operated with a more exclusive concept of Torah, which separated them from the world. One moved over barriers while the other erected barriers. They both probably used the same Bible. I wonder if the reason for the different views had to do with the different perception of the significance of the present moment. Although they were both sensitive to the eschatological thrust of the scriptures, one focussed on Sinai, the other on Zion. I wonder if this same feature is true when we look at the various movements within Christianity: some are more isolationist and separatist, the other is more expansive and mission-oriented. A student of mine recently wondered about holiness and said that a true conception of holiness was to enlarge the place of God’s presence while a false conception was to narrow the place of human presence.