Was John the Baptist an Essene from Qumran? -- By: John C. Hutchison

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 159:634 (Apr 2002)
Article: Was John the Baptist an Essene from Qumran?
Author: John C. Hutchison

Was John the Baptist
an Essene from Qumran?

John C. Hutchison

John C. Hutchison is Associate Professor of Bible Exposition, Talbot School of Theology, La Mirada, California.

Similarities between John the Baptist and the Essenes have led many New Testament scholars to conclude that John’s obscure beginning had some connection with the Essene community at Qumran and that his separatist preaching was motivated by their ideology. Most scholars who propose a historical link are quick to point out that this view is only a hypothesis—and so they should. This article surveys similarities and differences between the teachings of John the Baptist and the Essenes and concludes that the evidence supports little or no historical connection between the two. In fact an appeal to the Essene motif to explain John’s behavior tends to “force” an imprecise historical analysis of both. A more satisfactory approach is to view John in the role of an Old Testament prophet, especially the eschatological prophet sent to introduce the Messiah and to prepare people for the coming kingdom. While some similarities may be seen between John and the Qumran Essenes, clear differences exist as well.

Similarities Between The Qumran
Community And John The Baptist

The Dead Sea Scrolls provide much information about the separatist Qumran community near the Dead Sea and about second-temple Judaism. As Badia summarizes, “The Qumran community was composed of Jews who considered themselves as the elect remnant of Israel, who would emerge in the last days from the purging judgment of God. In order to prepare for this judgment, they advocated a renewal of the covenant of Moses by a strict repentance and a new obedience to the requirements of the covenant.”1

Though some have questioned the view that the community in Qumran consisted of Essenes, the community’s characteristics and writings closely match Essene ideology. Clearly the best supported theory about this community is that they were Essenes.2 So for the purposes of this discussion the terms “Qumran community” and “Essenes” are used interchangeably.

Was John the Baptist associated with this group? Some writers affirm this quite dogmatically. For example Pate writes, “No other person in the New Testament is as likely a candidate for being connected with the Qumran community as John the Baptist.”3 Others who recognize the lack of historical evidence for this view nevertheless posit the theory of...

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