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Christian period in the sects of the Essenes and Therapeutae. For that the decisive impulse to the rise of Essenism,. which, according to Josephus, falls precisely into the time of the Maccabees, proceeded from Hellenism, and more particularly from the character of the Orphico-Pythagorean religion; this, notwithstanding all modern controversy, may be held to, be a perfectly sure result, as the three parties of the Neo-Pythagoreans, the Essenes, and the Ebionites, do in the main, and, on the whole as well as in the most individual and accidental features, exhibit a connection which at once justifies us in characterising them as the Jewish and Christian branch of one and the same stock. Even, therefore, if we knew nothing whatever of the openings by which Greek influences could have had access to the circle of growing Christianity, still our ignorance would be far from being any ground for denying such a connection altogether; since, on the contrary, the general circumstances of that period were altogether adapted to favour it; and since, on the other hand, we havfe before us the fact that ideas which were emphatically enunciated in the ante-Christian period, but to which self-involved Judaism never attained, found in Christianity their most fruitful application—all this being so, we could scarcely avoid maintaining such a connection. But there is even more to be said in favour of it. However little we may know with accuracy of the then spiritual condition of Palestine, and in particular of Galilee, still we see that the Galilee of the Gentiles, with its mixed population, with its half-Grecian towns of Csesarea and Ptolemais on the neighbouring coasts, with Greeks and inhabitants of Greek education in its principal city, was open to foreign influences in a high degree; and in the Essenes we recognise a party which, having been
from its outset connected with Grecianism, was eminently adapted to obtain a hearing among its Jewish countrymen for ideas which it adopted out of it. It is especially this last point to which I would attribute no small importance. Jesus himself, indeed, was certainly not a member of the society of the Essenes; and what the pragmatism of the period of enlightenment pretended to tell of the cooperation of His brother members towards His beatific plan, has been, and justly, long since forgotten. The open cheerfulness of His character stands in too decided an opposition to the recluse reserve, and the ascetic severity of the Essenes—His lofty, spiritual freedom to their party narrowness and pedantic secrecy; and, on the other hand, the Messianic idea, from which He starts at the outset, appears to have had but little importance for them. But it was quite as little necessary in the fourteenth century to be a Begarde,* or in the seventeenth a Quaker, in order to come into contact with these sects, as it was in the first, to be a member of the order of the Essenes, in order to feel the influence of the leading Ideas and religious peculiarity of this order. We may assume with certainty that the Essenes were a society, the influence of which extended far beyond the narrow circle of its regular members, and could not but reach everyone who in the Palestine of that time was seriously interested in religious matters.
Of what extraordinary importance, then, was the one fact that men here saw before them a society eminent for piety which despised the traditionary sacrificial service, and, on its account, the whole service of the Temple; which instead of sacrifices required purity of heart, and overcame the national obstinacy of Judaism by the most extensive charity to men! How closely connected this * One of a sect of Franciscans.
moral tendency was with Christianity we see at once by the extent to which, and the rapidity with which, it penetrated into the most ancient Christian community; and that even the founder of Christianity was touched by it, is shown not only by the whole spirit of his doctrine, but especially by what we shall immediately speak of, his position, that is, towards the Jewish worship, and his sayings about oath-taking and marriage, which have an unmistakeably Essene sound.
Connected with the question just discussed, is the investigation into the relation in which Jesus stood to John the Baptist. Now it is unquestionable that the Evangelical accounts upon this point are for the most part unhistorical, and contain assertions that have arisen merely from dogmatic presumption; still our two critics are right in assuming that these accounts are founded upon so much of fact as that John was visited by Jesus and imparted to Him his baptism. But Renan adds that this did not take place until Jesus had come forward independently as a teacher, and had collected a small school around Him. In saying this he has allowed himself to be misled by some of those unhistorical features, and in particular by the fourth Gospel, whose representation upon this very point is most unmistakeably shaped by the purpose of elevating the higher nature and dignity of Jesus by the surprising recognition and voluntary self-subordination of the Baptist, to which appears to be added an incorrect explanation of the words in John iii. 22. But what for us would, be the main point to learn, namely, something about the influence which John exercised upon Jesus; upon this point we have to lament that the Evangelical accounts, which by their view of the whole case are altogether prevented from conceiving the existence of such an influence,
give us no solution whatever; and Strauss, therefore, limits himself, in reference to it, to a few general surmises. He looks upon it as probable that Jesus not merely made a transitory use of His intercourse with so important a personage, that together with the move in the direction of morals which proceeded from him, He also learnt much as regarded His calling to be a teacher of the people, but that in doing so He became at the same time continually more and more conscious of the distinction between His own method and that of the Baptist. For His preaching of the kingdom of God, if He stood in the relation of a disciple to John, He must have received from him a most important impulse; His connection also with Essenism, which we have supposed above, might have been brought about by the prophet whose baptism bears a strong resemblance to the Essenic lustrations, and who, like the Essenes, subordinated the privileges of the sons of Abraham to moral performances; and if, in Matthew, they are Pharisees and Sadducees whom the Baptist calls a "generation of vipers," this appellation of the dominant sects would fit in most suitably with the acrimony of the anti-pharisaic speeches of Jesus. The assumption of Benan, on the other hand, that Jesus adopted the rite of baptism from John, can only adduce in support of itself the questionable testimony of the fourth Gospel; unquestionably that of Strauss is the more correct when he expresses it as his belief, founded upon the representation of the synoptics and John's own half confession, that it was not until after the death of the founder that the Christian community adopted the baptismal usage, and then referred it, as they did so much beside of a later origin, to the ordinance of that founder, not, however, put into His mouth until after His resurrection. Everything, however, is here so uncertain that the greater or less probability of particular suppositions is a question which cannot be settled; and though the assumption that John as a predecessor of Jesus, exercised an important influence upon the development of His convictions certainly recommends itself in many points of view, still, on the other hand, the possibility is not to be denied that Jesus came only into temporary contact with the Baptist, and not until He had already secured His own standing-point.
But in whatever way the founder of our religion may have become what He was, it is for us a far more important question What he was ; what sort of a personality it was from which proceeded this world-wide effect; in what consisted all the novelty and peculiarity which he introduced into the faith and life of mankind. And, fortunately, we are upon this point far more fully informed than upon the cause and more detailed circumstances of His inner development. For certain as it may be that the longer speeches, especially as Matthew gives them, are to be looked upon as literary compositions, it is unmistakeable that there are interwoven into them those pithy sayings and parables which even oral tradition might have pre served for a considerable period in an essentially accurate form; and however much posterity, in accordance with its dogmatic conceptions and requirements may have added to their genuine basis, or have modified that basis, still the most important and characteristic, and these especially, bear so unmistakeable a stamp of fresh and vivid originality, they go so far above everything that we find elsewhere in the Judaism of the time and that could have been put into the mouth of Jesus from the Jewish and Jewish-Christian conception of the Messiah, they point so uniformly to one and the same central point of a new view of the world and a personality unique of its kind,