Jesus the Wicked Priest: How Christianity Was Born of an Essene Schism, by Marvin Vining
Bear & Company, 9781591430810, 243 pp (with indexes), 2008
The Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of writings from the Jewish scribal sect known as the Essenes, are often dated by experts as being produced between 350 BCE and 70 CE, and are generally read as having no connection to or mention of Jesus or early Christianity.
Vining, an attorney who is studying toward his ordination as a minister with the United Methodist Church, and along with a few other scholars believe that “the Scrolls have been misinterpreted and misdated, typically by those who let their faith obscure the scholarship.”1
As no writings mentioning Jesus were produced during his life or shortly after his death, if Vining and others can link Jesus with the Dead Sea Scrolls, it would be a great step toward authenticating the existence of Jesus as a historical person.
Vining connects Jesus to the Essene figure referred to as “The Wicked Priest” who from the context was a person who opposed many of the ways of the Essene, who were very orthodox in their application of the Levitcal Laws, and who was in fact a “rogue” Essene. Jesus fits the first role, his message of universal love being at polar opposites with the Essene view, but was Jesus an Essene by birth and upbringing? To help this case, it is shown that while the Essenes are not mentioned by name in the New Testament, they were present under another (derogatory) name, and were in fact the driving force behind the trial and crucifixion of Jesus.
This is the case that is put forth in the book, and is very well presented. The author relied only on the canonical Bible, two Apocryphal books (Enoch and Nichodemus), the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the writings of contemporary Greek philosophers. I felt this move really strengthened many of his arguments, as he strayed very little from standard texts, so couldn’t be seen using unreliable sources, though at a few points in the work, he forgot to cite sources entirely, which did damage a few arguments.
Honestly when reading the description of the book, I was expecting poor research and unsubstantiated personal gnosis, because not only was the Jesus-Scroll link being explored in this book, but more uncommon notions, such as the Biblical basis for reincarnation, that Mary wasn’t a virgin and was in fact impregnated by a person believed to be Gabriel incarnate. Yet even with these outlandish theories (from the perspective of the general public), Vining stuck with standard resources, and presented the theories in a well thought manner.
While I cannot say I’m totally convinced of any of his theories, the book did at least really open a lot of avenues of enquiry, and generated a lot of thought. Aside from his theories, Vining also managed to explain several gaps in the New Testament that get looked over (like the fact that Jesus wasn’t married, but it is not mentioned as an oddity for a man of his age), and fascinatingly illuminated much of the early Jewish culture in a way that helps put much of the Jesus story into a much greater perspective.
Though I may not agree with the theories put forth by Vining, this is a book I would definitely recommend to anyone with an interest In Christianity and Judaism, specifically around the BCE-CE crossover, either as their own religion, or as a study of human nature and religion.
- p. 3 [↩]