Chapter Six ~Rudolf Steiner’s Fifth Gospel in Story Form
To warm and cheer readers for the Winter Solstice, serializing my first 1991 book as editor
During the six year period from about his twenty-fourth to thirtieth years, Jesus of Nazareth spent much of this time with the Essenes. This is not surprising as they were a very large Order with many settlements practicing at certain places in Palestine a kind of secret cult with secret tenets. Their center was in an isolated place; yet, they had settlements everywhere, including one at Nazareth.
The history of the Essenes relevant to the life of Christ Jesus begins one hundred years before the birth of the two Jesus children, when a certain Jesus ben Pandira was the leader of the Essenes. He had a pupil called Netzer who was chosen to be the founder of a new little colony. Many such colonies existed in Palestine, in each of them some special branch of the Essene teaching was cultivated. Netzer’s teaching was fostered more especially in a little colony, which led a secret existence, in a little place named in the Bible, “Nazareth” or “Netzereth.”
In this little colony lived those who cultivated in fairly strict secrecy the ancient Nazarene teaching. After the flight of the Solomon-Jesus and his family into Egypt and their return, nothing was more natural for the Jesus of the Matthew Gospel to be nurtured in the atmosphere of Netzerism. This is referred to in the words of the Gospel when after the return from Egypt, Jesus was taken to Nazareth ‘that it might be fulfilled what was spoken by the prophets: He shall become a Nazarene.’
The exercises and purifications of the soul fostered here were a continuation of esoteric training existing among the Jews from the earliest days. There had always been those among them called Nazarenes. Even before the time of the Therapeutae and Essenes, certain individuals had used special methods to develop, in terms of hastening soul development. Some of these pertain even to today. The Nazarenes were especially careful to abstain entirely from meat and wine. What was practiced by the Nazarenes was practiced in a much stricter form by the Essenes.
The Essenes had set themselves the task of developing their life of body and soul in a particular way, to be in harmony with external life, so the soul might rise to a higher vantage point; and so, enter into communion with the spiritual worlds. They pursued this in order to re-attain the primal revelations of Spirit. However from the perspective of humanity’s evolution, the peak spiritual experiences they sought were from an earlier period of spiritual development, humanity had already passed beyond. Spiritually speaking, they were looking backwards, trying to repeat the spiritual accomplishment of a prior age. By strenuous exercises and austerities, these men aspired to reach into spiritual regions from where those primal revelations had flowed. They achieved something in this direction. They also collected much wisdom, lore and insight into humanity’s spiritual requirements.
It was a strict, rigorous Order. Their aspiration was in part instituted in strict monastic discipline and rules of cleanliness, in order for all impurity of body and soul to be purged away. They were men who had isolated themselves from the rest of humanity, holding themselves rigorously aloof from contact with affairs of the mundane world. They were, in fact, an offshoot of those people described by Philo as the Therapeutae. The Essenes carried this stream of culture still further.
The deciphering of the Akasha Chronicle has shown the name Essene derives from, or at any rate is connected to, the Hebrew word Essin or Assin. These words indicate something like a trowel, a little shovel. So the Essenes were called according to the badge of a little trowel each of them always wore. This symbol has been preserved in many Orders to this day, such as the Masons.
Certain symbolic rules and customs gave expression to their aims and principles. They were not allowed to carry coins about with them or to pass through any gateway which was painted or had images on or near it. If an Essene came to a painted gate, he always had to turn back. According to their system, nothing of a legendary, mythical or religious character might be presented in pictures or imagery. In this way the Essenes strove to avoid the Luciferic influences coming into play in the making of pictures and of images. They avoided in all forms graven images of Spirit.
On his wanderings Jesus of Nazareth came to know of their gates on which no picture or image was to be found. These gates were peculiar because at the entrance to most other significant buildings and at the gates of cities, the gateway was considered a threshold experience of sorts. It was proclaimed to those entering what God or gods were worshipped there by pictures and signs on the gate, top and side posts. The Essene Order was to a certain extent recognized by the outside world. Unpainted gates had been erected in Jerusalem so Essenes too might enter the city. They dedicated their time to a life of devotion and learning and also to deeds of charity. Wherever they went, they did good. Part of their teaching concerned the healing of diseases, according to the current methods of the day. They also distributed material to the needy.
Within the Order, ancient lore and traditions were preserved on which the members kept strict silence. They were allowed to teach, but only what they themselves had learned personally from their experience within the Order.
Anyone who desired to enter the Order was required to pass through a year — at the very least — of strict probation. To be judged worthy of initiation into the Order, he had to demonstrate his worth in the following: his conduct during this period, his moral principles, his obedience in worshipping the Supreme Powers of the Spirit, his sense of justice and equality among men, his disregard of earthly goods, and so on. He had to pass through a series of grades leading to that Essenian life which tried to approach the spiritual world through a separation and aloofness from the rest of humanity.
Everyone who entered the Order had to give over to it, all his worldly possessions. An Essene had no possessions of his own. At that time the Essenes numbered from four to five thousand. People from all parts of the then-known world came to dedicate themselves to this austere life. If they owned a house far away in Asia Minor, or even farther off, they always presented it to the Essene Order. In this way the Order became the owner of widely dispersed small properties, houses, gardens, and sometimes extensive fields. No one was accepted who did not hand over all he had to the community. In turn everything belonged to all the Essenes in common; no individual possessed anything for himself Further they adhered to a law concerning property that in today’s conditions seems extraordinarily austere, still, it is comprehensible in their terms: an Essene might use the assets of the Order to help any who were in need except members of his own family. In Nazareth an Essene settlement had arisen from a gift. This brought them into the vicinity of Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus ben Pandira’s teachings were given out for more than a hundred years in the Schools of the Essenes. Although they guarded the achievements of their souls, never betraying them to outsiders, especially among the most eminent Essenes, a certain attitude of soul prevailed. With a kind of prophetic inkling, they said: ‘From among men living in the world a new soul must arise, one who will be a Messiah.’ Their teachings said this individual from on high, who was to be born into special blood, would already possess capacities only attained by the Essene after long and difficult trials and training. Concerning this Being they said: ‘From the beginning he will have powers capable of bringing the seed in him to fruition.’ Therefore they looked around for souls of outstanding wisdom. They were deeply moved on being told of the wisdom flowering in the soul of Jesus of Nazareth.
From what we have said about the impact Jesus had on the common folk of Palestine and the heathen people he visited with, it can easily be imagined how he impressed the Essenes. Tidings had reached the center of the Order of the profound wisdom that had sunk into this young person. No wonder then, that without requiring Jesus of Nazareth to undergo the testings of the lower grades, the Essenes received him into their community. He was not received into the Order itself. Rather, he was a kind of extern, or outside member. Even so, the most learned Essenes spoke about their secrets without reserve to this wise young man, speaking freely with Jesus about many meaningful secrets of the Order and about what they had attained through their inner strivings. In this way Jesus of Nazareth became acquainted with their secret doctrine and the men whose lives were dedicated to it.
Among them Jesus of Nazareth heard far, far deeper metaphysical teachings regarding the secret lore than he had heard from the scribes and doctors of the Hebrew law. The essential fact for the practicing Essene was to disregard his environment and so dip down deeply into his own body and perceive all the forces pertaining to the mystery of the six-times-seven generations. By passing through six-times-seven stages, a person could attain the key to mysteries of his own inner being.
A pupil of the Essene Mystery Schools after the long training of forty-two stages of initiations, was able to perceive the mysteries of the physical and etheric bodies. The Essene who had completed the forty-two stages of initiation was described as a `Netzer.’ It was made known how forty-two generations after Abraham, the Hebrews would have advanced sufficiently to make an incarnation of Zarathrustra possible in the Solomon branch of the House of David. This teaching was not confined to the Schools of the Essenes. Yet only among them were pupils who had actually passed through the forty-two stages of development and were able to perceive clairvoyantly in themselves the nature of the wonderful Being who was to descend through the forty-two stages. For knowledge of this Being had to be given to the world. Jesus of Nazareth also heard many things which had already flamed up in his own soul as illumination from the Bath-Kol.
A lively exchange took place between Jesus of Nazareth and the Essenes. In his intercourse with them, from about his twenty-fifth to twenty-eighth years of life, and even later. He came to know almost everything the Essene Order could impart.
An impressive inner experience arose for him concerning the special gates made for the Essenes to pass through. For some time already, Jesus of Nazareth had witnessed a strange spectacle when he came to places where these gates had been made for the Essenes, gates without images or pictures. Jesus of Nazareth found he could never pass through these gates without sorrow. He perceived spirit-forms around the bare gates. At either side of the gates there always appeared to him the Beings we know in our studies under the names of Ahriman and Lucifer. Gradually this vision, this impression, had been confirmed in his soul. The aversion of the Essenes for pictures on their gates must have something to do with this evocation of spiritual Beings. Were the pictures on the usual gates of entrance in reality, images of Lucifer and Ahriman? Jesus of Nazareth was often aware of this mystery.
So it was Jesus of Nazareth carried with him through life the two images of Ahriman and Lucifer he saw at the gates of the Essenes. The effect of this was to make him realize a mystery prevailed between these spiritual Beings and the Essenes. After this mystery made itself known to Jesus of Nazareth, mutual understanding with the Essenes was not as easy as it had been before. He became more aware of something in his soul of which he could say no word of to the Essenes. There was something lacking as he conversed with the Essenes. His initial experience of their as-yet unclear connection with Lucifer and Ahriman now stood in the way.
What was not communicated to him in words, was revealed to him through all manner of clairvoyant impressions. Great and impressive were these impressions coming to Jesus of Nazareth. Either while at the Essene community itself, or soon afterwards at his home in Nazareth, in a more contemplative life, he yielded himself to all which thronged in upon him from forces which the Essenes had no inkling; yet which, he experienced in his soul.
One of these inner impressions must be brought into particularly strong relief. It sheds light upon the whole course of mankind’s spiritual evolution. It was a great and significant vision into which Jesus of Nazareth was transported. The Buddha appeared to him as a real presence; it was indeed so. The Buddha appeared to Jesus of Nazareth as a result of the exchange of thoughts with the Essenes. One can truly say at this time Jesus and Buddha had a conversation in the spirit. It is possible and necessary to touch upon this.
In his discourse with Buddha in the spirit, Jesus of Nazareth became aware of words coming from Buddha, to this effect: ‘The Essene community has many points in common with what I brought into the world. If my doctrine, as it was actually taught and practiced, were to be led into full fruition, then all humanity would have to lead the life of the Essenes. This cannot be. That was the error in my doctrine.’ The Essenes produced nothing by their own hands to trade with. The food and animals they raised themselves did not cover their needs. They lived primarily on the donated wealth from new members and the offerings from lay students. Buddha continued: ‘Because there are those who devote themselves to the doctrine of renouncing the world, there must then always be others for whom this is impossible. For how could I and my followers go about with our alms-bowl if there were no other people to fill it with alms? If my doctrine were fulfilled to the uttermost, men would all have to become Essenes.’
So again Jesus of Nazareth perceived the dire need of his times for a new teaching enabling people to achieve union with the Divine-Spiritual world in a right and proper way for this time.
At this time also, Jesus of Nazareth made the acquaintance of a man who was still young, almost the same age as himself. This man’s association with the Essene Order had come about in quite a different way. He too was not an Essene in the strict sense of the word. This was John the Baptist. He was living as a kind of lay-brother within the Essene community. During the winter, he, like the Essenes, wore garments of camel’s hair. Yet he had never been able to exchange inwardly and completely the doctrines of Judaism for those of the Essenes. Still their tenets and whole mode of life made a deep impression on him. As a lay brother, he allowed himself to be stimulated and inspired by his association with them. Gradually he came to be all the Gospels tell of John the Baptist. He and Jesus of Nazareth had many conversations during this time.
We now relate a second overwhelming experience out of his learnings with the Essenes. One time while Jesus of Nazareth was speaking with John the Baptist, Jesus saw the physical form of John disappear and a vision of Elias or Elijah came to him. We can infer one meaning of this vision from the words of Jesus in the Gospels. When Jesus is asked was he himself previously Elijah, he answers to the effect: No, that was John the Baptist.
At first Jesus was inspired and intrigued by his new associations, coming to know at last a spiritual path persons of his day could tread in order to ascend into the heights where the primeval souls of men once had their home. Jesus understood how through special practices and exercises, it was still possible for a few people to scale these heights. However, the fact remained an Essene, if he wished to rise into these heights, must isolate himself from the rest of humanity and lead a life of seclusion.
When Jesus of Nazareth was in his twenty-eighth or twenty-ninth year, he had his most significant experience with the Essenes. One day after a memorable conversation on lofty spiritual matters, Jesus of Nazareth was passing out through the main Essene building. There came before him the figures he recognized as Lucifer and Ahriman fleeing from the gate. The impression came again how the Essenes were guarding themselves against these two figures. They were successfully driving these two away by their practices, by their ascetic mode of life and the austere rules of the Order. These two figures were denied approach to these souls and could not enter their precincts. This is why Jesus of Nazareth saw them in flight. Now a question sank into his soul, not as if he himself were asking it, more as if it were being forced into his soul with deep elemental power: ‘Where are these Beings fleeing TO?’ He understood the sanctity of the Essene monastery was the cause of their flight. Now the question: Where are they fleeing TO??? This ingrained itself into his very soul, burnt like fire, and never left him. As he went about during the following weeks, this question was with him every hour, nay every minute. ‘Where are Lucifer and Ahriman fleeing to?’
It is one thing to hear in theory how a group of individuals striving to promote their own spiritual development, in fact drive away Lucifer and Ahriman and dispatch them to other men and women; it is quite another thing to experience what this means personally. Jesus now knew at a visceral level the Essene path was not a path of salvation for all of humanity. It rested on a separation of individuals seeking to make progress in isolation, at the expense of the rest of humanity who do the physical labor of building homes, growing food and raising children.
What he felt may be expressed as, ‘Here are a few individuals — they can only be a few — who are able to find their way back to the primal revelations. When these few isolate themselves, the rest of the larger community — the rest of humanity — live in a state that much more degraded because of the lack of association with the spiritual flames the few have found to warm themselves. It becomes the lot of the many to endure only the hard, material labor for those who isolate themselves.’
Jesus was filled with immeasurable compassion. He realized the personal sacrifices the Essenes paid to approach the Divine-Spiritual worlds. On the other hand, just because a sacred place had been created where Lucifer and Ahriman were forbidden to enter, where men had no dealings with them; Lucifer and Ahriman then made their way all the more strongly to other people. This exploitation of the many by a few was a bitter realization: Jesus recoiled from the realization he lived in an age when men who seek to achieve union with the Divine must seek it at the expense of others. This was utterly out of keeping with the universal love which filled the soul of Jesus of Nazareth.
He could not endure the thought any spiritual treasure would belong only to a few and not be shared by all humanity. For this reason he often went away from the Essenes in the greatest pain. He no longer felt joy in the progress made by the Essenes for he saw while they advanced higher on the ladder of spiritual growth, everyone else who had to make and hold the ladder sank deeper in the mud. This was the third great pain sustained by Jesus in connection with the decline of humanity. The Zarathrustra Individuality was steeped in great suffering because he knew of no remedies.
If we look to his Zarathrustra nature, we can gather two impressions about why this soul was bothered so much by this realization. The people who followed Zarathrustra long ago wished to arrange their laws so that external, daily life and the production of goods produced a lifting upwards of everyone concerned. Jesus saw the Essenes creating a duality, giving themselves an upward thrust while everyone else received a downward thrust.
We can further shade his response if we recall how in very far-off ages, Zarathrustra taught how Evil is not absolute evil, but misplaced good, something which was good in an earlier time. Evil came to pass, he said, because something which was at one time good — a time suited to its use and expression — retained its form into a later age where its use and expression was no longer timely; it was now out of harmony with the highest good for all. Zarathrustra taught all that was black and evil arose through a form which failed to adapt itself to change. The Nathan-Jesus’ understanding of how ancient spiritual practices had become the treasured relics of a spiritual elite weighed upon him heavily. Further, when he visited the several other Essene settlements in his area, again and again he saw at their unadorned gates the picture of Lucifer and Ahriman in flight.
When Jesus returned to his own neighborhood, to his step-family, he realized it was these very people who were being abandoned by the Essenes to the power of Lucifer and Ahriman. In this way a seed was planted in his soul which would later draw the Christ Being to the ordinary people who have to battle these powers most.