The Historical Jesus, the Essenes, Edmond Szekely and a Medium Member
The connection between these four is a slightly strange story. Some time ago I wrote an article about the Historical Jesus. This was not intended to be a statement of my beliefs about the question, rather a response to an article by Benjamin Cain, who seemed to be advocating the Mythicist position, i.e. that no Historical Jesus existed. I thought that he had not given sufficient weight to the evidence suggesting the existence of Jesus, and was trying to provoke a more adequate response. (He later said that he was merely outlining the Mythicist argument, not defending it, although I was not convinced. There is no need to have read these earlier long articles in order to understand what follows here.)
A few days ago I received a response to my article from Tony Atkinson, who had obviously come across it more recently. He began: “We should note that in Christian Scriptures, there were two men named Jesus, and both were in trouble with the authorities. Not surprising, as Jesus/Yeshu’a/Joshua was a common name at that time. One, Jesus Bar Abbas (Son of the Father) seems to have been a Zealot guerilla leader held by the Romans. The other, Jesus the Nazarene, was an itinerant Essene preacher who had caused a ruckus in the Temple because he disliked the profiteering of the money-changers there”. Atkinson then elaborated on this idea.
I found what he was saying interesting, but that he was perhaps too confident about its accuracy. I therefore replied: “I would say that some of the things you say here, which you appear to be stating as facts, are actually speculation, albeit well argued, indeed plausible and therefore possible”.
By coincidence, or perhaps on reflection it was synchronistic, I had already signed up to a Zoom talk on Jesus and the Essenes on March 7th. This was given by Petra Meyer, who is President of the Blavatsky Lodge of the Theosophical Society in England. The heart of the talk was the story of Edmond Szekely. What follows is my summary of the material she presented, although I believe the primary source for this was Szekely’s book The Discovery Of The Essene Gospel Of Peace. (The whole talk can currently be found online on the Youtube channel of the European School of Theosophy.)
Szekely was from a wealthy family, but was educated at the Catholic monastery of the Piarist order, where he had to lead an austere, ascetic lifestyle, even as a teenager. At the age of 18, he graduated with distinction, was the highest achiever in his class, having completed a thesis on St. Francis. After the graduation ceremony, he was called into the office of his Headmaster, Monseigneur Mondik, Prior of the Monastery, who gave him a letter of introduction to Monseigneur Mercati, the Prefect of the Archives of the Vatican, who was an old schoolfriend of his. This was in effect a request that Szekely should be allowed unrestricted access to the whole of the Vatican library.
Mercati had read the thesis on St. Francis and, when they met, told Szekely that St. Francis is the ocean, but that he needed to find the river, the stream and the source. This statement was later elaborated, when he was told that the Latin Ocean is nourished by the Greek river, which is nourished by the Aramaic stream, which originates in the Hebrew source.
The Vatican Library is vast, with 25 miles of shelves. The attendants and staff were all helpful, and Mercati assigned to Szekely an Aramaic-Hebrew guide, a French monk. He duly copied all the important texts about Jesus.
He then approached Mercati for permission to visit the Archives of the Benedictine Monastery of Monte Cassino. Mercati replied, “I think you have found the river”, and gave him a letter of introduction to the Abbot. Upon his return Mercati asked Szekely, “have you found the stream?”, and received the reply, “not yet, but I shall”. He then said, “yes you will”, and handed Szekely a key to a locked room at the end of the corridor, under the condition that it had to be returned to Mercati personally. There Szekely found what he had been looking for.
A few days later, he asked for permission to return to Monte Cassino. Mercati replied: “I am glad you have found the stream, now I hope you will find the source”, and gave him another letter to the Abbot. There Szekely delved into the Archives, and pored over the complete texts of Josephus, Philo, Plinius, and the Latin classics. He finally found the source, Hebrew fragments of the Essene Gospel in the Aramaic version. He returned to Mercati and said “I have found the source”. Mercati replied “I know” (he could tell by his face). Szekely asked, “what shall I do, Father?”, and received the reply “let St. Francis sing in your heart”. He then left, and never saw his mentor again.
What he had discovered was that there were two Christs. One was the leader of a Jewish Messianic movement, a pretender to the throne of Judea, named Ioannes. He was the one condemned to crucifixion by Pontius Pilate. The other was an Essene preacher/spiritual leader, who was captured on the same day, and presented to Pilate, who released him. This is apparently described by the historian Strabo.
Petra Meyer went on to say that Szekely is the most reliable and important scholar on early Christianity, and that Theosophy is in total agreement with his conclusions.
My immediate reaction to the talk was that Szekely’s discovery tallied exactly with what Tony Atkinson had said in his response to my article. I therefore had to revise my opinion of what he had said, and take it more seriously. I wondered whether he had read Szekely, so responded: “By one of those weird coincidences, I was listening to an online talk yesterday about Jesus, which was arguing convincingly along the lines you write here. So before I continue the discussion, would you mind telling me your sources for the two Jesus idea; what have you been reading?” The most he has been prepared to say so far is that he did not come up with the idea himself but “had the information from a lifetime of wide and occasionally peculiar reading”. So, at the moment I don’t know precisely how he came to that conclusion, or whether Szekely was involved.
My next move was to try to check the accuracy of Szekely’s account. I therefore looked at his Wikipedia page. To my surprise I discovered that he is not a celebrated figure, rather that his works have often been considered forgeries by scholars. I therefore wrote to Petra Meyer, asking her for thoughts. She replied: “I think the most convincing fact that Szekely tells the truth is, that he completely dedicated his life to the ethics of the Gospel of Peace until he died. He came from a very wealthy family and could have lived a posh lifestyle, but he didn’t. He could not have come from a more orthodox Christian background/family, being even educated at a Monastery School. He was just 18 years old when he made these earthshaking discoveries and had the strength to accept them, live accordingly and spread the truth with great courage; that is quite something for a young man. When I found his books and the Gospel of the Essenes it was like coming home, something that I had expected and was searching for. I think the truth can only be felt”.
The evidence on which the claims of forgery are based are not very convincing. Firstly, the Vatican has denied that the original manuscripts exist, and that Szekely had ever been admitted to the Vatican Archives in 1923. This is hardly surprising, given that his claimed discoveries blow apart the story that the Roman Catholic Church has maintained for many centuries, the story which sustains its power and authority. According to Szekely’s findings, Jesus was actually a human being, not God incarnate; he was ‘merely’ a spiritual teacher of the Essenes. Secondly, this spiritual Essene Jesus, the one with whom we are more familiar from the gospel accounts, was not crucified, therefore did not die in order to save us from our sins. Is it any surprise that the Church would try to deny the story?
The second objection, and claimed reason to conclude forgery, is that no independent scholar besides Szekely has ever seen the manuscript. This is of course regrettable, but is hardly a reason to reject the story. The same reasoning applies as I gave to the first objection. Why would anyone else be granted access to the Library, when even the existence of the documents is being denied? Furthermore, his access was granted as a personal favour between old schoolfriends; other scholars are not in such a lucky position. The other potential source of corroboration, the library of the Monastery of Monte Cassino, was destroyed by bombing during World War II, which means that the other part of the story is unverifiable.
If the story is genuine, however, then there have been some within the Church (for example, Mondik and Mercati) who knew the truth and wanted it to come out, even though they did not feel able to instigate this themselves. They were therefore what is known as whistle-blowers. Who do we think are more trustworthy, the whistle-blowers, or those who have the most to lose if the truth comes out?
Christian scholars are obviously likely to dismiss Szekely’s conclusions out of hand. Others may have their own motivations for accusing him of forgery: investment in their own theories, the overturning of years of research, thus ego, pride, jealousy. None of these are valid motives for claiming forgery without good reason. How many of these scholars would be prepared to go through the austere monastic lifestyle that Szekely had to endure, both at school and in the Vatican, in order to make his discoveries?
If, however, his story is true, this offers supporting evidence to other controversial scholarship, the most obvious being the claim that Jesus lived on much later than his supposed date of death. (See, for example, Holger Kersten’s Jesus Lived in India.) Also relevant may be the theories of Messiahship in the Judaic tradition. Some were expecting a priest/king, while others believed in dual Messiahs, that both a priest and a king would arrive in order to liberate the Jewish people. This idea fits in with Szekely’s findings. It is an open question, however, whether the Essene Jesus, preaching love and peace, would have approved of a violent insurrection against the Romans.
On that theme, Szekely’s claimed discoveries throw much light on the so-called ‘Jesus the Zealot’ theory, which sees many clues in the Gospels that Jesus was actually much more militant than we would expect. This is discussed in depth by Reza Aslan in Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Other advocates of this theory were Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln in their controversial bestseller Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Baigent has continued to write on that theme; he also claims that Jesus survived the crucifixion, saying that he has “incontrovertible evidence that Jesus was alive in the year A.D 45”¹. This therefore adds weight to Szekely’s belief that the Essene Jesus did not die. The other part of the theory, Jesus as Zealot, loses credibility in that it is based on the conflation of the two Christs in the gospel accounts.
Even though I am very interested in the question of the origins of Christianity, and have spent much time over the years studying the relevant literature, I have so far been of the opinion that it ultimately remains an impenetrable mystery. I have, however, gradually been moving towards the position that, if a Historical Jesus actually existed — and there are many who argue that he didn’t — then it is most likely that he was an Essene teacher/prophet. (If this is true, then it of course opens up a new difficult question, who exactly were the Essenes?) My introduction to Szekely through Petra Meyer offers some strong evidence of that viewpoint. I leave readers to reflect on this material, and come to their own conclusions.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics and astrology. All these articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here).
- The Jesus Papers, HarperElement, 2006, p9