Essenes: Wikis


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The Essenes (Greek: Εσσηνοι, Εσσαιοι, or Οσσαιοι; Essēnoi, Essaioi, Ossaioi) were a Jewish religious group that flourished from the 2nd century BCE to the 1st century CE that some scholars claim seceded from the Zadokite priests[1]. Being much fewer in number than the Pharisees and the Sadducees (the other two major sects at the time) the Essenes lived in various cities but congregated in communal life dedicated to asceticism, voluntary poverty, and abstinence from worldly pleasures, including marriage and daily baptisms. Many separate but related religious groups of that era shared similar mystic, eschatological, messianic, and ascetic beliefs. These groups are collectively referred to by various scholars as the "Essenes." Josephus records that Essenes existed in large numbers, and thousands lived throughout Judæa. The Essenes believed they were the last generation of the last generations and anticipated Teacher of Righteousness, Aaronic High Priest, and High Guard Messiah, similar to the Prophet, Priest and King expectations of the Pharisees.[citation needed]

The Essenes have gained fame in modern times as a result of the discovery of an extensive group of religious documents known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, commonly believed to be their library. These documents include preserved multiple copies of the Hebrew Bible untouched from as early as 300 BCE until their discovery in 1946. Some scholars, however, dispute the notion that the Essenes wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls.[2] One scholar, Rachel Elior, even argues that the group never existed.[3][4][5]


Contemporary ancient sources

The earliest mention of the Essenes is by the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (c. 20–54 CE). Philo told his readers that there were more than 4,000 Essenes (Essaioi) living in villages throughout Palestinian Syria [6]. Among their neighbours they were noted for their love of God and their concerns with piety, honesty, morality, philanthropy, holiness, equality, and freedom. The holy Essenes did not marry and lived a celibate life, and practiced communal residence, money, property, food and clothing. They observed the Sabbath according to all the strictest instructions and spent much of their time studying the Law according to philosophical and allegorical interpretations. They cherished freedom, possessed no slaves, and rejected the use of weapons or participation in commerce. Philo did not mention any names or places, nor any background to the origins of this group.

The next reference is by the Roman writer Pliny the Elder (died c. 79 CE) in his Natural History. Pliny relates in a few lines that the Essenes do not marry, possess no money, and had existed for thousands of generations. Unlike Philo, who did not mention any particular geographical location of the Essenes other than the whole land of Israel, Pliny places them in Ein Gedi, next to the Dead Sea.

A little later Josephus gave a detailed account of the Essenes in The Jewish War (c. 75 CE) with a shorter description in Antiquities of the Jews (c. 94 CE) and The Life of Flavius Josephus (c. 97 CE). Claiming first hand knowledge, he lists the Essenoi as one of the three sects of Jewish philosophy[7] alongside the Pharisees and the Sadducees. He relates the same information concerning piety, celibacy, the absence of personal property and of money, the belief in communality and commitment to a strict observance of the Sabbath. He further adds that the Essenes ritually immersed in water every morning, ate together after prayer, devoted themselves to charity and benevolence, forbade the expression of anger, studied the books of the elders, preserved secrets, and were very mindful of the names of the angels kept in their sacred writings.

Pliny, also a geographer and explorer, located them in the desert near the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the year 1947 by Muhammed edh-Dhib and Ahmed Mohammed, two Bedouin shepherds of the Ta'amireh tribe.[8]


Josephus uses the name Essenes in his two main accounts[9][10] as well as in some other contexts ("an account of the Essenes";[11] "the gate of the Essenes";[12] "Judas of the Essene race";[13] but some manuscripts read here Essaion; "holding the Essenes in honour";[14] "a certain Essene named Manaemus";[15] "to hold all Essenes in honour";[16] "the Essenes";[17][18][19]). In several places, however, Josephus has Essaios, which is usually assumed to mean Essene ("Judas of the Essaios race";[20] "Simon of the Essaios race";[21] "John the Essaios";[22] "those who are called by us Essaioi";[23] "Simon a man of the Essaios race"[24]). Philo's usage is Essaioi, although he admits this Greek form of the original name that according to his etymology signifies "holiness" to be inexact.[25] Pliny's Latin text has Esseni.[26] Josephus identified the Essenes as one of the three major Jewish sects of that period.[27]

Gabriele Boccaccini implies that a convincing etymology for the name Essene has not been found, but that the term applies to a larger group within Palestine that also included the Qumran community.[28]

It was proposed before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered that the name came into several Greek spellings from a Hebrew self-designation later found in some Dead Sea Scrolls, 'osey hatorah, "observers of torah."[29] Though dozens of etymology suggestions have been published, this is the only etymology published before 1947 that was confirmed by Qumran text self-designation references, and it is gaining acceptance among scholars.[30] It's recognized as the etymology of the form Ossaioi (and note that Philo also offered an O spelling) and Essaioi and Esseni spelling variations have been discussed by VanderKam, Goranson and others. In medieval Hebrew (e.g. Sefer Yosippon) Hassidim ("the pious ones") replaces "Essenes". While this Hebrew name is not the etymology of Essaioi/Esseni, the Aramaic equivalent Hesi'im known from Eastern Aramaic texts has been suggested [31]


Remains of part of the main building at Qumran.

According to Josephus, the Essenes had settled "not in one city" but "in large numbers in every town".[32] Philo speaks of "more than four thousand" Essaioi living in "Palestine and Syria",[33] more precisely, "in many cities of Judaea and in many villages and grouped in great societies of many members".[34]

Pliny locates them "on the west side of the Dead Sea, away from the coast… [above] the town of Engeda".[26]

Some modern scholars and archaeologists have argued that Essenes inhabited the settlement at Qumran, a plateau in the Judean Desert along the Dead Sea, citing Pliny the Elder in support, and giving credence that the Dead Sea Scrolls are the product of the Essenes. This view, though not yet conclusively proven, has come to dominate the scholarly discussion and public perception of the Essenes.[35]

Josephus' reference to a "gate of the Essenes" in his description of the course of "the most ancient" of the three walls of Jerusalem,[12] in the Mount Zion area,[36] perhaps suggests an Essene community living in this quarter of the city or regularly gathering at this part of the Temple precincts.

Rules, customs, theology and beliefs

The accounts by Josephus and Philo show that the Essenes led a strictly celibate and communal life – often compared by scholars to later Christian monastic living – although Josephus speaks also of another "rank of Essenes" that did get married.[37] According to Josephus, they had customs and observances such as collective ownership,[38][39] elected a leader to attend to the interests of them all whose orders they obeyed,[40] were forbidden from swearing oaths[41] and sacrificing animals,[42] controlled their temper and served as channels of peace,[41] carried weapons only as protection against robbers,[43] had no slaves but served each other[44] and, as a result of communal ownership, did not engage in trading.[45] Both Josephus and Philo have lengthy accounts of their communal meetings, meals and religious celebrations.

After a total of three years' probation,[46] newly joining members would take an oath that included the commitment to practice piety towards "the Deity" (το θειον) and righteousness towards humanity, to maintain a pure lifestyle, to abstain from criminal and immoral activities, to transmit their rules uncorrupted and to preserve the books of the Essenes and the names of the Angels.[47] Their theology included belief in the immortality of the soul and that they would receive their souls back after death.[18][48] Part of their activities included purification by water rituals, which was supported by rainwater catchment and storage.

The Church Father Epiphanius (writing in the fourth century CE) seems to make a distinction between two main groups within the Essenes:[31] "Of those that came before his [Elxai, an Ossaean prophet] time and during it, the Ossaeans and the Nazarean.".[49] Epiphanius describes each group as following:

The Nazarean – they were Jews by nationality – originally from Gileaditis, Bashanitis and the Transjordan… They acknowledged Moses and believed that he had received laws – not this law, however, but some other. And so, they were Jews who kept all the Jewish observances, but they would not offer sacrifice or eat meat. They considered it unlawful to eat meat or make sacrifices with it. They claim that these Books are fictions, and that none of these customs were instituted by the fathers. This was the difference between the Nazarean and the others…[50]
After this [Nazarean] sect in turn comes another closely connected with them, called the Ossaeans. These are Jews like the former… originally came from Nabataea, Ituraea, Moabitis and Arielis, the lands beyond the basin of what sacred scripture called the Salt Sea… Though it is different from the other six of these seven sects, it causes schism only by forbidding the books of Moses like the Nazarean.[49]

If it is correct to identify the community at Qumran with the Essenes (and that the community at Qumran are the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls), then according to the Dead Sea Scrolls the Essenes' community school was called "Yahad" (meaning "unity") in order to differentiate themselves from the rest of the Jews who are repeatedly labeled "The Breakers of the Covenant".

Scholarly discussion

The Essenes are discussed in detail by Josephus and Philo.

Most scholars believe that the community at Qumran that allegedly produced the Dead Sea Scrolls was an offshoot of the Essenes; however, this theory has been disputed by some, for example, by Norman Golb.

Golb, for instance, uses arguments claiming that the primary research on the Qumran documents and ruins (by Father Roland de Vaux, from the École Biblique et Archéologique de Jérusalem) lacked scientific method, and drew wrong conclusions that comfortably entered the academic canon. For Golb, the amount of documents is too extensive and includes many different writing styles and calligraphies; the ruins seem to have been a fortress, used as a military base for a very long period of time – including the 1st Century  – so they could not have been inhabited by the Essenes; and the large graveyard excavated in 1870, just 50 metres east of the Qumran ruins was made of over 1200 tombs that included many women and children – Pliny clearly wrote that the Essenes that lived near the Dead Sea "had not one woman, had renounced all pleasure ... and no one was born in their race". Golb's book presents observations about de Vaux's premature conclusions and their uncontoverted acceptance by the general academic community. He states that the documents probably stemmed from various libraries in Jerusalem, kept safe in the desert from the Roman invasions.[51]

Other scholars refute these arguments.

Another issue is the relationship between the Essaioi and Philo's Therapeutae and Therapeutrides. It may be argued that he regarded the Therapeutae as a contemplative branch of the Essaioi who, he said, pursued an active life.[52]

One theory on the formation of the Essenes suggested the movement was founded by a Jewish high priest, dubbed by the Essenes the Teacher of Righteousness, whose office had been usurped by Jonathan (of priestly but not Zadokite lineage), labeled the "man of lies" or "false priest".[4][5] Others follow this line and a few argue that the Teacher of Righteousness was not only the leader of the Essenes at Qumran, but was also identical to the original Jesus about 150 years before the time of the Gospels.[35]

Connections with Kabbalah

According to a Jewish legend, one of the Essenes, named Menachem, had passed at least some of his mystical knowledge to the Talmudic mystic Nehunya ben ha-Kanah,[53] to whom the Kabbalistic tradition attributes Sefer ha-Bahir and, by some opinions, Sefer ha-Kanah, Sefer ha-Peliah and Sefer ha-Temunah. Some Essene rituals, such as daily immersion in the Mikvah, coincide with contemporary Hasidic practices; some historians had also suggested, that name "Essene" is a Hellenized form of the word "Hasidim" or "Hasin" ("pious ones"). However, the legendary connections between Essene and Kabbalistic tradition are not verified by modern historians.

Modern Essenes

The modern pseudo-Essene movement "is directly derivative of two occult bestsellers, The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ, by Levi H. Dowling; and The Mystical Life of Jesus, by Rosicrucian author H. Spencer Lewis, and possesses no authentic ties to the ancient Essene movement,[54] Other pseudo-Essene writers include the Rev. Gideon Ousely and Dr. Edmund Bordeaux Szekely, both of whom assert that the Essene teachings had been hidden and assimilated into many mystical spiritual traditions around the world, where the teachings were hidden within ancient libraries. Before all of these the Theosophists brought a bit of focus on the Essenes/Nazareans, and Theosophy influenced some Rosicrucians and much of modern occultism as well as agreed with some principles common to both the ancient and so-called hidden teachings.

See also


  1. ^ F.F. Bruce, Second Thoughts On The Dead Sea Scrolls. Paternoster Press, 1956
  2. ^ Hillel Newman, Ph.D Bar Ilan University : Proximity to Power and Jewish Sectarian Groups of the Ancient Period Brill ISBN 9004146997
  3. ^ Ilani, Ofri (13 March 2009). "Scholar: The Essenes, Dead Sea Scroll 'authors,' never existed". Haaretz. Retrieved 17 March 2009. 
  4. ^ a b McGirk, Tim (16 March 2009). "Scholar Claims Dead Sea Scrolls 'Authors' Never Existed". Time.,8599,1885421,00.html. Retrieved 17 March 2009. 
  5. ^ a b "Rachel Elior Responds to Her Critics". Jim West. 15 March 2009. Retrieved 17 March 2009. 
  6. ^ Every Good Man is Free 75
  7. ^ Josephus (c. 75). The Wars of the Jews. 2.119
  8. ^ Barthélemy, D.; J. T. Milik, Roland de Vaux, G. M. Crowfoot, Harold Plenderleith, George L. Harding (1997) [1955]. "Introductory: The Discovery". Qumran Cave 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 5. ISBN 0-19-826301-5. Retrieved 31 March 2009. 
  9. ^ Josephus (c. 75). The Wars of the Jews. 2.119, 158, 160
  10. ^ Josephus (c. 94). Antiquities of the Jews. 13.171-2
  11. ^ Josephus (c. 94). Antiquities of the Jews. 13.298
  12. ^ a b Josephus (c. 75). The Wars of the Jews. 5.145
  13. ^ Josephus (c. 94). Antiquities of the Jews. 13.311
  14. ^ Josephus (c. 94). Antiquities of the Jews. 15.372
  15. ^ Josephus (c. 94). Antiquities of the Jews. 15.373
  16. ^ Josephus (c. 94). Antiquities of the Jews. 15.378
  17. ^ Josephus (c. 94). Antiquities of the Jews. 18.11
  18. ^ a b Josephus (c. 94). Antiquities of the Jews. 18.18
  19. ^ Josephus (c. 97). The Life of Flavius Josephus. 10
  20. ^ Josephus (c. 75). The Wars of the Jews. I.78
  21. ^ Josephus (c. 75). The Wars of the Jews. 2.113
  22. ^ Josephus (c. 75). The Wars of the Jews. 2.567; 3.11
  23. ^ Josephus (c. 94). Antiquities of the Jews. 15.371
  24. ^ Josephus (c. 94). Antiquities of the Jews. 17.346
  25. ^ Philo (c. 20–54). Quod Omnis Probus Liber. XII.75-87
  26. ^ a b Pliny the Elder (c. 77). Natural History. 5.73.
  27. ^ And when I was about sixteen years old, I had a mind to make trim of the several sects that were among us. These sects are three: - The first is that of the Pharisees, the second that Sadducees, and the third that of the Essenes, as we have frequently told you - The Life of Josephus Flavius, 2
  28. ^ Boccaccini, Gabriele (1998). Beyond the Essene hypothesis: the parting of the ways between Qumran and Enochic Judaism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. p. 47. ISBN 0-8028-4360-3. OCLC 37837643. 
  29. ^ Goranson, Stephen (1999). "Others and Intra-Jewish Polemic as Reflected in Qumran Texts". in Peter W. Flint and James C. VanderKam. The Dead Sea Scrolls after Fifty Years: A Comprehensive Assessment. 2. Leiden: Brill Publishers. pp. 534–551. ISBN 90-04-11061-5. OCLC 230716707. 
  30. ^ For example, James C. VanderKam, "Identity and History of the Community." In The Dead Sea Scrolls after Fifty Years: A Comprehensive Assessment, ed. Peter W. Flint and James C. VanderKam, 2:487–533. Leiden: Brill, 1999. The earlies known proposer of this etymology was P. Melanchthon, in J. Carion, Chronica, 1532, folio 68 verso. Among the other proposers before 1947, e.g., 1839 Isaak Jost, "Die Essaer," Israelitische Annalen 19, 145–7.
  31. ^ a b Lightfoot, Joseph Barber (1875). "On Some Points Connected with the Essenes". St. Paul's epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon: a revised text with introductions, notes, and dissertations. London: Macmillan Publishers. OCLC 6150927. Retrieved 17 March 2009. 
  32. ^ Josephus (c. 75). The Wars of the Jews. 2.124
  33. ^ Philo (c. 20–54). Quod Omnis Probus Liber. XII.75
  34. ^ Philo. Hypothetica. 11.1. in Eusebius. Praeparatio Evangelica. VIII
  35. ^ a b Ellegård, Alvar; Jesus – One Hundred Years Before Christ: A Study In Creative Mythology, (London 1999).
  36. ^ cf. map of ancient Jerusalem
  37. ^ Josephus (c. 75). The Wars of the Jews. 2.160–161
  38. ^ Josephus (c. 75). The Wars of the Jews. 2.122
  39. ^ Josephus (c. 94). Antiquities of the Jews. 18.20.
  40. ^ Josephus (c. 75). The Wars of the Jews. 2.123, 134
  41. ^ a b Josephus (c. 75). The Wars of the Jews. 2.135
  42. ^ Philo, §75
  43. ^ Josephus (c. 75). The Wars of the Jews. 2.125
  44. ^ Josephus (c. 94). Antiquities of the Jews. 18.21
  45. ^ Josephus (c. 75). The Wars of the Jews. 2.127
  46. ^ Josephus (c. 75). The Wars of the Jews. 2.137–138. Josephus' mention of the three year duration of the Essene probation may be compared with the phased character of the entrance procedure in the Qumran Rule of the Community [1QS; at least two years plus an indeterminate initial catechetical phase, 1QS VI]. The provisional surrender of property required at the beginning of the last year of the novitiate derives from actual social experience of the difficulties of sharing property in a fully communitarian setting, cf. Brian J. Capper, 'The Interpretation of Acts 5.4', Journal for the Study of the New Testament 19 (1983) pp. 117-131; idem, '"In der Hand des Ananias." Erwägungen zu 1QS VI,20 und der urchristlichen Gütergemeinschaft', Revue de Qumran 12(1986) 223-236; Eyal Regev, “Comparing Sectarian Practice and Organization: The Qumran Sect in Light of the Regulations of the Shakers, Hutterites, Mennonites and Amish”, Numen 51 (2004), pp. 146-181.
  47. ^ Josephus (c. 75). The Wars of the Jews. 2.139–142
  48. ^ Josephus (c. 75). The Wars of the Jews. 2.153–158
  49. ^ a b Epiphanius of Salamis (c. 378). Panarion. 1:19
  50. ^ Epiphanius of Salamis (c. 378). Panarion. 1:18
  51. ^ Golb, Norman (1996). Who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?: the search for the secret of Qumran. New York City: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-80692-4. OCLC 35047608. 
  52. ^ Philo. De Vita Contemplativa. I.1.
  53. ^ Kaplan, Aryeh (1997) [1990]. Sefer Yetzirah: The book of Creation (2nd ed.). York Beach, Maine: Red Wheel Weiser Conari. xvii. ISBN 0-87728-855-0. OCLC 36017140. 
  54. ^ J. Gordon Melton, The Encyclopedia of American Religions"

Further reading

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

'ESSENES, a monastic order among the Jews prior to Christianity. Their first appearance in history is in the time of Jonathan the Maccabee (161-144 B.e.). How much older they may have been we have no means of determining, but our authorities agree in assigning to them a dateless antiquity. The name occurs in Greek, in the two forms'Eaa7voi and'EaaaIot. 'Eaanvoi is used by Josephus fourteen times, Eaaaiot six, but the latter is the only form used by Philo (ii. 457,47 1, 6 3 2)- 'Eaanvot is also used by Synesius and Hippolytus, and its Latin equivalent by Pliny and Solinus; 'Eaaa70t by Hegesippus and Porphyry. In Epiphanius we find the forms Oaaaiot, 'Oao voi, and Ieaaaiot. There is a place named Essa mentioned by Josephus (Ant. xiii. 15, § 3), from which the name may have been formed, just as the Christians were originally called Naq"apnvoc or Naq'topaiot, from Nazara.

This etymology, however, is not much in favour now. Lightfoot explains the name as meaning " the silent ones," others as meaning " physicians." Perhaps there is most authority in favour of deriving it from the Syriac Tpn, which in the emphatic state becomes rc;pn, so that we have a Semitic correspondence to both the Greek forms Eaanvoi and Eaaaiot. This etymology makes the word mean " pious." It has also been urged in excuse for Philo's absurd derivation from &nos.

The original accounts we have of them are confined to three authors - Philo, Pliny the Elder, and Josephus. Philo describes them in his treatise known as Quod omnis probes liber (§§ 12, 13; ii. 457-4 60), and also in his " Apology for the Jews," a fragment of which has been preserved by Eusebius (Praep. Ev. viii. 11, 1 2). Pliny (N.H. v. 17) has a short but striking sketch of them, derived in all probability from Alexander Polyhistor, who is mentioned among the authorities for the fifth book of his Natural History. This historian, of whom Eusebius had a very high opinion (Praep. Ev. ix. 17, §i), lived in the time of Sulla. Josephus treats of them at length in his Jewish War (ii. 8), and more briefly in two passages of his Antiquities (xiii. 5, § 9; xviii. 1, § 5).

He has also interesting accounts of the prophetic powers possessed by three individual members of the sect - Judas (B.J. i. 3, § 5; Ant. xiii. Ii, § 2), Menahem (Ant. xv. Io, § 5), and Simon (B.J. ii. 7, § 3; Ant. xvii. 13, § 3). Besides this he mentions an Essene Gate in Jerusalem (B.J. v. 4, § 2) and a person called John the Essene. one of the bravest and most capable leaders in the war against the Romans (B.J. ii. 20, § 4; iii. 2, § I). Josephus himself made trial of the sect of Essenes in his youth; but from his own statement it appears that he must have been a very short time with them, and therefore could not have been initiated into the inner mysteries of the society (De vita sua, 2).

After this the notices that we have of the Essenes from antiquity are mere reproductions, except in the case of Epiphanius (died A.D. 402), who, however, is so confused a writer as to be of little value. Solinus, who was known as " Pliny's Ape," echoed the words of his master about a century after that writer's death, which took place in A.D. 79. Similarly Hippolytus, who lived in the reign of Commodus (A.D. 180-192), reproduced the account of Josephus, adding a few touches of his own. Porphyry (A.D. 2 33-3 06) afterwards did the same, but had the grace to mention Josephus in the context.

Eusebius quoted the account as from Porphyry, though he must have known that he had derived it from Josephus (Praep. Ev. ix. 3, §§ I, 13). But Porphyry's name would impress pagan readers. There is also a mention of the Essenes by Hegesippus (Eus. H.E. iv. 22) and by Synesius in his life of Dio Chrysostom. It has been conjectured that the Clementine literature emanated from Essenes who had turned Christian. (See EBIoNITES.) The Essenes were an exclusive society, distinguished from the rest of the Jewish nation in Palestine by an organization peculiar to themselves, and by a theory of life in which a severe asceticism and a rare benevolence to one another and to mankind in general were the most striking characteristics.

They had fixed rules for initiation, a succession of strictly separate grades within the limits of the society, and regulations for the conduct of their daily life even in its minutest details. Their membership could be recruited only from the outside world, as marriage and all intercourse with women were absolutely renounced. They were the first society in the world to condemn slavery both in theory and practice; they enforced and practised the most complete community of goods. They chose their own priests and public office-bearers, and even their own judges.

Though their prevailing tendency was practical, and the tenets of the society were kept a profound secret, it is perfectly clear from the concurrent testimony of Philo and Josephus that they cultivated a kind of speculation, which not only accounts for their spiritual asceticism, but indicates a great deviation from the normal development of Judaism, and a profound sympathy with Greek philosophy, and probably also with Oriental ideas. At the same time we do our Jewish authorities no injustice in imputing to them the patriotic tendency to idealize the society, and thus offer to their readers something in Jewish life that would bear comparison at least with similar manifestations of Gentile life.

There is some difficulty in determining how far the Essenes separated themselves locally from their fellow-countrymen. Josephus informs us that they had no single city of their own, but that many of them dwelt in every city. While in his treatise Quod omnis, &c., Philo speaks of their avoiding towns and preferring to live in villages, in his "Apology for the Jews" we find them living in many cities, villages, and in great and prosperous towns. In Pliny they are a perennial colony settled on the western shore of the Dead Sea. On the whole, as Philo and Josephus agree in estimating their number at 4000 (Philo, Q.O.P.L. § 12; Jos. Ant. xviii. 1, § 5), we are justified in suspecting some exaggeration as to the many cities, towns and villages where they were said to be found.

As agriculture was their favourite occupation, and as their tendency was to withdraw from the haunts and ordinary interests of mankind, we may assume that with the growing confusion and corruption of Jewish society they felt themselves attracted from the mass of the population to the sparsely peopled districts, till they found a congenial settlement and free scope for their peculiar view of life by the shore of the Dead Sea. While their principles were consistent with the neighbourhood of men, they were better adapted to a state of seclusion.

The Essenes did not renounce marriage because they denied the validity of the institution or the necessity of it as providing for the continuance of the human race, but because they had a low opinion of the character of women (Jos. B.J. ii. 8, § 2; Philo, " Apol. for the Jews " in Eus. Praep. Ev. viii. i 1, § 8). They adopted children when very young, and brought them up on their own principles. Pleasure generally they rejected as evil. They despised riches not less than pleasure; neither poverty nor wealth was observable among them; at initiation every one gave his property into the common stock; every member in receipt of wages handed them over to the funds of the society. In matters of dress the asceticism of the society was very pronounced.

They regarded oil as a defilement, even washing it off if anointed with it against their will. They did not change their clothes or their shoes till they were torn in pieces or worn completely away. The colour of their garments was always white. Their daily routine was prescribed for them in the strictest manner. Before the rising of the sun they were to speak of nothing profane, but offered to it certain traditional forms of prayer as if beseeching it to rise. Thereafter they went about their daily tasks, working continuously at whatever trade they knew till the fifth hour, when they assembled, and, girding on a garment of linen, bathed in cold water. They next seated themselves quietly in the dining hall, where the baker set bread in order, and the cook brought each a single dish of one kind of food. Before meat and after it grace was said by a priest.

After dinner they resumed work till sunset. In the evening they had supper, at which guests of the order joined them, if there happened to be any such present. Withal there was no noise or confusion to mar the tranquillity of their intercourse; no one usurped more than his share of the conversation; the stillness of the place oppressed a stranger with a feeling of mysterious awe. This composure of spirit was owing to their perfect temperance in eating and drinking. Not only in the daily routine of the society, but generally, the activity of the members was controlled by their presidents. In only two things could they take the initiative, helpfulness and mercy; the deserving poor and the destitute were to receive instant relief; but no member could give anything to his relatives without consulting the heads of the society. Their office-bearers were elected.

They had also their special courts of justice, which were composed of not less than a hundred members, and their decisions, which were arrived at with extreme care, were irreversible. Oaths were strictly forbidden; their word was stronger than an oath. They were just and temperate in anger, the guardians of good faith, and the ministers of peace, obedient to their elders and to the majority. But the moral characteristics which they most earnestly cultivated and enjoined will best appear in their rules of initiation.

There was a novitiate of three years, during which the intending member was tested as to his fitness for entering the society. If the result was satisfactory, he was admitted, but before partaking of the common meal he was required to swear awful oaths, that he would reverence the deity, do justice to men, hurt no man voluntarily or at the command of another, hate the unjust and assist the just, and that he would render fidelity to all men, but especially to the rulers, seeing that no one rules but of God. He also vowed, if he should bear rule himself, to make no violent use of his power, nor outshine those set under him by superior display, to make it his aim to cherish the truth and unmask liars, to be pure from theft and unjust gain, to conceal nothing from his fellow-members, nor to divulge any of their affairs to other men, even at the risk of death, to transmit their doctrines unchanged, and to keep secret the books of the society and the names of the angels.

Within the limits of the society there were four grades so distinct that if any one touched a member of an inferior grade he required to cleanse himself by bathing in water; members who had been found guilty of serious crimes were expelled from the society, and could not be received again till reduced to the very last extremity of want or sickness. As the result of the ascetic training of the Essenes, and of their temperate diet, it is said that they lived to a great age, and were superior to pain and fear.

During the Roman war they cheerfully underwent the most grievous tortures rather than break any of the principles of their faith. In fact, they had in many respects reached the very highest moral elevation attained by the ancient world; they were just, humane, benevolent, and spiritually-minded; the sick and aged were the objects of a special affectionate regard; and they condemned slavery, not only as an injustice, but as an impious violation of the natural brotherhood of men (Philo ii. 457). There were some of the Essenes who permitted marriage, but strictly with a view to the preservation of the race; in other respects they agreed with the main body of the society.

It will be apparent that the predominant tendency of the society was practical. Philo tells us expressly that they rejected logic as unnecessary to the acquisition of virtue, and speculation on nature as too lofty for the human intellect. Yet they had views of their own as to God, Providence, the soul, and a future state, which, while they had a practical use, were yet essentially speculative. On the one hand, indeed, they held tenaciously by the traditional Judaism: blasphemy against their lawgiver was punished with death, the sacred books were preserved and read with great reverence, though not without an allegorical interpretation, and the Sabbath was most scrupulously observed.

But in many important points their deviation from the strait path of Judaic development was complete. They rejected animal sacrifice as well as marriage; the oil with which priests and kings were anointed they accounted unclean; and the condemnation of oaths and the community of goods were unmistakable innovations for which they found no hint or warrant in the old Hebrew writings. Their most singular feature, perhaps, was their reverence for the sun. In their speculative hints respecting the soul and a future state, we find another important deviation from Judaism, and the explanation of their asceticism.

They held that the body is mortal, and its substance transitory; that the soul is immortal, but, coming from the subtlest ether, is lured as by a sorcery of nature into the prison-house of the body. At death it is released from its bonds, as from long slavery, and joyously soars aloft. To the souls of the good there is reserved a life beyond the ocean, and a country oppressed by neither rain, nor snow, nor heat, but refreshed by a gentle west wind blowing continually from the sea (cf. Horn. Od. iv. 566-568), but to the wicked a region of wintry darkness and of unceasing torment. Josephus tells us too that the Essenes believed in fate; but in what sense, and what relation it bore to Divine Providence, does not appear.

The above evidence has left students in doubt as to whether Essenism is to be regarded as a pure product of the Jewish mind or as due in part to some foreign influence. On the one hand it might be maintained that the Essenes out-Pharisee'd the Pharisees. They had in common with that sect their veneration for Moses and the Law, their Sabbatarianism, their striving after ceremonial purity, and their tendency towards fatalism. But if the Pharisees abstained from good works on the Sabbath, the Essenes abstained even from natural necessities (Jos. B.J. ii. 8, § 9); if the Pharisees washed, the Essenes bathed before dinner; if the Pharisees ascribed some things to Fate, the Essenes ascribed all (Jos. Ant. xiii. 5, § 9).

But on the other hand the Essenes avoided marriage, which the Pharisees held in honour; they offered no animal-sacrifices in the Temple; they refrained from the use of oil, which was customary among the Pharisees (Luke vii. 46); above all, they offered prayers to the sun, after the manner denounced in Ezekiel (viii. 16). These and other points of divergences are not explained by Ritschl's interesting theory that Essenism was an organized attempt to carry out the idea of " a kingdom of priests and an holy nation " (Ex. xix. 6) .

Granting then that some foreign influence was at work in Essenism, we have four theories offered to us - that this influence was Persian, Buddhist, Pythagorean, or lastly, as maintained by Lipsius, that of the surrounding Syrian heathenism. Each of these views has had able advocates, but it must not be supposed that they are mutually exclusive. If we consider how Philo, while remaining a devout Jew in religion, yet managed to assimilate the whole Stoic philosophy, we can well believe that the Essenes might have been influenced, as Zeller maintained that they were, by Neo-Pythagoreanism.

But as Pythagoras himself came from Samos, and his doctrines have a decidedly Oriental tinge, it may very well be that both he and the Essenes drew from a common source; for there is no need to reject, as is so commonly done, the statements of our authorities as to the antiquity of the Essenes. This common source we may believe with Lightfoot to have been the Persian religion, which we know to have profoundly influenced that of Israel, independently of the Essenes.

The fact that the Pharisees and Sadducees so often figure in the pages of the New Testament, while the Essenes are never mentioned, might plausibly be interpreted to show that the New Testament emanated from the side of the Essenes. So far as concerns the Epistle of St James this interpretation would probably be correct. That work contains the doctrine common to the Essenes with Plato, and suggestive of Persian Dualism, that God is the author of good only. There are also certain obvious points of resemblance between the Essenes and the early Christians.

Both held property in common; both had scattered communities which received guests one from the other; both avoided a light use of oaths; both taught passive obedience to political authority. The list might be enlarged, but it would not necessarily prove more than that the early Christians shared in the ideas of their age. Christianity was to some extent a popularization of Essenism, but there is little reason for believing that Jesus himself was an Essene. De Quincey's contention that there were no Essenes but the early Christians is now a literary curiosity.

The original sources of our knowledge of the Essenes have been mentioned at the beginning of this paper; the best modern discussions of them are to be found in such works as Zeller's Philosophie der Griechen, vol. iii.; Ewald, Geschichte d. V. Israel, iii. 419-428; Reuss, La Theologie chretienne au siecle apostolique, i. 122-131; Keim, Life of Jesus of Nazara, vol. i.; Lightfoot on the Colossians; Lucius, Der Essenismus in seinem Verhaltniss zum Judenthum; Wellhausen, Israelitische and jiidische Geschichte; Ed. Scharer, The Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, div. ii. vol. ii. § 30. The copious bibliography in Conybeare's edition of Philo's De vita contemplativa bears upon the Essenes as well as upon the Therapeutes. For a specially Jewish view of the Essenes see Kohler's article in the Jewish Encyclopaedia. They are there regarded as being " simply the rigorists among the Pharisees." But we are also told that " the Pharisees characterized the Essene as ` a fool who destroyed the world.' " (T. K.; ST. G. S.)

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From Ancient Greek Ἐσσηνοι (Essenoi); earlier etymology unknown

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Essenes pl.

  1. Plural form of Essene.
  2. First century ascetic Jewish sect, in ancient Palestine from the second century BCE. to the second century CE. The Essenes are believed to be the authors of the Dead Sea scrolls.

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Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

A Jewish mystical sect somewhat resembling the Pharisees. They affected great purity. They originated about B.C. 100, and disappeared from history after the destruction of Jerusalem. They are not directly mentioned in Scripture, although they may be referred to in Mt 19:11f, Col 2:8ff.

This entry includes text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.

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