The Essenes, Who Were They?

Who Were the Essenes?

The Essenes, were one

of three major religious

schools of thought in

Palestine, during the

life of Jesus.  One

should become familiar

with them to understand

the backdrop for the NT,

the Early Church, and




ESSENES (ĕ-sēnz’, Gr. Essenoi or Essaioi). The meaning of the name is much debated; possibly it denotes “holy ones.” They constituted a sect of the Jews in Palestine during the time of Christ but are not mentioned in the NT. Our principal sources of information regarding them are Josephus and Philo (first century) and Pliny the Elder and Hippolytus (second century).

The Essenes lived a simple life of sharing everything in common. They practiced strict rules of conduct. They were mostly unmarried. They were reported to number four thousand. The majority of them lived together in settlements, but some resided in the cities of the Jews. Apparently they kept their ranks filled by the adoption of other people’s children. They did not participate in the temple worship but had their own purification rites. They observed the Sabbath day very strictly and greatly venerated Moses. They would take no oaths; but new members, after going through a three-year probationary period, were required to swear a series of strong oaths that they would cooperate in every way with the organization and would never reveal to outsiders any of the affairs or beliefs of the sect.

The Essenes have come into public attention in late years because of the study of theDead Sea Scrolls and the excavation of the monastery called Khirbet Qumran where the scrolls were written. This literature and building give evidence of an organization very similar to what is known about the Essenes. The structure was occupied from the end of the second century b.c. to a.d. 135. The Essenes are known to have flourished in this period. Also, the location of the building fits the description of the elder Pliny. The literature reveals that the people of the Qumran community were avid students of the Jewish Scriptures. Many scholars believe them to be the Essenes but so many religious groups were in existence during the last century b.c. that certainty in the matter has not yet been achieved.

Many of the Essenes perished in the wars against the Romans. Many of the survivors probably became Christians.——CEH

According to Josephus (War, II.viii.2) the Essenes were the third of the main Jewish philosophies, but unlike the Sadducees and Pharisees they kept their main tenets secret among their adherents. Hence the details given by him and Philo of Alexandria are of necessity suspect. They are mentioned by the elder Pliny in a way that links them unmistakably with Qumran.* Philo connects them rather dubiously, with the Therapeutae,* a contemplative Jewish group in Egypt. From these sources it appears that they were marked out by asceticism, communism, and rejection of animal sacrifices, but the more exaggerated forms suggested by Philo seem to have been derived from the Therapeutae. Josephus acknowledges that some of them married and seems to suggest they were prepared to bring sacrifices, if they could be kept separate from those they regarded as polluted.

Their name is probably derived from hasidim (the loyal ones); they probably claimed to be the true representatives of the pious in the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. If that is so, their main peculiarities will have resulted from a conviction that they were living in an end-time condition of virtually complete apostasy. After a.d. 70 many probably joined the Palestinian church and helped to produce most of its characteristic heresies. There seems virtually no doubt that we must equate them with the Qumran sect, though it may be that by the time of Christ there were a number of groups bearing the name Essene. The differences between the Qumran documents and our other information are reconcilable, if we remember that our informants based their statements on hearsay knowledge.

C.D. Ginsburg, The Essenes (1864); J.B. Lightfoot, St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon (1875); E. Schürer, Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes im Zeitalter Jesu Christi (4th ed., 1907); M. Dupont-Sommer, The Jewish Sect of Qumran and the Essenes (1954); H. Kosmala,Hebräer-Essener-Christen (1959); M. Black, The Scrolls and Christian Origins (1961): relevant material from Josephus and Philo quoted in appendix.

Remains of the Essene community at Qumran.

Remains of the Essene community at Qumran.
The desolate setting of Qumran.

The desolate setting of Qumran.

ESSENES ĕs’ enz (̓Εσσηνόι, ̓Εσσαι̂οι). A Jewish religious group which flourished in the 1st cent. b.c. and the 1st cent.a.d., and which formed the third important school of thought in the time of Christ (with the Pharisees and the Sadducees).



Literary sources.

Josephus (Jos. War, II. viii. 2ff.; cf. Jos. Antiq. XVIII. i. 5) described the Essenes as the third of the “philosophies” or schools of religious thought in contemporary Judaism, but apart from his testimony there are further descriptions of Essene beliefs and customs in his older Jewish contemporary, Philo of Alexandria, as well as another from the Rom. author, Pliny, the Elder. A later account furnished by Hippolytus was based on Josephus, though certain sections were apparently derived from independent sources.


Though it is recognized that this author, who lived c. a.d. 37-98, tended on occasions to modify strict historical fact for apologetic and other purposes, it is nevertheless true that his description of the Essenes gives evidence of being factual and based upon first-hand knowledge. His earliest account (Jos. War. II. viii. 2ff.) of the sect was in the compilation made shortly after the fall of Jerusalem (a.d. 70), and there are several references to the Essenes in various parts of his other works, along with a shorter VS in his Antiquities (Jos. Antiq. XVIII. i. 5), written about a.d. 90.

In an autobiography, Josephus recorded that, as part of his study of the Jewish culture, he had joined a wilderness sect headed by a certain Bannus, with whom he stayed for three years before returning to Jerusalem and joining the Pharisees. Whether Josephus was ever actually an Essene novitiate, as he seems to imply, or not, must remain a matter of some doubt, particularly in the light of Essene admission regulations. The fullest account of the Essenes which Josephus furnished occurred in his Wars of the Jews, in which this third philosophical sect was depicted as espousing a stricter discipline than the Pharisees or Sadducees, and a greater sense of fellow-feeling. They rejected worldly pleasures as evil, but regarded continence and the control of the passions as virtuous acts. The Essenes rejected matrimony, preferring instead to train the young offspring of others and mold them to their own patterns of life. While not forbidding marriage for others, they felt that their own attitude was the only legitimate safeguard against the lasciviousness and infidelity of women generally.

Josephus continued to describe the communal life of the Essenes, which was based on the premise that the possession of riches was abhorrent. Those who joined the sect were required to bring their assets for the enrichment of the group as a whole, so that there would be no appearance of either poverty or riches in the community. Their common affairs were managed by stewards appointed for the purpose, whose sole aim was the well-being of the whole group. The Essenes apparently did not form a separate community, preferring instead to mingle with society at all possible levels. They were to be found in every large city, and were evidently well-received by the Jewish populace as a whole.

Essene piety had made a great impression upon Josephus, for he spoke at considerable length of their habits of worship and devotion. They began their day before dawn with an act of prayer, and following this the members of the sect pursued the various secular avocations for which they were fitted, being noted for the conscientious and diligent discharge of their duties. At noon they bathed in cold water and having reassembled in the communal dining room they partook of a simple meal after grace. They then returned to work, and in the evening repeated the procedure with regard to washing and eating.

The strict discipline of the group was indicated by the absence of strife or disturbance, and the only things which were permitted of the members’ free will were acts of help to the needy and attitudes of compassion. While mercy was not allowed to usurp justice, the sect was noted for its fidelity, integrity and humanity, and such characteristics seldom made acts of strict justice necessary. Admission to this group was by way of an initial one-year novitiate, during which the beginner was expected to manifest the qualities to which the sect aspired. If he was deemed a suitable candidate he was required to undergo a further two-year period of testing, after which he was formally admitted to Essene society. At this point the candidate took oaths of fidelity and piety toward God and justice toward men, after which he was allowed to partake of the communal food as a fully accredited member of the group.

The strictness of Essene discipline was evident in the penalties prescribed for major transgressions. The offenders were banished from the sect, and being bound by oaths not to partake of common food frequently came to the point of starvation before they were taken back into the group, often out of sheer compassion. Communal life was under the control of a number of elders, who prescribed strict decorum in public meetings.

According to Josephus, the Essenes believed that, whereas the body was mortal, the soul was immortal. This gave a certain Platonic aspect to their teachings; that the body constituted the prison house of the soul, from which the latter was released at death to wing upward to the heavens. Cessation from work, and worship on the Sabbath day, were matters of punctilious observance in Essene society, and their veneration of Moses, their legislator, required them to indulge in careful study and practice of the Torah. Some Essenes were renowned for their insights into OT prophecy, and for their ability to foretell events still in the future.

Josephus noted that one order of the Essenes diverged from the general tradition on the sole issue of marriage. This group used the married state for the procreation of offspring rather than for sexual pleasure, in the belief that by refraining from marriage the other Essenes were depriving themselves of the “principal part of human life,” namely, the prospect of lineal succession. They supported their position by the unshakeable argument that if everyone was to be of the same mind as the majority of the Essenes, the whole race of mankind would disappear.

In his Antiquities, Josephus furnished a more concise account of Essene teachings and habits of life, in which they were described as holding to a belief in the immortality of the soul, and the necessity for ascribing all things to God. They were independent of the Temple cultus to a considerable extent, and because they deemed certain of their own rites to be of purer quality than those of the Temple priests, they were excluded from the common court of the Temple. Despite this situation the Essenes were renowned for the fact that their virtue and righteousness exceeded that of the scribes and Pharisees, and at the time that Josephus was writing they showed every indication of continuing in that fashion. For him, this notable mark of spirituality was the direct product of communal living.

Pliny the Elder.

Another 1st cent. a.d. author who commented on Essene life and behavior was the Elder Pliny. This man was a fellow soldier of Vespasian, and was perhaps with the Tenth Legion in a.d. 68 when it marched down the Jordan valley. In his Natural History, completed ina.d. 77, he included a topographical description of the W side of the Dead Sea, beginning with Jericho and ending with the mountain fortress of Masada which protected the S border of Judaea. This narrative mentioned a religious community which lived near a palm tree oasis, and it may be that this was the group at Qumran which cultivated crops at the oasis of ’Ain Feshka. Pliny described its location in general terms as being “on the W side of the Dead Sea,” but N of En-gedi, and spoke of the community as “the solitary tribe of the Essenes,” which was noteworthy for its renunciation of women and worldly goods. Pliny was impressed by the remarkable manner in which world-weary postulants flocked to the community seeking to follow the strict rule of life which the Essenes required of their members. Although the passage is obviously rhetorical in style, the general identification of the Qumran locality with some kind of Essene community is quite apparent.


In the writings of Philo, the Alexandrian Jew (c. 20 b.c.-a.d. 52), there is still more information about the Essenes in general, occurring in two of his works, Hypothetica (XI, 1-18) and Quod Omnis Probus Sit Liber (XII-XIII). These works, which were apparently based on a common literary source, were prob. written in Egypt before a.d. 50, and the factual descriptions which Philo has preserved can be taken as constituting valuable information about Palestinian Essenism in the early decades of the Christian era. However, his narratives need to be assessed critically, since Philo had apologetic interests in mind when writing about the Essenes. His attitude was governed by moralistic considerations, for he was utilizing his own people as an example to support the hypothesis that virtue had not vanished entirely from the contemporary Hel. scene.

He computed the number of Essenes in Palestinian Syria in excess of 4,000, as Josephus did at a later period, and thought that their name had been derived from the Gr. hosiotēsor “holiness.” This designation he attributed not to the prosecution of cultic observances but to the resolve of the Essenes themselves to serve God devoutly and to sanctify their minds. Philo commented on the preference of the Essenes for life in villages rather than in cities, since the latter were much more likely to corrupt and deprave the person who was seeking to lead a sincere spiritual life. He also noted their diligence with respect to manual labor, and marveled at the way in which they had deliberately divested themselves of all personal wealth and property, esteeming frugality and contentment as constituting an abundance of riches. Equally significant for Philo was the pacifist attitude adopted by the Essenes, who neither manufactured nor traded in weapons of war. In harmony with this rejection of the military arts was the disavowal of any form of slavery, since they believed in the free exchange of services and held that the owners of slaves outraged the law of the equality of individuals.

The Essenes laid great emphasis on their ancestral laws, which had been mediated by divine revelation and were of supreme importance for faith and behavior. According to Philo, the Essenes observed the ethical precepts of the Torah strictly, manifesting their love for God in a variety of ways including consistent religious purity, abstinence from oaths, a love of virtue, freedom from bondage to material possessions, self-mastery, frugality, humility and contentment. Their respect for their fellows was manifested in deeds of love and charity, in their avowed sense of the equality of individuals, and in their notable spirit of fellowship. The communal life of the Essenes was particularly significant in that it was emulated nowhere else in actual practice. Their clothes and meals were held in common possession, and the wages which each person earned were put into the community treasury so that all might benefit as the need arose. The sick were cared for by those who were well, and the cost of treatment was met from the monetary reserves of the group. The elderly members of the community were accorded the respect due to their age, and in their declining years they were maintained in dignity and contentment.

Like Josephus, Philo stressed the place given in Essene circles to the study of Scripture and the manner in which they were instructed on the Sabbath day. The Essenes abandoned all work at that time and proceeded to sacred locations called “synagogues,” where they were arranged in rows according to seniority, the younger ones sitting below their elders. In process of divine worship someone read a passage of Scripture, and after this another individual who was particularly competent in this area would expound after an allegorical manner anything in the section which was not clearly understood. Philo noted that the Essenes were trained in piety, holiness, justice, domestic and civil conduct, and summarized their beliefs and practices under three headings, namely, love of God, love of virtue and love of men.

In a later work, the Hypothetics, Philo again commented on the diligence and industry of the sect. He mentioned the common ownership of goods and money, and remarked upon their general insistence on a rule of celibacy for their members, on the ground that women and children tended to distract the community from its avowed aim of the pursuit of goodness and truth. Women who were mothers were believed to be a particularly serious menace, since they would stoop without any qualms to use their children as a means of imposing their will upon others in a fashion which would disrupt the spiritual unity of the group.

In a treatise entitled On the Contemplative Life, Philo devoted considerable attention to the activites of another religious group which bore some slight resemblance to the Essenes. Known as the Therapeutae, this community flourished in Egypt for some two centuries prior to the beginning of the Christian era. The Therapeutae were organized on a monastic basis, but were actually recluses who occupied their time in prayer, meditation and the study of their sacred writings, only assembling for divine worship as a community on Sabbath days and sacred occasions. According to Philo the Therapeutae prayed twice daily, at dawn and dusk, and spent the remainder of the day in meditation, reading the OT and interpreting it allegorically. In addition to this kind of study, they composed hymns and psalms in the solitude of their cells. On the weekly day of worship the Therapeutae assembled in order of seniority, and listened to a discourse given by one of the elders of the sect, subsequently returning to their cells for meditation and study. Women formed part of this monastic group, and were subjected to the same conditions of life as the men. Self-control formed the basis of their philosophy of life, which in other respects, however, was not as rigorous as that of the Palestinian Essenes, due to climatic and other factors. Although the Therapeutae may represent a late development of a pre-Christian Jewish sect which was perhaps the progenitor of the Essenes, they may be of quite independent origin. Nevertheless, the similarities between the Essenes and the Therapeutae warrant some consideration of the latter in any estimate of Palestinian Essenism.


The evidence of a Christian writer, Hippolytus (a.d. 170-230?) can be adduced as an important supplement to the testimony of Josephus and Philo concerning the Essenes. In a treatise entitled The Refutation of All Heresies, he commented on the attribute of mutual love and concern which characterized Essene behavior. In describing those who renounced matrimony, Hippolytus noted that they did not admit women to their company under any considerations, even when they presented themselves as postulants and gave evidence of a desire to participate in community life on the same basis as that of the male members of the sect. They did, however, adopt young boys and train them in the ways of the Essenes, although they did not forbid them to marry should they desire to do so at a later time.

The usual regulations concerning wealth were evident in the observations of Hippolytus. While the Essenes despised riches, they were by no means averse to sharing their goods with those destitute persons who came to them for help. On joining the order the novitiates were required to sell their properties and present the proceeds to the head of the community, who was responsible for distributing them according to individual need. Hippolytus noted what must have been a rather distinctive practice in ancient Pal., namely the abstention of the sect from the use of oil, on the ground that for them it constituted defilement to be anointed.

The decorum of the sect was governed by strict rules of behavior, which apparently impressed Hippolytus as much as earlier writers. The Essenes lived and worked under the control of elders and overseers, and were required to live lives of rigorous self-discipline. Disorderly behavior was not tolerated in any form, and swearing was a particularly serious matter, since whatever anyone said in this respect was deemed to be more binding than an oath. Swearing invariably lowered the individual concerned in the esteem of the community, and diminished his reliability as a credible person.

The account of the initiation requirements furnished by Hippolytus was similar to that of other writers on the subject. There were some differences in detail, however, as for example in the observation that, during the initial one-year novitiate, those desiring admission to the sect lived in a house apart from the community meeting place, although they partook of the same food and observed the identical rules of life. Hippolytus appears to have thought in terms of a two-year probationary period rather than the three-year period indicated by Josephus. This latter author was evidently the source of much of the information which Hippolyptus furnished about the nature of the oaths which the initiate was required to swear on being admitted to the order, the various sects into which the Essenes were divided, and the theological tenets to which they adhered. However, it is quite possible that Hippolyptus was also using another source of information, since there are certain significant differences between his description of the Essenes and that of Josephus. For example, Hippolytus regarded the Zealots and the Sicarii, or Assassins, as subordinate groups of Essenes, and in his description of Essene religious practices he omitted all references to the supposed worship of the sun at dawn as part of the morning devotions of the sect. Furthermore, whereas Josephus attributed to the Essenes as a whole the traditional Hellenic belief that the body formed a prison for the soul from which death was the only release, Hippolytus stated that the Essenes held to a belief in the resurrection of the body as well as in the immaterial and immortal nature of the soul, maintaining in addition that both would be reunited in the day of judgment. In view of these divergences it may be that Hippolytus was drawing upon a source of information which was closer to the real facts of the situation than the one which Josephus employed.

Essene history.

Because of the rather spare amount of available material, any attempt at the reconstruction of Essene history must be rather tentative in nature. Furthermore, because of the difficulties attached to interpreting some of the source material, there can hardly be said to be a consensus of scholarly opinion on the matter. However, there are good reasons for assuming that the Essenes originated among the Hasideans, the “loyal ones” (1 Macc 2:427:13). These people were zealous for the Jewish law at a time when Hel. ideas and patterns of life were flooding into Pal. early in the 2nd cent. b.c. This situation took a critical turn during the rule of Seleucus IV (187-175 b.c.), the son and successor of Antiochus the Great, when a dispute between the high priest Onias III and Simon, the commander of the Temple guard, nearly resulted in the plundering of the Temple treasury by Seleucus, who was anxious to pay off some of the debts which Antiochus had incurred during his struggle against the Rom. empire. The entire incident accentuated the tension in Judaea between the more orthodox Jews and those who had succumbed to the wiles of Hellenism. The latter strongly favored Seleucid ideals, and were led by Simon and his brother Menelaus, while the more orthodox segment of Jewry remained loyal to Onias III and looked to Egyp. hegemony for support. They resisted the encroachments of Hellenism vigorously, realizing that their traditional religious beliefs had nothing in common with the skepticism, irreligion, and moral degeneration of Hellenic culture.

When Joshua, the younger brother of Onias III became the leader of the Hellenizing party in Jerusalem and adoped the Gr. name Jason, he prevailed upon Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who had succeeded Seleucus IV in 175 b.c., to depose Onias and appoint himself as high priest. This was agreed to on condition that Jason achieved the Hellenizing of Jerusalem as quickly as possible, a task to which Jason lent every effort. In protest against this trend the Hasideans (or Hasidim) became involved in outbreaks of violence, some of which were directed at the Temple priesthood.

Hostilities flared up again in 168 b.c. at a time when Antiochus Epiphanes had determined to eradicate Judaism and colonize Judaea with people of Hellenic sympathies. Accordingly a royal decree was promulgated, requiring all that was characteristic of Judaism to be removed. The Temple was profaned, the sacred books of the law were burned, and the sacrificial worship of Judaism was prohibited, being replaced by pagan Gr. rites in which the people were compelled to participate on pain of death. Many of the Hasidim would have prefered to withdraw to the wilderness rather than clash openly with the Syrian regime, but the implacable hostility of the Hellenizing party gave them little choice. Many Hasideans perished in the massacres of 167 b.c., and when active resistance crystallized at Modin under the leadership of Mattathias, the surviving Hasideans threw in their lot with his guerilla forces and fought with Judas Maccabeus, the son of Mattathias. Following the success of the Maccabean revolt and the establishing of a treaty by which Lysias guaranteed the restoration of Jewish liberties (1 Macc 6:59), the nation entered a new phase of development in which the allies of the revolution began to vie with one another in a struggle for control of the new state. While a strong Hellenizing party still remained in Judaea, the majority of the people gave firm support to the Maccabeans, who became increasingly designated by their family name of Hasmoneans, and who ultimately emerged as the dominant political party, with avowed nationalistic aims.

In the course of this struggle for power there emerged the three major religious or theocratic groups known as the Sadducees, the Pharisees and the Essenes. They had in common the spiritual aspirations of the Maccabean revolt, namely a national existence for the Jews as a separate entity in the Gentile world, and a strict observance of the Mosaic law. The Sadducees were a priestly group, being well represented in the most influential ecclesiastical circles, and they enjoyed the favor of the Hasmonean rulers until the reign of Alexandra Salome (76-67 b.c.), who preferred the Pharisees, the second major party in Judaea.

These latter had won popular support under John Hyrcanus I (134-104 b.c.). but their political fortunes were uncertain until the time of Alexandra Salome, after which they maintained a dominating position in the Sanhedrin. The Pharisees and Essenes alike seem to have developed from rival groups of earlier revolutionary Hasideans, and it may be that the real division between them occurred about 141 b.c., when a formal decree was issued in Judaea which recognized Simon as hereditary high priest and governor of the Jewish people (1 Macc 14:41). The many similarities between the Pharisees and the Essenes can thus be explained in terms of their common origin. The Pharisees certainly constituted the majority party, however, and their determined pursuit of political aims in Judaea disenchanted the Essenes, who despaired of the human situation and saw the only form of salvation in terms of divine eschatological intervention. Jewish tradition depicted the Essenes as being active in Jerusalem to the time of Aristobulus I (104-103b.c.), as mentioned by Josephus (Jos. War. 1. iii. 5; Jos. Antiq. XIII. xi. 1, 2), but by the time Alexander Jannaeus died in 76 b.c., the Essenes had made a sharp break with Hasmonean interests, and were increasingly critical of the political aims and pursuits of the other parties in Judaea. They withdrew to a large extent from public life, and this action coincided with the decline of Hasmonean fortunes when Aristobulus II came to the throne in 67 b.c.

A series of abortive attempts by the Hasmoneans to overthrow the Herodian dynasty may well have favored the pietistic aspirations of the Essenes, particularly in the time of Herod the Great (37-34 b.c.). The chief political difficulty faced by this ruler was the opposition of the populace to his claim to be the legitimate ruler of Judaea, and he offset this partly by the backing of the Rom. military power and partly by conciliating such anti-Hasmonean elements in the nations as the Essenes. In an astute political move Herod excused the Essenes, along with some of the Pharisees, from the oaths of loyalty imposed upon the Jews in the early period of his rule, thereby giving the Essenes an unprecedented degree of religious freedom. Quite possibly they returned to Jerusalem, having doubtless obtained an assurance from Herod that their peculiar legal concepts would not be flouted by the Temple priesthood. Most prob. it was at this time that the Essenes carried out their program of missionary expansion which saw the founding of Essene communities in all the villages and small towns of Judaea. The only hint of their presence in Jerusalem was the designation given to an entrance through the S wall of the city, the “Gate of the Essenes” (Jos. War. V. iv. 2).

Certainly the friendly relations which existed between Herod and the Essenes had become well known by the time of Josephus (Jos. Antiq. XV. x. 5), although there is little doubt that the Essenes generally looked with disfavor upon the doings of Herod the Great. Be this as it may, at least one Essene was employed in the royal court as late as the period immediately after the death of Herod (Jos. Antiq. XVII. xiii. 3). In a.d. 66, at the outbreak of the war with Rome, one of the Jewish generals was an Essene named John, and Josephus (Jos. War II. viii. 10) recorded that many of the Essenes were martyred by their Rom. captors. The remainder may have offered sporadic resistance to Rome until the revolt of Bar Kochba was crushed in a.d. 135, but precisely what part they played is unknown, though Bar Kochba himself may have been an Essene. Ultimately the Essenes were doubtless assimilated by the Jewish Christians or some other Jewish group which survived the Second Jewish Revolt.

A religious group which flourished in the same general period as the Essenes, and which had close affinities with them, was the ancient sect known as the Covenanters of Damascus. The existence of this group became known through the exploration of a Cairo synagogue genizah or storeroom in 1896. Some of the MSS recovered were subsequently published under the title, “Fragments of a Zadokite Work,” a document which narrated the fortunes of a band of priests in Jerusalem who seemed to have been deposed as part of a reform movement. They named themselves the “Sons of Zadok,” and under the leadership of a person known as the “Star” they moved to a location styled “Damascus,” which may or may not be the historic city of that name, where they organized what came to be known as the party of the New Covenant. This sect indulged in a monastic pattern of life, and under the guidance of a notable leader described as the “Righteous Teacher” it flourished as a criticism of the secular and political aspirations of the Pharisees, and to a lesser extent, of the Sadducees also. Despite this, however, the sect maintained a close contact with the Temple at Jerusalem, as the Zadokite Fragment indicates, for the members maintained that Jerusalem was their holy city and the Temple their proper sanctuary. Their affinities with the Essenes appeared evident from their insistence upon fidelity to the law of Moses, the necessity for repentance as a prerequisite to entering the Covenant community, an emphasis upon upright behavior, humanitarian concerns, and other matters dear to the Essene mind.

When archeologists were excavating the Qumran caves, they unearthed some pieces of MS from the sixth cave (6Q), which were found to be equivalent to a portion of theZadokite Fragment. This discovery was augmented still further by the recovery from the fourth cave (4Q) of seven fragmentary MSS which also contained sections of the Zadokite Fragment. Taken together, these sources would seem to point to a close relationship between the religious group known to have produced the Qumran MSS and the sect responsible for the drawing up of the Zadokite Fragment. Because of the close similarity of religious ideals, many scholars have regarded the two orders as identical in nature, and have suggested that the Damascus community had prob. lived at Qumran for about seventy-five years prior to the end of the first occupational period, after which they moved to Damascus.

Many of those who regard the Damascene Covenanters as Essenes have maintained that they prob. returned to Jerusalem under some kind of concordat in the reign of Herod the Great, and that they subsequently returned to Qumran after his death, but there is no proper evidence for this supposition. There is also some doubt as to whether the sectaries of the Zadokite Fragment were actually Essenes, in view of their emphasis upon animal sacrifice (CDC XIII:27; XIV:1). They were doubtless related to the Hasidim movement, but evidently regarded themselves as the true sons of Zadok. Their tenets had elements in common with the Sadducees, though they differed from them in their belief in immortality (CDC V:6), the advent of the Messiah (CDC II:10) and the recognition of prophecy and the Hagiographa. Along with the Pharisees they acknowledged the existence of heavenly beings (CDC VI:9; IX:12), divine predestination (CDC II:6, 10) and free will (CDC III:1, 2; IV:2, 10). On the other hand, they forbad divorce (CDC VII:1-3), and held that the Pharisees defiled the Temple through what they considered were sexual irregularities (cf. CDC VII:8, 9).

The excavation of a ruined settlement at Qumran and its subsequent association with the MSS and fragments recovered from nearby caves (see Dead Sea Scrolls) led to a study of the nature of the religious community which had inhabited the site. One of the scrolls, the Community Rule or Manual of Discipline (1QS) furnished most of the information concerning the structure and organization of the Qumran sect. Apparently it arose as part of the Hasidean movement, and crystallized after the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, when the high priesthood as well as the civil and military power came under Hasmonean control. Under the leadership of a “Righteous Teacher,” the Qumran sectaries withdrew to the Judaean wilderness in protest against the “epoch of wickedness” and organized themselves as a Covenant group to prepare the way for the divine coming in the New Age. Characteristic of their attitude was an avowed refusal to recognize the Jerusalem priesthood, and in the Habakkuk commentary specific mention was made of a Wicked Priest, most prob. a Hasmonean, who manifested a particularly serious degree of hostility toward the community and its leader. Apparently the sect prepetuated a framework of Zadokite priests and Levites, who would be available for the conduct of proper and legitimate sacrificial worship in Jerusalem once the unworthy priesthood had been dispossessed. The general historical background for this movement is that of the Maccabean and subsequent eras, including the period of Herod the Great. Some scholars think that the Qumran group, which they regard as Essene in nature, moved their sphere of operation to Jerusalem, only to return to Qumran after the death of Herod.

From 1QS it appears that the Qumran sectaries lived a communal life of strict dedication and obedience to God. While members of both sexes were allowed to join the group, an exacting novitiate of one year was required, and if the postulant met the stipulations of the group at the end of the second year he was enrolled as a member of the order (1QS VI:22, 23) after an elaborate ceremony (1QS I:18ff.). Each subsequent year the members were required to renew their pledges of loyalty to the ideals of the group (1QS II:19ff.), and delinquent members were reminded of their obligations (1QS V:20ff.). Ritual lustrations and quasi-sacramental meals were given great prominence at Qumran, and the sectaries appear to have avoided all unnecessary contact with the outside world, preferring to live and work as a self-sustaining group, unlike the Essenes who mingled freely with society. The Qumran sectaries devoted specific parts of the day and night to meditation and study of the law. In the interpretation of the latter they were considerably stricter than the most severe Pharisees, and their exposition of Scripture was in apocalyptic terms in which they themselves were to play a prominent part in realizing the coming of the New Age. Specific guidance about the latter had been given by God to the Righteous Teacher, who bestowed this esoteric knowledge upon his disciples. However, their expectations were not fulfilled in the hoped-for manner, since their settlement was destroyed in the war of a.d. 66-73, over two decades after the founding of the Christian Church.

Scholars have commonly identified the sect of the Zadokite Fragment and the Qumran group, and have regarded both as Essene. However there are some significant differences between Essene and Qumranic practices which merit notice. The Qumran sectaries evidently did not regard themselves as Essene in nature, since the word “Essene” appears nowhere in the DSS. Whereas the Essenes had groups in every village and town in Judaea and mingled freely with secular society, the Qumran sectaries adopted a separatist policy, and had no dealings whatever with those who stood outside their own group. Neither the Damascus nor the Qumran covenanters distrusted women, unlike most Essenes, but were in accord with the minority Essene segment which approved of marriage. The Essene novitiate appears to have lasted for about three years, whereas at Qumran it prob. did not exceed two years in length. Whereas the Essenes were strictly pacifist by nature, the Qumran sectaries were not, if their military scroll (1QM) is a true indication of their attitudes. The Qumran fellowship did not address the sun at dawn, as did the Essenes in the report of Josephus, though the author may have been referring to only one quasi-Essene group, the Sampsaeans, who followed this custom. These differences will be sufficient to show that despite the elasticity of the term “Essene” in the pre-Christian era, the Qumran group can be thus regarded only in the most general sense, and may actually be nearer in nature to certain cave sects flourishing in the 1st cent. b.c. Consequently it is difficult at the time of writing to place the Qumran covenanters firmly within the stream of Essene history.

Essene life.

A brief summary from known sources of the Essene way of life can now be attempted. The vast majority of Essenes were scattered about the smaller settlements of Judea, avoiding the larger cities because of their contamination by Gentile elements. Strict observance of the purity laws in the Torah was a feature of Essene behavior, being matched by an equal emphasis on purity of life. They were notable for their communal ownership of property, which arose from their abhorrence of worldly wealth, and also for their hospitality to other members of their own sect. A strong sense of mutual responsibility characterized the Essene communities, in which the needy were given every care. Life was authoritarian in nature, with everything, apart from personal acts of mercy and charity, being governed by those in charge of the brotherhood. Admission to Essene groups was preceded by a period of testing for about three years, and when a candidate had proved his suitability he had to take solemn oaths of piety and obedience. Subsequent violation of these oaths could, and most frequently did, result in expulsion from the group. Daily worship was an important feature of community life, beginning with prayer at dawn, and on holy days and sacred seasons special rites were observed. The sacrifices offered at such times took place within the confines of the various Essene communities, since their emphasis upon special conditions of purity prevented them from participating actively in the worship of the cultus at the Jerusalem Temple. However, it was their practice to send to the Temple certain things which they had dedicated to God. One aspect of Essene daily worship was the study of their sacred scriptures, a task to which special expression was given on the sabbath. Scriptural study on such occasions was a communal affair, as with many other features of Essene life, with the group assembling in their meeting hall or “synagogue,” according to seniority. The method of Biblical study consisted of a reading, followed by an exposition of the passage by some learned secretary. Philo recorded that the Essenes studied their sacred writings with a view to finding out their symbolic meaning, in the belief that the divine promises to the prophets of Israel were being fulfilled in their own day. In this connection some of thepesharim or commentaries from the Dead Sea community are illuminating, particularly if the Qumran sect was related in some way to the Essenes, since the authors of these writings commented on the text of some specific prophecy, and then proceeded to interpret what was written in terms of events which were either contemporary or expected to occur in the very near future.

The question of marriage appears to have split the Essenes into major and minor divisions, with the former section insisting on vocational celibacy as a feature of community life and the latter permitting marriage as a primary means of perpetuating the sect. Though the majority did not condemn marriage in principle, they avoided it because of its deleterious effects on community life. Because the Essenes thought of themselves as Israelite warriors fighting a holy war, as in the time of Moses and Joshua, marriage was deemed unsuitable for a long term volunteer (cf. Deut 23:9-14). Despite their strict behavior there is no doubt that they exerted a profound spiritual influence over Jewish life at the beginning of the Christian era. See Dead Sea Scrolls.


K. Kohler, JE, V, 224-232; F. M. Cross, The Ancient Library of Qumran (1958), 65-106; R. K. Harrison, The Dead Sea Scrolls (1961), 72-101; W. R. Farmer, IDB, II, 143-149.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

es-senz’, (Essenoi, Essaioi):

Contents I. THE NAME

Forms It Assumes–Etymology, Origin


1. Philo (1) Description from Quod Omnis Probus Liber (2) Description from Quotation in Eusebius, Preposition Evang. (3) Description of Therapeutae from De Vita Contemplativa

2. Josephus (1) Description from Antiquities of the Jews, XVIII, i, 5 (2) Description from Wars of the Jews, II, viii, 2-13 (3) Incidental Notices

3. Pliny 4. Hegesippus 5. Porphyry 6. Hippolytus–Uses Josephus, but to Some Extent Independent 7. Epiphanius–Confused Account


1. Government 2. Doctrines


1. Essenes and Chasidhim 2. Position of Essenes in Josephus 3. Doctrinal Affinities 4. Essenes and Pythagoras 5. Buddhism and Essenism 6. Parseeism and Essenism 7. Essenism Mainly Jewish


1. Reasons for Holding the Essenes to Be the Writers of the Apocalypses 2. Objections Answered


1. Resemblances between Essenism and Christianity 2. Points of Difference 3. Disappearance of Essenism in Christianity 4. Monachism LITERATURE

When Josephus describes the sects of the Jews, he devotes most of his time and attention to the third of these sects, the Essenes. Strangely enough, although there are frequent references in the New Testament to the other two sects, the Sadducees and Pharisees, no reference has been found to the Essenes. Notwithstanding this silence of the Gospels, the prominence of this third sect is undeniable. Even in Egypt they are known. Philo, the Jewish philosopher, gives an account of these Essenes in terms that, while in the main resembling those used in Josephus, yet differ enough to prove him clearly an independent witness. Another contemporary, Pliny the Naturalist, also mentions these Essenes. Approximately a century later we have a long account of the habits and tenets of these sectaries in Hippolytus’ Refutation of All Heresies. A century and a half later still Epiphanius describes these under various titles. Despite the fact that no reference to the Essenes can be found in the Gospels or the Acts, at all events under that name, there can be no doubt of their existence. Would one understand the Palestine in which our Lord’s ministry was carried on, he must comprehend the place occupied by the Essenes.

I. The Name.

This assumes several forms in different authors–indeed sometimes two forms appear in the same author. Josephus uses most frequently the form of the name which stands at the head of this article, but sometimes he speaks of individuals as “Essaeans” (BJ, II, vii, 3; viii, 4). This latter form is that preferred by Philo, a form that is adopted by Hegesippus as quoted by Eusebius, IV, 22. Pliny in his Natural History, v.15 writes “Essaeans.” Hippolytus also has “Essenus.” Epiphanius has mixed his information so that this sect appears with him under several names as “Ossaei” and “Jessaei.” Forms It Assumes–Etymology, Origin:

It is clear that the name is not primarily Greek–it has passed into Greek from another tongue, since none of the forms has any easy derivation in Greek. Notwithstanding, there have been attempts to derive it from some Greek root, but all are preposterous as etymologies. The etymology must be sought either in Hebrew or its cognate, Aramaic The usage in regard to the translation of proper names is our only guide. Reasoning from the practice as seen in the Greek translation of the Scriptures and in Josephus, we can deduce that the first letter of the original word must have been one of the gutturals `, chapter, h, ’. That the second letter was a sibilant is certain, and the last was probably y, ’, for the final “n” in the common form of the name is due to the desire to render the word suitable for Greek accidence. We may say that to us the two most likely derivations are `asiya’, “doers” or ’aciya’, “healers.” Our preference is for the latter, as one of the characteristics of the Essenes dwelt upon by Josephus is the fact that they were healers by means of herbs and incantations (BJ, II, viii, 6). This view is held by the great mass of investigators, as Bellerman, Gfrorer, Hamburger, Herzfeld, Dahm, etc. The name “Therapeutae” given by Philo to the kindred sect in Egypt supports this etymology, as it would be in one of its senses a translation of it. Lightfoot’s objection that it is improbable that the ordinary name of the sect “should have been derived from a pursuit which was merely secondary and incidental” does not follow analogy. The term “Methodist” was derived from a purely temporary characteristic of the society that gathered round Wesley. The extreme probability, from the fact that the name is not found in the New Testament, is that it was the nature of a nickname, like “Quakers” applied to the Society of Friends. The multitude that followed Our Lord affords evidence of the influence that a reputation for healing gave to one.

II. The Authorities for the Tenets of the Essenes.

Philo and Josephus, as contemporaries and Jews, are necessarily our principal sources of information. Next is Pliny, though a contemporary of the sect, yet as a Roman, of necessity receiving his information secondhand. There is next in point of date Hippolytus in his work Refutation of All Heresies, written more than a century after the fall of the Jewish state and the disappearance of the Essenes. One point in his favor as an authority is his habit of quoting from sources that would be reckoned good even now. He seems to have founded to some extent on Josephus, but he appears to have made use of some other source or sources as well. Slightly later is Porphyry. He avowedly draws all his information from Josephus The latest of the ancients who may be reckoned as authorities is Epiphanius. Writing in the 4th century, and naturally of a somewhat confused intellect, any statement of his unsupported by other authority is to be received with caution.

1. Philo:

In estimating the evidence that Philo gives concerning the Essenes, we must remember that he was living in Alexandria, not shut up in a Ghetto, but mingling to some extent with the scholars and philosophers of that city. The Jewish community there appears to have been more completely Hellenized than any other assemblage of Jews. The object of Philo’s numerous works seems to have been the twofold one of commending Jewish religious thought to the Greek philosophic society in which he mingled, and of commending Greek philosophy to his Jewish kinsmen. The geographic distance from Palestine may be to some degree neglected from the frequent communications between it and Egypt. The work in which Philo devotes most attention to the Essenes is his early work, Quod Omnis Probus Liber, “that every good man is free.” This treatise is intended for a Gentile audience–the “Lawgiver of the Jews” is introduced casually first, and then more emphatically, till he is named. The Essenes are brought forward as the very flower and perfection of Mosaism.

(1) Description from Quod Omnis Probus Liber.

“There is a portion of that people called Essenes–over four thousand in my opinion. They are above all servants (therapeutai) of God. They do not sacrifice animals but study to preserve the sanctity of life. They live in villages, avoiding all cities on account of the lawlessness of those that inhabit them. Some of these men cultivate the soil, others live by peaceful arts and so benefit themselves and all their neighbors. They do not lay up treasures of gold or silver for themselves, judging contentment and frugality the great riches. With them are no makers of arms or of military engines and no one is occupied with anything connected with war. They all avoid commerce and navigation, thinking that these employments make for covetousness. They possess no slaves, holding all men to be free and all are expected to aid one another as real (gnesiois) brethren. They devote their attention to the moral part of philosophy–to the neglect of logic– using, as instructors, the laws of their country which it would have been impossible for the human mind to devise save by Divine inspiration. They abstain from all work on the seventh day, which they look on as sacred. On it they assemble in sacred buildings which are called synagogues and, seated in order according to age, they hear the Scriptures (tas biblous) read and expounded. They are thus taught to choose what is right and to avoid what is wrong. They use a threefold criterion–love of God, love of virtue, love of man. They carefully avoid oaths and falsehood–they regard God as the author of all good. They all dwell in companies, so that no one has a dwelling absolutely his own. They have everything in common, their expenses, their garments, their food. When they work for wages they do not retain these for themselves, but bring it into the common stock. The sick are not neglected when they are unable to contribute to the common store. They respect their seniors as if they were their parents. Such men never can be enslaved. As a proof of this none of the many oppressors of their land were able to bring any accusation against the Holy Essenes.”

The above is a very much condensed summary of the passage on the Essenes in Philo, QOPL. No one can fail to be struck with the resemblance all this has in the first place to the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount and the practice of the early church. Although celibacy is not mentioned it is implied in the picture here presented of the Essenes. There is another account in a passage quoted from Philo by Eusebius, Preparatio Evangelica, VIII, 11:

(2) Description from Quotation in Eusebius, Preposition Evang.

“Our lawgiver trained (eleipsen, “anointed”) ten thousands of his followers and formed them into a community called Essenes from their holiness. They dwell as numerous communities in many cities and villages of Judea.” It will be observed that this contradicts the statement above that there were only 4,000 Essenes and that they avoided cities. “This sect is not hereditary. There are no children nor youths among the Essenes as such persons are unstable. No one among them has property of his own. They regard all possessions as part of a common stock. They all dwell in the same place, forming themselves into clubs and societies. They do everything for the benefit of the whole society, but different members take up different employments, laboring ceaselessly despite cold or heat. Before sunrise they go to their work and do not quit it till sunset. Some are tillers of the soil, some shepherds, some tend bees, some are artisans. These men when they have received their wages give them up to the general manager who purchases what is necessary. Those who live together eat at the same table day after day. Their dress also is common. In winter they have thick cloaks, in summer light mantles. Each takes what he wants. When anyone falls sick he is cured from their common resources. Old men, even if they happen to be childless, are as if they had a numerous offspring of affectionate children. They repudiate marriage because they look on woman as a selfish creature and specially addicted to jealousy and hypocrisy, thus likely to dissolve their brotherhood. A man bound to a woman is hampered by his affection, is no longer a free man but a slave” (compare 1Co 7:1. Paul mentions the same difficulties in regard to wedlock).

(3) Description of Therapeutae from De Vita Contemplativa:

In his Treatise De Vita Contemplativa Philo, commencing with a reference to the Essenes, passes on to describe a similar class of coenobites who have their settlements near the Moerotic Lake. These he calls Therapeutae, or in the feminine, Therapeutrides, a title which he interprets as “healers.” While there are many points of resemblance, there are also not a few features of difference. We shall give as full an extract as in the previous instances.

It is related that they have separate houses and only come together for worship or for feasts. They have parallel societies for men and for women. As in the case of the Essenes there is a reading of ancient sacred books and an exposition of the passage read. The name Therapeutae, with the explanation of the name given by Philo, affords a link, as said above, with the Essenes, if the etymology of their name which we have seen reason to prefer be the true one. There seems also to be some connection between these Jewish monks and the Christian monks of some three centuries later. It ought to be remarked that many suspicions have been thrown on the authenticity of De Vita Contemplativa. Although critical names of authority may be named on that side, yet it may be doubted whether the reasons are sufficient. Lucius, who is the main opponent, does so mainly to invalidate the existence of the Therapeutae. He thinks De Vita Contemplativa was composed by a Christian to give an antiquity to the Christian monks. To prove a practice to have been Jewish would be far from commending it to Christians. But more, the resemblance to the Christian monks, although close on some points, in others of importance the difference is equally prominent. While the common feast suggests the Agapae of the early church, we must remember that this was not a monastic peculiarity. The fact that a female community existed alongside of the male and joined with them in worship is out of harmony with what we know of early monasticism. The feast of the 50th day has no parallel in Christianity.

2. Josephus:

Like Philo, Josephus wrote for a non-Jewish audience. In Rome the philosophic ideas held in the Hellenic world were prevalent, so he, as much as Philo, had a temptation to be silent on any subject which might shock the sensibilities or provoke the ridicule of his masters. In particular, in describing the habits and tenets of the Essenes, for whom he professed so high an admiration, he would need to be specially careful to avoid causes of offense, as in such a case he would be liable to be involved in their condemnation. In dealing with the notices he gives of the Essenes we would consider the descriptions at length first, and then the incidental notices of individual Essenes.

(1) Description from Antiquities of the Jews, XVIII, i, 5

The description which comes earliest in history–not, however, the earliest written–is in Antiquities of the Jews, XVIII, in connection with the census and survey under Quirinius (Cyrenius) and the resistance to it by Judas of Gamala. He there (Ant., XVIII, i, 5) begins by referring to their theological position, that they believed in the most absolute preordination. They teach the immortality of souls and a state of rewards and punishments. Although they dedicated gifts to the temple they offered no sacrifices, presumably bloody sacrifices, as they have offerings of their own. A singular statement is made that “they are on this account excluded from the common court” (koinou temenismatos). They occupy themselves with husbandry. “They excel in justice all other men.” They have all things in common. They neither marry wives nor keep slaves. He says, as does Philo, that they number over four thousand men. They appoint “good men priests who should receive the fruits of their labor for the sake of corn and food.”

(2) Description from Wars of the Jews, II, viii, 2-13

A much fuller account is found in the earlier written treatise on the Wars of the Jews, II, viii, 3. In this work he emphasizes the ascetic side of Essenism.

“The Essenes,” he says, “reject pleasures as vice. They despise marriage though they do not absolutely repudiate it, but are suspicious of women. They despise riches and have all things in common. They think oil a defilement. They wear white garments. They elect overseers (epimeletai) to manage their common affairs, much as the Christian bishops did those of the churches under them. They have no one city but many of them dwell in every city.” It may be observed that this statement is a contradiction of Philo’s statement and that of Josephus himself above, that they were only 4,000. “When any of them go from one city to another they find the houses of those of their sect open to them as if they were their own.” It is probable that as the apostles, when sent out by our Lord to preach, were on entering a city to ask who in it was worthy, the traveling Essenes would inquire who in it were Essenes. Like the apostles they took nothing with them when they traveled save weapons for defense against robbers, just as the apostles had at the time of the Last Supper two swords with which they had likely provided themselves for similar reasons. “They get up before sunrise and offer up prayers which they have received from their ancestors. They are then dismissed to their several employments to the fifth hour, they bathe in cold water, put on white linen garments and enter the refectory as if into a temple. Food is set before each.” Much like the Christian grace before meat, a priest offers up prayer. Again, as grace after meat, when the meal is finished the priest again prays. “Both before and after their refection they sing praise to God. As Christ commanded His disciples and said, `Swear not at all,’ they avoid oaths, indeed esteem them worse than perjury. New members were admitted to the society by baptism, and oaths were laid upon them that they were to be submissive to those in authority in the society. They were to keep the doctrines of the sect secret. They kept the Sabbath with greater strictness than did any other section of the Jews. Heinous sins were punished by expulsion from the order which, as they felt their oaths still binding on them, amounted to death. Judicial sentences are arrived at with the utmost care; decisions are come to by an assembly of not less than a hundred who are chosen to be judges. When once the sentence has been pronounced it stands fixed. They regard the bodies as corruptible but the souls are immortal. They believe in a Paradise resembling the Islands of the Blest.” One thing is to be observed: “they are bound by oath to preserve the sacred books of their sect, ta haireseos auton biblia, and the names of the angels.” They utter predictions by means of their sacred books, which predictions are generally fulfilled. There is, however, another sort of Essenes who do not avoid marriage.

The philosopher Porphyry mentions that Josephus had an account of the Essenes in the second book against the Gentiles. If this means Contra Apienem, no such passage is to be found in that work now. It may, however, be some work of Josephus which has not come down to us, which Porphyry has misnamed, though this is unlikely.

(3) Incidental Notices:

This is not, however, the whole of the information concerning the Essenes which we can gather from Josephus. The earliest of these incidental notices occurs under the reign of Jonathan (Ant., XIII, v, 9), when the historian mentions the three sects of the Jews, when the only peculiarity he assigns to the Essenes is that they believe that everything happens according to fate. Next, in relating the fate of Antigenus, he tells how Judas, an Essene teaching in the temple, when he saw Antigonus, declared that he was proved a false prophet, as he had foretold that Antigonus was to die that day at Struto’s tower (Caesarea), and he was now six hundred furlongs off from there. Here the statement that the Essenes were excluded from the temple seems directly contradicted. In the days of Herod (XV, x, 4,5) Josephus relates that while Herod demanded oaths of submission from others he excused the Essenes, from the favor he had to them on account of one Menahem, a member of this sect, who foretold his reign. This Essene seems to have been about the court and to have nothing of the coenobitic agriculturist about him. The Essenian fame for prediction and the interpretation of dreams is related in regard to Archelaus, the son of Herod (BJ, II, vii, 3). Archelaus had a dream, and applied to an Essene, Simon or Simeon, who foretold the end of his reign. In singular contrast to what had been said by Philo of the objection the Essenes had in regard to everything connected with war, one of the leading generals of the Jews when they rebelled against the Romans was John the Essene, who was made governor of certain toparchies in the North (BJ, II, xx, 4). He was killed in the battle near Ascalon with which the war began, which ended in the capture of Jerusalem by Titus (BJ, III, ii, 1). There is also mention of a gate of the Essenes in Jerusalem, which seems to imply that a number of them permanently resided there.

3. Pliny:

Pliny speaks of the Essenes in his Natural History (v.17) in somewhat rhetorical terms. They dwell on the west side of the Dead Sea–“a wonderful race without women, without money, associates of the palms.” They are recruited by those wearied of life, broken in fortunes. “Thus a race is eternal through thousands of ages (seculorum) in which no one is born; so fruitful to them is repentance of life in others.” He refers to the fertility of Engedi and adds, “now burned up.”

4. Hegesippus:

There is an enigmatical passage quoted by Eusebius from Hegesippus in which the Essaeans (Essenes), the Galileans, Hemerobaptists, Masbotheans, Samaritans and Pharisees are declared to hold different opinions about circumcision among the sons of Israel “against the tribe of Judah and of Christ” (kata tes phules Iouda kai Christou).

5. Porphyry:

Porphyry’s note regarding the Essenes is simply taken from Josephus

6. Hippolytus:–Uses Josephus, but to Some Extent Independent

7. Epiphanius–Confused Account:

The last authority to whom we would refer is Epiphanius. In his anxiety to make up the number of heresies, the Essenes figure repeatedly under different names. He declares the Essenes to be a sect of the Samaritans closely associated with the Sebuans and Gortheni. Among the Jews he has three sects whom he calls Hemerobaptistae, Nazaraei and Osseni. Besides he has a sect called Sampseans, evidently also Essenes, which he mixes up with the followers of Elkaisa. He does not seem to have any clear idea about their tenets or habits. The Samaritan sects differ about the three Jewish feasts, but he does not make it clear in what they differ. The Sebuans seem to have reversed the order of the Jewish feasts, but whether the Essenes and Gortheni did so likewise is not clear. That the Essenes whom we are considering were not Samaritans appears to be as certain as anything about this enigmatic sect can be. The obscure sentence quoted by Eusebius from Hegesippus might be interpreted as supporting this statement of Epiphanius, but it is too enigmatic to be pressed. As to the three Jewish sects the first named–Hemerobaptistae–suits the daily washings of the Essenes, but he asserts that they agree with the Sadducees in denying the resurrection. The Nazareans or Nazarenes are not to be confounded with a Christian sect of nearly the same name. They resided in the district East of Jordan. They held with the Jews in all their customs, believing in the patriarchs, but did not receive the Pentateuch, though they acknowledged Moses. The Osseni are the likest to the Essenes, as they are said to dwell near the Dead Sea, only it is on the side opposite to Engedi. Epiphanius leaves them to denounce Elxai and his brother Jexais, of which latter nothing further is known.

III. Deductions and Combinations.

From the characteristics so many, so confusing, indeed, in some respects so contradictory, it is difficult to get a consistent picture. They are said to be only four thousand, yet they are many ten thousands. They reside in Engedi, a company of coenobites. They dwell in villages and avoid towns, yet they dwell many in every city and in populous communities. They avoid everything connected with war, yet one of their number is one of the trusted generals of the Jews in their rebellion against the Romans. They keep away from the Temple, yet one of them, Judas, is teaching in the Temple when he sees Antigonus, whose death he had foretold. The only way in which any consistency can be brought into these accounts is by taking advantage of what Josephus and Hippolytus say about the subsections into which the Essenes were distinguished.

A parallel the present writer has elsewhere used of the Methodists is illuminative. While the most prominent body of Methodists are Arminians, there are the Calvinistic Methodists. While Wesleyan Methodists do not allow women to preach, the Primitive Methodists do. This is so far confirmed by the fact that while the abjuring of marriage is a marked feature in the representation of Philo, yet the latter says that one class of the Essenes not only do not themselves oppose matrimony but regard those that do oppose it as enemies of the human race. The residents in Engedi formed but a small proportion of the Essenes. It is probable that of them the statement, found alike in Philo and Josephus, that they were 4,000, applies. All the features of the picture of the daily common meals, rising before sunrise, joint devotions, may be true in their fullness only of the community by the Dead Sea. What Philo says (quoted by Eusebius, Preposition Evan., VIII, 11), that among the Essenes “there are no youths or persons just entering on manhood, only men already declining towards old age,” would indicate that the settlement at Engedi was an asylum for those who, having borne the burden and heat of the day, now retired to enjoy repose.

1. Government:

They had communities apparently all over Palestine, if not also beyond its bounds, over each of which there was a president appointed (Hip., IX, 15). This would mean that in towns of any size they would have a synagogue. They appear to have had houses of call, though it may have been that every member of the Essene community kept open house for all members of their sect who might be traveling. The traveler, when he came to a city, would inquire for any that were Essenes, as the apostles were commanded by their Lord, in similar circumstances, to inquire (“search out”) who in a city were “worthy.” The common meals might to some extent be observed in these different scattered communities, probably at intervals, not daily as at Engedi. At these the secret sacred books, read and studied with so great regularity at Engedi, would also be read. In this synagogue not only would the canonical books be preserved but also those other books which gave them the names of the angels, as now in the synagogues of Palestine the library preserved in the synagogue may be used by those connected with it throughout the week. The head of the community at Engedi might have some suzerainty over all the different communities, but in regard to this we have no information. One external feature which would at once make the Essenes known to each other was the fact that they always dressed in white linen. They had priests probably in every one of their communities. The Jewish exorcists in Ephesus, in whom Bishop Lightfoot (Col, 93) recognizes Essenes, were the sons of one Sceva, a high priest (archiereus, Ac 19:14). The high-priesthood was evidently not connected with the temple at Jerusalem, for no such name appears in the list of high priests. It thus most probably was an Essenian high-priesthood.

2. Doctrines:

In regard to their tenets, their belief in the absolute preordination by God of everything appears the feature in the doctrinal position which most appealed to Josephus Hippolytus affirms in terms their belief in the resurrection of the body. This point, as above noted, Philo and Josephus ignore. The passage in Hippolytus is the more striking from the fact that the latter portion so closely resembles the parallel passage in Josephus. Josephus as we have suggested above, avoided crediting the Essenes with belief in resurrection because of the ridicule to which it would expose not only the Essenes, his proteges, but also himself. Hippolytus, writing with information other than what might be got from Josephus or Philo and as, writing for Christian readers, without the fear of ridicule, in regard to the resurrection of the body, boldly and in terms ascribes that doctrine to them. The silence of our two main witnesses as to the Essenes cherishing any Messianic hopes cannot be pressed, as their silence may be explained as above mentioned by fear of the suspicions of Rome in regard to any such hopes. The statement of Hippolytus that all the Jews had these expectations may be said to cover this case. The abjuring of marriage and the shunning of everything connected with war seem to be prominent opinions in some sections of the Essenes, but not held by others.

IV. History and Origin.

There is much in Essenism that is difficult to understand. We have seen contradictory features assigned to the Essenes by different authorities; but even in the case of those features concerning which there is least dubiety the new difficulty emerges as to how it appeared as a characteristic of a Jewish sect. This is especially the case in regard to abstinence from marriage. Easterners always have an earnest desire to have sons to keep their memory green, for on a death many of them had and still have ceremonies which only the son of the dead can perform. Yet despite this they avoided marriage. The Jews with their Messianic hopes desired children, as no one knew but that his child might prove the child of promise, the Christ of God.

1. Essenes and Chasidhim:

The earliest note of the existence of the Essenes, as of the Pharisees and Sadducees, is under the pontificate of Jonathan, the successor of Judas Maccabeus (Ant., XIII, v, 9). Josephus says “at this time there were three sects of the Jews,” and proceeds to name them. If this, however, were precisely true, it is singular that there is no mention of any of these sects in either of the books of the Maccabees. The only sect named is the Hasideans (chacidhim) who are called (1 Macc 2:42) “mighty men of Israel, every one that offered himself willingly for the law” (the King James Version “voluntarily devoted himself to the law”; Greek hekousiazomenos). These again are not mentioned by Josephus The meaning of the word is “saints,” and in this sense it appears frequently in the Psalms. A parallel in modern history to their warlike activity and their claim to saintliness may be found in the Cameronians of “society folk” in Scotland toward the end of the 17th century. They were Peden’s “praying folk,” yet they fought and won battles. When William of Orange came they formed the Cameronian regiment which helped to quell the clans and checked their advance after Killiecrankie. Some have identified these Hasideans with the Pharisees (as W. Robertson Smith, article “Assidaeans,” Encyclopedia Biblica, and others). Hitzig would regard their successors as the Essenes. The great resemblance there was between the Pharisees and the Essenes renders it not improbable that originally they were really one sect and split off. If Josephus is to be trusted this division must have occurred, if not before the Maccabean struggle, at least early during its continuance. The Sadducean authors of 1 Maccabees may have grouped them together. According to Josephus, John Hyrcanus was a Pharisee, from which it may be presumed that Judas Maccabeus and his brethren belonged to the same sect of the Jews. The Assideans deserted Maccabeus, so that it would seem at least possible that by that time the separation had become complete, so that the Hasideans are now to be regarded as Essenes. It would seem as if they deserted the Maccabeans when they–the Maccabeans–made alliances with heathen powers like Rome. Then they objected to the high-priestly family being passed over for the Hasmoneans, hence their foolish surrender to Bacchides because Alcimus (called by Josephus Jacimus = Jehoiakim) was with him, a descendant of the race of the high priests. All this is utterly unlike the quiet contemplative lives of the coenobites in Engedi. It would seem that the thousand who died in the wilderness themselves, their wives, their children and their cattle (1 Macc 1:29- 38), were more like the inhabitants of Engedi. Before leaving the Hasideans it must be said that the representation of the connection of the Hasideans with Judas Maccabeus put in the mouth of Alcimus by the writer of 2 Macc 14:6 is not trustworthy. After this desertion of the Maccabeans the more religious of them retired to Engedi, while the rest of the party were scattered over the country in the various cities and villages.

2. Position of Essenes in Josephus:

As above mentioned the earliest mention of Essenes is by Josephus (Ant., XIII, v, 9) while Jonathan was high priest. The next is the story of Judas the Essene seated in the Temple surrounded by his scholars “who attended him (paremenon) in order to learn the art of foretelling,” thinking that the appearance of Antigonus in the Temple courts proved his prophecy false that he was that day to die in Strato’s tower (Caesarea). Judas is evidently a resident in Jerusalem and meets his pupils in the Temple courts. This would imply that he had no horror of the Temple nor was debarred from its courts. He had no repugnance for residence in cities. Menahem, the next figure that presents itself, shows a man who is mingling in court circles. He inflicts on Herod, the son of the favorite counselor of the high priest, a playful domestic chastisement and prophesies his future greatness. Herod, as we are told, always favored the Essenes in consequence. Later Archelaus consults Simon or Simeon, an Essene, as to the interpretation of a dream. He is at all events resident in Jerusalem and known in the court circles. He may have been Simeon of Lu 2:25-35. It must, however, be observed that the name is one of the commonest among the Jews at that time. After this they disappear, unless Hippolytus’ identification of the Zealots with a section of the Essenes is admitted. Those in Engedi were aside from the course of the war, though if Pliny’s representation is to be taken as accurate the vines and palm trees of Engedi had been burned and the settlement had been rendered desolate. They may have betaken themselves to Pella like the Christians, so as not to be involved in the destruction of the city and the Temple. The communities of the sect in Asia Minor disappear also. To all appearance they are absorbed in the church.

3. Doctrinal Affinities:

Owing to the fact that so many of the doctrines and practices attributed to the Essenes have no resemblance to anything else in Judaism the question of origin has a special meaning in regard to them. Although like all Easterners the Jews have a desire for progeny–indeed the man who has no child occupies a secondary place in social esteem – yet the Essenes, or at all events some of them, shunned marriage. Despite the elaborate system of animal sacrifices that claimed to originate with Moses whom they venerated, they abjured bloody sacrifices. Although the seed of Aaron were anointed priests, they set up priests of their own. Their habit of morning and evening prayer, timed by the rising and setting of the sun, suggested sun- worship. The external resemblance of these tenets of the Essenes to those of the Pythagoreans impressed Josephus, and was emphasized by him all the more readily, since thus he brought himself and his nation into line with Greek thought. This suggestion of Josephus has led some, eg. Zeller, to the deduction that they were Jewish neo-Pythagoreans. The features of resemblance are formidable when drawn out in catalogue. He shows that like the Pythagoreans the Essenes regarded asceticism a means of holiness. Both abstained from animal food and bloody sacrifices, admired celibacy and, dressing in white linen garments, had frequent washings. Both prohibited oaths, both formed a corporate body into which admission was had by act of initiation and after probation. Community of goods was the custom in both. Both believed in transmigration of souls. The value of this formidable list is lessened by the fact that there is something of uncertainty on both sides as to the precise views and customs. Philo and Josephus unquestionably Hellenized the views of the Essenes when they presented them before readers educated in Greek culture; further the views of Pythagoras have come down to us in a confused shape.

4. Essenes and Pythagoras:

As to the assertion that the Pythagoreans dressed in white linen, Diogenes Laertius says that linen was not yet invented. Zeller has no sufficient evidence that the Essenes avoided the flesh of animals as food, and Diogenes Laertius expressly says that Pythagoras ate fish, though rarely (VIII, 18). While there seems no doubt as to the Pythagorean belief in the transmigration of souls, it seems certain that this was not a doctrine of the Essenes. Neither Philo nor Josephus attribute this view to them. This is the more striking that, immediately after dealing with the Essenes, Josephus proceeds to take up the doctrines of the Pharisees to whom he does attribute that view. Moreover the distinctive views of the Pythagoreans as to numbers and music have no sign of being held by the Essenes. On the other hand the fact that Pythagoras had a wife seems to throw doubt on their alleged preference for celibacy. Another chronological difficulty has to be met. The Pythagoreans as a society were put down in the 5th century before Christ. They may be regarded as having disappeared, till in the 2nd century AD they reappear as prominent neo-Pythagoreans. It is true that Cicero and Seneca mention Pythagoreans, but only as individuals who would claim to be the followers of Pythagoras, and not as members of a sect: they were without influence even in Italy.

5. Buddhism and Essenism:

Chronology is equally against the view favored by Hilgenfeld that the influence of Buddhism may be traced in Essenism. As late as the end of the 2nd century AD, Clement of Alexandria, although acquainted with the name Buddha, is ignorant of his tenets and of divisions of his followers. The Alexandria which Hilgenfeld identified with Alexandria of Egypt, in which there was a Buddhist settlement, was really to be found in Bactria, where a Buddhist settlement was likely.

6. Parseeism and Essenism:

There is more to be alleged in favor of Parsee influence being traceable. Neither geography nor chronology protests against this influence. The Jews were for centuries under the domination of the Persians, who were followers of Zoroaster. They seem on the whole to have been favored by the Persian rulers, a state of matters that would make the Jews all the more ready to view with sympathy the opinions and religion of these masters. Moreover the Persian worship had spread away to the west, far beyond Syria. At the same time it is easy to exaggerate the points of resemblance. The dualism alleged to be a leading feature in Essenism is more a matter of deduction than of distinct statement. Indeed the proofs alleged by Zeller are almost ludicrous in their insufficiency, since Philo says that the Essenes shun marriage because women are selfish (philautos), and Josephus, that they do so because women are addicted to excess (aselgeia); that therefore they regard the female generally as under the dominion of the evil principle, the fact being that this is really a part of the Hellenizing which the Essene views underwent at the hands of Philo and Josephus. The alleged sun-worship is scarcely more worthy of credit: it is a deduction not even plausible. When carefully looked at the evidence points the other way. Their first prayer is offered not at sunrise but before it (BJ, II, viii, 5); in other words, they work while it is day. Their evening orisons are offered after the sun has set. At the same time their elaborate angelology seems to be due to the influence of the Zend-Avesta, but in this the Essenes merely shared with the rest of the Jews. We know that the Jews brought the names of the angels with them from Babylon.

7. Essenism Mainly Jewish:

The most singular feature in Essenism is really a feature of Judaism emphasized out of proportion. It was unlike the Jews to shun marriage, yet in seasons when special holiness was required intercourse between the sexes was forbidden (Ex 19:151Sa 21:5). The whole act of sexual intercourse was regarded as unclean (Le 15:16-18). In the Pauline Epistles uncleanness is used as equivalent to fornication (Ro 1:246:19, etc.). So also in2Pe 2:10. Such a view naturally led to the idea which soon became regnant in Christianity that the state of virginity was one of special sanctity (Re 14:4). The respect they gave to the unmarried state may be exaggerated. If Philo’s representation (quoted in Euseb., Preposition Evan., VIII, 11) be correct, men were not admitted until maturity was attained and passed, when, therefore, such desires had begun to die down. Their avoidance of marriage is a matter of less importance. Their extreme reverence for the Sabath is of a piece with their celibacy. Their avoidance of the Temple sacrifices, so far as they did so, may well be due to something of more than contempt for the religion of the Sadducean high-priestly party. Moreover the long residence of Israel in Babylon, when the Temple worship had to be in abeyance, and the consequent prevalence of synagogue worship, tended to lessen the importance of the sacrifices of the Temple. Thus it would seem that the Essenes were really a Jewish sect that had retained more of the Zoroastrian elements than had the rest of the Jews.

V. Relation to the Apocalyptic Books.

Among the features of Essenism which seem to have impressed Josephus most was the fact that they had sacred books of their sect which they preserved, as also the names of the angels, thus bringing the Essenian special books into connection with angelology. These books their proselytes were bound by oath to preserve (BJ, II, viii, 7). Concerning the kindred sect of the Therapeutae, Philo says, “They have also writings of ancient men” (De Vita Contemp., III). On the other hand we have a mass of writings the same in character, dependent on one another, all apparently proceeding from one school of Jewish thought. Of the three sects of the Jews from which alone they could have proceeded the Sadducees are excluded because, while the apocalyptic books are full of angels, they believe neither in angel nor spirit (Ac 23:8). While doctrinally the Pharisees might suit, the fact that practically there is no reference to any of these books in the Talmud, which proceeded from the Pharisaic school, renders them unlikely to have been the authors. The Essenes seem to us to have been the school from which these apocalyptic works proceeded. The sect, at the fall of the Jewish state, disappeared in Christianity, and in the Christian church these books are preserved.

1. Reasons for Holding the Essenes to Be the Writers of the Apocalypses:

The section of the Essenes who dwelt as coenobites beside the Dead Sea were in circumstances specially liable to see visions and to have distorted views of morality, so that the composition of pseudonymous writings, literary forgeries, might seem right. As seen in the study of the apocalyptic books there is the undue prominence given to sexual sin–a prominence that seems to be symptomatic of the unhealthy mental state engendered by celibacy. These writings are the product of a school that professed to have secret sacred books. In 2 (4) Esdras 14:45,46 we have an account of how, while 24 of the sacred books were published to the multitude, 70 were retained for the “worthy,” that is, for some inner circle, some brotherhood like the Essenes. In the Assumption of Moses, Joshua is commanded to place the revelations given him “in certain vessels and anoint them with oil of cedar.” Such an order would be held as explaining at once the disappearance of the book for the years succeeding Moses and its opportune reappearance. On the one hand we have a sect that professes to have secret sacred books, and on the other we have sacred books that have been composed by a school that must have had many features which we recognize as Essenian. Further, the Essenes disappeared in the Christian church, and in the Christian church and not among the Jews are these books preserved.

2. Objections Answered:

The main objection to this ascription is the prominence of the Messianic hope in the apocalyptic books, and the absence of any notice in Josephus and Philo that the Essenes had this hope. But from neither of these writers could be discovered that any of the Jews cherished this hope. Yet from the New Testament we know that this hope was a prominent feature in national aspirations. Philo, associating perpetually with Greeks, would be sensitive to the ridicule to which such views would expose him, and how it would undo much of his laborious efforts to commend Judaism to the Greeks as a higher philosophy. Josephus had not only that motive, but the more serious one of personal safety. To have enlarged on Messianic hopes and declared these hopes to have been cherished by these Essenes whom he had praised so much would be liable to bring him under suspicion of disloyalty to Rome. The silence of these two writers proves nothing because it proves too much; and further we have easy explanation of this silence. The assumption of Dr. Charles that the Essenian ideal was ethical and individualistic is pure assumption. There is another objection that while the doctrine of resurrection is recognized in these books we know nothing of the Essenes holding it. That the Greeks and their scholars in philosophy, the Romans, looked at the idea of resurrection from the dead as a subject for ridicule would be reason sufficient for Philo and Josephus to suppress such a feature in their description of the Essenes. From them it could not be learned that the Pharisees ever had any such belief. It is also objected that while the Essenes held the pre-existence of souls, there is no trace of this belief in the apocalyptic books. Josephus, however, does not really assert that they believed in the prior existence of individual souls, but rather in a soul-stuff from which individual souls were separated. Thus both positively and negatively we think there is a strong case for the Essenes being regarded as the authors of the apocalyptic books. Further objections are brought forward by Dr. Charles as applicable to the Assumption of Moses specially. One is the interest manifested in the Temple by the writer while, so says Dr. Charles, “the Essene was excluded from its courts,” and refers to Josephus, Ant, XVIII, i, 5. He must have forgotten, while penning this sentence, Ant, XIII, xi, 2, in which Judas, the Essene, is represented as teaching in the Temple. His objection that Josephus credits the Essenes with a belief in a paradise beyond the ocean like the Greek Islands of the Blest, appears to us to lay too much stress on what is in both cases figurative language. Moreover, in Enoch the description of Paradise (chapters 24-26) would almost seem to be the original from which Josephus (BJ, II, viii, 11) drew his picture. He seems to regard our ignorance of how far the Essenes agreed with the rest of their countrymen in considering the enemies of Israel “the wicked,” as evidence that they disagreed with them on that point.

VI. The Essenes and Christinaity.

1. Resemblances between Essenism and Christianity:

That there were many points of resemblance between the Essenes and the church in its earliest form cannot be denied. The Essenes, we are told, maintained a community of goods and required anyone who joined their society to sell all he had and present it to the community (Hippolytus, Adv. Heret., ix; x; Josephus, BJ, II, viii, 3), just as so many of the primitive Christians did in Jerusalem (Ac 4:37). Another peculiarity of the Essenes–noted by Josephus (BJ, II, viii, 4)–that they moved about from city to city, and wherever they went found accommodation with members of their order, although perfect strangers, may be compared with our Lord’s instructions to His disciples when He sent them forth (Mt 10:11): “Into whatsoever city or village ye shall enter, search out who in it is worthy.” When one thinks of who those worthy persons could be, and what was the evidence by which their worthiness was expected to be established, one is almost obliged to suppose that it was some specially easily recognized class that was so designated. If the worthiness in question was the moral quality, there are so many ideas of moral worth that when the apostles inquired, on entering a city, who was worthy, before they could act on the answer they would need to discover what was the criterion of worthiness in the mind of him from whom they had inquired. If, however, this term was the private designation of the members of a sect, one by which they, in speaking of each other, indicated that they were co-members, as the “Quakers” speak of each other as “Friends,” the inquiry for those who were worthy would be simple enough. If the Essenes were “the worthy,” then identification would be complete, but we cannot assume that. The majority of the points in which the Essenes resembled the primitive Christians are noted above in connection with each feature as it appears in the passage or passages of the authorities that record it, and to these we refer our readers.

2. Points of Difference:

Why our Lord Never Meets the Essenes. There are some phenomena which, irrespective of these resemblances and differences, have a bearing on the relation between Essenism and Christianity. The first is the fact that our Lord, who met so many different classes of the inhabitants of Palestine–Pharisees and Sadducees, Zealots and Herodians, publicans, Samaritans, Greeks–never is recorded to have met an Essene. The common answer, which satisfied even Bishop Lightfoot, is that they were so few and lived so retired that it was no marvel that He never encountered any of them. They had little or no effect on the national life. This mistaken answer is due to forgetting that though both Josephus and Philo say the Essenes were 4,000 they also declare that they were “many in every city,” that there were “ten thousands of them.” our Lord must have met them; but if the name “Essene” was a designation given from without like “Quakers,” then they may appear in the Gospels under another name. There is a class of persons three times referred to–those “that waited for the consolation of Israel” (Lu 2:25 the King James Version), “looking for the redemption” (Lu 2:38), “waited for the kingdom of God” (Mr 15:43 the King James Version; Lu 23:51 the King James Version). There are thus Simeon and Anna at the beginning of His earthly life, and Joseph of Arimathea at the end, connected with this sect. If, then, this sect were the Essenes under another name, the difficulty would be removed. If, further, in any sense our Lord belonged, or had belonged, to the Essenes, then as He would be perpetually meeting and associating with them, these meetings would not be chronicled. A man cannot meet himself. If they are the authors of the apocalyptic books, as we contend, then the title “waiters for the kingdom of God” would be most suitable, full as these books are of Messianic hopes. If this opinion is correct our Lord’s assumption of the title “Son of man” is significant, taken in connection with the prominence given to that title in the Enoch books.

3. Disappearance of Essenism in Christianity:

Another significant phenomenon is the disappearance of Essenism in Christianity. Bishop Lightfoot, in his dissertation on the Colossian Heresy (Comm. on Col, 21-111), proves that it was Essenism. These Essenes must have been baptized into Christ, or they could not have got entry into the Christian communities which had been drawn to Christ from heathenism. But that is not the only heresy that is connected with the Essenes. The Ebionites seem to have been Essenes who had passed over into Christianity. In theApostolical Constitutions the Ebionites and Essenes are brought into very close connection. Epiphanius, in his confused way, mixes up the various names under which the Essenes appear in his works with a certain Elkaisa, a connection also to be found in Hippolytus, an earlier and better authority. But Elkaisa claimed to be a Christian. His leading follower, Alcibiades, appeared in Rome and was resisted by Hippolytus. TheClementine Homilies, a religious novel of which Peter is the hero, has many Essenian features. It is assumed to be Ebionite, but that only makes the evidence that the Essenes had become Christians all the more convincing. The Ebionites were Christians, if defective in their views, and the presence of Essenian features in a work proceeding from them emphasizes the identity. See Ebionism.

4. Monachism:

There is another phenomenon, more extensive and important than those we have considered above–the presence of Monachism in the church. Notwithstanding that our Lord prayed “not that” the disciples be taken “out of the world,” but that they be kept “from the evil” (Joh 17:15), implying that they were not to retire into solitude, and that the apostle Paul regards it as demonstrating the falsity of our possible interpretation of an exhortation of his that it would imply that the disciples “must needs go out of the world” (1Co 5:10); yet the monks did retire from the world and regarded themselves as all the holier for so doing, and were regarded so by others. The apostle Paul declares the “forbidding to marry” one of “the doctrines of demons,” yet very soon asceticism set in and virginity was regarded as far holier than the married state. Retirement from the world and asceticism were the two cardinal characteristics of Monachism. Despite that these were in antagonism to the teachings of Christ and His apostles, within little more than a century after our Lord’s ascension Monachism began to appear, and prevailed more and more and continues to this day. These characteristics, retirement from the world and asceticism, especially forbidding to marry, were marked features of Essenism. The wholesale entrance of the Essene sect into the church would explain this. On the other hand this wholesale passing over into Christianity of so intensely Jewish a sect implies a historic connection or affinity. It is true that the catechetic school of Alexandria praises the contemplative life, so admired by their contemporaries, the neo-Platonists, and that philosophy which had been looked at askance by the church was, so to say, taken under their protection by the Alexandrian school, and the retirement of solitaries into the deserts or the formation of monasteries served to promote this contemplation. This led to all the extravagances of the monks being regarded as heights of philosophy. Such views were a cause, but as certainly were they also effects. The cause of these effects as it seems to us was to some extent the admiration extended by Philo, the Alexandrian, to the Essenes and Therapeutae, and the influence of Philo on his Christian successors in Alexandria.


Sources: Philo, Josephus, Pliny, Hegesippus, Porphyry, Hippolytus, Epiphanius. Secondary Literature: Besides works specially on the Essenes, the following are mentioned: Frankel, Die Essaer; Lucius, Der Essenismus; Ginsburg, Essenes; and portions of books, as Delaunay, Moines et Sibylles, 1-88; Thomson, Books Which Influenced our Lord, 74-122; Ritschl, Die Entstehung der alt-katholischen Kirche, 179-203; Lightfoot, Commentary on Col, 7-111, 347-417.

There are in histories of the Jews discussions of the questions in order. Of these may be noted: Ewald, Hist of Israel, V, 370-71; Gratz, Geschichte der Juden, III, 657-63; Schurer, The Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, II, ii, 188-218, translation. This opens with a fairly full account of the literature up to the date of the 2nd German edition; Zeller, Geschichte der Philos. der Griechen, III, ii, 2, pp. 235-93. There are also articles in various Bible and theological dictionaries, as Smith and Wace, Dict. of Eccles Biography; Smith and Fuller, Dict. of the Bible; HDB; Jewish Encyclopedia;RE; Schenkel, Bibel-Lexikon; M’Clintock, Theological Dict.

At the same time, while submitting these as a sample, and only as a sample, of the vast literature of the subject, we agree in the advice given by F. C. Conybeare–in HDB, under the word: “The student may be advised to study for himself the very limited documentary sources relating to the Essenes and then to draw his own conclusions.” We feel the importance of this advice all the more that perusal has shown us that most of these secondary writers have considered exclusively the coenobite community at Engedi to the neglect of the wider society. After the student has formed opinions from a careful study of the sources he may benefit by these secondary works.

J. E. H. Thomson

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s