From Free net encyclopedia

The Essenes (es'-eenz) were followers of a religious way of living in Judaism that flourished from the 2nd century BC to the 1st century AD. Many scholars today argue that there were a number of separate but related groups that had in common mystic, eschatological, messianic, and ascetic beliefs that were referred to as the "Essenes". There are also contemporary movements which identify themselves as Essenes.


Contemporary ancient sources

The main source of information about the life and belief of Essenes is the detailed account contained in a work of the 1st century Jewish historiographer Josephus entitled The Jewish War written about 73-75 CE (War 2.119-161) and his shorter description in his Antiquities finished some 20 years later (Ant. 18.11 & 18-22). Claiming first hand knowledge (Life §§10-11), he refers to them by the name Essenoi and lists them as the followers of one of the three "choices" in "Jewish Philosophy'" (War 2.119) alongside the Pharisees and the Sadduccees. The only other known contemporary accounts about the Essenes are two similarly detailed ones by the Jewish philosopher Philo (fl. c. 20 BCE - c. 54 CE; Quod Omnis Probus Liber Sit XII.75-87, and the excerpt from his Hypothetica 11.1-18 preserved by Eusebius, Praep. Evang. Bk VIII), who, however, admits to not being quite certain of the Greek form of their name that he recalls as Essaioi (Quod Omn. Prob. XII.75), the brief reference to them by the Roman equestrian Pliny the Elder (fl. 23 CE - 79 CE; Natural History, Bk 5.73) and the Holy Megillah, the Nasarean Bible of the Essene Way.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, found in caves at Qumran, are widely but not universally believed to be the work of Essenes or to reflect Essene beliefs. See below.


Josephus uses the name Essenes in his two main accounts (War 2.119, 158, 160; Ant. 13.171-2) as well as in some other contexts ("an account of the Essenes", Ant. 13.298; "the gate of the Essenes", War 5.145; "Judas of the Essene race", Ant. 13.311, but some mss read here Essaion; "holding the Essenes in honour", Ant. 15.372; "a certain Essene named Manaemus", Ant. 15.373; "to hold all Essenes in honour", Ant. 15.378; "the Essenes", Ant. 18.11 & 18; Life 10). In several places, however, Josephus has Essaios, which is usually assumed to mean Essene ("Judas of the Essaios race", War I.78; "Simon of the Essaios race", War 2.113; "John the Essaios", War 2.567; 3.11; "those who are called by us Essaioi", Ant. 15.371; "Simon a man of the Essaios race", Ant. 17.346). Philo's usage is Essaioi, although he admits this Greek form of the original name that according to his etymology signifies "holiness" to be inexact (NH XII.75). Pliny's Latin text has Esseni.


According to Josephus the Essenes had settled "not in one city" but "in large numbers in every town" (War 2.124). Philo speaks of "more than four thousand" Essaioi living in "Palestinian Syria" (Quod Omn. Prob. XII.75), more precisely, "in many cities of Judaea and in many villages and grouped in great societies of many members" (Hyp. 11.1).

Some modern scholars and archeologists have argued that Essenes inhabited the settlement at Qumran, a plateau in the Judean Desert along the Dead Sea. While Pliny's location ("on the west side of the Dead Sea, away from the coast ... [above] the town of Engeda") tends to be cited in support of this identification, there is as yet no conclusive proof for this hypothesis. Nevertheless, it has come to dominate the scholarly discussion and public perception of the Essenes.

Rules, customs, theology and beliefs

The accounts by Josephus and Philo show that the Essenes (Philo: Essaioi) led a strictly celibate but communal life − often compared by scholars to Christian monastic living − although Josephus speaks also of another "rank of Essenes" that did get married (War 2.160-161). According to Josephus, they had customs and observances such as collective ownership (War 2.122; Ant. 18.20), elected a leader to attend to the interests of them all whose orders they obeyed (War 2.123, 134), were forbidden from swearing oaths (War 2.135) and sacrificing animals (Philo, §75), controlled their temper and served as channels of peace (War 2.135), carried weapons only as protection against robbers (War 2.125), had no slaves but served each other (Ant. 18.21) and, as a result of communal ownership, did not engage in trading (War 2.127). Both Josephus and Philo have lengthy accounts of their communal meetings, meals and religious celebrations. From what has been deduced, the food of the Essenes was not allowed to be altered (by being cooked, for instance); and they may have been strict vegetarians, eating mostly bread, wild roots and fruits. Template:Fact After a total of three years probation (War 2.137-138), newly joining members would take an oath that included the commitment to practise piety towards the Deity and righteousness towards humanity, to maintain a pure life-style, to abstain from criminal and immoral activities, to transmit their rules uncorrupted and to preserve the books of the Essenes and the names of the Angels (War 2.139-142). Their theology included belief in the immortality of the soul and that they would receive their souls back after death (War 2.153-158, Ant. 18.18).

Scholarly discussion

The Essenes are discussed in detail by Josephus and Philo. Many scholars believe that the community at Qumran that allegedly produced the Dead Sea Scrolls was an offshoot of the Essenes; however, this theory has been disputed by Norman Golb and other scholars. Some suggest that Jesus of Nazareth was an Essene, and that Christianity evolved from this sect of Judaism, with which it shared many ideas and symbols.

According to Martin A. Larson, the now misunderstood Essenes were Jewish Pythagoreans who lived as monks. As vegetarian celibates in self-reliant communities who shunned marriage and family, they preached a coming war with the Sons of Darkness. As the Sons of Light, this reflected a separate influence from Zoroastrianism via their parent ideology of Pythagoreanism. According to Larson, both the Essenes and Pythagoreans resembled thiasoi, or cult units of the Orphic mysteries. John the Baptist is widely regarded to be a prime example of an Essene who had left the communal life (see Ant. 18.116-119), and it is thought they aspired to emulate their own founding Teacher of Righteousness who was crucified.

Another issue is the relationship between the Essaioi and Philo's Therapeutae and Therapeutrides (see De Vita Contemplativa). It may be argued that he regarded the Therapeutae as a contemplative branch of the Essaioi who, he said, pursued an active life (Vita Cont. I.1).

According to the Nasarean Bible of the Essene Way, however, the Essenes were not all celibate and they were not all monks. There were many who married and started families. Vegetarianism was required of all who wished to become members of the Church and the Essenes believed that vegetarianism was a prerequisite to being trusted with the "greater mysteries" of the universe. The Nasarean Bible of the Essene Way states that 'Jesus' (Yahshua) miraculously feeds the 5,000 persons with bread and grapes, contrary to the version of the story found in the modern Christian Bible, in which he feeds the crowd bread and fish.

Modern and contemporary Essenes

Several groups claim spiritual descent from the ancient Essenes and describe themselves as Essenes. Some of these groups believe that the canon of the Bible, and even some translations of books considered "canonical," were changed by various hands to censor Essene beliefs regarding the scriptures (such as transmigration and the feminine aspect of Divinity) vegetarianism and the practice of slavery. The Nasarean Bible of the Essene Way, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nag Hammadhi Library manuscripts and other gospels recently found form the basis for much of their beliefs.

The Order of Nazorean Essenes is an Oregon based religious movement which seeks to revive Essenes and Manichean traditions.

Essenes in fiction

The Essenes are an important part of H. Rider Haggard's Pearl-Maiden: A Tale of the Fall of Jerusalem. [1]


  • Baigent, Michael & Leigh, Richard. The Dead Sea Scroll Deception
  • Baldwin, James. The Fire Next Time
  • Bauer, Walter. Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity
  • Baur, Ferdinand Chritian. Church History of the First Three Centuries
  • Bennett, Chris. Green Gold the Tree of Life
  • Bentham, Jeremy. Not Paul But Jesus
  • Bergmeier, Roland. 1993. Die Essener-Berichte des Flavius Josephus. Kok Pharos, Kampen, ISBN 90 390 0014 X.
  • Briggs, Curtis. 1998. The Dead Sea Scrolls (VHS). Discovery Channel Video
  • Buber, Martin. Two Types of Faith
  • Bultman, Rudolf. Significance of the Historical Jesus for the Theology of Paul
  • Durant, Will. Caesar and Christ
  • Ewing, Upton Clairy. The Prophet of the Dead Sea Scrolls & The Essene Christ
  • Falk, Harvey R. 1985
  • Francis Legge, Forerunners and Rivals of Christianity, From 330 B.C. to 330 A.D. (1914), reprinted as two volumes bound as one, University Books New York, 1964. LC Catalog 64-24125.
  • Gandhi, Mahatma. "Discussion on Fellowship"
  • Golb, Norman. 1985. Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls? The Search for the Secret of Qumran. Scribner
  • Holmes-Gore, V. A., Rev. Christ or Paul?
  • Jung, Carl. "A Psychological Approach to Dogma"
  • Kierkegaard, Soren. The Journals
  • Koester, Helmut. The Theological Aspects of Primitive Christian Heresy
  • Larson, Martin. The Story of Christian Origins & The Essene Heritate
  • Maar, Raban. "The Life of Mary Magdalene"
  • Renan, Ernest. Saint Paul
  • Sanders, E.P., 1992. "Judaism: Practice & Belief 63BCE - 66CE" Minneapolis: Fortress
  • Savoy, Gene. The Essaei Document
  • Schiffman, Lawrence H. 1991. "From Text to Tradition: A History of Second Temple & Rabbinic Judaism". Ktav Publishing House
  • Schonfield, Hugh, Dr. Those Incredible Christians
  • Schweitzer, Albert. The Quest for the Historical Jesus & Mysticism of Paul
  • Shaw, George Bernard. Androcles and the Lion
  • Smith, Enid S., Ph.D., 1959, The Essenes Who Changed Churchianity
  • Vaclavik, Charles. The Vegetarianism of Jesus Christ
  • Wrede, William. Paul

External links

de:Essener el:Εσσαίοι es:Esenio fr:Esséniens ia:Essene it:Esseni he:איסיים nl:Essenen ja:エッセネ派 pl:Esseńczycy pt:Essênios sk:Eséni fi:Essealaiset sv:Esséer