Consider helping today!
The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
A branch of the see See PHARISEES who conformed to the most rigid rules of Levitical purity while aspiring to the highest degree of holiness. They lived solely by the work of their hands and in a state of communism, devoted their time to study and devotion and to the practise of benevolence, and refrained as far as feasible from conjugal intercourse and sensual pleasures, in order to be initiated into the highest mysteries of heaven and cause the expected Messianic time to come ('Ab. Zarah 9:15; Luke 2:25,38; 23:51). The strangest reports were spread about this mysterious class of Jews. Pliny (c.), speaking of the Essene community in the neighborhood of the Dead Sea, calls it the marvel of the world, and characterizes it as a race continuing its existence for thousands of centuries without either wives and children, or money for support, and with only the palm-trees for companions in its retreat from the storms of the world. Philo, who calls the Essenes "the holy ones," after the Greek ὅσιοι, says in one place (as quoted by Eusebius, "Præparatio Evangelica," 8:11) that ten thousand of them had been initiated by Moses into the mysteries of the sect, which, consisting of men of advanced years having neither wives nor children, practised the virtues of love and holiness and inhabited many cities and villages of Judea, living in communism as tillers of the soil or as mechanics according to common rules of simplicity and abstinence. In another passage ("Quod Omnis Probus Liber," 12 et seq.) he speaks of only four thousand Essenes, who lived as farmers and artisans apart from the cities and in a perfect state of communism, and who condemned slavery, avoided sacrifice, abstained from swearing, strove for holiness, and were particularly scrupulous regarding the Sabbath, which day was devoted to the reading and allegorical interpretation of the Law. Josephus ("Ant." 15:10, § 4; 18:1, § 5; "B. J." 2:8, §§ 2-13) describes them partly as a philosophical school like the Pythagoreans, and mystifies the reader by representing them as a kind of monastic order with semi-pagan rites. Accordingly, the strangest theories have been advanced by non-Jewish writers, men like Zeller, Hilgenfeld, and Schürer, who found in Essenism a mixture of Jewish and pagan ideas and customs, taking it for granted that a class of Jews of this kind could have existed for centuries without leaving a trace in rabbinical literature, and, besides, ignoring the fact that Josephus describes the Pharisees and Sadducees also as philosophical schools after Greek models.
The Essenes in History.
The Essenes, as they appear in history, were far from being either philosophers or recluses. They were, says Josephus ("Ant." 15:10, §§ 4-5), regarded by King Herod as endowed with higher powers, and their principle of avoiding taking an oath was not infringed upon. Herod's favor was due to the fact that Menahem, one of their number who, excelling in virtuous conduct and preaching righteousness, piety, and love for humanity, possessed the divine gift of prophecy, had predicted Herod's rise to royalty. Whether Sameas and Pollio, the leaders of the academy (Abot 1:11), who also refused to take an oath ("Ant." 15:10, § 4), belonged to the Essenes, is not clear. Menahem is known in rabbinical literature as a predecessor of Shammai (Ḥag. 2:2). Of Judas the Essene Josephus relates ("Ant." 13:11, § 2; "B. J." 1:3, § 5) that he once sat in the Temple surrounded by his disciples, whom he initiated into the (apocalyptic) art of foretelling the future, when Antigonus passed by. Judas prophesied a sudden death for him, and after a while his prediction came true, like everyother one he made. A similar prophecy is ascribed to Simon the Essene ("Ant." 17:13, § 3; "B. J." 2:7, § 4), who is possibly identical with the Simon in Luke 2:25. Add to these John the Essene, a general in the time of the Roman war ("B. J." 2:20, § 4; 3:2, § 1), and it becomes clear that the Essenes, or at least many of them, were men of intense patriotic sentiment; it is probable that from their ranks emanated much of the apocalyptic literature. Of one only, by the name of Banus (probably one of the Banna'im; see below), does Josephus ("Vita," § 2) relate that he led the life of a hermit and ascetic, maintaining by frequent ablutions a high state of holiness; he probably, however, had other imitators besides Josephus.
Origin of the Essenes.
To arrive at a better understanding of the Essenes, the start must be made from the Ḥasidim of the pre-Maccabean time (I Macc. 2:42, 7:13; II Macc. 14:6), of whom both the Pharisees and the Essenes are offshoots (Wellhausen, "Israelitische und Jüdische Geschichte," 1894, p. 261). Such "overrighteous ones," who would not bring voluntary sacrifices nor take an oath, are alluded to in Ecclesiastes 7:16, 9:2, while the avoidance of marriage by the pious seems to be alluded to in Wisdom 3:13-4:1 (comp. II Macc. 14:6,25). The avoidance of swearing became also to a certain extent a Pharisaic rule based on Ex. xx: 7 (see Targ.; Ned. 8b; Yer, Ned. 3:38a; Soṭah 9b; Ber. 33a); and the rule (Matthew 5:37, R. V.) "Let your speech be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay," is also Talmudic (B. M. 49a). As a matter of fact, the line of distinction between Pharisees ("Perushim") and Essenes was never very clearly drawn (see "Perishut" in Abot 3:13; Soṭah 3:4, 11:15; Tosef., Soṭah, 15:11; Ṭoh. 4:12; B. B. 60b).
Thus the more than six thousand Pharisees who claimed to be "highly favored by God" and to possess by "divine inspiration foreknowledge of things to come," and who refused to take an oath of fealty to Herod, predicting his downfall while promising children to Bagoas, the eunuch (Josephus, "Ant." 17:2, § 4), were scarcely different from those elsewhere called "Essenes" ("Ant." 15:10, § 4).
"The Ancient Ḥasidim."
About the organization of the ancient Ḥasidim little is known; but each Pharisee had to be admitted by certain rites to membership in the association ("ḥeber" or "ḥaburah"), receiving the name "ḥaber" therefrom (Dem. 2:3; Tosef., Dem. 2:2; Bek. 30b); these fraternities assembled not only for worship but also for meals (see Geiger," Urschrift," pp. 122 et seq.). The Pharisaic and Essene system of organization appears to have been at the outset the same, a fact which implies a common origin. A remnant of this Ḥasidean brotherhood seems to have been the "Neḳiyye ha-Da'at" (the pure-minded) of Jerusalem, who would neither sit at the table or in court, nor sign a document, with persons not of their own circle (Giṭ. 9:8; Sanh. 23a). They paid special reverence to the scroll of the Law in the synagogue (Masseket Soferim, 14:14).
But tradition has preserved certain peculiarities of these "ancient Ḥasidim" (Ḥasidim ha-rishonim) which cast some light on their mode of life. (1) In order to render their prayer a real communion with God as their Father in heaven, they spent an hour in silent meditation before offering their morning prayer (comp. Didascalia in Jew. Encyc. 4:593), and neither the duty of saluting the king nor imminent peril, as, for instance, from a serpent close to their heels, could cause them to interrupt their prayer (Ber. 5:1; Tosef., Ber. 3:20; Ber. 32b). (2) They were so scrupulous regarding the observance of the Sabbath that they refrained from sexual intercourse on all days of the week except Wednesday, lest in accordance with their singular calculation of the time of pregnancy the birth of a child might take place on a Sabbath and thereby cause the violation of the sacred day (Niddah 38a, b). Peril of life could not induce them to wage even a war of defense on the Sabbath (I Macc. 2:38; II Macc. 5:25, 15:4). (3) They guarded against the very possibility of being the indirect cause of injuring their fellow men through carelessness (Tosef., B. Ḳ. 2:6; B. Ḳ. 30a, 50b; comp. Giṭ. 7a: "No injury is ever caused through the righteous"). (4) Their scrupulousness concerning "ẓiẓit" (Men. 40b) is probably only one instance of their strict observance of all the commandments. (5) Through their solicitude to avoid sin (whence also their name "Yire'e Ḥeṭ" = "fearers of sin": Sheḳ. 6:6; Soṭah 9:15) they had no occasion for bringing sin-offerings, wherefore, according to R. Judah, they made Nazarite vows to enable them to bring offerings of their own; according to R. Simeon, however, they refrained from bringing such offerings, as they were understood by them to be "an atoning sacrifice for the sins committed against the soul" (Numbers 6:11, Hebr.). This aversion to the Nazarite vow seems to have been the prevailing attitude, as it was shared by Simeon the Just (Sifre, Num. 22; Ned. 10a). (6) Especially rigorous were they in regard to Levitical purity ('Eduy. 8:4; Tosef., Oh. 4:6,13, where "zeḳenim ha-rishonim" [the ancient elders] is only another name for "Ḥasidim ha-rishonim"; see Weiss, "Dor," 1:110); they were particularly careful that women in the menstrual state should keep apart from the household, perform no household duties, and avoid attractiveness in appearance (Sifra, Meẓora', end; Shab. 64b; Ab. R. N.; "Baraita di Masseket Niddah," in Horowitz's "Uralte Tosefta," 1890, 1:5, p. 16, 3:2-3, pp. 24-27; "Pitḥe Niddah," pp. 54 et seq.). (7) This, however, forms only part of the general Ḥasidean rule, which was to observe the same degree of Levitical purity as did the priest who partook of the holy things of the Temple ("okel ḥullin be-ṭohorat ḳodesh"); and there were three or four degrees of holiness, of which the Pharisees, or "ḥaberim," observed only the first, the Ḥasidim the higher ones (Ḥag. 2:6-7; Tosef., Dem. 2:2). The reason for the observance of such a high degree of holiness must be sought in the fact that Levites who ate "ma'aser" and priests who ate "terumah" and portions of the various sacrifices had their meals in common with the rest of the people and had to be guarded against defilement.
The "Zenu'im," or Chaste Ones.
Upon the observance of the highest state of purity and holiness depended also the granting of the privilege, accorded only to the élite of the priesthood, of being initiated into the mysteries of the HolyName and other secret lore. "The Name of twelve letters [GOD, NAMES OF] was, after the Hellenistic apostasy, entrusted only to the 'Ẓenu'im' [the chaste ones] among the priesthood. The Name of forty-two letters was entrusted only to the 'Ẓanua'' and ''Anaw' [the chaste and the humble] after they had passed the zenith of life and had given assurance of preserving it [the Name] in perfect purity" (Ḳid. 71a; Eccl. R. 3:11; Yer. Yoma 39d, 40a). There was a twofold principle underlying the necessity of perfect chastity. When God revealed Himself to Moses and to the people of Israel they were enjoined to abstain from sexual intercourse, Israel for the time being, Moses for all time (Shab. 87a; Pes. 87b; Ab. R. N. , based upon Exodus 19:15; Deuteronomy 5:27). Those in hope of a divine revelation consequently refrained from sexual intercourse as well as other impurity (comp. Revelation 14:4; Enoch, 83:2).
But there was another test of chastity which seems to have been the chief reason for the name of "Ẓenu'im" (Essenes): the Law (Deuteronomy 23:10-15; comp. Targ. Yer. ad loc.; Sifra, 258; Ber. 62a) enjoins modesty in regard to the covering of the body lest the Shekinah be driven away by immodest exposure. Prayer was prohibited in presence of the nude (Ber. 24b), and according to the Book of Jubilees (3:30 et seq., 7:20) it was a law given to Adam and Noah "not to uncover as the Gentiles do." The chastity ("ẓeni'ut") shown in this respect by King Saul and his daughter (1 Samuel 24:4; 2 Samuel 6:16) gave him and his household a place in rabbinical tradition as typical Essenes, who would also observe the law of holiness regarding diet and distribute their wealth among the (poor) people (Pesiḳ. R. 15; Midr. Teh.; Num. R.; Meg. 13b; Yer. Suk. 5:55c). Every devotee of the Law was expected to be a "ẓanua'" (Abot 6:1; Niddah 12a; Derek Ereẓ Zuṭa ), such as were Rachel and Esther (Meg. 13b), Hanan ha-Neḥba, the grandson of Onias the Saint (Ta'an. 23b), R. Akiba (Ket. 62b), and Judah ha-Nasi (Yer. Meg. 1:72b).
The "Hashsha'im," or Secret Ones.
The name "Ẓenu'im," which is replaced or explained by "Kesherim" (the blameless ones), another name for "Ḥasidim" (Yer. Dem. 6:25d; Yer. Yoma 3:40d; comp. Tosef., Dem. 6:6; Ned. 1:1; Ab. R. N., text B, , ed. Schechter, p. 14, and comp. note on p. 15), is also applied, like the term "Ḥashsha'im" (see below), to those reticent ones to whom a secret may be confided; e.g., secret scrolls concerning the Temple service were entrusted to them (Tosef., Yoma, 2:7; Yer. Yoma 3:41a). It is not always clear, however, whether the name denotes the Essenes or simply the modest ones as a class (see Dem. 6:6; Ma'as. Sh. 5:1; Tosef., Soṭah, 13:6). R. Simeon the Ẓanua', who, while disregarding the Temple practise, shows a certain contempt for the high priest (Tosef., Kelim B. B. 1:6), appears on all accounts to have been an Essene priest. In an old Armenian version of Philo's dictionary of Hebrew names "Essene" is explained as "in silence" (Philo, "De Vita Contempla tiva," ed. Conybeare, p. 247). The suggestion may be made that the Ḥashsha'im, "the observers of secrecy," designated also "the sin-fearing," who "had a chamber called 'lishkat ḥashsha'im' in the Temple, where they deposited their gifts of charity in secret and whence the respectable poor drew their support in secrecy," were the same Essenes from whom "the Gate of the Essenes" in Jerusalem (Josephus, "B. J." 5:42) derived its name. According to Tosef., Sheḳ. 2:16, these Ḥashsha'im had in every city a special chamber for their charity-box, so that money could be deposited and taken in secret, a thing that could only be done upon the presumption that the money belonged to all alike; and since each city had its administrative body consisting of its best men, who took charge of the collection and distribution of charity (Tosef., Peah, 4:6,16; Tosef., Sheb. 7:9), it is probable that these Essene-like ascetics ("Ẓenu'im": Tosef., Peah, 2:18) followed their own traditions, though they probably also came under the general administration.
The explanation of Εσσάιοι given by Suidas (= ϑεωρήτικοι = "men of contemplation," or "mystics") suggests that the name "Ḥashsha'im," like "Ẓenu'im," denoted men entrusted with the secret lore given in a whisper "(Ḥag. 13a, 14a; Gen. R. ).
"Watikim" and "Holy Ones."
Another name denoting a class of pietistic extremists showing points of contact with the Essenes is "Watiḳim," (men of firm principles: Sifre, Num. 92; Sifre, Deut. 13; Müller, "Masseket Soferim," 1878, p. 257, who identifies them with the Essenes). "The Watiḳim so arranged their morning prayer as to finish the Shema' exactly at the time when the sun came out in radiance" (Ber. 9b; comp. Wisdom 16:28; II Macc. 10:28); the Watiḳim closed the prayers "Malkiyyot, Shofarot" and "Zikronot" with Pentateuch verses (R. H. 32b). As holders of ancient traditions, they placed their own custom above the universally accepted halakah (Masseket Soferim, 14:18). Still another name which deserves special consideration is "ḳadosh" (saint). "Such is he called who sanctifies himself, like the 'Nazir,' by abstaining from enjoyments otherwise permissible" (Ta'an. 11a, b; Yeb. 20a; comp. Niddah 12a, where the word "Ẓanu'a" is used instead). Menahem bar Simai is called "son of the saints" because he would not even look at a coin which bore the image of the emperor or pass under the shadow of an idol (Pes. 104a; Yer, 'Ab. Zarah 3:42c, 43b, where he is called "Nahum, the most holy one"). In Jerusalem there existed down to the second century a community by the name of "The Holy Congregation" ('Edah Ḳedoshah, or Ḳehala Ḳaddisha), which insisted on each member practising a trade and devoting a third part of the day to the study of the Torah, a third to devotion, and a third to work: probably a survival of an Essene community (Eccl. R. 9:9; Ber. 9b; Tamid 27b).
In this connection mention should also be made of the "Banna'im" (builders: Miḳ. 9:6; Shab. 114a), whom Frankel ("Zeitschrift für die Religiösen Interessen des Judenthums," 1846, p. 455) with great plausibility identifies with the Essenes. Originally applied to a gild of builders belonging to the Essenes (see "Polistes," below; comp. Abba Ḳolon "the Builder," Cant. R. 1:6; Abba Joseph the Builder, Ex. R.; the "Bannai" [Builder] in the companyof R. Gamaliel, who was to hide in the walls the Targum to Job, Tosef., Shab. 13:2), their name was given the meaning of builders of a higher world and afterward applied to the Rabbis in general (Ber. 64a; Yer. Yoma 3:40; Yer. Giṭ. 7:48d; Ex. R.; comp. οἰκοδομεῖν in the "Didascalia" and the Pauline writings). Each hermit built his house himself; hence the names "Banus" and "Bannaia," adopted by men whose type was the legendary BENAIAH ben Jehoiada (Ber. 4a; 18a, b).
Survivals of the Hasidim.
The name of the Ḥasidim of olden times is coupled with that of the "Anshe Ma'aseh" (men of miraculous deeds: Suk. 5:4), a fact which shows that both belonged to the same class. Ḥanina b. Dosa is called the last of "the miracle-workers" (Soṭah 9:15). But the Ḥasidim remained wonder-workers in Talmudic times (Ber. 18b; Lev. R. , where "ish hama'aseh" is translated into "'asḳan bi-debarim"). In fact, there existed books containing miraculous stories of the Ḥasidim, a considerable number of which were adopted by Talmud and Midrash (see Eccl. R. 9:10), just as there existed secret scrolls ("Megillot Seṭarim") and ethical rules of the Ḥasidim ("Mishnat" or "Megillat Ḥasidim") to which allusion is made here and there in the Talmud (Yer. Ter. 8:46b; Yer. Ber. 9:14d), and the contents of which have found their way into the pseudepigraphic and early non-Talmudic, literature (see Horowitz, c.). The Ḥasidim mentioned in old baraitas like Temurah (15b) and Soṭah (9:15), and in Abot de-Rabbi Natan (), who spent their time on works of charity, are none other but survivals of the ancient Ḥasidim. The Ḥasidean traditions may, therefore, be traced from Jose ben Joezer, the martyr-saint and Ḥasidean leader of the Maccabean time (II Macc. 14:37, where "Razis" is a corruption of the name; Gen. R.; Frankel, in "Monatsschrift," 52:406 , down to Phinehas b. Jair, who was both in theory and in practise a disciple of the Ḥasidim (see Bacher, "Ag. Tan." 2:594 et seq.); indeed, there is little in Essene life which does not find its explanation in rabbinical sources.
Viewed in the light of these facts, the description of the Essenes given by Philo and Josephus will be better understood and appreciated. Philo describes them in his earlier work, "Quod Omnis Probus Liber," § 12, as
Philo's Account of the Essenes.
"a number of men living in Syria and Palestine, over 4,000 according to my judgment, called 'Essæi' (ὂσιοι) from their saintliness (though not exactly after the meaning of the Greek language), they being eminently worshipers of God (θεραπευταί Θεον)—not in the sense that they sacrifice living animals (like the priests in the Temple), but that they are anxious to keep their minds in a priestly state of holiness. They prefer to live in villages and avoid cities on account of the habitual wickedness of those who inhabit them, knowing, as they do, that just as foul air breeds disease, so there is danger of contracting an incurable disease of the soul from such bad associations"
This fear of contamination is given a different meaning by Philo ("De Vita Contemplativa," ed. Conybeare, pp. 53, 206). Speaking of their occupations, he says:
"Some cultivate the soil, others pursue peaceful arts, toiling only for the provision of their necessary wants. . . . Among all men they alone are without money and without possession, but nevertheless they are the richest of all, because to have few wants and live frugally they regard as riches [comp. Abot 4:1: "Who is rich? Who is contented with his lot? for it is said: 'When thou eatest the labor of thy hands happy art thou and it shall be well with thee'" (Psalms 128:2, Hebr.)]. Among them there is no maker of any weapon of war [comp. Shab. 6:4], nor any trader, whether huckster or dealer in large merchandise on land or sea, nor do they follow any occupation that leads to injustice or to covetousness"
"There is not a single slave among them, but they are all free, serving one another; they condemn masters, not only as representing a principle of unrighteousness in opposition to that of equality, but as personifications of wickedness in that they violate the law of nature which made us all brethren, created alike." [This means that, so far from keeping slaves, the Essenes, or Ḥasidim, made it their special object to ransom captives (see Ab. R. N.; Ta'an. 22a; Ḥul. 7a); they emancipated slaves and taught them the Law, which says: "They are My servants (Leviticus 25:42), but should not be servants of servants, and should not wear the yoke of flesh and blood" (Targ. Yer. to Deuteronomy 23:16-17; Tosef., B. K. 7:5; Ḳid. 22b.; comp. 38b; Abot 1:10: "Hate mastership!" Abot 6:2. In regard to their practise of mutual service comp. Ḳid. 32b; Luke 22:27; John 13:1 et seq.).]
Study of the Law.
"Of natural philosophy . . . they study only that which pertains to the existence of God and the beginning of all things ["ma'ase merkabah" and "ma'aseh bereshit"], otherwise they devote all their attention to ethics, using as instructors the laws of their fathers, which, without the outpouring of the divine spirit ["ruaḥ ha-ḳodesh"], the human mind could not have devised. These are especially taught on the seventh day, when, abstaining from all other work, they assemble in their holy places, called synagogues, sitting in rows according to their age, the younger ones listening with becoming attention at the feet of the elder ones. One takes up the holy book and reads aloud, another one from among the most learned comes forward and explains whatever may not have been understood—for, following their ancient traditions, they obtain their philosophy by means of allegorical interpretation"
"Thus they are taught piety, holiness, righteousness, the mode of governing private and social affairs, and the knowledge of what is conducive or harmful or indifferent to truth, so that they may choose the one and shun the other, their main rule and maxim being a threefold one: love of God, love of manhood (self-control), and love of man. Of the love of God they exhibit myriads of examples, inasmuch as they strive for a continued, uninterrupted life of purity and holiness; they avoid swearing and falsehood, and they declare that God causes only good and no evil whatsoever [comp. "kol de-abed Raḥmana le-ṭab 'abed," "What the Merciful does is for the good," Ber. 60b]. Their love of virtue is proved by their freedom from love of money, of high station, and of pleasure, by their temperance and endurance, by their having few wants, by their simplicity and mild temper, by their lack of pride, by their obedience to the Law, by their equanimity, and the like. Of their love for man they give proof by their good will and pleasant conduct toward all alike [comp. Abot 1:15, 3:12: "Receive every man with a pleasant countenance!"], and by their fellowship, which is beautiful beyond description.
"No one possesses a house absolutely his own, one which does not at the same time belong to all; for in addition to living together in companies ["ḥaburot"] their houses are open also to their adherents coming from other quarters [comp. Aboti. 5]. They have one storehouse for all, and the same diet; their garments belong to all in common, and their meals are taken in common. . . . Whatever they receive for their wages after having worked the whole day they do not keep as their own, but bring into the common treasury for the use of all; nor do they neglect the sick who are unable to contribute their share, as they have in their treasury ample means to offer relief to those in need. [One of the two Ḥasidean and rabbinical terms for renouncing all claim to one's property in order to deliver it over to common use is "hefker" (declaring a thing ownerless; comp. Sanh. 49a); Joab, as the type of an Essene, made his house like the wilderness—that is, ownerless and free from the very possibility of tempting men to theft and sexual sin—and he supported the poor of the city with the most delicate food. Similarly, King Saul declared his whole property free for use in warfare (Yalḳ.,Sam. 1:138). The other term is "heḳdesh nekasim" (consecrating one's goods; comp. 'Ar.; Pes. 57: "The owners of the mulberry-trees consecrated them to God"; Ta'an. 24a: "Eliezer of Beeroth consecrated to charity the money intended for his daughter's dowry, saying to his daughter, 'Thou shalt have no more claim upon it than any of the poor in Israel.'" Jose ben Joezer, because he had an unworthy son, consecrated his goods to God (B. B. 133b). Formerly men used to take all they had and give it to the poor (Luke 18:22); in Usha the rabbis decreed that no one should give away more than the fifth part of his property ('Ar. 28a; Tosef., 'Ar. 4:23; Ket. 50a).] They pay respect and honor to, and bestow care upon, their elders, acting toward them as children act toward their parents, and supporting them unstintingly by their handiwork and in other ways"
Not even the most cruel tyrants, continues Philo, possibly with reference to King Herod, have ever been able, to bring any charge against these holy Essenes, but all have been compelled to regard them as truly free men. In Philo's larger work on the Jews, of which only fragments have been preserved in Eusebius' "Præparatio Evangelica" (), the following description of the Essenes is given (ch. ):
The Essenes Advanced in Years.
"Our lawgiver, Moses, has trained thousands of disciples who, on account of their saintliness, I believe, are honored with the name of Essæ They inhabit many cities and villages, and large and populous quarters of Judea. Their institution is not based upon family connections, which are not matters of free choice, but upon zeal for virtue and philanthropy. There exist no new-born children, and no youth just entering upon manhood, in the Essene community, since the dispositions of such youth are unstable on account of their immaturity; but all are full-grown men, already declining toward old age [compare the meaning of "zeḳenim"], such as are no longer carried away by the vehemence of the flesh nor under the influence of their passions, but are in the enjoyment of genuine and true liberty." [This is the most essential feature of Essenism (comp. Pliny, c.), and has been almost entirely ignored. The divine command to marry and preserve the race is supposed to have been obeyed by every young man before the close of his twentieth year (Ḳid. 29b), and he has not discharged his obligation until he has been the father of at least two children, two sons according to the Shammaites, according to the Hillelites one son and one daughter (Yeb. 6:6). It was therefore only at an advanced age that it was considered an act of extreme piety "to leave children, wife, and friends behind in order to lead a life of contemplation in solitude" (Philo, "De Vita Contemplativa," ed. Conybeare, p. 49).]
Philo says here also that the Essenes have no property of their own, not house or slave or farm, nor flocks and herds, but hold in common everything they have or obtain; that they either pursue agriculture, or tend to their sheep and cattle, or beehives, or practise some handicraft. Their earnings, he continues, are given in charge of an elected steward, who at once buys the food for their meals and whatever is necessary for life. Every day they have their meals together; they are contented with the same food because they love frugality and despise extravagance as a disease of body and soul. They also have their dress in common, a thick cloak in winter and a light mantle in summer, each one being allowed to take whichever he chooses. If any one be sick, he is cured by medcines from the common stock, receiving the care of all. Old men, if they happen to be childless, end their lives as if they were blessed with many and well-trained children, and in the most happy state, being treated with a respect which springs from spontaneous attachment rather than from kinship. Especially do they reject that which would dissolve their fellowship, namely, marriage, while they practise continence in an eminent degree, for no one of the Essæi takes a wife. (What follows regarding the character of women probably reflects the misogynous opinion of the writer, not of the Essenes.) Philo concludes with a repetition of the remark that mighty kings have admired and venerated these men and conferred honors upon them.
In his "Antiquities" (13:5, § 9), Josephus speaks of the Essenes as a sect which had existed in the time of the Maccabees, contemporaneously with the Pharisees and Sadducees, and which teaches that all things are determined by destiny (εἱμαρμένη), and that nothing befalls men which has not been foreordained; whereas the Pharisees make allowance for free will, and the Sadducees deny destiny altogether. This refers not so much to the more or less absolute belief in Providence (comp. the saying, "Ha-kol hi-yede shamayim" = " All is in the hands of God": Ket. 30a; Ber. 33b; and R. Akiba's words, "Everything is foreseen, but free will is given," Abot 3:15), which the Sadducees scarcely denied, as to the foreknowledge of future (political) events, which the Essenes claimed (comp. Josephus, "Ant." 15:10, § 5, et al.); the Pharisees were more discreet, and the Sadducees treated such prophecies with contempt. In "Ant." 18:1, §§ 2-6, Josephus dwells at somewhat greater length on what he assumes to be the three Jewish philosophical schools. Of the Essenes he says that they ascribe all things to God, that they teach the immortality of the soul, and that the reward of righteousness must be fought for (by martyrdom).
"When they send gifts to the Temple they do not offer sacrifices because of the different degrees of purity and holiness they claim; therefore they keep themselves away from the common court of the Temple and bring offerings [vegetable sacrifices] of their own. [This certainly does not mean that they opposed animal sacrifices on principle, but that they brought no free-will offerings for reasons of their own; see above.] They excel all men in conduct, and devote themselves altogether to agriculture. Especially admirable is their practise of righteousness, which, while the like may have existed among Greeks or barbarians for a little while, has been kept up by them from ancient days [ἐκ παλαιον]; for they, like the Spartans of old and others, have still all things in common, and a rich man has no more enjoyment of his property than he who never possessed anything. There are about 4,000 men who live in such manner. They neither marry, nor do they desire to keep slaves, as they think the latter practise leads to injustice [comp. Abot 2:7: "Many men servants, much theft"], and the former brings about quarrels; but, living to themselves, they serve one another. They elect good men ["ṭobim"; Charity] to receive the wages of their labor and the produce of the soil, and priests for the preparation [consecration?] of their bread and meat. They all live alike, and resemble most the [holy unmarried] city-builders [pioneers] of the Dacæ"
The chief information concerning the Essenes is given in "De Bello Judaico" (2:8, §§ 2-13). But this account seems to have been taken from another source and worked over, as the description preserved in Hippolytus' "Refutatio Omnium Hæresium" (9:18-28) presents a version which, unobserved by most writers, differs in many respects from that of Josephus, being far more genuinely Jewish, and showing greater accuracy in detail and none of the coloring peculiar to Josephus (see Duncker's ed., Göttingen, 1859, p. 472, note). The following is Hippolytus' version, the variations in Josephus' being indicated by brackets with the letter J:
Hippolytus' Description Compared with Josephus'.
"There are three divisions [sects, αἱρετίσται = "philosophical divisions"] among them [the Jews]: the Pharisees and Sadducees and the Essenes. These [last] practise a holier life [J: "Jews by birth"] in their display of love for one another and of continence [comp. Ẓenu'im, above]; they abstain from every act of covetousness [J: "pleasure as an evil deed"] and avoid even listening to conversation concerning such things. They renounce matrimony, but they take children of strangers [J: "when they are still easily instructed"; but comp. Abraham in Gen. R. and Targ. Yer. to Deuteronomy 23:17], and treat them as their own, training them in their own customs; but they do not forbid them to marry. Women, however, though they may be inclined to join the same mode of life, they do not admit, as they by no means place the same confidence in women." [This referssimply to questions of Levitical holiness and to the mysteries entrusted to the Ẓenu'im. Josephus has this sentence twisted into the following crude and unjust statement: "They do not forbid marriage and the procreation of children, but they guard against the lasciviousness of women and are persuaded that none preserves fidelity to one man."] Hippolytus continues: "They despise wealth, and do not refrain from sharing what they have with those in need; in fact, none among them is richer than the other; for the law with them is that whosoever joins their order must sell his possessions and hand the proceeds over to the common stock [Josephus adds here remarks of his own]; and the head [archon] distributes it to all according to their need. The overseers who provide for the common wants are elected by them. They do not use oil, as they regard anointing as a defilement, probably from fear that the oil was not kept perfectly pure. They always dress in white garments".
Essenes Travel Constantly.
"They have no special city of their own, but live in large numbers in different cities, and if any of their followers comes from a strange city everything they have is considered as belonging equally to the newcomer; those who were never known before are received as kindred and friends." "They traverse their native land [as "sheluḥe miẓwah," sent for charitable and for politico-religious purposes (comp. see Apostles)], and whenever they go on a journey they carry nothing except arms. They find in every city an administrator of the collective funds, who procures clothing and food for them.
Prayers and Meals.
"Their way of dressing and their general appearance are decorous; but they possess neither two cloaks nor two pairs of shoes [comp. Matthew 10:10, and parallels]. At early dawn they rise for devotion and prayer, and speak not a word to one another until they have praised God in hymns. [Josephus has here: "They speak not a word about profane things before the rising of the sun, but they offer up the prayers they have received from their fathers facing the sun as if praying for its rising"; comp. the Watiḳim, above.] Thus they go forth, each to his work until the fifth hour, when, having put on linen aprons to conceal their privy parts [comp. Ber. 24b], they bathe in cold water and then proceed to breakfast, none being allowed to enter the house who does not share their view or mode of holiness [see Ḥag. 3:2]. Then, having taken their seats in order amid silence, each takes a sufficient portion of bread and some additional food; but none eats before the benediction has been offered by the priest, who also recites the grace after the meal; both at the beginning and at the close they praise God in hymns [comp. Ber. 21a, 35a, in regard to the saying of grace; see, M. Ḳ. 28b; Meg. 28a]. After this they lay aside their sacred linen garments used at their meal, put on their working garments left in the vestibule, and betake themselves to their labor until the evening, when they take supper.
The Law and the Prophets.
"There are no loud noise and vociferation heard [at their assembly]; they speak gently and allow the discourse to flow with grace and dignity, so that the stillness within impresses outsiders with a sense of mystery. They observe sobriety and moderation in eating and drinking. All pay due attention to the president, and whatever he orders they obey as law. Especial zeal they manifest in offering sympathy and succor to those in distress. [Josephus here adds a sentence of his own.] Above all they refrain from all forms of passion and anger as leading to mischief [ANGER]. No one among them swears; a word is regarded as more binding than an oath; and one who swears is despised as one not deserving of confidence. They are very solicitous in regard to the reading aloud of the Law and the Prophets [J: "the writings of the ancient ones"], and of any [apocalyptic?] scroll they have of the Faithful Ones [comp. Tan., Wa'era, ed. Buber, 4; and see ESCHATOLOGY; J: "and they select such as are for the salvation of soul and body"]. Especially do they investigate the magic powers of plants and stones.
"To those desirous of becoming disciples they do not deliver their traditions [παραδόσεις; comp. CABALA] until they have tested them. Accordingly they set before the aspirant the same kind of food, outside the main hall, where he remains for a whole year after having received a mattock, a linen apron, and a white robe [as symbols of Ẓeni'ut (Essene, modesty and purity)]. After having given proof of self-control during this period, he is advanced and his ablutions are of a higher degree of purity, but he is not allowed to partake of the common meal until, after a trial of two years more, he has proved worthy to be admitted into membership. Then oaths of an awful character are administered to him: he swears to treat with reverence whatever is related to the Divinity [compare BLASPHEMY and GOD, NAMES OF]; that he will observe righteousness toward men and do injustice to none; that he will not hate any one who has done him injustice, but will pray for his enemies [comp. Matthew 5:45]; that he will always side with the righteous in their contests [this proves, if anything, that the Essenes were fighters rather than mere quietists]; that he will show fidelity to all and particularly to those in authority; for, say they, without God's decree no one is given power to rule [this refers not to political rulers, as has been claimed with reference to "Ant." 15:10, § 5, but to the head of the order, whose election is not made without the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Sifre, Num. 92: Ber. 58a, "min ha-shamayim"; comp. Didascalia, in Jew. Encyc. 4:590a)]; that, if himself appointed to be ruler, he will not abuse his authority, nor refuse to submit to the rules, nor ornament himself beyond what is customary; that he will ever love the truth and reprove him who is guilty of falsehood; that he will neither steal nor pollute his conscience for the sake of gain; that he will neither conceal anything from the members of the order nor disclose anything to outsiders, even though tortured to death. He swears besides that he will not communicate the doctrines differently from the manner in which he received them himself. [Here Josephus has two conditions omitted in Hippolytus: "that he will abstain from robbery (which in this connection probably refers to the teachings which might be misappropriated and claimed for oneself; the rabbinical rule, which has, therefore, an Essene coloring, being: "He who tells a saying in the name of the author brings about the redemption," Abot 6:6, based upon Esther 2:22), and "that he will with equal care guard the books of the order and the names of the angels." These oaths give a better insight into the character and purpose of the Essene brotherhood than any other description, as will be shown later.]
Discipline of the Essene Order.
"If any of them be condemned for any transgression, he is expelled from the order, and at times such a one dies a terrible death [ANATHEMA and See DIDASCALIA], for inasmuch as he is bound by the oaths taken and by the rites adopted, he is no longer at liberty to partake of the food in use among others. [Here Josephus: "and being compelled to eat herbs, he famishes his body until he perishes."] Occasionally they pity those exposed to dissolution ["shammata"], considering punishment unto death sufficient. In their judicial decisions they are most accurate and just; they do not pass sentence unless in company with one hundred persons [this is possibly a combination of the higher court of seventy-two ("Sanhedrin gedolah") and the smaller court of twenty-three ("Sanhedrin ḳeṭannah")], and what has been decided by them is unalterable. After God they pay the highest homage to the legislator (that is to say, to the Law of Moses), and if any one is guilty of blasphemy against him (that is, against the Law), he is punished [J: "with death"]. They are taught to obey the rulers and elders [J: "the majority"].
"When ten [the number necessary to constitute a holy congregation; MINYAN] sit together deliberating, no one speaks without permission of the rest [the rabbinical term is "reshut"; see the Talmudic dictionaries, s. ]. They avoid spitting into the midst of them [Ḥag. 5a; Ber. 62b], or toward the right [the right hand is used for swearing; see Brand, "Mandäische Religion," 1889, pp. 110 et seq.]. "In regard to Sabbath rest they are more scrupulous than other Jews, for they not only prepare their meals one day previously so as not to touch fire, but they do not even remove any utensil [rabbinical term, "muḳẓah"]; see SABBATH]; nor do they turn aside to ease nature. Some do not even rise from their couch [comp. Targ. to Exodus 16:27; Mek., Beshallaḥ, 5], while on other days they observe the law in Deuteronomy 23:13. After the easement they wash themselves, considering the excrement as defiling [comp. Yoma 3:3]. They are divided, according to their degree of holy exercises, into four classes."
The following paragraph, omitted by Josephus, is alluded to, in his "Ant." 18:1, § 6, as "the philosophy of a fourth sect founded by Judas the Galilean."
Zealots Also Essenes.
"For some of these observe a still more rigid practise in not handling or looking at a coin which has an image, nor will they even enter a city at the gates of which statues are erected [comp. Yer. 'Ab. Zarah 3:42b, 43b]. Others again threaten to slay any Gentile taking part in a discourse about God and His Law if he refuses to be circumcised [comp. Sanh. 59a, Ex.R. ]. From this they were called 'Zealots' [Ḳanna'im] by some, 'Sicarii' by others. Others again will call no one lord except God, even though they be tortured or killed.
"Those of a lower degree of discipline [holiness] are so inferior to those of the higher degree that the latter at once undergo ablution when touched by the former, as if touched by a Gentile. [These are the four degrees of holiness mentioned in Ḥag. 2:7: "ma'aser," "terumah," "ṭohorot," and "ḥaṭṭat," or "most holy." Another division is: κοινόβια = = "common meal," and "ṭohorot" = "priestly meal Tosef., Dem. 2:11.] Most of them enjoy longevity; many attain an age of more than a hundred years. They declare that this is owing to their extreme piety [comp. the frequent question: "Ba-meh ha'arakta yamim" (By what merit didst thou attain an old age? Meg. 27b, 28)] and to their constant exercise of self-control. [Josephus instead rationalizes.] They despise death, rejoicing when they can finish their course with a good conscience, they willingly undergo torment or death rather than speak ill of the Law or eat what has been offered to an idol." (Here Josephus adds something of his own experience in the Roman war.)
This leads Hippolytus, exactly as in the "Didascalia," to the Essene view of the future life, a view in which, contrary to the romantic picture given by Josephus, the belief in Resurrection is accentuated:
Essene View of Resurrection.
"Particularly firm is their doctrine of Resurrection; they believe that the flesh will rise again and then be immortal like the soul, which, they say, when separated from the body, enters a place of fragrant air and radiant light, there to enjoy rest—a place called by the Greeks who heard [of this doctrine] the 'Isles of the Blest.' But," continues the writer, in a passage characteristically omitted by Josephus, "there are other doctrines besides, which many Greeks have appropriated and given out as their own opinions. For their disciplinary life [ἄσκησις] in connection with the things divine is of greater antiquity than that of any other nation, so that it can be shown that all those who made assertions concerning God and Creation derived their principles from no other source than the Jewish legislation. [This refers to the Ḥasidean "ma'aseh'merkabah" and "ma'aseh bereshit."] Among those who borrowed from the Essenes were especially Pythagoras and the Stoics; their disciples while returning from Egypt did likewise [this casts new light on Josephus' identification of the Essenes with the Pythagoreans: "Ant." 15:10, § 4]; for they affirm that there will be a Judgment Day and a burning up of the world, and that the wicked will be eternally punished.
"Also prophecy and the foretelling of future events are practised by them. [Josephus has in addition: "For this purpose they are trained in the use of holy writings, in various rites of purification, and in prophetic (apocalyptic?) utterances; and they seldom make mistakes in their predictions."] Then there is a section of the Essenes who, while agreeing in their mode of life, differ in regard to marriage, declaring that those who abstain from marrying commit an awful crime, as it leads to the extinction of the human race. But they take wives only after having, during three years' observation of their course of life, been convinced of their power of child-bearing, and avoid intercourse during pregnancy, as they marry merely for the sake of offspring. The women when undergoing ablutions are arrayed in linen garments like the men in order not to expose their bodies to the light of day"
Purpose of the Essene Brotherhood.
A careful survey of all the facts here presented shows the Essenes to have been simply the rigorists among the Pharisees, whose constant fear of becoming contaminated by either social or sexual intercourse led them to lead an ascetic life, but whose insistence on maintaining the highest possible standard of purity and holiness had for its object to make them worthy of being participants of "the Holy Spirit," or recipients of divine revelations, and of being initiated into the mysteries of God and the future. "Wo to the wives of these men!" exclaimed Zipporah, the wife of Moses, when she heard that Eldad and Medad had become prophets, for this meant cessation of conjugal intercourse (Sifre, Num. 99). Abstinence from whatever may imply the use of unrighteous Mammon was another condition of initiation into the mystery of the Holy Name (Yer. Yoma 3:40d; comp. Ḥul. 7b; Phinehas b. Jair; Midr. Teh. 24:4, 128:2; Ḥul. 44b, with reference to Proverbs 15:27). The purpose of their ablutions before every meal as well as before morning prayers, which practise gave them the name of "Ṭobele Shaḥarit" ( = Morning Baptists, Ἡμεροβαπτισταῖ), was to insure the pronunciation of the Name and the eating of holy things in a state of purity (Tosef., Yad. 2:20; Ber. 2b, 22a). The existence of large numbers of Levites (Yeb. 15:7) and Aaronites, the original teachers of the Law, whose holy food had to be eaten in holiness, was instrumental in the creation of a state of communism such as the Law prescribes for each seventh year (Peah 6:1). Fear of defilement led Judas Maccabeus as Ḥasidean leader to live only on herbs (II Macc. 5:27).
A glance at the Essene oath of initiation confirms the statement of Philo that love of God, or reverence for His Name, love of man, or pursuit of righteousness and benevolence, and love of virtue, or humility and chastity, were the chief aims of the Essene brotherhood. Successors to the ancient Ḥasidim who instituted the liturgy (Midr. Teh. 17:4: "ḥasidim ha-rishonim"), they laid all possible stress on prayer and devotion, opposing the priesthood in the Temple out of mistrust as to their state of holiness and purity rather than out of aversion to sacrifice (Tosef., Ned. 1:1; Ker. 25a). They claimed to possess by tradition from the founders of the Synagogue ("anshe keneset ha-gedolah") the correct pronunciation and the magic spell of the Holy Name (Midr. Teh. 36:8, 91:8), and with it they achieved miracles like the men of old (Midr. Teh. 78:12, 91:2). They taught Jews and Gentiles alike to cleanse themselves in living streams from their impurity of sin, and return to God in repentance and prayer (Sibyllines, 4:164; Luke 3:3; comp. Tan., ed. Buber, Introduction, 153). Ever alert and restless while in hope of the Messianic time, they formed a strong political organization scattered through the Holy Land; and, in constant touch with one another, they traveled far and wide to organize Jewish communities and provide them with the three elements of Judaism: instruction, worship, and charity (Abot 1:2); and they were especially assiduous in pursuit of benevolent work (Ab. R. N. , ). Each community had its seven good men, called "the Good Brotherhood of the Town" (Ḥeber 'Ir be-Ṭobaḥ: "Ant." 4:8, § 14; Meg. 27a; Tosef., Peah, 4:16; Sheb. 7:9).
Types of Essenes.
Standing under the direction of the "mishmar," or "ma'amad" (the district authority: Tosef., Peah, 4:7), the Essenes claimed, as direct successors to the Ḥasidim, Mosaic origin for their brotherhood (see Philo and Josephus, c., in reference to Exodus 18:21; comp. Targ. Yer.; B. M. 30b; Mek., Yitro, 2). Whatever their real connection with the see RECHABITES (Jeremiah 35) was, they beheld in Jonadab, the founder of the sect of the "Water-Drinkers," as well as in Jabez (1 Chronicles 2:55, 4:10; see Targ.) and in Jethro the Kenite, prototypes, and possibly founders, of the Jericho colony (Mek., Yitro, 2; Sifre, Num. 78; Sheḳ. 5:48c; Nilus, "De Monastica Exercitatione,"; "J. Q. R." 5:418); likewise in Jesse, the father of David, regarded as sinless and deathless in their tradition (Shab. 55b; Derek Ereẓ Zuṭa ); and in Obed, Boaz, and his father Salma (Tan., Wayeḥi, ed. Buber, 4; Targ. to 1 Chronicles 2:54 et seq., 4:22 et seq.). In this manner AHIJAH and AHITHOPHEL became types of Essenes (Midr. Teh. 5:8), as well as King Saul, as mentioned above; but, above all, the Patriarchs and protoplasts. Other Essenic types were Abraham, called "Watiḳ," the prototype of the Anawim and Ḥasidim because "he rose early" for prayer (Ber. 6b, after Genesis 19:27; Shab. 105a; Gen. R. ); Shem-Melchizedek as teacher of benevolence and true worshiper of God (Midr. Teh. 37:1, 76:3); Job as philanthropist and as teacher of mystic lore (B. B. 15a, b; see Kohler, "Testament of Job," in Kohut Memorial Volume, pp. 265 et seq.); Enoch (Enoch, Books of); and Adam ('Er. 78b; Pirḳe R. El. ). A passage in the Tanḥuma reads: "Only when Abraham separated from Lot and Jacob from Laban did God communicate with them as perushim" (Wayeẓe, ed. Buber, 21). The claim of antiquity for Essene tradition is, accordingly, not the invention of Pliny or Philo; it is essential to the Essene traditional lore. In truth, Abraham, as "'Anaw" (= "the humble one"), and all doers of works of benevolence, learned it from God, "their Father in heaven" (see Yalḳ. Mekiri to Psalms 18:36; Yalḳ. to 2 Samuel 22:36; comp. Sifre, Deut. 49). They are "the lovers of God" (B. B. 8b; Yoma 28a). God unites with the brotherhoods of the humble ("ḥaburot ha-nemukin": Tan., Wa'era, ed. Buber, 3). He provides each day's food for them as He provided the manna for Israel (Mek., Beshalalḥ, 2, ed. Weiss, pp. 56 [note] et seq.; Sifre, Deut. 42; Ḳid. 82b; Matthew 6:25). "When men ceased to hate men's gifts [the Essene] longevity ceased" (Soṭah 47b, based on Proverbs 15:27).
In regard to Sabbath observance the rabbinical tradition traced the more rigid laws, comprising even the removal of utensils, to Nehemiah's time, that is, to the ancient Ḥasidim (Shab. 123b), and the Book of Jubilees (1. 8-12) confirms the antiquity of the Essene view. As the best characteristic of the Essene view the saying of Phinehas ben Jair, the last Essene of note, may be quoted: "The Torah leads to conscientiousness; this to alertness ["zerizut"] for holy work; this to blamelessness ["neḳiyyut"]; this to 'perishut' [Pharisaic separation from common things]; this to purity; this to 'ḥasidut' [Essene piety?]; this to humbleness; this to fear of sin; this to holiness, or to the possession' of the Holy Spirit; and this finally to the time of the Resurrection; but ḥasidut is the highest grade" ('Ab. Zarah 20b).
Traces of Essenism and Anti-Essenism.
Essenism as well as Ḥasidism represents that stage of religion which is called "otherworldliness." It had no regard for the comfort of home life; woman typified only the feebleness and impurity of man. In their efforts to make domestic and social life comfortable and cheerful, the see PHARISEES characterized the Essene as "a fool who destroys the world" (Soṭah 3:4), and their ethics assumed an anti-Essene character (ETHICS). Exceptionally, some tannaim, such as R. Eliezer b. Hyrcanus (Shab. 153a; Ned. 20b) and Jose ben Ḥalafta (Shab. 118b), favored the ascetic view in regard to conjugal life, while some amoraim and tannaim gave evidence of Essene practise or special Essene knowledge (see Frankel in "Monatsschrift," 2:72 et seq.). Traces of Essenism, or of tendencies identical with it, are found throughout the apocryphal and especially the apocalyptic literature (see Kohler, "Pre-Talmudic Haggada," in "J. Q. R." 5:403 et seq.; Jellinek, "B. H." , Introduction, , , et al.), but are especially noticeable in the Tanna debe Eliyahu, above all in the Targum Yerushalmi, where the Essenic colonies of Jericho and of the City of Palms are mentioned as inhabited by the disciples of Elijah and Elisha (Deuteronomy 34:3); the sons of Levi are singled out as forming brotherhoods for the service of God (Genesis 29:34); Joseph, Kohath, Amram, and Aaron, as well as the Patriarchs, are called "Ḥasidim" (Targ. Yer. on Genesis 29:13, 49:22; Exodus 6:18,20; Numbers 21:1); priest-like and angelic holiness is enjoined upon Israel (Exodus 22:30; Leviticus 20:7; Numbers 16:40); angels are expelled from heaven for having disclosed divine mysteries (Genesis 27:12); the Holy Name and the Holy Spirit play throughout a prominent rôle; and God's own time, like that of the Essenes, appears as divided between studying the Law, sitting in judgment, and providing for the world's support and for the maintenance of the race (Deuteronomy 32:4).
The Essenes seem to have originally consisted, on the one hand, of rigorous see ZEALOTS, such as the Book of Jubilees looks for, and such as were under the leadership of men like Abba Taḥna Ḥasida and Abba Sicara (Eccl. R. 9:7); and, on the other hand, of mild-tempered devotees of the Law, such as were the Essenes at En Gedi (Yer. Soṭah 9:24c; Pliny, c.) and the Therapeutæ of Egypt. Rabbinical tradition knows only that under the persecution of Rome (Edom) the Essenes wandered to the south (Darom: Gen. R.; comp. Pes. 70b; Yeb. 62b; Midr. Teh. 19:2), and occasionally mention is made of "the brethren" ("ḥabbarayya"), with reference to the Essene brotherhood (Lam. R. 4:1; see also Levy, "Neuhebr. Wörterb." s. and ; Geiger's "Jüd. Zeit." 6:279; Brüll's "Jahrb." 1:25,44). It is as charitable brotherhoods that the Essenic organization survived the destruction of the nation.
Relation of Essenism to Christianity.
John the Baptist seems to have belonged to the Essenes, but in appealing to sinners to be regenerated by baptism, he inaugurated a new movement, which led to the rise of Christianity. The silence of the New Testament about the Essenes is perhaps the best proof that they furnished the new sect with its main elements both as regards personnel and views. The similarity in many respects between Christianity and Essenism is striking: There were the same communism (Acts 4:34-35); the same belief in baptism or bathing, and in the power of prophecy; the same aversion to marriage, enhanced by firmer belief in the Messianic advent; the same system of organization, and the same rules for the traveling brethrendelegated to charity-work (APOSTLE AND APOSTLESHIP); and, above all, the same love-feasts or brotherly meals (see comp. Agape; DIDASCALIA). Also, between the ethical and the apocalyptic teachings of the Gospels and the Epistles and the teachings of the Essenes of the time, as given in Philo, in Hippolytus, and in the Ethiopic and Slavonic Books of Enoch, as well as in the rabbinic literature, the resemblance is such that the influence of the latter upon the former can scarcely be denied. Nevertheless, the attitude of Jesus and his disciples is altogether anti-Essene, a denunciation and disavowal of Essene rigor and asceticism; but, singularly enough, while the Roman war appealed to men of action such as the Zealots, men of a more peaceful and visionary nature, who had previously become Essenes, were more and more attracted by Christianity, and thereby gave the Church its otherworldly character; while Judaism took a more practical and worldly view of things, and allowed Essenism to live only in tradition and secret lore (CLEMENTINA; EBIONITES; GNOSTICISM).
- Frankel, Die, Essäer, in Zeitschrift für die Religiösen Interessen des Judenthums, 1846, pp. 441-461;
- idem, Die Essäer nach Talmudischen Quellen, in Monatsschrift, 1853, pp. 30-40, 61-73;
- J. Böhmer, Kitbe Yisrael Böhmer, Warsaw, 1849 (Hebrew);
- N. L. Weinstein, Beiträge zur Gesch. der Essäer, Vienna, 1892;
- Mitwoch, Essäer, in Zeit. für Assyr. 1902;
- Grätz, Gesch. 3:91 et seq., 697-703;
- Jost, Gesch. des Judenthums und Seiner Sekten, 1:207-214.
- Derenbourg, Hist. 1867, pp. 166-175, 460 et seq.;
- L. Herzfeld, Gesch. des Volkes Israel, 3:368,388,509 et seq.;
- C. D. Ginsburg, The Essenes, Their History and Their Doctrines, London, 1864 (with summary of previous literature);
- idem, in Kitto's Dict. of the Bible, and in Smith-Wace, Dictionary of Christian Antiquities;
- Geiger, Jüd. Zeit, 1871, pp. 30-56;
- M. Friedländer, Zur Entstehungsgesch. des Christenthums, 1894, pp. 98-142;
- Kohler, The Essene Brotherhood, in Reform Advocate, anniversary number, 1894, pp. 15-19;
- J. D. Lightfoot, St. Paul's Epistles to the Colassians, 1876, pp. 349-419;
- Wellhausen, I. J. G. 1895, pp. 292-296;
- Lucius, Der Essenismus in Seinem Verhältniss zum Judenthum;
- Schürer, Gesch. 2:556-584;
- Hilgenfeld, Ketzergesch. des Urchristenthums, 1884, pp. 87-149;
- F. C. Conybeare, in Hastings, Dict. Bible;
- Philo, De Vita Contemplativa, ed. Conybeare, Oxford, 1895.
These files are public domain.
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Essenes'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/e/essenes.html. 1901.