Sects During Biblical Times — the Essenes

Sects During Biblical Times the Essenes 

Who were the Essenes? And why did they die off?

Along with the Sadducees, the Essenes disappeared during the 70 AD inferno in Judea, but the Essenes seemed more pious than the Sadducees, yet they share the same fate? Why did they die out with them?

Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it? Amos 3:6 

I indeed baptized you with water unto repentance, but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear. He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirits and with FIRE Matthew 3:11.

“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth. I came not to send peace, but a sword” Matthew 10:34.

But why?

The materials of the Essenes in this post are general and some from the Jewish Encyclopedia. Many characteristics overlap with those from Josephus in an earlier post.

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The Essenes were a sect of Second Temple Judaism that flourished from the 2nd century BC to the 1st century AD.  They were what might best be described as an apocalyptic sect of Judaism. An apocalyptic sect is one that thinks of itself as, first of all, the true form of their religion. In fact, that’s part of their terminology. Again, they think of themselves as the righteous remnant … the chosen ones … the elect. But they were also standing against the mainstream … most of Jewish life, and especially everything going on at Jerusalem. So they’re sectarian. They’re separatists. They were people who had moved away which some scholars claim seceded from the Zadokite priests, and hence some scholars thought they were once affiliated to the Sadducees. Others claim they were once affiliated with the Pharisees.

This is what the Jewish Encyclopedia says about the Essenes: 

A branch of the Pharisees who conformed to the most rigid rules of Levitical purity while aspiring to the highest degree of holiness . . . 

The Pharisaic and Essene system of organization appears to have been at the outset the same, a fact which implies a common origin.

Philo’s Account of the Essenes (quoted in the Jewish Encyclopedia).

(comp. Ex. R. xii.: “Moses should not pray to God in a city full of idols”).

“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”

A Haunted Place like Sodom and Gomorrah, But Why?

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:

(comp. Ḳid. iv. 11; Tosef., Ḳid. v. 15; Masseket Soferim, xv. 10; all these passages being evidence of the same spirit pervading the Pharisaic schools).

“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 iv. 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'” (Ps. cxxviii. 2, Hebr.)]. Among them there is no maker of any weapon of war [comp. Shab. vi. 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. viii.; Ta’an. 22a; Ḥul. 7a); they emancipated slaves and taught them the Law, which says: “They are My servants (Lev. xxv. 42), but should not be servants of servants, and should not wear the yoke of flesh and blood” (Targ. Yer. to Deut. xxiii. 16-17; Tosef., B. K. vii. 5; Ḳid. 22b.; comp. 38b; Abot i. 10: “Hate mastership!” Abot vi. 2. In regard to their practise of mutual service comp. Ḳid. 32b; Luke xxii. 27; John xiii. 1 et seq.).]

Study of the Law (quoted in the Jewish Encyclopedia).

(comp. the name of “doreshe reshumot,” allegorists, B. Ḳ. 82a).

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“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 goodwill and pleasant conduct toward all alike [comp. Abot i. 15, iii. 12: “Receive every man with a pleasant countenance!”], and by their fellowship, which is beautiful beyond description.

Their Communism.

(comp. B. M. ii. 11).

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. i. 138). The other term is “heḳdesh nekasim” (consecrating one’s goods; comp. ‘Ar. vi. ; 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 xviii. 22); in Usha the rabbis decreed that no one should give away more than the fifth part of his property (‘Ar. 28a; Tosef., ‘Ar. iv. 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” (viii.), the following description of the Essenes is given (ch. xi.):

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 Essæi. 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, l.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. vi. 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 medicines 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.

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Josephus’ Account (quoted in the Jewish Encyclopedia).

In his “Antiquities” (xiii. 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 iii. 15), which the Sadducees scarcely denied, as to the foreknowledge of future (political) events, which the Essenes claimed (comp. Josephus, “Ant.” xv. 10, § 5, et al.); the Pharisees were more discreet, and the Sadducees treated such prophecies with contempt. In “Ant.” xviii. 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).

(comp. Strabo, vii. 33).

“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 a manner. They neither marry, nor do they desire to keep slaves, as they think the latter practise leads to injustice [comp. Abot ii. 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”; See 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”

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The Essene Calendar is Based Solely Around the Sun

Other Characteristics:

…The Dead Sea Scrolls show us a lot about the beliefs of the Essenes. Now, we typically think of this language of the coming kingdom as reflecting a belief in the end of the world … as somehow coming upon them or us soon. But in fact, that’s not exactly what they thought. They use language like “the end” or “the last things” or “the last days”, but what they mean is the present evil age is coming to an end. Now this “end time” language is what we typically call “the eschaton” or “eschatology” … thinking about the end. But in Jewish eschatology of this period, what they usually seem to be talking about is an end of a present evil age and a coming new glorious age … a new kingdom.

Being much fewer in number than the Pharisees or the Sadducees, the Essenes separated themselves from society at large and defined themselves against the Temple in Jerusalem and memanated much of the apocalyptic literature. They were known as the Essenes, or perhaps you might say, the people of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Dead Sea community, whom most scholars regard as Essenes. Here is a group of people who left Jerusalem, went to live in the wilderness, to live by themselves, totally isolated from other Jews, from the rest of the community, and as their Scrolls reveal, saw themselves as the new sacred community, waiting for the time, when … they imagine that the Temple would be reconstituted and reconstructed and rebuilt…. and a new and better priestly group would take over the Temple in Jerusalem. 

And, in the meantime, while the wicked priests were still off in Jerusalem, following the wrong [or a heretic] calendar, following the wrong purity rules and officiating improperly before the Lord, in the meantime, pure purity and true holiness resided only among themselves, in their own community, off near the Dead Sea…. The community itself was a surrogate temple….

Despite the elaborate system of animal sacrifices that claimed to originate with Moses whom they venerated, the Essenes abjured bloody sacrifices. Although the seed of Aaron were anointed priests, the sect set up priests of their own. Their habit of morning and evening prayer, timed by the rising and setting of the sun, suggesting sun-worship. 

The Jewish Encyclopedia says 

Those in hope of a divine revelation consequently refrained from sexual intercourse as well as other impurity (comp. Rev. xiv. 4; Enoch, lxxxiii. 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 (Deut. xxiii. 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 (iii. 30 et seq., vii. 20) it was a law given to Adam and Noah “not to uncover as the Gentiles do.” 

Below are more recent discoveries about the Essenes, not covered by Josephus, Philo nor the Jewish Encyclopedia.

Their differences with other Jews. 

The calendar used by the Essenes was based on the Book of Enoch and Book of Jubilees, both books repudiated by most probably Ezra who is known to have canonized the Jewish TANAKH or the Old Testament. By using these two books the Essenes also repudiated the authority granted to the Sandhrin which was the Great Assembly (knesset hagedolah), an assembly of 120 elders, including prophets during the Second Temple period. This Great Assembly was established by Ezra. Sometimes, the Great Assembly is simply designated as “Ezra and his court of law.” That means to repudiate the Sandhrin is to repudiate “Ezra and his court of law” including the regulation of the calendar – a serious charge.

In the Book of Enoch, there is a reference to the first month in which “the day becomes daily longer and the night nightly shorter” which is interpreted as following the vernal equinox:

In this way he rises in the first month in the great portal, which 7 is the fourth [those six portals in the cast]. And in that fourth portal from which the sun rises in the first month are twelve window-openings, from which proceed a flame when they are opened in 8 their season. When the sun rises in heaven, he comes forth through that fourth portal thirty, 9 mornings in succession, and sets accurately in the fourth portal in the west of heaven. And during this period the day becomes daily longer and the night nightly shorter to the thirtieth 10 morning. Book of Enoch 72:6-10

The Essene Passover is assumed to follow Qumran practices according to their solar calendar described in the Book of Jubilees:

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The proper method of marking the passage of time is the “movements” of the sun (solar calendar) (6:23-31); in fact this was one the purposes for which the sun was created (2:9). This means that the year is to be 364 days long (6:32), consisting of [4 units of] 13 weeks [including] four “days of remembrance” after the solstices and the equinoxes (see 6:32-38). This solar calendar is equally divisible by seven into fifty-two weeks, which means that the Sabbaths and the festival days will always fall on the same day of the month for every year. These four units of thirteen weeks are each divided into three non-lunar months. Since God created the sun on the fourth day, the year must always begin on a Wednesday. The festivals always fall on the same day of the week and same day of the month each year. (As already indicated, there is a probable reference to 1 Enoch 72-82 in Jub. 4:17.) The larger units of marking the passing of time are the “week” (period of seven years) and the jubilee (7 x 7 = 49 years). Throughout the Book of Jubilees, the author attempts to date all significant events by this method.

A. calendar; “the Essene/Qumran calendar has their own 364 day solar calendar at odds with the calendrics of the Sanhedrin”. The Essene sacred year always began on the vernal (spring) equinox and is, by definition, Wednesday (because God Created the “lights in the firmament” for “signs and seasons” on the 4th Day), 1st day of the 1st month (Nisan or Abib). Consequently, the Essene Passover will always begin at 6 PM Tuesday, 13 days later (Nisan 14). The key point being Essene Passover always began “Tuesday” evening, 13 days after the vernal equinox. To outsiders, the Essenes would appear to observe the vernal equinox and (regardless of whatever the previous day was) declare that day to be Wednesday 1 Nisan.

The Essenes Calendar

Their 12 months are either 30 (for 8 months) or 31 days (for 4 months). Meaning, they don’t follow the phases of the moon. Essenes also celebrated each Equinox and Solstice on the first day of those months (the 1st, 4th, 7th and 10th monthsJubilees 6:23).

The first day on the first month always begins at sunset (Jerusalem time) on the Tuesday evening following the vernal equinox. The calendar had a year of 364 days. As Jubilees set the Festival of Weeks (Pentecost) on Sivan 15 the offering of the wave sheaf (Leviticus 23:11), the omer-waving ceremony from which it is dated, always fell on Sunday the 26th day of the first month—counted from the first Sunday after the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Also, other Biblical Holidays were on set days, such as Shavuot (Pentecost); always on the 15th, and also on a Sunday in the Third Month. And Yom Kippur; always on a Friday.

Thus their difference from the Pharisees are:

(1) A different weekly cycle; the Essenes start the new year (the first of Nisan) always with Wednesday (4th day of the week).

(2) The Essenes start the new year on the Spring equinox, without any regards to the ripening of the barley or pronouncement of the Sandhedrin; their calendar has a year of 364 days.

(3) All Feast Days, including the observance of Passover, would vary from the Pharisees, since the calendar differs. The “Essene Passover always began “Tuesday” evening, 13 days after the vernal equinox.” Thus they also consider ‘evening” as the beginning of the fourteenth like the Sadducees, but on their Essene calendar.

(4) Counting of the wave sheaf starts on the Sunday after the Days of Unleavened Bread, thus fifty days later, Pentecost, is always the 15th of the third month, another Sunday.

(5) Their months are either 30 (for 8 months) or 31 days (for 4 months). Meaning, they don’t follow the phases of the moon. 

The Essene attire was so distinctive and unique that among the populace these mystics were known as “Brethren of White Clothing” – each member after initiation adopting a robe of white composed  of one piece of material, such as the ” seamless garment ” and their salutation was, “Peace be unto you”.

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Following the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple from 66 AD to 70 AD, the Essenes, Sadducees, the Zealots and even the Shammai branch of Pharisees couldn’t survive the inferno. Only the Hillel branch of Pharisees survive during these years of burnings. The Nasi of the Sanhedrin, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai, and the Hillel branch of Pharisees fled Jerusalem and reestablished the Sanhedrin at Yavneh on the Mediterranean Coast. Without the Temple, Jews could only study the Torah in their newly established synagogues. The new Jewish leadership under the Hillel Pharisees survived to reemerged as the Rabbinic Judaism.

A warning was giving earlier:

I indeed baptized you with water unto repentance, but He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear. He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirits and with FIRE Matthew 3:11.

Forty years later, were these Essenes “baptised in FIRE” like the Sadducees as warned by John the Baptist? God included His holy city of Jerusalem in this judgment. He did not exclude these Essenes from His judgment during the inferno of AD 70. Yet some in the Church of God Communities today repudiated the Hillel Calendar and take pride in following their own calendar doctrines. Would they follow the same fate of the Essenes? If not, why not?

Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it? Amos 3:6

See A POST MORTEM OF JERUSALEM IN AD 70

~ by Joel Huan on December 6, 2020.

One Response to “Sects During Biblical Times — the Essenes”

  1. […] A Post-Mortem Analysis about the Essenes HERE […]

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