Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls - Part 2

The original article on the Who's ? Right blog entitled "The Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls" is by far the most viewed article post on this web-blog to date [over 5,000 views]! The comments are many, more questions have arisen and the curiosity of my followers have led me to expand this information. "Part 2" will expound upon the Jewish sect known as the Essenes. "Part 3" will conclude the series on the "Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls" and will cover the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947 A.D.

"The Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls"
Part 2: The Essenes

Origin & Definition:

Word Origin & History of Essene:  
(Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper) 

1553, member of a Jewish sect (first recorded 2c. B.C.E.), from L., from Gk... Essenoi, of disputed etymology, perhaps from Heb.tzenum "the modest ones," or Heb.hashaim "the silent ones." Klein suggests Syriac hasen, pl. absolute state of hase "pious." - 

Definition of Essene
  • Es·sene [es-een, e-seen] - noun - (Judaism)... a member of a Palestinian sect, characterized by asceticism, celibacy, and joint holding of property, that flourished from the 2nd century b.c. to the 2nd century a.d.

Ancient Writings About the Essenes:

Depiction of an Essene Scroll
One of the earliest reports concerning the Essenes comes to us from Hellenistic Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, who lived during the Egyptian dispersion. Philo's writings about the Essenes comes down through two scholarly works, "Quod omnis probus Fiber sit" and "Apologia pro Judais". The second work was lost to antiquity, but the information was carefully retained in Eusebius' "Praeparatio Evangilica".

Flavius Josephus, a Pharisee and ancient Jewish historian, was one of the earliest theologians to impart an in-depth description of the Essenes in his writings entitled, "The Jewish War" (written between 70-75 A.D.) and a lesser detailed account in "Antiquities of the Jews" (written between 75-100 A.D.).

Another first-hand account concerning the Essenes comes from the Roman writer, Pliny the Elder, who, in his work entitled "Natural History", incorporated some information about the ancient sect during the 1st century A.D. Pliny died in 79 A.D.

Dio Chrysostom was a Greek philosopher and historian [who lived around the turn of the 2nd century A.D.] and briefly mentioned the existence of an Essene community near the Dead Sea in his Discourses. His report is dated somewhat later [early 2nd century A.D.] than Pliny the Elder [late 1st century A.D.]

During the 3rd century A.D. Hippolytus of Rome detailed a long account of the Essenes in "Refutation of all Heresies", that is said to have paralleled Josephus' information. However, a few instances provide unique material, although he was never personally associated with the Essene sect. His works unfortunately are in such a fragmentary condition that it is difficult to surmise the exact notion of his intellectual meaning.

Birth of the Essenes:

Depiction of an Essene
While there is no definite proof concerning the formation and beginnings associated with the ancient Judaic race, it has been estimated the Essenes came into existence sometime during the 2nd century B.C. (201-101). Some scholars proclaim this ancient race of Jews seceded from the Zadokite priests (a priestly order descended from the first High Priest, Zadok, of the First Temple of Solomon).

Most scholars of religion agree the Essenes were one of three Jewish sects during the Second Temple period. The Essenes broke away from the other two groups, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, due to the longstanding conflicts of social and religious beliefs; they formed their own religious order. The following conflicts were instrumental in aiding the birth of the Essenes:
Had the conflicts between the Sadducees and the Pharisees never existed, the ancient sect known as the Essenes possibly would have never been born.

Note: According to the Essene Church of Christ, the origins of the Essenes are incredibly ancient and date back to the time of Enoch and Moses. While the Essene Church of Christ claims the ancient Essenes origins were lost to pre-flood history, there are certain legends that link them to Enoch. During the post-flood days of Moses, it was said that there was a major re-manifestation of the Essenes encouraged by Moses at Mount Sinai. Further information please visit: Introduction to the Ancient Essenes and the Modern Essene Church of Christ

Life of the Essenes:   

Depiction of communal life
Pliny the Elder places the Essenes in the desert near Ein Gedi on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, but did not expound upon any other locations. According to Pliny, the Essene did not marry and remained celibate, they possessed no money and had existed for thousands of generations. 

According to Josephus, the Essenes consisted of large numbers and were scattered throughout Roman Judæa in various cities, but congregated in a communal life. One [Essene] man was chosen to administer each community as priest and guardian. They were dedicated to asceticismvoluntary povertydaily immersion, and abstinence from worldly pleasures, including (for some groups) celibacy. The ancient historian stated the Essenes were committed to a strict observance of the Sabbath, as well.

The Essenes were reputed to ritually immerse themselves in water every morning, eat together after praying, and devoted themselves to charity. Their daily water immersions is believed to be associated with the concept of baptism (in Christianity). They were a benevolent order that forbade any expression of anger, carefully studied the books of the elders, preserved sacred secrets, and were very attentive when it came to the names of the angels [kept in their sacred writings].

They also faced hardships and opposition (mainly from the Romans). In the Talmud, there is a story about Onias the Righteous, who was considered saintly. He was reputed to be able to bring rain by simply praying. Onias was stoned to death circa 65 B.C. Josephus also recorded a similar story in his writings and, according to Millar Burrows, Onias the Righteous was thought to have been an Essene.

Mission of the Essenes:

Depiction of the Essenes writing
the Dead Sea Scrolls
According to Philo of Alexandria and Flavius Josephus, the Essenes were virtuous people. Philo writes that the Essenes were celibate and spent their lives studying ethics and ancestral laws. Josephus added in his writings that they [Essenes] were generally continent, recited daily prayers, engaged in purification rituals and were gifted with ultimate prophecy. 
"Forgiving was as essential in their [Essenes] life as breathing in and out. Giving thanks for everything that came their way, both the good and the bad, the sunrise and the sunset, comfort or discomfort. All was a blessing from God and could be turned to good." - (from
The Essenes were practical when it came to their faith; they were humble and efficient in the performance of their service. Many called them 'healers', and in some instances, referred to them as 'physicians'. They were renowned for using natural herbs, natural minerals and the use of oils. The content of natural minerals and diet was specifically used in healing.

The ancient Essenes devoted themselves to help mankind, Jew and Gentile alike. The ancient sect studied and meditated daily on the issues of man and God. The Essenes were distinguished for their prophetic summations, which some scholars believe initially started the apocalyptic movement. Josephus wrote about Menahem the Essene who prophesied Herod the Great's rise to kingship long before the ancient emperor had any royal expectations. The Essenes talent as healers and prophets were well noted by the people of that time. They were hailed for their honesty, temperance, reasoning and justice.

Doctrine of the Essenes:

The doctrine of the Essenes was simple and can be summed up in one paragraph:
"...The Essenes or Essæans, in the days of Philo and Josephus, were imbued with the utmost reverence for Moses and the Law. They believed in the creator (God), in the immortality of the soul, and in a future state of retribution....Their chief characteristic was the doctrine of love--love to God, love of virtue, and love of mankind--and the practical way in which they carried out their precepts aroused the admiration of all." - (excerpt from Fragments of a Faith Forgotten by G.R.S. Mead) 
Disappearance of the Essenes:    

Remains of the probable Essene community at Qumran.
There are many theories floating around about the sudden departure of the Essenes from history. They were purported to be chosen as the "sons of light" to fight the "sons of darkness" [as the end of the world approached] yet, the Essenes were killed during the Maccabees's uprising in 68 A.D.

Some scholars commonly attest the simplistic order of the Essenes were murdered by the Roman soldiers during one of the three the Jewish-Roman Wars (between 66-135 A.D.); the first one occurring when the Second Temple was conquered by the Roman Empire in 70 A.D.

A small minority of theologians believe the entire sect of Essenes committed suicide atop Mount Carmel as they opposed Roman rule and refused to renounce their sacred faith. And, there are other savants that deem the ancient sect was never completely destroyed and the Essenes became a secret society.

Regardless of the various hypothesis of the learned scholars, no one has ever been able to exactly acknowledge or prove the theories of when or why the Essenes were lost to history.  

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

The ancient Essenes, who lived in righteousness through faith, hope and charity, regarded themselves as a 'people on a mission'. They lived a simple life in purity and truth, in temperance, and in humility towards mankind. The Essenes were not just the servants of the Creator, but they were sons and daughters of the Most High. They even considered themselves to be the depository of God's secret knowledge and wisdom... henceforth, making them workers for the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.
“He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” Matthew 13:11
More on the Essenes:

History and the Essene

Related Articles:

Second Temple Period
Josephus wrote about the Essenes
Essenes: Profile of the Essenes - Jewish Religious Group, Creators of the D...

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