Source:The Jewish encyclopedia, Singer, Isidore; Adler, Cyrus Vol 5 (1901)
ESSENES (etymology doubtful; probably two words are represented, "Essenes" and "Essaei":
Essenes = , "the modest," "humble, " or " pious ones " [so Josephus in most passages ;
Pliny, in "Historia Naturalis," v. 17, used "Esseni "] ; Essaei = , the " silent " or
"reticent" ones [so at times Josephus, and regularly Philo ; in Epiphanius] ; others, with less probability, derive the name from the Syriac "hase," pl. "hasen," status emphaticus "hasaya" [the pious;
this explanation was suggested by De Sacy and adopted by Ewald, Wellhausen, and Schiirer] ; from
the Aramaic "asa" [= " to heal, " or " the healers " ; so Bellermann, Herzfeld, Geiger] ; from " 'asah " [="to
do," with reference to the "'anshe ma'aseh," the men of wondrous practise: Suk. v. 4] ; from a town by
the obscure name of "Essa" [Josephus, "Ant." xiii. 15, § 3; so Hilgenfeld] ; from " haza " [= " to
see" "seers"]; from "'ashen" [=" strong"]; from "seha" [= " to bathe ; so Graetz]) :
A branch of the 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 socialism, 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 ix. 15; Luke ii. 35, 88; xxiii. 51). The strangest reports were spread about
this mysterious class of Jews. Pliny (l.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 says in one place (as quoted by Eusebius,
"Praeparatio Evangelica," viii. 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 seg.) he speaks of only four thousand
Essenes, who lived as farmers and artisans apart from the cities and in a perfect state of socialism, 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." xv. 10, § 4; xviii. 1, § 5; "B. J." ii. 8, §§ 3-13) 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 Schiirer, 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." xv. 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 i. 11), who also refused to take an oath ("Ant." xv. 10, § 4), belonged to the Essenes, is not clear. Menahem is
known in rabbinical literature as a predecessor of Shammai (Hag. ii. 2). Of Judas the Essene
Josephus relates ("Ant." xiii. 11, § 2; "B. J." i. 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 every
other one he made. A similar prophecy is ascribed to Simon the Essene (" Ant. " x vii. 13, § 3 ; " B. J. " ii.
7, § 4), who is possibly identical with the Simon in Luke ii. 25. Add to these John the Essene, a general
in the time of the Roman war ("B. J." ii. 20, § 4; iii. 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 Hasidim of the
pre-Maccabean time (I Macc. ii. 42, vii. 13 ; II Macc, xiv. 6), of whom both the Pharisees
and the Essenes are offshoots (Wellhausen, " Israelitische und Judische Geschichte," 1894, p. 261). Such
" overrighteous ones," who would not bring voluntary sacrifices nor take an oath, are alluded to in Eccl. vii. 16, ix. 2,
while the avoidance of marriage by the pious seems to be alluded to in Wisdom iii. 13-iv. 1 (comp. II Mace. xiv. 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. iii. 38a; Sotah 9b; Ber. 33a); and the rule (Matt. v. 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 iii. 13; Sotah iii. 4,
xi. 15; Tosef., Sotah, xv. 11; Toh. iv. 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. "
xvii. 2, § 4), were scarcely different from those elsewhere called "Essenes" ("Ant." xv. 10, § 4).
The Ancient Hasidim
About the organization of the ancient Hasidim little is known; but each Pharisee had to be admitted by certain rites
to membership in the association (" heber " or " haburah"), receiving the name "haber"
therefrom (Dem. ii. 3 ; Tosef. , Dem. ii. 3; Bek. 30b) ; these fraternities assembled not only for worship but also
for meals (see Geiger, " Urschrif t, " pp. 123 et seg. ). 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 Hasidean brotherhood seems to have been
the " Nekiyye 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 (Git. ix. 8; Sanh. 33a). They paid special reverence to the scroll of the
Law in the synagogue (Masseket Soferim, xiv. 14). But tradition has preserved certain peculiarities
of these " ancient Hasidim " (Hasidim 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 sileut meditation before offering their morning prayer (comp. DIDASCALIA in Jew. Ekcyo. iv. 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. V. 1 ; Tosef., Ber. iii. 30; 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 Mace. ii. 38; II Mace. v. 25, xv. 4).
- (3) They guarded against the very possibility of being the indirect cause of injuring their fellow men
through carelessness (Tosef., B. 5. ii. 6; B. K. 30a, 50b; comp. Git. 7a: "No injury is ever caused
through the righteous ").
- (4) Their scrupulousness concerning "zizit" (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 Het" = " fearers of sin": Shek. vi. 6; Sotah ix. 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" (Num. vi. 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. viii. 4; Tosef., Oh. iv. 6, 13, where
"zekenim ha-rishonim" [the ancient elders] is only another name for " Hasidim ha-rishonim"; see Weiss, "Dor,"i. 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, Mezora', end; Shab. 64b; Ab. R. N. ii. ;
"Baraita di Masseket Niddah," in Horowitz's "Uralte Tosef ta," 1890, i. 5, p. 16, iii. 2-3, pp. 24-37; "Pithe Niddah," pp. 54 et seg.).
- (7) This, however, forms only part of the general Hasidean 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 hullin be-tohorat kodesh") ; and
there were three or four degrees of holiness, of which the Pharisees, or "haberim,"
observed only the first, the Hasidim the higher ones (Hag. ii. 6-7; Tosef., Dem. ii. 3). 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.
Tne "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 elite of the priesthood, of being initiated into the mysteries of the Holy Name and other secret lore.
"The Name of twelve letters [see God, Names of] was, after the Hellenistic apostasy, entrusted only to the
The ' Zenu'im ' [the chaste ones] among the priesthood. The Name of forty-two letters was entrusted only to the
'Zanua' ' 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 " (Kid. 71a ; Eccl. R. lii. 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. ii., based upon Ex. xix. 15; Deut. v. 27). Those
in hope of a divine revelation consequently refrained from se.xual intercourse as well as other impurity
(comp. Rev. xiv. 4; Enoch, Ixxxiii. 3).
But there was another test of chastity which seems to have been the chief reason for the name of
"Zenu'im" (Essenes): the Law (Deut. xxiii. 10-15; comp. Targ. Yer. ad loe. ; 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. 30)
it was a law given to Adam and Noah "not to uncover as the Gentiles do."
The chastity ("zeni'ut") shown in this respect by King Saul and his daughter (I Sam. xxiv. 4; II Sam. vi. 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 (Pesik. R. 15; Midr. Teh. vii.; Num. R. xi. ; Meg. 13b; Yer. Suk. v. 55c). Every devotee of the Law was expected to be a zanua'" (Abot vi. 1 ; Niddah 13a ; Derek Erez Zuta vii.), such as were
Rachel and Esther (Meg. 18b), Hanau ha-Nehba, the grandson of Onias the Saint (Ta'an. 33b), R. Akiba (Ket. 63b),
and Judah ha-Nasi (Yer. Meg. i. 73b).
The Hassa'im" or Secret Ones
The name "Zenu'im," which is replaced or explained by " Kesherim " (the blameless ones), another
name for " Hasidim " (Yer. Dem. vi. 25d ; Yer. Yoma iii. 40d; comp. Tosef., Dem. vi. 6; Ned. i. 1; Ab. R. N., text B, iv., ed. Schechter, p. 14, and comp. note on p. 15), is also applied, like the term " Hashsha'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, ii. 7 ; Yer. Yoma iii. 41a). It is not always clear, however, whether the name denotes
the Essenes or simply the modest ones as a class (see Dem. vi. 6; Ma'as. Sh. v. 1 ; Tosef., Sotah, xiii. 6). R. Simeon
the Zanua', who, while disregarding the Temple practise, shows a certain contempt for the high priest (Tosef., Kelim B. B. i. 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 Contemplativa," ed. Conybeare, p. 247). The suggestion may
be made that the Hashsha'im, " the observers of secrecy, " designated also "the sin-fearing," who
"had a chamber called ' lishkat hashsha'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." V. 42) derived its name. According to Tosef.,
Shek. ii. 16, these Hashsha'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, iv. 6, 16; Tosef., Sheb. vii. 9),
it is probable that these Essene-like ascetics ("Zenu'im " : Tosef., Peah, ii. 18) followed their own
traditions, though they probably also came under the general administration.
"Watikim" and the "Holy Ones"
The explanation of given by Suidas (=
= "men of contemplation," or "mystics")
suggests that the name "Hashsha'im," like "Zenu'im," denoted men entrusted with the secret lore
"given in a whisper " (Hag. 13a, 14a; Gen. R. iii.). Another name denoting a class of pietistic extremists showing points
of contact with the Essenes is "Watikim" (men of firm principles: Sifre, Num. 92; Sifre, Deut. 13; Miiller, "Masseket Soferim," 1878, p. 357,
who identifies them with the Essenes). " The Watikim 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 xvi. 28; II Mace. x. 38); the
and "Holy Watikim closed the prayers "Mulkiyyot, 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, xiv. 18). Still another name which deserves special consideration is "kadosh" (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 "Zanu'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 iii. 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 Kedoshah, or Kehala Kaddisha),
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. ix. 9 ; Ber. 9b ; Tamid 27b).
In this connection mention should also be made of the "Banna'im" (builders: Mik. ix. 6; Shab. 114a),
whom Frankel (" Zeitschrift fur die Religiosen 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 Kolon "the Builder," Cant. R. i. 6; Abba Joseph the Builder,
Ex. R. xiii. ; the " Bannai " [Builder] in the company of R. Gamaliel, who was to hide in the walls the
Targum to Job, Tosef., Shah. xiii. 2), their name was given the meaning of builders of a higher world and
afterward applied to the Rabbis in geneial (Ber. 64a ; Yer. Y'oma iii. 40 ; Yer. Git. vii. 48d ; Ex. R. xxiii. ;
comp. 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 Hasidim of olden times is coupled with that of the " Aushe Ma'aseh " (men of miraculous deeds: Suk. v. 4),
a fact which shows that both belonged to the same class. Hanina b. Dosa is called the last of " the miracle-workers "
(Sotah ix. 15). But the Hasidim remained wonder-workers in Talmudic times (Ber, 18b; Lev. R. xxii., where
"ish hama'aseh " is translated into " 'askan bi-debarim "). In fact, there existed books containing miraculous stories of the
Hasidim, a considerable number of which were adopted by Talmud and Midrash (see Eccl. R. ix. 10), just as
there existed secret scrolls (" Megillot Setarim ") and ethical rules of the Hasidim ("Mishnat" or "Megillat Hasidim ")
to which allusion is made here and there in the Talmud (Yer. Ter. viii. 46b ; Yer. Ber. ix, 14d), and the contents of which
have found their way into the pseudepigraphic and early non-Talmudic literature (see Horowitz, I.e.). The Hasidim
mentioned in old barailas like Temurah (15b) and Sotah (ix. 15), and in Abot de-Rabbi Natan (viii.),
who spent their time on works of charity, are none other but survivals of the ancient Hasidim. The
Hasidean traditions may, therefore, be traced from Jose ben Joezer, the martyr-saint and Hasidean
leader of the Maccabean time (II Mace. xiv. 37, -where "Razis" is a corruption of the name; Gen. R. Ixv. ; Frankel, in
"Monatsschrift," Iii. 406 , down to Phinehas b. Jair, who was both in theory
and in practise a disciple of the Hasidim (see Bacher, "Ag. Tan." ii. 594 et seq.); indeed, there is little in
Essene life which does not find its explanation in rabbinical sources.
Philo's account of the Essenes
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," § 13,
"a number of men living In Syria and Palestine, over 4,000 according to my judgment, called 'Essael'
from their saintllness (though not exactly after the meaning of the Greek
language), they being eminently worshipers of God
— not In the sense that they sacrifice living animals (like the priests In the Temple),
the 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" (comp. Ex. R. xll. : " Moses should not pray to God in a city full of idols")."
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, tolling 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. exxvili. 2, Hebr.)].
Among them there is no maker of any weapon of war [comp. Shab. vl. 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 " (comp. ?;id. iv. 11 ; Tosef., Kid. v. 15 ; Masseket Soferim, xv. 10 ;
all these passages being evidences of the same spirit pervading the Pharisaic schools)."
"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 Hasidim, made It their special object to ransom captives (see Ab. B. N. viii.; Ta'an. 22a ; Hul. 7a);
they emancipated slaves and taught them the Law, which says: 'They are
My servants (Lev. zxv. 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. ?. vii. 5; Kid. 22b.; comp. 38b ; Abot i. 10; Abot vi. 2.
In regard to their practice of mutual service comp. Kid. 32b ; Luke xxii. 27; John xiii. 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 atten-tion to ethics, using as instructors
the laws of their fathers, which, without the outpouring of the divine spirit ["ruah ha-kodesh"], 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" (comp. the name of " doreshe rcshumot," allegorists, B. 5. 82a).
"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 Rahmana le-tab '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, 111. 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 ["haburot"] their houses are open also to their adherents coming from
otherquarters [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 Hasidean 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 (Yalk.,Sam. i. 138).
The other term is "hekdesh 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 xviil. 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 unstintlngly by their handiwork and In other ways" (comp. B. M. u. 11).
Not even tlie 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' " Praeparatio Evangelica " (viii.), the following description of the Essenes is given (ch. xi. ) :
The Essenes Advanced Years
"Our lawgiver, Moses, has trained thousands of disciples who, on account of their saintliness, I believe,
are honored with the name of Essaei. 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-bom 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 " zekenlm "], 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, I.e.), 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 (Kid. 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. 8) . 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, "DeVita 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 Essaei 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 " (xiii. 5, 1 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 detemiined by destiny, 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 bi-yede shama-yim " = " 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. 1,5),
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).
"When they send gifts to the Temple they do not offer sacriflces 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 sacriflces 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; 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 11. 7: 'Many men servants, much theft'], and the former brings
about quarrels ; but, living to themselves, they serve one another. They elect good men [" tobim " ; 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 Dacae ."
(comp. Strabo.vii. 33).
Hippolytus' Description compared with Josephus
The chief information concerning the Essenes is given in "Wars of the Jews" (ii. 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 Heeresium" (ix. 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., Gottingen, 1859, p. 472, note). The following is Hippolytus' version, the variations in Josephus'
being indicated by bracketsin red
"There are three divisions [sects, "philosophical divisions"] among them [the Jews] : the Pharisees and
Sadducees and the Essenes. These [last] practise a holier life [ "Jews by birth"] in their display of love for one
Hippolytus' another and of continence [comp. Zenu'im, above] ; they abstain from every act of covetousness
[ " pleasure as an evil deed "] and avoid even listening to conversation concerning such things. They renounce matrimony,
but they take children of strangers [ " when they are still easily instructed " ; but comp. Abraham in Gen.
R. xxxix. and Targ. Ter. to Dent, xxiii. 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 refers simply to questions ot Levitlcal holiness and to the
mysteries entrusted to the Zenu'lin. Josephus has this sentence twisted into
the followlng crude and unjust statement : " They do not forbid marriage and the procreatlon of children,
but they guard against the lasclviousness of women and are persuade 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 tliey regard anointing us a
defilement, probably from fear that the oil was not kept perfectly pure. They always dress in white garments"
(comp. Eccl.lx. 8).
Essenes Travel Constantly
"They have no special city of their own, but live In large numbers in different cities, and It any of their followers comes from a strangen city everything they have is considered as belonging
equally to the newcoiner; those who were never known before are received as kindred friends." "They traverse their native
land [as "sheluhe mizwah," sent for charitable and for politico-religious purposes (comp.
Apostles)], and whenever they go on a Journey they carry nothing except arms. They find in every city an admlnistrator
of the collective funds, who procures clothing and food for them. Their way of dressing and their general appearance are
decorous; but they possess neither two cloaks nor two pairs of shoes [comp. Matt. x. 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.
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 fatherss facing the sun as it praying for its rising " : comp. the Watikim, above.] Thus they go forth, each to his work until the llfth hour, when, having put on linen aprons to conceal their privy parts and [comp. Ber/. 21b],
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 Hag. iii. 2]. Then, having taken their seats in order amid silence, each takes a suffficient portion
of bread and some allowed 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. 13or. 31a, 35a, In regard to
the saying of grace; see M. ly. IWb; Meg. ;Wa]. 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 refraln from all forms ot passion and anger as leading to mischief [see
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 [ "the writings of the ancient ones"], and of any [apocalyptlc ?] scroll they have of the Faithtul Ones [comp. Tan.,Wa'era, cd. Buber, 4; and
ESCHATOLOGY ; " and they select such as are for the salvation of soul and body"]. Especially do they investigate the
magic powers of plants and stones. [comp. Wisdom vil. 30].
"To those desirous of becoming disciples they do not deliver their traditions [comp. Cabala] until they have
tested them. Accordingly they set before the aspirant the same kind ot food, outside the main hall, where he remains for a
whole year otter having received a mattock, a linen apron, and a white robe [as symliols of Zenl'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 ot 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 NAMES OF GOD] ; 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. Matt. v. 45]; that he will always side with the righteous in their contests
[this proves, it anything, that the Essenes were figthers 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." xv. 10, 8 5, but to the head of the order, whose election is not made
without the guidance ot the Holy Spirit (Sifre, Num. 92 : Ber. 58a, " mln ha-shamayim " ;
comp. DIDASCALIA, in Jew. Encyc. iv. 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 ot 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 vi. 6, based upon Esth. 11. 22) , and " that he will with equal care guard the books
of the order and the names ot 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
"It any ot them be condemned for any transgression, he Is expelled from the order, and at times such a one dies a
terrible death [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 ot the higher court of seventy- two (" Sanhedrln gedolah ") and the smaller court of
twenty-three ("Sanhedrln ketannah")], 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 [ "with death"]. They are taught to obey the rulers and elders [ " the majority"].
"When ten [the number necessary to constitute a holy congregation; see
MINYAN] sit together deliberating, no one speaks
without permission ot the rest [the rabbinical term is "re-shut"; see the Talmudic dictionaries]. They avoid
spitting Into the midst ot them [pag. 5a; Ber. 62b], or toward the right [the right hand is used for swearing; see Brand,
" Mandaische Religion," 1889, pp. 110 (jt scq.}. " In regard to Sabbath rest they are more scrupulous than other Jews,
for they not only prepare their meals one day previously Sabbath so as not to touch fire, but they do not even
remove any utensil [rabbinical term, "mukzah "; see
SABBATH] ; nor do they turn aside
to ease nature. Some do not even rise from their couch [comp.Targ. to Ex. xvl. 27 ; Mek., Beshailoli, 5], while on other days
they observe the law in Deut. xxiii. 13. After the toileting they wash themselves, considering the excrement as defiling
[comp. Yoma III. :)]. They are divided, according to their degree ot holy exercises. Into four classes."
Zealots were also Essenes
The following paragraph, omitted by Josephus, is alluded to, in his "Ant." xviii. 1, 6, as "the
philosophy of a fourth sect founded by Judas the Galilean."
" 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 ot which statues are erected [comp. Yer. 'Ah. Zarah HI. 42b, 43b]. Others again threaten to slay any Gentile taking part in a discourse about God and His Law It he refuses to be circumcised [comp. Sanh. 69a, Ex. R. xxxill.] From this they were called ' Zealots ' [Kanna'im] by some. 'Sicarii' by others.
Others again will call no one lord except God, even though they be tortured or killed.
Essene View of Resurrection
"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 it touched by a Gentile. [These are the four degrees of holiness mentioned in
Hag. 11. 7: "ma'aser," "terumah," "tohorot," and "hattat," or "most holy." Another division is "common meal," and " priestly meal " ; Tosef ., Dem. ii. 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. 37b, 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 :
"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.'
rection. 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
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 Hasidean " ma'aseh merkabah " and " ma'aseh bereshlt."] 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' identiflcation of the Essenes with the Pythagoreans : " Ant." XT. 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 puriflcation, 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 ofllspring. 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". (comp. Horwitz, " Baraita dl Nidda," I. 2).
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 Zipporali, 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 Mamon was another condition of initiation into the mystery of the Holy Name
(Yer. Yoma iii. 40d; comp. Hul. 7b ; Phinehas b. Jair ; Midr. Teh. xxiv. 4, cxxviii. 3 ; Hul. 44b, with reference to Prov. xv. 37). The purpose of their ablutions before every meal as well as before moi'ning prayers, which prac-
tise gave them the name of " Tobele Shaharit " ( = Morning Baptists), was to insure the
pronunciation of the Name and the eating of holy things in a state of purity (Tosef., Yad. ii. 20; Ber. 2b, 22a).
The existence of large numbers of Levites (Yeb. XV. 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
socailism such as the Law prescribes for each seventh year (Peah vi. 1). Fear of defilement led
Judas Maccabeus as Hasidean leader to live only on herbs (II Mace. v. 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 Hasidim
who instituted the liturgy (Midr. Teh. xvii. 4: "hasidim 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. i. 1; Ker. 25a). They claimed to possess by tradition from
tlie founders of the Synagogue ("anshe keneset ha-gedolah ") the correct pronunciation and the magic spell of the
Holy Name (Midr. Teh. xxxvi. 8, xci. 8), and with it they achieved miracles like the men of old (Midr. Teh. Ixxviii. 12,
xci. 2). They taught Jews and Gentiles alike to cleanse themselves in living streams from their im-
purity of sin, and return to God in repentance and prayer (Sibyllines, iv. 164; Luke iii. 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 i. 3) ; and they were especially
assiduous in pursuit of benevolent work (Ab. R. N. iii., viii.). Each community had its seven good men, called " the Good
Brotherhood of the Town" (Heber 'Ir be-Tobah: "Ant." iv. 8, § 14; Meg. 37a; Tosef., Peah, iv. 16; Sheb. vii. 9).
Types of Essenes
Standing under the direction of the "mishmar," or "ma'amad" (the district authority : Tosef., Peah,
iv. 7), the Essenes claimed, as direct successors to the Hasidim, Mosaic origin for their brotherhood
(see Philo and Josephus, I.e., in reference to Ex. xviii. 31 ; comp. Targ. Yer. ; B. M. 30b ; Mek., Yitro, 2).
Whatever their real connection with the
RECHABITES (Jer. xxxv.) was, they beheld in Jonadab, the
founder of the sect of the " Water-Drinkers," as well as in Jabez (I Chron. ii. 55, iv. 10; see Targ.) and in
Jethro the Kenite, prototypes, and possibly founders, of the Jericho colony (Mek., Yitro, 2; Sifre,
Num. 78; Shek. v. 48c; Nilus, "De Monastica Exercitatione," iii. ; ",T. Q. R." v. 418); likewise in
Jesse, the father of David, regarded as sinless and deathless in their tradition (Shab. 55b ; Derek Erez Zuta i.);
and in Obed, Boaz, and his father Salma (Tan., Wayelii, ed. Buber, 4; Targ. to I Chron. ii. 54 et seq., iv. 22 et seq.).
In this manner
AHIJAH and AHITHOPHEL became types of Essenes (Midr. Teh.V. 8), as well as King Saul, as
mentioned above ; but, above all, the Patriarchs and protoplasts. Other
Essenic types were Abraham, called "Watik," the prototype of the Anawim and Hasidim because "he
rose early " for prayer (Ber. 6b, after Gen. xix. 37 ; Sliab. 105a; Gen. R. liii.); Shem - Melchizedek as
teacher of benevolence and true worshiper of God (Midr. Teh. xxxvii. 1, Ixxvi. 3);
Job as philanthropist and as teacher of mystic lore (B. B. 15a, b; see Kohlcr, "Testament of Job," in Kohut Memorial
Volume, pp. 265 et seq.) ; Enoch (see Enoch, Books of) ; and Adam ('Er. 78b ; Pirke R. El. xx.).
A passage in the Tanhuma reads : " Only when Abraham separated from Lot and Jacob from Laban did God
communicate with them as perushim " (Wayeze, ed. Buber, 31). The claim of antiquity for Esscne 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 Yalk. Mekiri to Ps. xviii. 36 ; Yalk. to II Sam. xxii. 36 ; comp. Sifre, Deut. 49. They are " the lovers of God " (B. B. 8b ;
Yoma 38a). God unites with the brotherhoods of the humble ("haburot ha-nemukin": Tan., Wa'era, ed. Buber, 3).
He provides each day's food for them as He provided the manna for Israel
(Mek., Beshalalh, 3, ed. "Weiss, pp. 56 [note] et seq.; Sifre, Deut. 43 ; ?;id. 83b ; Matt. vi. 35). " When men
ceased to hate men's gifts [the Essene] longevity ceased " (Sotah 47b, based on Prov. xv. 2T).
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 Hasidim (Shab. 133b), and the
Book of Jubilees (1. 8-13) confirms the antiquity of the Essene view. As the best characteristic of the
Essene view the saying of Phinchas 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
["nekiyyut"]; this to 'perishut' [Pharisaic separation from common things] ; this to purity ; this to ' hasidut ' [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 hasidut is the highest grade " ('Ab. Zarah 30b).
Traces of Essenism and Anti-Essenism
Essenism as well as Hasidism represents that stage of religion which is called " otherworldliness. "
It had no regard for the comfort of 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 PHARISEES characterized the Essene
as "a fool who destroys the world" (Sotah iii. 4), and their ethics assumed an anti-Essene character
(see ETHICS). Exceptionally, some tannaim, such as R. Eliezer b. Hyrcanus (Shab. 153a; Ned. 30b)
and Jose ben Halafta (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," ii. 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 Hag-
gada," in "J. Q. R," v. 403 et seq.; Jellinek, "B. H." ii.. Introduction, vii., xviii., et al.), but are
especially noticeable in the Tanna debe Eliyahu, above all in the Targum Yorushalmi, where the Essenic
colonies of Jericho and of the City of Palms are mentioned as inhabited by the disciples of Elijah and
Elisha (Deut. xxxiv. 3) ; the sons of Levi are singled out as forming brotherhoods for the service of God
(Gen. xxix. 34); Joseph, Kohath, Amram, and Aaron, as well as the Patriarchs, are called " Hasidim "
(Targ. Yer. on Gen. xxix. 13, xlix. 33; Ex. vi. 18, 30; Num. xxi. 1); priest-like and angelic holiness
is enjoined upon Israel (Ex. xxii. 30; Lev. xx. 7; Num. xvi. 40) ; angels are expelled from heaven for
having disclosed divine mysteries (Gen. xxvii. 13); the Holy Name and the Holy Spirit play throughout
a prominent role; 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 (Deut. xxxii. 4).
The relation of Essenism to Christianity
The Essenes seem to have originally consisted, on the one hand, of rigorous Zealots, such as tlie Book
of Jubilees looks for, and such as were under the leadership of men like Abba Tahna Hasida and Abba
Sicara (Eccl. R. ix. 7); and, on the other hand, of mild-tempered devotees of the Law, such as were
the Essenes at En Gedi (Yer. Sotah ix. 34c ; Pliny, l.e.) and the Therapeutae of Egypt. Rabbinical
tradition knows only that under the persecution of Rome (Edom) the Essenes wandered to the south
(Darom : Gen. R. Ixxvi. ; comp. Pes. 70b ; Yeb. 63b ; Midr. Teh. xix. 3), and occasionally mention is made
of " the brethren " (" habbarayya "), with reference to the Essene brotherhood (Lam. R. iv. 1; see also Levy,
"Neuhebr. Worterb."; Geiger's "Jud. Zeit." vi. 379; Brilll's "Jahrb." i. 35, 44). It is as charitable brotherhoods that the
Essenic organization survived the destruction of the nation.
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 socialism (Acts iv. 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 brethren
delegated to charity-work
(see APOSTLE AND APOSTLESHIP); and, above all, the same love-feasts or
brotherly meals (comp.
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. Neverthe-
less, 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 pi'eviously 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 (see
CLEMENTINA ; EBIONITES ;
Link to Herzog_Encyclopedia_of_Religious_Knowledge
Other helpful links:
Link to Dictionary of the Apostolic Church (1918) Vol 1& 2
More links to Online Books on Roman Christianity