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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

The Essenes were a Jewish monastic order, probably long preceding, not long surviving, the founding of Christianity.

1. Authorities .-Essenes are not mentioned either in the NT or in the Talmud. Our chief authorities are (1) Josephus (Bellum Judaicum (Josephus)ii. viii., Ant . xviii. i. 5, xiii. v. 9, xv. x. 4ff.); (2) Philo ( Quod omnis probus liber , 12, 13); (3) Philonic fragment in Eusebius ( Prœp. Evang . viii. xi.); (4) Pliny ( Historia Naturalis (Pliny) v. 17, probably drawn from Alexander Polyhistor). Some additional details are to be found in the Fathers (esp. Hippolytus) who deal with Judaeo-Christian heresies. Probably there is need of criticism of the main sources, but we may take them as trustworthy as to the facts adduced.

2. Name .-This occurs as Essenoi (Joshua 14 times, Hippol., Synesius); Essaioi (Philo, Hegesippus, Porphyry, Joshua 6 times); and in varying forms in Epiphanius- Ossaioi, Ossenoi, Iessaioi , For a discussion of various etymologies see Lightfoot ( Colossians , 1875, p. 115ff.). The name is best taken from Syr. ḥǎsç , in plur. absol. ḥǎsên , emphat. ḥasaiâʿ  ; ‘Essene’ thus = ‘pious,’ For our purpose we are not concerned with giving a full account of the Order, nor with tracing its history, and speculating as to the origin of its peculiarities. We have merely to give a brief outline of its main features, and deal chiefly with the influence it exerted on the development of Christianity.

3. Organization and characteristics .-The Essenes were organized as a close Order on a basis of celibacy and absolute communism (Jos. Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) ii. viii. 3f.; Philo in Euseb. Prœp. Evang . viii. xi. 4). Josephus speaks of a branch who allowed marriage ( Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) ii. viii. 13), but this must have been a minority. The officials were elected, and were implicitly obeyed (ii. viii. 6). The Order was recruited by voluntary adhesions, or by adopting children (viii. 2). Candidates passed through a two-stage novitiate. For a year they lived under discipline, then they were admitted to the solemn initiatory ablution which separated them from the world, and after other two years they received full privileges of table-fellowship. They bound themselves by a fearful oath to reverence God; to do justice; hurt no man voluntarily or on command; obey the officials; conceal nothing from fellow-members, and divulge nothing of their affairs even at the risk of death; be honest and humble; communicate doctrines exactly as they had been received; and preserve carefully the sacred books and the names of the angels (ii. viii. 7).

For morality the Essenes ranked high, ‘In fact, they had in many respects reached the very highest moral elevation attained by the ancient world’ ( Encyclopaedia Britannica 11 ix. 780a). Their lives were abstemious, humble, helpful. Sensual desires were sinful; passions were restrained. Their word was as good as an oath, and they forbade swearing. Then modesty was excessive. They condemned slavery ( Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) ii. viii. 2, 5, 6; Philo in Euseb, Prœp. Evang . viii. xi. 11).

In devotion to the Law and in ceremonial cleansings they out-Phariseed the Pharisees. The Order was in four grades, and contact with one of a lower grade constituted a defilement. Where the Pharisee washed, the Essene bathed. Their food was carefully prepared by priests. Their sabbatarianism was extreme, and their reverence for Moses was such that they treated any disrespect to his name as blasphemy worthy of death ( Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) ii. viii. 9).

As to worship , they differed from normal Judaism in two important points: ( a ) they rejected animal sacrifice, and sent to the Temple only offerings of incense (Jos. Ant . xviii. i. 5); ( b ) in some sense they worshipped the sun; ‘daily before the rising of the sun, they address to it old traditional prayers as though supplicating it to rise’ ( Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) ii. viii. 5).

In doctrine they held strongly a doctrine of Providence, appearing to Josephus to be fatalists ( Ant . xiii. v. 9). They took a dualistic view of man’s nature. Through evil desire souls fell into uniting themselves with bodies. Free from the body, the soul of the good will rise joyously, as if delivered from long bondage, and find a resting-place of felicity beyond the ocean, whereas for the bad is reserved a dark, cold region of unceasing torment ( Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) ii. viii. 11).

They revered certain esoteric books which probably dealt with angelology, magic, and divination. They were in repute as prophets ( Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) ii. viii. 12). They commended speculation in theology and cosmogony, and made researches into medicine (viii. 6), probably magical. They abhorred the use of oil (viii. 3); and that they abstained from flesh and wine has been often asserted, but is very uncertain.

4. Relation to Christianity .-That in several points Essenism, as described, is in agreement with Christianity, is beyond question. On the ground of those resemblances, some, e.g. DeQuincey, have held that the Essenes are but Christian monks. This view cannot be taken seriously. Others, e.g. Ginsburg, have made Christianity a development of Essenism, and represented Christ as a member of the holy Order. With the question as to the relation of Jesus to Essenism we are not concerned (Lightfoot, Colossians , p. 158ff., may be consulted). We merely note that the differences between the two are as pronounced as the resemblances.

(1) Was James an Essene  ?-We may, however, deal with an assertion, sometimes made, that James, the writer of the canonical Epistle, was an Essene. Those who believe so found their belief upon the account of James given by Hegesippus (in Historia Ecclesiastica (Eusebius, etc.)ii. 23), who flourished about a.d. 170. He asserts that James abstained from flesh, wine and strong drink, and the bath; that he allowed no razor to touch his head, no oil to touch his body, and that he wore only fine linen (which was the dress of the Essenes). If his account were reliable, it would not prove that James was an Essene. Those who believe so must hold the common, but quite wrong, opinion that all Jews were Pharisees, Sadducees, or Essenes, and that all showing asceticism were Essenes, James might be an ascetic without being an Essene, as one may to-day be an abstainer without being a Good Templar. In the notice of Hegesippus itself we have conclusive evidence that James could not be an Essene, for he abstained from the bath, which to the Essenes was of such importance. Besides, as Lightfoot shows ( Col . p. 168), Hegesippus is far from trustworthy here. There is no evidence at all for the identification of James with the Essenes.

(2) Did the Apostolic Church copy the Order  ?-The resemblances are striking, and we shall mention and examine the most important.

( a ) The temporary communism of the early chapters of Acts reminds us of the communism of the Essenes. But the Christians were a brotherhood , not an Order, and the surrender of property was a voluntary act, not necessary for recognition as a brother ( Acts 5:4). The Christian communism admits of easy explanation from the belief in the almost immediate Return of the Lord, ( b ) Celibacy is recommended as a ‘counsel of perfection’ in  1 Corinthians 7:1;  1 Corinthians 7:8. It is clear from v. 29 that this too depends on the belief in the nearness of the end, ( c ) The Essenes substituted a sacramental for a sacrificial worship. The importance of this has very seldom been appreciated, though it is a point which makes the Order of great interest in the history of religion. Apart from their multitudinous ordinary lustrations, there was the solemn initiatory ablution at the end of the first novitiate. It cleansed outwardly and inwardly and made the ordinary man an Essene (so Bousset, Religion des Judentums , p. 436). Here we have a parallel with Christian baptism and baptismal regeneration. In their common meal we have a parallel with the Christian love-feast, if not with the Eucharist. We quote Josephus’s description:

‘They assemble together in one place, and having clothed themselves in white veils, they bathe their bodies in cold water. After this purification, they assemble in an apartment of their own, into which it is not allowed to any stranger to enter … They enter as if it were some holy temple, and sit down quietly.… The priest prays before meat, and Done may eat before prayer is offered, and when they have made their meal, he again prays over them.… And when they begin and when they end, they praise God.… Nor is there ever any clamour Or disturbance … which silence appears to outsiders as some tremendous mystery’ ( Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) ii. viii. 5; cf. Ant . xviii. i. 5).

As noted above, novices were not admitted to the Table; similarly Christian catechumens retired before the celebration of the Eucharist. It must be admitted that here we have a striking resemblance, but to conclude that the Church owed its sacraments to the Essenes is a rash proceeding. The love-feast has many other parallels elsewhere, and could grow up independently of any of them. Any association of men will naturally develop something similar. Baptism, too, is no rare phenomenon. We conclude that, while the parallel is interesting, the Christian development cannot be shown to be borrowed from Essenism, and is intelligible without any reference to it.

Other resemblances have been noted (a list will be found in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , article‘Essenes’), but they are trifling and unconvincing. The fact, e.g. , that Christians are admonished to obey them that have the rule over them gives a point of resemblance to the Essenes certainly, but also to every human association that ever was organized on principles of common sense. It is useless to draw out laborious parallels of this sort. We may hold that the early Church cannot be proved to have owed anything to Essenism, and can be explained without it. On the other hand, Essenism, in its super-Pharisaism, its retirement from the world, its avoidance of the Temple (cf.  Acts 3:1;  Acts 21:26), its views of the body, its sun-worship and magic, is in sharpest contrast to Christianity. Of the silence of the NT regarding the Essenes there are only two possible explanations. One is that Christianity is one with Essenism-a view we have rejected. The other is that Essenism was so uninfluential, so entirely out of relation to Christianity, or any active movement of the time, that there was no occasion to mention it. When we remember that Pliny knows of Essenes only us inhabiting the desert shore of the Dead Sea, we are confirmed in choosing this alternative.

5. Influence On heresies .-If it is doubtful whether the Church in her normal development owed anything to Essenism, it is not doubtful that its influence is discernible in the rise of a number of heresies. Here too, however, its influence has sometimes been exaggerated. It is highly questionable whether Essenes have, or possibly could have, any connexion with the ‘weaker brethren’ of Romans or the errorists of Colossians. The former, as seems indicated in  Romans 15:7, are probably Gentiles given to the asceticism which was not un-common in the heathen world at that time (A. C. McGiffert, Christianity in the Apostol. Age , 1897, p. 337). The latter, though scholars like Lightfoot and Weiss regard them as clearly Essenic, are really as likely to be Alexandrian as Palestinian Jews (p. 368). According to all our authorities, Essenes were confined to Palestine. We have stated Pliny’s view above; Philo knew of them in many towns and villages of Judaea; Josephus knew them all through Palestine. The last two authorities are obviously anxious to make the most possible of the Essenes, and, had they had a wider distribution, we may be sure we should have been informed of it. The Essenes arrived at their peculiarities by uniting heathen elements with Judaism; and wherever Jews came in touch with like influences, similar results might be produced. Leaving out the Roman and Colossian errorists as doubtfully Essenic, to say the least, we proceed to those heretical movements where, with great probability, Essenism is influential.

( a ) The Essenes are of undoubted interest for the history of Gnosticism ( q.v. [Note: quod vide, which see.] ). They may be called ‘the Gnostics of Judaism,’ Their fondness for speculation on cosmogony, their allegorizing of the GT, of which Philo speaks, their dualistic views, which involve a depreciation of matter, their magic and their esoteric books-all connect them with Gnosticism. And they are important as showing that in essence there was a pre-Christian Gnosticism, ( b ) They influenced those Jewish Christians who came into contact with them (see articleEbionism). The Ebionites , as described by Epiphanius, show traces of Essenic influence in their asceticism and frequent baptisms, The EIkesaites are Essenized Ebionites. Epinhanius ( Hœr . xix. 2, xx, 3) identifies Elkesaites with Sampsœans (sun-worshippers), and calls them a remnant of the Essenes who had adopted a debased form of Christianity. ( c ) The history of the Essenes after the Fall of Jerusalem is obscure. They suffered severely, and endured bravely, in the persecution, and probably their Order was broken up (Lightfoot, Col . p. 169). Many would attach themselves to the neighbouring Christians, with whom they would find several affinities, and carry elements of their Essenism with them. In the Palestinian Judœo-Christian heresies, then, we may, with practical certainty, trace Essenic influence.

6. Conclusion .-The whole subject of Essenism is wrapped in obscurity: the Essenes remain, and will remain, the ‘great enigma of Jewish history.’ The obscurity is all the more tantalizing because we know enough to perceive that for the history of religion the Essenes are of surpassing interest and importance. In them the Western world saw for the first time a monastic Order and a sacramental worship. In them, too, Gnosticism began its career. These are three points of vast importance. The ‘regions beyond Jordan’ are of special interest for the syncretism of which they were the scene. There, first Judaism and later Christianity were unable to maintain themselves in their original form. In a general way, we can understand the process of this syncretism. In that region Perso-Babylonian, and even perhaps Buddhistic, influences, pressing westward, impinged upon Judaism, and Essenism is the most prominent of the various amalgams that resulted. In the more obscure Sampsaeans, Nasaraeans, Hemerobaptists, etc., we have, no doubt, other examples. And as it was with trans-Jordanic Judaism, so it was with trans-Jordanic Judaistic Christianity. It found in Essenism and its cognates what they had found in eastern heathenism-an influence too strong to be resisted. But as to the precise details of both syncretisms, we are left in ignorance, and nearly every statement must begin with ‘probably.’ As has been indicated, in estimating their influence on Christianity, Catholic and heretical alike, we must beware of the tendency to exaggerate it. Our view is-the Essenes had no appreciable influence on the development of Catholic Christianity, but in Judaeo-Christian heresies their influence is considerable, while for the history of Gnosticism they are of great interest.

Literature.-This is very abundant. We mention only P. E. Lucius, Der Essenismus , 1881; J. B. Lightfoot, Colossians , 1875; E. Schürer. History of the Jewish People (Eng. tr. of GJV).] ii. ii. [1885] 188ff.; A. Hilgenfeld, Ketzergeschichte des Urchristentums , 1884; W. Bonsset, Religion des Judentums im NT Zeitalter , 1903; articles in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , Encyclopaedia Biblica , Jewish Encyclopedia , and Encyclopaedia Britannica 11, where further Literature la mentioned.

W. D. Niven.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [2]

or ESSENIANS, one of the three ancient sects of the Jews. They appear to have been an enthusiastic sect, never numerous, and but little known; directly opposite to the Pharisees with respect to their reliance upon tradition, and their scrupulous regard to the ceremonial law, but pretending, like them, to superior sanctity of manners. They existed in the time of our Saviour; and though they are not mentioned in the New Testament, they are supposed to be alluded to by St. Paul in his Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, and in his first Epistle to Timothy. From the account given of the doctrines and institutions of this sect by Philo and Josephus, we learn that they believed in the immortality of the soul; that they were absolute predestinarians; that they observed the seventh day with peculiar strictness; that they held the Scriptures in the highest reverence, but considered them as mystic writings, and expounded them allegorically; that they sent gifts to the temple, but offered no sacrifices; that they admitted no one into their society till after a probation of three years; that they lived in a state of perfect equality, except that they paid respect to the aged, and to their priests; that they considered all secular employment as unlawful, except that of agriculture; that they had all things in common, and were industrious, quiet, and free from every species of vice; that they held celibacy and solitude in high esteem; that they allowed no change of raiment till necessity required it; that they abstained from wine; that they were not permitted to eat but with their own sect; and that a certain portion of food was allotted to each person, of which they partook together, after solemn ablutions. The austere and retired life of the Essenes is supposed to have given rise to monkish superstition.

The Therapeutae were a distinct branch of the Essenes. Jahn has thus described the difference between them: The principal ground of difference between the Essenes or Essaei, and Therapeutae consisted in this; the former were Jews, who spoke the Aramean; the latter were Greek Jews, as the names themselves intimate, namely, אסיא and Θεραπευται . The Essenes lived chiefly in Palestine; the Therapeutae, in Egypt. The Therapeutae were more rigid than the Essenes, since the latter, although they made it a practice to keep at a distance from large cities, lived, nevertheless, in towns and villages, and practised agriculture and the arts, with the exception of those arts which were made more directly subservient to the purposes of war. The Therapeutae, on the contrary, fled from all inhabited places, dwelt in fields and deserts and gardens, and gave themselves up to contemplation. Both the Essenes and the Therapeutae held their property in common, and those things which they stood in need of for the support and the comforts of life, were distributed to them from the common stock. The candidates for admission among the Essenes gave their property to the society; but those who were destined for a membership with the Therapeutae, left theirs to their friends; and both, after a number of years of probation, made a profession which bound them to the exercise of the strictest uprightness. The Romanists pretend, as Dr.

Prideaux observes, without any foundation, that the Essenes were Christian monks, formed into a society by St. Mark, who founded the first church at Alexandria. But it is evident, from the accounts of Josephus and Philo, that the Essenes were not Christians, but Jews.

Dr. Neander's account of the Essenes is as follows:—A company of pious men, much experienced in the trials of the outward and of the inward life, had withdrawn themselves out of the strife of theological and political parties, at first apparently (according to Pliny the elder) to the western side of the Dead Sea; where they lived together in intimate connection, partly in the same sort of society as the monks of later days, and partly as mystical orders in all periods have done. From this society, other smaller ones afterward proceeded, and spread themselves over all Palestine. They were called Essenes, ‘Εσσηνοι or ‘Εσσαιοι . They employed themselves in the arts of peace, agriculture, pasture, handicraft works, and especially in the art of healing, while they took great delight in investigating the healing powers of nature. It is probable, also, that they imagined themselves under the guidance of a supernatural illumination in their search into nature, and their use of her powers. Their natural knowledge, and their art of healing, appear also to have had a religious, theosophic character, as they professed also to have peculiar prophetical gifts. The Essenes were, no doubt, distinguished from the mass of ordinary Jews by this, that they knew and loved something higher than the outward ceremonial and a dead faith, that they did really strive after holiness of heart, and inward communion with God. Their quiet, pious habits also rendered them remarkable, and by means of these they remained quiet amidst all the political changes, respected by all parties, even by the Heathens; and by their laborious habits and kindness, their obedience toward the higher powers, as ordained of God, their fidelity and love of truth, they were enabled to extend themselves in all directions. In their society every yea and nay had the force of an oath; for every oath, said they, pre-supposes a mutual distrust, which ought not to be the case among a society of honest men. Only in one case was an oath suffered among them, namely, as a pledge for those who after a three years' noviciate were to be received into the number of the initiated. According to the portraiture of them, given by Philo, the Alexandrian, in his separate treatise concerning the "True Freedom of the Virtuous," we should take the Essenes for men of an entirely practical religious turn, far removed from all theosophy and all idle speculation; and we should ascribe to them an inward religious habit of mind, free from all mixture of superstition and reliance on outward things. But the account of Philo does not at all accord with that of Josephus; and the more historical Josephus deserves in general more credit than Philo, who was too apt to indulge in philosophizing and idealism. Beside, Josephus had more opportunity of knowing this sect thoroughly, than Philo; for Philo lived in Egypt, and the Essenes did not extend beyond Palestine. Josephus had here passed the greater part of his life, and had certainly taken all necessary pains to inform himself accurately of the nature of the different sects, among which he was determined, as a youth of sixteen years of age, to make choice, although he can hardly have completely passed through a noviciate in the sect of the Essenes, because he made the round of all the three Jewish sects, in a period of from three to four years. Josephus, also, shows himself completely unprejudiced in this description; while Philo, on the contrary, wished to represent the Essenes to the more cultivated Greeks as models of practical wisdom, and, therefore, he allowed himself to represent much, not as it really was, but as it suited his purpose. We must conclude that the Essenes did also busy themselves with theosophy, and pretended to impart to those of their order disclosures relating to the supernatural world of spirits, because those who were about to be initiated, were obliged to swear that they would never make known to any one the names of the angels then to be communicated to them. The manner in which they kept secret the ancient books of their sect is also a proof of this. And, indeed, Philo himself makes it probable, when he says, that they employed themselves with a φιλοσφια δια συμβολων , a philosophy which was supported by an allegorical interpretation of Scripture, for this kind of allegorizing interpretation was usually the accompaniment of a certain speculative system. According to Philo, they rejected the sacrifice of victims, because they considered, that to consecrate and offer up themselves wholly to God, was the only true sacrifice, the only sacrifice worthy of God. But according to Josephus they certainly considered sacrifice as something peculiarly holy, but they thought that from its peculiar holiness it must have been desecrated by the profane Jews in the temple of Jerusalem, and that it could be worthily celebrated only in their holy community, just as mystic sects of this nature are constantly accustomed to make the objective acts of religion dependent on the subjective condition of those who perform or take part in them. In the troublesome and superstitious observance of the rest of the Sabbath, according to the letter, and not according to the spirit, they went even farther than the other Jews, only with this difference, that they were in good earnest in the matter, while the Pharisees by their casuistry relaxed their rules, or drew them tighter, just as it suited their purpose. The Essenes, not only strenuously abhorred, like the other Jews, contact with the uncircumcised, but, having divided themselves into four classes, the Essenes of a higher grade were averse from contact with those of a lower, as if they were rendered unclean by it, and when any thing of this kind did happen, they purified themselves after it. Like many other Jews, they attributed great value, in general, to lustration by bathing in cold water. To their ascetic notions, the constant and healthy practice in the east of anointing with oil seemed unholy, and if it befel any one of them, he was obliged to purify himself. It was also a great abomination to them to eat any food except such as had been prepared by persons of their own sect. They would die rather than eat of any other. This is a sufficient proof that although the Essenes might possess a certain inward religious life, and a certain practical piety, yet that these qualities with them, as well as with many other mystical sects, as for example, those of the middle ages, were connected with a theosophy, which desired to know things hidden from human reason, εμβατευειν εις α τις μη εωρακεν , and therefore lost itself in idle imaginations and dreams, and were also mixed up with an outward asceticism, a proud spirit of separation from the rest of mankind, and superstitious observances and demeanours totally at variance with the true spirit of inward religion.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [3]

ESSENES . To the student of NT times the Essenes present a problem of extreme difficulty. The very existence of a monastic order within the pale of Judaism is an extraordinary phenomenon. In India such things would have been a matter of course. But the deep racial consciousness and the tenacious national will of the Jews make it hard to account for. When, approaching the subject in this mood, the student straightway finds as features of the order the habit of worshipping towards the sun and the refusal to share in the public services of the Temple, he is tempted to explain Essenism by foreign influences. Yet the Essenes were Jews in good standing. They were inside, not outside, the pale of strictest Judaism. Hence they give the student a problem as interesting as it is difficult.

No small part of the difficulty is due to the character of our witnesses. Essenism was the first form of organized monasticism in the Mediterranean world. The Greeks who followed Alexander to India marvelled at the Ascetics or Gymnosophists. But not until Essenism took shape did the men of the Mediterranean world see monasticism at close quarters. Wonderment and the children of wonderment fancy and legend soon set to work on the facts, colouring and distorting them. One of our sources, Pliny ( Nat. Hist . v. 17), is in part the product of the imagination. Another, Philo ( Quod omnis probus liber , 12f., and in Euseb. Prœp. Ev . VIII. ii. 1), writes in the mood of the preacher to whom facts have no value except as texts for sermons. And even Josephus ( Ant . XIII. v. 9, XV. x. 4, 5, XVIII. i. 2, 5, Vita , c. 2, BJ II. viii. 2 13), our best source, is at times under suspicion. But a rough outline of the main facts is discernible.

The foundations of Essenism were laid in the half-century preceding the Maccabæan War. The high priesthood was disintegrating. In part this was due to the fact that the loose-jointed Persian Empire had been succeeded by the more coherent kingdom of the Seleucidæ. With this closer political order, which made Jewish autonomy more difficult of attainment, went the appealing and compelling forces of Hellenism, both as a mode of life and as a reasoned view of the world. The combined pressure of the political, the social, and the intellectual elements of the Greek over-lordship went far towards disorganizing and demoralizing the ruling class in Jerusalem.

But a deeper cause was at work, the genius of Judaism itself (see Pharisees). When the Hebrew monarchy fell, the political principle lost control. To popularize monotheism, to build up the OT Canon, organize and hold together the widely separated parts of the Jewish race this work called for a new form of social order which mixed the ecclesiastical with the political. The man whom the times required in order to carry this work through was not the priest, but the Bible scholar. And he was necessarily an intense separatist. Taking Ezra’s words, ‘Separate yourselves from the people of the land’ ( Ezra 10:11 ) as the keynote of life, his aim was to free God’s people from all taint of heathenism. In the critical period of fifty years preceding the War this class of men was coming more and more into prominence. They stood on the Torah as their platform; the Law of Moses was both their patrimony and their obligation. In them the genius of Judaism was beginning to sound the rally against both the good and the evil of Hellenism, against its illumining culture as well as against the corroding Græco-Syrian morality. The priestly aristocracy of Palestine being in close touch with Hellenism, it naturally resulted that the high priesthood, and the Temple which was inseparable from the high priesthood, suffered a fall in sacramental value.

Into this situation came the life-and-death struggle against the attempt of Antiochus to Hellenize Judaism. In the life of a modern nation a great war has large results. Far greater were the effects of the Maccabæan War upon a small nation. It was a supreme point of precipitation wherein the genius of Judaism reached clear self-knowledge and definition. The Essenes appear as a party shortly after the war. It is not necessary to suppose that at the outset they were a monastic order. It is more likely that they at first took form as small groups or brotherhoods of men intent on holiness, according to the Jewish model. This meant a kind of holiness that put an immense emphasis on Levitical precision. To keep the Torah in its smallest details was part and parcel of the very essence of morality. The groups of men who devoted themselves to the realization of that ideal started with a bias against the Temple as a place made unclean by the heathenism of the priests. This bias was strengthened through the assumption of the high priesthood by the Hasmonæan house, an event which still further discounted the sacramental value of the Temple services. So these men, knit into closely coherent groups, mainly in Judæa, found the satisfactions of life in deepening fellowship, and an ever more intense devotion to the ideal of Levitical perfection. In course of time, as the logic of life carried them forward into positions of which they had not at first dreamed, the groups became more and more closely knit, and at the same time more fundamentally separatistic regarding the common life of the Jews. So we find, possibly late in the 1st cent. b.c., the main group of Essenes colonizing near the Dead Sea, and constituting a true monastic order.

The stricter Essenes abjured private property and marriage in order to secure entire attention to the Torah. The Levitical laws of holiness were observed with great zeal. An Essene of the higher class became unclean if a fellow-Essene of lower degree so much as touched his garment. They held the name of Moses next in honour to the name of God. And their Sabbatarianism went to such lengths that the bowels must not perform their wonted functions on the Seventh Day.

At the same time, there are reasons for thinking that foreign influences had a hand in their constitution. They worshipped towards the sun, not towards the Temple. This may have been due to the influence of Parsism. Their doctrine of immortality was Hellenic, not Pharisaic. Foreign influences in this period are quite possible, for it was not until the wars with Rome imposed on Judaism a hard-and-fast form that the doors were locked and bolted. Yet, when all is said, the foreign influence gave nothing more than small change to Essenism. Its innermost nature and its deepest motive were thoroughly Jewish.

It is probable that John the Baptist was affected by Essenism. It is possible that our Lord and the Apostolic Church may have been influenced to a certain extent. But influence of a primary sort is out of the question. The impassioned yet sane moral enthusiasm of early Christianity was too strong in its own kind to be deeply touched by a spirit so unlike its own.

Henry S. Nash.

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [4]

A sect of the Jews who practiced a strict ceremonial asceticism, discouraging marriage, having community of goods, temperate, industrious, charitable, opposed to all oaths, slavery, and war, like the modern Society of Friends, and also, unlike t temple of the soul, tinged their deep veneration for Moses' laws, which in every way favor marriage. Shrinking from communion with other worshippers whose contact they regarded as polluting, they avoided the temple and sacrificed in their own dwellings. Engedi, the western shores of the Dead Sea, and like solitary places, were their favorite haunts. They arose 110 years B.C. (Judas being the earliest mentioned), but are never noticed in New Testament, the reason doubtless being their isolation from general society. The name is akin to Choshen , the high priest's mystic breast-plate, and other Hebrew words meaning "the silent, the mysterious."

The Egyptian ascetic mystics, the Therapeutae, resemble them. In zeal for the law, except where their peculiarities were concerned, sabbatarianism and rigorous exercises, they resembled the Pharisees, with whom they were popularly confounded. See Josephus, B. J. 2:8, sec. 7,11; Ant. 13:5, sec. 9; 15:10, sec. 4; 18:1, sec. 2; Pliny, Nat. Hist., 5:15. They were the forerunners of monkish celibacy and anchorite asceticism. The novitiate was for a year, and then a two years probation before membership, which, on oath of an awful kind (the only oath permitted), bound them to piety, justice, obedience, honesty, and secrecy as to the books of the sect and the names of the angels. Purity and divine communion were their aim.

A good aim, but to be best attained in God's way of the daily life's discipline rather than in self imposed austerity and isolation. We need not bid, for cloistered cell, Our neighbor and our work farewell, Nor try to wind ourselves too high For mortal man beneath the sky. The trivial round, the common task, Should furnish all we ought to ask, Room to deny ourselves, a road To bring us daily nearer God. - Keble See  John 17:15;  Colossians 2:18-23.

Smith's Bible Dictionary [5]

Essenes'. A Jewish sect, who, according to the description of Josephus, combined the ascetic virtues of the Pythagoreans and Stoics with a spiritual knowledge of the divine law. It seems probable that the name signifies Seer , or The Silent, The Mysterious.

As a sect, the Essenes were distinguished by an aspiration after ideal purity, rather than by any special code of doctrines. There were isolated communities of Essenes, which were regulated by strict rules, analogous to those of the monastic institutions of a later date. All things were held in common, without distinction of property; and special provision was made for the relief of the poor.

Self-denial, temperance and labor - especially agriculture - were the marks of the outward life of the Essenes; purity and divine communion, the objects of their aspiration. Slavery, war and commmerce were alike forbidden. Their best-known settlements were on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea.

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [6]

A very ancient sect, that was spread abroad through Syria, Egypt, and the neighbouring countries. They maintained that religion consisted wholly in contemplation and silence. Some of them passed their lives in a state of celibacy; others embraced the state of matrimony, which they considered as lawful, when entered into with the sole design of propagating the species, and not to satisfy the demand of lust. Some of them held the possibility of appeasing the Deity by sacrifices, though different from that of the Jews; and others maintained that no offering was acceptable to God but that of a serene and composed mind, addicted to the contemplation of divine things. They looked upon the law of Moses as mysterious truths; and renounced, in its explication, all regard to the outward letter.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [7]

A Jewish sect in existence when the Lord was on earth, and whose principles in some respects resembled the more recent monasticism. They enjoined celibacy, isolation, ceremonial ablutions, and abstinence from animal food. The worshipping of angels was part of their profession. They neglected sacrifices and the temple service, but had priests of their own. They are not mentioned by name in the N.T., but may be alluded to in  Colossians 2:18,23; and it is to be remarked that two of the tenets, celibacy and abstaining from animal food, are specially condemned in  1 Timothy 4:3 , which things are being revived in the present day by Theosophists and Spiritualists.

Easton's Bible Dictionary [8]

 Matthew 19:11,12 Colossians 2:8,18,23

Holman Bible Dictionary [9]

Dead Sea ScrollsQumran

Webster's Dictionary [10]

(pl.) of Essene

The Nuttall Encyclopedia [11]

A religious communistic fraternity, never very numerous, that grew up on the soil of Judea about the time of the Maccabees, and had establishments in Judea when Christ was on earth, as well as afterwards in the time of Josephus; they led an ascetic life, practised the utmost ceremonial cleanness, were rigorous in their observance of the Jewish law, and differed from the Pharisees in that they gave to the Pharisaic spirit a monastic expression; they represented Judaism in its purest essence, and in the spirit of their teaching came nearer Christianity than any other sect of the time; "Essenism," says Schürer, "is first and mainly of Jewish formation, and in its non-Jewish features it had most affinity with the Pythagorean tendency of the Greeks."