ESSENES

ESSENES, a religious communalistic Jewish sect or association in the latter half of the Second Temple period, from the second century B.C.E. to the end of the first century C.E. Contemporary or near-contemporary descriptions are found in philo (Every Good Man is Free, Hypothetica), josephus (Antiquities and War, including references to individual Essenes), and Pliny the Elder (Natural History). Brief references from later authors are in Hegesippus (2nd century, who merely lists them, with other Jewish sects), Hippolytus (2nd–3rd century B.C.E., who seems dependent on neither Josephus nor Philo), and Synesius (4th–5th century C.E., apparently based on Pliny). Epiphanius (4th century C.E.) refers to both Essenoi (as a Samaritan sect) and Ossaioi/Ossenoi, whom he locates near the Dead Sea. The information in these sources is not always consistent. Josephus, who (improbably) claims to have been a member of the Essenes for a while, is probably less idealistic or fanciful than either Philo or Pliny, though he is relying on more than one source himself, while the latter preserve some probably reliable information. Josephus names them as one of his three main Jewish parties (hairesis), and according to Philo, they numbered about 4,000. According to both authors, their members lived in monastic communities; Josephus states that some married and some did not, while Philo is unclear, stating that they had children but did not "take women." Pliny says they lived "without women … or money" but seems to consider them as living in one place only, "above En-Gedi." The dead sea scrolls are widely regarded as belonging to the Essenes and if so they extend our knowledge of them considerably. There is no reference to the Essenes in the rabbinic literature, or in the New Testament, though it has frequently been suggested that john the Baptist was influenced by Essenism since he lived, preached, and baptized beside the Jordan River only a few miles from Qumran. Some New Testament scholars also believe that the early Church may have incorporated Essene elements into its structure. The very existence of a pre-Christian Jewish quasi-monastic (and celibate) community is important for the understanding of subsequent Christian ascetic practices. A gateway and nearby district near Mt. Zion in Jerusalem has been excavated and plausibly identified as an Essene quarter (Pixner, following a suggestion from Yadin), but no absolute proof exists. Qumran is widely identified as an Essene settlement (see below); two other possible Essene locations have been proposed near the Dead Sea at Ain al-Ghuweir (by P. Bar-Adon) and above En-Gedi (by Y. Hirschfeld). Their origins are unclear. They seem to have emerged as a distinct party, along with Sadducees and Pharisees, in the wake of the Hasmonean revolt, though all three probably have earlier roots. Some scholars regard both the Essenes and Pharisees as originating from the ḥasidim mentioned in connection with the Maccabean revolt; but the different halakhah and calendar, as well as strong criticism of apparently Pharisaic beliefs and practices, make this unlikely. It has also been suggested (Murphy-O'Connor) that they had immigrated from Babylonia at about this time or, alternatively (García Martínez), that they arose out of the Palestinian Jewish "apocalyptic movement." -The Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls The Qumran scrolls have generally been interpreted as belonging to the Essenes, and their descriptions of sectarian communities cohere well with the classical sources, especially once the difference between the descriptions of the Damascus Document and the Community Rule is observed, since these differences can partly explain the discrepancies in the classical sources as well as control our interpretation of them. Thus, for instance, Josephus' account fits rather well with the many settlements (called "camps" and "cities") of the "Damascus" community, and with the existence of marrying and non-marrying orders, with the lengthy initiation procedures, attitudes towards women, limited participation in the Temple cult, and strict adherence to Torah and Sabbath; while Pliny seems to allude   to the yaḥad described in the Community Rule, which is represented as a single and entirely celibate community – most likely that living at Qumran. Although the interpretation of the Qumran settlement is currently controversial, the site has generally been regarded as according well with the accounts of Essene lifestyle reported in the ancient sources, and this settlement has been understood either as a headquarters or a retreat center for the wider movement (Stegemann), or the home of a group that split off from the main body under the leadership of a figure named in the Qumran scrolls as the "Teacher of Righteousness." This figure is unnamed in the scrolls, but has been variously identified with known Essene figures mentioned by Josephus, in particular "Judah the Essene." -Meaning and Origin of the Name There is a wide diversity of opinion as to the etymology of the name "Essene." Greek writers refer to them by names of which the most common are ʾΕσσηνοί and ʾΕσσαῖοι. The English "Essene" comes from the first form through the Latin. Philo invariably uses the second, and explains the name with reference to the Greek hosioi, while josephus uses both forms. Among the numerous theories that have been proposed are the following: (1) the most popular is a derivation from חסידים (ḥasidim, "pious"), a name used in I and II Maccabees of those especially loyal to the Torah (there are also references in rabbinic literature). Alternatively, the basis may be the Aramaic form חסיא, the plural of חסא ("pious") (the same derivation, but from Syriac, has also been proposed); (2) from Aramaic אסא, "heal," based on Josephus's account of their interest in medicinal herbs and the possible connection between Essenes and Therapeutae made by Philo. (Whether the Therapeutae should be regarded as linked to the Essenes, rather than just compared by Philo, is dubious); (3) from חשאים or חשאין ("the silent ones"), based on a passage from the Mishnah which mentions two rooms in the Temple of Jerusalem, one called the "chamber of utensils," and the other, the "chamber of חשאים" (chamber of "secrets" in H. Danby's translation). In the chamber of חשאים, the "sin-fearing ones" used to depose their gifts "in secret" and impoverished gentlefolk could help themselves to these gifts, equally in secret. This is now discarded, though it possibly fits with Josephus' statement that the Essenes sent offerings to the Temple, but offered sacrifices "by themselves" (εϕ' αύτων). Less probable are (4) from Heb. עשׂים or עשׂין "doers (of Torah"); (5) from חשׁן "breastplate": Josephus uses essen to refer to this item, and it also figures in the liturgy of the Qumran "Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice"; and (6) from the celibate priestly Essenas who ministered to Artemis at Ephesus (reported by Pausanius). -Rites, Practices, and Doctrines By critically combining the evidence of the Qumran scrolls and the classical sources, the following description can be offered. The Essenes lived frugal, usually celibate, lives, supporting themselves by manual labor, generally agricultural, and practicing common ownership. They were also devoted to study of the Torah in its minutest details and performed frequent washing to maintain ritual purity (Josephus says they avoided oil, which was often used for cleaning the body). They had a rigorous and lengthy system of initiation. Unlike the Pharisees and Sadducees, they lived a segregated lifestyle with very limited contact with those outside. On the evidence of the Dead Sea Scrolls, they deemed themselves the only true Israel and regarded the religious observances of other Israelites, and especially in the Temple, as corrupt. On all these grounds they qualify to be called a "sect." Like the Pharisees, they stressed the need for personal piety and separation from the impurities of daily life, imposing on themselves levitical rules of purity: but while the Essenes (so Josephus) believed in the immortality of the soul, they rejected the Pharisaic doctrine of bodily resurrection. It has recently been proposed that the halakhah of the Scrolls is similar to that ascribed to Sadducees in the rabbinic literature. The Essenes laid a strong emphasis on scrupulous obedience to the Torah, as they interpreted it. They emphasized observance of the Sabbath and the observance of festivals on the appropriate days, according to their own 364-day calendar, based on the solar year – which may explain Josephus' statement that they prayed towards the sun every morning. According to Josephus, they then worked through the greater part of the morning, then having gathered they girded themselves in white linen garments, and bathed in cold water (Jos., War, 2:129). They had their midday meal together, with a grace recited by a priest before and after the meal. The meal, eaten in a state of purity, seems to have played a very important role in sustaining the corporate identity of the sect. After working until the evening, they again ate together, in total silence. In all its activities, each Essene community was governed by rank and learning; the leaders directed the procedure, and named the persons to officiate. The Essenes zealously studied the sacred books and had an interest in medicinal herbs. They abstained from oaths, and blasphemy against God was punishable by death. -Initiation and Organization New members of the community were recruited by adopting candidates after a probationary period. Those wishing to enter had to wait before being given the emblems – a belt, a white garment, and a hatchet for digging holes in the earth (whenever they wished to relieve themselves; ibid., 2:127; 148). Then they were allowed to follow their routine and receive "more purifying washings for holiness" but were not yet permitted to take part in the common meals. After a probationary period of two more years the new member was admitted to the society, but not until he had taken oaths to observe the rules. Some form of communal ownership of goods was allowed, apparently more complete in the yaḥad, which, as the name ("union") implies, may have seen itself as a corporate unit, whose holiness depended on the individual holiness of all its members who worked, ate, and studied in communion. The Damascus Document describes a looser social structure, with an "overseer" (mevakker) in charge of each "camp" and ideology: corporate activity is less intense, but also subject to similar disciplinary rules. The settlements of married members were organized on the basis of individual households, with wives and children included in the sect automatically. This community also had dealings with non-Jews and owned slaves, though detailed accounts of such aspects are not provided. While the classical sources say little about priestly leadership, the Scrolls accord a very important role to the priest-hood in matters of law and of course liturgy; how far they were responsible for the wider governance of the sect is unclear. Essene participation in wider Jewish affairs is hard to assess. Apart from the mention of individual Essenes, however, Josephus states that they participated bravely in the war against Rome, and the discovery at Masada of some manuscripts that may have originated at Qumran, together with evidence of the Roman destruction of Qumran in about 68 B.C.E. and the many copies of a "War Rule" in the caves, in which the Romans appear as a thinly disguised enemy, support this claim. After the end of this war, the Essenes seem either to have disappeared or fled or dispersed: but the existence of copies of the Damascus Document in the Cairo Genizah may suggest that some of their traditions continued and influenced, among others, the karaites . -ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: G. Vermes and M.D. Goodman, The Essenes According to the Classical Sources (1989); T.S. Beall, Josephus' Description of the Essenes illustrated by the Dead Sea Scrolls (1988); P. Bar-Adon, "Another Settlement of the Judean Desert Sect at En e-Ghuweir on the Dead Sea," in: Bulletin of the American School of Archaeological Research, 227:1–26 (1977); Y. Hirschfeld, Qumran in Context: Reassessing the Archaeological Evidence (2004); J. Murphy-O'Connor, "The Essenes and Their History," in: Revue Biblique, 81: 215–44 (1974); J. Kampen, "A Reconsideration of the Name 'Essene'," in: HUCA, 57 (1986), 61–81; S. Goranson, "Essenes. Etymology from ' sh '," in: Revue de Qumrân, 11 (1984), 483–98; "Posidonius, Strabo and Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa as Sources on Essenes," in: JJS, 45 (1994), 295–98; A.H. Jones, Essenes (1985); R. Bergmeier, Die Essener-Berichte des Flavius Josephus (1993); F. García Martínez and J. Trebolle Barrera, The People of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1995); B. Pixner, "Jerusalem's Essene Gateway: Where the Community Lived in Jesus' Time," in: Biblical Archaeology Review, 23:3 (1997), 22–31, 64–66; H. Stegemann, The Library of Qumran: On the Essenes, Qumran, John the Baptist, and Jesus (1998). (Menahem Mansoor / Philip Davies (2nd ed.)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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