The Essenes were a sect that existed during the Second Temple Judaism in the 2nd century BC to the 1st century AD. Some scholars believe that they were from the Zadokite priests.
The Roman writer Pliny the Elder (died c. 79 AD) first gave reference to the Essenes in his Natural History. Pliny recorded that the Essenes had no money and did not marry and lived in the land of Israel next to the dead Sea.
Later, Flavius Josephus also wrote about the Essenes in The Jewish War (c. 75 AD), Antiquities of the Jews (c. 94 AD) and The Life of Flavius Josephus (c. 97 AD). Josephus described the three sects that the Jews were divided to in 145 B.C. These three major religious schools of Judaism were the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. Although the Essenes number was less than the Pharisees and the Sadducees, they existed in large numbers, and thousands lived throughout Roman Judaea.
New members were permitted to the group after a 3 years’ probationary period. Then, they were required to the oath to practice piety towards “the Deity” and righteousness towards humanity. They vowed to have a pure lifestyle, to refrain from committing criminal immoral acts and to preserve the books of the Essenes and the names of the Angels.
According to Josephus, the Essenes observed a strict observance of Sabbath. And they practiced the ritual of baptism by immersion every day. They devoted their lives to charity, prayer, devotion, study of the scriptures and benevolence. They also forbade the sacrificing of animals and swearing. They controlled their anger and lived peacefully towards their fellowmen. And they only carried weapons for self-defense.
Josephus wrote that the Essenes believed in having no personal property and living a communal life. They chose a leader to guide the group and they all were obedient to his rules. The essence did not own slaves but instead helped each other in their communal communities. They also did not engage in trade.
The Essenes came to the spot lights recently because of the discovery of the documents known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. These manuscripts are believed by some to be part of the Essenes’ library. These manuscripts hold copies of parts of the Hebrew Bible from as early as 300 BCE until their discovery in 1946.
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