The Essenes (Hebrew: אִסִּיִים, Isiyim; Greek: Εσσηνοι, Εσσαίοι, or Οσσαιοι; Essēnoi, Essaioi, Ossaioi) were a Jewish religious group
that flourished from the 2nd century BCE to the 1st century CE that some scholars claim seceded from the Zadokite priests. Being
much fewer in number than the Pharisees and the Sadducees (the other two major sects at the time) the Essenes lived in various
cities but congregated in communal life dedicated to asceticism, voluntary poverty, daily baptisms, and abstinence from worldly
pleasures, including marriage. Many separate but related religious groups of that era shared similar mystic, eschatological,
messianic, and ascetic beliefs. These groups are collectively referred to by various scholars as the "Essenes." Josephus records
that Essenes existed in large numbers, and thousands lived throughout Judæa. The Essenes believed they were the last generation of
the last generations and anticipated Teacher of Righteousness, Aaronic High Priest, and High Guard Messiah,
 similar to the Prophet, Priest and King expectations of the Pharisees. The Essenes have gained fame in modern
times as a result of the discovery of an extensive group of religious documents known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, commonly believed to
be their library. These documents include preserved multiple copies of the Hebrew Bible untouched from as early as 300 BCE until
their discovery in 1946. Some scholars, however, dispute the notion that the Essenes wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. One scholar,
Rachel Elior, even argues that the group never existed.
Contemporary ancient sources
The next reference is by the Roman writer Pliny the Elder (died c. 79 A.D.) in his Natural History (N'H,V,XV). Pliny relates in a
few lines that the Essenes do not marry, possess no money, and had existed for thousands of generations. Unlike Philo, who did not
mention any particular geographical location of the Essenes other than the whole land of Israel, Pliny places them in Ein Gedi,
next to the Dead Sea.
A little later Josephus gave a detailed account of the Essenes in The Jewish War (c. 75 A.D.) with a shorter description in
Antiquities of the Jews (c. 94 A.D.) and The Life of Flavius Josephus (c. 97 A.D.). Claiming first hand knowledge, he lists the
Essenoi as one of the three sects of Jewish philosophy alongside the Pharisees and the Sadducees. He relates the same
information concerning piety, celibacy, the absence of personal property and of money, the belief in communality and commitment to
a strict observance of the Sabbath. He further adds that the Essenes ritually immersed in water every morning, ate together after
prayer, devoted themselves to charity and benevolence, forbade the expression of anger, studied the books of the elders, preserved
secrets, and were very mindful of the names of the angels kept in their sacred writings.
Pliny, also a geographer and explorer, located them in the desert near the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, where the Dead Sea
Scrolls were discovered in the year 1947 by Muhammed edh-Dhib and Ahmed Mohammed, two Bedouin shepherds of the Ta'amireh tribe.
Josephus uses the name Essenes in his two main accounts as well as in some other contexts ("an account of the Essenes";
"the gate of the Essenes"; "Judas of the Essene race"; but some manuscripts read here Essaion; "holding the Essenes in
honour"; "a certain Essene named Manaemus"; "to hold all Essenes in honour"; "the Essenes"). In several
places, however, Josephus has Essaios, which is usually assumed to mean Essene ("Judas of the Essaios race"; "Simon of the
Essaios race"; "John the Essaios"; "those who are called by us Essaioi"; "Simon a man of the Essaios race").
Philo's usage is Essaioi, although he admits this Greek form of the original name that according to his etymology signifies
"holiness" to be inexact. Pliny's Latin text has Esseni. Josephus identified the Essenes as one of the three major Jewish
sects of that period.
Gabriele Boccaccini implies that a convincing etymology for the name Essene has not been found, but that the term applies to a
larger group within Palestine that also included the Qumran community.
It was proposed before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered that the name came into several Greek spellings from a Hebrew self-
designation later found in some Dead Sea Scrolls, 'osey hatorah, "observers of torah." Though dozens of etymology suggestions
have been published, this is the only etymology published before 1947 that was confirmed by Qumran text self-designation
references, and it is gaining acceptance among scholars. It's recognized as the etymology of the form Ossaioi (and note that
Philo also offered an O spelling) and Essaioi and Esseni spelling variations have been discussed by VanderKam, Goranson and others.
In medieval Hebrew (e.g. Sefer Yosippon) Hassidim ("the pious ones") replaces "Essenes". While this Hebrew name is not the
etymology of Essaioi/Esseni, the Aramaic equivalent Hesi'im known from Eastern Aramaic texts has been suggested.
Remains of part of the main building at Qumran.
According to Josephus, the Essenes had settled "not in one city" but "in large numbers in every town". Philo speaks of "more
than four thousand" Essaioi living in "Palestine and Syria", more precisely, "in many cities of Judaea and in many villages and
grouped in great societies of many members".
Pliny locates them "on the west side of the Dead Sea, away from the coast… [above] the town of Engeda".
Some modern scholars and archaeologists have argued that Essenes inhabited the settlement at Qumran, a plateau in the Judean Desert
along the Dead Sea, citing Pliny the Elder in support, and giving credence that the Dead Sea Scrolls are the product of the
Essenes. This view, though not yet conclusively proven, has come to dominate the scholarly discussion and public perception of the
Josephus' reference to a "gate of the Essenes" in his description of the course of "the most ancient" of the three walls of
Jerusalem, in the Mount Zion area, perhaps suggests an Essene community living in this quarter of the city or regularly
gathering at this part of the Temple precincts...