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essenes Summary and Overview

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essenes in Easton's Bible Dictionary

a Jewish mystical sect somewhat resembling the Pharisees. They affected great purity. They originated about B.C. 100, and disappeared from history after the destruction of Jerusalem. They are not directly mentioned in Scripture, although they may be referred to in Matt. 19:11, 12, Col. 2:8, 18, 23.

essenes in Smith's Bible Dictionary

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.

essenes in Schaff's Bible Dictionary

ESSE'NES . This Jewish sect is not mentioned in the N.T., because they lived in retired communities, and hence Christ and his apostles did not encounter them. They represent the mystic and ascetic forms of Judaism, while the Pharisees represented the orthodox, and the Sadducees the rationalistic and latitudinarian, forms. Their origin is unknown. Some think they started in the time of the Maccabees, about b.c. 150, while others trace them back to the Rechabites. Their name has never been satisfactorily explained. Some think it means "the retiring" or "the puritan;" others, "the healers." Bishop Lightfoot prefers the meaning "pious;" Philo makes it mean "holy;" Josephus considers it equivalent to "oracle." From the two last-mentioned authors we derive our information, which, though not extensive, is sufficient to give us a vivid picture of their mode of life. In Josephus's day most of the Essenes lived in small colonies or villages at long distances from the towns, principally in the neighborhood of the Dead Sea, although some lived in the cities. They differed likewise in regard to marriage, the laxer practising it, but the stricter being celibates. Inasmuch as the latter were really the majority, our attention will be limited to them. "Ascetic communism expresses the peculiarity of the Essenic movement." They had all things common. Philo says: "There is no one who has a house so absolutely his own private property that it does not in some sense also belong to every one; for besides that they all dwell together in companies, the house is open to all those of the same notions who come to them from other quarters. There is one storehouse among them all; their expenses are all in common, as are their garments and food. They do not retain their wages as their own, but bring it into the common stock. They take care of their sick and honor their elders." Each settlement had near it a room in which the members assembled at regular hours. Each Essene rose before sunrise, and said his morning prayer with his face turned toward the East. At daybreak they went to work: farming, cattle-raising, bee-keeping, and such-like peaceful operations, were their occupations. They shunned commerce, war, and trade. They dressed simply -- not for show, but for decency and comfort; in the winter in a hairy mantle, and in the warm season in an undergarment without sleeves. Besides, at all times, they wore a leathern apron and carried little spades. They worked until 11 A.M. -- the fifth hour -- then bathed, dressed themselves in white linen (the dress of the sect), and then assembled for the meal. A priest said grace before and after the meal, which was always extremely simple, since they abstained from meat and wine. Then, having sung a hymn, they resumed their work, and worked until sunset. The seventh day of the week was kept as an absolute rest, the time passed in the reading and exposition of the Law and their own peculiar books. While observing the Law in many points, they broke it in one important particular: they did not go to the feasts to sacrifice in Jerusalem, though they regularly sent gifts. This anomaly has been explained by their circumstances: their asceticism prevented them from partaking of the feasts, their mode of worship prevented them from entering the temple. Since they abjured marriage, they recruited their ranks by adopting children, whom they took great pains in teaching. But they were never numerous. Philo states that in his time they did not number more than 4000. He who would join them had to endure a three years' novitiate, during which he was excluded from their society, but was compelled all this while to live on their spare diet and observe their rules. In the first year the novice wore the apron and the white linen garment and carried the spade. At the end of the year he was made a "partaker of the waters of purification." At the end of the third, after he had bound himself with tremendous oaths -- though at other times oaths were absolutely forbidden -- to be worthy of the order and obedient to its rulers, and especially "to keep the books of the order and the names of the angels," he was admitted into full membership. The "books" contained probably speculations in regard to the future, inasmuch as the Essenes enjoyed distinction from the number of their prophets. The "names of the angels" may have been magic formulae, since the Essenes practised magic. Banishment from the order was equivalent to starvation if the banished man desired reinstatement, since their peculiar notions would prevent him receiving food from any one not an Essene. In regard to theology, the Essenes believed in unconditional Providence, the immortality of the soul, but not in the resurrection of the body, in future rewards to the righteous, and in future punishment to the wicked, who are "banished to a cold and dark corner, where they suffer unspeakable torments." They believed they had among them prophets, and indeed this was the popular opinion. Their celibacy, sunhomage, and abstinence from sacrifice were their non-Jewish qualities, derived from the Zoroastrian religion; to these must be added their magical rites and intense striving after purity. In their life the Essenes were noted for their kindness to the sick and the poor. They opposed slavery. They made medicines from herbs which were healing. Modest and retiring, they shrank from participation in public affairs. According to Philo, their conduct generally was directed by three rules -- "the love of God, the love of virtue, and the love of man." It was the notion of some rationalists that Jesus derived his theology from them. But this opinion, which never had any foundation, is now given up by the rationalists themselves. Bishop Lightfoot (Com. on Colossians, " Introd." p. 98) maintains, with many German commentators, that the Colossian heresy which Paul combats in his Epistle was a form of Essene Judaism which was Gnostic in its character. The Essenes disappear from history after the destruction of Jerusalem. See De Quincey's Essays on the Essenes. ESTATE' is the general name for an order or class of men in society or government, Mark 6:21, as in Great Britain the lords and commons are called the "estates" of the realm.

essenes in Fausset's Bible Dictionary

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.