Who are the Essenes?
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.