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During 2nd century BC in Israel, members of Jewish religious orders were
divided into several different groups, each with its own unique views
concerning the Jewish way of life.  Among these were: the Pharisees, the
Sadducees, and the Essenes. Some beliefs such as the belief in one God became
universal amongst different schools of thought; however, the Jewish way of life
was different amongst the three sects.  The Essenes, the smallest of the
three sects, were identified as a Jewish sect that lived their lives according
to ritual purity, abstinence from sensual pleasure, and separation from the
outside world.  Over the past couple of
years, we have come to understand the Essene’s way of life through the works of
Josephus and Philo. In recent times, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scroll, a
collection of hundreds of texts found in caves at Qumran, has helped shed some
light on the Essene’s lifestyle.  Although there has been much debate
regarding the Essene’s way of life, the Essene lifestyle offers individuals a
segregated lifestyle whereby individuals can live according to strict Mosaic
Law.  This in turn, creates a religious
duality between those who seek to find the ‘right’ way to live and who would
find it beneficial to live according to the laws created by God.  Likewise, their communal lifestyle created
certain benefits as well as drawbacks from those who wished to be part of the
exclusive community.   With this in
mind, we have to ask ourselves three questions: 1. Why might a person have been
interested in being a part of this/these separatist society/ies? 2. Is there
something appealing about this way of life? 3. What are the benefits and what
are the drawbacks?


 To begin, separatist sects are
exclusive communities that deliberately sacrifice the larger portion of the
population in order to welcome a smaller, more devoted segment of the
population.  In other words, individuals
cannot “walk in” and consider themselves part of the exclusive community, there
is a definite process through which newly initiated members convert their
livelihood and whole outlook before being considered as member of the
community.  As it is mentioned: “Whoever wants to join their sect is not
admitted immediately, but for a year must follow their lifestyle as an
outsider… However he is still not admitted to their common life, for after this
test of fortitude, his mettle is tried for two years more and if found worthy,
he is admitted into their society”(Jewish War 2.137-138).  The Essene lifestyle would therefore
sacrifice the larger population in order to adhere to those in the inner
circle.  The concept of exclusivity
creates fascination amongst those on the outside, as people generally want
something more when they cannot have it. Outsiders may demand to know why they
cannot be included and what excludes them from the sect.  As it relates to the Essenes, their
exclusivity lies not only in a segregated lifestyle but also in the strict
adherence to Mosaic Law.  Those who
wished to enter the sect had to take make many oaths involving the
covenant.  As it is mentioned: “To be
devout towards the Deity and to observe justice towards human beings, and to
harm nobody, either of his own accord or at the command of others, and always
to hate the wicked and help the righteous” (Jewish War 2.139-141). These rules share
similarities with the 10 commandments.  The
similarity between the oath of the Essenes and the commandments shows the
importance to which the Essenes believed in a strict Mosaic covenant way of
life.  Outsiders wishing to join the
Essenes would not only seek fulfillment from a life of exclusivity, living segregated
amongst other chosen members, but they would also be fulfilled in serving God
by living a life according to strict Mosaic law, considered by some to be the
highest level of authority since it was given by God.

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Secondly, the Essenes represent a group of people that are bound
together by an appreciation of the same ideals, beliefs and moral values.  This ideology leads to the concept of
religious dualism whereby those within the inner circle believe that certain
kinds of people did not fit in with society or can cause disorganization within
a community.  As it is mentioned: “These
men in the first place, live in villages, avoiding all cities on account of the
habitual lawlessness of those who inhabit them, knowing that such a moral
disease is contracted from association with wicked men, just as a real disease
might be from an unhealthy atmosphere, and that this would have a deadly effect
on their souls”(Every Good Man is Free 12:76). In other words, there is a clear
distinction between right/wrong, moral/immoral, light/darkness and
holy/blasphemy.  Those seeking to live a
life that caters to God’s commandments would find it appealing to live life in
the ‘right’ way.  

Finally, the Essenes were frugal, regimented, and communal living offered
benefits as well as drawbacks to those living within its inner circles
while.  This sort of lifestyle may be
beneficial for those who seek it but may also become consequential to those who
wish to live by it.  One aspect of the
Essenes that differed from other sects of ancient Judaism was their disdain for
wealth.  As it is mentioned: “No one
among them ventures at all to acquire any property whatever of his own, neither
house, nor slave, nor farm, nor flocks and herds, nor anything of any sort
which can be looked upon as the fountain or provision of riches” (Hypothetica
11.4).  Moreover, the idea of shared
wealth was not optianl, all members of the inner circle had to abide by these
rules.  As stated: “Their law requires
anyone joining them to hand over his property to the order, so that among them
there is no abject poverty or excess riches, but each one’s possessions are
mixed in with the others, like a shared patrimony among brothers” (Jewish War
2.122). These men were also extremely frugal and generous with their things.

They wore their clothing until it was nearly destroyed, and they had no qualms
about giving a man something of theirs that the man needed (Jewish War 2.126-127).

The Essenes contempt for wealth and willingness to give to undeniably to others
was a distinguishing characteristic of their sect.


In conclusion, the Essenes were an influential second temple sect. They
were strong believers in the Mosaic Covenant and the Purity Code. They also
shared there wisdom and ability to predict the future with others.  Most
importantly, they impressed on people the ability to live a content life with
few possessions and the passion in which they celebrated their faith through
sacrifices in non-temple areas, thus defying the Roman infiltrated priests and
leaders. Although, the Essenes may have kept to themselves, they are true
followers of Judaism and a people that gave the hope for a more faithful chosen
people to those who watched their works.



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