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Qumran and Yahad Community

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Roman Palestine
1011 Lecture 7

Locating Qumran – the beginnings of the story

Qumran (Khirbet  Qumran) is located on a dry plateau about  two kilometers (a mile) inland from the northwestern shore of the cin Israel. The site was constructed sometime during the reign of John Hyrcanus, 134-104 BC and saw various phases of occupation until, in the summer of 68, Titus and his X Fretensis legion destroyed it. It is best known as the settlement nearest to the hiding place of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the caves of the sheer desert cliffs.

Since the discovery in the middle of the 20th century of almost 900 scrolls in various states of completeness, mostly written on parchment, extensive excavations of the settlement have been undertaken. Jewish ritual baths and cemeteries have been found, a large cistern, a large dining or assembly room, an alleged scriptorium, and a guard tower.

Most scholars consider it to have been home to a Jewish sect, often said to be Essenes; others have proposed that it was a villa for a single wealthy family, or even that it was a Roman fort. The large cemetery nearby may contain some answers, if women are buried there in great numbers. It would tell what the occupants of the settlement were like and who lived there; but under Jewish law excavating cemeteries is forbidden.

The scrolls were found in a series of caves just to the west of the settlement. Some of the caves seem to have been permanent libraries with built in shelves. The texts found in them represent the beliefs and practices of different Jewish religious orientations. A number of them appear to have been selected for the library there, when Qumran is thought to have become the asylum for supporters of the traditional priestly family of the Zadokites against the Hasmonean priest/kings. A letter found in the 1990s expresses the reasons for creating a community, some of which mirror Sadducean arguments in the Talmud. But most of the scrolls seem to have been dumped in the caves only during the turmoil of the First Jewish Revolt, at a time when Jericho and Jerusalem were facing the sack, or had already been sacked, but Qumran was still standing and secretly accessible from Jerusalem via the Kidron Valley.

Recent archaeological analysis

 More recently the theory of Qumran being a religious settlement has garnered critique by some archaeologists who consider the notion very unlikely. In the late 1980s Robert Donceel, while working on the materials left by the original archaeologist of Qumran, Roland de Vaux, found artifacts which did not fit the religious settlement model, including glassware and stoneware. In 1992 Pauline Donceel-Voute (Wise 1994) put forward the Roman villa model in an attempt to explain these artifacts. Donceel-Voute’s interpretation has been shown wanting because of the lack of other artifacts expected if Qumran were a villa (eg. Magness 2002). While the villa model now seems dubious, the evidence that it tried to explain has led to further attempts at explanation. Some analysts have suggested that Qumran was a commercial trading center (“entrepot”). For others it was a pottery production center.

Pottery, glass and coins found at Qumran and along the shore are existing proof of flourishing trade connections in the area, and provide evidence that Qumran did not live in a vacuum in the Graeco-Roman period. Rachel Bar-Nathan (ed. Galor et al. 2006) has shown from similarities between pottery finds at Qumran and at the Herodian winter palaces of Jericho that Qumran should be seen as part of the Jordan valley context rather than as an isolated site. The famous cylindrical “scroll jars” from Qumran, once thought to be unique, she shows to have existed at Masada as well.

The several large stepped cisterns which are a feature of Qumran have over recent decades been considered to be ritual baths. This is certainly within keeping of the religious settlement model and several ritual baths have been found in Jerusalem. There are logistical problems in understanding all these cisterns as baths, however. Qumran’s water arrived perhaps twice a year from run off of water brought down by rain. Water was one of Qumran’s most valued commodities and water management is an integral part of the site, as seen with the numerous cisterns and channels. If the large cisterns were ritual baths the water would sit getting dirtier through ritual bathing throughout the year and was extremely infrequently replenished by the run off. The current state of analysis of the cisterns is still unresolved, but Katharina Galor (Humbert 2003 Scientific analyses) suggests a mixed usage of the stepped cisterns as both ritual baths and water storage.

According to the Israeli archaeologists Magen and Peleg (ed. Galor et al. 2006), the clay found in the cisterns was used for pottery factory facilities. However, some natural scientists, such as an Israeli scholar C. Klein, have put forward evidence which suggests that Qumran has been under flooding which is responsible for aragonite crusting on the walls of the buildings as well as layers of clay accumulation in the structures.

A survey and spatial studies carried out by Finnish and British archaeologists in the ruins of Qumran in the 1990s have brought into light new results which are supported by natural scientists. This theory based on a modern spatial study of the orientations of the settlement and the graves, shows that both the settlement and the graves belonged to an intentional planning scheme. This intentional scheme, the writers claim, indicates that the settlement and its cemetery are connected to the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Essenes.

Religious settlement

The French who originally excavated the site still insist that the settlement served as an Essene site. A strong link between the ruins, the scrolls and the Essenes is the solar calendar comprised in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The alignment of the ruins follows the typical orientations of the societies using a solar calendar. Locus 77, known as a refectory or an assembly hall, in the Qumran settlement, is aligned according to the mid-summer solstice sunset. This has been empirically proven. Both the French and Finnish scholars agree that it served as a sanctuary for the Essenes.

According to the information given by Philo of Alexandria, the closest community comparable to the Essenes is the Jewish Therapeutae known to have lived in Graeco-Roman Egypt. Philo describes the customs of the Jewish Therapeutae of Egypt and the Essenes. He clearly describes the penetration of the Egyptian solar adoration and Pythagorean beliefs to the customs of the Jewish Therapeutae, while Josephus tells about the invocation of the sun by the Essenes and the rules not to defile the rays of the deity (visible rays that can only refer to the Sun) when one is doing the private deeds in wilderness. Common doctrines with solar aspirations between the Jewish Therapeutae of Egypt and the Essenes lead to the common roots with the Jews in exile in Egypt, exemplified in the influence of the Egyptian and Pythagorean calendars. It is also to be emphasized that the only comparable communal texts to the Dead Sea Scrolls have been found in the Geniza of the Caraite synagogue in Cairo in Egypt, which also is another external link to indicate the connections to Egypt. The sun dial found in Qumran follows the skaphion type used by the Pythagorean Aristarchos of Samos in Alexandria. Interestingly Josephus characterizes the Essenes as comparable to the Pythagoreans. One needs to bear in mind that, when the settlement of Qumran dating to the Graeco-Roman period was established, Alexandria was a major city with number of Jewish residents, and Qumran area was under the rule of the Ptolemies and Seleucids before the Roman occupation.

Most of the peoples doesn’t know that less than 250 years after Christ, the great biblical scholar Origen ( 185–254 CE) mentioned the discovery of Hebrew and Greek biblical manuscripts stored in jars in the vicinity of Jericho. The church historian Eusebius (ca. 260–340 CE) also noted that a Greek version of the Psalms, as well as other manuscripts, had been found in a jar at Jericho during the reign of the Roman emperor Antonius son of Severus (198–217CE) .

About five hundred years later, the Nestorian Patriarch of Seleucia, Timotheus I, wrote a letter to Sergius, Metropolitan of Elam, in which he described the discovery of a large cache of Hebrew manuscripts in a cave near Jericho. The story of this find as described in the letter bears a striking resemblance to the account of the discoveries of 1947: when a Bedouin hunter’s dog failed to emerge from a cave, the owner went in after it and found a cache of documents, both biblical and non-biblical .

No one knows for sure whether that cave was directly related to the Qumran community, but it seems more than possible when one considers other Jewish and Islamic sources. The medieval Jewish Karaite writer Kirkisani, in a history of Jewish sects written around. 937 CE, speaks of a sect called al-Maghariya, “the cave people,” already extinct at that time. They were so called because their books were deposited in caves. According to a Muslim writer named Shahrastani, these cave people flourished around the middle of the first century CE .

No manuscript discoveries near the Dead Sea are recorded between the years 800 and 1947. However, in the spring of the latter, according to one version of the story, three Bedouin shepherds from the Ta’amireh tribe were tending their flocks at the Wadi Qumran. One of them, Jum’a Muhammad Khalil, threw a rock into one of the numerous caves in the region, ostensibly to chase out a wandering goat, and shattered something in the darkness (later found to be a clay jar).

The noise frightened the shepherds away, but a couple of days later one of the shepherds, Muhammad ed-Dhib (“Muhammad the Wolf”), returned to the cave by himself and found ten jars, each about two feet in height. All but two of the jars proved to be empty. However, one yielded three parchment scrolls; two wrapped in linen and one unwrapped. These were later identified as a copy of the biblical book of Isaiah; a copy of the Rule of the Community, sometimes called the Manual of Discipline (a text outlining the rules by which the Dead Sea community was to be governed); and a commentary on the biblical book of Habakkuk. Four additional scrolls were later found in the cave: a collection of psalms or hymns known as the Thanksgiving Hymns or the Hymn Scroll (Hebrew, Hodayot); a partially preserved copy of Isaiah; the War Scroll—a text describing a final war in the last days between the Sons of Light (the righteous) and the Sons of Darkness (the wicked); and a collection of Genesis narratives called the Genesis Apocryphon.

The scrolls were brought to Bethlehem and placed in the custody of an antiquities dealer named Kando, who in turn sold four of them to Athanasius Yeshua Samuel, the Metropolitan, or head, of the Syrian Orthodox Church at St. Mark’s Monastery in Jerusalem. For the equivalent of about one hundred dollars, Metropolitan Samuel received the more complete Isaiah Scroll, the Rule of the Community, the Habakkuk Commentary, and the Genesis Apocryphon.

Since no one really understood much about the nature or origins of the scrolls, several scholars were consulted. One of them was Eleazar Sukenik of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. After a secret visit to the antiquities dealer on 29 November 1947 (the very date on which the United Nations passed the resolution to establish the State of Israel), Sukenik purchased the remaining three scrolls from Kando. Professor Sukenik seems to have been the first to recognize the antiquity and value of the scrolls and the first to suggest what has proved to be the most widely accepted view regarding their provenance or origin. Unfortunately, detailed study of the archaeological and historical context of the scrolls, as well as any search for more caves and scrolls, was hampered by the Arab-Israeli conflict, which was at its height.

By this time scholars connected with the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem also recognized the significance of the scrolls, or at least the four that Metropolitan Samuel had shown to them. They felt it was time to announce to the world the amazing find. On 11 April 1948 the American School issued a press release announcing the discovery of the St. Mark’s collection. Two weeks later, Professor Sukenik announced the existence of the scrolls he had purchased. So secretive had been all the dealings surrounding both sets of scrolls from the same cave that the American School had no previous knowledge of the existence of Sukenik’s scrolls .

Identity and History of the Qumran People – The Essenes Hypothesis

Following the suggestion of Eleazar Sukenik , Frank Moore Cross of Harvard University, one of the original scholars of the scrolls, definitively and succinctly identified the inhabitants of the ancient Dead Sea Scroll community of Qumran as Essenes . The Essenes were one of the four Jewish “philosophies,” or sects, described by the first-century historian Josephus as the major competing ideologies contemporary in the Holy Land. More recently Professor Cross reemphasized the Qumran-Essene connection by reminding us that a scholar who would suggest any non-Essene identification for the Dead Sea Scroll community “places himself in an astonishing position .” For, in essence, one must explain away the simplest and most logical interpretations of historical sources in favor of more complicated theories based on supposition and inference. Professor Cross states:

He [the scholar] must seriously suggest that two major parties formed communalistic religious communities in the same district of the Dead Sea and lived together in effect for two centuries, holding similar bizarre views, performing similar or rather identical lustrations, ritual meals, and ceremonies. He must suppose that one, carefully described by classical authors, disappeared without leaving building remains or even potsherds behind; the other, systematically ignored by the classical sources, left extensive ruins, and indeed a great library. I prefer to be reckless and flatly identify the men of Qumran with their perennial house guests, the Essenes .

Unfortunately, none of the Dead Sea Scrolls comes right out and explicitly states, “We are Essenes!” (though one gets the impression that such a declaration still might not be conclusive enough for some scholars). One of the most significant recent challenges to the Essene theory of Qumran identity was put forward by a scholar whose opinions carry significant weight, Lawrence Schiffman of New York University. He claims that the community members were Sadducees. This is based on similarities between legal issues found in a recently published Qumran text called Miqsat Ma’aseh ha-Torah [Some Commentary to the Torah] (4QMMT) and certain legal positions that the Mishnah attributes to the Sadducees.

But the basic argument really seems to be one of semantics rather than substance, because Schiffman says that the Sadducees he is championing are not the aristocratic sect described by Josephus and the New Testament, but rather a different group, one that was conservative in its approach to the law and whose name also derives from “Zadok,” just like the more famous group. This is not very helpful or insightful information because we already knew from Qumran texts that the leaders at Qumran called themselves the Sons of Zadok, and that their orientation and outlook was priestly.29 In addition, Schiffman overlooks many Qumran texts that express non-Sadducean theological concepts, ideas that better fit within an Essene context . Hence, the view expressed so eloquently by Professor Cross continues to be the most widely held position.

No single document found at Qumran, or elsewhere for that matter, constitutes anything like a purposeful history of the sect. However, from classical sources, archaeological evidence, and passages within the scrolls themselves, one can glean enough clues to put together a historical sketch of the community.

The Essenes

The Essenes are the branch of the Pharisees who conformed to the most rigid rules of Levitical purity. They were aspiring to the highest degree of holiness. The Essenes are probably the highest mystical population in the ancient Hebrew society, and no doubt the first promoters of Kabbalah-like mysticism and pre-Christian doctrine. They lived solely by the work of their hands and in a state of communism, devoted their time to study and devotion and to the practice of benevolence, and refrained as far as feasible from conjugal intercourse and sensual pleasures. In order to be initiated into the highest mysteries of heaven and cause the expected messianic time to come. The strangest reports were spread about this mysterious class of Jews. Pliny, speaking of the Essene community in the neighborhood of the Dead Sea. He calls it the marvel of the world, and characterizes it as a race continuing its existence for hundred of years without either wives or children, or money for support, and with only the palm-trees for companions in its retreat from the storms of the world. Philo, who calls the Essenes “the holy ones,” says in one place that ten thousand of them had been initiated by Moses into the mysteries of the sect, which, consisting of men of advanced years having neither wives nor children, practiced the virtues of love and holiness and inhabited many villages of Judea. They live in a perfect communism as tillers of the soil or as mechanics according to common rules of simplicity and abstinence. In another passage (“Quod Omnis Probus Liber,” 12 et seq.). He speaks of only four thousand Essenes, who lived as farmers and artisans apart from the cities and in a perfect state of communism, and who condemned slavery, avoided sacrifice, abstained from swearing, strove for holiness, and were particularly scrupulous regarding the Sabbath, which day was devoted to the reading and allegorical interpretation of the Law. Josephus describes them partly as a philosophical school like the Pythagoreans, and mystifies the reader by representing them as a kind of monastic order with semi-pagan rites. Accordingly, the strangest theories have been advanced by non-Jewish writers, men like Zeller, Hilgenfeld, and Schürer, who found in Essenism a mixture of Jewish and pagan ideas and customs, taking it for granted that a class of Jews of this kind could have existed for centuries without leaving a trace in rabbinical literature, and, besides, ignoring the fact that Josephus describes the Pharisees and Sadducees also as philosophical schools after Greek models.

The Essenes in History

The Essenes, as they appear in history, were far from being either philosophers or recluses. King Herod as endowed with higher powers says Josephus, regarded them, and their principle of avoiding taking an oath was not infringed upon. Herod’s favor was due to the fact that Menahem, one of their leaders who, excelling in virtuous conduct and preaching righteousness, piety, and love for humanity, possessed the divine gift of prophecy, had predicted Herod’s rise to royalty.

 Whether Sameas and Pollio, the leaders of the academy, who also refused to take an oath belonged to the Essenes, is not clear. Menahem is known in rabbinical literature as a predecessor of Judas the Essene. Josephus relates that he once sat in the Temple surrounded by his disciples, whom he initiated into the (apocalyptic) art of foretelling the future, when Antigonus passed by. Judas prophesied a sudden death for him, and after a while his prediction came true, like every other one he made. A similar prophecy is ascribed to Simon the Essene, who is possibly identical with the Simon in Luke 2:25. Add to these John (Yochanan) the Essene, a general in the time of the Roman war, and it becomes clear that the Essenes, or at least many of them, were men of intense patriotic sentiment; it is probable that from their ranks emanated much of the apocalyptic literature. Of one only, by the name of Banus (probably one of the Banna’im; see below), does Josephus relate that he led the life of a hermit and ascetic, maintaining by frequent ablutions a high state of holiness; he probably, however, had other imitators besides Josephus.

Origin of the Essenes – To arrive at a better understanding of the Essenes, the start must be made from the Hasidim of the pre-Maccabean time, of whom both the Pharisees and the Essenes are offshoots. Such “over righteous ones,” who would not bring voluntary sacrifices nor take an oath, are alluded to in Ecclesiastic 7:16, 9:2, while the avoidance of marriage by the pious seem to be alluded to in. The avoidance of swearing became also to a certain extent a Pharisaic rule based on Exodus 20:7. As a matter of fact, the line of distinction between Pharisees (“Perushim”) and Essenes was never very clearly drawn. Thus the more than four thousand Pharisees who claimed to be “highly favored by God” and to possess by “divine inspiration foreknowledge of things to come,” and who refused to take an oath of fealty to Herod, predicting his downfall while promising children to Bagoas, the eunuch, were scarcely different from those elsewhere called “Essenes”

The Ancient Hasidim

About the organization of the ancient Hasidim little is known; but each Pharisee had to be admitted by certain rites to membership in the association (“Heber” or “Haburah“), receiving the name “Haber”, these fraternities assembled not only for worship but also for meals. The Pharisaic and Essene system of organization appears to have been at the outset the same, a fact that implies a common origin. A remnant of this Hasidic brotherhood seems to have been the “Nekiyye ha-Da’at” (the pure-minded) of Jerusalem, who would neither sit at the table or in court, nor sign a document, with persons not of their own circle. They paid special reverence to the scroll of the Law in the synagogue. But tradition has preserved certain peculiarities of these “ancient Hasidim” (Hasidim ha-rishonim) which cast some light on their mode of life.

  1. In order to render their prayer a real communion with God as their Father in heaven, they spent an hour in silent meditation before offering their Morning Prayer, and neither the duty of saluting the king nor imminent peril, as, for instance, from a serpent close to their heels, could cause them to interrupt their prayer.
  2. They were so scrupulous regarding the observance of the Sabbath that they refrained from sexual intercourse on all days of the week except Wednesday, lest in accordance with their singular calculation of the time of pregnancy the birth of a child might take place on a Sabbath and thereby cause the violation of the sacred day. Peril of life could not induce them to wage even a war of defense on the Sabbath.
  3. They guarded against the very possibility of being the indirect cause of injuring their fellow men through.
  4. Their scrupulousness concerning “zizit or tzitit” (a kind of highly religious garment – in use even to day in the ultra-orthodox communities) is probably only one instance of their strict observance of all the commandments.
  5.  Through their solicitude to avoid sin (whence also their name “Yire’e Shem” = “fears of god – sin) they had no occasion for bringing sin-offerings, wherefore, according to R. Judah, they made Nazarite (celibacy and chastity) vows to enable them to bring offerings of their own. According to R. Simeon, however, they refrained from bringing such offerings, as they were understood by them to be “an atoning sacrifice for the sins committed against the soul”. This aversion to the Nazarite vow seems to have been the prevailing attitude, as Simeon the Just shared it.
  6. Especially rigorous were they in regard to Levitical purity; they were particularly careful that women in the menstrual state should keep apart from the household, perform no household duties, and avoid attractiveness in appearance.

This, however, forms only part of the general Hasidean rule, which was to observe the same degree of Levitical purity as did the priest who partook of the holy things of the Temple (“okel hullin be-bohorat hodesh”); and there were three or four degrees of holiness, of which the Pharisees, or “haberim,” observed only the first, the Hasidim the higher ones. The reason for the observance of such a high degree of holiness must be sought in the fact that Levies who ate “ma’aser” and priests who ate “terumah” and portions of the various sacrifices had their meals in common with the rest of the people and had to be guarded against defilement.

The “Tzenu’im,” or Chaste Ones

Upon the observance of the highest state of purity and holiness depended also the granting of the privilege, accorded only to the élite of the priesthood, of being initiated into the mysteries of the Holy Name and other secret lore. “The Name of twelve letters was, after the Hellenistic apostasy, entrusted only to the ‘Tzenu’im’ [the chaste ones] among the priesthood. The Name of forty-two letters was entrusted only to the ‘Tzanua” and ”Anaw‘ [the chaste and the humble] after they had passed the zenith of life and had given assurance of preserving it [the Name] in perfect purity”. There was a twofold principle underlying the necessity of perfect chastity. When God revealed Himself to Moses and to the people of Israel they were enjoined to abstain from sexual intercourse, Israel for the time being, Moses for all time. Those in hope of a divine revelation consequently refrained from sexual intercourse as well as other impurity. But there was another test of chastity, which seems to have been the chief reason for the name of “Tzenu’im” (Essenes): the Law. Enjoins modesty in regard to the covering of the body lest the Shekinah be driven away by immodest exposure. Prayer was prohibited in presence of the nude, and according to the Book of Jubilees it was a law given to Adam and Noah “not to uncover as the Gentiles do.” The chastity (“Tzeni’ut“) shown in this respect by King Saul and his daughter (gave him and his household a place in rabbinical tradition as typical Essenes, who would also observe the law of holiness regarding diet and distribute their wealth among the (poor) people. Every devotee of the Law was expected to be a “Tzanua’, such as were Rachel and Esther, Hanan ha-Nekba, the grandson of Onias the Saint, R. Akiba, and Judah ha-Nasi.

Their Commune – “No one possesses a house absolutely his own, one which does not at the same time belong to all; for in addition to living together in companies ["haburot"] their houses are open also to their adherents coming from other quarters. They have one storehouse for all, and the same diet; their garments belong to all in common, and their meals are taken in common . . . . Whatever they receive for their wages after having worked the whole day they do not keep as their own, but bring into the common treasury for the use of all; nor do they neglect the sick who are unable to contribute their share, as they have in their treasury ample means to offer relief to those in need. [One of the two hasidean and rabbinical terms for renouncing all claim to one's property in order to deliver it over to common use is "hefker"; Joab, as the type of an Essene, made his house like the wilderness—that is, ownerless and free from the very possibility of tempting men to theft and sexual sin—and he supported the poor of the city with the most delicate food. Similarly, King Saul declared his whole property free for use in warfare. The other term is "hekdesh nekasim" (consecrating one's goods: "The owners of the mulberry-trees consecrated them to God"; "Eliezer of Beeroth consecrated to charity the money intended for his daughter's dowry, saying to his daughter, 'Thou shalt have no more claim upon it than any of the poor in Israel.'" Jose ben Joezer, because he had an unworthy son, consecrated his goods to. Formerly men used to take all they had and give it to the poor (Luke 18:22); in Usha the rabbis decreed that no one should give away more than the fifth part of his property. They pay respect and honor to, and bestow care upon, their elders, acting toward them as children act toward their parents, and supporting them unstintingly by their handiwork and in other ways" Not even the most cruel tyrants, continues Philo, possibly with reference to King Herod, have ever been able, to bring any charge against these holy Essenes, but all have been compelled to regard them as truly free men.

Discipline of the Essene Order - "If any of them be condemned for any transgression, he is expelled from the order, and at times such a one dies a terrible death [Anathema and Didascalia]. For inasmuch as he is bound by the oaths taken and by the rites adopted, he is no longer at liberty to partake of the food in use among others. In their judicial decisions they are most accurate and just; they do not pass sentence unless in company with one hundred persons [this is possibly a combination of the higher court of seventy-two ("Sanhedrin gedolah") and the smaller court of twenty-three ("Sanhedrin haketanh"). and what has been decided by them is unalterable. After God they pay the highest homage to the legislator (that is to say, to the Law of Moses), and if any one is guilty of blasphemy against him (that is, against the Law), he is punished ["with death"]. They are taught to obey the rulers and elders ["the majority"].

Sabbath Observance – “When ten [the number necessary to constitute a holy congregation; Minyan – 10 Mans] sit together deliberating, no one speaks without permission of the rest [the rabbinical term is "reshut"]. They avoid spitting into the midst of them, or toward the right [the right hand is used for swearing]. “In regard to Sabbath rest they are more scrupulous than other Jews, for they not only prepare their meals one day previously so as not to touch fire, but they do not even remove any utensil; nor do they turn aside to ease nature. Some do not even rise from their couch, while on other days they observe the law in Deuteronomy 23:13. After the easement they wash themselves, considering the excrement as defiling. They are divided, according to their degree of holy exercises, into four classes.”

Essene View of Resurrection – “Particularly firm is their doctrine of Resurrection.

They believe that the flesh will rise again and then be immortal like the soul, which, they say, when separated from the body, enters a place of fragrant air and radiant light, there to enjoy rest—a place called by the Greeks who heard [of this doctrine] the ‘Isles of the Blest.’

But,” continues the writer, in a passage characteristically omitted by Josephus, “there are other doctrines besides, which many Greeks have appropriated and given out as their own opinions. For their disciplinary life in connection with the things divine is of greater antiquity than that of any other nation, so that it can be shown that all those who made assertions concerning God and Creation derived their principles from no other source than the Jewish legislation. [This refers to the hasidean "ma'aseh'merkabah" and "ma'aseh bereshit."] Among those who borrowed from the Essenes were especially Pythagoras and the Stoics. Their disciples while returning from Egypt did likewise [this casts new light on Josephus’ identification of the Essenes with the Pythagoreans: for they affirm that there will be a Judgment Day and a burning up of the world, and that the wicked will be eternally punished. “Also prophecy and the foretelling of future events are practiced by them. [Josephus has in addition:

 ”For this purpose they are trained in the use of holy writings, in various rites of purification, and in prophetic (apocalyptic?) Utterances; and they seldom make mistakes in their predictions.”

Then there is a section of the Essenes who, while agreeing in their mode of life, differ in regard to marriage, declaring that those who abstain from marrying commit an awful crime, as it leads to the extinction of the human race. But they take wives only after having, during three years’ observation of their course of life, been convinced of their power of childbearing, and avoid intercourse during pregnancy, as they marry merely for the sake of offspring. The women when undergoing ablutions are arrayed in linen garments like the men in order not to expose their bodies to the light of day”

Types of Essenes – Standing under the direction of the “mishmar,” or “ma’amad” (the district authority). The Essenes claimed, as direct successors to the Hasidim, Mosaic origin for their brotherhood. Whatever their real connection with the Rechabites was, they beheld in Jonadab, the founder of the sect of the “Water-Drinkers,” as well as in Jabez and in Jethro the Kenite, prototypes, and possibly founders, of the Jericho colony likewise in Jesse, the father of David, regarded as sinless and deathless in their and in Obed, Boaz, and his father Salma. In this manner Ahijah and Ahithophel became types of Essenes, as well as King Saul, as mentioned above; but, above all, the Patriarchs and protoplasts. Other Essenic types were Abraham, called “Watik,” the prototype of the Anavim and Hasidim because “he rose early” for prayer; Shem-Melchizedek as teacher of benevolence and true worshiper of God; Job as philanthropist and as teacher of mystic lore; Enoch; and Adam. A passage in the Tanhuma reads:

Only when Abraham separated from Lot and Jacob from Laban did God communicate with them as perushim”.

The claim of antiquity for Essene tradition is, accordingly, not the invention of Pliny or Philo; it is essential to the Essene traditional lore. In truth, Abraham, as “‘Anav” (= “the humble one”), and all doers of works of benevolence, learned it from God, “their Father in heaven”. They are “the lovers of God”. God unites with the brotherhoods of the humble.

Traces of Essenism and Anti-Essenism – Essenism as well as Hasidism represents that stage of religion, which is, called “otherworldliness.” It had no regard for the comfort of home life; woman typified only the feebleness and impurity of man. In their efforts to make domestic and social life comfortable and cheerful, the Pharisees characterized the Essene as “a fool who destroys the world”, and their ethics assumed an anti-Essene character. Traces of Essenism, or of tendencies identical with it, are found throughout the apocryphal and especially the apocalyptic literature, but are especially noticeable in the Tanna Eliyahu, above all in the Targum Yerushalmi, where the Essenic colonies of Jericho and of the City of Palms are mentioned as inhabited by the disciples of Elijah and the sons of Levi are singled out as forming brotherhoods for the service of God (Genesis 29:34); Joseph, Amram, and Aaron, as well as the Patriarchs, are called “Hasidim”  priest-like and angelic holiness is enjoined upon Israel; angels are expelled from heaven for having disclosed divine mysteries; the Holy Name and the Holy Spirit play throughout a prominent role; and God’s own time, like that of the Essenes, appears as divided between studying the Law, sitting in judgment, and providing for the world’s support and for the maintenance of the race. The Essenes seem to have originally consisted, on the one hand, of rigorous Zealots. Such as the Book of Jubilees looks for and such as were under the leadership of men like Abba Taana Hasida and Abba Sicara and, on the other hand, of mild-tempered devotees of the Law, such as were the Essenes at Ein Gedi and the Therapeutæ of Egypt. Rabbinical tradition knows only that under the persecution of Rome Edom) the Essenes wandered to the south, and occasionally mention is made of “the brethren”, with reference to the Essene brotherhood. It is as charitable brotherhoods that the Essenic organization survived the destruction of the nation.

Relation of Essenism to Christianity – John the Baptist seems to have belonged to the Essenes, but in appealing to sinners to be regenerated by baptism, he inaugurated a new movement, which led to the rise of Christianity. The silence of the New Testament about the Essenes is perhaps the best proof that they furnished the new sect with its main elements both as regards personnel and views. The similarity in many respects between Christianity and Essenism is striking. There was the same communism (in the first period of existence). The same belief in baptism or bathing, and in the power of prophecy. The same aversion to marriage for priesthood, enhanced by firmer belief in the Messianic advent; the same system of organization, and the same rules for the traveling brethren delegated to charity-work (Apostle and Apostleship); and, above all, the same love-feasts or brotherly meals (Agape; Didascalia). Also, between the ethical and the apocalyptic teachings of the Gospels and the Epistles and the teachings of the Essenes of the time, as given in Philo, in Hippolytus, and in the Ethiopic and Slavonic Books of Enoch, as well as in the rabbinical literature, the resemblance is such that the influence of the latter upon the former can scarcely be denied. Nevertheless, the attitude of Jesus and his disciples is altogether anti-Essene. A denunciation and disavowal of Essene rigor and asceticism. But, singularly enough, while the Roman war appealed to men of action such as the Zealots, men of a more peaceful and visionary nature, who had previously become Essenes, were more and more attracted by Christianity, and thereby gave the Church its otherworldly character; while Judaism took a more practical and worldly view of things, and allowed Essenism to live only in tradition and secret lore.


Original Date: 
June 27, 2010
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