The Third Jewish Sect: Essenes -- By: Larry V. Crutchfield

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 02:4 (Autumn 1989)
Article: The Third Jewish Sect: Essenes
Author: Larry V. Crutchfield

The Third Jewish Sect: Essenes

Larry Crutchfielda

The Qumran Community (probably composed of Essenes) is very important to Biblical studies in that they are the ones who preserved the Dead Sea Scrolls, our oldest surviving Old Testament manuscripts.

According to the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, “There are three philosophical sects among the Jews. The followers of the first … are the Pharisees; of the second the Sadducees; and the third sect, who pretend to a severer discipline, are called Essenes” (Jewish Wars, 2.8. 2 §119). The members of this later sect, owing chiefly to their virtuous and upright manner of life, seemed most to be admired by those who crossed their path. Yet of the three Jewish sects, the least is known about the Essenes.

In this brief study we will outline what is known of the origins, beliefs and practices of the Essenes;

examine the relationship, if any, between the Essenes and Qumran; and, finally, give some consideration to a “Gate of the Essenes” mentioned by Josephus, and its possible location in Jerusalem.

The Origin Of The Essenes

Their Name and Forebearers

There has been much debate over the meaning of the name “Essene.” Among the suggestions for the possible linguistic root are, “holy ones,” “healers,” “pious ones,”1 and a number of others, but none is really satisfactory. The confusion is easily understood if the name was not used by the sect as a self-description. And this was apparently the case, for even Philo writing in the first half of the 1st c. AD is uncertain of the meaning of the name. He writes, “Their name, which is, I think, a variation, though the form of the Greek is inexact, of aslotes (holiness), is given them, because they have shown themselves especially devout in the service of God” (Every Good Man Is Free, 12. §75).

If the meaning of the name “Essene” is obscure, it is perhaps fitting for a group about whose rise and origin we know very little. The first mention of the Essenes places them at the time of Jonathan Maccabaeus (161-143 BC) and deals with the “different opinions concerning human actions” (fate versus self-determination) held by the “three sects among the Jews” (Josephus, Ant. 13. 5. 9. §171). And in the reign of Aristobulus I (105 BC), we read of “one Judas, who was of the sect of the Essenes.” He was a prophet, Josephus tells us, “who never missed the truth in his predictions” (Ant. 13...

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