The Essenes or Ossaeans (or Qumranites) were a Jewish sect which appeared at the very beginning of the second century B.C.
They lived in towns and villages in small groups under the name of the Hasideans.
The three sects, the Sadducees, the Essenes, and the Pharisees, emerged out of the common teaching of Moses. Going deeper into history, the first mention of the community is in the writings of two historians, Josephus Flavius and Philo of Judea. Later they were mentioned by Pliny the Elder. At that time about 4,000 Essenes lived in Judea. According to modern historians’ statements, this ethnic group of Jews was fighting against the powerful Hellenistic party at the time. On other matters, scholars’ opinions somewhat differ. Some believe that the Essenes lost their desire to live in large cities while others have suggested that they left the metropolis due to frustration with fighting for their ideas. The Essenes headed to the northwest of the Dead Sea, where they lived in isolated colonies and formed a closed order. They shunned people, avoided contact with their fellow tribesmen, and neither married nor created families. The members of the order accepted and brought up other people’s children on their own terms, but only after three years of testing.
There are several hypotheses as to how the sect emerged. The German church historian Augustus Neander believes that the school of the Essenes was borrowed from the Chaldeans, at the time of the Babylonian captivity. From Dellinger’s point of view, the doctrine derived from Greek and Pythagorean ideas. Three other scholars (Gretz, Ewald, and Jost) claim that the Essenes were of exclusively Jewish origin.
Certain rules had to be followed by whoever joined the order. In essence they formed the Bible of the Essenes:
Phylon spent much time studying the life and customs of the Essenes. According to his records, the Essenes did not offer blood sacrifices. If we adhere to Flavius’ telling, he claimed that sacrifices occurred but were not used in the temple of Jerusalem. Also, Flavius noted that the people were industrious. The Essenes were involved in beekeeping, farming, various crafts, animal breeding, and the practice of medicine.
The Essenes lived peacefully and did not intend to go to war. They did not produce arms but were prepared, at Messiah’s coming, to defend him and fight against Evil. A friendly atmosphere prevailed within the community. Everyone helped each other as brothers and sisters. Common property was welcomed and slavery was denied. All people were equal.
There are various hypotheses concerning the origin of these scrolls. According to one it was the Essenes who owned the 1,000 important manuscripts that were discovered in the cave at Qumran. They are also called the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Qumran manuscripts. These manuscripts are the oldest known fragments of the Pentateuch, which are still well-known in modern times. Another important scroll, 7Q5, which is considered to be the oldest passage from the Gospel of Mark, has been found in the vicinity. It is known that the Essenes, who piously honored God and religious tradition, hid the manuscripts when the Jewish uprisings began in A. D. 66.
Traditionally the sect led a reclusive way of life. They tried not to meet with merchants, so they provided all the necessities of life for themselves. They were fanatical about writing and interpreting the Holy Books, and taught morality to the younger people. They lived in small groups. Each community built a house for itself, where young and old lived together. A man and a woman would not get married, as they considered celibacy superior to marriage, but they would accept and bring up other people’s children on their own terms. If a man did take a woman as his wife, he would refuse to communicate with her after she became pregnant. Such behavior is attributed to the fact that the husband did not get involved with his wife for pleasure, but only for the sake of procreation.
God was loved and honored by the Essenes and Moses was second in significance. They honored the Sabbath Day and severely punished those who blasphemed against God or the prophets.
Members of the order disliked jewelry and maintained a conservative attitude to clothes. They wore the same clothes until they wore out. They would wear white clothing for meals. The brotherhood of the Essenes helped the poor, even those who did not belong to the order. They began each day before sunrise. After a prayer of greeting, they would participate in charitable activities. They were blessed for their work by their superior. Without his authorization, they could do nothing but read prayers and help the poor. The Essenes would go to work, and when they had finished their work, they would bathe in cold water. Afterwards they dressed in white and ate in a special eating house.
The teaching of the Essenes was strict but fair. For every misconduct there was punishment. Exclusion from the order meant death for the Essene followers, because they could not eat beyond the borders of the community, according to the oath they had sworn. Those who repented were welcomed back. It is worth noting that the people were just, high spirited, and filled with moral principles. The representatives preferred to die a brave death rather than go on living in shame.
Just as there are disputes over the origins of the Essene community, so are there in related religious aspects. It is believed that the Essenes were descended from the first Christians. The book of the Essenes represents a scripture that corresponds to the gospel and the message of the apostles. The opinion is not widely accepted because there is a discrepancy in the chronology of events. The Gospel of the Essenes was written at a different time.
Analyzing the researched information, scholars have come to the consensus that the Essenes and the beginnings of Christianity are closely related. The order was one of the first to follow Jesus. There is also an opinion that the Essenes formed the Jewish Gnostic sects.