Jewish Sects (VIII): Essenes - Initiation, Attitude and Doctrine

Fred A. Shewmaker
Evansville, Indiana

"A candidate for admission waited a year before he was bestowed the emblems--a hatchet, belt, and white garment. If he proved worthy he was admitted, after two more years, to the society, but only upon the exaction of fearful oaths."1

Essenes "devoted their lives to a study of the Torah in its minutest details."2 The "Scriptures and other religious books were studied and c.opied."3 They "deemed themselves the only true Israel, considered the religious observances in city and temple corrupt, and withdrew from them."4 "They declined to take part in the Temple rites involving animal sacrifice and brought to the altar offerings of only flour and oil."5 These they offered for themselves.

"The sect of the Essenes affirm that fate governs all things and that nothing befalls men but what is according to its determination."6 This belief is related also in these words: "All things are best ascribed to God."7 This hardly seems consistent with the following comment by Josephus: "They carry nothing with them when they travel into remote parts, though still they take their weapons with them for fear of thieves."8 If fate decreed that they should be harmed and fate alone governed all things, their weapons would seem useless.

"They teach the immortality of souls and esteem that the regards of righteousness are to be earnestly striven for."9 "Bodies are corruptible, and that the matter they are made of is not permanent; but that the souls are immortal and continue for ever."10 In short they did not believe in a bodily resurrection.

"These Essens (sic) reject pleasure as an evil, but esteem continence, and the conquest over passions to he virtue."11 They neither marry wives, nor are desirous to keep servants; as thinking the latter tempts men to be unjust, and the former gives -the handle to domestic quarrels."12 But their rejection of marriage went deeper than that. "They did not absolutely deny the fitness of marriage and the succession of 'mankind thereby continued; but they guard against the lascivious behavior of women, and are persuaded that none of them preserve their fidelity to one man."13 Obviously their aversion to marriage was rooted in a distrust of women.

They were also opposed to war.

"The life of the Essene was one of rigor and simplicity."14 "Before sun rising they speak not a word about profane matters, but put up certain prayers."15

"They think that oil is a defilement; and if anyone of them be anointed without his approbation, it is wiped off his body; for they think to be sweaty is a good thing."16 "They despise luxury and pleasure."17 They did not "allow of the change of garments, or of shoes, till they be first entirely torn to pieces, or worn out by time."18

"Each Essene was required to perform manual labor to make the community selfsupporting."19 "They labor with -great diligence till the fifth hour after.-which they assemble themselves together again into one place; and when they have clothed themselves in white veils, they then bathe their bodies in cold water."20 "They go after a pure manner, into the dining-room, as into a certain holy temple, and quietly set themselves down.... A priest says grace before meat and it is unlawful for any one to taste of the food before grace be said. The same priest, when he hath dined, says gram again after meat; . . . after which they lay aside their (white) garments, and betake themselves to their labors again till the evening; then they return home to supper after the same manner."21 "Strict silence was maintained at the meal."22

"They observed the Sabbath with particular rigor."23 "A passage in the Damascus Document, related to the Dead Sea Scrolls, says that it is unlawful to lift an animal out of a pit on the Sabbath day"24 Jesus certainly did not honor this view of the Sabbath (Luke 14:5).

"They zealously studied the books of their ancestors and had some knowledge of medicine."25


"Blasphemy was punishable by death."26

"Whatever they say also is firmer than an oath; but swearing is avoided by them, and they esteem it worse than perjury."27

Recalling that in the first paragraph I wrote about the Essenes, attention was called to the fact that as far as the Bible record is concerned they are not once mentioned, some may be wondering why I have written two articles about them. Possibly you will not consider my reasons valid but regardless of that they are: (1) The Essenes were a Jewish Sect. (2) I had heard of the Essenes for years but my knowledge of them was almost nil before preparing this series. (3) I was persuaded that most folks, including preachers, were in the same boat of "little knowledge" with me. (4) The material presented was available. (5) I considered this information interesting and believed that others would also.

In the next and last article we shall consider the Herodians and Zealots.


1. Charles F. Pfeiffer, The Biblical World, (Grand Rapids: 1966). p. 329.

2. Ibid., p. 327.

3. Charles F. Pfeiffer, Between the Testaments, (Grand Rapids: 1963), p. 116.

4. Pfeiffer, Biblical World, p. 329. 5. Ibid.

6. F. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, (London: 1842), p. 351 (B. XIII, Ch. V, See. 9).

7. Ibid, P. 484 (B. X VIII, Ch. I Sec. 5)

8. F. Josephus, Wars of the Jews, (London: 1842), p. 615 (B. 11, Ch. VIII, Sec. 4).

9. Josephus, Antiquities, Ibid.

10. Josephus, Wars, Ibid., See. 2.

11. Ibid.

12; Josephus, Antiquities, Ibid.

13. Josephus, Wars, Ibid.

14. Pfeiffer, Between the Testaments, Ibid.

15. Josephus, Ibid., Sec. 5.

16. Ibid.

17. Pfeiffer, Biblical World, Ibid.

18. Josephus, Ibid., Sec. 4.

19. Pfeiffer, Between the Testaments, Ibid.

20. Josephus, Ibid., Sec. 5.

21. Ibid.

72. Pfeiffer, Biblical World, Ibid.

13. Ibid.

24. Pfeiffer, Between the Testaments, p. 117.

25. Pfeiffer, Biblical World, Ibid.

26. Ibid.

27. Josephus, Ibid., p. 616, Sec. 6.


TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 13, pp. 5-7
February 3, 1972