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None of the four Gospels of the New Testament make any reference to the Essenes – a point of strong contention for many religious scholars. Though the scriptures do explicitly mention the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Herodians, they are surprisingly silent on the existence of this Jewish sect with mystic, eschatological, messianic, and ascetic influences.

According to historians, the Essenes flourished between the 2nd century B.C.E. and the 1st century C.E. As a people, they believed in living a life that was celibate, but communal, in being kind to others and living a peaceful life. They also adhered to strong morals, and had faith in the soul’s immortality; all teachings, it has been argued, that became the very basis under which Christianity was formed. In fact, some say their practice of purification through ritual may have influenced the development of the rite of baptism amongst Christians. Some scholars have asserted that Jesus himself was an Essene, since his teachings espoused many of the same codes of conduct.

Historical and Archeological Evidence

Several important archeological findings have verified the existence of the Essenes, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, which have been identified as part of an Essene library. The famous historian Josephus also confirmed their existence, stating that they comprised one of three major Torah schools – the other two being the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The founders of the movement, Josephus said, were Jewish high priests who came from the house of Zadok during the time of Solomon.

However, after the Jewish Revolt in the second century B.C.E., the Hasmonean kings assumed the high priesthood. The Essenes believed these priests to be usurpers and proclaimed their sacrifices to be illegal. Indeed, in contrast to the Hasmoneans, the Essenes upheld much stricter purity rules with regards to their sacrificial offerings. Among other things, their idea of ceremonial purity comprised meticulous cleanliness, the wearing of white garments exclusively, and a very strict observance of the Sabbath.

In addition, the Essenes adhered to a different calendar than the one supported by the Temple authorities. Theirs was a 364-day solar calendar, which designated specific days of each year to any given festivity – so that, for example, Rosh Hashana and Passover were always celebrated on a Wednesday. This was in contrast to the Hasmonean, 354-day lunar calendar that the Essenes blamed for being too heavily influenced by the Babylonians. The fact that the two groups were celebrating Jewish holidays on different days only served to aggravate their growing disparities, and may have foreshadowed their eventual elimination around the second century B.C.E.

For more detailed information regarding the teachings and texts of the Essenes, visit TheNazareneWay.com.

Jesus of Nazareth Mary Magdalene: Mariamne Early Christianity
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