Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.


Essenes (ĕsˈēnz), members of a small Jewish religious order, originating in the 2d cent. B.C. The chief sources of information about the Essenes are Pliny the Elder, Philo's Quod omnius probus liber, Josephus' Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews, and (possibly) the Dead Sea Scrolls. The sect consisted of adult males and celibacy was encouraged. The Essenes lived as a highly organized community that held possessions in common. Ceremonial purity entailed scrupulous cleanliness, the wearing of only white garments, and the most strict observance of the Sabbath. The Essenes believed in the immortality of the soul. Their practice, common among many Jewish groups, of purification through ritual immersion may have been a significant influence on the development of the rite of baptism in the early Christian church. They condemned slavery and prohibited trading because it led to covetousness and cheating; they avoided luxury, abhorred untruthfulness and forbade oaths, with the one exception of the oath a new member took after two years of probation. In this oath, the member pledged piety toward God, justice to men, honesty with fellow Essenes, preservation of the sect's secrets, and proper transmission of its teachings. The Essenes subsisted by pastoral and agricultural activities and handicrafts; they avoided the manufacture of weapons. There is evidence of Persian and Hellenistic influences in the sect's thought. The Essenes' belief in several Messiahs is thought by some to have been a major influence in the development of Christianity. The sect ceased to exist sometime in the 2d cent. A.D.


See D. Howlett, The Essenes and Christianity (1957); A. Dupont-Sommer, The Essene Writings from Qumran (tr. 1961, repr. 1967); M. A. Larson, The Essene Heritage (1967); G. Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls (1978); P. R. Davies, Behind the Essenes: History and Ideology in the Dead Sea Scrolls (1987).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



members of a social and religious movement in Judea during the late second and first centuries B.C. The Essenes were among the forerunners of Christianity. According to the classical authors Philo of Alexandria, Pliny the Elder, Josephus Flavius, and Hippolytus, they lived apart in communes, usually holding property in common and working and living collectively. Their teaching condemned war, slavery, and commerce, rejected blood sacrifices, and introduced a special series of ritual purifications. Some Essenes led celibate lives. The movement represented a passive protest by the masses of Judea against internal and external oppression. After the First Roman War (in Russian, the Judean War of 66–73) part of the sect joined with Judeo-Christian communities. A new source for the study of this group was provided in 1947 by the discovery of manuscripts from the Qumran Essene community in the Dead Sea area.


Amusin, I. D. Rukopisi Mertvogo moria. Moscow, 1960.
Amusin, I.-D. Teksty Kumrana. Moscow, 1971.
Kosmala, N, Hebräer-Essener-Christen. Leiden, 1959.
Wagner, S. Die Essener in der wissenschaftlichen Diskussion. Berlin’ 1960.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
The apostle Paul, coming from outside Judaea, may have known little or nothing of the Essenes, but many scholars, such as Niko Huttunen and Paula Fredriksen, have shown how his thinking was influenced by the Stoic philosophers--not surprising since Tarsus, where Paul was born, was a center of Hellenistic Judaism.
Ruben Miller, PhD, has been researching this topic of the Cayce readings for many decades and personally met and knew some of the reincarnated Essenes to whom Cayce gave readings.
Thus, we could say that what would later lead to the practice of secular naturopathy today was the Christian practice of nature cure, dietary reform, herbalism, and hygiene beginning with the Therapeutae (Essenes) and developing through Christianity of Europe.
The following section provides an overview of the Essenes and describes how their beliefs compare to other religious communities of the time.
He just keeps flopping around these offbeat things like the Essenes and Gnostics and Rosicrucians."
Such communal sharing would not have been foreign to first-century Jewish believers familiar with similar communal practices among the Essenes (chapter 8).
Prior critical studies have noted that Josephus has Hellenized the beliefs of the Pharisees and Essenes on the future life.
Pico may have included the Essenes in his program for the decoration of his Pliny, but we must not be too much influenced by what we have learnt since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
There is debate over their authorship but many scholars believe they were written by the Essenes, a Jewish religious order.
Chapter 3 consists of a valuable discussion of utopian movements in early Judaism, most notably (but not exclusively) the Essenes and the Therapeutae, which the author quite rightly calls "the two best examples of ancient utopian communities" (53).
In Tabor's view--much contested by others--Qumran was inhabited by the Essenes, an ascetic sect whose members followed Deuteronomy and related moral codes literally; so literally, in fact, that when Tabor and his colleague Joe Zias retraced the directions for digging latrines, they're pretty sure they found ones dug by the sect.
We also have a much richer sense of Jesus' Jewish identity and of the complex and changing network of relationships within the Jewish community of his day, of the interplay and conflicts between the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots, and of the ways these groups collaborated with or resisted the Herodians and Romans.