The Life of Jesus in Harmony
THE ESSENES according to Josephus
The Essenes are not mentioned in the New Testament, or the Talmud, but they
are well known in other sources like Philo, Josephus, and the elder Pliny. The
Essenes have been described as " primarily nothing but a more emphatic
Pharisaism." In the time of our Lord, there were apparently only about 4,000 of them.
JOSEPHUS, who had essayed Essenism in his youth, describes them at
considerable length (" The Jewish Wars " 2: 8, 2 and 3). He declares that their piety was
extraordinary; they offered prayers in traditional form at sunrise, followed by
manual labor until midday; then they bathed in cold water, dressed in white,
ate a communal meal preceded and followed by grace; then, changing into their
working clothes, they labored until the evening, and returned to supper in the
Their manners were very quiet, and their lives extremely simple and chaste,
although marriage was permitted if used solely for the continuance of the race. They practiced
a sort of community of goods.
Although they were profoundly devout and genuinely patriotic Jews, as was
clear when the Roman war broke out again, they did not share in the Temple sacrifices, as they had purer ones of their own-whatever that statement may
mean; perhaps, that they did not practice animal sacrifices. Nevertheless, they
sent contributions to the upkeep of the Temple.
Candidates for membership had to go through a strenuous training for three
years before ful1 admission, after which their special doctrines were taught under
vows of secrecy. These vows also included a promise to preserve their special
books, and not to reveal the names of angels. If they fell into heinous sin,
they were made to eat grass till they died of hunger.
Their special beliefs included a doctrine of the immortality of the soul, but
not of the body; good souls, when released from the body, mounted upwards,
while bad souls were allotted a dark and tempestuous den, full of never-ceasing
punishments. They urged, therefore, that the reward of righteousness had to be
earnestly striven for, and yet, according to Philo, " the Essenes exempted nothing
from the sway of fate" (Quod Omris I 2).