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A Jewish ascetic sect, which was originally based upon sun- worshipping of Persian anchorites. Eventually it developed into a sect based on Jain yogis claiming to be able to perform miracles by living separately from the world and practicing extreme self-denial. One large Essenic community was in the Qumran region from 110 BC to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. It was vacant during the reign of Herd, 31 - 4 BC and especially after a large earthquake in 31 BC.
It is believed among their prominent members were John the Baptist, Jesus and Simon Magus the founder of Gnosticism. One indication that Christ may have been an Essene was that He criticized the Scribes and Pharisees, but never the Essenes. It is, also, speculated that those following Christ were called Essenes before they were known as Christians.
The Essenes possessed a hierarchy. The chief priest was known as Christos (Anointed One), "head of the whole Congregation of israel." The ordinary priests were called "sons of Aaron," and there was another functionary known as the Messiah of Israel. He also was known as the Teacher of Righteousness and was to undergo and suffer physical abuse in atonement for the sins of the whole community, enduring "vindictive sentences of scourging and the terrors of painful sicknesses, and vengeance on his fleshly body."
The Essenic view of the world seemed to be one of predeterminism. Their eternal and omnipotent God not only knew everything that would occur in the world but also arranged for it to happen. Within this predestined arrangement there were two ways that involve a macrocosm and a microcosm. In God's plan the two ways are the ways of light and darkness, or the ways of good and evilness. Quantities of light and darkness exist in the entire universe, angels and men. The opposite quantities are in constant battle. This battle between the two is macrocosmic, universal, as well as microcosmic, in men. God holds the duality in constant control and knows the eventual outcome.
It was believed that after the final battle in this war of light against darkness that each angel and man would be judged according to his actions to these elements of light and darkness.
The preferred explanation as to how sin entered the world for the Essenes at Qumran seemed not to be the sin of Adam (see Gen. 6:1- 4) but the acts of the fallen angels as recorded in the Book of Enoch. Heavenly angels saw daughters of men and mated with them. They and their offspring, the giants, introduced a superhuman quality of evil into human society. This, the Watcher, myth seemed to be more important in Qumran thought because it presupposes that evil existed in the heavenly realm before hand.
Descriptions of Essenic life come from ancient writers such as Josephus, Pliny and others. They described how the Essenes viewed pleasures as evil, and saw continence and conquest of passions to be virtuous. Their writings have led to confusion concerning marriage, sex and children within the communities. They implied the Essenes abstained from marriage and sex but in many of the excavations of the Dead Sea Scrolls skeletons of women and children have been founds at almost all of the communities, even Qumran, leading investigators to speculate that the communities were not devoid of women and sex. The Qumran documents, the Rule of Congregation and Manual of Discipline, refer to women and children as part of the group. The Damascus Document specifies how children of members should be admitted by training them in the ways of the sect. Other theories are there were married members when the communities were formed, but marriage was abandoned when either partner died. Or, the women and children might have been visiting relatives in the communities and/or were travelers who died in the arid region.
These religious anchorites issued strict sentences on those who broke rules of the community. Partial starvation was the most common punishment for infraction of communal rules. Some sentences lasted for as long as two or more years.
The Essenes called themselves Therapeutae, "healers," claiming that their austere lifestyle gave them the power to cast out demons of sickness and even to restore life of the dead. Considering this, Christ raising Lazarus from the dead seems a typical Essenic miracle. Others have wondered if such an event could not have occurred after Christ was lain in the tomb following his crucifixion. Essenes might have been waiting in the tomb to revive him.
Due to the various spellings of "Essene" the word could also mean "pious one," or "doers," or "doers of the Torah" All of these meanings seem to have been derived from the word.
It seems that Christ used the Essenic method of exorcism when driving out demons, especially in the Gadarene swine. Christ like the Essenes demanded the leading demon tell his name. Knowing the name had magical significance and gave control over the demons. (See Law of Names) Christ gave his sacred name only to his apostles by which they practiced exorcism, meaning only a few of the early Christians were given this power.
All who joined the sect gave away or sold there worldly goods and gave the profits to the sect's leaders. Whether some of the first communities were called Essenic or Christian the rules were harsh and stern. There was no relenting. This is seen in an event which occurred in one of the first communities. A husband and wife, Ananias and Sapphira, sold their property and gave the proceeds to the community. It was discovered the couple had kept some of the proceeds back for themselves without telling the community. When St. Peter questioned the husband about this and accused him of lying to the Holy Spirit the man fell dead. When Peter later questioned the wife about this, she too suffered the same fate upon hearing what had happened to her husband. The local authorities later arrested Peter and some of the group for murder, but they miraculously escaped. (Acts 5:2-10,18-19)
This seems peculiar behavior among people who were preaching to the world about their loving, omniscient God, loving thy neighbor, forgiveness and doing good to others. The Holy Spirit was and is said to be the Spirit of God. If God is omniscient, or all knowing, then the man and wife could not lie to the Spirit, because the Spirit knew before hand what they would do.
Regardless of their vows of poverty on earth, the Essenes shared grandiose visions of their rewards of wealth and power after the destruction of this world. The and the early Christians thought, as most Christians are expected to think today, this world is only a testing place to determine whether the immortal soul deserves the eternal reward or punishment of heaven or hell. The world or earth itself was not worth preserving or caring for because they believed in the end God would destroy this world and build a more perfect one. When being resurrected in this perfect world they believed they world live in glorified and perfect bodies. This seems to be a hope of attaining in an eternal future the things which one cannot attain in the present.
As always the Essenes saw themselves as the holy ones in the brotherhood of "The Sons of Light." Everyone else was evil, called "The Sons of Darkness," or the "men of the Pit." All were to participate in "The War of the Sons of Light with Sons of Darkness."
There are other stories concerning the Essenes. Whether true or not hardly anyone knows. Much would depend upon the reader and what he wants to believe. Some say Christ perceived his idea of hell from them. If true, this certainly calls to question Christ's divinity; or, if he was divine, did he possess divine knowledge while on earth?
Many in the Qumran survived the earthquake in 31 BC and said it was the sign of the Last Days and poured forth to preach their message. This was according to Josephus in 70 AD, who said many Messiahs and Christs emerged. So the end of the world was predicted long before it was recorded in the New Testament.
Perhaps this shocks many Christians that claim their religion is the true religion and the Bible is the word of God. But when examining the Essenic teachings one sees established the foundation of Christianity. Within these teachings are the identical concepts of sin, the evilness of wordily and fleshly pleasures, the denial of self and sex, the war between the forces of good and evil, the powers of healing and exorcism, and finally the sacrifice of one in atonement for the sins of many. In brief, the entire Christian religion was laid out or foreshadowed within the doctrines of the Essenes, men who saw nature and life as evil.
A major part of the world which professes Christianity stills lives under times of tribulation. It is not surprising Saint Augustine easily could suppress his Manichaenism on the people. The Church readily acclaimed this to be the peoples' just way of life. However, many question this acclamation when looking at the world's present state. All of the horrendous sufferings of the past seem not to have bettered the nature of humankind nor changed the ways of the world. A.G.H.
Sources: 2, 56, 57.