(c. 150 B.C.-100 A.D.)
Dead Sea Scroll Fragment 7Q5
See also: The Catholic Encyclopedia s.v. "Essenes"
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Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVIII, Chapter 1
5. The doctrine of the Essens is this: That
all things are best ascribed to God. They teach the immortality of souls, and
esteem that the rewards of righteousness are to be earnestly striven for; and
when they send what they have dedicated to God into the temple, they do not
offer sacrifices because they have more pure lustrations of their own; on which
account they are excluded from the common court of the temple, but offer their
sacrifices themselves; yet is their course of life better than that of other
men; and they entirely addict themselves to husbandry.
It also deserves our admiration, how much
they exceed all other men that addict themselves to virtue, and this in
righteousness; and indeed to such a degree, that as it hath never appeared among
any other men, neither Greeks nor barbarians, no, not for a little time, so hath
it endured a long while among them. This is demonstrated by that institution of
theirs, which will not suffer any thing to hinder them from having all things in
common; so that a rich man enjoys no more of his own wealth than he who hath
nothing at all.
There are about four thousand men that live
in this way, and 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; but as they live by themselves, they minister one to another.
They also appoint certain stewards to receive the incomes of their revenues, and
of the fruits of the ground; such as are good men and priests, who are to get
their corn and their food ready for them. They none of them differ from others
of the Essens in their way of living, but do the most resemble those Dacae who
are called Polistae [dwellers in cities].
The Wars of the Jews, Book II, Chapter 8
2. For there are three philosophical sects among the Jews.
The followers of the first of which are the Pharisees; of the second, the
Sadducees; and the third sect, which pretends to a severer discipline, are
called Essenes. These last are Jews by birth, and seem to have a greater
affection for one another than the other sects have.
These Essenes reject pleasures as an evil, but esteem self
control, and the conquest over our passions, to be virtue. They neglect wedlock,
but choose out other person's children, while they are pliable, and fit for
learning, and esteem them to be of their kindred, and form them according to
their own manners. They do not absolutely deny the wellness of marriage, and the
succession of mankind thereby continued; but they guard against the carnal
behavior of women, and are persuaded that none of them preserve their fidelity
to one man.
3. These men are despisers of riches, and so very
communicative as raises our admiration. Nor is there any one to be found among
them who has more than another; for it is a law among them, that those who come
to them must let what they have be common to the whole order, insomuch that
among them all there is no appearance of poverty, or excess of riches, but
everyone's possessions are intermingled with every other's possessions; and so
there is, as it were, one inheritance among all the brethren.
They think that oil is a defilement; and if any one of
them be anointed without his own approval, it is wiped off his body; for they
think to be sweaty is a good thing, as they do also to be clothed in white
garments. They also have stewards appointed to take care of their common
affairs, who every one of them have no separate business for any, but what is
for the uses of them all.
4. They have no one certain city, but many of them dwell
in every city; and if any of their sect come from other places, what they have
lies open for them, just as if it were their own; and they go in to such as they
never knew before, as if they had been ever so long acquainted with them. For
which reason they carry nothing at all with them when they travel into remote
parts, though still they take their weapons with them, for fear of
Accordingly, there is, in every city where they live, one
appointed particularly to take care of strangers, and to provide garments and
other necessaries for them. But the habit and management of their bodies is such
as children use who are in fear of their masters. Nor do they allow of the
change of garments or of shoes till be first torn to pieces, or worn out by
time. Nor do they either buy or sell anything to one another; but every one of
them gives what he has to him that wants it, and receives from him again in lieu
of it what may be convenient for himself; and although there be no requital
made, they are fully allowed to take what they want of whomever they please.
5. And as for their piety towards God, it is very
extraordinary; for before sun-rising they speak not a word about profane
matters, but put up certain prayers which they have received from their
forefathers, as if they made a supplication for its rising. After this everyone
of them are sent away by their curators, to exercise some of those arts wherein
they are skilled, in which 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. And after this purification is over, they every one
meet together in an apartment of their own, into which it is not permitted to
any of another sect to enter; while they go, after a pure manner, into the
dining-room, as into a certain holy temple, and quietly set themselves down;
upon which the baker lays them loaves in order; the cook also brings a single
plate of one sort of food, and sets it before every one of them; but a priest
says grace before meals; and it is unlawful for anyone to taste of the food
before grace be said. The same priest, when he has dined, says grace again after
meat; and when they begin, and when they end, they praise God, as he that
bestows their food upon them; 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; and if there be any strangers there, they
sit down with them.
Nor is there ever any clamor or disturbance to pollute
their house, but they give everyone leave to speak in their turn; which silence
thus kept in their house appears to foreigners like some tremendous mystery; the
cause of which is that perpetual sobriety they exercise, and the same settled
measure of meat and drink that is allotted them, and that such as is abundantly
sufficient for them.
6. And truly, as for other things, they do nothing but
according to the injunctions of their curators; only these two things are done
among them at everyone's own free-will, which are to assist those that want it,
and to show mercy; for they are permitted of their own accord to afford succor
to such as deserve it, when they stand in need of it, and to bestow food on
those that are in distress; but they cannot give any thing to their kindred
without the curators.
They dispense their anger after a just manner, and
restrain their passion. They are eminent for fidelity, and are the ministers of
peace; whatever they say also is firmer than an oath; but swearing is avoided by
them, and they esteem it worse than perjury for they say that he who cannot be
believed without [swearing by] God is already condemned. They also take great
pains in studying the writings of the ancients, and choose out of them what is
most for the advantage of their soul and body; and they inquire after such roots
and medicinal stones as may cure their illnesses.
7. But now if any one has a mind to come over to their
sect, he is not immediately admitted, but he is prescribed the same method of
living which they use for a year, while he continues excluded; and they give him
also a small hatchet, and the aforementioned girdle, and the white garment. And
when he hath given evidence, during that time, that he can observe their
continence, he approaches nearer to their way of living, and is made a partaker
of the waters of purification; yet is he not even now admitted to live with
them; for after this demonstration of his fortitude, his temper is tried two
more years; and if he appear to be worthy, they then admit him into their
And before he is allowed to touch their common food, he is
obliged to take tremendous oaths, that, in the first place, he will exercise
piety towards God, and then that he will observe justice towards men, and that
he will do no harm to anyone, either of his own accord, or by the command of
others; that he will always hate the wicked, and be assistant to the righteous;
that he will ever show fidelity to all men, and especially to those in
authority, because no one obtains the government without God's assistance; and
that if he be in authority, he will at no time whatever abuse his authority, nor
endeavor to outshine his subjects either in his garments, or any other finery;
that he will be perpetually a lover of truth, and propose to himself to reprove
those that tell lies; that he will keep his hands clear from theft, and his soul
from unlawful gains; and that he will neither conceal any thing from those of
his own sect, nor discover any of their doctrines to others, no, not though
anyone should compel him so to do at the hazard of his life. Moreover, he swears
to communicate their doctrines to no one any otherwise than as he received them
himself; that he will abstain from robbery, and will equally preserve the books
belonging to their sect, and the names of the angels [or messengers]. These are
the oaths by which they secure their converts to themselves.
9. But in the judgments they exercise they are most
accurate and just, nor do they pass sentence by the votes of a court that is
fewer than a hundred. And as to what is once determined by that number, it is
unalterable. What they most of all honor, after God himself, is the name of
their legislator [Moses], whom if any one blaspheme he is punished with death.
They also think it a good thing to obey their elders, and the major part.
Accordingly, if ten of them be sitting together, no one of them will speak while
the other nine are against it.
They also avoid spitting in the midst of them, or on the
right side. Moreover, they are stricter than any other of the Jews in resting
from their labors on the seventh day; for they not only get their food ready the
day before, that they may not be obliged to kindle a fire on that day, but they
will not remove any vessel out of its place, nor go to stool thereon. No, on
other days they dig a small pit, a foot deep, with a paddle (which kind of
hatchet is given them when they are first admitted among them); and covering
themselves round with their garment, that they may not affront the Divine rays
of light, they ease themselves into that pit, after which they put the earth
that was dug out again into the pit; and even this they do only in the more
lonely places, which they choose out for this purpose; and although this
easement of the body be natural, yet it is a rule with them to wash themselves
after it, as if it were a defilement to them.
10. Now after the time of their preparatory trial is over,
they are parted into four classes; and so far are the juniors inferior to the
seniors, that if the seniors should be touched by the juniors, they must wash
themselves, as if they had intermixed themselves with the company of a
foreigner. They are long-lived also, insomuch that many of them live above a
hundred years, by means of the simplicity of their diet; no, as I think, by
means of the regular course of life they observe also.
They scorn the miseries of life, and are above pain, by
the generosity of their mind. And as for death, if it will be for their glory,
they esteem it better than living always; and indeed our war with the Romans
gave abundant evidence what great souls they had in their trials, wherein,
although they were tortured and distorted, burnt and torn to pieces, and went
through all kinds of instruments of torment, that they might be forced either to
blaspheme their legislator, or to eat what was forbidden them, yet could they
not be made to do either of them, no, nor once to flatter their tormentors, or
to shed a tear; but they smiled in their very pains, and laughed those to scorn
who inflicted the torments upon them, and resigned up their souls with great
alacrity, as expecting to receive them again.
11. For their doctrine is this: That bodies are
corruptible, and that the matter they are made of is not permanent; but that the
souls are immortal, and continue for ever; and that they come out of the most
subtle air, and are united to their bodies as to prisons, into which they are
drawn by a certain natural enticement; but that when they are set free from the
bonds of the flesh, they then, as released from a long bondage, rejoice and
mount upward. And this is like the opinions of the Greeks, that good souls have
their habitations beyond the ocean, in a region that is neither oppressed with
storms of rain or snow, or with intense heat, but that this place is such as is
refreshed by the gentle breathing of a west wind, that is perpetually blowing
from the ocean; while they allot to bad souls a dark and tempestuous den, full
of never-ceasing punishments.
And indeed the Greeks seem to me to have followed the same
notion, when they allot the islands of the blessed to their brave men, whom they
call heroes and demi-gods; and to the souls of the wicked, the region of the
ungodly, in Hades, where their fables relate that certain persons, such as
Sisyphus, and Tantalus, and Ixion, and Tityus, are punished; which is built on
this first supposition, that souls are immortal; and thence are those
exhortations to virtue and dissuasions from wickedness collected; whereby good
men are bettered in the conduct of their life by the hope they have of reward
after their death; and whereby the vehement inclinations of bad men to vice are
restrained, by the fear and expectation they are in, that although they should
lie concealed in this life, they should suffer immortal punishment after their
death. These are the Divine doctrines of the Essenes about the soul, which lay
an unavoidable bait for such as have once had a taste of their philosophy.
13. Moreover, there is another order of Essenes, who agree
with the rest as to their way of living, and customs, and laws, but differ from
them in the point of marriage, as thinking that by not marrying they cut off the
principal part of human life, which is the prospect of succession; nay, rather,
that if all men should be of the same opinion, the whole race of mankind would
fail. However, they try their spouses for three years; and if they find that
they have their natural purgations three times, as trials that they are likely
to be fruitful, they then actually marry them. But they do not have sex with
their wives when they are with child, as a demonstration that they do not marry
out of regard to pleasure, but for the sake of offspring. Now the women go into
the baths with some of their garments on, as the men do with somewhat girded
about them. And these are the customs of this order of Essenes.
14. But then as to the two other orders at first
mentioned, the Pharisees are those who are esteemed most skillful in the exact
explication of their laws, and introduce the first sect. These ascribe all to
fate [or providence], and to God, and yet allow, that to act what is right, or
the contrary, is principally in the power of men, although fate does co-operate
in every action. They say that all souls are incorruptible, but that the souls
of good men only are removed into other bodies, but that the souls of bad men
are subject to eternal punishment.
But the Sadducees are those that compose the second order,
and take away fate entirely, and suppose that God is not concerned in our doing
or not doing what is evil; and they say, that to act what is good, or what is
evil, is at men's own choice, and that the one or the other belongs so to every
one, that they may act as they please. They also take away the belief of the
immortal duration of the soul, and the punishments and rewards in Hades.
Moreover, the Pharisees are friendly to one another, and
are for the exercise of concord, and regard for the public; but the behavior of
the Sadducees one towards another is in some degree wild, and their conversation
with those that are of their own party is as barbarous as if they were strangers
to them. And this is what I had to say concerning the philosophic sects among