Who Were the Essenes?

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The origin of the Essenes is something of a mystery.

The New Testament is one the best sources of information on the Second Temple period, and one of the most important groups of that era was the mysterious and monk-like Essenes. So it is especially curious that the New Testament never directly mentions the Essenes. Its failure to discuss the Essenes openly is even more curious in view of the fact that Josephus held them to be as significant as the Pharisees or the Sadducees.


Philo of Alexandria estimates that only four thousand members belonged to one of the various branches of the sect. The majority lived on the western shore of the Dead Sea far removed from where Jesus conducted most of his ministry, but small groups of Essenes were also scattered throughout the Galilee and Judea, as well as in Jerusalem itself.

The origin of the Essenes is something of a mystery. It seems that they began to emerge during or soon after the reign of the Hasmonean monarch John Hyrcanus (135–104 B.C.). Along with the Pharisees, they may have developed from the Hassidim, a faction of pious Jewish sages that resisted the nationalist aspirations and what they saw as the apostasy of the Hasmonean kings.

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This article originally appeared in issue 27 of the Jerusalem Perspective magazine. Click on the image above to view a PDF of the original magazine article.

Comments 2

  1. Hello,

    Where exactly did the information about excommunication come from? Is that what Josephus said or was it in one of the scrolls?


    1. JP

      Regulations concerning excommunication and other censures in the Qumran Community can be found in the “Community Rule” or “Manual of Discipline” (1QS VI, 24ff; IX, 1-2).

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  • David Pileggi

    David Pileggi

    David Pileggi lives in Jerusalem with his wife Carol and their three adult children where he is the rector of Christ Church in the Old City of Jerusalem. They have lived in Israel for 33 years where David has worked as a journalist/researcher and for…
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