were members of a small Jewish religious order, originating
in the 2d cent. BC. The main 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
the Dead Sea Scrolls .
Essenes 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.
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.
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