Essenes
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A Jewish extremist monastic group, which flourished from the second century BCE to the second century CE, holding rigid and austere beliefs with Gnostic overtones. For the most part they shunned the company of women and held themselves aloof from Jewish society which they saw as worldly and corrupt.

For the most part the Essenes held themselves aloof from a Jewish society, which they saw as worldly and corrupt, and they shunned the company of women. The sect presumably arose in reaction to the Hasmoneans (Armstrong 1996:121). The Essenes resided above Ein Gedi and its spring (Cansdale and Crown 1994:28-29). There is insufficient literary or scientific evidence to link Khirbet Qumran with the Essenes although it has been popular to do so (Cansdale and Crown 1994:25-26; Davies 1994:126-142).

References in ancient literature bearing on an Essene presence in Jerusalem, in the first centuries before and after Jesus, include those in Philo Judaeus (Hypothetica 11.1–18; Colson 1960:437–443; Quod omnis probus liber sit 75–91; Colson 1960:53–63), Josephus (Antiquities 18.1.5, Wars 5.4.2; Whiston 1957:531, 780–781), Pliny the Elder (Naturalis Historia 5.15, 5.73; Rackham 1961:277), and Hippolytus (Rufutatio omnium haeresium 9.12–23; Roberts and Donaldson 1986:133–137; Wendland 1977:246–259). The Essenes, according to Bargil Pixner, had a major "camp" or "quarter" on Mt. Sion (Pixner 1976:245-275). Moreover, Richard Mackowski held that the material evidence on Mt. Sion shows that it "was not only the mahaneh of the Essenes during the time of Jesus, but also the birthplace of this extremely orthodox Jewish sect in Jerusalem" (Mackowski 1980:63 cf., 145).

In a description of the city walls of Jerusalem, as they were at the time of the First Jewish Revolt against imperial Rome (CE 66-70), Josephus wrote of the Gate of the Essenes as lying south of the Hippicus tower and Bethso, and east of the Pool of Siloam (Josephus Wars 5.4.2; Whiston 1957:781). This gate, according to Bargil Pixner, opened into the Jerusalem Essene community, living on Mt. Sion just inside the city wall, in the southwestern quarter of the ancient city (Pixner 1997:66). Pixner argued that in the early third century Judeo-Christians reconstructed this gate and a makeshift wall around their neighborhood to protect their Mt. Sion community and synagogue from outsiders (Pixner 1997:25, 29-31). At that time their synagogue, considered by some as the mother of all churches, was known as the church of the apostles and the holy Church of God.

While Jesus of Nazareth was not an Essene, the Last Supper, also known as the first Christian Passover, may have occurred in this Essene community. The Essene observance of the Passover was always on a Tuesday night (see The Essene Calendar). "To my mind" writes Bargil Pixner "this took place in the Essene guesthouse on Mount Zion on the Tuesday night" (Pixner 1992:64). If so, it could explain the persisting tradition that the first Lord’s Supper occurred in an upper room on Mt. Sion. Mackowski, concurring, held that this "must have been a very simple dining hall in keeping with the simple life of the Essenes" (Mackowski 1980:141).


Page last edited: 02/02/06 08:17 PM


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