Commentary on the Epistles of St. Paul




J. B. Lightfoot



I. The Name Essene

II. Origin and Affinity of the Essenes

III. Essenism and Christianity


I. The Name Essene.

The name is variously written in Greek:


1. ’EsshnoV: Joseph. Ant. xiii. 5. 9, xiii. 10. 6, xv. 10. 5, xviii. 1. 2, 5, B. J. ii. 8. 2, 13, Vit. 2; Plin. N. H. v. 15. 17 (Essenus); Dion Chrys. in Synes. Dion 3; Hippol. Haer. ix. 18, 28 (MS eshnoV); Epiphan. Haer. p. 28 sq., 127 (ed. Pet.).


2. ’EssaioV: Philo II. pp. 457, 471, 632 (ed. Mang.); Hegesippus in Euseb. H. E. iv. 22; Porphyr. de Abstin. iv. II. So too Joseph. B. J.  ii. 7. 3, ii. 20. 4, iii. 2. 1; Ant. xv. 10. 4; though in the immediate context of this last passage he writes ’EsshnoV, if the common texts may be trusted.


3. ’OssaioV: Epiphan. Haer. pp. 40 sq. 125, 462. The common texts very frequently make him write ’OsshnoV, but see Dindorf’s notes, Epiphan. Op. I. pp. 380, 425. With Epiphanius the Essenes are a Samaritan, the Ossæans a Judaic sect. He has evidently got his information from two distinct sources, and does not see that the same persons are intended.


4. ’IessaioV, Epiphan. Haer. p. 117. From the connexion the same sect again seems to be meant: but owing to the form Epiphanius conjectures (oimai) that the name is derived from Jesse, the father of David.


If any certain example could be produced where the name occurs in any early Hebrew or Aramaic writing, the question of its derivation would probably be settled; but in the absence of a single decisive instance a wide field is opened for conjecture, and critics have not been backward in availing themselves of the license. In discussing the claims of the different etymologies proposed we may reject:


First: derivations from the Greek. Thus Philo connects the word with osioV ‘holy’: Quod omn. prob. 12, p. 457 ’Essaioi...dialektou ellhnikhV parwnumoi osiothtoV, § 13, p. 459 twnEssaiwn h osiwn, Fragm. p. 632 kalountai men Essaioi, para thn osiothta, moi dokw [dokei?], thV proshgoriaV aziwqenteV. It is not quite clear whether Philo is here playing with words after the manner of his master Plato, or whether he holds a pre-established harmony to exist among different languages by which similar sounds represent similar things, or whether lastly he seriously means that the name was directly derived from the Greek word osioV. The last supposition is the least probable; but he certainly does not reject this derivation ‘as incorrect’ (Ginsburg Essenes p. 27), nor can parwnumoi osiothtoV be rendered ‘from an incorrect derivation from the Greek homonym hosiotes’ (ib. p. 32), since the word parwnumoV never involves the notion of false etymology. The amount of truth which probably underlies Philo’s statement will be considered hereafter. Another Greek derivation is isoV, ‘companion, associate,’ suggested by Rapoport, Erech Millin p. 41. Several others again are suggested by Lowy, s.v. Essaer, e.g. esw from their esoteric doctrine, or aisa from their fatalism. All such may be rejected as instances of ingenious trifling, if indeed they deserve to be called ingenious.


Secondly: derivations from proper names whether of persons or of places. Thus the word has been derived from Jesse the father of David (Epiphan. l. c.), or from one y#y Isai, the disciple of R. Joshua ben Perachia who migrated to Egypt in the time of Alexander Jannæus (Low in Ben Chananja I. p. 352). Again it has been referred to the town Essa (a doubtful reading in Joseph. Ant. xiii. 15. 3) beyond the Jordan. And other similar derivations have been suggested.


Thirdly: etymologies from the Hebrew or Aramaic, which do not supply the right consonants, or do not supply them in the right order. Under this head several must be rejected:


rs) asar ‘to bind,’ Adler Volkslehrer VI. p. 50, referred to by Ginsburg Essenes p. 29.


dysx chasid ‘pious,’ which is represented by ’AsidaioV (1 Macc. ii. 42 (v. l.), vii. 15, 2 Macc. xiv. 6), and could not possibly assume the form ’EssaioV or ’EsshnoV. Yet this derivation appears in Josippon ben Gorion (iv. 6, 7, v. 24, pp. 274, 278, 451), who substitutes Chasidim in narratives where the Essenes are mentioned in the original of Josephus; and it has been adopted by many more recent writers.


)xs s’cha ‘to bathe,’ from which with an Aleph prefixed we might get y)xs) as’chai ‘bathers’ (a word however which does not occur): Gratz Gesch. der Juden III. pp. 82, 468.


(wnc tsannua ‘retired, modest,’ adopted by Frankel (Zeitschrift 1846, p. 449, Monatsschrift II. p. 32) after a suggestion by Low.


To this category must be assigned those etymologies which contain a z as the third consonant of the root; since the comparison of the parallel forms ’EssaioV and ’EsshnoV shows that in the latter word the n is only formative. On this ground we must reject:


Nysx chasin; see below under Ny#(.


Ncx chotsen ‘a fold’ of a garment, and so supposed to signify the perizwma or ‘apron,’ which was given to every neophyte among the Essenes (Joseph. B. J. ii. 8. 5, 7): suggested by Jellinek Ben Chananja IV. p. 374.


Ny#( ashin ‘strong’: see Cohn in Frankel’s Monatsschrift VII. p. 271. This etymology is suggested to explain Epiphanius Haer. p. 40 touto de to genoV twn Osshnwn ermhneuetai dia thV ekdosewV tou onomatoV stibaron genoV (‘a sturdy race’). The name ‘Essene’ is so interpreted also in Makrisi (de Sacy, Chrestom. Arab. I. p. 114, 306); but, as he himself writes it with Elif and Ain, it is plain that he got this interpretation from some one else, probably from Epiphanius. The correct reading however in Epiphanius is ’Ossaiwn, not ’Osshnwn; and it would therefore appear that this father or his informant derived the word from the Hebrew root zz( rather than from the Aramiac N#(. the ’Ossaioi would then be the Myz(, and this is so far a possible derivation, that the n does not enter into the root. Another word suggested to explain the etymology of Epiphanius is the Hebrew and Aramaic Nysx chasin ‘powerful, strong’ (from Nsx);  but this is open to the same objections as Ny#(.


When all such derivations are eliminated as untenable or improbable, considerable uncertainty still remains. The 1st and 3rd radicals might be any of the gutturals ), h, x, (; and the Greek s, as the 2nd radical, might represent any one of several Shemitic sibilants.


Thus we have the choice of the following etymologies, which have found more or less favour.


(1) )s) asa ‘to heal,’ whence )ys) asya, ‘a physician.’ The Essenes are supposed to be so called because Josephus states (B. J. ii. 8. 6) that they paid great attention to the qualities of herbs and minerals with a view to the healing of diseases (proV qerapeian paqwn). This etymology is supported likewise by an appeal to the name qerapeutai, which Philo gives to an allied sect in Egypt (de Vit. Cont. § I, II. p. 471). It seems highly improbable however, that the ordinary name of the Essenes should have been derived from a pursuit which was merely secondary and incidental; while the supposed analogy of the Therapeutæ rests on a wrong interpretation of the word. Philo indeed (l. c.), bent upon extracting from it as much moral significance as possible, says, qerapeutai kai qerapeutrideV kalountai, htoi par oson iatrikhn epaggellontai kreissona thV kata poleiV (h men gar swmata qerapeuei monon, ekeinh de kai yucaV k.t.l.) h par oson ek fusewV kai twn ierwn nomwn epaideuqhsan qerapeuein to on k.t.l.: but the latter meaning alone accords with the usage of the word; for qerapeuthV, used absolutely, signifies ‘a worshipper, devotee,’ not ‘a physician, healer.’ This etymology of ’EssaioV is ascribed, though wrongly, to Philo by Asaria de’Rossi (Meor Enayim 3, fol. 33 a) and has been very widely received. Among more recent writers, who have adopted or favoured it, are Bellermann (Ueber Essaer u. Therapeuten p. 7), Gfrorer (Philo II. p. 341), Dahne (Ersch u. Gruber, s.v.), Baur (Christl. Kirche der drei erst. Jahrh. p. 20), Herzfeld (Gesch. des Judenthums II. p. 371, 395, 397 sq.), Geiger (Urschrift p. 126), Derenbourg (L’Histoire et la Geographie de la Palestine pp. 170, 175, notes), Keim (Jesus von Nazara I. p. 284 sq.), and Hamburger (Real-Encyclopadie fur Bibel u. Talmud, s.v.). Several of these writers identify the Essenes with the Baithusians (Nyswtyb) of the Talmud, though in the Talmud the Baithusians are connected with the Sadducees. This identification was suggested by Asaria de’Rossi (l. c. fol. 33 b), who interprets ‘Baithusians’ as ‘the school of the Essenes’ ()ysy) tyb): while subsequent writers, going a step further, have explained it ‘the school of the physicians’ ()ys) tyb).


(2) )zx chaza ‘to see,’ whence )yzx chazya ‘a seer,’ in reference to the prophetic powers which the Essenes claimed, as the result of ascetic contemplation: Joseph. B. J. ii. 8. 12 eisi de en autoiV oi kai ta mellonta proginwskein upiscnountai k.t.l. For instances of such Essene prophets see Ant. xiii. II. 2, xv. 10. 5, B. J. i. 3. 5, ii. 7. 3. Suidas, s.v. ’Essaioi, says: qewria ta polla paramenousin, enqen kai Essaioi kalountai, touto dhlountoV, toutesti, qewrhtikoi. For this derivation, which was suggested by Baumgarten (see Bellermann p. 10) and is adopted by Hilgenfeld (Jud. Apocal. p. 278), there is something to be said: but )zx is rather oran than qewrein; and thus it must denote the result rather than the process, the vision which was the privilege of the few rather than the contemplation which was the duty of all. Indeed in a later paper (Zeitschr. xi, p. 346, 1868) Hilgenfeld expresses himself doubtfully about this derivation, feeling the difficulty of explaining the ss from the z. This is a real objection. In the transliteration of the LXX the z is persistently represented by z, and the c by s. The exceptions to this rule, where the manuscript authority is beyond question, are very few, and in every case they seem capable of explanation by peculiar circumstances.


(3) h#( asah ‘to do,’ so that ’Essaioi would signify ‘the doers, the observers of the law,’ thus referring to the strictness of Essene practices: see Oppenheim in Frankel’s Monatsschrift vii. p. 272 sq. It has been suggested also that, as the Pharisees were especially designated the teachers, the Essenes were called the ‘doers’ by a sort of antithesis: see an article in Jost’s Annalen 1839, p. 145. Thus the Talmudic phrase h#(m y#n), interpreted ‘men of practice, of good deeds,’ is supposed to refer to the Essenes (see Frankel’s Zeitschrift III. p. 458, Monatsschrift II. p. 70). In some passages indeed (see Surenhuis Mishna III. p. 313) it may possibly mean ‘workers of miracles’ (as ergon John 5:20, 7:21, 10:25, etc.); but in this sense also it might be explained of the thaumaturgic powers claimed by the Essenes. On the use which has been made of a passage in the Aboth of R. Nathan c. 37, as supporting this derivation, I shall have to speak hereafter. Altogether this etymology has little or nothing to recommend it.


I have reserved to the last the two derivations which seem to deserve most consideration.


(4) [Syriac] chasi ([Syriac] ch’se) or [Syriac] chasyo, ‘pious,’ in Syriac. This derivation, which is also given by de Sacy (Chrestom. Arab. I. p. 347), is adopted by Ewald (Gesch. des V. Isr. IV. p. 484, ed. 3, 1864, VII. pp. 154, 477, ed. 2, 1859), who abandons in its favour another etymology (Nzx chazzan ‘watcher, worshipper’ = qerapeuthV) which he had suggested in an earlier edition of his fourth volume (p. 420). It is recommended by the fact that it resembles not only in sound, but in meaning, the Greek osioV, of which it is a common rendering in the Peshito (Acts 2:27, 13:35; Titus 1:8). Thus it explains the derivation given by Philo, and it also accounts for the tendency to write ’OssaioV for ’EssaioV in Greek. Ewald moreover points out how an Essenizing Sibylline poem (Orac. Sib. iv) dwells on the Greek equivalents, eusebhV, eusebih, etc. (vv. 26, 35, 42 sq., 148 sq., 162, 165 sq., 178 sq., ed. Alexandre), as if they had a special value for the writer: see Gesch. VII. p. 154, Sibyll. Bucher p. 46. Lipsius (Schenkel’s Bibel-Lexicon, s.v.) also considers this the most probable etymology.


(5) )#x chasha (also h#x) Heb. ‘to be silent’; whence My)#x chashshaim ‘the silent ones,’ who meditate on mysteries. Jose (Gesch. d. Judenth. I. p. 207) believes that this was the derivation accepted by Josephus, since he elsewhere (Ant. iii. 7. 5, iii. 8. 9) writes out N#x, choshen ‘the high-priest’s breast-plate’ (Exo 28:15 sq.), esshn or esshnhV in Greek, and explains it shmainei touto kata thn Ellhnwn glwttan logeion (i.e. the ‘place of oracles’ or ‘of reason’: comp. Philo de Mon. ii. § 5, II. p. 226, kaleitai logeion etumwV, epeidh ta en ouranw panta logoiV kai analogiaiV dedhmiourghtai k.t.l.), as it is translated in the LXX. Even though modern critics should be right in connecting N#x with the Arab. [Arabic] ‘pulcher fuit, ornavit’ (see Gesen. Thes. p. 535, s.v.), the other derivation may have prevailed in Josephus’ time. We may illustrate this derivation by Josephus’ description of the Essenes, B. J.  ii. 8. 5 toiV ezwqen wV musthrion ti frikton h twn endon siwph katafainetai; and perhaps this will also explain the Greek equivalent qewrhtikoi, which Suidas gives for ’Essaioi. The use of the Hebrew word My)#x in Mishna Shekalim v. 6, though we need not suppose that the Essenes are there meant, will serve to show how it might be adopted as the name of the sect. On this word see Levy Chaldaisches Worterbuch p. 287. On the whole this seems the most probable etymology of any, though it has not found so much favour as the last. At all events the rules of transliteration are entirely satisfied, and this can hardly be said of the other derivations which come into competition with it.


II. Origin and Affinities of the Essenes.

The ruling principle of the Restoration under Ezra was the isolation of the Jewish people from all influences of the surrounding nations. Only by the rigorous application of this principle was it possible to guard the nationality of the Hebrews, and thus to preserve the sacred deposit of religious truth of which this nationality was the husk. Hence the strictest attention was paid to the Levitical ordinances, and more especially to those which aimed at ceremonial purity. The principle, which was thus distinctly asserted at the period of the national revival, gained force and concentration at a later date from the active antagonism to which the patriotic Jews were driven by the religious and political aggressions of the Syrian kings. During the Maccabæn wars we read of a party or sect called the Chasisim or Asidæns (’Asidaioi), the ‘pious’ or ‘devout,’ who zealous in their observance of the ceremonial law stoutly resisted any concession to the practices of Hellenism, and took their place in the van of the struggle with their national enemies, the Antiochene monarchs (1 Macc ii. 42, vii. 13; 2 Macc xiv. 6). But, though their names appear now for the first time, they are not mentioned as a newly formed party; and it is probable that they had their origin at a much earlier date.


The subsequent history of this tendency to exclusiveness and isolation is wrapt in the same obscurity. At a somewhat later date it is exhibited in the Pharisees and the Essenes; but whether these were historically connected with the Chasidim as divergent offshoots of the original sect, or whether they represent independent developments of the same principle, we are without the proper data for deciding. The principle itself appears in the name of the Pharisees, which, as denoting ‘separation,’ points to the avoidance of all foreign and contaminating influences. On the other hand the meaning of the name Essene is uncertain, for the attempt to derive it directly from Chasidim must be abandoned; but the tendency of the sect is unmistakable. If with the Pharisees ceremonial purity was a principal aim, with the Essenes it was an absorbing passion. It was enforced and guarded moreover by a special organization. While the Pharisees were a sect, the Essenes were an order. Like the Pythagoreans in Magna Græcia and the Buddhists in India before them, like the Christian monks of the Egyptian and Syrian deserts after them, they were formed into a religious brotherhood, fenced about by minute and rigid rules, and carefully guarded from any contamination with the outer world.


Thus the sect may have arisen in the heart of Judaism. The idea of ceremonial purity was essentially Judaic. But still, when we turn to the representations of Philo and Josephus, it is impossible to overlook other traits which betoken foreign affinities. Whatever the Essenes may have been in their origin, at the Christian era at least and in the Apostolic age they no longer represented the current type of religious thought and practice among the Jews. This foreign element has been derived by some from the Pythagoreans, by others from the Syrians or Persians or even from the farther East; but, whether Greek or Oriental, its existence has until lately been almost universally allowed.


The investigations of Frankel, published first in 1846 in his Zeitschrift, and continued in 1853 in his Monatsschrift, have given a different direction to current opinion. Frankel maintains that Essenism was a purely indigenous growth, that it is only Pharisaism in an exaggerated form, and that it has nothing distinctive and owes nothing, or next to nothing, to foreign influences. To establish this point, he disparages the representation of Philo and Josephus as coloured to suit the tastes of their heathen readers, while in their place he brings forward as authorities a number of passages from talmudical and rabbinical writings, in which he discovers references to this sect. In this view he is followed implicitly by some later writers, and has largely influenced the opinions of others; while nearly all speak of his investigations as throwing great light on the subject.


It is perhaps dangerous to dissent from a view which has found so much favour; but nevertheless I am obliged to confess my belief that, whatever value Frankel’s investigations may have as contributions to our knowledge of Jewish religious thought and practice, they throw little or no light on the Essenes specially; and that the blind acceptance of his results by later writers has greatly obscured the distinctive features of this sect. I cannot but think that any one, who will investigate Frankel’s references and test his results step by step, will arrive at the conclusion to which I myself have been led, that his talmudical researches have left our knowledge of this sect where it was before, and that we must still refer to Josephus and Philo for any precise information respecting them.


Frankel starts from the etymology of the name. He supposes the ’EssaioV, EsshnoV, represent two different Hebrew words, the former dysx chasid, the latter (wnc tsannua, both clothed in suitable Greek dresses. Wherever therefore either of these words occurs, there is, or there may be, a direct reference to the Essenes.


It is not too much to say that these etymologies are impossible; and this for several reasons. (1) The two words ’EssaioV, EsshnoV, are plainly duplicate forms of the same Hebrew or Aramaic original, like SamyaioV and SamyhnoV (Epiphan. Haer. pp. 40, 47, 127, and even SamyithV p. 46), NazwraioV and NazarhnoV, GittaioV and GitthnoV (Steph. Byz. s.v., Hippol. Haer. vi. 7), with which we may compare BostraioV and BostrhnoV, MelitaioV and MelithnoV, and numberless other examples. (2) Again; when we consider either word singly, the derivation offered is attended with the most serious difficulties. There is no reason why in ’EssaioV the d should have disappeared from chasid, while it is hardly possible to conceive that tsannua should have taken such an incongruous form as ’EsshnoV. (3) And lastly; the more important of the two words, chasid, had already a recognized Greek equivalent in ’AsidaioV; and it seems highly improbable that a form so divergent as ’EssaioV should have taken its place.


Indeed Frankel’s derivations are generally, if not universally, abandoned by later writers; and yet these same writers repeat his quotations and accept his results, as if the references were equally valid, though the name of the sect has disappeared. They seem to be satisfied with the stability of the edifice, even when the foundation is undermined. Thus for instance Gratz not only maintains after Frankel that the Essenes ‘were properly nothing more than stationary or, more strictly speaking, logically consistent (consequente) Chasidim,’ and ‘that therefore they were not so far removed from the Pharisees that they can be regarded as a separate sect,’ and ‘accepts entirely these results’ which, as he says, ‘rest on critical investigation’ (III. p. 463), but even boldly translates chasiduth ‘the Essene mode of life’ (ib. 84), though he himself gives a wholly different derivation of the word ‘Essene,’ making it signify ‘washers’ or ‘baptists.’ And even those who do not go to this length of inconsistency, yet avail themselves freely of the passages where chasid occurs, and interpret it of the Essenes, while distinctly repudiating the etymology.


But, although ’EssaioV or ’EsshnoV is not a Greek form of chasid, it might still happen that this word was applied to them as an epithet, though not as a proper name. Only in this case the reference ought to be unmistakable, before any conclusions are based upon it. But in fact, after going through all the passages, which Frankel gives, it is impossible to feel satisfied that in a single instance there is a direct allusion to the Essenes. Sometimes the word seems to refer to the old sect of the Chasidim or Asidæns, as for instance when Jose ben Joezer, who lived during the Maccabæn war, is called a chasid (Mishna Chagigah 2.7). At all events this R. Jose is known to have been a married man, for he is stated to have disinherited his children (Baba Bathra 133b); and therefore he cannot have belonged to the stricter order of Essenes. Sometimes it is employed quite generally to denote pious observers of the ceremonial law, as for instance when it is said that with the death of certain famous teachers the Chasidim ceased. In this latter sense the expression Mynw#)rh Mydysx, ‘the ancient or primitive Chasidim’ (Monattschr. pp. 31, 62), is perhaps used; for these primitive Chasidim again are mentioned as having wives and children (Niddah 38a), and it appears also that they were scrupulously exact in bringing their sacrificial offerings (Mishna Kerithuth 6.3, Nedarim 10a). Thus it is impossible to identify them with the Essenes, as described by Josephus and Philo. Even in those passages of which most has been made, the reference is more than doubtful. Thus great stress is laid on the saying of R. Joshua ben Chananiah in Mishna Sotah 3.4, ‘The foolish chasid and the clever villain (Mwr( (#rw h+w# dysx), etc., are the ruin of the world.’ But the connexion points to a much more general meaning of chasid, and the rendering in Surenhuis, ‘Homo pius qui insipiens, improbus qui astutus,’ gives the correct antithesis. So we might say that there is no one more mischievous than the wrong-headed conscientious man. It is true that the Gemaras illustrate the expression by examples of those who allow an over-punctilious regard for external forms to stand in the way of deeds of mercy. And perhaps rightly. But there is no reference to any distinctive Essene practices in the illustrations given. Again; the saying in Mishna Pirke Aboth 5.10, ‘He who says Mine is thine and thine is thine is [a] chasid (dysx Kl# kl#w Kl# yl#),’ is quoted by several writers as though it referred to the Essene community of goods.* But in the first place the idea of community of goods would require, ‘Mine is thine and thine is mine’: and in the second place, the whole context, and especially the clause which immediately follows (and which these writers do not give), ‘He who says Thine is mine and mine is mine is wicked ((#r),’ show plainly that dysx must be taken in its general sense ‘pious,’ and the whole expression implies not reciprocal interchange but individual self-denial.


* Thus Gratz (III p. 81) speaking of the community of goods among the Essenes writes, ‘From this view springs the proverb: Every Chassid says; Mine and thine belong to thee (not me)’ thus giving a turn to the expression which in its original connexion it does not at all justify. Of the existence of such a proverb I have found no traces. It certainly is not suggested in the passage of Pirke Aboth. Later in the volume (p. 467) Gratz tacitly alters the words to make them express, as he supposes, reciprocation or community of goods, substituting ‘Thine is mine’ for ‘Thine is thine’ in the second clause; ‘The Chassid must have no property of his own, but must treat it as belonging to the Society yl# dysx yl# Kl# Kl#).’ At least, as he gives no reference, I suppose that he refers to the same passage. This very expression ‘mine is thine and thine is mine’ does indeed occur previously in the same section, but it is applied as a formula of disparagement to the am haarets, who expect to receive again as much as they give. In this loose way Gratz treats the whole subject. Keim (p. 294) quotes the passage correctly, but refers it nevertheless to Essene communism.


It might indeed be urged, though this is not Frankel’s plea, that supposing the true etymology of the word ’EssaioV,EsshnoV, to be the Syriac [Syriac] ch’se, chasyo (a possible derivation), chasid might have been its Hebrew equivalent as being similar in sound and meaning,a nd perhaps ultimately connected in derivation, the exactly corresponding trilateral root )sx (comp. swx) not being in use in Hebrew.* But before we accept this explanation we have a right to demand some evidence which, if not demonstrative, is at least circumstantial, that chasid is used of the Essenes; and this we have seen is not forthcoming. Moreover, if the Essenes had thus inherited the name of the Chasidim, we should have expected that its old Greek equivalent ’Asidaioi, which is still used later than the Maccabæn era, would also have gone with it; rather than that a new Greek word ’EssaioV (or ’EsshnoV) should have been invented to take its place. But indeed the Syriac Version of the Old Testament furnishes an argument against this convertibility of the Hebrew chasid and Syriac chasyo, which must be regarded as almost decisive. The numerous passages in the Psalms, where the expressions ‘My Chasidim,’ ‘His Chasidim,’ occur (30:5, 31:24, 37:28, 52:11, 79:2, 85:9, 97:10, 116:15, 132:9, 149:9: comp. 32:6, 149:1,5), seem to have suggested the assumption of the name to the original Asidæans. But in such passages dysx is commonly, if not universally, rendered in the Peshito not by [Syriac] ch’se, chasyo, but by a wholly different word [Syriac] zadik. And again, in the Books of Maccabees the Syriac rendering for the name ’Asidaioi, Chasidim, is a word derived from another quite distinct root. These facts show that the Hebrew chasid and the Syriac chasyo were not practically equivalents, so that the one would suggest the other; and thus all presumption in favour of a connection between ’AsidaioV and ’EssaioV is removed.


* This is Hitzig’s view (Geschichte des Volkes Israel p. 427). He maintains that “they were called ‘Hasidim’ by the later Jews because the Syrian Essenes means exactly the same as ‘Hasidim.’”


Frankel’s other derivation (wnc, tsannua, suggested as an equivalent to ’EsshnoV, has found no favour with later writers, and indeed is too far removed from the Greek form to be tenable. Nor do the passages quoted by him require or suggest any allusion to this sect. Thus in Mishna Demai, 6.6, we are told that the school of Hillel permits a certain license in a particular matter, but it is added, ‘The y(wnc of the school of Hillel followed the precept of the school of Shammai.’ Here, as Frankel himself confesses, the Jerusalem Talmud knows nothing about Essenes, but explains the word by yr#k, i.e. ‘upright, worthy’; while elsewhere, as he allows, it must have this general sense. Indeed the mention of the ‘school of Hillel’ here seems to exclude the Essenes. In its comprehensive meaning it will most naturally be taken also in the other passage quoted by Frankel, Kiddushin 71a, where it is stated that the pronunciation of the sacred name, which formerly was known to all, is now only to be divulged to the My(wnc, i.e. the discreet, among the priests; and in fact it occurs in reference to the communication of the same mystery in the immediate context also, where it could not possibly be treated as a proper name; wymy ycxb rmw(w wyn(w (wnc#, ‘who is discreet and meek and has reached middle age,’ etc.


Of other etymologies, which have been suggested, and through which it might be supposed the Essenes are mentioned by name in the Talmud, )ys), asya, ‘a physician,’ is the one which has found most favour. For the reasons given above this derivation seems highly improbable, and the passages quoted are quite insufficient to overcome the objections. Of these the strongest is in the Talm. Jerus. Yoma 3.7, where we are told that a certain physician (ys)) offered to communicate the sacred name to R. Pinchas the son of Chama, and the latter refused on the ground that he ate of the tithes—this being regarded as a disqualification, apparently because it was inconsistent with the highest degree of ceremonial purity. The same story is told with some modifications in Midrash Qoheleth 3.11. Here Frankel, though himself (as we have seen) adopting a different derivation of the word ‘Essene,’ yet supposes that this particular physician belonged to the sect, on the sole ground that ceremonial purity is represented as a qualification for the initiation into the mystery of the Sacred Name. Lowy (l.c.) denies that the allusion to the tithes is rightly interpreted: but even supposing it to be correct, the passage is quite an inadequate basis either for Frankel’s conclusion that this particular physician was an Essene, or for the derivation of the word Essene which others maintain. Again, in the statement of Talm. Jerus. Kethuboth 2.3, that correct manuscripts were called books of ys), the word Asi is generally taken as a proper name. But even if this interpretation be false, there is absolutely nothing in the context which suggests any allusion to the Essenes. In like manner the passage from Sanhedrin 99b, where a physician is mentioned, supports no such inference. Indeed, as this last passage relates to the family of the Asi, he obviously can have had no connexion with the celibate Essenes.


Hitherto our search for the name in the Talmud has been unsuccessful. One possibility however still remains. The talmudical writers speak of certain h#(m y#n) ‘men of deeds’; and if (as some suppose) the name Essene is derived from h#( have we not here the mention which we are seeking? Frankel rejects the etymology, but presses the identification. The expression, he urges, is often used in connexion with Chasidim. It signifies ‘miracle workers,’ and therefore aptly describes the supernatural powers supposed to be exercised by the Essenes. Thus we are informed in Mishna Sotah 9.15, that ‘When R. Chaninah ben Dosa died, the men of deeds ceased; when R. Jose Ketinta died, the Chasidim ceased.’ In the Jerusalem Talmud however this mishna is read, ‘With the death of R. Chaninah ben Dosa and R. Jose Ketinta the Chasidim ceased’; while the Gemara there explains R. Chaninah to have been one of the y#n) h#(m. Thus, Frankel concludes, ‘the identity of these with Mydysx becomes still more plain.’ Now it seems clear that this expression h#(m y#n) in some places cannot refer to miraculous powers, but must mean ‘men of practical goodness,’ as for instance in Succah 51a, 53a; and being a general term expressive of moral excellence, it is naturally connected with Chasidim, which is likewise a general term expressive of piety and goodness. Nor is there any reason why it should not always be taken in this sense. It is true that stories are told elsewhere of this R. Chaninah, which ascribe miraculous powers to him (Taanith 24b; Yoma 53b), and hence there is a temptation to translate it ‘wonder-worker,’ as applied to him. But the reason is quite insufficient. Moreover it must be observed that R. Chaninah’s wife is a prominent person in the legends of his miracles reported in Taanith 24b; and thus we need hardly stop to discuss the possible meanings of h#(m y#n), since his claims to being considered an Essene are barred at the outset by this fact.*


* In this and similar cases it is unnecessary to consider whether the persons mentioned might have belonged to those looser disciples of Essenism, who married: because the identification is meaningless unless the strict order were intended.


It has been asserted indeed by a recent author, that one very ancient Jewish writer distinctly adopts this derivation, and as distinctly states that the Essenes were a class of Pharisees. If this were the case, Frankel’s theory, though not his etymology, would receive a striking confirmation: and it is therefore important to enquire on what foundation the assertion rests.


Dr. Ginsburg’s authority for this statement is a passage from the Aboth of Rabbi Nathan, c. 37, which, as he gives it, appears conclusive; ‘There are eight kinds of Pharisees…and those Pharisees who live in celibacy are Essenes.’ But what are the facts of the case? First; This book was certainly not written by its reputed author, the R. Nathan who was vice-president under the younger Gamaliel about AD 140. It may possibly have been founded on an earlier treatise by that famous teacher, though even this is very doubtful: but in its present form it is a comparatively modern work. On this point all or almost all recent writers on Hebrew literature are agreed. Secondly; Dr. Ginsburg has taken the reading yn)#( wtpwxm, without even mentioning any alternative. Whether the words so read are capable of the meaning which he has assigned to them, may be highly questionable; but at all events this cannot have been the original reading, as the parallel passages, Babl. Sotah fol. 22b, Jerus. Sotah 5.5, Jerus. Berakhoth 9.5, (quoted by Buxtorf and Levy, s.v. #yrp), distinctly prove. In Babl. Sotah l.c., the corresponding expression is hn#()w ytbwx hm ‘What is my duty, and I will do it,’ and the passage in Jerus. Berakhoth l.c. is to the same effect. These parallels show that the reading hn#()w ytbwx hm must be taken also in Aboth c. 37, so that the passage will be rendered, ‘The Pharisee who says, What is my duty, and I will do it.’ Thus the Essenes and celibacy disappear together. Lastly; Inasmuch as Dr. Ginsburg himself takes a wholly different view of the name Essene, connecting it either with Ncx ‘an apron,’ or with )ysx ‘pious,’ it is difficult to see how he could translate yn)#( ‘Essene’ (from )#( ‘to do’) in this passage, except on the supposition that R. Nathan was entirely ignorant of the orthography and derivation of the word Essene. Yet, if such ignorance were conceivable in so ancient a writer, his authority on this question would be absolutely worthless. But indeed Dr. Ginsburg would appear to have adopted this reference to R. Nathan, with the reading of the passage and the interpretation of the name, from some other writer. At all events it is quite inconsistent with his own opinion as expressed previously.



But, though we have not succeeded in finding any direct mention of this sect by name in the Talmud, and all the identifications of the word Essene with diverse expressions occurring there have failed us on examination, it might still happen that allusions to them were so frequent as to leave no doubt about the persons meant. Their organization or their practices or their tenets might be precisely described, though their name was suppressed. Such allusions Frankel finds scattered up and down the Talmud in great profusion.


(1) He sees a reference to the Essenes in the )rwbx chabura or ‘Society,’ which is mentioned several times in talmudical writers. The chaber (rbx) or ‘Associate’ is, he supposes, a member of this brotherhood. He is obliged to confess that the word cannot always have this sense, but still he considers this to be a common designation of the Essenes. The chaber was bound to observe certain rules of ceremonial purity, and a period of probation was imposed upon him before he was admitted. With this fact Frankel connects the passage in Mishna Chagigah 2.5,6, where several degrees of ceremonial purity are specified. Having done this, he considers that he has the explanation of the statement in Josephus (B. J. ii. 8. 7, 10), that the Essenes were divided into four different grades or orders according to the time of their continuance in the ascetic practices demanded by the sect.


But in the first place there is no reference direct or indirect to the chaber, or indeed to any organization of any kind, in the passage of Chagigah. It simply contemplates different degrees of purification as qualifying for the performance of certain Levitical rites in an ascending scale. There is no indication that these lustrations are more than temporary and immediate in their application; and not the faintest hint is given of distinct orders of men, each separated from the other by formal barriers and each demanding a period of probation before admission from the order below, as was the case with the grades of the Essene brotherhood described by Josephus. Moreover the orders in Josephus are four in number,* while the degrees of ceremonial purity in Chagigah are five. Frankel indeed is inclined to maintain that only four degrees are intended in Chagigah, though this interpretation is opposed to the plain sense of the passage. But, even if he should be obliged to grant that the number of degrees is five, he will not surrender the allusion to the Essenes, but meets the difficulty by supposing (it is a pure hypothesis) that there was a fifth and highest degree of purity among the Essenes, to which very few attained, and which, as I understand him, is not mentioned by Josephus on this account. But enough has already been said to show, that this passage in Chagigah can have no connexion with the Essenes and gives no countenance to Frankel’s views.


* As the notices in Josephus (B. J. ii. 8) relating to this point have been frequently misunderstood, it may be well once for all to explain his meaning. The grades of the Essene order are mentioned in two separate notices, apparently, though not really, discordant. (1) In § 10 he says that they are ‘divided into four sections according to the duration of their discipline,’ adding that the older members are considered to be defiled by contact with the younger, i.e. each superior grade by contact with the inferior. So far his meaning is clear. (2) In § 8 he states that one who is anxious to become a member of the sect undergoes a year’s probation, submitting to discipline but ‘remaining outside.’ Then, ‘after he has given evidence of his perseverance, his character is tested for two years more; and, if found worthy, he is accordingly admitted into the society.’ A comparison with the other passage shows that these two years comprise the period spent in the second and third grades, each extending over a year. After passing through these three stages in three successive years, he enters upon the fourth and highest grade, thus becoming a perfect member.


It is stated by Dr. Ginsburg (Essenes p. 12 sq., comp. Kitto’s Cyclopaedia s.v. p. 828) that the Essenes passed through eight stages ‘from the beginning of the noviciate to the achievement of the highest spiritual state,’ this last stage qualifying them, like Elias, to be forerunners of the Messiah. But it is a pure hypothesis that the Talmudical notices thus combined have anything to do with the Essenes; and, as I shall have occasion to point out afterwards, there is no ground for ascribing to this sect any Messianic expectations whatever.


As this artificial combination has failed, we are compelled to fall back on the notices relating to the chaber, and to ask whether these suggest any connexion with the account of the Essenes in Josephus. And the facts oblige us to answer this question in the negative. Not only do they not suggest such a connexion, but they are wholly irreconcilable with the account in the Jewish historian. This association or confraternity (if indeed the term is applicable to an organization so loose and so comprehensive) was maintained for the sake of securing a more accurate study and a better observance of the ceremonial law. Two grades of purity are mentioned in connexion with it, designated by different names and presenting some difficulties,* into which it is not necessary to enter here. A chaber, it would appear, was one who had entered upon the second or higher stage. For this a period of a year’s probation was necessary. The chaber enrolled himself in the presence of three others who were already members of the association. This apparently was all the formality necessary: and in the case of a teacher even this was dispensed with, for being presumably acquainted with the law of things clean and unclean he was regarded as ex officio a chaber. The chaber was bound to keep himself from ceremonial defilements, and was thus distinguished from the am haarets or common people**; but he was under no external surveillance and decided for himself as to his own purity. Moreover he was, or might be a married man: for the doctors disputed whether the wives and children of an associate were not themselves to be regarded as associates.*** In one passage, Sanhedrin 41a, it is even assumed, as a matter of course, that a woman may be an associate (hrbx). In another (Niddah 33b) there is mention of a Sadducee and even of a Samaritan as a chaber. An organization so flexible as this has obviously only the most superficial resemblances with the rigid rules of the Essene order; and in many points it presents a direct contrast to the characteristic tenets of that sect.


* The entrance into the lower grade was described as ‘taking Mypnk’ or ‘wings.’ The meaning of this expression has been the subject of much discussion; see e.g. Herzfeld II. p. 390 sq., Frankel Monatsschr. p. 33 sq.


** The contempt with which a chaber would look down upon the vulgar herd, the am haarets, finds expression in the language of the Pharisees, John 7:49  o ocloV outoV o mh ginwskwn ton nomon eparatoi eisin. Again in Acts 4:13, where the Apostles are described as iowtai, the expression is equivalent to am haarets. See the passages quoted in Buxtorf, Lex. p. 1626.


*** All these particulars and others may be gathered from Bekhoroth 30b, Mishna Demai 2.3, Jerus. Demai 2.3, 5.1, Tosifta Demai 2, Aboth R. Nathan c. 41.


(2) Having discussed Frankel’s hypothesis respecting the chaber, I need hardly follow his speculations on the Bene-hakkeneseth, tsnkh ynb, ‘sons of the congregation’ (Zabim 3.2), in which expression probably few would discover the reference, which he finds, to the lowest of the Essene orders.


(3) But mention is also made of a ‘holy congregation’ or ‘assembly’ ()#ydq )lhq, h#ydq hd() ‘in Jerusalem’; and, following Rapoport, Frankel sees in this expression also an allusion to the Essenes. The grounds for this identification are, that in one passage (Berakhoth 9b) they are mentioned in connexion with prayer at daybreak, and in another (Midrash Qoheleth 9.9) two persons are stated to belong to this ‘holy congregation,’ because they divided their day into three parts, devoting one-third to learning, another to prayer, and another to work. The first notice would suit the Essenes very well, though the practice mentioned was not so distinctively Essene as to afford any safe ground for this hypothesis. Of the second it should be observed, that no such division of the day is recorded of the Essenes, and indeed both Josephus (B. J. ii. 8. 5) and Philo (Fragm. p. 633) describe them as working from morning till night with the single interruption of their mid-day meal.* But in fact the identification is beset with other and more serious difficulties. For this ‘holy congregation’ at Jerusalem is mentioned long after the second destruction of the city under Hadrian (Monatsschr. p. 32), when on Frankel’s own showing (ibid p. 70) the Essene society had in all probability ceased to exist. And again certain members of it, e.g. Jose ben Meshullam (Mishna Bekhoroth 3.3, 6.1), are represented as uttering precepts respecting animals fit for sacrifice, though we have it on the authority of Josephus and Philo that the Essenes avoided the temple sacrifices altogether. The probability therefore seems to be that this ‘holy congregation’ was an assemblage of devout Jews who were drawn to the neighbourhood of the sanctuary after the destruction of the nation, and whose practices were regarded with peculiar reverence by the later Jews.


* It is added however in Midrash Qoheleth 9.9 ‘Some say that they (the holy congregation) devoted the whole of the winter to studying the Scriptures and the summer to work.’


(4) Neither can we with Frankel (Monatsschr. p. 32) discern any reference to the Essenes in those Nyqytw Vathikin, ‘pious’ or ‘learned’ men (whatever may be the exact sense of the word), who are mentioned in Bearkhoth 9b as praying before sunrise; because the word itself seems quite general, and the practice, though enforced among the Essenes, as we know from Josephus (B. J. ii. 8. 5), would be common to all devout and earnest Jews. If we are not justified in saying that these Nyqytw were not Essenes, we have no sufficient grounds for maintaining that they were.


(5) Nor again can we find any such reference in the Mynqz Mynw#)rh or ‘primitive elders’ (Monatsschr. pp. 32, 68). It may readily be granted that this term is used synonymously, or nearly so, with Mynw#)rh Mydysx ‘the primitive chasidim’; but, as we failed to see anything more than a general expression in the one, so we are naturally led to take the other in the same sense. The passages where the expression occurs (e.g. Shabbath 64b) simply refer to the stricter observances of early times, and do not indicate any reference to a particular society or body of men.


(6) Again Frankel finds another reference to this sect in the tyrx# ylb+ Toble-shacharith, or ‘morning-bathers,’ mentioned in Tosifta Yadayim c.2. (Monatsschr. p. 67). The identity of these with the hmerobaptistai of Greek writers seems highly probable. The latter however, though they may have had some affinities with Essene practices and tenets, are nevertheless distinguished from this sect wherever they are mentioned. But the point to be observed is that, even though we should identify these Toble-shacharith with the Essenes, the passage in Tosifta Yadayim, so far from favouring, is distinctly adverse to Frankel’s view which regards the Essenes as only a branch of Pharisees: for the two are here represented as in direct antagonism. The Toble-shacharith say, ‘We grieve over you, Pharisees, because you pronounce the (sacred) Name in the morning without having bathed.’ The Pharisees retort, ‘We grieve over you, Toble-shacharith, because you pronounce the Name from this body in which is impurity.’


(7) In connexion with the Toble-shacharith we may consider another name, Banaim (My)nb), in which also Frankel discovers an allusion to the Essenes (Zeitschr. p. 455). In Mishna Mikvaoth 9.6 the word is opposed to rwb bor, ‘an ignorant or stupid person’; and this points to its proper meaning ‘the builders,’ i.e. the edifiers or teachers, according to the common metaphor in Biblical language. The word is discussed in Shabbath 114 and explained to mean ‘learned.’ But, because in Mikvaoth it is mentioned in connexion with ceremonial purity, and because in Josephus the Essenes are stated to have carried an ‘axe and shovel’ (B. J. ii. 8. 7, 9), and because moreover the Jewish historian in another place (Vit. 2) mentions having spent some time with one Banus a dweller in the wilderness, who lived on vegetables and fruits and bathed often day and night for the sake of purity, and who is generally considered to have been an Essene; therefore Frankel holds these Banaim to have been Essenes. This is a specimen of the misplaced ingenuity which distinguishes Frankel’s learned speculations on the Essenes.  Josephus does not mention an ‘axe and shovel,’ but an axe only (§ 7 azinarion), which he afterwards defines more accurately as a spade (§ 9  th skalioi, toiouton gar esti to didomenon up autwn azinidion toiV neosustatoiV) and which, as he distinctly states, was given them for the purpose of burying impurities out of sight (comp. Deut 23:12-14). Thus it has no connexion whatever with any ‘building’ implement. And again, it is true that Banus has frequently been regarded as an Essene, but there is absolutely no ground for this supposition. On the contrary the narrative of Josephus in his Life seems to exclude it, as I shall have occasion to show hereafter. I should add that Sachs interprets Banaim ‘the bathers,’ regarding the explanation in Shabbath l.c. as a ‘later accommodation.’* This seems to me very improbable; but, if it were conceded, the Banaim would then apparently be connected not with the Essenes, but with the Hemerobaptists.


* Beitrage II. p. 199. In this derivation he is followed by Graetz (III. p. 82, 468) and Derenbourg (p. 166).


From the preceding investigation it will have appeared how little Frankel has succeeded in establishing his thesis that ‘the talmudical sources are acquainted with the Essenes and make mention of them constantly’ (Monatsschr. p. 31). We have seen not only that no instance of the name Essene has been produced, but that all those passages which are supposed to refer to them under other designations, or to describe their practices or tenets, fail us on closer examination. In no case can we feel sure that there is any direct reference to this sect, while in most cases such reference seems to be excluded by the language or the attendant circumstances.* Thus we are obliged to fall back upon the representations of Philo and Josephus. Their accounts are penned by eye-witnesses. They are direct and explicit, if not so precise or so full as we could have wished. The writers obviously consider that they are describing a distinct and exceptional phenomenon. And it would be a reversal of all established rules of historical criticism to desert the solid standing-ground of contemporary history for the artificial combinations and shadowy hypotheses which Frankel would substitute in its place.


* ‘The attempt to point out the Essenes in our patristic (i.e. rabbinical) literature,’ says Herzfeld truly (II. p. 397), ‘has led to a splendid hypothesis-hunt (einer stattlichen Hypothesenjagd).’


But here we are confronted with Frankel’s depreciation of these ancient writers, which has been echoed by several later critics. They were interested, it is argued, in making their accounts attractive to their heathen contemporaries, and they coloured them highly for this purpose (Monatsschr. p. 31). We may readily allow that they would not be uninfluenced by such a motive, but the concession does not touch the main points at issue. This aim might have led Josephus, for example, to throw into bold relief the coincidences between the Essenes and Pythagoreans; it might even have induced him to give a semi-pagan tinge to the Essene doctrine of the future state of the blessed (B. J. ii. 8. 11). But it entirely fails to explain those peculiarities of the sect which marked them off by a sharp line from orthodox Judaism, and which fully justify the term ‘separatists’ as applied to them by a recent writer. In three main features especially the portrait of the Essenes retains its distinctive character unaffected by this consideration.


(i) How, for instance, could this principle of accommodation have led both Philo and Josephus to lay so much stress on their divergence from Judaic orthodoxy in the matter of sacrifices? Yet this is perhaps the most crucial note of heresy which is recorded of the Essenes. What was the law to the orthodox Pharisee without the sacrifices, the temple-worship, the hierarchy? Yet the Essene declined to take any part in the sacrifices; he had priests of his own independently of the Levitical priesthood. On Frankel’s hypothesis that Essenism is merely an exaggeration of pure Pharisaism, no explanation of this abnormal phenomenon can be given. Frankel does indeed attempt to meet the case by some speculations respecting the red heifer  (Monatsschr. 64), which are so obviously inadequate that they have not been repeated by later writers and may safely be passed over in silence here. On this point indeed the language of Josephus is not quite explicit. He says (Ant. xviii. 1. 5) that, though they send offerings (anaqhmata) to the temple, they perform no sacrifices, and he assigns as the reason their greater strictness as regards ceremonial purity (diaforothti agneiwn aV nomizoien), adding that ‘for this reason being excluded from the common sanctuary (temenismatoV) they perform their sacrifices by themselves (ef autwn taV qusiaV epitelousi).’ Frankel therefore supposes that their only reason for abstaining from the temple sacrifices was that according to their severe notions the temple itself was profaned and therefore unfit for sacrificial worship. But if so, why should it not vitiate the offerings, as well as the sacrifices, and make them also unlawful? And indeed, where Josephus is vague, Philo is explicit. Phil (II. p. 457) distinctly states that the Essenes being more scrupulous than any in the worship of God (en toiV malista qerapeutai Qeou) do not sacrifice animals (ou zwa kataquonteV), but hold it right to dedicate their own hearts as a worthy offering (all ieroprepeiV taV eautwn dianoiaV kataskeuazeiV  aziounteV). Thus the greater strictness, which Josephus ascribes to them, consists in the abstention from shedding blood, as a pollution in itself. And, when he speaks of their substituting private sacrifices, his own qualifications show that he does not mean the word to be taken literally. Their simple meals are their sacrifices; their refectory is their sanctuary; their president is their priest. It should be added also that, though we once hear of an Essene apparently within the temple precincts (B. J. i. 3. 5, Ant. xiii. 11. 2), no mention is ever made of one offering sacrifices. Thus it is clear that with the Essene it was the sacrifices which polluted the temple, and not the temple which polluted the sacrifices. And this view is further recommended by the fact that it alone will explain the position of their descendants, the Christianized Essenes, who condemned the slaughter of victims on grounds very different from those alleged in the Epistle to the Hebrews, not because they have been superseded by the Atonement, but because they are in their very nature repulsive to God; not because they have ceased to be right, but because they never were right from the beginning.


It may be said indeed, that such a view could not be maintained without impugning the authority, or at least disputing the integrity, of the Old Testament writings. The sacrificial system is so bound up with the Mosaic law, that it can only be rejected by the most arbitrary excision. This violent process however, uncritical as it is, was very likely to have been adopted by the Essenes.* As a matter of fact, it did recommend itself to those Judaizing Christians who reproduced many of the Essene tenets, and who both theologically and historically may be regarded as the lineal descendants of this Judaic sect. Thus in the Clementine Homilite, an Ebionite work which exhibits many Essene features, the chief spokesman St. Peter is represented as laying great stress on the duty of distinguishing the true and the false elements in the current Scriptures (ii. 38, 51, iii. 4, 5, 10, 42, 47, 49, 50, comp. xviii. 19). The saying traditionally ascribed to our Lord, ‘Show yourselves approved money-changers’ (givesqe trapezitai dokimoi), is more than once quoted by the Apostle as enforcing this duty (ii. 51, iii. 50, xviii. 20). Among these false elements he places all those passages which represent God as enjoining sacrifices (iii. 45, xviii. 19). It is plain, so he argues, that God did not desire sacrifices, for did He not kill those who lusted after the taste of flesh in the wilderness? and, if the slaughter of animals was thus displeasing to Him, how could He possibly have commanded victims to be offered to Himself (iii. 45)? It is equally clear from other considerations that this was no part of God’s genuine law. For instance, Christ declared that He came to fulfil every tittle of the Law; yet Christ abolished sacrifices (iii. 51). And again, the saying ‘I will have mercy and not sacrifice’ is a condemnation of this practice (iii. 56). The true prophet ‘hates sacrifices, bloodshed, libations’; he ‘extinguishes the fire of altars’ (iii. 26). The frenzy of the lying soothsayer is a mere intoxication produced by the reeking fumes of sacrifice (iii. 13). When in the immediate context of these denunciations we find it reckoned among the highest achievements of man ‘to know the names of angels, to drive away demons, to endeavour to heal diseases by charms (farmakiaiV), and to find incantations (epaoidaV) against venomous serpents (iii. 36)’; when again St. Peter is made to condemn as false those scriptures which speak of God swearing, and to set against them Christ’s command ‘Let your yea be yea’ (iii. 55); we feel how thoroughly this strange production of Ebionite Christianity is saturated with Essene ideas.**


* Herzfeld (II. p. 403) is unable to reconcile any rejection of the Old Testament Scriptures with the reverence paid to Moses by the Essenes (B. J. ii. 8. 9, 10). The Christian Essenes however did combine both these incongruous tenets by the expedient which is explained in the text. Herzfeld himself suggests that allegorical interpretation may have been employed to justify this abstention from the temple sacrifices.


** Epiphanius (Hær. xviii. I. p. 38) again describes, as the account was handed down to him (wV o eiV hmaV elqwn periecei logoV), the tenets of a Jewish sect which he calls the Nasareans, authn de ou pareoeceto thn pentateucon, alla wmologei men ton Mwusea, kai oti edexato nomoqesian episteuen, ou tauthn de fhsin, all eteran. oqen ta men panta fulattousi twn Iiudaiwn Ioudaioi onteV, qusian de ouk equon oute emyucwn meteicon, alla aqemiton hn par autoiV to kpewn metalambanein h qusiazein autoiV. efaskon gar peplasqai tauta ta biblia kai mhden toutwn upo tw paterwn gegenhsqai. Here we have in combination all the features which we are seeking. The cradle of this sect is placed by him in Gilead and Bashan and ‘the regions beyond the Jordan.’ He uses similar language also (xxx. 18, p. 142) in describing the Ebionites, whom he places in much the same localities (naming Moab also), and whose Essene features are unmistakable: oute gar decohtai thn pentateucon MwusdewV dlhn alla tina rhmata apoballousin. otan de autoiV eiphV peri emyucwn brwsewV k.t.l. These parallels will speak for themselves.


(ii) Nor again is Frankel successful in explaining the Essene prayers to the sun by rabbinical practices (Zeitschr. p. 458). Following Rapoport, he supposes that Josephus and Philo refer to the beautiful hymn of praise for the creation of light and the return of day, which forms part of the morning-prayer of the Jews to the present time, and which seems to be enjoined in the Mishna itself (Berakhoth i. 4); and this view has been adopted by many subsequent writers. But the language of Josephus is not satisfied by this explanation. For he says plainly (B. J. ii. 8. 5) that they addressed prayers to the sun, and it is difficult to suppose that he has wantonly introduced a dash of paganism into his picture; nor indeed was there any adequate motive for his doing so. Similarly Philo relates of the Therapeutes (Vit. Cont. II, II. p. 485), that they ‘stand with their faces and their whole body towards the East, and when they see that the sun is risen, holding out their hands to heaven they pray for a happy day (euhmerian) and for truth and for keen vision of reason (oxuwpian logismou).’ And here again it is impossible to overlook the confirmation which these accounts receive from the history of certain Christian heretics deriving their descent from this Judaic sect. Epiphanius (Hær. xix. 2, xx. 3, pp. 40 sq., 47) speaks of a sect called the Sampsæans or ‘Sun-worshippers,’ as existing in his own time in Peræa on the borders of Moab and on the shores of the Dead Sea. He describes them as a remnant of the Ossenes (i.e. Essenes), who have accepted a spurious form of Christianity and are neither Jews nor Christians. This debased Christianity which they adopted is embodied, he tells us, in the pretended revelation of the Book of Elchasai, and dates from the time of Trajan (Galatians p. 324 sq.). Elsewhere (xxx. 3, p. 127) he seems to use the terms Sampsæan, Ossene, and Elchasaite as synonymous (para toiV SamyhnoiV kai OsshnoiV kai ElkessaioiV kaloumenoiV). Now we happen to know something of this book of Elchasai, not only from Epiphanius himself (xix. I sq., p. 40 sq., xxx. 17, p. 141), but also from Hippolytus (Hær. ix. 13 sq.) who describes it at considerable length. From these accounts it appears that the principal feature in the book was the injunction of frequent bathings for the remission of sins (Hipp. Hær. ix. 13, 15, sq.). We are likewise told that it ‘anathematizes immolations and sacrifices (qusiaV kai ierourgiaV) as being alien to God and certainly not offered to God by tradition from (ek) the fathers and the law,’ while at the same time it ‘says that men ought to pray there at Jerusalem, where the altar was and the sacrifices (were offered), prohibiting the eating of flesh which exists among the Jews, and the rest (of their customs), and the altar and the fire, as being alien to God’ (Epiph. Hær. xix. 3, p. 42). Notwithstanding, we are informed that the sect retained the rite of circumcision, the observance of the Sabbath, and other practices of the Mosaic law (Hipp. Hær. ix. 14; Epiph. Hær. xix. 5, p. 43, comp. xxx. 17, p. 141). This inconsistency is explained by a further notice in Epiphanius (l.c.) that they treated the Scriptures in the same way as the Nasaræans; that is, they submitted them to a process of arbitrary excision, as recommended in the Clementine Homilies, and thus rejected as falsifications all statements which did not square with their own theory. Hippolytus also speaks of the Elchasaites as studying astrology and magic, and as practicing charms and incantations on the sick and the demoniacs (§ 14). Moreover in two formularies, one of expiation, another of purification, which this father has extracted from the book, invocation is made to ‘the holy spirits and the angels of prayer’ (§ 15, comp. Epiph. Hær. xix. 1). It should be added that the word Elchasai probably signifies the ‘hidden power’ (Galatians p. 325, note 1); while the book itself directed that its mysteries should be guarded as precious pearls, and should not be communicated to the world at large, but only to the faithful few (Hipp. Hær. ix. 15, 17). It is hardly necessary to call attention to the number of Essene features which are here combined.* I would only remark that the value of the notice is not at all diminished, but rather enhanced, by the uncritical character of Epiphanius’ work; for this very fact prevents us from ascribing the coincidences, which here reveal themselves, to this father’s own invention.


* Celibacy however is not one of these; comp. Epiphan. Hær xix. 1 (p. 40) mpecqanetai de th parqenia, misei de thn egkrateian, anagkazei de gamon. In this respect they departed from the original principles of Essenism, alleging, as it would appear, a special revelation (wV dhqen apokaluyewV) in justification. In like manner marriage is commended in the Clementine Homilies.


In this heresy we have plainly the dregs of Essenism, which has only been corrupted from its earlier and nobler type by the admixture of a spurious Christianity. But how came the Essenes to be called Sampsæans? What was the original meaning of this outward reverence which they paid to the sun? Did they regard it merely as the symbol of Divine illumination, just as Philo frequently treats it as a type of God, the center of all light (e.g. de. Somn. i. 13 sq., I. p. 631 sq.), and even calls the heavenly bodies ‘visible and sensible gods’ (de Mund. Op. 7, I. p. 6)? Or did they honour the light, as the pure ethereal element in contrast to gross terrestrial matter, according to a suggestion of a recent writer (Keim I. p. 289)? Whatever may have been the motive of this reverence, it is strangely repugnant to the spirit of orthodox Judaism. In Ezekiel 8:16 it is denounced as an abomination, that men shall turn towards the east and worship the sun; and accordingly in Berakhoth 7a a saying of R. Meir is reported to the effect that God is angry when the sun appears and the kings of the East and the West prostrate themselves before this luminary. We cannot fail therefore to recognize the action of some foreign influence in this Essene practice—whether Greek or Syrian or Persian, it will be time to consider hereafter.


(iii) On the subject of marriage again, talmudical and rabbinical notices contribute nothing towards elucidating the practices of this sect. Least of all do they point to any affinity between the Essenes and the Pharisees. The nearest resemblance, which Frankel can produce, to any approximation in this respect is an injunction in Mishna Kethuboth 5.8 respecting the duties of the husband in providing for the wife in case of his separating from her, and this he ascribes to Essene influences (Monatsschr. p. 37); but this mishna does not express any approval of such a separation. The direction seems to be framed entirely in the interests of the wife: nor can I see that it is at all inconsistent, as Frankel urges, with Mishna Kethuboth 7.1 which allows her to claim a divorce under such circumstances. But however this may be, Essene and Pharisaic opinion stand generally in the sharpest contrast to each other with respect to marriage. The talmudic writings teem with passages implying not only the superior sanctity, but even the imperative duty, of marriage. The words ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ (Gen 1:28) were regarded not merely as a promise, but as a command which was binding on all. It is a maxim of the Talmud that ‘Any Jew who has not a wife is no man’ (Md) wny)), Yebamoth 63a. The fact indeed is so patent, that any accumulation of examples would be superfluous, and I shall content myself with referring to Pesachim 113a,b, as fairly illustrating the doctrine of orthodox Judaism on this point.* As this question affects the whole framework not only of religious, but also of social life, the antagonism between the Essene and the Pharisee in a matter so vital could not be overlooked.


* Justin Martyr more than once taunts the Jewish rabbis with their reckless encouragement of polygamy. See Dial. 134, p. 363 D.


(iv) Nor again is it probable that the magical rites and incantations which are so prominent in the practice of the Essenes would, as a rule, have been received with any favour by the Pharisaic Jew. In Mishna Pesachim 4.9 (comp. Berakhoth 10b) it is mentioned with approval that Hezekiah put away a ‘book of healings’; where doubtless the author of the tradition had in view some volume of charms ascribed to Solomon, like those which apparently formed part of the esoteric literature of the Essenes. In the same spirit in Mishna Sanhedrin 11.1 R. Akiba shuts out from the hope of eternal life any ‘who read profane or foreign (i.e. perhaps, apocryphal) books, and who mutter over a wound’ the words of Exodus 15:26. On this point of difference however no great stress can be laid. Though the nobler teachers among the orthodox Jews set themselves steadfastly against the introduction of magic, they were unable to resist the inpouring tide of superstition. In the middle of the second century Justin Martyr alludes to exorcists and magicians among the Jews, as though they were neither few nor obscure (Dial. 85, p. 311 C). Whether these were a remnant of Essene Judaism, or whether such practices had by this time spread throughout the whole body, it is impossible to say; but the fact of their existence prevents us from founding an argument on the use of magic, as an absolutely distinctive feature of Essenism.


Other divergences also have been enumerated; but, as these do not for the most part involve any great principles, and refer only to practical details in which much fluctuation was possible, they cannot under any circumstances be taken as crucial tests, and I have not thought it worth while to discuss them. But the antagonisms on which I have dwelt will tell their own tale. In three respects more especially, in the avoidance of marriage, in the abstention from the temple sacrifices, and (if the view which I have adopted be correct) in the outward reverence paid to the sun, we have seen that there is an impassable gulf between the Essenes and the Pharisees. No known influences within the sphere of Judaism proper will serve to account for the position of the Essenes in these respects; and we are obliged to look elsewhere for an explanation.



It was shown above that the investigations of Frankel and others failed to discover in the talmudical writings a single reference to the Essenes, which is at once direct and indisputable. It has now appeared that they have also failed (and this is the really important point) in showing that the ideas and practices generally considered characteristic of the Essenes are recognized and incorporated in these representative books of Jewish orthodoxy; and thus the hypothesis that Essenism was merely a type, though an exaggerated type, of pure Judaism falls to the ground.


Some affinities indeed have been made out by Frankel and by those who have anticipated or followed him. But these are exactly such as we might have expected. Two distinct features combine to make up the portrait of the Essene. The Judaic element is quite as prominent in this sect as the non-Judaic. It could not be more strongly emphasized than in the description given by Josephus himself. In everything therefore which relates to the strictly Judaic side of their tenets and practices, we should expect to discover not only affinities, but even close affinities, in talmudic and rabbinic authorities. And this is exactly what, as a matter of fact, we do find. The Essene rules respecting the observance of the Sabbath, the rites of lustration, and the like have often very exact parallels in the writings of more orthodox Judaism. But I have not thought it necessary to dwell on these coincidences, because they may well be taken for granted, and my immediate purpose did not require me to emphasize them.


And again; it must be remembered that the separation between Pharisee and Essene cannot always have been so great as it appears in the Apostolic age. Both sects apparently arose out of one great movement, of which the motive was the avoidance of pollution. The divergence therefore must have been gradual. At the same time, it does not seem a very profitable task to write a hypothetical history of the growth of Essenism, where the data are wanting; and I shall therefore abstain from the attempt. Frankel indeed has not been deterred by this difficulty; but he has been obliged to assume his data by postulating that such and such a person, of whom notices are preserved, was an Essene, and thence inferring the character of Essenism at the period in question from his recorded sayings or doings. But without attempting any such reconstruction of history, we may fairly allow that there must have been a gradual development; and consequently in the earlier stages of its growth we should not expect to find that sharp antagonism between the two sects, which the principles of the Essenes when fully matured would involve. If therefore it should be shown that the talmudical and rabbinical writings here and there preserve with approval the sayings of certain Essenes, this fact would present no difficulty. At present however no decisive example ahs been produced; and the discoveries of Jellinek for instance (Orient 1849, pp. 489, 537, 553), who traces the influence of this sect in almost every page of Pirke Aboth, can only be regarded as another illustration of the extravagance with which the whole subject has been treated by a large section of modern Jewish writers. More to the point is a notice of an earlier Essene preserved in Josephus himself. We learn from this historian that one Judas, a member of the sect, who had prophesied the death of Antignous, saw this prince ‘passing by through the temple,’ when his prophecy was on the point of fulfillment (about BC 110). At this moment Judas is represented as sitting in the midst of his disciples, instructing them in the science of prediction. The expression quoted would seem to imply that he was actually teaching within the temple area. Thus he would appear not only as mixing in the ordinary life of the Jews, but also as frequenting the national sanctuary. But even supposing this to be the right explanation of the passage, it will not present any serious difficulty. Even at a later date, when (as we may suppose) the principles of the sect had stiffened, the scruples of the Essene were directed, if I have rightly interpreted the account of Josephus, rather against the sacrifices than against the locality. The temple itself, independently of its accompaniments, would not suggest any offence to his conscience.


Nor again, is it any obstacle to the view which is here maintained, that the Essenes are regarded with so much sympathy by Philo and Josephus themselves. Even though the purity of Judaism might have been somewhat sullied in this sect by the admixture of foreign elements, this fact would attract rather than repel an eclectic like Philo, and a latitudinarian like Josephus. The former, as an Alexandrian, absorbed into his system many and diverse elements of heathen philosophy, Platonic, Stoic, and Pythagorean. The latter, though professedly a Pharisee, lost no opportunity of ingratiating himself with his heathen conquerors, and would not be unwilling to gratify their curiosity respecting a society with whose fame, as we infer from the notice of Pliny, they were already acquainted.



But if Essenism owed the features which distinguished it from Pharisaic Judaism to an alien admixture, whence were these foreign influences derived? From the philosophers of Greece or from the religious mystics of the East? On this point recent writers are divided.


Those who trace the distinctive characteristics of the sect to Greece, regard it is an offshoot of the Neophythagorean School grafted on the stem of Judaism. This solution is suggested by the statement of Josephus, that ‘they practise the mode of life which among the Greeks was introduced (katadedigmenh) by Pythagoras’ (Ant. xv. 10. 4). It is thought to be confirmed by the strong resemblances which as a matter of fact are found to exist between the institutions and practices of the two.


This theory, which is maintained also by other writers, as for instance by Baur and Herzfeld, has found its ablest and most persistent advocate in Zeller, who draws out the parallels with great force and precision. ‘The Essenes,’ he writes, ‘like the Pythagoreans, desire to attain a higher sanctity by an ascetic life; and the abstentions, which they impose on themselves for this end, are the same with both. They reject animal food and bloody sacrifices; they avoid wine, warm baths, and oil for anointing; they set a high value on celibate life: or, so far as they allow marriage, they require that it be restricted to the one object of procreating children. Both wear only white garments and consider linen purer than wool. Washings and purifications are prescribed by both, though for the Essenes they have a yet higher significance as religious acts. Both prohibit oaths and (what is more) on the same grounds. Both find their social ideal in those institutions, which indeed the Essenes alone set themselves to realize—in a corporate life with entire community of goods, in sharply defined orders of rank, in the unconditional submission of all the members to their superiors, in a society carefully barred from without, into which new members are received only after a severe probation of several years, and from which the unworthy are inexorably excluded. Both require a strict initiation, both desire to maintain a traditional doctrine inviolable; both pay the highest respect to the men from whom it was derived, as instruments of the deity: yet both also love figurative clothing for their doctrines, and treat the old traditions as symbols of deeper truths, which they must extract from them by means of allegorical explanation. In order to prove the later form of teaching original, newly-composed writings were unhesitatingly forged by the one as by the other, and fathered upon illustrious names of the past. Both parties pay honour to divine powers in the elements, both invoke the rising sun, both seek to withdraw everything unclean from his sight, and with this view give special directions, in which they agree as well with each other as with older Greek superstition, in a remarkable way. For both the belief in intermediate beings between God and the world has an importance which is higher in proportion as their own conception of God is purer; both appear not to have disdained magic; yet both regard the gift of prophecy as the highest fruit of wisdom and piety, which they pique themselves on possessing in their most distinguished members. Finally, both agree (along with the dualistic character of their whole conception of the world…) in their tenets respecting the origin of the soul, its relation to the body, and the life after death…’ (Philosophie der Griechen Th. III. Abth. 2, p. 281).


This array of coincidences is formidable, and thus skillfully marshaled might appear at first sight invincible. But a closer examination detracts from its value. In the first place the two distinctive characteristics of the Pythagorean philosophy are wanting to the Essenes. The Jewish sect did not believe in the transmigration of souls; and the doctrine of numbers, at least so far as our information goes, had no place in their system. Yet these constitute the very essence of the Pythagorean teaching. In the next place several of the coincidences are more apparent than real. Thus for instance the demons who in the Pythagorean system held an intermediate place between the Supreme God and man, and were the result of a compromise between polytheism and philosophy, have no near relation to the angelology of the Essenes, which arose out of a wholly different motive. Nor again can we find distinct traces among the Pythagoreans of any such reverence for the sun as is ascribed to the Essenes, the only notice which is adduced having no prominence whatever in its own context, and referring to a rule which would be dictated by natural decency and certainly was not peculiar to the Pythagoreans.* When these imperfect and (for the purpose) valueless resemblances have been subtracted, the only basis on which the theory of a direct affiliation can rest is withdrawn. All the remaining coincidences are unimportant. Thus the respect paid to founders is not confined to any one sect or any one age. The reverence of the Essenes for Moses, and the reverence of the Pythagoreans for Pythagoras, are indications of a common humanity, but not of a common philosophy. And again the forgery of supposititious documents is unhappily not the badge of any one school. The Solomonian books of the Essenes, so far as we can judge from the extant notices, were about as unlike the tracts ascribed to Pythagoras and his disciples by the Neopythagoreans as two such forgeries could well be. All or nearly all that remains in common to the Greek school and the Jewish sect after these deductions is a certain similarity in the type of life. But granted that two bodies of men each held an esoteric teaching of their own, they would secure it independently in a similar way, by a recognized process of initiation, by a solemn form of oath, by a rigid distinction of orders. Granted also, that they both maintained the excellence of an ascetic life, their asceticism would naturally take the same form; they would avoid wine and flesh; they would abstain from anointing themselves with oil; they would depreciate, and perhaps altogether prohibit, marriage. Unless therefore the historical conditions are themselves favourable to a direct and immediate connexion between the Pythagoreans and the Essenes, this theory of affiliation has little to recommend it.


* Diog. Laert. viii. 17; See Zeller l. c. p. 282, note 5. The precept in question occurs among a number of insignificant details, and has no special prominence given to it. In the Life of Apolloniusby Philostratus (e.g. vi. 10) considerable stress is laid on the worship of the sun (Zeller l.c. p. 137, note 6); but the syncretism of this late work detracts from its value as representing Pythagorean doctrine.


And a closer examination must pronounce them to be most unfavourable. Chronology and geography alike present serious obstacles to any solution which derives the peculiarities of the Essenes from the Pythagoreans.


(i) The priority of time, if it can be pleaded on either side, must be urged in favour of the Essenes. The Pythagoreans as a philosophical school entirely disappear from history before the middle of the fourth century before Christ. The last Pythagoreans were scholars of Philolaus and Eurytus, the contemporaries of Socrates and Plato.* For nearly two centuries after their extinction we hear nothing of them. Here and there persons like Diodorus of Aspendus are satirized by the Attic poets of the middle comedy as ‘pythagorizers,’ in other words, as total abstainers and vegetarians;** but the philosophy had wholly died or was fast dying out. This is the universal testimony of ancient writers. It is not till the first century before Christ, that we meet with any distinct traces of a revival. In Alexander Polyhistor, a younger contemporary of Sulla, for the first time we find references to certain writings, which would seem to have emanated from this incipient Neopythagoreanism, rather than from the elder school of Pythagoreans. And a little later Cicero commends his friend Nigidius Figulus as one specially raised up to revive the extinct philosophy. But so slow or so chequered was its progress, that a whole century after Seneca can still speak of the school as practically defunct. Yet long before this the Essenes formed a compact, well-organized, numerous society with a peculiar system of doctrine and a definite rule of life. We have seen that Pliny the elder speaks of this celibate society as having existed ‘through thousands of ages.’*** This is a gross exaggeration, but it must at least be taken to imply that in Pliny’s time the origin of the Essenes was lost in the obscurity of the past, or at least seemed so to those who had not access to special sources of information. If, as I have given reasons for supposing, Pliny’s authority in this passage is the same Alexander Polyhistor to whom I have just referred, and if this particular statement, however exaggerated in expression, is derived from him, the fact becomes still more significant. But on any showing the priority in time is distinctly in favour of the Essenes as against the Neopythagoreans.


* Zeller l.c. p. 68 (comp. I. p. 242). While disputing Zeller’s position, I have freely made use of his references. It is impossible not to admire the mastery of detail and clearness of exposition in this work, even when the conclusions seem questionable.


** Athen. iv. p. 161, Diog. Laert. viii. 37. See the index to Meineke Fragm. Com. s. vv. puqagorikoV, etc. The words commonly used by these satirists are puqagorizein, puqagoristhV, puqagorismoV. The persons so satirized were probably in many cases not more Pythagoreans than modern teetotalers are Rechabites.


*** N. H. v. 15. The point of time, at which Josephus thinks it necessary to insert an account of the Essenes as already flourishing (Ant. xiii. 5.9), is prior to the revival of the Neopythagorean school. How much earlier the Jewish sect arose, we are without data for determining.


And accordingly we find that what is only a tendency in the Neopythagoreans is with the Essenes an avowed principle and a definite rule of life. Such for instance is the case with celibacy, of which Pliny says that it has existed as an institution among the Essenes per sæculorum miilia, and which is a chief corner-stone of their practical system. The Pythagorean notices ( whether truly or not, it is unimportant for my purpose to enquire) speak of Pythagoras as having a wife and a daughter. Only at a late date do we find the attempt to represent their founder in another light; and if virginity is ascribed to Apollonius of Tyana, the great Pythagorean of the first Christian century, in the fictitious biography of Philostratus, this representation is plainly due to the general plan of the novelist, whose hero is perhaps intended to rival the Founder of Christianity, and whose work is saturated with Christian ideas. In fact virginity can never be said to have been a Pythagorean principle, though it may have been an exalted ideal of some not very early adherents of the school. And the same remark applies to other resemblances between the Essene and Neopythagorean teaching. The clearness of conception and the definiteness of practice are in almost every instance on the side of the Essenes; so that, looking at the comparative chronology of the two, it will appear almost inconceivable that they can have derived their principles from the Neopythagoreans.


(ii) But the geographical difficulty also, which this theory of affiliation involves, must be added to the chronological. The home of the Essene sect is allowed on all hands to have been on the eastern borders of Palestine, the shores of the Dead Sea, a region least of all exposed to the influences of Greek philosophy. It is true that we find near Alexandria a closely allied school of Jewish recluses, the Therapeutes; and, as Alexandria may have been the home of Neopythagoreanism, a possible link of connexion is here disclosed. But, as Zeller himself has pointed out, it is not among the Therapeutes, but among the Essenes, that the principles in question appear fully developed and consistently carried out; and therefore, if there be a relation of paternity between Essene and Therapeute, the latter must be derived from the former and not conversely. How then can we suppose this influence of Neopythagoreanism brought to bear on a Jewish community in the southeastern border of Palestine? Zeller’s answer is as follows. Judæa was for more than a hundred and fifty years before the Maccabean period under the sovereignty first of the Eygptian and then of the Syrian Greeks. We know that at this time Hellenizing influences did infuse themselves largely into Judaism: and what more natural than that among these the Pythagorean philosophy and discipline should have recommended itself to a section of the Jewish people? It may be said in reply, that at all events the special locality of the Essenes is the least favourable to such a solution: but, without pressing this fact, Zeller’s hypothesis is open to two serious objections which combined seem fatal to it, unsupported as it is by any historical notice. First, this influence of Pythagoreanism is assumed to have taken place at the very time when the Pythagorean school was practically extinct: and secondly, it is supposed to have acted upon that very section of the Jewish community, which was the most vigorous advocate of national exclusiveness and the most averse to Hellenizing influences.


It is not therefore to Greek but to Oriental influences that considerations of time and place, as well as of internal character, lead us to look for an explanation of the alien elements in Essene Judaism. And have we not here also the account of any real coincidences which may exist between Essenism and Neopythagoreanism? We should perhaps be hardly more justified in tracing Neopythagoreanism directly to Essenism than conversely (though, if we had no other alternative, this would appear to be the more probable solution of the two): but were not both alike due to substantially the same influences acting in different degrees? I think it will hardly be denied that the characteristic features of Pythagoreanism, and especially of Neopythagoreanism, which distinguish it from other schools of Greek philosophy, are much more Oriental in type, than Hellenic. The asceticism, the magic, the mysticism, of the sect all point in the same direction. And history moreover contains indications that such was the case. There seems to be sufficient ground for the statement that Pythagoras himself was indebted to intercourse with the Egyptians, if not with more strictly Oriental nations, for some leading ideas of his system. But, however this may be, the fact that in the legendary accounts, which the Neopythagoreans invented to do honour to the founder of the school, he is represented as taking lessons from the Chaldeans, Persians, Brahmins, and others, may be taken as an evidence that their own philosophy at all events was partially derived from eastern sources.


But, if the alien elements of Essenism were borrowed not so much from Greek philosophy as from Oriental mysticism, to what nation or what religion was it chiefly indebted? To this question it is difficult, with our very imperfect knowledge of the East at the Christian era, to reply with any confidence. Yet there is one system to which we naturally look, as furnishing the most probable answer. The Medo-Persian religion supplies just those elements which distinguish the tenets and practices of the Essenes from the normal type of Judaism. (1) First; we have here a very definite form of dualism, which exercised the greatest influence on subsequent Gnostic sects, and of which Manicheism, the most matured development of dualist doctrine in connexion with Christianity, was the ultimate fruit. For though dualism may not represent the oldest theology of the Zend-Avesta in its unadulterated form, yet long before the era of which we are speaking it had become the fundamental principle of the Persian religion. (2) Again; the Zoroastrian symbolism of light, and consequent worship of the sun as the fountain of light, will explain those anomalous notices of the Essenes in which they are represented as paying reverence to this luminary. (3) Moreover; the ‘worship of angels’ in the Essene system has a striking parallel in the invocations of spirits, which form a very prominent feature in the ritual of the Zend-Avesta. And altogether their angelology is illustrated, and not improbably was suggested, by the doctrine of intermediate beings concerned in the government of nature and of man, such as the Amshaspands, which is an integral part of the Zoroastrian system. (4) And once more; the magic, which was so attractive to the Essene, may have received its impulse from the priestly caste of Persia, to whose world-wide fame this form of superstition is indebted for its name. (5) If to these parallels I venture also to add the intense striving after purity, which is the noblest feature in the Persian religion, I do so, not because the Essenes might not have derived this impulse from a higher source, but because this feature was very likely to recommend the Zoroastrian system to their favourable notice, and because also the particular form which the zeal for purity took among them was at all events congenial to the teaching of the Zend-Avesta, and may not have been altogether free from its influences.


I have preferred dwelling on these broader resemblances, because they are much more significant than any mere coincidence of details, which may or may not have been accidental. Thus for instance the magi, like the Essenes, wore white garments, and eschewed gold and ornaments; they practiced frequent lustrations; they avoided flesh, living on bread and cheese or on herbs and fruits; they had different orders in their society; and the like.* All these, as I have already remarked, may be the independent out-growth of the same temper and direction of conduct, and need not imply any direct historical connexion. Nor is there any temptation to press such resemblances; for even without their aid the general connexion seems to be sufficient established.**


* Hilgenfeld (Zeitschrift x. p. 99 sq.) finds coincidences even more special than these. He is answered by Zeller (III. 2, p. 276), but defends his position again (Zeitschrift xi. p. 347 sq.), though with no great success. Among other points of coincidence Hilgenfeld remarks on the axe (Jos. B. J. ii. 8. 7) which was given to the novices among the Essenes, and connects it with the axinomanteia (Plin. N. H. xxvi. 19) of the magi. Zeller contents himself with replying that the use of the axe among the Essenes for purposes of divination is a pure conjecture, not resting on any known fact. He might have answered with much more effect that Josephus elsewhere (§ 9) defines it as a spade or shovel, and assigns to it a very different use. Hilgenfeld has damaged his cause by laying stress on these accidental resemblances. So far as regards minor coincidences, Zeller makes out as good a case for his Pythagoreans, as Hilgenfeld for his magians.


** Those who allow any foreign Oriental element in Essenism most commonly ascribe it to Persia: e.g. among the more recent writers, Hilgenfeld (l. c.), and Lipsius Schenkel’s Bibel-Lexikon s.v. Essaer p. 189.


But it is said, that the history of Persia does not favour the hypothesis of such an influence as is here assumed. The destruction of the Persian empire by Alexander, argues Zeller, and the subsequent erection of the Parthian domination on its ruins, must have been fatal to the spread of Zoroastrianism. From the middle of the third century before Christ, when the Parthian empire was established, till towards the middle of the third century of our era, when the Persian monarchy and religion were once more restored,* its influence must have been reduced within the narrowest limits. But does analogy really suggest such an inference? Does not the history of the Jews themselves show that the religious influence of a people on the world at large may begin just where its national life ends? The very dispersion of Zoroastrianism, consequent on the fall of the empire, would impregnate the atmosphere far and wide; and the germs of new religious developments would thus be implanted in alien soils. For in tracing Essenism to Persian influences I have not wished to imply that this Jewish sect consciously incorporated the Zoroastrian philosophy and religion as such, but only that Zoroastrian ideas were infused into its system by more or less direct contact. And, as a matter of fact, it seems quite certain that Persian ideas were widely spread during this very interval, when the Persian nationality was eclipsed. It was then that Hermippus gave to the Greeks the most detailed account of this religion which had ever been laid before them. It was then that its tenets suggested or moulded the speculations of the various Gnostic sects. It was then that the worship of the Persian Mithras spread throughout the Roman Empire. It was then, if not earlier, that the magian system took root in Asia Minor, making for itself (as it were) a second home in Cappadocia.** It was then, if not earlier, that the Zoroastrian demonology stamped itself so deeply on the apocryphal literature of the Jews themselves, which borrowed even the names of evil spirits*** from the Persians. There are indeed abundant indications that Palestine was surrounded by Persian influences during this period, when the Persian empire was in abeyance.


* See Gibbon Decline and Fall c. vii, Milman History of Christianity II. p. 247 sq. The latter speaks of this restoration of Zoroastrianism, as ‘perhaps the only instance of the vigorous revival of a Pagan religion.’ It was far purer and less Pagan than the system which it superseded; and this may account for its renewed life.


** Strabo xv. 3. 15 (p. 733) ’En de th Kappadokia (polu gar ekei to twn Magwn fulon, oi kai puraiqoi kalountai polla de kai twn Persikwn qewn iepa) k.t.l..


*** At least in one instance, Asmodeus (Tob. iii. 17); see M. Muller Chips from a German Workshop I. p. 148 sq. For the different dates assigned to the book of Tobit see Dr. Westcott’s article Tobit in Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible p. 1525.


Thus we seem to have ample ground for the view that certain alien features in Essene Judaism were derived from the Zoroastrian religion. But are we justified in going a step further, and attributing other elements in this eclectic system to the more distant East? The monasticism of the Buddhist will naturally occur to our minds, as a precursor of the cenobitic life among the Essenes; and Hilgenfeld accordingly has not hesitated to ascribe this characteristic of Essenism directly to Buddhist influences. But at the outset we are obliged to ask whether history gives any such indication of the presence of Buddhism in the West as this hypothesis requires. Hilgenfeld answers this question in the affirmative. He points confidently to the fact that as early as the middle of the second century before Christ the Buddhist records speak of their faith as flourishing in Alasanda the chief city of the land of Yavana. The place intended, he conceives, can be none other than the great Alexandria, the most famous of the many places bearing the name.* In this opinion however he stands quite alone. Neither Koppen (Die Religion des Buddha I. p. 193), who is his authority for this statement, nor any other Indian scholar, so far as I am aware, for a moment contemplates this identification. Yavana, or Yona, was the common Indian name for the Græco-Bactrian kingdom and its dependencies;** and to this region we naturally turn. The Alasanda or Alasadda therefore, which is here mentioned, will be one of several Eastern cities bearing the name of the great conqueror, most probably Alexandria ad Caucasum. But indeed I hardly think that, if Hilgenfeld had referred to the original authority for the statement, the great Buddhist history Mahawanso, he would have ventured to lay any stress at all on this notice, as supporting his theory. The historian, or rather fabulist (for such he is in this earlier part of his chronicle), is relating the foundation of the Maha thupo, or great tope, at Ruanwelli by the king Dutthagamini in the year BC 157. Beyond the fact that this tope was erected by this king the rest is plainly legendary. All the materials for the construction of the building, we are told, appeared spontaneously as by miracle—the bricks, the metals, the precious stones. The dewos, or demons, lent their aid in the erection. In fact.


the fabric huge

Rose like an exhalation.


Priests gathered in enormous numbers from all the great Buddhist monasteries to do honour to the festival of the foundation. One place alone sent not less than 96,000. Among the rest it is mentioned that ‘Maha Dhammarakkito, thero (i.e. senior priest) of Yona, accompanied by 30,000 priests from the vicinity of Alasadda, the capital of the Yona country, attended’ (Mahawanso p. 171, Turnour’s translation). It is obvious that no weight can be attached to a statement occurring as part of a story of which the other details are so manifestly false. An establishment of 30,000 Buddhist priests at Alexandria would indeed be a phenomenon of which historians have shown a strange neglect.


* x. p. 105 ‘was schon an sich, zumal in dieser Zeit, schwerlich Alexandria ad Caucasum, sondern nur Alexnadrien in Aegypten bedeuten kann.’ Comp. XI. p. 351, where he repeats the same argument in reply to Zeller. This is a very natural inference from a western point of view; but, when we place ourselves in the position of a Buddhist writer to whom Bactria was Greece, the relative proportions of things are wholly changed.


** For its geographical meaning in older Indian writers see Koppen l.c. Since then it has entirely departed from its original signification, and Yavana is now a common term used by the Hindoos to designate the Mohammedans. Thus the Greek name has come to be applied to a people which of all others is most unlike the Greeks. This change of meaning admirably illustrates the use of Ellhn among the Jews, which in like manner, from being the name of an alien nation, became the name of an alien religion, irrespective of nationality.


Nor is the presence of any Buddhist establishment even on a much smaller scale in this important center of western civilization at all reconcilable with the ignorance of this religion, which the Greeks and Romans betray at a much later date. For some centuries after the Christian era we find that the information possessed by western writers was most shadowy and confused; and in almost every instance we are able to trace it to some other cause than the actual presence of Buddhists in the Roman Empire.* Thus Strabo, who wrote under Augustus and Tiberius, apparently mentions the Buddhist priests, the sramanas, under the designation sarmanæ (SarmanaV);** but he avowedly obtains his information from Megasthenes, who traveled in India somewhere about the year 300 BC and wrote a book on Indian affairs. Thus too Bardesanes at a much later date gives an account of these Buddhist ascetics, without however naming the founder of the religion; but he was indebted for his knowledge of them to conversations with certain Indian ambassadors who visited Syria on their way westward in the reign of one of the Antonines.*** Clement of Alexandria, writing in the latest years of the second century or the earliest of the third, for the first† time mentions Buddha by name; and even he betrays a strange ignorance of this Eastern religion.††



* Consistently with this view, we may allow that single Indians would visit Alexandria from time to time for purposes of trade or for other reasons, and not more than this is required by the rhetorical passage in Dion Chrysost. Or. xxxii (. 373) orw gar egwge ou monon EllhnaV par umin....alla kai BaktriouV kai SkuqaV kai PersaV kai Indwn tinaV. The qualifying tinaV shows how very slight was the communication between India and Alexandria. The mission of Pantænus may have been suggested by the presence of such stray visitors. Jerome (Vir. Ill. 36) says that he went ‘rogatus ab illius gentis legatis.’ It must remain doubtful however, whether some other region than Hindostan, such as Ethiopia for instance, is not meant, when Pantænus is said to have gone to India: see Cave’s Lives of the Primitive Fathers p. 188 sq.


How very slight the communication was between India and the West in the early years of the Christian era, appears from this passage of Strabo xv i.4 (p. 686); kai oi nun de ex Aiguptou pleonteV emporikoi tw Neilw kai tw Arabiw kolpw mecri thV IndikhV spanioi men kai peripepleukasi mecri tou Gaggou, kai outoi d idiwtai kai ouden proV istorian twn topwn crhsimoi, after which he goes on to say that the only instance of Indian travelers in the West was the embassy sent to Augustus which came af enoV topou kai tar enoV basilewV.


The communications between India and the West are investigated by two recent writers, Reinaud Relations Politiques et Commerciales de l’Empire Romain avec l’Asie Centrale, Paris 1863, and Priaulx The Indian Travels of Apollonius of Tyana and the Indian Embassies to Rome, 1873. The latter work, which is very thorough and satisfactory, would have saved me much labour of independent investigation, if I had seen it in time.


** Strabo xv. i.59, p. 712. In the MSS it is written GarmanaV, but this must be an error either introduced by Strabo’s transcribers or found in the copy of Megasthenes which this author used. This is plain not only from the Indian word itself, but also from the parallel passage in Clement of Alexandria (Strom. i. 15). From the coincidences of language it is clear that Clement also derived his information from Megasthenes, whose name he mentions just below. The fragments of Megasthenes relating to the Indian philosophers will be found in Muller Fragm. Hist. Graec. II. p. 437. They were previously edited by Schwanbeck, Megasthenis Indica (Bonnæ 1846).


For Sarmanai we also find the form Samanaioi in other writers; e.g. Clem. Alex. l.c., Bardesanes in Porphyr. de Abstin. iv. 17, Orig. c. Cels. i. 19 (I. p. 342). This divergence is explained by the fact that the Pali word sammana corresponds to the Sanskrit sramana. See Schwanbeck, l.c. p. 17, quoted by Muller, p. 437.


It should be borne in mind however, that several eminent Indian scholars believe Megasthenes to have meant not Buddhists but Brahmins by his SarmanaV. So for instance Lassen Rhein. Mus. 1833, p. 180 sq., Ind. Alterth. II. p. 700: and Prof. Max. Muller (Pref. to Rogers’ Translation of Buddhaghosha’s Parables, London 1870, p. lii) says; ‘That Lassen is right in taking the Sarmanai, mentioned by Megasthenes, for Brahmanic, not for Buddhist ascetics, might be proved also by their dress. Dresses made of the bark of trees are not Buddhistic.’ If this opinion be correct, the earlier notices of Buddhism in Greek writers entirely disappear, and my position is strengthened. But for the following reasons the other view appears to me more probable: (1) The term sramana is the common term for the Buddhist ascetic, whereas it is very seldom used of the Brahmin. (2) the ZarmanoV (another form of sramana), appears to have been a Buddhist. This view is taken even by Lassen, Ind. Alterth. III. p. 60. (3) The distinction of BracmaneV and Sarmanai in Megasthenes or the writers following him corresponds to the distinction of BracmaneV and Samanaioi in Bardesanes, Origen, and others; and, as Schwanbeck has shown (l.c.), the account of the Sarmanai in Megasthenes for the most part is a close parallel to the account of the Samanaioi in Bardesanes (or at least in Porphyry’s report of Bardesanes). It seems more probable therefore that Megasthenes ahs been guilty of confusion in describing the dress of the Sarmanai, than that Brahmins are intended by the term.


The Pali form, Samanaioi, as a designation of the Buddhists, first occurs in Clement of Alexandria or Bardesanes, whichever may be the earlier writer. It is generally ascribed to Alexander Polyhistor, who flourished BC 80-60, because his authority is quoted by Cyril of Alexandria (c. Julian. iv. p. 133) in the same context in which the Samanaioi are mentioned. This inference is drawn by Schwanbeck, Max Muller, Lassen, and others. An examination of Cyril’s language however shows that the statement for which he quotes the authority of Alexander Polyhistor does not extend to the mention of the Sammanæi. Indeed all the facts given in this passage of Cyril (including the reference to Polyhistor) are taken from Clement of Alexandria (Strom.i. 15), whose account Cyril has abridged. It is possible indeed that Clement himself derived the statement from Polyhistor, but nothing in Clement’s own language points to this.


*** The narrative of Bardesanes is given by Porphyry de Abst. iv. 17. The Buddhist ascetics are there called Samanaioi (see the last note). The work of Bardesanes, recounting his conversations with these Indian ambassadors, is quoted again by Porphyry in a fragment preserved by Stobæus Ecl. iii. 56 (p. 141). In this last passage the embassy is said to have arrived epi thV basileiaV thV Antwninou tou ex Emiswn, by which, if the words be correct, must be meant Elagabalus (AD 218-222), the spurious Antonine (see Hilgenfeld Bardesanes p. 12 sq.). Other ancient authorities however place Bardesanes in the reign of one of the older Antonines; and, as the context is somewhat corrupt, we cannot feel quite certain about the date. Bardesanes gives by far the most accurate account of the Buddhists to be found in any ancient Greek writer; but even here the monstrous stories, which the Indian ambassadors related to him, show how little trustworthy such sources of information were.


Except possibly Arian, Ind. viii. 1, who mentions an ancient Indian king, Budyas (BouduaV) by name; but what he relates of him is quite inconsistent with the history of Buddha, and probably some one else is intended.


†† In this passage (Strom. i. 15, p. 359) Clement apparently mentions these same persons three times, supposing that he is describing three different schools of Oriental philosophers. (1) He speaks of Samanaioi Baktrwn (comp. Cyril. Alex. l.c.); (2) He distinguishes two classes of Indian gymnosophists, whom he calls Sarmanai and Bracmanai. These are Buddhists and Brahmins respectively; (3) He says afterwards eisi de twn Indwn oi toiV Boutta peiqomenoi paraggelmasin, dn di uperbolhn semnothtoV eiV [wV?] qeon tetimhkasi. Schwanbeck indeed maintains that Clement here intends to describe the same persons whom he has just mentioned as Sarmanai; but this is not the natural interpretation of his language, which must mean ‘There are also among the Indians those who obey the precepts of Buddhan.’ Probably Schwanbeck is right in identifying the Sarmanai with the Buddhist ascetics, but Clement appears not to have known this. In fact he has obtained his information from different sources, and so repeated himself without being aware of it. Where he got the first fact it is impossible to say. The second, as we saw, was derived from Megasthenes. The third, relating to Buddha, came, as we may conjecture, either from Pantænus (if indeed Hindostan is really meant by the India of his missionary labours) or from some chance Indian visitor at Alexandria.


In another passage (Strom. iii. 7, p. 539) Clement speaks of certain Indian celibates and ascetics, who are called Semnoi. As he distinguishes them from the gymnosophists, and mentions the pyramid as a sacred building with them, the identification with the Buddhists can hardly be doubted. Here therefore Semnoi is a Grecized form of Samanaoio; and this modification of the word would occur naturally to Clement, because semnoi, semneion, were already used of the ascetic life: e.g. Phil de Vit. Cont. 3 (p. 475 M) ieron o kaleitai semneion kai monasthrion en w monoumenoi ta tou semnou biou musthria telountai.


Still later than this, Hippolytus, while he gives a fairly intelligent, though brief, account of the Brahmins (Haer. i. 24), says not a word about the Buddhists, though, if he had been acquainted with their teaching, he would assuredly have seen in them a fresh support to his theory of the affinity between Christian heresies and pre-existing heathen philosophies. With one doubtful exception—an Indian fanatic attached to an embassy sent by king Porus to Augustus, who astonished the Greeks and Romans by burning himself alive at Athens*—there is apparently no notice in either heathen or Christian writers, which points to the presence of a Buddhist within the limits of the Roman Empire, till long after the Essenes had ceased to exist.**


* The chief authority is Nicolaus of Damascus in Strabo xv. I. 73 (p. 270). The incident is mentioned also in Dion Cass. liv. 9. Nicolaus had met these ambassadors at Antioch, and gives an interesting account of the motley company and their strange presents. This fanatic, who was one of the number, immolated himself in the presence of an astonished crowd, and perhaps of the emperor himself, at Athens. He anointed himself and then leapt smiling on the pyre. The inscription on his tomb was ZarmanochgaV IndoV ato BargoshV kata ta patria Indwn eqh eauton apaqanatisaV keitai. The tomb was visible at least as late as the age of Plutarch, who recording the self-immolation of Calanus before Alexander (Vit. Alex 69) says, touto polloiV etesin usteron alloV IndoV en AqhnaiV Kaisari sunwn epoihse, kai deiknutai mecri nun to mnhmeion Indou prasagoreuomenon. Strabo also places the two incidents in conjunction in another passage in which he refers to this person, xv. I. 4 (p. 686) o katakausaV eauton Aqhnhsi sofisthV IndoV, kaqaper kai o KalanoV k.t.l..


The reasons for supposing this person to have been a Buddhist, rather than a Brahmin, are: (1) The name ZarmanochgaV (which appears with some variations in the MSS of Strabo) being apparently the Indian sramana-karja, i.e. ‘teacher of the ascetics,’ in other words, a Buddhist priest; (2) The place Bargosa, i.e. Barygaza, where Buddhism flourished in that age. See Priaulx p. 78 sq. In Dion Cassius it is written ZarmaroV.


And have we not here an explanation of 1 Cor 13:3, if ina kauqhsomai be the right reading? The passage, being written before the fires of the Neronian persecution, requires explanation. Now it is clear from Plutarch that the ‘Tomb of the Indian’ was one of the sights shown to strangers at Athens: and the Apostle, who observed the altar AGNWCTWI qEWI, was not likely to overlook the sepulcher with the strange inscription EAYTON ATTAqANATICAC KEITAI. Indeed the incident would probably be pressed on his notice in his discussions with Stoics and Epicureans, and he would be forced to declare himself as to the value of these Indian self-immolations, when he preached the doctrine of self-sacrifice. We may well imagine therefore that the fate of this poor Buddhist fanatic was present to his mind when he penned the words kai ean paradw to swma mou...agaphn de mhecw, ouden wfeloumai. Indeed it would furnish an almost equally good illustration of the text, whether we read ina kauqhsomai or ina kauchswmai. Dion Cassius (l.c.) suggests that the deed was done upo filotimiaV or eiV epideixin. How much attention these religious suicides of the Indians attracted in the Apostolic age (doubtless because the act of this Buddhist priest had brought the subject vividly before men’s minds in the West), we may infer from the speech which Josephus puts in the mouth of Eleazer (B. J. vii. 8. 7), Bleywmen eiV IndouV touV sofian askein upiscnoumenouV...oi de...puri to swma parasonteV, opwV dh kai kaqarwtathn apokrinwsi tou swmatoV thn yuchn, umnoumenoi teleutwsi...ap oun ouk aidoumeqa ceiron Indwn fronounteV;


** In the reign of Claudius an embassy arrived from Taprobane (Ceylon); and from these ambassadors Pliny derived his information regarding the island, N. H. vi. 24. Respecting their religion however he says only two words ‘coli Herculem,’ by whom probably Rama is meant (Priaulx p. 116). From this and other statements it appears that they were Tamils and not Singalese, and thus belonged to the non-Buddhist part of the island; see Priaulx p. 91 sq.


And if so, the coincidences must be very precise, before we are justified in attributing any peculiarities of Essenism to Buddhist influences. This however is far from being the case. They both exhibit a well-organized monastic society: but the monasticism of the Buddhist priests, with its systematized mendicancy, has little in common with the monasticism of the Essene recluse, whose life was largely spent in manual labour. They both enjoin celibacy, both prohibit the use of flesh and of wine, both abstain from the slaughter of animals. But, as we have already seen, such resemblances prove nothing, for they may be explained by the independent development of the same religious principles. One coincidence, and one only, is noticed by Hilgenfeld, which at first sight seems more striking and might suggest a historical connexion. He observes that the four orders of the Essene community are derived from the four steps of Buddhism. Against this it might fairly be argued that such coincidences of numbers are often purely accidental, and that in the present instance there is no more reason for connecting the four steps of Buddhism with the four orders of Essenism than there would be for connecting the ten precepts of Buddha with the Ten Commandments of Moses. But indeed a nearer examination will show that the two have nothing whatever in common except the number. The four steps or paths of Buddhism are not four grades of an external order, but four degrees of spiritual progress on the way to nirvana or annihilation, the ultimate goal of the Buddhist’s religious aspirations. They are wholly unconnected with the Buddhist monastic system, as an organization. A reference to the Buddhist notices collected in Hardy’s Eastern Monachism (p. 280 sq.) will at once dispel any suspicion of a resemblance. A man may attain to the highest of these four stages of Buddhist illumination instantaneously. He does not need to have passed through the lower grades, but may even be a layman at the time. Some merit obtained in a previous state of existence may raise him per saltum to the elevation of a rahat, when all earthly desires are crushed and no future birth stands between him and nirvana. There remains therefore no coincidence which would suggest any historical connexion between Essenism and Buddhism. Indeed it is not till some centuries later, when Manicheism (even its influence on Manicheism however is disputed) starts into being, that we find for the first time any traces of the influence of Buddhism on the religions of the West.*


* An extant inscription, containing an edict of the great Buddhist king Asoka and dating about the middle of the 3rd century BC, was explained by Prinsep as recording a treaty of this monarch with Ptolemy and other successors of Alexander, by which religious freedom was secured for the Buddhists throughout their dominions. If this interpretation had been correct, we must have supposed that, so far as regards Egypt and Western Asia, the treaty remained a dead letter. But later critics have rejected this interpretation of its purport: see Thomas’ edition of Prinsep’s Essays on Indian Antiquities II. p. 18 sq.



III. Essenism and Christianity.


It has become a common practice with a certain class of writers to call Essenism to their aid in accounting for any distinctive features of Christianity, which they are unable to explain in any other way. Wherever some external power is needed to solve a perplexity, here is the deus ex machina whose aid they most readily invoke. Constant repetition is sure to produce its effect, and probably not a few persons, who want either the leisure or the opportunity to investigate the subject for themselves, have a lurking suspicion that the Founder of Christianity may have been an Essene, or at all events that Christianity was largely indebted to Essenism for its doctrinal and ethical teaching.* Indeed, when very confident and sweeping assertions are made, it is natural to presume that they rest on a substantial basis of fact. Thus for instance we are told by one writer that Christianity is ‘Essenism alloyed with foreign elements’ (Gratz III. p. 217); while another, who however approaches the subject in a different spirit, says; ‘It will hardly be doubted that our Saviour himself belonged to this holy brotherhood. This will especially be apparent, when we remember that the whole Jewish community at the advent of Christ was divided into three parties, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes, and that every Jew had to belong to one of these sects. Jesus who in all things conformed to the Jewish law, and who was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners, would therefore naturally associate Himself with that order of Judaism which was most congenial to His nature’ (Ginsburg Essenes p. 24). I purpose testing these strong assertions by an appeal to facts.


* De Quincey’s attempt to prove that the Essenes were actually Christians (Works vi. p. 270 sq., ix. p. 253 sq.), who used the machinery of an esoteric society to inculcate their doctrines ‘for fear of the Jews,’ is conceived in a wholly different spirit from the theories of the writers mentioned in the text; but it is even more untenable and does not deserve serious refutation.


For the statements involved in those words of the last extract which I have underlined, no authority is given by the writer himself; nor have I been able to find confirmation of them in any quarter. On the contrary the frequent allusions which we find to the vulgar herd, the idiwtai, the am haarets, who are distinguished from the disciples of the schools, suggest that a large proportion of the people was unattached to any sect. If it had been otherwise, we might reasonably presume that our Lord, as one who ‘in all things conformed to the Jewish law,’ would have preferred attaching Himself to the Pharisees who ‘sat in Moses’ seat’ and whose precepts He recommended His disciples to obey (Matt 23:2,3), rather than to the Essenes who in one important respect at least—the repudiation of the temple sacrifices—acted in flagrant violation of the Mosaic ordinances.


This preliminary barrier being removed, we are free to investigate the evidence for their presumed connexion. And here we are met first with a negative argument, which obviously has great weight with many persons. Why, it is asked, does Jesus, who so unsparingly denounces the vices and the falsehoods of Pharisees and Sadducees, never once mention the Essenes by way of condemnation, or indeed mention them by name at all? Why, except that He Himself belonged to this sect and looked favourably on their teaching? This question is best answered by another. How can we explain the fact, that throughout the enormous mass of talmudical and early rabbinical literature this sect is not once mentioned by name, and that even the supposed allusions to them, which have been discovered for the first time in the present century, turn out on investigation to be hypothetical and illusory? The difficulty is much greater in this latter instance; but the answer is the same in both cases. The silence is explained by the comparative insignificance of the sect, their small numbers and their retired habits. Their settlements were far removed from the great centers of political and religious life. Their recluse habits, as a rule, prevented them from interfering in the common business of the world. Philo and Josephus have given prominence to them, because their ascetic practices invested them with the character of philosophers and interested the Greeks and Romans in their history; but in the national life of the Jews they bore a very insignificant part.* If the Sadducees, who held the highest offices in the hierarchy, are only mentioned directly on three occasions in the Gospels,** it can be no surprise that the Essenes are not named at all.


* This fact is fully recognized by several recent writers, who will not be suspected of any undue bias towards traditional views of Christian history. Thus Lipsius writes (p. 190), ‘In the general development of Jewish life Essenism occupies a far more subordinate place than is commonly ascribed to it.’ And Keim expressed himself to the same effect (I. p. 305). Derenbourg also, after using similar language, adds this wise caution, ‘In any case, in the present state of our acquaintance with the Essenes, which is so imperfect and has no chance of being extended, the greatest prudence is required of science, if she prefers to be true rather than adventurous, if she has at heart rather to enlighten than to surprise’ (p. 461). Even Gratz in one passage can write soberly on this subject: ‘The Essenes had throughout no influence on political movements, from which they held aloof as far as possible’ (III. p. 86).


** These are (1) Matthew 3:7; (2) Matthew 16:1 sq; (3) Matthew 22:23 sq., Mark 12:18, Luke 20:27.


As no stress therefore can be laid on the argument from silence, any hypothesis of connection between Essenism and Christianity must make good its claims by establishing one or both of these two points: first, that there is direct historical evidence of close intercourse between the two; and secondly, that the resemblances of doctrine and practice are so striking as to oblige, or at least to warrant, the belief in such a connexion. If both these lines of argument fail, the case must be considered to have broken down.


I. On the former point it must be premised that the Gospel narrative does not suggest any hint of a connexion. Indeed its general tenor is directly adverse to such a supposition. From first to last Jesus and His disciples move about freely, taking part in the common business, even in the common recreations, of Jewish life. The recluse ascetic brotherhood, which was gathered about the shores of the Dead Sea, does not once appear above the Evangelists’ horizon. Of this close society, as such, there is not the faintest indication. But two individuals have been singled out, as holding an important place either in the Evangelical narrative or in the Apostolic Church, who, it is contended, form direct and personal links of communication with this sect. These are John the Baptist and James the Lord’s brother. The one is the forerunner of the Gospel, the first herald of the Kingdom; the other is the most prominent figure in the early Church of Jerusalem.


(i) John the Baptist was an ascetic. His abode was the desert; his clothing was rough; his food was spare; he baptized his penitents. Therefore, it is argued, he was an Essene. Between the premises and the conclusion however there is a broad gulf, which cannot very easily be bridged over. The solitary independent life, which John led, presents a type wholly different from the cenobitic establishments of the Essenes, who had common property, common meals, common hours of labour and of prayer. It may even be questioned whether his food of locusts would have been permitted by the Essenes, if they really ate nothing which had life (emyucon). And again; his baptism as narrated by the Evangelists, and their lustrations as described by Josephus, have nothing in common except the use of water for a religious purpose. When therefore we are told confidently that ‘his manner of life was altogether after the Essene pattern,’ (Gratz III. p. 100) and that ‘he without doubt baptized his converts into the Essene order,’ we know what value to attach to this bold assertion. If positive statements are allowable, it would be more true to fact to say that he could not possibly have been an Essene. The rule of his life was isolation; the principle of theirs,  community.


In this mode of life John was not singular. It would appear that not a few devout Jews at this time retired from the world and buried themselves in the wilderness, that they might devote themselves unmolested to ascetic discipline and religious meditation. One such instance at all events we have in Banus the master of Josephus, with whom the Jewish historian, when a youth, spent three years in the desert. This anchorite was clothed in garments made of bark or of leaves; his food was the natural produce of the earth; he bathed day and night in cold water for purposes of purification. To the careless observer doubtless John and Banus would appear to be men of the same stamp. In their outward mode of life there was perhaps not very much difference. The consciousness of a divine mission, the gift of a prophetic insight, in John was the real and all-important distinction between the two. But here also the same mistake is made; and we not uncommonly find Banus described as an Essene. It is not too much to say however, that the whole tenor of Josephus’ narrative is opposed to this supposition.* He says that when sixteen years old he desired to acquire a knowledge of the three sects of the Jews before making his choice of one; that accordingly he went through (dihlqon) all the three at the cost of much rough discipline and toil; that he was not satisfied with the experience thus gained, and hearing of this Banus he attached himself to him as his zealous disciple (zhlwthV egenomhn autou); that having remained three years with him he returned to Jerusalem; and that then, being nineteen years old, he gave in his adhesion to the sect of the Pharisees. Thus there is no more reason for connecting this Banus with the Essenes than with the Pharisees. The only natural interpretation of the narrative is that he did not belong to any of the three sects, but represented a distinct type of religious life, of which Josephus was anxious to gain experience. And his hermit life seems to demand this solution, which the sequence of the narrative suggests.


* The passage is so important that I give it in full; Joseph. Vit. 2 peri ekkaideka de eth genomenoV eboulhqhn twn par muin airesewn empeirian labein. treiV d eisin autai Farisaiwn men h prwth, kai Saddoukaiwn h deutera, trith de h Esshnwn, kaqwV pollakiV eipamen. outwV gar womhn airhsesqai thn aristhn, ei pasaV katamaqoimi. sklhragwghsaV goun emauton kai polla ponhqeiV taV tpeiV dihlqon. kai mhde thn enteuqen empeirian ikanhn emautw nomisaV einai, puqomenoV tina Banoun onoma kata thn erhmian diatribein, esqhti men apo dendrwn crwmenon, trofhn de thn automatwV yuomenhn prosferomenon, yucrw de udati thn hmeran kai thn nukta pollakiV louomenon proV agneian, zhlwthV egenomhn autou. kai diatriyaV par autw eniautouV treiV kai thn epiqumian teleiwsaV eiV thn polin upestrefon. enneakaideka d eth ecwn hpxamhn te politeuesqai th Farisaiwn airesei katakolouqwn k.t. l.


Of John himself therefore no traits are handed down which suggest that he was a member of the Essene community. He was an ascetic, and the Essenes were ascetics; but this is plainly an inadequate basis for any such inference. Nor indeed is the relation of his asceticism to theirs a question of much moment for the matter in hand; since this was the very point in which Christ’s mode of life was so essentially different from John’s as to provoke criticism and to point a contrast (Matt 9:14 sq., 11:17 sq.; Mark 2:18 sq.; Luke 5:33, 7:31 sq.). But the later history of his real or supposed disciples has, or may seem to have, some bearing on this investigation. Towards the close of the first and the beginning of the second century we meet with a body of sectarians called in Greek Hemerobaptists,* in Hebrew Toble-schacharith, ‘day’ or ‘morning bathers.’ What were their relations to John the Baptist on the one hand, and to the Essenes on the other? Owing to the scantiness of our information the whole subject is wrapped in obscurity, and any restoration of their history must be more or less hypothetical; but it will be possible at all events to suggest an account which is not improbable in itself, and which does no violence to the extant notices of the sect.


* The word hmerobaptistai is generally taken to mean ‘daily-bathers,’ and this meaning is suggested by Apost. Const. vi. 6 oitneV, kaq ekasthn mueran ean mh baptiswntai, ouk esqiousin, ib. 23 anri kawhmerinou en monon douV baptisma, Epiphan. Haer. xvii. I (p. 37) ei mh ti ara kaq ekasthn mueran baptizoito tiV en uoati. But, if the word is intended as a translation of Toble-shacharith ‘morning bathers,’ as it seems to be, it must signify rather ‘day-bathers’; and this is more in accordance with the analogy of other compounds from hmera, as hmerobioV, hmerodromoV, hmeroskopoV, etc.


Josephus (B. J. ii. 8. 5) represents the Essenes as bathing, not at dawn, but at the fifth hour, just before their meal. This is hardly consistent either with the name of the Toble-shacharith, or with the Talmudical anecdote of them quoted above. Of Banus he reports (Vit. 2) that he ‘bathed often day and night in cold water.’


(a) We must not hastily conclude, when we meet with certain persons at Ephesus about the years AD 53, 54, who are described as ‘knowing only the baptism of John,’ or as having been ‘baptized unto John’s baptism,’* that we have here some early representatives of the Hemerobaptist sect. These were Christians, though imperfectly informed Christians. Of Apollos, who was more fully instructed by Aquila and Priscilla, this is stated in the most explicit terms. Of the rest, who owed their fuller knowledge of the Gospel to St. Paul, the same appears to be implied, though the language is not free from ambiguity. But these notices have an important bearing on our subject; for they show how profoundly the effect of John’s preaching was felt in districts as remote as proconsular Asia, even after a lapse of a quarter of a century. With these disciples it was the initial impulse towards Christianity; but to others it represented a widely different form of belief and practice. The Gospel of St. John was written, according to all tradition, at Ephesus in the later years of the first century. Again and again the Evangelist impresses on his readers, either directly by his own comments or indirectly by the course of the narrative, the transient and subordinate character of John’s ministry. He was not the light, says the Evangelist, but came to bear witness of the light (John 1:8). He was not the sun in the heavens: he was only the waning lamp, which shines when kindled from without and burns itself away in shining. His light might well gladden the Jews while it lasted, but this was only ‘for a season.’ John himself lost no opportunity of bearing his testimony to the loftier claims of Jesus. From such notices it is plain that in the interval between the preaching of St. Paul and the Gospel of St. John the memory of the Baptist at Ephesus had assumed a new attitude towards Christianity. His name is no longer the sign of imperfect appreciation, but the watchword of direct antagonism. John had been set up as a rival Messiah to Jesus. In other words, this Gospel indicates the spread of Hemerobaptist principles, if not the presence of a Hemerobaptist community, in proconsular Asia, when it was written. In two respects these Hemerobaptists distorted the facts of history. They perverted John’s teaching, and they misrepresented his office. His baptism was no more a single rite, once performed and initiating an amendment of life; it was a daily recurrence atoning for sin and sanctifying the person. He himself was no longer the forerunner of the Messiah; he was the very Messiah. In the latter half of the first century, it would seem, there was a great movement among large numbers of the Jews in favour of frequent baptism, as the one purificatory rite essential to salvation. Of this superstition we have had an instance already in the anchorite Banus to whom Josephus attached himself as a disciple. Its presence in the western districts of Asia Minor is shown by a Sibylline poem, dating about AD 80. Some years earlier these sectarians are mentioned by name as opposing James the Lord’s brother and the Twelve at Jerusalem.** Nor is there any reason for questioning their existence as a sect in Palestine during the later years of the Apostolic age, though the source from which our information comes is legendary, and the story itself a fabrication. But when or how they first connected themselves with the name of John the Baptist, and whether this assumption was made by all alike or only by one section of them, we do not know. Such a connexion, however false to history, was obvious and natural; nor would it be difficult to accumulate parallels to this false appropriation of an honoured name. Baptism was the fundamental article of their creed; and John was the Baptist of world-wide fame. Nothing more than this was needed for the choice of an eponym. From St. John’s Gospel it seems clear that this appropriation was already contemplated, if not completed, at Ephesus before the first century had drawn to a close. In the second century the assumption is recognized as a characteristic of these Hemerobaptists, or Baptists, as they are once called,*** alike by those who allow and those who deny its justice. Even in our age the name of ‘John’s disciples’ has been given, though wrongly given, to an obscure sect in Babylonia, the Mandeans, whose doctrine and practice have some affinities to the older sect, and of whom perhaps they are the collateral, if not the direct descendants.†


* The former expression is used of Apollos, Acts 18:24; the latter of ‘certain disciples,’ Acts 19:1.


** Clem. Recogn. l.c. This portion of the Clementine Recognitions is apparently taken from an older Judaizing romance, the Ascents of James. Hegesippus also (in Euseb. H. E. iv. 22) mentions the Hemerobaptists in his list of Jewish sects; and it is not improbable that this list was given as an introduction to his account of the labours and martyrdom of St. James (see Euseb. He. E. ii. 23). If so, it was probably derived from the same source as the notice in the Recognitions.


*** They are called Baptists by Justin Mart. Dial. 10. p. 307A. He mentions them among other Jewish sects, without however alluding to John.


These Mandeans are a rapidly diminishing sect living in the region about the Tigris and the Euphrates, south of Bagdad. Our most exact knowledge of them is derived from Petermann (Herzog’s Real-Encyklopodie s. vv. Mendaer, Zabier, and Deutsche Zeitschrift 1854 p. 181 sq., 1856 p. 331 sq., 342 sq., 363 sq., 386 sq.) who has had personal intercourse with them; and from Chwolson (die Ssabier u. der Ssabismus I. p. 100 sq.) who has investigated the Arabic authorities for their earlier history. The names by which they are known are (1) Mendeans, or more properly Mandeans, )yydnm Mandaye, contracted from )yyxd )rnm Manda dechaye ‘the word of life.’ This is their own name among themselves, and points to their Gnostic pretentions. (2) Sabeans, Tsabiyun, possibly from the root (bc ‘to dip’ on account of their frequent lustrations (Chwolson I. p. 110), though this is not the derivation of the word which they themselves adopt, and other etymologies have found favour with some recent writers (see Petermann Herzog’s Real-Encykl. Suppl. xviii. p. 342 s.v. Zabier). This is the name by which they are known in the Koran and in Arabic writers, and by which they call themselves when speaking to others. (3) Nasoreans, )yyrzcn Natsoraye. This term is at present confined to those among them who are distinguished in knowledge or in business. (4) ‘Christians of St. John, or Disciples of St. John’ (i.e. the Baptist). This name is not known among themselves, and was incorrectly given to them by European travelers and missionaries. At the same time John the Baptist has a very prominent place in their theological system, as the one true prophet. On the other hand they are not Christians in any sense.


These Mandeans, the true Sabeans, must not be confused with the false Sabeans, polytheists and star-worshippers, whose locality is Northern Mesopotamia. Chwolson (I. P. 139 sq.) has shown that these last adopted the name in the 9th century to escape persecution from the Mohammedans, because in the Koran the Sabeans, as monotheists, are ranged with the Jews and Christians, and viewed in a more favourable light than polytheists. The name however has generally been applied in modern times to the false rather than to the true Sabeans.


(b) Of the connexion between this sect and John the Baptist we have been able to give a probable, though necessarily hypothetical account. But when we attempt to determine its relation to the Essenes, we find ourselves entangled in a hopeless mesh of perplexities. The notices are so confused, the affinities so subtle, the ramifications so numerous, that it becomes a desperate task to distinguish and classify these abnormal Jewish and Judaizing heresies. One fact however seems clear that, whatever affinities they may have had originally, and whatever relations they may have contracted afterwards with one another, the Hemerobaptists, properly speaking, were not Essenes. The Sibylline poem which may be regarded as in some respects a Hemerobaptist manifesto contains many traits inconsistent with pure Essenism.* In two several accounts, the memoirs of Hegesippus and the Apostolic Constitutions, the Hemerobaptists are expressly distinguished from the Essenes. In an early production of Judaic Christianity, whose Judaism has a strong Essene tinge, the Clementine Homilies, they and their eponym are condemned in the strongest language. The system of syzygies, or pairs of opposites, is a favourite doctrine of this work, and in these John stands contrasted to Jesus, as Simon Magus to Simon Peter, as the false to the true; for according to this author’s philosophy of history the manifestation of the false always precedes the manifestation of the true.** And again, Epiphanius speaks of them as agreeing substantially in their doctrines, not with the Essenes, but with the Scribes and Pharisees.*** His authority on such a point may be worth very little; but connected with other notices, it should not be passed over in silence. Yet, whatever may have been their differences, the Hemerobaptists and the Essenes had one point of direct contact, their belief in the moral efficacy of lustrations. When the temple and polity were destroyed, the shock vibrated through the whole fabric of Judaism, loosening and breaking up existing societies, and preparing the way for new combinations. More especially the cessation of the sacrificial rites must have produced a profound effect equally on those who, like the Essenes, had condemned them already, and on those who, as possibly was the case with the Hemerobaptists, had hitherto remained true to the orthodox ritual. One grave obstacle to friendly overtures was thus removed; and a fusion, more or less complete, may have been the consequence. At all events the relations of the Jewish sects must have been materially affected by this great national crisis, as indeed we know to have been the case. In the confusion which follows, it is impossible to attain any clear view of their history. At the beginning of the second century however this pseudo-baptist movement received a fresh impulse from the pretended revelation of Elchasai, which came from the farther East.† Henceforth Elchasai is the prominent name in the history of those Jewish and Judaizing sects whose proper home is east of the Jordan, and who appear to have reproduced, with various modifications derived from Christian and Heathen sources, the Gnostic theology and the pseudo-baptist ritual of their Essene predecessors. It is still preserved in the records of the only extant people who have any claim to be regarded as the religious heirs of the Essenes. Elchasai is regarded as the founder of the sect of Mandeans. ††


* See p. 96-97: The Sibylline Oracle, which forms the fourth book in the existing collection, is discovered by internal evidence to have been written about AD 80. It is plainly a product of Judaism, but its Judaism does not belong to the normal Pharisaic type. With Essenism it rejects sacrifices, even regarding the shedding of blood as a pollution, and with Essenism also it inculcates the duty of frequent washings. Yet from other indications we are led to the conclusion, that this poem was not written in the interests of Essenism properly so called, but represents some allied though independent development of Judaism. In some respects at all events its language seems quite inconsistent with the purer type of Essenism.


** Clem Hom. ii. 23 IwannhV tiV egeneto hmerobaptisthV, dV kai tou kuriou hmwn Ihsou kata ton thV suzugiaV logon egeneto proodoV. It is then stated that, as Christ had twelve leading disciples, so john had thirty. This, it is argued, was a providential dispensation—the one number represents the solar, the other the lunar period; and so they illustrate another point in this writer’s theory, that in the syzygies the true and the false are the male and female principle respectinvely. Among these 30 disciples he places Simon Magus. With this the doctrine of the Mandeans stands in direct opposition. They too have their syzygies, but John with them represents the true principle.


*** Haer. xvii. I (p. 37) isa twn grammatewn kai Farisaiwn fronousa. But he adds that they resemble the Sadducees ‘not only in the matter of the resurrection of the dead, but also in their unbelief and in the other points.’


Galatians p. 324-325: [A] missionar[y] early in the third century brought to Rome a sacred book bearing the name of Elchasai or Elxai, whence also the sect were called Elchassaites. This book fell into the hands of Hippolytus the writer on heresies, from whom our knowledge of it is chiefly derived. It professed to have been obtained from the Seres, a Parthian tribe, and to contain a revelation which had been first made in the third year of Trajan (AD 100). These Seres hold the same place in the fictions of Essene Ebionism, as the Hyperboreans in Greek legend: they are a mythical race, perfectly pure and therefore perfectly happy, long-lived and free from pain, scrupulous in the performance of all ceremonial rites and thus exempt from the penalties attaching to their neglect. Elchasai, an Aramaic word signifying the ‘hidden power,’ seems to be the name of the divine messenger who communicated the revelation, and probably the title of the book itself: Hippolytus understands it of the person who received the revelation, the founder of the sect. ‘Elchasai,’ adds this father, ‘delivered it to a certain person called Sobiai.’ Here again he was led astray by his ignorance of Aramaic: Sobiai is not the name of an individual but signifies ‘the sworn members,’ to whom alone the revelation was to be communicated and who perhaps, like their Essene prototypes (Joseph. B. J. ii. 8. 7), took an oath to divulge it only to the brotherhood. I need not follow this strange but instructive notice farther. Whether this was the sacred book of the whole sect or of a part only, whether the name Elchasaism is coextensive with Essene Ebionism or not, it is unimportant for my purpose to enquire. The pretended era of this revelation is of more consequence. Whether the book itself was really as early as the reign of Trajan or whether the date was part of the dramatic fiction, it is impossible to decide. Even in the latter case, it will still show that according to their own tradition this epoch marked some striking development in the opinions or history of the sect; and the date given corresponds, it will be remembered, very nearly with the epoch mentioned by Hegesippus as the birthtime of a numerous brood of heresies.


†† See Chwolson I. p. 112 sq., II. p. 543 sq. The Arabic writer En-Nedim, who lived towards the close of the tenth century, says that the founder of the Sabeans (i.e. Mandeans) was El-chasaich who taught the doctrine of two coordinate principles, the male and female. This notice, as far as it goes, agrees with the account of Elchasai or Elxai in Hippolytus (Haer. ix. 13 sq.) and Epiphanius (Haer. xix. 1 sq.). But the derivation of the name Elchasai given by Epiphanius (Haer. xix. 2) dunamiV kekalummenh (ysk lyx) is different and probably correct (see Galatians p. 325).


(ii) But, if great weight has been attached to the supposed connexion of John the Baptist with the Essenes, the case of James the Lord’s brother has been alleged with still more confidence. Here, it is said, we have an indisputable Essene connected by the closest family ties with the Founder of Christianity. James is reported to have been holy from his birth; to have drunk no wine nor strong drink; to have eaten no flesh; to have allowed no razor to touch his head, no oil to anoint his body; to have abstained from using the bath; and lastly to have worn no wool, but only fine linen (Hegesippus in Euseb. H. E. ii. 23). Here we have a description of Nazarite practices at least and (must it not be granted) of Essene tendencies also.


But what is our authority for this description? The writer, from whom the account is immediately taken, is the Jewish-Christian historian Hegesippus, who flourished about AD 170. He cannot therefore have been an eye-witness of the facts which he relates. And his whole narrative betrays its legendary character. Thus his account of James’s death, which follows immediately on this description, is highly improbable and melodramatic in itself, and directly contradicts the contemporary notice of Josephus in its main facts. From whatever source therefore Hegesippus may have derived his information, it is wholly untrustworthy. Nor can we doubt that he was indebted to one of those romances with which the Judaizing Christians of Essene tendencies loved to gratify the natural curiosity of their disciples respecting the first founders of the Church. In like manner Essene portraits are elsewhere preserved of the Apostles Peter (Clem. Hom. xii. 6) and Matthew (Clem. Alex. Paedag. ii. 1) which represent them as living on a spare diet of herbs and berries. I believe also that I have elsewhere pointed out the true source of this description in Hegesippus, and that it is taken from the ‘Ascents of James,’ a Judæo-Christian work stamped, as we happen to know, with the most distinctive Essene features.* But if we turn from these religious novels of Judaic Christianity to earlier and more trustworthy sources of information—to the Gospels or the Acts or the Epistles of St. Paul—we fail to discover the faintest traces of Essenism in James. ‘The historical James,’ says a recent writer, ‘shows Pharisaic but not Essene sympathies’ (Lipsius, Schenkel’s Bibel-Lexicon, p. 191). This is true of James, as it is true of the early disciples in the mother Church of Jerusalem generally. The temple-ritual, the daily sacrifices, suggested no scruples to them. The only distinction of meats, which they recognized, was the distinction of animals clean and unclean as laid down by the Mosaic law. The only sacrificial victims, which they abhorred, were victims offered to idols. They took their part in the religious offices, and mixed freely in the common life, of their fellow-Israelites, distinguished from them only in this, that to their Hebrew inheritance they superadded the knowledge of a higher truth and the joy of a better hope. It was altogether within the sphere of orthodox Judaism that the Jewish element in the Christian brotherhood found its scope. Essene peculiarities are the objects neither of sympathy nor of antipathy. In the history of the infant Church for the first quarter of a century Essenism is as though it were not.


* Epiphanius (Haer. xxx. 16) mentions two points especially, in which the character of this work is shown: (1) It represented James as condemning the sacrifices and the fire on the altar; (2) It published the most unfounded calumnies against St. Paul.


But a time came, when all this was changed. Even as early as the year 58, when St. Paul wrote to the Romans, we detect practices in the Christian community of the metropolis, which may possibly have been due to Essene influences (Rom 14:2,21). Five or six years later, the heretical teaching which threatened the integrity of the Gospel at Colossæ shows that this type of Judaism was already strong enough within the Church to exert a dangerous influence on its doctrinal purity. Then came the great convulsion—the overthrow of the Jewish polity and nation. This was the turning-point in the relations between Essenism and Christianity, at least in Palestine. The Essenes were extreme sufferers in the Roman war of extermination. It seems probable that their organization was entirely broken up. Thus cast adrift, they were free to enter into other combinations, while the shock of the recent catastrophe would naturally turn their thoughts into new channels. At the same time the nearer proximity of the Christians, who had migrated to Peræa during the war, would bring them into close contact with the new faith and subject them to its influences, as they had never been subjected before. But, whatever may be the explanation, the fact seems certain, that after the destruction of Jerusalem the Christian body was largely reinforced from their ranks. The Judaizing tendencies among the Hebrew Christians, which hitherto had been wholly Pharisaic, are henceforth largely Essene.


2. If then history fails to reveal any such external connexion with Essenism in Christ and His Apostles as to justify the opinion that Essene influences contributed largely to the characteristic features of the Gospel, such a view, if tenable at all, must find its support in some striking coincidence between the doctrines and practices of the Essenes and those which its Founder stamped upon Christianity. This indeed is the really important point; for without it the external connexion, even if proved, would be valueless. The question is not whether Christianity arose amid such and such circumstances, but how far it was created and moulded by those circumstances.


(i) Now one point which especially strikes us in the Jewish historian’s account of the Essenes, is their strict observance of certain points in the Mosaic ceremonial law, more especially the ultra-Pharisaic rigour with which they kept the Sabbath. How far their conduct in this respect was consistent with the teaching and practice of Christ may be seen from the passages quoted below:


‘Jesus went on the Sabbath-day through the corn fields; and his disciples began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat…But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which it is not lawful to do upon the Sabbath-day. But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did…The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath-day…’


‘It is lawful to do well on the Sabbath-days’ (Matt 12:1-12; Mark 2:23-3:6; Luke 6:1-11, 14:1-6. See also a similar incident in Luke 13:10-17).


‘The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured; It is the Sabbath-day; it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed. But he answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed and walk…Therefore the Jews did persecute Jesus and sought to slay him, because he did these things on the Sabbath-day. But Jesus answered them, My Father worketh hitherto, and I work, etc. (John 5:10-18; comp. 7:22,23).’


‘And it was the Sabbath-day when Jesus made the clay, and opened his eyes…Therefore said some of the Pharisees, This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the Sabbath-day (John 9:14,16).’




‘And they avoid…touching any work (efaptesqai ergwn) on the Sabbath-day more scrupulously than any of the Jews (diaforwtata Ioudaiwn apantwn); for they do not venture so much as to move a vessel, nor to perform the most necessary offices of life (B. J. ii. 8. 9).’


(ii) But there were other points of ceremonial observance, in which the Essenes superadded to the law. Of these the most remarkable was their practice of constant lustrations. In this respect the Pharisee was sufficiently minute and scrupulous in his observances; but with the Essene these ablutions were the predominant feature of his religious ritual. Here again it will be instructive to compare the practice of Christ and His disciples with the practice of the Essenes.


‘And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled (that is to say, unwashen) hands; for the Pharisees and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft (pugmh), eat not…The Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders…But he answered…Ye hypocrites, laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men…Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth the man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth the man…Let them alone, they be blind leaders of the blind…To eat with unwashen hands defileth not the man (Matt 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23).’


‘And when the Pharisee saw it, he marveled that he had not first washed before dinner (tou aristou). And the Lord said unto him: Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter…Ye fools…behold all things are clean unto you (Luke 11:38-41).’




‘So they wash their whole body (apolouontai to swma) in cold water; and after this purification (agneian)…being clean (kaqaroi) they come to the refectory (to dine)…And when they have returned (from their day’s work) they sup in like manner (B. J. ii. 8. 5).’


‘After a year’s probation (the novice) is admitted to closer intercourse (proseisin eggion th diaith), and the lustral waters in which he participates have a higher degree of purity (kai kaqarwterwn twn proV agneian idatwn metalambanei, § 7).’


‘It is a custom to wash after it, as if polluted by it (§ 9).’


‘Racked and dislocated, burnt and crushed, and subjected to every instrument of torture…to make them eat strange food (ti twn asunhqwn)…they were not induced to submit (§ 10).’


‘Exercising themselves in…divers lustrations (diaforoiV agneiaiV...empaidotriboumenoi, § 12).’


Connected with this idea of external purity is the avoidance of contact with strangers, as persons who would communicate ceremonial defilement. And here too the Essene went much beyond the Pharisee. The Pharisee avoided Gentiles or aliens, or those whose profession or character placed them in the category of ‘sinners’; but the Essene shrunk even from the probationers and inferior grades of his own exclusive community. Here again we may profitably compare the sayings and doings of Christ with the principles of this sect.


‘Behold, a woman in the city that was a sinner…began to wash his feet with her tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head and kissed his feet…Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he had been a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him; for she is a sinner (Luke 7:37 sq).’




‘And they are divided into four grades according to the time passed under the discipline: and the juniors are regarded as so far inferior to the seniors, that, if they touch them, the latter wash their bodies clean (apolouesqai), as if they had come in contact with a foreigner (kaqaper allofulw sumfurentaV, § 10).’


In all these minute scruples relating to ceremonial observances, the denunciations which are hurled against the Pharisees in the Gospels would apply with tenfold force to the Essenes.


(iii) If the lustrations of the Essenes far outstripped the enactments of the Moasic law, so also did their asceticism. I have given reason above for believing that this asceticism was founded on a false principle, which postulates the malignity of matter and is wholly inconsistent with the teaching of the Gospel. But without pressing this point, of which no absolutely demonstrative proof can be given, it will be sufficient to call attention to the trenchant contrast in practice which Essene habits present to the life of Christ. He who ‘came eating and drinking’ and was denounced in consequence as ‘a glutton and a wine-bibber’ (Matt 11:19; Luke 7:34), He whose first exercise of power is recorded to have been the multiplication of wine at a festive entertainment, and whose last meal was attended with the drinking of wine and the eating of flesh, could only have excited the pity, if not the indignation, of these rigid abstainers. And again, attention should be directed to another kind of abstinence, where the contrast is all the more speaking, because the matter is so trivial and the scruple so minute.


‘My head with oil thou didst not anoint (Luke 7:46).’


‘Thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head (Matt 7:17).’




‘And they consider oil a pollution (khlida), and though one is smeared involuntarily, he rubs his body clean (smhcetai to swma, § 3).’


And yet it has been stated that ‘the Saviour of the world…showed what is required for a holy life in the Sermon on the Mount by a description of the Essenes’ (Ginsburg Essenes p. 14).


But much stress has been laid on the celibacy of the Essenes; and our Lord’s saying in Matthew 19:12 is quoted to establish an identity of doctrine. Yet there is nothing special in the language there used. Nor is there any close affinity between the stern invectives against marriage which Josephus and Philo attribute to the Essene, and the gentle concession ‘He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.’ The best comment on our Lord’s meaning here is the advice of St. Paul (1 Cor 7:26-31), who was educated not in the Essene, but in the Pharisaic school. Moreover this saying must be balanced by the general tenour of the Gospel narrative. When we find Christ discussing the relations of man and wife, gracing the marriage festival by His presence, again and again employing wedding banquets and wedded life as apt symbols of the highest theological truths, without a word of disparagement or rebuke, we see plainly that we are confronted with a spirit very different from the narrow rigour of the Essenes.


(iv) But not only where the Essenes superadded to the ceremonial law, does their teaching present a direct contrast to the phenomena of the Gospel narrative. The same is true also of those points in which they fell short of the Mosaic enactments. I have already discussed at some length the Essene abstention from the temple sacrifices. There can, I think, be little doubt that they objected to the slaughter of sacrificial victims altogether. But for my present purpose it matters nothing whether they avoided the temple on account of the sacrifices, or the sacrifices on account of the temple. Christ did neither. Certainly He could not have regarded the temple as unholy; for His whole time during His sojourns at Jerusalem was spent within its precincts. It was the scene of His miracles, of His ministrations, of His daily teaching (Matt 21:12 sq., 23 sq., 24:1 sq., 26:55; Mark 11:11,15 sq., 27, 12:35, 13:1 sq., 14:49; Luke 2:46, 19:45, 20:1 sq., 21:37 sq., 22:53; John 2:14 sq., 5:14, 7:14, 8:2,20,59, 10:23, 11:56, 18:20). And in like manner it is the common rendezvous of His disciples after Him (Luke 24:53; Acts 2:46, 3:1 sq., 5:20 sq., 42). Nor again does He evince any abhorrence of the sacrifices. On the contrary He says that the altar consecrates the gifts (Matt 23:18 sq.: comp. 5:23,24); He charges the cleansed lepers to go and fulfil the Mosaic ordinance and offer the sacrificial offerings to the priests (Matt 8:4; Mark 1:44; Luke 5:14). And His practice also is conformable to His teaching. He comes to Jerusalem regularly to attend the great festivals, where sacrifices formed the most striking part of the ceremonial, and He himself enjoins preparation to be made for the sacrifice of the Paschal lamb. If He repeats the inspired warning of the older prophets, that mercy is better than sacrifice (Matt 9:13, 12:7), this very qualification shows approval of the practice in itself. Nor is His silence less eloquent than His utterances or His actions. Throughout the Gospels there is not one word which can be construed as condemning the sacrificial system or as implying a desire for its cessation until everything is fulfilled.


(v) This last contrast refers to the ceremonial law. But not less wide is the divergence on an important point of doctrine. The resurrection of the body is a fundamental article in the belief of early disciples. This was distinctly denied by the Essenes. However gross and sensuous may have been the conceptions of the Pharisees on this point, still they so far agreed with the teaching of Christianity, as against the Essenes, in that the risen man could not, as they held, be pure soul or spirit, but must necessarily be body and soul conjoint.


Thus at whatever point we test the teaching and practice of our Lord by the characteristic tenets of Essenism, the theory of affinity fails. There are indeed several coincidences on which much stress has been laid, but they cannot be placed in the category of distinctive features. They are either exemplifications of a higher morality, which may indeed have been honourably illustrated in the Essenes, but is no sense confined to them, being the natural outgrowth of the moral sense of mankind whenever circumstances are favourable. Or they are more special, but still independent developments, which owe their similarity to the same influences of climate and soil, though they do not spring from the same root. To this latter class belong such manifestations as are due to the social conditions of the age or nation, whether they result from sympathy with, or from repulsion to, those conditions.


Thus, for instance, much stress has been laid on the aversion to war and warlike pursuits, on the simplicity of living, and on the feeling of brotherhood which distinguished Christians and Essenes alike. But what is gained by all this? It is quite plain that Christ would have approved whatever was pure and lovely in the morality of the Essenes, just as He approved whatever was true in the doctrine of the Pharisees, if any occasion had presented itself when His approval was called for. But it is the merest assumption to postulate direct obligation on such grounds. It is said however, that the moral resemblances are more particular than this. There is for instance Christ’s precept ‘Swear not at all…but let your communication be Yea, yea, Nay, nay.’ Have we not here, it is urged, the very counterpart to the Essene prohibition of oaths?* Yet it would surely be quite as reasonable to say that both alike enforce that simplicity and truthfulness in conversation which is its own credential and does not require the support of adjuration, both having the same reason for laying stress on this duty, because the leaders of religious opinion made artificial distinctions between oath and oath, as regards their binding force, and thus sapped the foundations of public and private honesty.** And indeed this avoidance of oaths is anything but a special badge of the Essenes. It was inculcated by Pythagoreans, by Stoics, by philosophers and moralists of all schools. When Josephus and Philo called the attention of Greeks and Romans to this feature in the Essenes, they were simply asking them to admire in these practical philosophers among the ‘barbarians’ the realisation of an ideal which their own great men had laid down. Even within the circles of Pharisaism language is occasionally heard, which meets the Essene principle half-way.


* …Josephus relates (Ant. xv. 10. 4) that Herod the Great excused the Essenes from taking the oath of allegiance to him. Yet they were not altogether true to their principles; for Josephus says (B. J. ii. 8. 7), that on initiation into the sect the members were bound by fearful oaths (orkouV frikwdeiV) to fulfil certain conditions; and he twice again in the same passage mentions oaths (omnuousi, toioutoiV orkoiV) in this connexion.


** On the distinctions which the Jewish doctors made between the validity of different kinds of oaths, see the passages quoted in Lightfoot and Schottgen on Matthew 5:33 sq. The Talmudical tract Shebhuoth tells its own tale, and is the best comment on the precepts in the Sermon on the Mount.


And again; attention has been called to the community of goods in the infant Church of Christ, as though this were a legacy of Essenism. But here too the reasonable explanation is, that we have an independent attempt to realize the idea of brotherhood—an attempt which naturally suggested itself without any direct imitation, but which was soon abandoned under the pressure of circumstances. Indeed the communism of the Christians was from the first wholly unlike the communism of the Essenes. The surrender of property with the Christians was not a necessary condition of entrance into an order; it was a purely voluntary act, which might be withheld without foregoing the privileges of the brotherhood (Acts 5:4). And the common life too was obviously different in kind, at once more free and more sociable, unfettered by rigid ordinances, respecting individual liberty, and altogether unlike a monastic rule.


Not less irrelevant is the stress, which has been laid on another point of supposed coincidence in the social doctrines of the two communities. The prohibition of slavery was indeed a highly honourable feature in the Essene order, but it affords no indication of a direct connexion with Christianity. It is true that this social institution of antiquity was not less antagonistic to the spirit of the Gospel, than it was abhorrent to the feelings of the Essene; and ultimately the influence of Christianity has triumphed over it. But the immediate treatment of the question was altogether different in the two cases. The Essene brothers proscribed slavery wholly; they produced no appreciable results by the proscription. The Christian Apostles, without attempting an immediate and violent revolution in society, proclaimed the great principle that all men are equal in Christ, and left it to work. It did work, like leaven, silently but surely, till the whole lump was leavened. In the matter of slavery the resemblance to the Stoic is much closer than to the Essene. The Stoic however began and ended in barren declamation, and no practical fruits were reaped from his doctrine.


Moreover prominence has been given to the fact that riches are decried, and a preference is given to the poor, in the teaching of our Lord and His Apostles. Here again, it is urged, we have a distinctly Essene feature. We need not stop to enquire with what limitations this prerogative of poverty, which appears in the Gospels, must be interpreted; but, quite independently of this question, we may fairly decline to lay any stress on such a coincidence, where all other indications of a direct connexion have failed. The Essenes, pursuing a simple and ascetic life, made it their chief aim to reduce their material wants as far as possible, and in doing so they necessarily exalted poverty. Ascetic philosophers in Greece and Rome had done the same. Christianity was entrusted with the mission of proclaiming the equal rights of all men before God, of setting a truer standard of human worth than the outward conventions of the world, of protesting against the tyranny of the strong and the luxury of the rich, or redressing social inequalities, if not always by a present compensation, at least by a future hope. The needy and oppressed were the special charge of its preachers. It was the characteristic feature of the ‘Kingdom of Heaven,’ as described by the prophet whose words gave the keynote to the Messianic hopes of the nation, that the glad tidings should be preached to the poor. The exaltation of poverty therefore was an absolute condition of the Gospel.


The mention of the kingdom of heaven leads to the last point on which it will be necessary to touch before leaving this subject. ‘The whole ascetic life of the Essenes,’ it has been said, ‘aimed only at furthering the Kingdom of Heaven and the Coming Age.’ Thus John the Baptist was the proper representative of this sect. ‘From the Essenes went forth the first call that the Messiah must shortly appear, The kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Gratz Gesch. III. p. 219) ‘The announcement of the kingdom of heaven unquestionably went forth from the Essenes’ (ib. p. 470). For this confident assertion there is absolutely no foundation in fact; and, as a conjectural hypothesis, the assumption is highly improbable.


As fortune-tellers or soothsayers, the Essenes might be called prophets; but as preachers of righteousness, as heralds of the kingdom, they had no claim to the title. Throughout the notices in Josephus and Philo we cannot trace the faintest indication of Messianic hopes. Nor indeed was their position at all likely to foster such hopes. The Messianic idea was built on a belief in the resurrection of the body. The Essenes entirely denied this doctrine. The Messianic idea was intimately bound up with the national hopes and sufferings, with the national life, of the Jews. The Essenes had no interest in the Jewish polity; they separated themselves almost entirely from public affairs. The deliverance of the individual in the shipwreck of the whole, it has been well said, was the plain watchword of Essenism. How entirely the conception of a Messiah might be obliterated, where Judaism was regarded only from the side of a mystic philosophy, we see from the case of Philo. Throughout the works of this voluminous writer only one or two faint and doubtful allusions to a personal Messiah are found. The philosophical tenets of the Essenes no doubt differed widely from those of Philo; but in the substitution of the individual and contemplative aspect of religion for the national and practical they were united; and the effect in obscuring the Messianic idea would be the same. When therefore it is said that the prominence given to the proclamation of the Messiah’s kingdom is a main link which connects Essenism and Christianity, we may dismiss the statement as a merely hypothesis, unsupported by evidence and improbable in itself.


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