The Essenes--A New Perception

By:  David Ramsay

Essenes Organization Sect & Adherents Jesus Other Sects Numbers & Influence Age Qumran History The Scrolls

The Age Of The Sect

The following evidence is presented in support of the early writers' claim that the Essene sect was very old.

From the Old Testament

The First Essenes

    Just before Moses' death, God ordered him to relay His message to the people "the sworn covenant of the Lord which the Lord God makes with you, that He may establish you as His people. For you are His people Holy to the Lord."

    Those who entered the Promised Land with Joshua were the first Hasidim (Essenes).

    There are many references to the Hasidim in the Psalms.

    Solomon addresses the people at the dedication of the Temple as Hasidim (Essenes).

From the Scrolls

    The Hasidim are referred to in the Scrolls as members of Essenes.

    The First Teacher Of Righteousness

    The first paragraph of the Damascus Document describes events leading up to the appointment of the First Teacher of Righteousness.

    The key phrase that sets these events in time is "390 after He had given them into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar." It is equally possible to interpret the original Hebrew phrase as 390 years before.

    If it is assumed the conquest of Nebuchadnezzar occurred at 597 BCE, then the date referred to above could be either 207 BCE or 987 BCE. Despite the 50 years of effort, no one has been able to find events that, even remotely, resemble those described in the Scroll around the year 207 BCE.

   I will look for events centred around the other possibility, 987 BCE.

From the Scroll

    "And when they were unfaithful and forsook Him, He his His face from Israel and His sanctuary and delivered them up to the sword. But remembering the Covenant of the forefathers, He left a remnant to Israel and did not deliver it up to be destroyed.

From the Old Testament

    "And after Joshua's death there arose another generation who did not know the Lord--and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel." God turned His back on His people and refused to allow them "to drive out any of the Nations that Joshua left before he died." This was the period of the Judges, when the people mingled with other nations and learned to do as they did and sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and "many time He delivered them" but they kept returning to their sinful ways. Eventually, however, He relented and "remembered for their sake, His covenant with them."

From the Scroll

    "In the Age of Wrath, 390 years before He had given them into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar (987 BCE), He visited them, and He caused a plant root to spring from Israel and Aaron (i.e. the people and the priests) to inherit His land and to prosper on the good things of the earth.

From the Old Testament

    Under David's leadership, the people united and drove out the occupiers of the land that God had promised them so many years before. 987 BCE falls well within the estimated time of David's rule.

From the Scroll

    "And they perceived their iniquity and recognized they were guilty men, yet for 20 years they were like blind men groping for the way."

From the Old Testament

    When the Philistines sacked Shilo (ca 1080 BCE), they took with them the Ark of the Covenant, which was in the tabernacle there, as part of their booty. After a number of stops, it came to rest at Kiriathzearim. "A long time passed, some 20 years, "before David brought it and its precious contents to Jerusalem and the people, once again, had God's laws to guide them.

From the Scroll

    "And God observed their deeds, that they sought Him with a whole heart and He raised for them a Teacher of Righteousness to guide them in the way of His heart.

In the Commentary on the Psalm's scroll the Teacher of Righteousness is identified as a priest.

From the Old Testament

    David "left Zadoc, the priest, before the tabernacle of the Lord to offer burnt offerings..." That is, Zadoc was appointed head of the priesthood and was responsible for ensuring the people behaved righteously.

The First Teacher of Righteousness was Zadoc, appointed by David, ca 980 BCE

    The Teacher of Righteousness in the Scrolls always refers to the chief, or High Priest of the Zadoc line. After Onias, the last of the Zadoc line was killed by Menelaus, there is no further reference to the Teacher of Righteousness.

From the Early Writers

    Josephus says the Essenes go back "to most ancient times," as does Pliny when he said "they go back a thousand years," as does Philo, who said, "our lawgiver (Moses) trained an innumerable body of his pupils to partake of these things, called Essenes, being honoured with the name because of their holiness."

Contra Evidence

These are arguments I have seen in support of the current theory together with my comments.

  1. Qumran was built about 150 BCE, therefore the sect was formed a few years prior
    Rejoinder: I don't believe the date of construction of the one building that has been linked to the Essenes justifies the assumption it was the first one of the Sect.
  2. Josephus does not mention the Sect prior to ca 170 BCE, therefore it did not exist before that date.
    Rejoinder: Josephus does not mention any sect prior to that date, so by that line of reasoning, there was either no religious sect or it had disappeared to be replaced by three new sects simultaneously in 170 BCE. Both of these scenarios seem highly unlikely.
  3. All these early writers, Philo, Josephus, and Pliny are "unreliable in their conception of time, therefore the age they attribute to the sect cannot be relied upon."
    Rejoinder: To dismiss the evidence of all three independent writers as unreliable, particularly with no evidence to the contrary, seems unwarranted. That Philo's sense of time was so warped he believed Moses lived only 200 years before is unlikely to say the least. It would seem the real reason for the claim is that their evidence does not fit the current theory.


    I again believe that, on balance, the evidence strongly supports the claim of the early writers, that the sect was very old, rather than that of the current theory to the contrary.


Essenes Organization Sect & Adherents Jesus Other Sects Numbers & Influence Age Qumran History The Scrolls

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