Part 2 The Essenes, The Healers of a Nation
And heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you. Luke 10:9
If you were to divide the Jewish people, at the time of Jesus, into three different sects, you would see them parted along three political groups with very different religious perceptions of the Kingdom of God.
The first two we have mentioned were the Pharisees and the Sadducees, but the third are that which is least spoken or understood within the Biblical text and yet they may be the most important. They were sometimes called the Essenes.
Essene, or “assaya, which means doctor or healer... are not mentioned anywhere in the New Testament, although their numbers were at least as great as the Sadducees and Pharisees.”1 The Essenes did not call themselves Essenes.
The Essenes were a humble service-oriented group. According to Philos, the label “Essene” was not their own. This may be why the word, “Essene”, is not mentioned. “There are about sixty proposed etymologies, involving Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic and/or Syriac, Persian Avestan, Sanskrit, Akkadian, and others.”2 The “Essene” label was possibly derived originally from a word meaning “holy” or “separate”, or words that mean “healer”. Ahmed Osman suggests in his book, “Out of Egypt”, that “Essene” is translated as Essa, or "follower of Jesus."
They desired to be of service in the “world”, but chose not to live of its authoritarian bureaucracy, but desired to purify their life in voluntary service to humanity.
They were labeled as healers and doctors. They sought the natural herbs and the use of oils in service, as well as the content of natural minerals and diet used in healing. They were devoted to service of poor and rich, Jew and gentile alike, even refusing to own slaves. They were hailed for their honesty, temperance, reason, and justice, as well as their talent as healers and prophets.
The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, Luke 4:18
Essene often lived in secluded places during training and preparation. Cities and towns did not have a monopoly on immorality, but they often had the lion's share of it. They believed that service and fasting allowed one to confront the beast or evil in their own heart. With the aid of grace, one could seek and find the truth of God’s Way on earth through service and sacrifice.
And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him. Mark 1:13
The followers of Christ and John the Baptist were familiar with much of what was called “Essene”. They washed their bodies, but also their hearts. They spoke of enlightenment, not entitlements. They sought the sincerity in their novitiates with adherence to precepts, overlooked by others. They studied and meditated on the issues of man and God. Their “Schools of Prophets” were famous. Josephus tells of Manahem the Essene who prophesied Herod’s kingship when he had no royal expectations. They believed divine revelation was essential.
And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed [it] unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. Matthew 16:17
They were almost a secret society, but were also in regular contact with the people. They did own land throughout Judea, but only as a group, holding that land in common, like the Levites. Individually, they owned no personal estate, but sought a godly Kingdom for all men.
In almost every city, their hospitality and the tender care as a healer was always to be found behind the Door of the Essene and was available to all for the price of asking.3
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: Matthew 7:7
They dressed simply in white garments and shunned wealth and comfort. The use of oils was common in those days, but they avoided it for themselves as an extravagance.
Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? John 12:5
Philo wrote, “For they are unique among all the race of men, having become penniless and landless [no personal estate] by choice rather than lack of good luck. But they count themselves very wealthy, judging ready satisfaction and contentment with little (to be) abundance, as it is.”4 Because of their simple, even austere, lifestyle, they were not ones to be infiltrated by lustful usurers and comfort seekers. They held all things in common, much like that required of the ancient Levites. This choice today would be called a “vow of poverty”. Many Essenes were Levites by birth, but were true to those ancient requirements of God and Moses.
And all that believed were together, and had all things common; Acts 2:44
Much of Philos’ writings on the Essene have been lost, but early church writers claim:
"No one possesses a house absolutely his own, one which does not at the same time belong to all; for in addition to living together in companies ["haburot"] their houses are open also to their adherents coming from other quarters." "Whatever they receive for their wages after having worked the whole day they do not keep as their own, but bring into the common treasury for the use of all; nor do they neglect the sick who are unable to contribute their share, as they have in their treasury ample means to offer relief to those in need."5
One Hasidean term for renouncing all claim property is "hefker". It was a way of declaring a thing held by a company or order of men to be held in trust for another, in this case, for God.
“ …And all who volunteer for his Truth shall bring all their knowledge and powers and possessions into the Unity of God: to purify their knowledge by the truth of God’s precepts, and --to measure their powers according to the perfection of his ways and all their possessions according to his righteous counsel.” 6
This idea of the ministers of God’s government was insisted upon by Abraham, Moses, and Jesus and no history could leave it out of the description of those in national ministry.
"They reject personal wealth, and do not refrain from sharing what they have with those in need; in fact, none among them is richer than the other; for the law with them is that whosoever joins their order must sell his possessions and hand the proceeds over to the common stock; and the leader distributes it to all according to their need. The overseers who provide for the common wants are elected by them. They do not use oil, as they regard anointing as a defilement, and they always dress in white garments".7
The idea of the ministers of God’s kingdom not owning any property in their own name is not popular today, but both Moses and Christ concurred on this subject. Having no personal estate or no inheritance8 is an essential prerequisite before receiving any tithing from the people. Jesus not only told this to the rich man who wanted to join His ministry, but made it a requirement for those to whom he would eventually appoint the kingdom.9
So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:33
Here, the word hath is from huparchonta, meaning “wealth and property”. We find the same word again in Luke 12:33 when Christ instructed his disciples to sell their property:
Sell that ye have (huparchonta), and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.
Jesus knew the importance of not centralizing power or wealth in His Kingdom. The temptation for corruption always proves too great with tyranny, with dissipation the result.
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: Mtt. 6:19-20
The Essenes appealed to the best part of the nature of man. They were not steeped in orthodoxy and legalism. They often fulfilled the tasks of the Levites. They were practical in the practice of their faith and humble and efficient in the performance of its service.
“… he will exercise piety towards God, and then that he will observe justice towards men, and that he will do no harm to any one, either of his own accord, or by the command of others; that he will always hate the wicked, and be assistant to the righteous; that he will ever show fidelity to all men, and especially to those in authority…10
They structured their community in cell groups called twelve ‘men of holiness’, which included a titular leader or mebaqqerim. Leaders served their constituency, which consisted of about ten families or family groups. They were accepted to their office by unanimous agreement of those they served, forming a national network of charity and thanksgiving or Eucharist.
“In the council of the community there shall be twelve men and three priests.”11
Three ‘priests’ were often selected among the group to perform certain duties. In the Bible, we see Peter, James, and John taken aside by Jesus and given separate instructions.
And after six days Jesus taketh [with him] Peter, and James, and John, and leadeth them up into an high mountain apart by themselves: and he was transfigured before them. Mark 9:2, Mark 14:33, Luke 8:51.
The mebaqqer, or “overseers”, also gathered in groups of twelve to minister to their immediate group of overseers and to tie larger groups into a network of communication and efficient service. This was an identical system repeated in the early days of the Levites with the twelve tribes and also seen throughout the first-century Church. Remnants of this pattern were still being used in Europe12 at the turn of the first millennium after Christ's death and resurrection.
The Essenes were notorious travelers. The image we have of them living solitary lives in communes gives a distorted perception. They had to get out to the people and used communes as places of learning and rest. There were some groups that were more monastic, and even celibate, for a time. Some community records have survived because of their isolated locations.
Epiphanius, an early Church writer, distinguishes between the Osseaens and the Nazarean Essenes. They both believed there were great errors in the reading and translation of scripture.
"The Nazarean - they were Jews by nationality - originally from Gileaditis, where the early followers of Yeshua fled after the martyrdom of James, the brother of Jesus, Bashanitis and the Transjordon. They acknowledged Moses and believed that he had received laws - not this law, however, but some other. And so, they were Jews who kept all the Jewish observances, but they would not offer sacrifice or eat meat. They considered it unlawful to eat meat or make sacrifices with it. They claim that these Books are fictions [as presented at the time], and that none of these customs were instituted by the fathers. This was the difference between the Nazarean and the others. . ." (Panarion 1:18)
Their priests were not really priests, as we today often think, but stewards or servants of the people. Service was the highest valued character or virtue. They all depended on hard work, self-reliance, and charity amongst the brethren, not upon taxes or accounted tithes. They were dispersed all over the country and the world, living in it, but not of it.
But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. Mtt. 23:11
Their word was held so reputable that even Herod excused them from taking the oath of allegiance, which was demanded by his fear of the people and his loyalty to Hellenism.
“They master an even temper and control their anger. They advocate trust and assist peace. And all that is spoken by them has more force than an oath. But they avoid swearing, regarding it worse than perjury. For they say that he who cannot be believed unless God is against him is already condemned…13
They refused to take oaths before men or serve any gods other than the Creator.
But I say unto you, Swear not at all; … But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.: Matthew 5:34-37
But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and [your] nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation. James 5:12
No trading or commerce was done except by barter or with commodity money, which is barter, not “business”. They paid all their debts and debt was to be avoided.
Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. Romans 13:8
They did not enjoy paying Roman taxes and avoided it as a form of worship or homage, even if it meant avoiding Roman tolls by traveling the ancient paths or living in a more self-reliant and independent way. They contributed regularly to the common welfare through their own system of congregational networks.
They avoided almost anything done merely for pleasure or self-gratification. With a few exceptions, this included delaying marriage, but they considered marriage a sacred relationship and duty; and, as a divine institution, for the procreation of children.14 It was customary for Essenes, desiring to marry, to wait three years before the marriage took place, during which time they would take the vow of the Nazarite. In either case, they took their vows before God and kept them devoutly. Women were accepted, as a part of the brotherhood like sisters and they had an almost androgynous approach to the sexes when it came to rights and responsibilities.
“Our lawgiver, Moses, has trained thousands of disciples who, on account of their saintliness, I believe, are honored with the name of Essæi. They inhabit many cities and villages, and large and populous quarters of Judea. Their institution is not based upon family connections, which are not matters of free choice, but upon zeal for virtue and philanthropy... all are full-grown men, already declining toward old age, such as are no longer carried away by the vehemence of the flesh nor under the influence of their passions, but are in the enjoyment of genuine and true liberty."15
The Essene network formed communities to which were ministered by these leaders, who had proven themselves faithful throughout their lives upon the precept of voluntary service. The broader Essene community included people and their families that had been served by these ministers in times of need. In turn, the humble and pious ministers and their missions were supported by the people who sought the charitable ways of the Kingdom of God in spirit and in truth. Communities grew in virtue as they were bound together by faith, hope, and charity.
Forgiving and asking forgiveness was as essential in their life as breathing in and out. Giving thanks for everything that came their way, both the good and the bad, the sunrise and the sunset, comfort or discomfort. All was a blessing from God and could be turned to good.
Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. Luke 23:34
They obtained such resolution of mind and body that Roman torture failed to produce fear or anger. It had been said that they met death with a smile.16
They were messengers of peace. They were allowed to carry a staff for defense, but generally for the protection of others. Even though some trained in military style for the coming of the Messiah, they were considered harmless by even the Romans, who, in fact, were generally suspicious of everyone.
The Essenes considered themselves as a people with a mission. They were not just the servants of God, but His sons and daughters. They were the depository of His secret knowledge and wisdom and workers for the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.
He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. Matthew 13:11
The Kingdom of Heaven on earth was a present reality in the Essene teachings.
“…From the God of Knowledge is all that is and shall be; before they were, he made all their designs. And when they come to be they testify to his glory as planned, fulfilling their deeds and changing nothing. In his hand are all judgments, and he will support them in all their needs. And he created Man (Enosh) for dominion over the earth; and he appointed two spirits for him to walk in until the time of his visitation. These are the Spirits of Truth and of Error. Those born of Truth are in a spring of Light; and those born of Error are from a well of darkness. In the hand of the Prince of Light is dominion over all the sons of Righteousness who walk in all the ways of Light. But in the hand of the Angel of Darkness is dominion over all the sons of Error, who walk in the ways of darkness.”17
The Essenes would regularly donate to the temple, giving both freewill offerings and sin offerings, but they absolutely would not participate in blood sacrifice, believing it to be a misinterpretation of the ancient text. This, too, was in accordance with the teachings of Jesus.
“The doctrine of the Essenes is this: That all things are best ascribed to God. They teach the immortality of souls, and esteem that the rewards of righteousness are to be earnestly striven for; and when they send what they have dedicated to God into the temple, they do not offer sacrifices because they have more pure lustrations of their own; on which account they are excluded from the common court of the temple, but offer their sacrifices themselves; yet is their course of life better than that of other men; and they entirely addict themselves to husbandry.”18
There were Nazarene Essenes, Pharisee Essene, Mandaean Essenes, and Sadducee Essene, just to mention a few. The Essenes’ influence, although not homogeneous, was more in line with Abraham, Moses, and Jesus Christ. They had a political philosophy that clearly manifested the precepts of God. The early Church was undoubtedly filled with Essenes.
And there shalt thou build an altar unto the LORD thy God, an altar of stones: thou shalt not lift up any iron tool upon them. Deuteronomy 27:5
Many of the Essenes, as followers of Christ, were men of God, seeking His ways and performing the tasks of the ‘firstborn’ of God in faith, hope and charity. They were the living white- covered altar stones made of flesh and bone. The law was written on their hearts and minds in service to the people on behalf of God and His Heavenly Kingdom on earth.
To whom coming, [as unto] a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, [and] precious, 1 Peter 2:4
Among all the people of that time, you will not find any living closer to the nature of the true Church than some of those early Essenes; but there were different views. Judaism had undergone many changes during its years of captivity, under corrupt kings and priests, and on through the Hasmonean dynasty. Herod was no exception. With vast funds available, a temple was built, not only in Jerusalem, but many were constructed around the world. The constitutional provisions of Deuteronomy 17:15 had clearly stated that “…you may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother.” Yet, Herod rose as king.
“As an Idumean he (Herod) was disliked by Judeans; as the usurper of the Hasmoneans he was resented by the aristocracy. During his reign he succeeded in creating his own ‘aristocracy’ from those loyal to Rome and appointed by himself. But he apparently favored those traditional religious groups who did not oppose him, such as Pharisees and Essenes”19
Herod’s grand scheme of a vast Kingdom of Heaven on earth involved sending out evangelists and missionaries all over the world. Herod enjoyed the support of some Essenes, although they would not hold an office requiring an oath. In part, this support was because of the prophecy concerning the Messiah coming during Herod’s reign and for other reasons.
“Diaspora Essenes shared the divergent [solar] calendar and many traditions of Palestinian Essenes, but did not espouse their unworldliness and strict views on morality. For the Palestinians, the Diaspora kind were ‘seekers after smooth things’, taking the easy way.”20
These were not the only evangelists and missionaries of the time. There were others baptizing people into a different kind of Kingdom of Heaven on earth. There was another King who was not Idumean, nor part of the world of Rome. He would establish his Kingdom, not by schemes of compelled Corban, offerings forced by statute, but by faith, hope, and charity.
“Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.” John 18:36
His Kingdom is not of the ‘world’ of Roman constitutional order. His Kingdom is established under the perfect law of liberty. His ekklesia, “called out”, or Christ appointed ministers, were priests of practical service to the people without exercising authority over the free contributions. They were to manifest the character of Christ to receive, preserve, and propagate his doctrines and ordinances, teaching the people to love their neighbor, rather than covet their goods and property through benefactors who exercised authority one over the other.
Setting men free from the servitude of sin in this world is a constant theme of the Bible, sometimes called salvation; but, if God is to release us from spiritual servitude, it is also mandatory to release us from greed, avarice, and covetousness that leads us into physical servitude. Jesus made it clear that God is the God of the living, so His salvation and liberty must include this world, as well as the next. The Essenes saw men first as a spiritual creature living in a physical body. They knew that, as they became spiritually close to the character of God, the whole man would be set free, just as Christ was set free upon His resurrection.
“It is a fixed belief of theirs that the body is corruptible and its constituent matter impermanent, but that the soul is immortal and imperishable. Emanating from the finest ether, these souls become entangled, as it were, in the prison-house of the body, to which they are dragged down by a sort of natural spell; but when once they are released from the bonds of the flesh, then, as though liberated from a long servitude, they rejoice and are borne Aloft…” 21
The Kingdom of Heaven is first a spiritual place that begins with the incorporeal change of the individual. That change is not wrought with our will, but by the grace of God within us. That divine spark of truth should and will lead us to both a spiritual kingdom and a physical corporeal kingdom at hand. His kingdom comes as His will is done. The same is true of all kingdoms; only the will of the kings changes.
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. 1 Corinthians 15:50
The Levites began to occupy a distinct position as the spiritual primogeniture of a nation. Since that terrible scene of sin established with the golden calf. They were conferred with the office of service to the tents of the congregation. They were selected for this purpose because, as a tribe, they were willing to come out first and serve Moses and the Lord.
As being wholly consecrated or separated to the service of the Lord, they had no territorial possessions. Jehovah was their inheritance22 and, for their support, it was ordained that they should receive from the other tribes the tithes of the produce of the land and the people, but only according to their service. It was not automatic nor collected by force.
Forty-eight civil jurisdictions were assigned to them, thirteen of which were called priest cities. Along with their dwellings they had “suburbs”, and “commons”, for their herds and flocks, and also fields and vineyards (Num. 35:2-5). Nine of these cities were in Judah, three in Naphtali, and four in each of the other tribes (Josh. 21). Six of the Levitical cities were set apart as “cities of refuge” (q.v.). Thus the Levites were scattered among the tribes to keep alive among them the knowledge and service to God. 23
By the time of Christ, the remainder of the Levites had become steeped in apostasy. They were often rich and no longer served the tents of the congregation as much as the people were serving them. The men appointed to keep them free in the wisdom of God now kept them ignorant, superstitious, distracted, entertained, and in bondage.
The Essenes assumed the role of the Levites in Spirit and in Truth. Their teachings and actions paralleled those of Moses and the Levites from centuries before. Many of the Essenes and repentant Levites became the ministers of the Church. The Levites, like Joses, repenting, sold their land, set the money at the foot of the kingdom’s Ambassadors, and went into the service as the Kingdom’s first ministers, His Holy Church.
And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, [and] of the country of Cyprus, Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. Acts 4:36-37
In order for Barnabas to become a minister of Christ’s Church, serving His Kingdom, he was required to sell all of his property as Jesus had commanded.24 Ananias failed to do obey Christ and was struck dead, as we see in the very next verses:
But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, And kept back part of the price… fell down, and gave up the ghost… Acts 5:1-5
The mission of the Levites was the same for the Essenes as it was for Christ’s Church. If not, the bureaucracy of government would soon become ineffective or oppressive like Cain, Lemec, Nimrod, Pharaoh, and Caesar. People then return to the bondage of Egypt; but, if they return to the way of God and seek His righteous Kingdom and do the will of the Father, then they shall again be a whole nation, under God with liberty and justice for all.
That thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations. Psalms 67:2
If we are to understand our place in God’s Kingdom of Heaven, we must also learn from and understand that which was held in common by the Levites, the Essenes, and the first-century Church, established by Christ Jesus the King.
In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, [was there] the tree of life, which bare twelve [manner of] fruits, [and] yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree [were] for the healing of the nations. Revelation 22:2
The origin of what was called Essene reaches back to Enoch who walked with God. They are the men who separate themselves from the ‘world’, living in it, but not of it. They live according to and under the authority of God’s government, which is foreign to other states.
The Spirit of the Lord [is] upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, Luke 4:18
They were the first servants of God and they were the first spiritually-born Children of God in repentance and in the acceptance of God’s true character, doing all things in His ‘Name’. They fed His sheep in service to His Kingdom of God at hand, guiding men in freedom to liberty under God.
And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. Luke 9:2
1The Jesus Conspiracy, The Turin Shroud & The Truth About the Resurrection Holger Kersten & Elmar R. Gruber, (1992)
3Flavius Josephus, War of the Jews, Bk II, Ch VIII, Sn 4. Also There were "more than four thousand" Essaioi living in "Palestinian Syria" (Philo, Quod Omn. Prob. XII.75), and "in many cities of Judaea and in many villages and grouped in great societies of many members" ( Hyp. 11.1).
4Philo, Every Good Man is Free 12.77
5"Præparatio Evangelica" by Eusebius (viii.), (ch. Xi.):
6Dead Sea Scrolls, Community Rule (1QS) 1.11-13
7Hippolytus, the author of "Refutatio Omnium Hæresium" (ix. 18-28) but quoted in Josephus.
8Numbers 18:23-24, Deuteronomy 14:27-29, Joshua 18:7.
9Luke 22:29 And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me;
10Flavius Josephus, War of the Jews, Bk II, Ch XIII, Sn 7
11Dead Sea Scrolls, Essene Community Rule (1QS) 8.1-4
12Tithingmen, Hundredsmen and Eoldermen were the original titular leaders of tens, hundreds and thousands.
13Josephus, Jewish War 2.135
14Josephus, Jewish War 2.160
15comp. Pliny, l.c
16The Jewish War By Flavius Josephus.
17Dead Sea Scrolls, Community Rule (1QS) 3.15-21
18Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Bk XVIII, Ch I, Sn 5
19John Roberson and Philip Davies, The Old Testament World
20Barbara Thiering, Jesus and the Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls
21Flavius Josephus, War of the Jews, II, VIII, Sn 11
22Num. 18:20; 26:62; Deut. 10:9; 18:1, 2
23Easton’s Bible Dictionary.
24 So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:33