The Essenes In The Bible: Rediscovering Their Forgotten Teachings

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Published by Kenneth Garcia


Co-Founder of Biblekeeper, Author & Theologian

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The uncovering of the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls[1] provided details of first-century Israel’s society and its past, allowing experts to recreate Jesus’ circumstances.

The majority of the scrolls have non-biblical content (700 out of over 900 scrolls) that provides information such as communal guidelines, defense systems, religious practices, and the greater depth of prehistoric Jewish belief.

The Essenes were the ones who owned these historical scrolls, which were copied and written during the early days. Some of these individuals resided at Khirbet Qumran, a place close to the Dead Sea. 4,000 of them resided in villages, cities, and big communities across Judaea.

They visited Jerusalem, where an “Essene Gate” was named after them. They also traveled to Masada, where their written works were discovered.

Who Were The Essenes In The Bible?

Regarded as a highly strict Jewish group, the Essenes resided in Jerusalem as well as in the region next to the Dead Sea. The Jewish historian Josephus’ commentaries on the lives and laws of the Essenes have been extremely useful in studying Jewish customs and rules.

The Essenes were a minor, separatist Jewish sect that emerged out of the Maccabean battles. They were nearly lost in history until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1940s and 1950s. These individuals were literary elites who replicated, gathered, stored, and authored scrolls, including biblical and secular works.

This Qumran community emphasized rigid law obedience, like the Pharisees; however, they viewed the temple priests as dishonest and denied most of the temple ceremonial and sacrificial practices.

The Essenes, contrary to the Sadducees and Pharisees, were never referenced in the Holy Bible, but others claim they are found in the New Testament of God (Matthew 19:11–12 and Colossians 2:8, 18, and 23).

They were involved in societal affairs by exchanging goods with other Gentiles and Jewish sects, as recorded in historical writings. Even more, a handful of them knew how to read and converse in Greek.

They were considered a peace-loving people, yet that didn’t stop them from taking an active role in the first recorded Jewish uprising against Rome, from 66 to 70 C.E., choosing to be tormented and die as martyrs instead of choosing to denounce the lawgiver or consume prohibited food.

The Essenes Beliefs

The Essenes’ doctrine is characterized as apocalyptic, derived from the Greek apokalypsis, which means “revelation of hidden or secret knowledge.” In line with Israel’s catastrophic events and foreign attacks, the Prophets of Israel foretold that God would get involved in the life of mankind once more in the last hours.

This time’s writings contained visionaries who had experienced out-of-body encounters involving being sent on visits to heaven and were presented with the hidden events of the last days, generally by otherworldly beings.

Based on the Essenes’ apocalyptic theology, history is divided into two parts: this present sinful age and an upcoming era of absolute perfection. The time they existed was thought to be so wicked that only God’s forceful intervention could redeem it.

The Essenes believed that mankind was also divided into two groups: the Sons of Light (where the Essenes belonged) and the Sons of Darkness. Considering the prevailing situation of evil, they believed that those who were good should separate themselves from all unbelievers.

browned pages of an old book

The Essenes And The Dead Sea Scrolls

These valuable artifacts consist of 225 biblical works, copies of earlier apocalyptic writings, the Essenes’ own apocalyptic beliefs, instructions, prayers, remarks, songs, and curses.

In 1946, a simple Arab shepherd boy discovered the scrolls, also known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, in the Qumran area and brought some of these writings to an underground black market antiques seller in Bethlehem.

The Essenes created the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are valuable not only for providing knowledge about what was happening at Qumran but also for offering insight into the broader scope of earlier Jewish belief and society.

Apart from the Bible’s Book of Esther, the Dead Sea Scrolls contain portions from all the books of the Old Testament. Historians believe that fragments of this lost book, which tells the account of the legendary Jewish female monarch of Persia, have either dissolved or will someday be discovered.

At first, the enthusiasm surrounding the finding of the scrolls hoped for any details on Christ or early Christian groups. There are no original writings from Jesus’ period that have remained.

While the scrolls do not mention Jesus of Nazareth by name, the content within them indirectly suggests that he was viewed as a prophet of the apocalypse. This insight underscores the widespread nature of similar apocalyptic beliefs in the first century C.E.

What Is The Relationship Between Jesus And The Essenes?

While we don’t know whether Christ was an Essene, some researchers believe that they influenced him. Furthermore, some academics believe that John the Baptist, a prominent figure in the Holy Bible, was an Essene.

John baptized Jesus Christ in the Jordan River, also known as mikveh in Jewish practice. The verse from Matthew 3:13 records this event. His baptism and that of John are the initial marks of a relationship between the Essenes and Jesus.

The ancient Essenes are the very first to provide an uncommon concept at that time: a messiah who was an apocalyptic figure, a rescuer, and themselves being his pure followers. The titles “Son of Man,” “Judge,” “Prince,” and “Teacher of Righteousness” are all mentioned in the texts.

Was John The Baptist An Essene?

Some researchers believe that the evangelist John the Baptist (a significant character in the Bible) was a member of the Essene sect. The following are a few commonalities connecting John the Baptist with the Essenes:

  1. Luke 1:80 describes John as being in the desert region. The ancient Essenes were recorded wandering around the desert.
  2. John and the members of the Essenes referred to themselves as a voice calling in the wilderness, citing Isaiah 40:3. John claimed to fulfill this Old Testament prophecy.
  3. A complete shift of heart was necessary for the kind of baptism (or washing baptism practice) carried out by both.

While there are some similarities between John the Baptist and the Essenes, there are several key differences we can see. First, the Essenes retreated into the forest, far from civilization. John was a well-known character in their time.

Second, John followed a considerably harsher diet compared to the Essenes (Luke 7:33). Third, John proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah.

Fourth, the ancient Essenes did not accept Jesus as the Messiah or their Savior; however, they expected the prophetic “Teacher of Righteousness” to be an Essene. And lastly, the Essenes had a robust organizational structure that John the Baptist’s disciples lacked.

What Happened To The Essenes?

Since they considered themselves the authentic survivors of their group, the remaining Qumran Essenes had cut themselves off from “rabbinic Judaism” and dedicated themselves to individual ritual purity while preparing for the last battle, or what they called “the war of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness.”

They displayed a unique apocalyptic worldview, looking past the efforts of the “Teacher of Righteousness” while anticipating the future for the arrival of two, or even three, Messiahs.

two jewish men walking along the western wall


The vast majority of Essenes experienced the Judaean civilization. Philo of Alexandria defined them as having three kinds of devotion: love of morality, love of people, and, most importantly, love of God.

Essenes, like all Jews, trusted in God and respected the lawgiver. They did, however, have views and convictions that set them apart from other Jews.

They passionately stood against the heinous institution of slavery, branding it as not only unfair but sinful. What’s more, they fearlessly questioned the concept of natural law, challenging the very notion that all people are inherently alike.

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