From the Commander (September, 2009)

posted May 16, 2015, 5:54 PM by San Jose Scottish Rite   [ updated May 16, 2015, 5:56 PM ]
The earliest mention of the Essenes is by the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria (c. 20-54 AD). Philo told his readers that there were more than 4,000 Essenes (Essaioi) living in villages throughout Judea. Among their neighbors they were noted for their love of God and their concerns with piety, honesty, morality, philanthropy, holiness, equality, and freedom. The holy Essenes did not marry and lived a celibate life, and practiced communal residence, money, property, food and clothing. They observed the Sabbath according to all the strictest instructions and spent much of their time studying the Law according to philosophical and allegorical interpretations. They cherished freedom, possessed no slaves, and rejected the use of weapons or participation in commerce. Philo did not mention any names or places, nor any background to the origins of this group.
The Essenes flourished from the 2nd century BC through the 1st century AD.  They are probably best known as being thought to have written what we have come to know as the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1946.
The historian Josephus (37 – 100 AD) describes the Essenes partly as a philosophical school like the Pythagoreans (4th Century BC) and represents them as a kind of monastic order with semi-pagan (non-mainstream religious) rites.  There were particularly scrupulous regarding the Sabbath and devoted this day to reading and allegorical interpretation of the Law.  They practiced the virtues of love and holiness and were a part of the cities and villages of Judea.  They were men of intense patriotic sentiment.  Parts of their rites were accorded only to the elite of the priesthood who were “initiated into the mysteries of the Holy Name and other secret lore.”.  
John the Baptist seems to have belonged to the Essenes and in appealing to sinners to be regenerated by baptism, he inaugurated a new movement that paved the way for Christianity.  
And there are those who conjecture that Jesus of Nazareth lived among the Essenes during part of his life.
A community of Essenes existed in Jerusalem into the 2nd century AD which insisted that each member practice a trade and taught that each should devote a third part of the day to the study of Torah, a third to devotion and a third to work.  In connection with their work a group of them used a name to describe themselves as “Builders”.  Their name was given the meaning of “builders of a higher world” and afterward applied to the Rabbis in general.  They obtain their philosophy by means of allegorical interpretation.  Their love of virtue is proved by their freedom from:  love of money, of high station, and of pleasure; by their temperance and endurance, by their having few wants, simplicity and mild temper, by their lack of pride and the like.  Their institution is not based upon family connections, which are not matters of free choice, but upon zeal for virtue and philanthropy.
The objective of the Essenes was to make themselves worthy of being participants of “the Holy spirit,” or recipients of divine revelations, and of being initiated into the mysteries of God.  They claimed to possess by tradition from the founders of the Synagogue the correct pronunciation and the magic spell of the Holy name.

Ross Fuller  
Commander — Council of Kadosh