During the period of the divided kingdom God’s prophets performed miracles, including raising the dead (1Kings 17:22; 2Kings 4:35). Obviously, Yahweh’s power reached beyond the grave. Still, God’s commitment was to the nation, not to the individual. Thus, God warned in passages such as Exodus 20:5: “…visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject Me.”
However, Jeremiah 31:29-30 promises: “In those days, they shall no longer say, ‘Parents have eaten sour grapes and children’s teeth are blunted.’ But every one shall die for his own sins: whosoever eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be blunted.”
From the Babylonian Captivity (620 BC) forward, Israel ceased to exist as a state; foreign powers were constantly ruling or at least meddling in her life. For this reason, the emphasis naturally turned from the nation to the individual. Looking in retrospect, the pious Hebrew could see the footprints of God in the translation of Enoch and Elijah. If such righteous men could live with God after death, maybe there was eternal hope for other individuals as well.
Following the above quote from Jeremiah 31, God promises that with the New Covenant He will place His Law in the heart of each individual. From this point forward, thinking people could begin to grasp the concept of eternal accountability for temporal behavior.
In the Intertestamentary Period there emerged a group of Jewish separatists, known as the Essens, who founded a community near the Jordan River between Jericho and En-gedi known as Essenes. The genesis of the Essenes is obscure and enigmatic. Scripture makes no mention of them, although they probably came into existence about 150 BC during the Maccabaean period. Josephus, Philo, and Pliny all refer to them in their writings. The name Essene is as obscure as its origin; although I found a plethora of possibilities, I found none that proved compelling. As far as is known, they numbered no more than 4000 and lived in Palestine – mostly in the vicinity of the Dead Sea.
History of Essenes
Alexander the Great conquered Israel in about 332 B.C. Upon his death his empire was divided between his generals. Israel fell under the control of the Ptolemies who established their center in Egypt. By-and-large, the Ptolemies allowed the Israelites to rule themselves. The Seleucids, from Syria, conquered Israel in 200 B.C. and began a serious endeavor to Hellenize the Jews. At the climax of this conquest Antiochus IV Epiphanes committed the “abomination of desolation” prophesied in Daniel 11:31.
Some of the Jews, especially the Sadducees and the ruling elite of the nation, welcomed the Greek influence. More conservative Jews, including the Pharisees, strongly resisted. These were the days when the Maccabaean family led the people in revolt. It was probably during these days that the Essenes separated themselves, forming the Qumran community near the Jordan River.
Beliefs of the Essenes
Only adults were admitted as members. The initiate spent his first year on probation, and was given a pickax as his first badge, used for modestly disposing of human waste. (Bathing after performing natural functions was required by officiating priests.) At the end of the year he was admitted to the lustrations, followed by two additional years of probation. At the end of the second year he was given as a badge, an apron, and after the third year a white garment. At this point he took an oath of silence and submission, and was allowed to participate in the common meals. Some scholars, like Jerome, believed they abstained from meat and wine.
The community shared all of the members’ assets, including clothing and whatever wages they earned, turning it over to a “manager” who distributed it as needed. From this, provision was made for the sick and aged.
Daily labor was also strictly regulated; each day began with prayer, after which the members began working, mostly in some aspect of agriculture. Late morning they reassembled for purifying ablutions, followed by the common meal. They returned to work in the afternoon and reassembled once again for their evening meal. Trading was considered covetousness, and all manner of weapons was banished from the community.
The Essenes had some beliefs that later were embraced by followers of the Kabbalah. “Kabbalah claims a divine authorship, though it probably originated in the 12th century A.D. Allegedly, the truth of Kabbalah was first given to the angels before God created the world. Mankind then received it on three separate occasions through three different men. Adam was the first to receive the teaching through the Archangel Raziel as Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden. But, because people were more interested in the ways of the world than the things of God, the truth of Kabbalah was eventually lost. It is said that Kabbalah is derived from ancient Hebraic priesthood practices that has the goal of human transformation.” One of the connections between these two strange groups is their common belief in reincarnation.
Stages through which Essene members pass
1 – Outward, bodily purity through baptisms.
2 – Abstinence from sexual intercourse.
3 – Inward spiritual purity.
4 – Banishment of anger and malice coupled with meekness and a lowly spirit.
5 – Holiness.
6 – Qualified to be the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and to prophecy.
7 – Perform miraculous cures and raise the dead.
8 – Finally attain to the position of Elijah, the forerunner of Messiah.
Since contact with those who did not practice these laws of purity, or even coming into the things belonging to these people, rendered them impure, they needed to withdraw from society and form separate communities living apart from the world. They gave themselves to tilling the ground, tending their flocks, rearing bees, and making clothes for the community.
Originally, the Essenes were similar to the Pharisees. Over time, however, differences developed. Like the Pharisees, they sought to rigorously follow the Law, along with a firm belief in Providence. They differed, however, in that the Essenes practiced celibacy, did not frequent the Temple and offer sacrifices, and denied the resurrection of the body. The “dogma” embraced by the community was carefully preserved, as evidenced by the Dead Sea Scrolls.
They had an elaborately defined angelology, and the novices had to swear to preserve the names of angels. It may well be that these beliefs carried over into the Christian movement, addressed by Paul in his epistles. They rejected slavery, oath taking, anointing oil, and luxury of any kind. Schurer believes that their belief in the transmigration of the soul came from Greek influence, primarily from Pythagoreans.
Most Jews felt threatened by the Essenes and their combination of asceticism with spiritual power. Since they were the only Jewish sect to practice celibacy, Jesus may have had them in mind in Matthew 19:12: “For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.”
James 5:12 follows Jesus command in Matthew 5:34: “But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne…” Similarly, oath taking was prohibited among the Essenes. Although the connection is dubious, some think John the Baptist came from the Essene community. He led an ascetic life, practiced baptism, and Jesus called him Elijah: “…and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.”
This mysterious group lived and worked in the shadows of the larger Jewish community. Mystery lends itself to speculation, and much of what we think we know about them must be held tentatively. Obviously, the OT did not mention them, for they came into existence in the period between the OT and NT.
I find it strange that we don’t find them mentioned in the NT. In all probability, however, the transformation of Jewish thought from understanding God’s commitment as exclusively to the nation to including the individual was completed in this environment.
Grateful for God’s hand on history,
 Born about 37 AD of priestly and royal ancestors, he was a historian who wrote gave valuable insight into Judaism and Christianity.
 Philo was a Jew from Alexandria, Egypt who lived from 20 BC until 50 AD. He used allegory in an endeavor to blend Judaism with Greek philosophy.
 Pliny the elder was a philosopher and historian, the son of a Roman Senator, who died about 79 AD.
 Internet information
 Op cit. A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, second division, vol. II, page 204
 Colossians 2:18
 Op Cit. A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, second division, vol. II, page 216