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Introduction To ADAM II - A Guide For The Walk Home - Jewish Group: Essenes
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Amidst the backdrop of the events, times, and people of our previous discussion arose the Essenes. Is it any wonder, then, that during such a period of political and religious uncertainty and curtain of cultural clashes, would arise a group who would separate from such a fragmented society? However, the precise origins of the Essenes are about as obscure as that of the Pharisees. It is believed by most scholars that these ultra- separatists broke away from the prevailing religio-political practices of Judaism in the Maccabean era, forming small colonies, or cells, throughout the region, and in some cases, isolated communes. Very little was known of these purists Josephus so highly regarded until the discoveries of the Dead Sea scrolls in 1947 and later excavations of the Qumran community located in close proximity. This community, or commune of a monastic sect located at the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, between Jerusalem to the northwest and En-gedi to the south, has since been believed by most to be that of the Essenes themselves. If so, then, the numerous documents discovered there shed a wealth of information on their doctrines, beliefs, practices, nature, and lifestyles. Although in none of those documents is a self-described reference to the name we are most familiar, as with our Christian ascription ( Acts 11:26; 26:28), it may very well have been one assigned by outsiders. If so, as with our New Testament documents that are absent of such Christian self-designations, it is quite natural that these are as well.

The etymology of the name assigned this group has been the source of debate for centuries, with still no clear consensus on the matter. Because our space is limited, it is recommended the reader examine the studies of Marcel Simon, professor at the University of Strasbourg in France, for his scholarly examination of the many possible roots of this name. For our purposes, we will simply say in agreement with his findings, that it most likely came from the transliteration of the Hebrew word, hasid, coming from the Aramaic, hasya in the singular, or hasen in the plural, which at its core means, "a pious one." If Philo (Hellenist Jewish philosopher in Alexandria, Egypt, 30 B.C.-A.D. 45) is correct in his assessment of the Greek, Essaioi, which could itself be a transliteration from the Hebrew, hasaim, then another characteristic meaning is seen -- "the silent ones."

As mentioned above, unlike the previous groups studied, neither the name nor an example can be identified within our New Testament. Because of his ascetic wilderness lifestyle (who also, like the Essenes, is never reported frequenting the Temple in Jerusalem), some believe that John the Baptist was a member of this sect. He is also connected with a disciple named Banus, to whom Josephus confesses to having spent some time with in his teens while examining each of the Jewish sects before deciding with which to align. This is one explanation for Josephus' high regard, that reflected in his writings, for the Jewish Christian sect developing in Judaism (and in particular for Christ - Antiq. 18.3.3, p. 379). Although there is irrefutable evidence of their existence prior to and during the time of Christ (Josephus numbers them at 4000, - Antiq. 18.1.5, p. 377), no one really knows why, unlike the other major groups previously studied, they are not there mentioned. Some have offered their exhaustive theories, the most common being: their chosen separation from the Temple life at Jerusalem and their lack of contact with others outside their own communes. It should be mentioned here in support of this theory, there are several other Jewish sects we have chosen not to study that were viable at the time of Christ that also are not mentioned in our New Testament writings. Nevertheless, for the reasons that will be obvious to the reader as this study unfolds, we have chosen to include only the Essenes.

Let us begin with the conditions of Judea at the outset of the Maccabean revolt (167 B.C.). Several things must be remembered at this point that were converging factors for the rise of the Essenes, first that seen as a result of the anonymous scribes who evolved from Ezra's day into the Great Assembly who legislated Jewish life from the Mosaic Code. From the very beginnings of the Hebrews in Egypt ( Ex.1:8-10), other nations have struggled to come to terms with the definition, purpose, and place of these people in an ever-changing secular world. This, they themselves have struggled with as well throughout their history. However, to the religious Jew, the Covenant Code at Sinai made this perfectly clear. Listen to one contemporary Rabbi:
With the calling of the first Jew, Abraham, a new covenant [the old being the Rainbow Covenant with all people - Gen.9:9-13] came into being, initiating the Jew into his function within nature and humanity. . . . At Sinai, God entered into a covenant, B'rit, with the people of Israel. Torah is the sacred writ of that covenant. Torah tells the story of how our forefathers were admitted into the covenant and how they struggled to construct their lives under it. . . . As a people standing under divine covenant, Israel is unique. No nation in the world can claim a similar distinction. . . . Life must be totally dedicated to Mitzvah [commandment -- the first being, to "love you then the lord your God!"] and, if need be, surrendered in martyrdom for His name. . . . We must serve with every ounce of strength, with all the capacities of body and mind. We must equally serve Him with our worldly goods and possessions. . . . We are a people and a faith, and both elements form an organic unit. The people have fashioned the faith, and the faith has sustained the people. This has been very difficult for non-Jews to understand, even those of goodwill. Most non-Jews can grasp the idea of Judaism as a religion, but cannot place peoplehood within the framework of theology. Yet the Jewish religion and Jewish peoplehood are one and inseparable. In other faiths, separation from the church and its obligations cuts the bond to the community of the faithful; in Judaism, the neglect or even the denial of religion does not place a Jew outside the bounds of the people. (Trepp, pp. 1,2,4,5,6)

For comparison, another Jewish writer adds: "A Christian child is born pagan, becomes Christian through baptism, and baptism itself is provisional until at confirmation the confirmand makes a conscious commitment to the Christian faith. A Jewish child, in contrast, is born Jewish. . . . [Therefore] there is in Judaism an altogether crucial togetherness of what may be called faith and fate" (Fackenheim, p. 29).

In America, our culture has evolved over the centuries from that first cherished doctrine of its foundation -- freedom of religion -- to come to mean for the growing irreligious of our day whose voice seems to be the loudest and who wields power -- freedom from religion. Hence, we have the modern secular man, or woman, who views religion as only one aspect of the total community, albeit to many, an unnecessary and intrusive one, as clearly evidenced in their attempts to relegate it to a non-influential role in every other aspect of American life. With the Zionist movement of this century, even the modern Jew has begun to view the separation of the religion of Judaism and the existence and survival of their race as a whole. It was this movement, which began out of survival in a hostile Europe (fathered by a Viennese journalist named, Theodore Herzl, at the turn of the 20th century), that is responsible, in part, for the re-establishment of the nation of Israel in the holy land following World War II (1948). To the religious Jew, as described above, this is a threat to the very existence of their uniqueness as it has heretofore been, and a violation of that Covenant Code at Sinai. Their view was, and to the Orthodox remains, only under the Messiah's leadership, when he finally appears, are the Jews to retake and resettle the land of Palestine. Theirs was to be a Davidic government as prophesied in scripture, not this ever-growing political Zionist movement. And so the debate continues, to the proponent of each: modern secularism and the root experiences of Judaism are mutually irreconcilable.

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