Recently when I visited Israel my family had a wonderful experience seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls and learning about Jewish life in the desert. When I grew up I had so little knowledge of this. I have 2 questions regarding the Essenes :

Are there any authentic, ancient Jewish texts that are from the Essenes? I have learned a little about the Essenes from books, lectures and the Internet, but I am wondering if there are actual texts that I can read that have been passed down throughout the ages? I am specifically interested in their Jewish customs/traditions.

I am also wondering what happened to the Essene Jewish traditions. I know that early Christians were considered Essene (and I think there is record of them--like the "desert fathers"?) but what happened to the Jewish Essenes who were not followers of Jesus? Was their philosophy passed on in Kabbalah or traditions that we might have now that are kept private?

1 Answer 1


A lot of the late Second Temple schisms are still the subjects of hot debate. As I understand it, the only primary source we have on the Essenes is Josephus; leading some historians to question their existence. (Yes, Ethics of the Fathers does talk about the foolishness of a "what's mine is yours and yours is mine" philosophy, which Lord Sacks reads as a reference to some commune-type sects at the time.)

It's also debated which sect wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. From what I understand, Professor Schiffman believes it was the Sadducees, and Leiman is more inclined towards the Boethusians.

Of all the sects at that period, basically we have what became Christianity, and what became the mainstream Pharisee Judaism that was recorded in the Talmud. The other sects pretty much faded away, with whatever works they had. As far as I know, there's the Samaritan Bible; the Dead Sea Scrolls; and I believe the Book of Jubilees survived in some form (aside from the scrolls); but that's really about it. So as far as we know, all the other sects eventually folded into either Christianity or Judaism (well maybe eventually the Karaites), or into the broader surrounding cultures.

  • Thank you for this. Very interesting. I edited my question a little to make it more specific about the Essenes as they relate to Jewish spiritual traditions (not just history). I'm wondering if there is a website you would recommend that has good Jewish translations of these ancient texts that give a sense of their laws and customs?
    – Digityogi
    Jan 15, 2016 at 6:07
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    I've often wondered if Josefus's description of the Essenes (which essentially translates to Perushim) is just like an outsiders depiction nowadays of some Ultra-Orthodox groups.
    – HaLeiVi
    Jan 17, 2016 at 3:41
  • This answer would be greatly improved with more sources. It relies very heavily on personal impression "As I understand it", "From what I understand", etc.
    – mevaqesh
    Jan 17, 2016 at 6:36

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