The Essenes – Who were they? Was John the Baptist an Essene?
According to Josephus, the Essenes, or Essenoi, were a Jewish religious sect that existed alongside the Pharisees and Sadducees. They lived lives of separation, piety and celibacy, observed the Sabbath, shunned personal property and did not use money. Ritual immersion in water was another aspect of their observance, which (along with other similarities) has led to the belief that John the Baptist was an Essene. Roman writer, Pliny the Elder, was a geographer and claimed the Essenes lived mainly in the desert near the Dead Sea, on the northwestern shore. This is the same location where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, and though there is no proof that the Essenes wrote the scrolls, most scholars accept a connection between the two.
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The Bible does not state that John the Baptist was an Essene; in fact, the Essenes are not mentioned in Scripture, unlike the Pharisees and Sadducees, who figure prominently in the Gospels. The Pharisees and Sadducees antagonized Jesus, and were eventually responsible for His betrayal, unjust conviction by the Roman court, and crucifixion. The Essenes, if they existed, are not mentioned in conjunction with the Pharisees and Sadducees in the biblical record, and it is possible they were among Jesus' disciples. John the Baptist, like the Essenes, lived in the desert (Luke 1:80), described himself as a voice in the wilderness (Isaiah 40:3; John 1:23), and used baptism to signify spiritual change (Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3). However, unlike the Essenes, John was not a separatist, and had a very strict diet (Luke 7:33). Most significantly, the Essenes believed that the Messiah would come from within the Essene sect, but John the Baptist preached Jesus as the Messiah. Furthermore, John's disciples were much more loosely organized than the Essenes, and it seems that John was not interested so much in the organization of followers as he was in the proclamation of Jesus Christ. It is possible that John had some loose affiliation with the Essenes, but he seems to have been a rogue figure. This is speculation; there is no biblical or historical proof that John the Baptist was an Essene.
The Essenes disappeared from history around AD 70, after the destruction of Jerusalem. Today, some Christian groups identify as Essenes. One group, called the Essene Church of Christ, claims to be "the authorized custodians and chief disseminators of the true teachings of Lord Christ and Lady Christ" which is a shockingly unbiblical statement on many levels. These groups are cultish in nature and engage in occult revelation and mysticism, and as a whole, deny true doctrine. They have little in common with the Essenes of the 1st century, and should be avoided.
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