A Jewish sect, who, according to the description of Josephus, combined the ascetic virtues of the Pythagoreans and Stoics with a spiritual knowledge of the divine law. It seems probable that the name signifies seer, or the silent, the mysterious, and you can find more about that here on st-takla.org on other commentaries and dictionary entries. As a sect the Essenes were distinguished by an aspiration after ideal purity rather than by any special code of doctrines. There were isolated communities of Essenes, which were regulated by strict rules, analogous to those of the monastic institutions of a later date. All things were held in common, without distinction of property; and special provision was made for the relief of the poor. Self-denial, temperance and labor--especially agriculture-- were the marks of the outward life of the Essenes; purity and divine communion the objects of their aspiration. Slavery, war and commmerce were alike forbidden. Their best-known settlements were on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea.
Main reference: Smith's Bible Dictionary (1860s)
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