The Essenes were a small sect of Messianic-Apocalyptic Jews who left Jerusalem to await an apocalypse and the coming of a new Messiah in tight-knit ascetic communities near the Dead Sea from the second century BCE through the first century CE. They conformed strictly to Levitical purity laws, practiced celibacy, shared property communally and abstained from bloody sacrifices. In the 18th and 19th centuries, some scholars theorized that Jesus might have been associated with the Essenes, but that theory has since been generally abandoned. Certain modern communities attempt to adapt an "Essene diet" for a combination of health and spiritual reasons.
Dead Sea Scrolls
Before 1947, the Essenes had been known mainly through short descriptions from three ancient sources, Pliny, Josephus, and Philo. In 1947, Bedouin goat herders discovered a cave in the Qumran region near the Dead Sea containing clay jars filled with manuscripts, as described by Marilyn J. Lundberg on the Western Semitic Research Project website. Between 1947 and 1956, archeologists discovered remnants of roughly 800 manuscripts and thousands of fragments of early Jewish documents in the Qumran caves. Both the date and location suggest the Qumran communities were occupied by the people referred to as Essenes by ancient sources.
The Manual of Discipline
One of the Dead Sea Scrolls, "The Manual of Discipline," gives a picture of the ordinary life of the community. Like the community rules of the Pythagoreans, or the monastic rules of the desert fathers, "The Manual of Discipline" sets out behavioral guidelines for the Essene community. In a manner reminiscent of the Eucharistic celebration of Christianity, a priest would bless bread and wine before meals. Meals were communal and members were prohibited from eating food prepared by people from outside the community.
Essene Gospel of Peace and Dietary Laws
The so-called "Essene Gospel of Peace" is the work of Edmund Bordeaux Szekely, who claimed to have translated it from manuscripts held in the library of Monte Cassino, along with two other Essene gospels he claimed to have found hidden in the Vatican library. His claims of the existence of the manuscripts on which these translations are based have not been independently verified, and many of the practices he describes are more typical of early 20th-century spiritual movements than of what is known of early Judaism.
The so-called "Essene" diet promulgated by groups like "The Order of the Nazorean Essenes" are essentially lacto-vegetarian, with an emphasis on raw foods and a sprouted wheat bread known as "Essene" or "manna bread." Although many lacto-vegetarian diets are nutritionally balanced, you should consult your health-care provider before embarking on an "Essene" diet,
Carol Poster began writing professionally in 1974. Her articles have appeared in "Outdoor Woman," "Paddler," "Ski Magazine," "Women's Sports & Fitness," "Dance News," "Show Business," "The Athenian," "PC Resource" and "Utah Holiday," among other publications. Poster holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from Eastern Washington University, as well as a Ph.D. in English from the University of Missouri.