The Mystic Order of Essenes
ENID S. SMITH, Ph.D.
Probably no religion system ever produced such a group of saints so eager for purity and spiritual attainments as the Essenes, forerunners of Christianity, who founded not only a new sect but almost a new religion. This indeed was a fascinating, unique group of mystics, men and women whose chief purpose in life was to become temples of the Holy Spirit that they might receive a special revelation, and thus be the means of bringing the promised Messiah into the world. History declares that their desire was fulfilled, that Jesus, for whose coming they made very definite and painstaking preparation, was born in the fold of their organization, that Mary and Joseph were Essene initiates, and that their son, with John the Baptist, his cousin, with many other biblical characters were members of the Essene communities, both in Palestine, Greece, Egypt, and many other lands.
The Freemasons find pure Christianity in Essenism and consider the "Brethren of the White Clothing", or Mystic Order of Essenes, to be the most important fraternity the world has ever seen. The women - the wives, mothers, daughters, and other females of the Essene communities, were associate members. Those not caring to marry brought up orphan children for organization. This group dates back to Moses and even to more ancient days, and was designated at various times and places in history as Nazarites, School of the Prophets, Hasidees, Therapeutae ( healers) , Contemplative Ones, Nazarenes, Ministers fo Peace, Friends, and the Pure and Silent Brethren.
The designation "Essene" was not popularly known, with accounts for the omission of the word in many of the popular histories and writings of the time. The Essene attire was so distinctive and unique that among the populace these mystics were known as "Brethren of the White Clothing" - each member after initiation adopting a robe of white composed of one piece of material, such as the " seamless garment " worn by Christ Jesus, and their salutation was, "Peace be unto you".
Besides preparing for the birth of the Messiah, this group distinguished itself in many other ways, such as the proclaiming of the equality of all mankind and the denouncing of slavery. They were the first socialists to organize a community high above the standards of their times. They were the first collectivists to encourage the ownership of all things in common, as mentioned in the book of Acts in our Bible, and were also the first mystic sect in all Jewish history.
Although historians differ in details, they generally agree upon the major facts concerning the Essenes. For example they agree that this pioneer group of mystics was of "dateless antiquity", as Pliny declares. The Talmud speaks of the brotherhood as the "Holy comunity in Jerusalem", while Strabo mentions "the Essenes in Heliopolis with whom Plato and Eudoxus consulted". Josephus, a member of the organization for a time, writes of Jesus as a member, and considers the Essenes to be the oldest of ascetics, tells us the resurrection or continuity of life after so-called death, in communication with angels and declared that it was from Egypt that their doctrines spread abroad. Philo calls the mystic group "Champions of Virtue", a people by themselves more remarkable than any other in the wide world".
According to Josephus, every Jew had to belong either to the Pharisees, Sadducees, or to the Essenes. Though speaking scathing words against the two former groups, Christ Jesus never uttered a word against the latter group. Solinus affirms that " the Essenes who differ from all other peoples in their marvelous constitutions" ( being vegetarians and living many of them far beyond a hundred years of age ) " have according to my opinion been appointed by divine Providence for this mode of life. They renounce money, connubial pleasures, yet are the richest of all men."
Among representative modern historians is Dean Prideaux , who declares in his book on the descendants of the Essenes, The Old and New Testaments Connected, that the Essenes absolutely antedate the Holy Scriptures and absolutely condemned slavery which both Old and New Testaments allow, and that they anticipated the true spirit of Christianity and the philosophy of the twentieth century .
Dr. Graetz in his book, The History of the Jews, says, " The Essenes first proclaimed the kingdom of heaven", that John the Baptist lived the life of a Nazarite, belonged to the Essenes, and took up his abode with other Essenes near the waters of the Jordan, awaiting penitents, who when baptized joined the Essenic Order.
The historian Ginsburg in his book, The Essenes, Their History and Doctrine, says," The purpose of Jesus, the Essene, was to effect a great moral revolution. From the age of twelve to thirty he was in the Essene colonies and conceived the plan which he intended to carry out. There he was educated until he was sent out by his order to effect a great moral revolution. It cannot be doubted that our Saviour Himself belonged to this holy brotherhood". A most painstaking historical researsh , The Essenes by A. A. Schultz, compiled from the numerous records of the Literary and Philosophic Society of Liverpool in 1896, finds the above statements confirmed in documents written in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic.
Of all the sects of ancient times, the Essenes were the most exclusive, coming out as they did, from among those of dying civilization, that they might the more effectively build a new and better world for mankind. They usually located their secret societies in small towns or on the border of the desert, away from the crowded hives of humanity with their barter, Temple sacrifices, noise, and attention to things of the body. In these communities each family had its own house and garden. A chamber in each house was devoted to prayer and meditation. These "silent ones", "seers", "healers", during the week lived and worked apart, but on Saturday they prayed and worked in common. Their so-called feasts, where no flesh was used and only cold water was served - particularly those held on the eve of Pentecost - were famous and formed a contrast to the ordinary Greek and Hebrew revels. At such feasts the philosophical discourse was the chief feature. This was followed by hymns and by antiphonal and joint singing, with choral dancing in imitation of Moses and Miriam at the Red Sea.
The Essenes did not repudiate marriage, but the couples had to be approved by high officials of the Essene community. The most advanced of the groups refrained from marriage. "Some", as Jesus explained, " made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake".
The Essenes not only wore a common type of dress, but, also engaged in common labor, united in common meals, deposited their earnings in a common treasury, and devoted themselves to works of charity, for which each had the liberty to draw from the common funds, at his own discretion, except in the case of relatives.
The Essenes served their fellow man as minister, prophet, and physician. They interpreted dreams, exorcised devils, and performed miracles, bringing peace to the soul, healing to hte body, and guidance through the predictions which never failed.
For example, history relates that an Essene, Menahem, once met Herod as a boy going to school, and addressed him as "King of the Jews". Herod thought the man who did not know him jested, and told him of his common origin with no chance of becoming king. But Menahem smiled at him, clapped him on the shoulder, saying, "Thou wilt, nevertheless, be king and wilt begin thy reign happily, for God has found thee worthy of it. Remember the blows that Menahem has given thee as a symbol of a change of thy fortune. For this assurance will be salutary for thee when thou wilt love justice and piety toward God and equity toward thy citizens. However, I know thou wilt not be such a one, for I can preceive it all. Thou wilt obtain an overlasting reputation, but thou wilt forget piety and justice. Thou wilt not be concealed from God, for He will visit thee in His wrath for it, towards the end of thy life"
Judas, the Essene, was another example. One day in the temple surrounded by his pupils whom he initiated into the apocalyptic art of foretelling the future, he saw Antigonus pass. Judas then and there prophesied a sudden death for him at a definite hour on a certain day, in a very special place - all of which came to pass as predicted. Likewise, Simon, the Essene, probably the one mentioned in the second chapter of Luke's Gospel, was a very holy man whose prophesies also came true. There were many others. So devoted to the laws of God and to holy living were these vegetarians of the Mystic Order, that they not only developed exactness in prophecy, but also magnetic personalities, and had such wonderfully beautiful, radiant auras that on some occasions these auras were perceived by the profane. No wonder their lives wereexemplified in the words of Christ Jesus when He said , "He that loseth his life for My sake shall find it, but he that saveth his life shall lose it". In renouncing the temporal side, they won the glory of that which is eternal.
Every adult member of the Brotherhood was assigned at the time of his initiation a definite mission in life, and this mission had to be adhered to regardless of all obstacles and temptations, even to the sacrifice of his own life. Some chose to be healers, physicians, farmers, teachers, missionaries, carpenters, translators, scribes; others chose the feeding of flocks and rearing of bees, preparing of food, making articles of dress, or weaving. Whatever the occupation, it had to be something constructive, not destructive. There were never allowed in the organization any gunsmiths, slaughterers of cattle or sheep, or any practice or business that deliberately destroyed the least of any living thing.
History emphasizes that no maker of arrows, darts, spears, swords, helmets, breastplates or shields, no manufacturer of arms or engines of war, or any man whatever that made things belonging to war, or even such things as might lead to wickedness in times of peace, could ever be found among the Essenes, "Ministers of Peace", who realized with Christ Jesus that "he that taketh the sword shall perish by the sword". Again, no trading was allowed or anything by which money was made, only barter. Pliny, among other historians, declares that the Essenes would "not even dream of carrying on traffic, innkeeping, or navigation, for they repudiate every indulcement to covetousness ". But all peaceful, non-commercial occupations were in keeping with their purpose in life. Every member worked from sunrise to sunset, and devoted the evening hours to the study of the mysteries of Nature and of revelation and the celestial Hierarchy. Abundant time was possible, since each member took his share of the work in the department in which he excelled, and since they toiled only for their necessities and not for laying up sums of money.
In each city there were "Essene Gates" where the poor could receive food and necessities, also places called "Bethsaida" for the sick. We find in this feature of their work the origin of the hospices and hospitals which became well known some centures later. A special staff fo workers were connected with these places and were calle "hospitalers". The Essenes likewise had their rescue homes in various communities, and places where strangers could not only be cared for physically, but could also be guided in their problems.
Those Ministers of Peace elected their own president, judges, and officials, and considered themselves free to act only in service to others. They believed in passive obedience to powers ordained of God. Their essential beliefs and practices included a conviction that fate governs all things, an absolute confidence that Jehovah's will must manifest in all that comes to pass, although free will was not denied; an unqualified belief in prophecy and the ability to see coming events; a belief in pre-existence or reincarnation, survival, and communication.
They were outstanding in their uniformly holy and unselfish life; their abstinence from visiting the Temple or taking part in bloody sacrifices; their unbounded love of virtue and their contempt for earthly fame, riches, pleasures; their industry and temperance, the latter including a vegetarian diet and abstinece from intoxicants; their modesty and simplicity of life; their contentment of mind and cheerfulness of temper; their love of order and truth and their abhorence of falsehood; their benevolence and philanthropy ; their following peace with all men. Known to all was their hatred of slavey and war, their aversion to oaths, wearing of wool, or using of oil, their tender regard for children and for the aged, their attendance of the sick, and readiness to relieve the distressed, their investigation of plants and minerals for healing, and their miraculous cures. Their beliefs and practices have no duplicate in the history of mankind. The Essene converts after the preaching of Christ Jesus became the good Christians or good Jews who started on the long trail of gradual loss of identity into the harmonious background of universal Christianity.
"Jesus was educated by the Essenes and reached a very high state of spiritual development during the thirty years in which he used his body. It may here be said, parenthetically, that the Essenes were a thity sect which existed in Palestine, besides the two mentioned in the New Testament - the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Essenes were an exceendingly devout order, widely different from the materialistic Sadducees and entirely opposite to hte hypocritical, publicity seeking Pharisees. They shunned all mention of themselves and their methods of study and worship. To the latter peculiarity is due the fact that almost nothing is known of them, and that they are not mentioned in the New Testament."
- Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception by Max Heindel, 1908
- From RAYS FROM THE ROSE CROSS, The Rosicrucian Fellowship Magazine, December 1956.
The Essenes Who Changed Churchianity by ENID s. SMITH, Ph.D. from RAYS October, 1959 will be issued in our next number ( Winter Edition 2003 )
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