Page images

A person

things in common. It is not represented that this, as a fixed social rule, was enjoined upon the Christians by their founder. The practice arose voluntarily among themselves, and it is fair to conclude that they must have adopted it from what prevailed around them among the Essenes. That such was the origin of the usage is corroborated by the fact that when Essenism died out, this custom failed to be followed by the Christians, except in special monastic establishments.

It is remarkable that while the Essenes took no part in the Jewish sacrificial rites, they nevertheless observed the Sabbath, putting the day to use for religious exercises.

In this respect they were followed by the Christians, who here again had no ordinance from their founder to account for the usage.

Eunuchism was alien to the Jewish institutions. so disabled was an outcast from the congregation of Israel, and could not enter the precincts of the temple, or make any offering there (Lev. xxi. 20; Deut. xxiii. 1). The Jews were allowed the utmost freedom with women as wives and concubines, and were ever encouraged to carry out the original precept to be “ fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.” The possession of numerous offspring was accounted among them a special blessing. “Lo, children are an inberitance of the Lord.

·; happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them ” (Ps. cxxvii. 3-5). It is true that in Isaiah 'lvi. 4, “eunuchs" that “ keep the Sabbaths" are spoken of, and that they are adverted to favourably also in the apocryphal book of Wisdom (iii. 14). But in the face of the positive enactments of the Jewish law, the expression in Isaiah must be taken to be a figurative one.

The founder of Christianity appears, however, to have encouraged positive eunuchism, as facilitating access to the “ kingdom of heaven," and the writer of the epistle to the Corinthians absolutely persuaded his hearers to avoid matrimony as a condition calculated to turn the spirit aside from “the things of the Lord.” Herein, again, the Essene model must have been in view ; and as Essenism expired, celibacy, for Christians in general, was thought of.

On the face thereof it appears a remarkable instance of confidence in his divine resources, on the part of the founder of Christianity, that he should be able to send out his follow

[ocr errors]




ers without any provision for the way; but when we see that he was merely following out the prevailing usage of the Essene brotherhood, the marvel disappears, and the imitation of Essenism is all that is in view. And here also, since Essenism has become extinct, this peculiar usage has also disappeared, and the Christian missionaries have to go forth provided as any other men.

In like manner Essene communism explains how the founder of Christianity could give the assurance to his people that those who abandoned brethren, sisters, and houses, for his sake, should meet, even in this life, with a hundred fold more than all they had parted with, in the new community to which they were to be introduced ;-a saying true so long as Essenism subsisted, but no longer.

Essenism also enables us to understand the mysterious process indicated in the epistle to the Corinthians of delivering over an open transgressor to Satan " for the destruction of the flesh,” in view that “the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” We have no system allowing of any such method being put in force, but with the Essenes it was accomplished readily. Their rules of purification and diet subjected an outcast, who might still retain his vows, to the penalty of starvation. He could accept food from none but the brethren, and when ejected from their community, was thus left to perish; and now that Essenism is no more, this form of discipline is impracticable, and therefore unheard of.

Philo and Josephus both associate the Essenes with the Jews, but they leave us in some uncertainty as to the real sources of their belief. Philo says they "derive their name from their piety," and that they followed “the laws of their country, which it would have been impossible for the human mind to devise without divine inspiration” (III., 523, 524). Had he been referring to the Mosaical laws, he would scarcely have raised the question of the authority to which they were entitled. Josephus speaks of their “studying the writings of the ancients,” and says they “ preserve the books belonging to their sect, and the names of angels, reading the holy books," and venerating “ the name of their legislator” (Ant. XVIII., i. 2; Wars, II., viii. 2, 6-9, 12). The legislator thus pointed to is obviously some other than Moses. He appears to be some one special to the Essenes in their distinctiveness as a sect, and though they may have made use of the Mosaical writings, they are seen to have had other books “ belonging to their sect," and these treating of the angelic powers in a degree beyond what is met with in the Jewish scriptures. Philo shows that the writings peculiar to them had a certain measure of antiquity. He refers to them as those “of ancient men,” who had been “founders of one sect or another," and who had “ left behind them many memorials of the allegorical system of writing and explanation.” He appears also to refer to their employment of the Jewish scriptures, where he says they made use of “the sacred scriptures,” which they explained “by mystic expressions in allegories” (IV. 6-18).

What was ancient in the times of Josephus and Philo could have had no connection with Christianity, but stood at some earlier age. Josephus speaks of an Essene named Judas, who prophesied the death of Antigonus, the predecessor of Herod, and of another named Manahem, who, when Herod was a child, predicted that he should be king of the Jews (Ant. XIII. xi. 2 ; XV. x. 5). These are events anterior to Christianity. Philo says that in his day Therapeuts were to be “met with in many places, for it was fitting that both Greece and the country of the Barbarians should partake of whatever is perfectly good ; and there is the greater number of such men in Egypt, in every one of the districts, or nomi, as they are called, and especially around Alexandria ; and from all quarters those who are the best of these therapeutæ proceed on their pilgrimage to some most suitable place as if it were their country.” “ Not only private individuals, but even mighty kings, admiring the men, venerate their sect" (IV. 5, 6, 222). The Therapeuts thus, in Philo's time, are seen to have been of sufficient standing to have spread themselves abroad in various countries, and to have attracted the attention of those in power. While suggesting that the name of Essene may be expressive of holiness, as traceable to the word őow,“ holy,” Philo allows the derivation to be made “not according to any accurate form of the Grecian dialect” (III. 523, 526, and note). Their name, observes Keim,“ has provoked countless interpretations” (Hist. of Jesus of Nazara, 360). The etymology of the name having been lost sight of, is an indication of its

remote origin. The idea of Pliny (Nat. Hist.) was that the sect had existed thousands of years (Mankind, their Origin and Destiny, by an M.A. of Baliol College, Oxford, 367).

The Essenes are identifiable with those Indian ascetics who were known to the Greeks as Gymnosophists.

“These Gymnosophists,” says the learned author last cited, “who were formerly in great power in the island of Meroe, giving laws to the kings, became afterwards the Essenes, or Carmelites, and their books, which they were bound by such solemn oaths to keep secret, must have been the Vedas, or some Indian books containing their mythological traditions” (Ibid. 1 26). The practices of the Essenes were strictly analogous to those of the Asiatic ascetics, who have existed from time immemorial, and became in the historic period expressed by Buddhism. Josephus, in his early days, attached himself to one Banus, who was apparently an Essene. This man, he tells us, “ lived in the desert, and used no other clothing than grew upon trees, and had no other food than what grew of its own accord, and bathed himself in cold water frequently by night and by day in order to preserve his chastity(Life, sec. 2). This was the life to which the great sages described in the Indian epics committed themselves, and which Ráma followed during his exile, making the woods his home, feeding on herbs, and clothing himself in the bark of trees (Williams, Ind. Ep. Poet., 13, 68, note). The Essene customs of abstaining from animal food, performing daily ablutions in order to maintain spiritual purity, resorting to these ablutions before meals, or when tainted by contact with those of a lower class, and undergoing death by starvation rather than submitting to the defilement of taking the food of those who were accounted impure, are characteristic of the Hindús to the present day.

The signification of the term Therapeutæ is sufficiently apparent. It expresses the act of healing, and it was their vocation to go about ministering to the sick in body or in mind, an idea remaining to us, observes M.A. of Balliol (368), in our word curate. The Essenes similarly devoted themselves to benefit mankind (Keim, Hist. of Jesus, 361, note). They may possibly have taken their name from the Aswins, two Hindú divinities associated together for good works, and especially occupying themselves as healers among mankind, enabling


the lame to walk, the blind to see, and the aged to renovate their youth (Muir, Sansk. Texts, V. 255, citing Goldstücher ; Mrs Manning, Anc. and Med. Ind., I. 10, citing Wilson's Rig Veda).

The Essenes are also associable with the Pythagoreans, and through them with the East. “These men,” says Josephus, speaking of the Essenes, “live the same kind of life as do those whom the Greeks call Pythagoreans" (Ant. XV., X., 4). “ The Essene principles are connected in a multitude of instances with the speculations of the school of Pythagoras, who, according to his biography by Iamblichus, had passed from Egypt into the Holy Land, upon Carmel, the mount of Elijah.

There was in both an ascetic habit of life, a rejection of flesh, wine, of marriage, and of sacrifice of animals; both prescribed the wearing of white garments, purifications, a sacerdotal tone, a moral life, a refraining from oaths and slavery, an organisation into ranks, silence and the observance of mysteries, belief in a divine destiny, and intermediate beings; both taught reverence for the sun, and retreat from the world, as well as the immortality of the soul, allegorical interpretation, and the teaching of numbers, magic, and soothsaying” (Keim, Hist. of Jesus, 381).

This is all that appears to be known of these interesting sects occupying Judea and the neighbourhood of Alexandria, but it suffices abundantly to show that they derived their peculiar tenets from the East, and that they stood clear of Christianity at an age decidedly anterior to that of the Christian movement. When, therefore, marked similarities occur between their ways and those of the Christians, it is apparent which of the two stood as the teachers, and which as the learners and copyists. We end by the conclusion that the Essene usages and doctrines have entered largely into the composition of Christianity.

Beyond the special methods of devoting themselves to a godly life adopted by the Christians from the models afforded them by the Essenes, there was the general flow of the desires of the religiously disposed portion of mankind towards cultivating access to the Almighty and conformity to his will, which resolved itself into the expression of love towards God, and goodwill towards one's neighbour.

« PreviousContinue »