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The Blue Letter Bible

Don Stewart :: Who Were the Essenes?

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Don Stewart

During the time of Christ there was a shadowy group of people who lived alongside the Dead Sea known as the Essenes. We know about their existence from the Jewish writers Josephus and Philo of Alexandria.

The Essenes And Qumran

When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947 there were also many documents that were found in caves not far from the Dead Sea. Discovery was also made of buildings next to the Dead Sea. It has been argued that the buildings were where the Essenes lived and the scrolls found in the caves, the Dead Sea Scrolls, were placed there by the Essenes.

They Are Not Directly Mentioned In The New Testament

The New Testament does not mention them directly but there are a couple of passages that may refer to them. This includes the man carrying the jug that the disciples were to find and the priests who became believes as recorded in the Book of Acts.

The Man Carrying The Jug May Have Been An Essene

There is some evidence that the Jesus had contact with the Essenes. In His last visit to Jerusalem, Jesus told His disciples to find a man carrying a jug.

He replied, "As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, and say to the owner of the house, 'The teacher asks: where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there" (Luke 22:10-12).

Only Women Carried Water In those Days

In Jesus' day, only women carried water. Even if male slaves carried water they did not use pots or jugs like the women did. Instead they would carry the water in skins. The man Jesus told his disciples to follow is not identified as a slave. These facts, it is argued, points to a community of people that did not have women or slaves. We know that a group of celibate Essenes lived in Jerusalem during the time of Christ. Consequently some argue that the man carrying the jug was an Essene.

The Priests Who Became Believers

There is a reference in the Book of Acts that may refer to the Essenes.

The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith (Acts 6:7).

Some have identified these priests with the Essenes. There were very few priests among the Pharisees and the Sadducees rejected Jesus. The only other priestly community that resided in Jerusalem was the Essenes.


The Essenes were a group that we know little about. The first-century Jewish writers Josephus and Philo mention them. They lived somewhere alongside the Dead Sea. The New Testament does not have anything to say about them directly but there may be a couple of passages that allude to them. This would include the man carrying the jug that Jesus told his disciples to follow in preparation for the Passover. It seems that he was a member of a community that did not include slaves or women. There is also a reference in the Book of Acts to a number of priests that believed. Some have interpreted this to refer to the Essenes.

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