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XIII.

(Lecture IV., page 109.)

THE ESSENES AND THE INFLUENCE OF DUALISTIC SPECULATION IN PALESTINE IN THE FIRST CENTURY.

The following abbreviated extracts from Dr. Lightfoot’s recent essay on “The Colossian Heresy” bear out what is said in the text:—

“The Essene is the great enigma of Hebrew history. Admired alike by Jew, by Heathen, and by Christian, he remains a dim, vague outline. . . . And yet, by careful use of the existing materials, the portrait of this sect may be so far restored. . . . The Essene was exceptionally rigorous in his observance of the Mosaic ritual. . . . His respect for the law extended also to the lawgiver. After God, the name of Moses was held in the highest reverence. He who blasphemed his name was punished with death. In all these points the Essene was an exaggeration, almost a caricature, of the Pharisee. . . .

“To the legalism of the Pharisee, the Essene added an asceticism which was peculiarly his own, and which in many respects contradicted the tenets of the other sect. The honourable and even exaggerated estimate of marriage which was characteristic of the Jew, found no favour with the Essene. Marriage was to him an abomination. . . . But his ascetic tendencies did not stop here. The Pharisee was very careful to observe the distinction 230of meats lawful and unlawful, as laid down by the Mosaic code, and even rendered these ordinances vexatious by minute definitions of his own. But the Essene went far beyond him. He drank no wine, he did not touch animal food. . . . Again, in hot climates oil for anointing the body is almost a necessary of life. From this, too, the Essenes strictly abstained. . . .

“From these facts it seems clear that Essene abstinence was something more than the mere exaggeration of Pharisaic principles. The rigour of the Pharisee was based on his obligation of obedience to an absolute external law. The Essene introduced a new principle. He condemned in any form the gratification of the natural cravings, nor would he consent to regard it as moral or immoral only, according to the motive which suggested it or the consequences which flowed from it. It was in itself an absolute evil. He sought to disengage himself, as far as possible, from the conditions of physical life. In short, in the asceticism of the Essene we seem to see the germ of that Gnostic dualism which regards matter as the principle, or at least the abode, of evil. . . .

“An esoteric doctrine, relating to angelic beings, may have been another link which attached Essenism to the religion of Zoroaster. . . .

“This Jewish sect exhibits the same exclusiveness in the communication of its doctrines. Its theological speculations take the same direction, dwelling on the mysteries of creation, regarding matter as the abode of evil, and postulating certain intermediate spiritual agencies as necessary links of communication between 231heaven and earth. And lastly, its speculative opinions involve the same ethical conclusions, and lead in like manner to a rigid asceticism. If the notices relating to these points do not always explain themselves, yet read in the light of the heresies of the apostolic age and in that of subsequent Judæo-Gnostic Christianity, their bearing seems to be distinct enough; so that we should not be far wrong if we were to designate Essenism as Gnostic Judaism.

“The Essenes of whom historical notices are preserved were inhabitants of the Holy Land. Their monasteries were situated on the shores of the Dead Sea. We are told, indeed, that the sect was not confined to any one place, and that members of the order were found in great numbers in divers cities and villages.”—Lightfoot on Colossians and Philemon, p. 82 et seq.

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