Doctrines According to contemporary sources, the Essenes were an all male sect, noted for their piety, their simple life-style and their radical beliefs in the inherent evil of the present age, the imminent coming of a messianic era and a final war after which the sacrificial cult would be properly restored at Jerusalem. It is widely agreed that the Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran, which are written in Hebrew and include not only sectarian writings such as the "Damascus Rule" and the "Temple Scroll", but also fragments of almost every part of the Hebrew Bible, were probably written by an Essene group. They had their own liturgical calendar, and regular worship involved ritual washings and a sacred meal. They had a rigid hierarchy, strictly controlled initiation procedures and a detailed code of conduct. Members of the community entered a "new covenant" which involved the sharing of all possessions.

History The Essenes are first referred to as a Jewish sect at the end of the second century BCE. It is likely that they left Jerusalem and its "Wicked Priest", probably at the time of the Maccabean crisis or soon after, under the leadership of the "Teacher of Righteousness", and set themselves up in monastic communities like the one at Qumran on the NW coast of the Dead Sea which was discovered in 1947. Apart from a brief period following an earthquake during the reign of Herod the Great, this small settlement was occupied continuously until the Jewish revolt in 66CE when it was finally destroyed.

Symbols Very little is known about the Essenes' use of traditional Jewish symbolism. The Essenes attached very great importance to ritual purity, symbolically expressed in the wearing of special white garments before meals.

Adherents The Essene sect had 4000 members, all male, according to contemporary Jewish literature.

Main Centre
 Each community had its own hierarchy. There is no evidence of any central authority, although there are references to an Essene quarter in Jerusalem.