[ es-een, e-seen ]
/ ˈɛs in, ɛˈsin /
Save This Word!

noun Judaism.
a member of a Palestinian sect, characterized by asceticism, celibacy, and joint holding of property, that flourished from the 2nd century b.c. to the 2nd century a.d.
Smoothly step over to these common grammar mistakes that trip many people up. Good luck!
Question 1 of 7
Fill in the blank: I can’t figure out _____ gave me this gift.


Es·se·ni·an [e-see-nee-uhn], /ɛˈsi ni ən/, Es·sen·ic [e-sen-ik], /ɛˈsɛn ɪk/, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is an Essene?

An Essene is a member of a Jewish sect that existed from around 200 b.c.e. until 200 c.e.

The Essenes were a religious group that split from the Jewish majority to form their own community in the Palestinian desert. Historical evidence suggests that they lived in the caves of Qumran, located on the northwestern bank of the Dead Sea.

It is thought that the Essenes split off due to disgust or disagreement with some of the Jewish beliefs of the time. The Essenes lived very secluded lives, where every action was dictated by a religious leader. Most Essenes took vows of celibacy and no women were allowed to be members of the group. Essenes practiced asceticism, dedicating their lives to religious study and contemplation. The Essenes also practiced a system of community ownership where everything was shared by the community with no concept of private property. The Essenes were also opposed to slavery.

The Essenes believed that an apocalypse was fast approaching. According to them, the end of days would involve a massive battle between the “Sons of Light” and the “Sons of Darkness.” The Sons of Light would be (as you might expect) the Essenes themselves, and the Sons of Darkness included everyone else. The Essenes believed they alone would survive this battle as they were the chosen people.

Why is Essene important?

The first records of the term Essene come from around 1553. It comes from the ancient Greek Essēnoí and may come from Hebrew or Aramaic, but this is disputed.

The name “Essenes” was given to the group by historians and scholars. It is an English translation of names used by ancient Roman scholars such as Flavius Josephus and Pliny the Elder, who referred to them as “the pious ones” or “the modest ones. The Essenes used various names for themselves, such as “Men of the Community” and “Members of the Covenant.”

Interesigntly, the Essenes are never mentioned in the Bible alongside other Jewish sects that existed at the time, such as the Pharisees and the Sadducees. This could be due to their adherence to seclusion and dedication to keeping their rites a secret from outsiders.

Did you know … ?

Historians believe the Essenes were the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are religious texts that included passages of the Hebrew Bible, rules for being part of the religious community, and warnings of the coming apocalypse. These texts provide more insight on the details of the beliefs and lifestyles of the Essenes.

What are real-life examples of Essene?

In this video, a theology professor gives some insight into the lives and records of the Essenes:

The Essenes and their practices are often a fascinating subject to students of theology.

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

Only a woman could be an Essene.

How to use Essene in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for Essene

/ (ˈɛsiːn, ɛˈsiːn) /

Judaism a member of an ascetic sect that flourished in Palestine from the second century bc to the second century ad, living in strictly organized communities

Derived forms of Essene

Essenian (ɛˈsiːnɪən) or Essenic (ɛˈsɛnɪk), adjective
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012