IV. Character and Beliefs of the Essenes. Less important but even more interesting are the Essenes. They were a sect, or monastic order, rather than a political or religious party. Josephus, who asserts that for a time he was associated with them, has given a full account of their peculiar customs. They evidently represented a strong reaction against the prevailing corruption and a return to the simple life. Their spirit of humility, fraternity, and practical charity are in marked contrast to the aims of the Sadducees and the later Maccabean rulers. In their beliefs they were idealists. Their invocation of the sun, their extreme emphasis on ceremonial cleanliness, their tendency toward celibacy, and their distinction between soul and body, all suggest the indirect if not the direct influence of the Pythagorean type of philosophy. If the Essenes represented simply an extreme type of Pharisaism, the peculiar form of its development was undoubtedly due to the Greek atmosphere amidst which it flourished. The Essenes do not appear to have had any direct influence in the politics of their day. They were a current apart from the main stream of Judaism, and yet they could not fail to exert an indirect influence. Many of their ideals and doctrines were closely similar to the teachings of John the Baptist and Jesus. Yet there is a fundamental difference between Essenism and primitive Christianity, for one sought to attain perfection apart from life and the other in closest contact with the currents of human thought and activity. While according to Josephus the party of the Essenes at one time numbered four thousand, like all ascetic movements it soon disappeared or else was deflected into that greater stream of monasticism which rose in the early Christian centuries.
[Sidenote: Jos. Ant. XII, 3:1a] The Jews obtained honor from the kings of Asia when they became their auxiliaries; for Seleucus Nicator made them citizens of those cities which he built in Asia and in lower Syria, and in Antioch, the metropolis, and gave them privileges equal to those of the Macedonians and the Greeks who were its inhabitants.