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The Essenes were pious Jewish ascetics who lived in communities in Palestine from the second century B.C. to the second century A.D., and may have been influential with key individuals such as John the Baptist. According to the historian Josephus (A.D. 27 - c. 100), the Essenes totaled about 4,000 late in the first century. Neither the Bible nor the Talmud mentions the Essenes, but in addition to Josephus, the historians Philo (20 B.C. - c. A.D. 40) and the elder Pliny (A.D. 23-79) confirm their existence.

The Essenes were celibates who adopted young children to maintain their numbers They believed in immortality and enforced a caste system in their rigorous community life.

They had nearly been forgotten when there was an extraordinary discovery in 1947 of ancient biblical texts preserved by the Essenes, known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Today the Essenes are recognized as one of the significant Jewish sects at the time of Jesus, as rivals to the Pharisees and Sadducees (who denied the Resurrection and spirits, and stressed the written law).