Essene, Essee

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Wed Jan 21 11:39:13 UTC 2004

To my knowledge (antedating welcome), the earliest English publication that
provides the correct Hebrew root for Essenes is 1550; the earliest in "modern"
scholarship, 1532.

1550 The Thre Bokes of Cronicles...London.  "The thirde were Essey, the whiche
when they perceived that both the Phariseyes and Sadduceys folowed their
appetites under the coloure [?] of honest titles, nether did ought in a maner
that were worthy their profession: therfore semed it them good, to declare the
straitnesse and severitie of lyfe with the dede, and would be called Essey,
that is workers or doers, for Assa, whence the name commeth, sygnifieth to

1532 Philipp Melanchthon (who learned Hebrew from his uncle Johannes Reuchlin)
in J. Carion, Chronica...Wittenberg, 1532 f68v. "Essei / das ist /Operarii /
vom wort Assa / das ist wircken."

Dead Sea Scrolls, 1st century BCE/BC, self-designation: "osei hatorah,"
observers of Torah. 1QpHab 7:11; 8:1: 12:4-5, 4QpPs(a) 1-10 ii 5, 15, 23 etc.

The OED gives much that is useful, but could consider adding the Greek
spellings starting with omicron as well as epsilon, found in Philo, Quod Omnis
75ff of a group "in which deeds are held in higher esteem than words [74]" F.
Colson ed.) and in Epiphanius, Panarion, (on torah-observing-) Ossaioi and
Osshnoi [h=eta], and, perhaps, though I need help with this, in Old Slavonic
Josephus War.

(More bibliography, and some suggestions on why in 1948 most scholars were
looking for an Aramaic rather than a Hebrew origin, if there's interest.)

Stephen Goranson

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