The Essenes were a Jewish sect that flourished around the end of the Second Temple Period, i.e. between the 2nd century BC and the 1st century AD. The main source of information regarding this religious group has been the writings of Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian who lived during the 1st century AD. The Essenes were also mentioned by Philo of Alexandria, a Hellenistic Jewish philosopher who was a contemporary of Josephus, in several paragraphs of his works, as well as the writings of Roman naturalist, Pliny the Elder.
Apart from these authors, ancient rabbinical sources rarely talk about the Essenes and this group does not appear in the New Testament at all. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the middle of the 20th century has increased what we know about this Jewish sect, as the Essenes have been credited with the authorship of this body of texts. Nevertheless, this long-held theory has been challenged by some scholars.
Pliny on the Essene Way of Life
According to Pliny, the Essenes lived “on the west of Asphaltites (i.e. the Dead Sea), and sufficiently distant to escape its noxious exhalations.” The Roman author adds that “Below this people was formerly the town of Engadda.” Pliny also provides some information about the Essene way of life.