The Essenes or Hasideans (Hasidæans or Assideans, Greek asidaioi) were a Jewish religious party which commenced to play an important role in political life only during the time of the Maccabean wars, although it had existed for quite some time previous. They are mentioned only three times in the books of the Maccabees.
Account in Maccabees
In I Macc. ii. 41 it is related that at the commencement of the war, after a number of Maccabeans in the recesses of the desert had allowed themselves to be slain on the Sabbath without offering any resistance, Mattathias and his followers decided to fight on the Sabbath in case of necessity. Thereupon a company of Hasidæans joined them, "mighty men of Israel,... such as were voluntarily devoted unto the law." In the second passage (I Macc. vii.) it is stated that Alcimus succeeded in persuading Demetrius, the newly elected king of Syria, to appoint him high priest instead of Judas Maccabeus. Whereupon it is said (verses 12-14):
They were mistaken, however, since Alcimus later caused sixty of them to be put to death. In the parallel passage, on the other hand (II Macc. xiv.), Alcimus describes the political situation of the Jews to Demetrius as follows: "Those of the Jews that be called Assideans, whose captain is Judas Maccabeus, nourish war, and are seditious, and will not let the realm be in peace" (II Macc. xiv. 6).
The name "Hasidæans" occurs frequently in the Psalms, in the sense of "the pious," "saints" (xxx. 5 [A. V. 4], xxxi. 24 , xxxvii. 28). In Talmudic sources the Hasidæans appear as martyrs to their faith (Sanh. 10b), as unselfish and long-suffering (Abot v. 4, 13), as the "saints of former times" ("Ḥasidim ha-Rishonim"), as those who compose themselves inwardly for an hour before prayer (Ber. v. 1) and enjoy special honor at the Feast of Tabernacles, on the day of the drawing of water (Suk. v. 4). To their party, which died out with Joshua Kaṭnuta, Jose ben Joezer probably belonged (Soṭah ix. 15; Ḥag. ii. 7) In the Eighteen Benedictions God's blessing is called down upon them immediately after the Ẓaddiḳim ("'al ha-Ẓaddiḳim we'al ha-Ḥasidim"), and in later times they appear in general as the ideal representatives of Judaism, so that "Ḥasid" has come to be a title of respect (Num. R. §§ 14, 227a, "Yacob he-Ḥasid"; comp. Tem. 15b; Ta'an. 8a).
Party of the rebellion
From these sources have been developed the opinions, generally prevalent among scholars, that the Hasidæans were strongly religious ascetics who held strictly to the Law and loved quiet, and who founded a society or sect that exercised considerable power and authority among the people, and that they were finally drawn into rebellion by AntiochusTemplate:Dn, who began the war against the Syrians and carried it to a triumphant conclusion. The Hasidæans thus became the chief impelling force in the Jewish struggle for independence (II Macc. xiv. 6).
Concerning the political role of the Hasidæans in this war, Wellhausen has endeavored to prove that it was almost insignificant (Die Pharisäer und die Sadducäer, Greifswald, 1874). According to him they formed an independent association existing apart from the doctors of the Law (comp. I Macc. vii. 12), which attached itself to the Maccabeans after the latter had won their first success (I Macc. ii. 42), but which seized the first opportunity to make peace with Alcimus and thus left the Maccabeans in the lurch. The contradictory passage in II Maccabees, according to which the Hasidæans were the chief force throughout the war, Wellhausen regards as a violently interjected protest against the true representation of them as found in I Maccabees.
Several modern scholars (Schürer, Kautzsch, and others) have agreed to this view, which had already been adopted in part by Georg Heinrich August von Ewald (Geschichte des Volkes Israel, iv. 401). But even if the justice of this view were admitted, the origin and tenets of the Hasidæans would be no less obscure than before. Grätz (Geschichte ii. 273) supposes them to have developed out of the Nazarenes. After the Maccabean victories, according to Grätz, they retired into obscurity, being plainly dissatisfied with Judas Maccabeus, and appeared later as the order of the Essenes—a theory which is supported by the similarity in meaning between Ἐσσηνοά or Ἐσσαῖοι (= Syriac stat. absolute חסין, stat. emphat. חסיא, "pious") and "Ḥasidim" ("pious"), and which has as many advocates (Hitzig, Gesch. des Volkes Israel; Lucius, Die Therapeuten) as opponents (Levi Herzfeld, Gesch. des Volkes Israel, and others). Others think that the Pharisees were developed from the Ḥasidim (Schürer, Gesch. ii. 404; Moritz Friedländer, Gesch. der Jüdischen Apologetik, pp. 316 et seq., 464 et seq.).
Since scholars have until recently started with the erroneous hypothesis that Hellenism "took root only in the upper classes of society, the main body of the [Jewish] nation being wholly untouched by it" (Wellhausen, Israelitische und Jüdische Gesch. p. 240), and that consequently the majority of the people at that time were "pious, and observers of the Law," it would be necessary, in order to account for the Hasidæans, to remove them from their "pious" surroundings and make of them a sect or society of "extra-pious," although the sources mentioned do not justify such a view. The συναγωγ σιδαίων of the books of the Maccabees, upon which so much emphasis is laid, corresponds, as has already long been known, to the קהל חסידים of the Psalms, which means neither "sect" nor "society," but only "congregation," with no idea of party. The piety attributed to Ḥasidim in the Talmudic sources is not in any way abnormal or suggestive of sect (Lehmann, in R. E. J. xxx. 182 et seq.). The supposition that they were a sect closely associated with the scribes, and related to them, rests only on the fact that the two classes are mentioned together in I Macc. vii. 12, 13; the genuineness of verse 13, however, has been questioned by Hitzig (Gesch. des Volkes Israel, p. 417).
Since Moritz Friedländer's investigations (especially in Der Antichrist, Göttingen, 1901) have shown the great extent to which the Jews in Palestine and in the countries of the Diaspora fell away from orthodox Judaism, even in the 3rd century B.C., the Hasidæans appear simply to have been those "pious" ones who remained true to the customs of their fathers. They lost ground, however, from day to day, as their prayer shows: "Help, Lord; for the Ḥasid ceaseth" (כי גמר חסיד: Ps. xii. 2 [A. V. 1]). They were animated by a profound hatred for the foreign, Hellenic spirit, and for those of their Jewish brethren who were filled with it. In the Maccabean wars they came to an accounting with both. They seem by no means to have been peace-loving hermits or ascetics. Their sentiments and attitude are probably to be seen in Ps. cxlix.:
Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography
- JostTemplate:Dn, Gesch. des Judenthums und Seiner Sekten, i. 199;
- Herzfeld, Gesch. des Volkes Israel, ii. 357, 384, 395;
- Hamburger, R. B. T. ii. 132;
- Ersch and Gruber, Encyc. section iii., part 32, p. 18;
- Heinrich Grätz, Gesch. ii. 240-374; iii. 2, 7, 83, 99;
- Emil Schürer, Gesch. i. 190, 203, 217; ii. 404;
- Wellhausen, Israelitische und Jüdische Gesch. pp. 240, 277;
- Moritz Friedländer, Die Gesch. der Jüdischen Apologetik, pp. 437 et seq.