A group within Palestinian Judaism, existing from the 2nd cent. BCE until 70 CE and mentioned by Josephus and Philo, though not in the NT. Many of the Essenes lived in villages, according to Philo, but most scholars believe that the community at Qumran comprised Essenes or a breakaway Essene group and that the Teacher of Righteousness in the scrolls was a priest who led the community out of Jerusalem when Jonathan Maccabaeus, who was not of the hereditary priestly family, became high priest in 152 BCE.
The Essenes were ascetics and observed the Law scrupulously; but in worship they faced the sun rather than the Temple in Jerusalem, for which they felt contempt. Their communities were controlled by priestly leadership and individual freedom was restricted. They held themselves to be ‘sons of light’ separate from the ‘sons of darkness’ outside the order.