Monday, September 22, 2008

Rechabites and Essenes

I'm investigating the tangle of heterodox Jewish and Christian sects of the first centuries CE at the moment, and also some of the unusual Islamic sects who have a similar place in the Islamic tradition, such as the Druze or the Alawites. All of this is in connection with a proposed book on the Mandaeans. I'm fascinated by the following excerpt from the Ascetic Discourse of St Neilos the Ascetic in the Philokalia (Palmer, Sherrard and Ware, The Philokalia Vol 1, p. 201.)

"Those of the Jews, on the other hand, who hold philosophy in honour--the Rechabites, the descendants of Jonadab (cf. Jer. 35:6)--do indeed encourage their disciples to live an appropriate way of life. They always live in tents, abstaining from wine and all luxuries; their fare is frugal and provision for their bodily needs is moderate. While devoting full attention to the practice of the virtues, they also attach great importance to contemplation, as the name 'Essene' indicates."

Now, St NEilos is writing in the early fifth century, by which time the Essenes had long since disappeared from view. Is Neilos merely confused about the Rechabites? Did the Rechabites co-opt the name "Essene"? Or were they perhaps linked to the Essenes?
Eusebius includes a passage from Hegessipus in which a Rechabite tries to prevent James the brother of Jesus from being stoned. I'm sure that Eisenman must have written about this.


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