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Final Word on the Essenes

Benson C Saili

This week we deal with question relating to the sect of the Essenes, of which Jesus was a member


You will not be able to tell if you haven’t read the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Essenes did not actually call themselves Essenes. According to the Jewish historian and philosopher Philo Judeaus, Essenes was  “a name awarded to them in recognition of their holiness”.  It stemmed from the Greek and Egyptian term meaning  secret and sacred, which was befitting: the Essenes flaunted holiness like a badge and lived in self-imposed isolation. The Essenes had several philosophically descriptive names.  One of these was “the poor”. They were poor because they generally shared everything and therefore had no individual property.  When you encounter the term poor in the gospels, rest assured you are reading about the Essenes.  The Beatitudes in MATTHEW 5 begin with “Blessed are the poor”. That introductory sets the tone for all the remaining 7 Beatitudes that follow. They are about extolling the virtues of the Essenes. In other words, Jesus, who is said to have uttered them, was saying unless you morally bankrupt and spiritually corrupt Pharisees and Sadducees emulate our humility and spirituality, woe unto you.  Although the Essenes are not directly mentioned in the Bible, secular chroniclers of the day such as Flavius Josephus, Philo of Alexandria, and Pliny the younger give them prominent mention, in some cases even much more than the Pharisees and Sadducees. What is ironic is that it is they who wrote the New Testament. All the language and philosophy you find in the Dead Sea Scrolls is found in the Bible from Matthew all the way to Revelation.


The Essenes had removed themselves from mainstream society around 175 BC to live a monastic life about 40 to 50 km southeast of Jerusalem. The name they chose for this cluster of settlements was Judean Wilderness. Although it was generally characterised by arid and uninviting terrain, the Judean Wilderness did have scanty vegetation. Examples of the mini-settlements that comprised the Judean Wilderness were Mird; Mar Saba; Mazin; Ain Feshka; and Qumran. Qumran was the principal settlement. Qumran, Ain Feshka, and Mazin were located on the West coast of the Dead Sea. Although  the Qumran settlers are best known as Essenes, they primarily referred  to themselves as  the Nozrei ha brit, meaning “Keepers of the Covenant” – the Davidic Covenant by which the Jewish Anunnaki god Enlil, best known as Jehovah, promised David and his descendents everlasting rule over Israel. In their formative stages, however, the Essenes called themselves the Sons of  Zadok, or simply Zadokites. In one sense, this meant  “Righteous Men”. In another, it meant “adherents to the Zadok order”. Zadok, a Levite and descendent of Aaron,  was the temple high priest during the reign of King Solomon. All the  first 30 priests from Eleazer, the son of Aaron, to the Babylonian captivity were Aaronites. But after the Babylonian captivity in the 6th century BC, priests were arbitrarily appointed by the occupying power as well as by puppet Jewish kings who served the interests of the occupying power. Moreover, the Davidic dynasty was banished from ever ruling Israel after the Babylonian captivity.  To  some section of the Jews, this not only  amounted to a desecration but was a breach of the Davidic Covenant. So circa 175 BC, this section of the Jews separated itself from other Jews and set up its own community at Qumran in protest. There, the  community awaited two messiahs to liberate Israel from foreign occupation – the Davidic messiah from the tribe of Judah and the priestly messiah from the  tribe of Levi. It also awaited a prophet like Moses or Elijah. This community of Jewish puritans and fundamentalists is what became known as the Essenes.


Generally speaking,  the Sadducees were the aristocrats of the  day. They were the elite of Jewry. It was the Sadducees who ran the Jerusalem Temple and dominated the Sanhedrin, the Jerusalem-based Jewish governing council. The Pharisees were mostly teachers of the law of Moses, the so-called scribes. Both the Pharisees and the Sadducees worshipped in the Jerusalem Temple, although the Pharisees did have local houses of worship called synagogues. However, neither the Sadducees nor the Pharisees were exactly in one accord. Each group had splinter groups. For instance, the Herodian Sadducees were the Sadducees proper. Qumran too had  its share of  Pharisees and Sadducees who were amenable to  Essene ideals. The Essenes regarded the  Sadducees and Pharisees as corrupting and sacrilegious. For instance, whereas animal sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple were the order of the day, the Essenes never sacrificed animals at their sanctuary at Qumran. The Essenes never even ate meat: the only  flesh they ate was that of fish.  Those who say Jesus was the “sacrificial lamb” of God are totally mistaken. Jesus was an Essene and Essenes did not believe in animal sacrifices or such typology.  The Essenes were staunch champions of the restoration of the Aaronite priesthood to the Jewish temple and the Davidic dynasty  to the Jewish throne. That’s why both Jesus and John the Baptist arose from their ranks.

According to the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Essenes went by several names. They called themselves  the  Keepers of the Covenant; the Sons  of Zadok; the Righteous Ones; the Elect;  the Sons of Light; the Holy; the Saints; the Perfect of the Way; the Poor; the Osim (meaning something like healer); the Zealots (meaning people who are zealous for the law, although these term predominantly applied to their military wing); the New Convenanters; the Remnants of Israel; Lebanon, which means white because they wore sparklingly white linen; etc.  Also, the Essenes had several sects amongst them, each with its own adopted name. For example, there was a sect of the Essenes known as the “Few” and another known as the “Many”. This kind of language peppers the gospels and sadly the overwhelming majority of the pathetically ignorant Christian clergy settle for the generalised superficial interpretation of these terms.  The Jesus movement was called the Nazarenes, not Christians.  The Nazarenes were an offshoot of the Essenes. Nazarenes primarily meant “People of the Branch”. According to the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Branch of David was another name for the Davidic messiah, this being Jesus in the first century. A secondary meaning of the term Nazarenes was “Fish Men”.  


It is probable that in the earlier gospel versions as well as epistles that are now lost, the Essenes  directly mentioned themselves. The versions we today find in the Bible are edited ones. The gospels and epistles were continuously edited to accommodate certain philosophical and doctrinal slants which reflected the schisms amongst the early church. In AD 66, the Essenes waged what was to become a 7-year war against the Romans. They  were crushed by Roman general Flavius Titus and the Jerusalem temple was destroyed. That was the end of the Essenes and Sadducees: only Pharisean  Judaism was allowed to  flourish by the Romans because it was inimical to both the other two. From that time henceforth, it was suicidal for anybody to call himself an Essene. Hence,  the versions  of gospels and epistles that were published post AD 70 (which form the basis essentially of those we have in today’s Bible) could not risk employment of the term Essene.  Even Josephus never mentioned the Essenes in his first work,  The Wars of the Jews, which was published in AD 75.  He first made mention of them in The Jewish Antiquities, which was published in AD 93, when Roman anti-Essene sentiment had substantially subsided. Josephus claimed he was a Pharisee but this of course was a self-preservation tactic:  he was an Essene. It is clear he was an Essene because  he wrote a great deal more about the Essenes than the Pharisees, let alone the Sadducees. But conscious of the peril that attached to calling oneself an  Essene in the 70s AD (when he became a property and imbongi of the Romans,) he elected to play it safe and dub himself a Pharisee.


The Essenes were a government of national unity at a microcosmic level. Among the Essenes were fundamentalist Sadducees as opposed to the Herodian Sadducees who ran the Jerusalem temple; moderate Pharisees as opposed to conservative Pharisees who were based in Jerusalem; the Egyptian-based Theraputae who were headed by Theudas Barabbas; the Samaritan-based Magi who were headed by Simon Zelotes; the People of the Way, founded by John the Baptist; the Nazarenes, who were headed by  James the Just  (the brother of Jesus); and the Zealots  who were headed by   Hezekiah, his son Judas of Galilee, Judas Iscariot, and Menahem ben Judah (the brother of Judas of Galilee) and Joseph Gishala in that order.   The Zealots were not Essenes as such initially: they were political as opposed to philosophical allies of the Essenes. Flavius Josephus describes the Zealots as a “fourth sect of the Jews” after the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. It was not until after the death of James  the Just in AD 62 that the Zealots took control of Qumran. “Zealot” was a cover name: it meant “those who are zealous for the role” and was actually another name of the Essenes before it was usurped by Galilean revolutionaries. The Zealots officially called themselves Galileans because Galilee was their principal bastion. The Essenes were extremely civil and peaceful. It was the Zealots who were drawn to the Essenes because of their spirituality and puritan character and not vice versa.  Sadly, instead of Essene sanctity rubbing off on the Zealots, it was Zealot radicalism that at long last corrupted the other.


Flavius Josephus and Philo provide a very highly illuminating and remarkable portrait of the Essene way of  life. They were a marvelous people the Essenes.  They were arable and pastoral farmers,  beekeepers,  artisans, and craftsmen. All these activities were purely for subsistence purposes: they never engaged in commerce at all. They were absolutely peaceful, never kept slaves, and made no instruments of war. Although they did study philosophy (particularly Pythagorean philosophy), mathematics, astrology, and medicine (herbs,  vibrational healing from stones, and spiritual healing), they emphasised moral and virtue the most. They preached and practiced love of God; love of virtue; and love of mankind. They practiced mutual love and renounced riches: their society was totally egalitarian. All possessions were shared; all were economic equals. They were remarkably just: all judgements were passed by a court  with not less than 100 people on the bench! They had prophets and astrologers who were “rarely wrong” in their predictions. However, they were very strict in the administration of justice. People who betrayed their secrets (that is, Gnostic secrets) were either expelled from the Essene community or,  rarely so, killed. Menstruating women were forbidden to come into contact with men and were not to allow themselves to be seen at all. A man  could not join the Essene community if he was handicapped  in any way or had a stigmatic disease such as leprosy for instance.  Essenes were not allowed to mix with or go into the homes of non-Essene lest they be “tainted” or “defiled”.  Because of the therapeautic prowess of the Theraputae among them, the Essenes were able to live up to 120 years, which was  as unusual those days as it is in our day.


The Essenes’ spiritual philosophy was based not on Judaism as such but on the teachings of Pythagoras, the great Greek mathematician and philosopher (see  HYPERLINK "" for a highly insightful comparison between Essene and Pythagorean way of life.)   They had their own sanctuary at Qumran and therefore never worshiped in the Jerusalem temple. In their sanctuary, they never sacrificed animals at all.  Their overall leader was called the Teacher of Righteousness. This was their high priest. They forbade swearing oaths. They were strict adherents to Sabbath requirements: even cooking and  going to the toilet was not allowed on the Sabbath. Whilst they forgave each other, they had a permanent hate of their enemies. An Essene was obliged to bath his body in full at least twice daily, before a meal. To them, inward cleanness had to be mirrored by outward cleanliness. In addition, they had numerous bathing rituals which were regularly conducted. Co-ption into full Essene fellowship  was rigorous: it took 3 years.  They believed not in an afterlife Heaven but a theocracy right here on Earth in which Israel would rule the whole world. They anticipated an apocalyptic war between they, the Sons of Light, and everybody else, the Sons of Darkness.  This war would be led by  the messiah of David, who they awaited along with the messiah of Aaron. They believed in the immortality of  the soul nevertheless. The body was regarded as a prison from which the soul was liberated at death.


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DIS Parley Committee selection disingenuous 

25th November 2020

Intelligence and Security Service Act, which is a law that establishes the Directorate of Intelligence and Security Service (DIS), provides for establishment of a Parliamentary Committee. Recently, the President announced nine names of Members of Parliament he had appointed to the Committee.

This announcement was preceded by a meeting the President held with the Speaker and the Leader of Opposition. Following the announcement of Committee MPs by the President, the opposition, through its leader, made it clear that it will not participate in the Committee unless certain conditions that would ensure effective oversight are met. The opposition acted on the non-participation threat through resignation of its three MPs from the Committee.

The Act at Section 38 provides for the establishment of the Committee to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Directorate. The law provides that the Parliamentary Committee shall have the same powers and privileges set out under the National Assembly (Powers and Privileges) Act.

On composition, the Committee shall consist of nine members who shall not be members of Cabinet and its quorum shall be five members.  The MPs in the Committee elect a chairperson from among their number at their first meeting.

The Members of the Committee are appointed by the President after consultation with the Speaker of the National Assembly and Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly. It is the provision of the law that the Committee, relative to its size, reflect the numerical strengths of the political parties represented in the National Assembly.

The Act provides that that a member of the Committee holds office for the duration of the Parliament in which he or she is appointed.  The Committee is mandated to make an annual report on the discharge of their functions to the President and may at any time report to him or her on any matter relating to the discharge of those functions.

The Minister responsible for intelligence and security is obliged to lay before the National Assembly a copy of each annual report made by the Committee together with a statement as to whether any matter has been excluded from that copy in pursuance of the provision of the Act.

If it appears to the Minister, after consultation with the Parliamentary Committee, that the publication of any matter in a report would be prejudicial to the continued discharge of the functions of the Directorate, the Minister may exclude that matter from the copy of the report as laid before the National Assembly.

So, what are the specific demands of the Opposition and why are they not participating in the Committee? What should happen as a way forward? The Opposition demanded that there be a forensic audit of the Directorate. The DIS has never been audited since it was set up in 2008, more than a decade ago.

The institution has been a law unto itself for a longtime, feared by all oversight bodies. The Auditor General, who had no security of tenure, could not audit the DIS. The Directorate’s personnel, especially at a high level, have been implicated in corruption.  Some of its operatives are in courts of law defending corruption charges preferred against them. Some of the corruption cases which appeared in the media have not made it to the courts.

The DIS has been accused of non-accountability and unethical practices as well as of being a burden on the fiscus.  So, the Opposition demanded, from the President, a forensic audit for the purpose of cleaning up the DIS.  They demand a start from a clean slate.

The second demand by the Opposition is that the law be reviewed to ensure greater accountability of the DIS to Parliament. What are some of the issues that the opposition think should be reviewed? The contention is that the executive cannot appoint a Committee of Parliament to scrutinize an executive institution.

Already, it is argued, Parliament is less independent and it is dominated by the executive. It is contended that the Committee should be established by the Standing Orders and be appointed by a Select Committee of Parliament. There is also an argument that the Committee should report to Parliament and not to the President and that the Minister should not have any role in the Committee.

Democratic and Parliamentary oversight of the intelligence is relatively a new phenomenon across the World. Even developed democracies are still grappling with some of these issues. However, there are acceptable standards or what might be called international best practices which have evolved over the past two or so decades.

In the UK for instance, MPs of the Intelligence and Security Committee are appointed by the Houses of Parliament, having been nominated by the Prime Minister in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition. This is a good balancing exercise of involvement of both the executive and the legislature. Consultation is taken for granted in Botswana context in the sense that it has been reduced to just informing the Leader of Opposition without much regard to his or her ideas; they are never taken seriously.

Furthermore, the current Committee in the UK has four Members of the ruling party and five MPs from the opposition. It is a fairly balanced Committee in terms of Parliamentary representation. However, as said above, the President of Botswana appointed six ruling party MPs and three from the opposition.

The imbalance is preposterous and more pronounced with clear intentions of getting the executive way through the ruling party representatives in the Committee. The intention to avoid scrutiny is clear from the numbers of the ruling party MPs in the Committee.

There is also an international standard of removing sensitive parts which may harm national security from the report before it is tabled in the legislature. The previous and current reluctance of the executive arms to open up on Defence and Security matters emanate from this very reason of preserving and protecting national security.

But national security should be balanced with public interest and other democratic principles. The decision to expunge certain information which may be prejudicial to national security should not be an arbitrary and exclusive decision of the executive but a collective decision of a well fairly balanced Committee in consultation with the Speaker and the minister responsible.

There is no doubt that the DIS has been a rogue institution. The reluctance by the President to commit to democratic-parliamentary oversight reforms presupposes a lack of commitment to democratization. The President has no interest in seeing a reformed DIS with effective oversight of the agency.

He is insincere. This is because the President loathes the idea losing an iota of power and sharing it with any other democratic institution. He sees the agency as his power lever to sustain his stay in the high office. He thought he could sanitize himself with an ineffective DIS Committee that would dance to his tune.

The non-participation of the opposition MPs renders the Committee dysfunctional; it cannot function as this would be unlawful. Participation of the opposition is a legal requirement. Even if it can meet, it would lack legitimacy; it cannot be taken seriously. The President should therefore act on the oversight demands and reform the DIS if he is to be taken seriously.

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The Maccabean Uprising

25th November 2020
Jewish freedom fighters

 Jews drive away occupying power under the command of guerrilla leader Judas Maccabees but only just

Although it was the Desolation Sacrilege act, General Atiku, that officially sparked the Maccabean revolt, it in truth simply stoked the fires of an already simmering revolution. How so General?

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Atomic (CON)Fusion

25th November 2020

For years I have trained people about paradigm shifts – those light-bulb-switch-on moments – where there is a seismic change from the usual way of thinking about something to a newer, better way. 

I like to refer to them as ‘aha’ moments because of the sudden understanding of something which was previously incomprehensible. However,  the topic of today’s article is the complete antithesis of ‘aha’.  Though I’d love to tell you I’d had a ‘eureka ‘, ‘problem solved’ moment, I am faced with the complete opposite – an ‘oh-no’ moment or Lost Leader Syndrome.

No matter how well prepared or capable a leader is. they often find themselves facing perplexing events, confounding information, or puzzling situations. Confused by developments of which they can’t make sense and by challenges that they don’t know how to solve they become confused, sometimes lost and completely clueless about what to do.

I am told by Jentz and Murphy (JM) in ‘What leaders do when they don’t know what to do’ that this is normal, and that rapid change is making confusion a defining feature of management in the 21st century.  Now doesn’t that sound like the story of 2020 summed up in a single sentence?

The basic premise of their writing is that “confusion is not a weakness to be ashamed of but a regular and inevitable condition of leadership. By learning to embrace their confusion, managers are able to set in motion a constructive process for addressing baffling issues.

In fact, confusion turns out to be a fruitful environment in which the best managers thrive by using the instability around them to open up better lines of communication, test their old assumptions and values against changing realities, and develop more creative approaches to problem solving.”

The problem with this ideology however is that it doesn’t help my overwhelming feelings of fear and panic which is exacerbated by a tape playing on a loop in my head saying  ‘you’re supposed to know what to do, do something’. My angst is compounded by annoying motivational phrases also unhelpfully playing in my head like.

  • Nothing happens until something moves
  • The secret of getting ahead is getting started


  • Act or be acted upon

All these platitudes are urging me to pull something out of the bag, but I know that this is a trap. This need to forge ahead is nothing but a coping mechanism and disguise. Instead of owning the fact that I haven’t got a foggy about what to do, part of me worries that I’ll lose authority if I acknowledge that I can’t provide direction – I’m supposed to know the answers, I’m the MD!  This feeling of not being in control is common for managers in ‘oh no’ situations and as a result they often start reflexively and unilaterally attempting to impose quick fixes to restore equilibrium because, lets be honest, sometimes we find it hard to resist hiding our confusion.

To admit that I am lost in an “Oh, No!” moment opens the door not only to the fear of losing authority but also to a plethora of other troubling emotions and thoughts:  *Shame and loss of face: “You’ll look like a fool!” * Panic and loss of control: “You’ve let this get out of hand!” * Incompetence and incapacitation: “You don’t know what you’re doing!”

As if by saying “I’m at a loss here” is tantamount to declaring “I am not fit to lead.” Of course the real problem for me and any other leader is if they don’t admit when they are disoriented, it sends a signal to others in the organisation stating it’s not cool to be lost and that, by its very nature encourages them to hide.  What’s the saying about ‘a real man never asks for direction. they end up driving around in circles’.

As managers we need to embrace the confusion, show vulnerability (remember that’s not a bad word) and accept that leadership is not about pretending to have all the answers but about having the courage to search with others to discover a solution.

JM point out that “being confused, however, does not mean being incapacitated.  Indeed, one of the most liberating truths of leadership is that confusion is not quicksand from which to escape but rather the potter’s clay of leadership – the very stuff with which managers can work.”

2020 has certainly been a year to remember and all indications are that the confusion which has characterised this year will still follow us into the New Year, thereby making confusion a defining characteristic of the new normal and how managers need to manage. Our competence as leaders will then surely be measured not only by ‘what I know’ but increasingly by ‘how I behave when I accept, I don’t know, lose my sense of direction and become confused.

.I guess the message for all organizational cultures going forward is that sticking with the belief that we need all-knowing, omni-competent executives will cost them dearly and send a message to managers that it is better to hide their confusion than to address it openly and constructively.

Take comfort in these wise words ‘Confusion is a word we have invented for an order not yet understood’!

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