(Many years ago, I was visiting a friend who lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in a brownstone she had bought with several friends. She told me that the house included a small swimming pool in the basement! She took me downstairs and there I saw a small, square pool, clearly not large enough for swimming laps. I thought it was interesting, if a bit odd. Years later, after I had become more informed about Judaism, I realized that the pool had been a ‘mikveh’ — a bath used for ritual and spiritual purposes. A previous owner of the building must have been Orthodox. The mikveh would almost certainly have served the community, not just the family who owned the house. Call it New York City archaeology!
The post below, excerpted from an article about archaeology in Jerusalem, describes the three main sects of Judaism at the beginning of the ‘Common Era.’ Of the three, only the ‘P’rushim’ or ‘Pharisees’ exist today, in the form of Orthodox Judaism. ‘Zadokite’/’Saducee’ Judaism and ‘Essene’ Judaism have disappeared since the destruction of the 2nd Temple. I thought that this excerpt could be useful in clarifying who the ancient groups were.
It also clarifies an aspect of the upcoming holiday of Hanukah.


According to Josephus, the Essenes were one of three major Torah schools; the other two were the Pharisees, who were mostly lay people, and the Sadducees, the aristocratic and powerful priestly class of Jerusalem. The nucleus of the Essene movement was made up of Zadokite kohanim, or priests. From the time of Solomon, the Temple’s high priests had come from the house of Zadok, a son of Aaron, from whom the founders of the Essenes descended. After the successful second-century B.C.E. revolt of the Maccabees and the reestablishment of an independent Jewish state, the Hasmonean kings (from the Maccabee family) assumed not only the kingship but also the high priesthood. The king and high priest were one. The Zadokites among the Essenes considered the non-Zadokite priests usurpers and declared their Temple sacrifices illegal. The Essenes refused to take part in Hasmonean sacrificial offerings and adhered to purity rules far stricter than those the Temple authorities were enforcing.

Even the Essene calendar was different. The Temple authorities maintained a lunar calendar; the Essenes followed a solar calendar, which consisted of exactly 52 weeks per year, that is, 364 days. According to this calendar, festivals always fell on the same day of the week. Thus, Rosh Hashanah (the Feast of Trumpets), Passover and the first day of Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) always occurred on a Wednesday. The Essenes considered the solar calendar used by the Hasmoneans in the Temple, tied as it was to a 354-day lunar calendar, to be adulterated with Babylonian elements. For example, the names of the months — Nisan, Shevet, Adar, Tishri — were Babylonian. The difference in calendars created a terrible discrepancy in holiday observance, with the Temple authorities and the Essenes celebrating festivals on different days. This naturally created a sharp rift between the two groups.

The most popular and influential of the three Torah schools was that of the Pharisees. They were less radical than the Essenes and were ready to compromise with the Sadducees and, to some extent, cooperate with the Romans. According to Josephus, the Pharisees numbered six thousand; the Essenes, four thousand. [2] The contemporaneous Jewish philosopher and exegete Philo of Alexandria gives the same number of Essenes. [3] Like Josephus, Philo reports that the Essenes “are living together in large communities in several cities of Judea and in many villages…” [4]


[1] from an article by by Bargil Pixner: http://www.centuryone.org/essene.html

[2] Josephus, Jewish Antiquities XVIII, ch. 1:5.
This can be read online at:

[3] Philo, Quod omnis homo probus liber sit (Every Good Man is Free) XII:75-87.
This can be read online at:

[4] Philo, Apologia pro Judaeis (Apology for the Jews) 11:1.
This can be read online at: