MENAHEM THE ESSENE:
By: Kaufmann Kohler
Prominent teacher of the Essene faction in the time of King Herod, about the middle of the first pre-Christian century. He was renowned for his prophetic powers. According to Josephus ("Ant." xv. 10, § 5), he was distinguished also for the saintliness of his life as well as for possessing knowledge of the future. Legend has it that when he saw young Herod going to school he clapped him on the back and addressed him as king, announcing to him that he would reign successfully, but without displaying the love and justice he ought toward men or the piety due to God, and that therefore his end would be one befitting his crimes. When afterward in the zenith of his power Herod recalled this strange prediction, he sent for Menahem and asked him how long his reign would be. As Menahem did not immediately answer, Herod urged him, asking whether his reign would last ten years; whereupon Menahem replied: "Yes, twenty; nay, thirty years." Pleased with this answer, Herod dismissed him with a clasp of the hand and thenceforth bestowed special honors upon the Essenes. This Menahem has been correctly identified with the one mentioned in the Mishnah as ab bet din and head of a school in association with Hillel ha-Nasi and as Shammai's predecessor; but the duumvirate of ab bet din and nasi is probably due to a misconstruction of history when the real issues between the Hasidæan or Pharisean and the Sadducean or Boethusian factions were no longer understood. A dim reminiscence of the relation of Menahem to Herod, however, has been preserved in a baraita, quoted in Ḥag. 16b, which states that "Menahem went out to join those serving the king, and eighty pairs of disciples attired in silk robes went with him." Another tradition is that he became an apostate (Yer. Ḥag. ii. 77d). The two traditions have been confounded and appear in two other forms also: according to one, Menahem was forced to leave the Pharisaic school, and when seen with his eighty pairs of disciples was told that they no longer had a share in the God of Israel; according to the other, he went from one degree ("middah") to another until he became a Gnostic (heretic?). See, however, Grätz, "Gesch." iii. 213.