ELKESAITES, el'ke-saits: The name of a section of syncretistic Jewish Christianity. They were mentioned by Epiphanius (Hær., xix., xxx., liii.), Origen (Eusebius, Hist. eccl., vi. 38) and Hippolytus (Philosophoumena, ix. 13 sqq.). The derivation of the name has led to many conjectures. Delitzsch derived it from a hamlet Elkesi, in Galilee. The Church Fathers derived it from the name of a supposititious founder, Elxai, which name, according to Epiphanius, denotes "a hidden power." Elxai is probably not the name of a person, but the name of a book which was the chief authority for this sect. At all events, the sect held in the highest esteem a work which was brought into connection with Elxai. This book, which appears to have been the chief authority for all the Jewish-Christian Gnostic sects, was known to Origen (Eusebius, Hist. eccl., vi. 38), and the Syrian Alcibiades of Apamea brought it with him to Rome (about 220 A.D.). As Origen reports, this book was believed to have fallen from heaven; according to an account in the Philosophoumena, it was revealed by an angel who was the Son of God. Elxai is said to have received it in the third year of Trajan (101 A.D.), and its contents were communicated to no one except under oath of secrecy. The work itself contains a large element of natural religion mingled with Judaistic and Christian ideas. The pagan element shows itself in particular in ablutions. Remission of sins is proclaimed upon the ground of a new baptism, consisting without doubt of oft-repeated washings; which were also used against sickness, and made in the name of the Father and the Son. In connection with these ablutions appear seven witnesses the five elements, and oil and salt (also bread), the latter two symbolizing baptism and Lord's Supper. The same pagan element appears in the use made by the Elkesaites of astronomy and magic; baptismal days were fixed in accordance with the position of the stars. The Jewish element appears in the obligatory character of the law, and in circumcision. They rejected sacrifices, and also several parts of the Old and the New Testament (of the latter, the Pauline epistles). What their views of Christ were is not certain. On the one hand they described him as an angel; on the other they taught a repeated or continuous incarnation of Christ, although the virgin-birth seems to have been retained. The Lord's Supper was celebrated with bread and salt; the eating of meat was forbidden; marriage was highly esteemed; renunciation of the faith in time of persecution was allowed. A prayer, which is preserved by Epiphanius (xix. 4), is entirely unintelligible. Much as the Clementine Homilies agree with the doctrinal system of the Elxai-book, there are differences which prove that the latter represents the older, the Homilies the later form of the doctrinal system. Ritschl regards the Elkesaites as the antipodes of the Montanists, and asserts as their chief peculiarity the setting forth of a new theory of remission of sins by a new baptism. Gieseler has wrongly identified them with the Ebionites (Kirchengeschichte, I. i. 134, 279). The Elkesaites were not a distinct sect, but rather a school scattered among all parties of the Judeo-Christian Church. This syncretistic-gnostic Judaism contributed to the origin of Islam.
(G. UHLHORN †.)
Bibliography: A. Ritschl, in ZHT, 1853, part 4; idem, Entstchung der altkatholischen Kirche, pp., 234, Bonn, 1857; A. Hilgenfeld, Ketzergeschichte, pp. 433 eqq., Leipse, 1884; idem, Judentum and Judenchristentum, pp. 95 sqq., ib. 1886; NPNF, series 2, i. 280, notes; Harnack, Geschichte, i. 207-209; idem, Dogma, i. 240, 246, 304 sqq., ii. 110, iii. 320, 331; Neander, Christian Church, i. 352; Schaff, Christian Church, ii. 430 sqq.; DCB, ii. 95-998; and the literature under CLEMENTINA.