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Essenes: courts and executions

Josephus's Essene source has an unusual passage
which could read like an apology against 
criticisms of too liberal willingness to inflict capital
punishment in their courts.

    "But in the judgements they exercise they are
    most accurate and just, nor do they pass
    sentence by the votes of a court that is fewer
    than a hundred.  And as to what is once 
    determined by that number, it is unalterable.
    What they most of all honor, after God himself,
    is the name of their legislator, whom if any
    one blaspheme he is punished capitally."  
    (_Wars_ II, 8, 9)

Question: if first-century CE high priests had
grave difficulties offing political opponents
without getting Roman permission, what on earth
is this reference to Essene courts of one hundred
carrying out formal executions all about?  
Is this a hint of Essenes having held state 
power at one time?  A hint or an echo out of their 
real, as distinguished from literarily constructed,
past, as it were?  Anyone have a better 
Greg Doudna