Home > Christianity, Dead Sea Scrolls, Early Christianity, History > The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Personages of Earliest Christianity

The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Personages of Earliest Christianity

  • Author: Arthur E. Palumbo, Jr.
  • Pub. Year: 2004
  • Language: Engl
  • ish
  • Pages: 318
  • ISBN-10: 0875862969
  • ISBN-13: 9780875862965
  • Format: PDF

Who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls? Paleographical dating has tended to down play the Scrolls’ importance and to distance them from the personages of earliest Christianity, but a carefully worked out theory based on radiocarbon dating and other tests connects Scroll allusions to personages and events in a specific time period and suggests a new view on how and why the Romans crucified Jesus. Part I of this study is an attempt to deal more realistically with the evidence of the Dead Sea Scrolls; very few scholars have ever examined the period from 37 BC to AD 71 as the possible setting for the scrolls. Nevertheless, everyone would admit the existence of scroll allusions that only have real relevance in this time period. Part II takes up Jesus and the beginnings of Christianity.

Admittedly, the explanation put forward in this work as to how and why the Romans crucified Jesus is a surprising one and we will not divulge it in this synopsis. However, the way the author sees it, if something like that explanation did not take place, then it is simply inexplicable why the Romans would have crucified Jesus — a peaceful teacher and healer — as a rebel. The only alternative would then have to be that the historical Jesus was really a political revolutionary who attempted in some way to free Israel from the Romans and become its King, a theory that has been offered in various forms beginning in the 18th century. But if he was indeed a rebel, then the later Christians, who strenuously strove to live at peace with Rome, must have been the actual creators of the pacifistic Jesus of the New Testament — and these unique and time-honored teachings of peace, non-violence, and love were fabrications. That seems less credible than the compelling hypothesis proposed in this work.

I have always been fascinated with the beginnings of Christianity for as long as I can remember. What really happened in the Holy Land in the first century AD? Can we ever know for certain? Or must it remain an unanswerable question that can only come alive by religious faith? When some of the Dead Sea Scrolls were first discovered in cave 1 in 1947, the air was rife with excitement that they might reveal the answer to us at last. Now, more than fifty years after their initial discovery, the scholarly consensus is rather disappointing. Although the Dead Sea Scrolls reveal more fully the religious ideas and beliefs that paved the way for Christianity, they do not tell us anything about the men who created the Christian faith. So we are told, but are this view correct?

Part I of this study is an attempt to deal more realistically with the evidence of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Such a work is desperately needed, because research on the scrolls has been for the most part a continuing process of evasion and distortion in order to lessen their importance and to distance them from the personages of earliest Christianity. This has been accomplished by placing undue reliance in the purported accuracy of paleography and radiocarbon dating and by locating the historical setting from one to two hundred years earlier than the evidence requires.

Paleography is the study of the evolution of a language’s script over time in order to determine the relative dates of documents. It can be useful as an additional verification of dates obtained initially from the internal literary evidence of the scrolls, but it can never be the main determinant for arriving at dates. A carefully worked out theory of the scrolls cannot be discarded solely because it disagrees with the paleographical dating. Radiocarbon dating is a test for determining the approximate age of fossils and artifacts based on the radioactive decay of the carbon-14 isotope in organic matter. As a result of this technique, we can be very confident that the scrolls belong somewhere within the period from 200 BC to AD 100 and that they are not for example medieval forgeries or documents from the time of the Divided Monarchy. Using radiocarbon dating to fix a time — let us say 75 BC as opposed to AD 50 — is to place too much confidence in the accuracy of this test. The same can be said for paleography, if it is used as the primary dating criterion instead of the information found in the scrolls themselves.

In most theories that have been advanced, the primary element that connects the scroll evidence to the traditional historical sources is the identity of someone known in the scrolls as the “Wicked Priest.” This personage is usually identified with some show of evidence as one of the Hasmonaean priest-kings of the second or first centuries BC. Unfortunately, these theories lose credibility mainly because the other personage in the scrolls who is known as the “Teacher of Righteousness” is never found. He was the leader of the Dead Sea Scroll sect and the Wicked Priest’s main adversary. The explanation usually given is that the Teacher of Righteousness was not considered important enough to be mentioned in our traditional historical sources. Can we really accept this explanation? Many other personages of far less importance are mentioned often in these sources.

Very few scholars have ever examined the period from 37 BC to AD 71 as the possible setting for the scrolls. Nevertheless, everyone would admit the existence of scroll allusions that only have real relevance in this time period. For example, the scroll writers were opposed to the practices of divorce, polygamy, and marrying nieces. According to our traditional historical sources, the only time when these practices were prevalent was in the period from 37 BC to AD 71. Herod the Great and his descendants indulged in them routinely. As another example, the scroll writers were concerned about the building of a new Temple that would be correctly constructed and would allow the offering of sacrifices in a proper manner. In the entire period from 200 BC to AD 70, there was only one person who actually undertook to rebuild the Temple. Herod the Great began building operations in 23/22 BC and completed the structure in AD 62-4.

In the following pages, I have attempted to connect the scroll allusions to historical events and personages found primarily in the period from 37 BC to AD 71. However, there are indeed some allusions to events before this time and I have dealt with these as well. Dr. Robert Eisler (1882-1949), a brilliant Austrian scholar, created an ingenious theory of Christian beginnings early in the last century. Although everyone has acknowledged his amazing erudition in this area, many have nevertheless disparaged his writings for his controversial theory and his utilization of the Slavonic version of Josephus in it. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that no alternative theory yet exists which adequately explains the Slavonic Josephus. His view was that this source was derived from Josephus himself. I have not hesitated to utilize his writings extensively in this work, as well as the Slavonic version of Josephus as restored by him.

In his theory, he also endeavored to solve the historical problems regarding the death of James the Righteous (usually referred to with the sobriquet “the Just”), who was a brother of Jesus. I am convinced that the Dead Sea Scrolls and specifically the Habakkuk Commentary passage (11:2-8), if rightly interpreted, prove the correctness of his theory and reveal the Teacher of Righteousness as James. Only a few alterations are required in the theory as a result of the new scroll evidence. Should this identification turn out to be wrong as a result of future discoveries, then the only solution is that the Teacher of Righteousness was indeed an unknown figure in the historical record. If Dr. Eisler had only lived long enough to have studied all the Dead Sea Scrolls instead of the few meager fragments that he was able to see before his death in 1949, scroll research would have yielded far different and fascinating results indeed!

After dealing with the Dead Sea Scrolls in Part I, I next take up Jesus and the beginnings of Christianity in Part II.

Admittedly, the explanation put forward in this work as to how and why the Romans crucified Jesus is a surprising one and I will not divulge it in this introduction. However, the way I see it, if something like that explanation did not take place, then it is simply inexplicable why the Romans would have crucified Jesus — a peaceful teacher and healer — as a rebel. The only alternative would then have to be that the historical Jesus was really a political revolutionary who attempted in some way to free Israel from the Romans and become its King. This theory has been offered in various forms beginning in the 18th century with H. S. Reimarus, who was the first scholar to study the gospels in a modern critical manner. In fact, Dr. Eisler’s theory is usually included in this category also, even though he believed Jesus unwillingly became embroiled in an insurrection started by his followers in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, this idea is precisely what makes his theory unlikely at least on this point: Jesus is not portrayed as a dynamic personality in the manner the gospels depict him, but as one who was pushed along on his fateful course by the actions of his followers.

In any case, if he was indeed a rebel, then the later Christians, who strenuously strove to live at peace with Rome, must have been the actual creators of the pacifistic Jesus of the New Testament. However, the notion that these unique and time-honored teachings of peace, non-violence, and love were fabrications seems less credible than the explanation being proposed in this work. Notwithstanding, I only offer it as a hypothesis.

There is an official classification system utilized to identify the Dead Sea Scrolls. Take 4Q507 as an example. 4Q is the cave it was discovered in (cave 4 in this instance) and 507 is the scroll or manuscript number. The title of it is Festival Prayersa and only three small fragments survive. Take 1QpHab as another example. 1Q is the cave it was discovered in (cave 1 in this instance), p signifies it is a pesher (i.e., a commentary), and Hab identifies that it is a commentary on the biblical book of the prophet Habakkuk. Only one copy was found in cave 1. A complete index of the scrolls utilizing the official classification system can be found in Florentino Garcia Martinez & Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, eds., 2 vols., The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (Leiden: Brill, 1997), Vol. II, 1313-60.

Quotations from the principal Dead Sea Scrolls were taken from the following sources:

  1. For the Temple Scroll (11QT), I have quoted verbatim from Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., and Edward Cook, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation (San Francisco: Harper, 1996), unless otherwise noted.
  2. For the Hymns Scroll (1QH), I have quoted verbatim from A. Dupont-Sommer, The Essene Writings from Qumran, trans. by G. Vermes (Gloucester: Peter Smith, 1973), unless otherwise noted.
  3. For the Damascus Document (CD), the Rule of the Community (1QS), the Rule of the Congregation (1QSa), I have followed for the most part the translations of A. Dupont-Sommer (see the reference above), but have made certain changes in words or phrases that were considered necessary as a result of studying the original Hebrew.
  4. For the Nahum Commentary (4QpNah) and the Psalms Commentary (4QpPsa), I have followed for the most part the translations of Maurya P. Horgan, Pesharim: Qumran Interpretations of Biblical Books (Washington:Catholic Biblical Assoc. of America, 1979), but have made certain changes in words or phrases that were considered necessary as a result of studying the original Hebrew.
  5. For the Habakkuk Commentary (1QpHab), I have followed for the most

part the translation of William H. Brownlee, The Midrash Pesher of Habakkuk (Missoula: Scholars Press, 1979) or A. Dupont-Sommer (see the reference above), but have made certain changes in words or phrases that were considered necessary as a result of studying the original Hebrew.

Quotations of the Old and New Testaments are from Herbert G. May and Bruce M. Metzger, eds, The New Oxford Annotated Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), unless otherwise noted; and all quotations of Flavius Josephus are from Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, Jewish War, The Life, Against Apion, trans. by H. St. J. Thackeray, R. Marcus, and L. H. Feldman, 10 vols., Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1925-65).

This work does not pretend to be the final answer to the mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls or to Christian origins. I can only say that I have tried to be as diligent and objective as possible in interpreting the evidence and then placing it into a comprehensive theory. If it accomplishes nothing else, perhaps it will motivate others to begin looking seriously at the period from 37 BC to AD 71 as the proper setting for the scrolls. Or perhaps others will be inspired to study microletters, the Slavonic Josephus, or Marcion in more detail — just to name a few topics.

The reader should not overlook the notes. They are an integral part of the text and should be read along with it. In closing, thank you for wanting to read this work and may the synapses of your brain be amply stimulated by it.

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