What Can the Dead Sea Scrolls Tell Us About Christianity?

Leonard O Goenaga

Professor Larson

REL3209 Dead Sea Scrolls

April 16, 2007

Dead Sea Scrolls Research Paper

“What Can The Dead Sea Scrolls Tell Us About Christianity?

When people are asked what are the Dead Sea Scrolls, many unfortunately respond with something along the lines of scrolls having to do with Christianity and the New Testament. It’s a common mistake made by individuals, and one that has lead to many controversies and debates. We could blame the media for exposing the scrolls in a Christian manner and for fooling the public, but do parallels with the scrolls contents and early Christianity stop there? Although individuals wrongly assume that the scrolls have to do with Christian writings, it does lead us to ask what the scrolls can tell us about the Christian faith and it’s early history. Although we know they’re obviously writings by an early Jewish sect in the desert, some scholars have made claims that the Qumran sects were actually early Christians. Other scholars have even taken a route to hypothesize that Jesus and John the Baptist were once members of this Qumran community. What has led scholars to make these assumptions? Is it merely a large Christian audience and prospects of financial gains, or is there more to it? For this reason, we will examine the world of the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as the Qumran community, and how they have paralleled and contributed to the study of early Christianity, John the Baptist, and Jesus of Nazareth.

Not only have scholars made extensive arguments that early Christians wrote some of the scrolls, but they have also made arguments that Jesus and John the Baptist may have been a part of the Qumran settlement.[1] The drama and controversies don’t stop there. In The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception, the authors Baigent and Leigh emulate the attempts of The Da Vinci Code to weave a world of mystery and controversy by explaining that the scrolls were even harmful to Christianity. They even go so far as to say that scholars of the Dead Sea Scrolls were “handling the spiritual and religious equivalent of dynamite—something that might just conceivably demolish the entire edifice of Christian teaching and belief.”[2] (Baigent 136-137).  Such a bizarre claim has led to this exploration of the similarities and differences that the Qumran community shares with the early Christian movement.

The research started with Lawrence Shiffman’s Reclaiming The Dead Sea Scrolls: The True Meaning For Judaism and Christianity, but his book lack’s in providing the scrolls ‘true meaning’ for Christianity. The title itself was a little deceiving, since Shiffman merely sprinkles references to Christianity throughout the book, and mainly discusses the scrolls relationship with pre-rabbinic Judaism. He shows this bias early on in the text, when in the introduction he states “scholars have finally turned to the Jewish character of the scrolls…to that purpose this book is dedicated.”[3] (Shiffman xxiii). With this bias openly exposed, what other resources might provide some real evaluations between the Dead Sea Scrolls and their impact on early Christianity?

As mentioned previously, some scholars have made the statement that John the Baptist was an Essene in his youth. Although most scholars would consider this to be an extreme stretch, Joseph A Fitzmyer believes that it’s a “plausible hypothesis” that John could “have spent some of his youth as a candidate for membership in or as a member of the Essene community,”[4] (Fitzmyer 19). One of his reasons is how the Gospel of Luke depicts John as someone who “lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.”[5] (Luke, 1:80). The gospel also mentions how a “word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.”5 (Luke, 3:2). This leads to a sudden change in John’s life and teaching. Fitzmyer argues that “John then broke off from the Essenes of Qumran, with whom he had been living for some time, to go forth and preach a ‘baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’ 4 “ (Fitzmyer 19). The reason Fitzmyer interprets the text this way is because John, having been born of a priestly family, was “never portrayed in any of the Gospels as serving in the Jerusalem Temple.” (Fitzmyer 19), and argued that when his elderly parents died, he might have been adopted by the Essenes. Fitzmyer says this because according to Josephus[6], the Essenes (who scholars usually agree fit the Qumran identity), had the practice of adopting other men’s children. Fitzmyer believes that just as Josephus spent some time with the Essenes, so did John. John, not serving Jerusalem’s Temple, would also match the feelings the Qumran community had towards the physical temple in Jerusalem. For these reasons, Fitzmyer doesn’t believe it to be too much of stretch to assume John was educated and adopted by the Essene community.

Fitzmyer continues his argument for John’s role in the Essene community by drawing comparisons between John’s and the Community’s teachings. All four Gospels use Isaiah 40:3 “ A voice of one calling: In the desert, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”[7], to describe John’s role in the desert. Fitzmyer makes the argument that “that very text of Isaiah is used in an Essene rule book, the Manual of Discipline, to explain why the community is in the desert,” (Fitzmyer 19). The Manuel of Discipline states to “Make ready in the desert the way of [Yahweh]; make straight in the wilderness a path for our God”[8]. Even though John and the Essene’s interpret Isaiah differently, Fitzmyer see this reason for the two being in the desert as more than sheer coincidence. Fitzmyer believes it to be “significant…when considered with the other factors” (Fitzmyer, 20). 

One of these other factors is John’s baptism. With the “little evidence for the existence of proselyte baptism in first century Christianity”, Fitzmyer argues that John’s baptisms are better explained as “ritual washings of the Essene community” (Fitzmyer, 20). Fitzmyer points towards the Qumran settlement’s use of miqva’ot ‘baths’.  The Essene’s Manual of Disciple’s views on ritual washing is similar to John’s baptisms in the sense that both speak of “repenting of their wickedness”[9] as a means of bathing, as well as not needing to be repeated. John came “preaching a baptism of the repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4), and although the Qumran settlement did not perform Christian baptisms, it’s not a stretch to see where the Essene’s teaching could influence John in his baptisms.

Another point along the lines of John’s baptism is that of baptizing with water, but mentioning the “coming baptism of “spirit and fire,”[10] (Fitzmyer 20). Fitzmyer also argues that in the Essene’s Manuel of Discipline, it talks about the themes of “ ‘water,’ ‘holy Spirit,’ ‘Spirit of truth,’ and ‘refining’ as elements of God’s activity as he purges this community.”[11] (Fitzmyer 20).  These elements sound vaguely familiar to those mentioned in Luke 3:16, where the Gospel mentions the “Holy Spirit and with fire.”8 After taking John’s time spent in the desert, Isaiah 40:3, Mark 1:3, Josephus’s temporary stay with the Essenes, John’s baptisms, the Essenes ritual washing, and the mention of fire, water, and spirit as found in the Manuel of Discipline and Luke 3:1, Fitzmyer’s suggestion that John may have spent time with the Essenes really gains some weight. Although this is not proof that John was an Essene, it does shed light on the hypothesis that he may have spent some time with them; which would have influenced his career preaching and baptizing. 

With these connections made between John the Baptist, the Essenes, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, we’re forced to ask ourselves whether Jesus may have been influenced by these three. After all, John the Baptist was the precursor to Jesus’ ministry, and if the Essenes influenced John then it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to assume John’s Essene teachings influenced Jesus. After all, the ending of the Qumran settlement shares the same timeline as the ministry of Jesus. Although we can’t claim that Jesus was an Essene, we can observe that there are certain parallels between the Qumran community, the Essenes, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the ministry of Jesus. One of these similarities that cannot be ignored is the Teacher of Righteousness. “French scholar Andre Dupont-Sommer…argued that Jesus appeared to be an ‘astonishing reincarnation’ of the Teacher of Righteousness.” (Flint 322).  Both the Teacher of Righteousness and Jesus taught “penitence, poverty, humility, love of one’s neighbor, chastity,” (Flint 322). As Flint and VanderKam point up, the two draw other similarities. Another similarity between the Teacher of Righteousness and Jesus is that both are “given authority in matters of teaching and the law, and in the proper understanding of prophetic texts; these functions are also, among others, assigned to Jesus in the Gospels.”[12] (Davies 202).

The overall feeling of the Teacher of Righteousness is one of mystery.

The Damascus Rule states “God…raised for them a Teacher of Righteousness to guide them [Qumran sect] in the way of His heart”.[13] This brings sudden images of Jesus of Nazareth, and as Kenneth Hanson points out in The Dead Sea Scrolls: The Untold Story, “his description, his title, and many events in his life, remind us, in a prophetic sense, of the life and mission of Jesus of Nazareth.”[14]  

 

Another extremely interesting connection that Kenneth O. Hanson points out is between the Beatitudes of Jesus and a fragment from Qumran Cave 4 (Hanson 140).  In the Beatitudes, we find the following:

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
 

4Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 
 

5Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 
 

6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 
 

7Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 
 

8Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”[15]

When we take the text from the Cave 4 fragment[16], we find an interesting comparison:

“Blessed is he who speaks truth with a pure heart…

Blessed are those who cling to his statutes…

Blessed are those who rejoice because of her…

Blessed is he who seeks her with pure hands…

Blessed is the man who has attained Wisdom”[17]

Of course, we cannot take these two texts and claim that one inspired Jesus, but both share a remarkable resemblance in their usage of needing ‘a pure heart’ and in their blessings. Kenneth O. Hanson points out another fragment from Cave 4, “called ‘On Resurrection’ or the ‘Messianic Apocalypse’.” (Hanson, 142). As he points out: “The greater context of the passage is missing, but these words are clearly visible on the ancient page: ‘Then he will heal the sick, resurrect the dead, and to the poor announce glad tidings.’ ” (Hanson, 142). Does this sound familiar? When we look back into the Gospel of Luke, we find a strangely similar response that Jesus gives: “…Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”[18] As Hanson adds, “He ministers in ways consistent with common expectations about the Messiah and his work.” (Hanson, 142).

One last comparison between Dead Sea Scrolls and Jesus is “the notion of a messianic banquet in 1Qs 6[19] and 1QSa 2 is similar to the Eucharist mentioned in Matthew 26:26-29[20] and 1 Corinthians 11:27-30.” (Davis, 202). Although it was common practice for Jews of the time to bless their meal, it’s an interesting resemblance. Between the Dead Sea Scroll’s Teacher of Righteousness, the expectation of a Messiah, the parallels in authorities and teachings with Jesus, the Beatitudes, the possibility of John having been an Essene, and the messianic banquet, we’re left with an even more appealing case for some type of relationship or parallel between the Dead Sea Scrolls and Christianity.

However the parallels don’t stop there. The early Christian community and the Qumran community also share some of their own similarities. One of the first parallels between the early Christian community and the Qumran sect is the body of twelve.  In Klaus Berger’s book The Truth Under Lock and Key?: Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls, Berger brings up the resemblance between the “twelve men…perfectly versed in all that is revealed of the Law”[21] (Berger 52). He says “they were thought of as the circle of founders…[and] are characterized as a “precious corner-stone” and a foundation.” (Berger 52). This brings us to the twelve disciples of Jesus, who like the twelve men, were portrayed as perfect.[22] The relationship here is between the two bodies of twelve, where Berger concludes, “the ‘concentric’ renewal of Israel by means of a body of twelve men is found only in Jesus and a few texts from Qumran. Quite certainly there are close points of contact here.” (Berger 52).

Another interesting parallel is how both early Christians and the Qumran sect display a communal lifestyle. In the Community Rule scroll, we discover that the sect has a communal lifestyle where some objects are shared. This is similar to Acts 2:4-5 where Christians gave their properties to the communities. Both sects also displayed signs of celibacy[23] and divorce[24]. In addition to the similarity of their lifestyle, was their language. As Phillip Davies points out, “Certain texts from both groups speak of the ‘children of light’, the righteousness of God, works of the Law, lawlessness, light and darkness, Belial[25], … the human temple of God … ‘the many’[26]” (Davies 202).

Not only are there some interesting theories for Paul being an Essene, but also now we have a hefty load of parallels between Jesus of Nazareth, the early Christian Community, and the Qumran sect. We first observed John’s time spent in the desert, then Isaiah 40:3, Mark 1:3, Josephus’s temporary stay with the Essenes, John’s baptisms, the Essene’s ritual washing, and the mention of fire, water, and spirit as found in the Manuel of Discipline and Luke 3:1. We then observed the Dead Sea Scroll’s Teacher of Righteousness, the expectation of a Messiah, the parallels in authorities and teachings with Jesus, the Beatitudes and scroll fragment, and the messianic banquet. We finally pointed out the parallels between the Christian community’s twelve disciples, the Qumran’s body of twelve, the two sect’s communal lifestyle, their shared language, and their shared views on such issues as celibacy and divorce. When we take into account the bizarre similarities between John the Baptist, Jesus of Nazareth, the early Christian community, the Qumran Settlement, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, we’re given good reason to conclude that they had some type of relationship. Although we cannot conclude that the Qumran sect directly influenced Jesus, John, and the Christian community, we can assume that after the provided evidence, there’s strong reason to suggest an indirect relationship.

Whether we’re left putting together current scripture and scrolls, or theorizing over new parallels and relationships, we may never know what relationship (or lack of) the Qumran Sect may have had with Christianity. We can conclude that the Scrolls still need further study, and that they illuminate a lot about the Jewish roots of Christianity. However, who knows what un-translated Dead Sea Scrolls may offer, and what possibilities new archeological discoveries may hold for the mysterious relationship between Christianity and the Qumran Sect.

Works Cited and Footnotes Below

 

Works Cited

Baigent, and Leigh. The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception. New York:

Rockefeller Center. 1991

Shiffman, Lawrence. Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls: Their True

Meaning For Judaism and Christianity. New York: Doubleday.

1995.

Berger, Klaus. The Truth Under Lock and Key?: Jesus and the Dead  

Sea Scrolls. Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press. 1995.

Fitzmyer, Joseph. The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins. Wm. B.

Eerdmans. 2000.

Flint, and VanderKam. The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Their

Significance for Understanding the Bible, Judaism, Jesus, and

Christianity. San Francisco: HarperCollins. 2002.

Hanson, Kenneth O. Dead Sea Scrolls: The Untold Story. San

Francisco: Council Oak Books. 1997.

Davies, Brooke, and Callaway. The Complete World of the Dead Sea

Scrolls. London: Thames & Hudson. 2002.

Zondervan. NIV Holy Bible. New International Version. Zondervan.

1985.

Martinez, Florentino Garcia. The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated, The

Qumran Texts in English (2nd Edition). New York: E. J. Brill.

1996.


[1] Writer Karl Bahrdt (1790), and Scholar Ernest Renan (1863)

[2] The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception. Baigent and Leigh, Pg 136-137.

[3] Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls: Their True Meaning For Judaism and Christianity. Lawrence H. Shiffman. Introduction xxiii.

[4] The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins. Fitzmyer, Joseph. Page 19.

[5] Gospel of Luke, NIV.

[6] Josephus Life 2 10-11, Explains a temporary period with the Essenes,

[7] The Gospel of Mark 1:3, Matt 3:3, Luke 3:3-6, John 1:23

[8] 1QS 8:12-16

[9] 1QS 5:13-14

[10] Gospel of Luke 3:16; “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the throngs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”

[11] 1QS 4:20-21: “purging by His truth all the deeds of human beings, refining [i.e. by fire] for Himself some of mankind to remove every spirit from their flesh, to cleanse them with a holy Spirit, and sprinkle them with a Spirit of truth like purifying water.”

[12] The Damascus Document (CD 13:7-9), The Habakkuk Commentary (1QpHab),  The Gospel of John 5:26-27, Gospel of Mark 1:21-27, Gospel of Mark 11:29-33.

[13] The Damascus Document, CD I: 11

[14] The Dead Sea Scrolls: The Untold Story, Teacher of Righteousness Pg 130.

[15] The Gospel of Matthew 5:3-8, NIV

[16] 4Q525

[17] The Dead Sea Scrolls: The Untold Story, Pg 140-141

[18] The Gospel of Luke 7:22, NIV

[19] Rule of the Community, 1QS 6 4-6;

 

[21] 1QS 8:1

[22] 1QS 8:10, Matthew 19:21

[23]Moreover; the Damascus Document permitted, perhaps encouraged, celibacy…while celibacy also played an important role in early Christianity.” (Davies 202).

[24] CD 4:20-5:6, Mark 10:2-9

[25] 2 Cor. 6:15, NIV, “What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?”

[26] The Community Rule, Matthew 26:27-28, and Mark 14:23-24.

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