The Dead Sea Jesus:
A Critical Study of the Qumran Scrolls
by Fernando Klein
The object of this work is primarily to furnish students with a handy text-book, which, it is hoped, will facilitate the study of the particular texts. But it is also hoped that the book will be acceptable to the general reader who may be interested in the subjects with which they deal.
It has been thought advisable, as a general rule, to restrict the notes and comments; indeed, it is much to be desired that these translations may have the effect of inducing readers to study the larger works.
My principal aim, in a word, is to make some difficult texts, important for the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls, more generally accessible in faithful and scholarly translations. In most cases these texts are not available in a cheap and handy form.
The Dead Sea Scrolls comprise a vast collection of Jewish documents written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and encompassing many subjects and literary styles. They include manuscripts or fragments of every book in the Hebrew Bible except the Book of Esther, all of them created nearly one thousand years earlier than any previously known biblical manuscripts. The scrolls also contain the earliest existing biblical commentary, on the Book of Habakkuk, and many other writings, among them religious works pertaining to Jewish sects of the time.
In this book will be analyzed the last important discovery in the Dead Sea, especially "The Vision of Gabriel" and all the scrolls related to Christendom. "The Vision of Gabriel" or "Hazon Gabriel" were written using ink on stone and introduce us to a critical epoch of Jewish history: it speaks about a person who rebelled against Rome at the end of the first century B.C. and who was resuscitated on the third day. The point is that some scholars think that this kind of text and premonition were applied to Jesus by his followers or the scribes. As a matter of fact, it is linked to Messiah and that he should die and rise from the dead at the third day, the core of the Christian faith. This text belongs to a part of a bigger collection of scrolls named the Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered and analyzed at the Qumran site in Israel since 1947.
The legends of what was contained in the Dead Sea Scrolls are far beyond what was actually there. There were no lost books of the Bible or other literature of which there were not already other copies. The vast majority of the Dead Sea Scrolls were simply copies of books of the Old Testament from 250-150 B.C. A copy or portion of nearly every Old Testament book was found in Qumran. There were extra-biblical and apocryphal books found as well, but again, the vast majority of the scrolls were copies of the Hebrew Old Testament. The Dead Sea Scrolls were such an amazing discovery, in that the scrolls were in excellent condition and had remained hidden for so long (over 2000 years). The Dead Sea Scrolls can also give us confidence in the reliability of the Old Testament manuscripts, since there were minimal differences between the manuscripts that had previously been discovered and those that were found in Qumran.
Clearly the Dead Sea Scrolls and the schism that caused the Dead Sea sect to arise can only be understood in the context of Jewish history and the sectarianism of the Second Temple period in Judea. Across twenty centuries, the Scrolls speak to us of the pluralism that existed in ancient Judaism, each group competing to be the "True Israel" and each claiming a monopoly on the true interpretation of the Torah. The Scrolls provide us with a window into an ancient Jewish time and give us a glimpse of an ancient Jewish sect who resided in the desert on the shores of the Dead Sea. Reflected in the Scrolls are their religious traditions and beliefs, their legal tenets and social structure of the sect.
The most prevalent opinion given by scholars has identified the Qumran sect with the Essenes, of whom Josephus and Philo wrote. While it may be legitimate to attempt to prove Essene authorship as many scholars have done, it is, however, illegitimate to use this theory as a universally accepted position on which all Qumran texts are interpreted. Scholarly ethics and integrity, and scientific investigation demand that each text from the caves, along with the Greek writings concerning the Essenes by Philo and Josephus, be subjected to their own separate critical review before conclusions are made.
It must be remembered that Josephus, the primary source of information about the Essenes, wrote primarily for Greek and Roman audiences and that he wrote approximately two hundred years after the founding of the sect. At this late date, it would be impossible for him to have first hand knowledge. Also, he himself admits to having included more than one group of sectarians under the heading 'Essenes'.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are a “puzzle”: What time frame do they cover, and whom do they refer to? Very few scholars have examined the period from 37 B.C. to A.D. 71 as the possible setting for the scrolls. Nevertheless, the scrolls allude to events that only have real relevance in this time period, although Jesus is not mentioned anywhere in the Scrolls. The Scrolls prove that the Jews were reading and studying texts with a doctrine that could influence in the ideology of early Christendom.
(To be continued)
Fernando Klein is Professor of Middle East Religions and Chair of the Religious Studies Department at Complutense University, Madrid, Spain. He has published several books on the Bible, Judaism and Christendom, including “The Naked Bible”, “The Gnostic Gospels”, “The Church of Paper”, and so on.
See more of Dr. Klein's book The Dead Sea Jesus: A Critical Study of the Qumran Scrolls in our next issue (2010/03) of Earthen Vessel Journal. We may even have it available as a downloadable e-book by then!