Skip to comments.Not a shard of truth (No proof of John the Baptist.)
Posted on 02/03/2003 5:00:10 PM PST by vannrox
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Not a shard of truth
Sensational claims have been made about bonesfound in Qumran, but no, this is not John the Baptist,say the heads of the dig.In August 2002, Time Magazine carried a headline that aroused curiosity: "Digging for the Baptist." The reference was to an archaeological dig being carried out for the past two years or so in Qumran, near the shore of the Dead Sea.
The dig is headed by Prof. Hanan Eshel, head of the Department for Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology at Bar-Ilan University, and Magen Broshi, former curator of the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, and a specialist on the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The article in Time contained only two paragraphs, and opened with the question: Have archaeologists discovered the skeleton of John the Baptist?"
The answer was cautious: "Don't send for your color slides yet, but it's possible."
The Associated Press also added a question mark to the report: "Can these be the remains of the leader of the sect, or of John the Baptist?"
Other media outlets preferred to ignore the story.
Time reported that the archaeologists who had dug at Qumran a year before, had found a large burial mound containing several bones that may have belonged to the Teacher of Righteousness. According to the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Teacher of Righteousness was the founder and leader of the Essenes who lives in Qumran and made copies of the Dead Sea Scrolls, as most scholars agree today. The Time reporters added, "The Teacher of Righteousness has long been felt by some scholars to be John the Baptist, since John's messianic Judaism and stress on immersion were strikingly similar to Essene beliefs."
The following paragraph said bones found at the burial mound could have belonged to two women, but there was another discovery: Two weeks before the publication of the article, the archaeologists found a complete skeleton of a man in a grave at a depth of about one-and-a-half meters, whose location and direction of burial may be of great importance. Relying on the words of Prof. Richard Freund of the University of Hartford in Connecticut [the coordinator of the dig, who in the article is called the "expedition leader" - D.S.] it said that next to the leg bones of the skeleton they found "a pot in the style of the 1st century A.D., which places the find in the right era." According to the article, "Freund thinks the bones belong to the Teacher, and therefore, perhaps are the Baptist's."
Toward the end of the article, the magazine expresses reservations, and points out that there are people who are skeptical, pointing out that the skeleton has a head, while John's was famously removed." (This was, by order of King Herod, done by one of his executioners, and on request of his stepdaughter, Salome, as told in Mark, Chapter 6, in the New Testament). The magazine quoted Broshi, who "fumes that the identification amounts to `shameless publicity seeking.'"
What opened the debate that is causing a storm of controversy in the archaeological community was a University of Hartford press release, headlined: "A University of Hartford archaeologist finds the remains of a human being who may have been the missing link between Judaism and Christianity." The release said that "Prof. Richard Fruend of the University of Hartford and a team of archaeologists working in Qumran... have found the well-preserved remains of a man from the first century A.D. Freund said that the man could be the `Teacher of Righteousness' who lived among an ancient Jewish sect, the Essenes. Scholars have long believed that the Teacher was John the Baptist."
Publication of the article in Time provoked a response by Broshi and Eshel, which appears in the January-February 2003 edition of BAR, the Biblical Archaeology Review, which is published in the United States, and is edited by Herschel Shanks. The bottom line of the article is that the skeleton cannot be either that of the Teacher of Righteousness or that of John the Baptist. They reject the theory that the two could have been the same person, since the Teacher of Righteousness lived, according to the theory, in the year 150 BCE, whereas John the Baptist was executed in the year 29 CE. In other words, there is a gap of 170 or 180 years between them. In the article they explain that they are the archaeologists in charge of the dig, whereas Freund was the project coordinator. In an interview, Eshel said that Freund was in fact with the team from the start of the excavations, but "he isn't interested in the scrolls, he came for the sensation."
The grave under discussion was found at the eastern end of the huge cemetery at Qumran, which is located east of the ancient settlement. In all, over 1,200 graves were found in the cemetery. The grave was found among the remains of a small ancient structure on an area of about 4.5 meters, which was discovered by the head of the first archaeological team in Qumran (in the years 1951-1956), French archaeologist and Bible scholar, Father Roland De Vaux, a Dominican priest. Judging by the location of the structure on the perimeter of the cemetery, Broshi and Eshel believe that it was an important building.
The structure was fully revealed in the summer of 2001, when Broshi and Eshel's team arrived at Qumran in order to map the cemetery. While cleaning the ancient building, the diggers found the remains of bones scattered over most of the area. DNA and Carbon-14 testing of the teeth indicated that these were the remains of two women from the Second Temple period, one of whom died in her thirties, and the other in her fifties. Their burial there was surprising, since the Essenes refrained from contact with women. Broshi and Eshel proposed a theory that the women were buried there at their request, since they were relatives of the local Essenes, or perhaps they were spiritually attached to the sect, and since they were women, were buried at the margins of the cemetery.
In the building they also found almost 150 pottery shards, which were dated to the end of the Second Temple period, between the 1st century B.C.E. and the 1st century C.E. The pottery was similar to that found by De Vaux at the center of the Qumran community. The archaeologists also found the southeast corner of the building, and managed to calculate its dimensions. They believe that there is no doubt that this was a unique structure that overlooked the western part of the cemetery and the Dead Sea. Its location, its construction, the shards and the pile of bones found all testify that the building was constructed during the Second Temple period, as an integral part of the cemetery, they wrote in their article.
Broshi and Eshel reject the possibility that the building served as a mausoleum, because they believe it wasn't sufficiently imposing, even by the modest standards of Qumran. They also reject the possibility that this was a pyramid-shaped monument, typical of the Second Temple period. "We think that the building is a beit misped [house for eulogies]," they wrote. "In Qumran they may have used a beit misped for meals for the mourners, as indicated by the large number of pottery shards of cooking pots and storage vessels, and the almost whole cooking pot found next to the feet of the man's skeleton."
In the summer of 2002 the team returned to Qumran equipped with ground-penetrating radar [GPR]. At a depth of about two meters, right under the pile of bones found in 2001, the diggers were surprised to hear an usual resonance. They began to dig, and at a depth of a little over a meter they discovered the grave with the skeleton that Freund believed was that of John the Baptist. They called it "Tomb 1000." An examination by a physical anthropologist from the Israel Antiquities Authority revealed that the skeleton was that of a man aged 35-45 who was buried there in an initial burial.
What is strange is that the man was found buried in an east-west direction, whereas all the graves in Qumran from the Second Temple period are in a north-south direction. Only 54 graves in an east-west direction were found at the site, but these are relatively new Bedouin graves, which are about 200 years old.
Eshel and Broshi were doubly surprised: at the non-standard depth of the grave (the dead were usually buried at Qumran at a depth of about two meters), and at the east-west direction of the burial. "`Tomb 1000' is the only exception (if it is in fact from the Second Temple period)," they wrote. "There seems to be no topographical reason and no physical necessity for this direction. It remains a riddle." They were ready to assume that the direction of burial indicates that this was an important person, "perhaps a key figure who is mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls," they wrote.
The western part of the grave where the skeleton was found was covered with stones about 20 centimeters in thickness. The head of the skeleton faced upward. A pair of stones was placed in such a way as to protect the skull. The arms of the skeleton were stretched along the length of the body. Eshel and Broshi wrote that there is almost no doubt that the skeleton is from the Second Temple period. The burial is right beneath the bones of the women who were buried in a secondary burial [about a year after the initial burial, the bones were customarily reburied]; the pottery fragments that were found in the building are from the Second Temple period, and what is most convincing, the cooking pot found above the legs of the skeleton is typical of the Second Temple period. The pot was found almost whole, and was easily restored. Two of the skeleton's teeth were sent for carbon-14 dating, which has not yet been completed. Eshel adds that the pot was from about 50 BCE and therefore, he says, "our buried man died in or about the year 50 BCE."
Persona non grata
The question of the skeleton's identity remains open. Broshi and Eshel reject a suggestion that it is James the Just, the brother of Jesus. This suggestion, they write, is not even worthy of discussion, even without the discovery of what may be the ossuary of James that was found in Jerusalem, which indicates that his bones were gathered in a burial box. In an interview with him, Eshel adds that James was active during the first century C.E., as was John the Baptist, whereas the skeleton is from approximately 50 B.C.E.
"There isn't a shred of proof for the assertion that the bones are those of John the Baptist," wrote Eshel and Broshi in their article. "First of all, the head of the skeleton was in the grave, protected by two stones; John, as we know from the New Testament, was beheaded. In addition, if there is a possibility that John lived in Qumran at an early stage in his life, he certainly left when he began his public religious office. Finally, in Qumran John would have been persona non grata, alive or dead. His teaching in praise of free will was totally opposed to the religion of Qumran. Predestination is the belief in a preordained fate, which was the belief held by the sect of the Judean Desert, and which maintained that the fate of man was determined forever at his birth; that is in contrast to the principle of "permission is given" that prevails in Judaism, and according to which God allows man to choose between good and evil, and man is free to decide. They end with the statement, "The suggestion that these may be the bones of John the Baptist is sheer speculation, lacking any evidence," and the proof is that Freund retracted this claim, they write.
Eshel and Broshi have their own theory regarding the identity of the skeleton. They believe that it is not that of the Teacher of Righteousness, who was active, according to their calculations, in the middle of the second century B.C.E., whereas Qumran was settled only at the end of that century. The Teacher of Righteousness and his students, believe Broshi and Eshel, lived first in another place, and only later did the followers of the Teacher settle in Qumran, while he himself may have died earlier. Because there is no argument that the skeleton was that of an important person, they conclude, "It seems more likely that the person who was buried here was the man to whom the scrolls refer as the `Mevaker' (the Overseer, or Supervisor) - an office that was filled by a series of people."
Who was the Overseer? Eshel says that the Overseer, who is mentioned mainly in the scroll Serakh Hayahad [one of the scrolls found in the Dead Sea caves, which includes rules and regulations that reflect the customs of the sect - D.S.], is a figure with religious and organizational roles in the Essene sect. He was in charge, at Qumran and wherever there was an Essene community, of the sect's financial and spiritual affairs, and was in effect the leader of the community after the death of the Teacher of Righteousness.
Every group of Essenes had its own Overseer. He was the one who accepted candidates who wanted to join the sect, and decided on the start of the process which would eventually lead to two votes, taken a year apart, in the moshav harabim - the general assembly of members of the community, which approved the acceptance of new members. At the end of the first year of candidacy, the candidate would turn over his property to the community temporarily, and the Overseer would give him a receipt for his assets or for the money he handed over.
In Qumran the Overseer was in charge of common property, as well as the giving of charity. Once a year, on the festival of Shavuot [Pentecost], the Overseer would criticize the people and rebuke them for their behavior. According to a text of "The Rebukes of the Overseer," which was found in one of the caves, the Overseer scolded one man for spoiling the spirit of togetherness, and another for being impatient. "There is here a list of the reprimands which are, surprisingly, not at all technical," says Eshel. "Were it not for this text, we would have thought that the Overseer would reprimand people, for example, for forgetting it was Shabbat and lighting fire, or for touching public drink although they weren't complete pure. And, as it turns out from this text, the Overseer rebukes them regarding spiritual matters." The Overseer was chosen for office by a council of 12 elders of the community. He was allowed to complete his job when he wished.
The disciples of John the Baptist, says Eshel, joined the early church after he was executed in the year 29 C.E., and apparently borrowed from the people of Qumran the idea of the Overseer, a person who would be responsible both for managing the money and for the spiritual side. In early Christianity this role was called "episcop," or bishop, and it is mentioned in the book of the Evangelists in the New Testament.
The idea that the bones belong to the Overseer, as important as he was, pales in comparison to the option that the skeleton is that of John the Baptist. But in the opinion of the scholars, that is not an option at all. "The person buried there is a Overseer or another important man in the community, and of course I can't prove that," says Eshel, adding: "John the Baptist has nothing to do with it."
By Dalia Shehori
That may be true. At the time of John the Baptist (and Jesus the Christ) there were three primary Judaic sects: the Essenes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees. I find it interesting that Jesus beats up on the latter two in several places in the New Testament, but not the former. An excellent summary of the Essene sect can be found at this link.
There is a bunch of, IMO "crap", postings on the web that purport to claim that Jesus was an Essane, that modern Christianity is not the true path, blah blah blah. Mainly a bunch of bunk.
My belief is that the Christ was surely exposed to Essane teachings, and some of his teaching overlap with theirs, nor did he personally appear as hostile toward their teachings as he sometimes did towards the Pharisees and the Sadducees. But was he "brought" up as an Essane? Clearly not. Did he learn some Essane teachings while growing up? Possibly. Not important, though. His message was his message, and that's the end of it.
And just who would know more about it? :-)
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