Skip to comments.DEAD SEA SCROLLS: THREAT TO CHRISTIANITY?
Posted on 02/22/2007 9:44:29 AM PST by stfassisi
DEAD SEA SCROLLS: THREAT TO CHRISTIANITY?
Fr. William Most
The first scrolls were found in 1947. Other finds followed: in 1952 Cave 3 was found, including the Copper Scroll. The most important Cave for our purposes was Cave 4, discovered in 1954. About 20% of the scrolls were soon published, but the remainder were held out for 35 years. A 6 year campaign by the Biblical Archaeology Review, led by its Editor, Hershel Shanks, finally resulted in the liberation of the balance. Some photos came to Robert Eisenman of the Dept. of Religious Studies at State University of California at Long Beach in 1989, until 1990 when virtually all were released. Two years later, in 1991 the Biblical Archaeology Review published a two volume Facsimile Edition of all scrolls.
Soon Michael Wise, Assistant Professor of Aramaic in the Dept of Near Eastern Languages at the University of Chicago came into the work. Two teams, at both universities, set to work. In September 1991 the Huntington Library of San Marino CA made available to scholars its photos of all plates.
The result of the work of Eisenman and Wise was a controversial volume, The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered, published by Element Inc. in 1992. On p. 6 the authors claim that their volume contains what they consider fifty of the most important documents, reconstructed out of about 150 plates. 33 of the texts were in Hebrew, and 17 in Aramaic. Their volume gives an introduction to each text, a copy in Hebrew or Aramaic of the text itself, followed by some notes.
The volume is controversial. A four day conference on the scrolls was scheduled for the New York Blood Center for Dec. 14-17, 1992, reported in Biblical Archaeology Review March-April, 1993, pp. 63-68. Less than a week before the conference, 18 prominent scholars released a statement strongly attacking the work of Eisenman and Wise, charging, "unethical appropriation" of the work of others, of using unnamed publications in a "fraudulent manner," hiding from the readers the fact that some things had already been published. The special point of condemnation was the claim that Eisenman and Wise had used a text called MMT, which had been edited previously by Elisha Qimron, who said "they stole my work." The two authors claim they worked with knowledge of the work of Qimron but not depending on it. Now that text, MMT, was put together out of several fragments - resulting in a problem to know in what order to put them - Eisenman and Wise claim they worked independently, and did not depend on the edition by Qimron. But some time back a samzidat (bootleg) copy of MMT was in general circulation. It contained some misjoins of fragments - the same misjoins used by Eisenman and Wise. According to Biblical Archaeology Review March-April, 1993, p. 65 Wise could not give a satisfactory explanation of how he had the same misjoins as the samzidat copy if he really had worked independently.
Many scholars then boycotted the conference. But a sort of peace was made. The 18 signers of the statement were willing to "retract the statement and all it implies." Wise in turn in a published statement said he regretted the unintended impression on the degree to which some parts of the work were done independently of the work of others. He admitted indebtedness in part. According to the Biblical Archaeology Review report, on p. 65, Wise said that Eisenman is "an historian and not a paleographer", and was responsible chiefly for the interpretations of the texts.
The previous issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Jan- Feb. 1993, on pp. 60-61 carried a review of the same book by Alan Segal, Professor of Religion at Barnard College. Segal pointed out the controversial nature of the chief text, namely 4Q285, the so-called "pierced Messiah text". He said more than one interpretation of the text is possible. Eisenman and Wise explicitly admit that, on p. 29 saying one could read either that the Leader of the Community would put someone to death, or would be put to death. [more on this below]. Segal also said there was only one explicitly messianic passage, 4Q521, in the book, and it spoke of only one Messiah, whereas scholars have thought there were two Messiahs mentioned at Qumran. Segal lists three of these passages. Segal also says that Eisenman had moderated his earlier view in which he said that the early Christian church not only had the same beliefs as the Qumran community, but was identical with it. Later Eisenman said the early church was a successor to Qumran rather than identical with it. Segal adds that many of the texts were written a century or more before Christianity, and so Eisenman cannot easily claim that the Qumran community is the same as the community of James the Just [more on him later: cf. Acts of Apostles 15]. Eisenman and Wise reject palegographic evidence and the results of Carbon 14 on dating (p. p 12-13). Segal also said that what Eisenman said would misrepresent what we know of Christianity and also of Qumran. Eisenman held (p. 10) that Christianity sprang from a Zealot group in Palestine, and was later "Paulinized". Segal said such a view cannot be proved or entirely discounted. Segal also says that Eisenman and Wise never tell us just why they have put together certain fragments - for the texts are in fragments. As a result he concludes the book is,"one opinion among many. Clearly it is not the definitive statement."
A secondary, but important question, implied in some of the above is this: What was the nature of the community at Qumran? Several views were aired at the conference we have described: De Vaux, earliest explorer, had thought it was a sort of monastery of celibate Essenes. Donceels of the Catholic University at Louvain said it was a villa where wealthy people from Jerusalem lived during the winter. Norman Golb of University of Chicago thought it was a fortress, not a villa or monastery. Biblical Archaeology Review on p. 67 (March -April, 1993) reports that graves of women and children have been found there - at first sight a problem for the monastic interpretation but Josephus, Jewish War, 2. 8. 13 says there was another group of Essenes who agreed with the main group in everything except marriage: they did marry, to continue the views of the Essenes. Also, the Manual of Discipline, 1QS, surely sounds like a monastic rule.
Attacks on Christianity:
These began soon after the release of the first scrolls. Among others, W. F. Albright, a rightly esteemed scholar, did not say it openly, but left the impression at a meeting of the American Philological Association in Washington, that the scrolls might damage Christianity.
More recently, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, in The Dead Sea Scroll deception (Center for Biblical Studies, Pasadena, CA) said the reason for the long suppression of most of the scrolls was the Vatican, which feared grave damage to Christianity. Hershel Shanks, who led the fight to release the scrolls, and who is himself a very prominent Jew and editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, reviewed the book in Biblical Archaeology Review of Nov-Dec. 1991, pp . 66-71, even before the book was released in the U. S. He showed how utterly groundless the claim was, and said (p. 68) "the charge is hogwash" and "their central thesis is so badly flawed as to be ludicrous."
John Allegro wrote to John Strugnell, at the time chief editor in charge of the scrolls, who was considering becoming Catholic (p. 69): "By the time I've finished there won't be any Church left for you to join". Allegro had been a member of the scroll team, the only one to publish his work early. But he was an avowed agnostic. His book, The Sacred Mushroom, said Jesus never really existed, he was only an image developed by Christians under the influence of a hallucinating drug, psilocybin. Fourteen prominent British scholars repudiated Allegro's book in the London Times. The publisher then apologized for publishing the book (cf Biblical Archaeology Review, Nov-Dec. 1991, p. 68).
Again, Hershel Shanks commented that now the scrolls have been released, with much help from Catholic scholars, it was "without the slightest shake of or shock to the church's foundations."
But much more serious, because it seems to be so scholarly, is the attack made by Eisenman and Wise in The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered, of which we spoke above.
In their introduction they claim (p. 10) that probably the scrolls reveal "nothing less than a picture of the movement from which Christianity sprang in Palestine." According to Hershel Shanks, in Biblical Archaeology Review, Nov-Dec. 1991, p. 69, Eisenman (along with Baigent and Leigh) thought the Teacher of righteousness at Qumran was James, the "brother of the Lord." James, they thought was the leader of a militant Jewish sect, the Zealots, which was in the forefront of the First Jewish revolt against Rome. Shanks reports that Eisenman even thought Paul spent three years at Qumran, and was a secret Jewish agent! (Biblical Archaeology Review Nov-Dec. 1991, p. 69. Cf. also two other books by Eisenman, Maccabees, Zadokites, Christians and Qumran (Brill, Leiden, 1983) and James the Just in the Habbakuk Pesher (Vatican Tipographia Gregoriana, 1985.
Most basic in the thought of Eisenman and Wise is an alleged sharp contrast between James and Paul, which they often describe as a "mirror image", a complete reversal. On p. 11 they assert that "it is impossible to distinguish ideas and terminology associated with the Jerusalem Community of James the Just from materials found in this corpus." The Palestinian outlook they describe was (p. 10) "Zealot, engaging, xenophobic and apocalyptic". The mirror reversal movement, sparked by Paul was,"cosmopolitan, antinomian, pacifistic."
Their chief support comes from three, only three exhibits -and we note that their book claims to have picked out the fifty most important of the newly released scrolls (p. 6). But Wise, in an article with Tabor in Biblical Archaeology Review (Nov-Dec. 1992, p. 61) admits "references to any messiah at all are sparse" Here the three:
1) "The Messiah of Heaven and Earth : 4Q521 (on pp. 19-23 of Eisenman and Wise): It says that all things will obey God's Messiah. There is constant emphasis, they say, on the themes of the Righteous (Zaddikim), the Pious (Hassidim), and the Meek (Anavim) and the Faithful (Emunim). They compare especially lines 8 & 12 to the NT passage which cites Isaiah 61:1 (RSV): "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted, he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound." In Luke 4:17-21 Jesus read this passage in the synagogue at Nazareth and added: "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Eisenman and Wise add that parallel allusions confirm the relation of the sons of Zadok with the Zaddikim, and that 'naming' and predestination are major ideas in both the early parts of the Damascus Document and Acts, chapters 2-5.
Eisenman and Wise note there is only one Messiah spoken of in their text, while admitting that in some other places in the Qumran corpus there is mention of two Messiahs. The origin of the two Messiah idea seems to have been that Isaiah does speak of the Messiah as suffering, in chapter 53, while usual Jewish belief held that the Messiah would live forever. Hence later rabbinic literature sometimes speaks of two messiahs: Cf. Biblical Archaeology Review p. 82, n. 5. Oddly, the Jews overlooked Isaiah 53: 11-12 which speaks of a resurrection for the Messiah after he has died to atone for the sins of the rabbim.
COMMENTS: Yes, there are similarities between 4Q521 and the Gospel. But what of it? Both draw on a common source, namely Isaiah 61:1. The fact that both draw on it does not prove any connection whatsoever between the Qumran text and Christianity. (Cf. also Biblical Archaeology Review Nov-Dec. 1992, pp. 60-65).
2)The Pierced Messiah text: 4Q285 (Eisenman and Wise pp. 24-29):
This text does not use the word Messiah at all, but Eisenman and Wise assume that the word nasi, leader, means the same. Perhaps so. This text is the one on which many commentators, including Eisenman and Wise, place most weight for a connection to Christianity. But the trouble is that the text is very ambiguous, as all admit (Eisenman and Wise pp. 24-27).
The translation is a problem for two reasons: a) Does the fragment 7 in which it comes belong after fragment 6? (cf. comments on misjoins above). If so probably the nasi is put to death. But if the fragment 6 really belongs after fragment 7, then the nasi would be putting someone else to death. Eisenman and Wise admit both possibilities: p. 24. b)The key verb is in Hebrew hmytw. A problem is what vowels to add? It could be read as hemitu (hiphil perfect third plural), and would then indicate that they executed the nasi. But it could be read as hemito (third singular) - then the nasi would kill another male person. [Some scholars claim the vowels should be hamito not hemito: Biblical Archaeology Review Nov-Dec. 1992, p. 58, note **. Cf. also the report on a seminar by G. Vermes on this text, reported in Biblical Archaeology Review, July-Aug, 1992, pp. 80-82, and Biblical Archaeology Review, Nov-Dec. 1992, p. 58]. COMMENTS: No matter which way one reads the text, piercing or pierced, there is no problem for Christianity. A belief that a leader, probably the messiah, was killed or killed anotherneither onewould not be so significant. We wonder what scholarship it is to rest a case against Christianity on so slender a reed. Geza Vermes (Biblical Archaeology Review Nov. Dec. 1992, p. 59) comments that the view of Eisenman and Wise along with Tabor, "would lead to an interpretation otherwise unparalleled at Qumran" We comment: What of it in any case? No problem at all for the origin of Christianity.
3) Works-Righteousness Texts, Eisenman and Wise pp. 180-200, 212-220: 4A394-98, 397-99, 266: These three texts speak of justification by workswhich Eisenman and Wise claim is the mirror image of what Paul teaches. Really, Paul only seems opposite he is not really opposite to James, if properly understood. Cf. Romans 2:6-13: "He will repay each on according to his works. . . not the hearers of the law will be just, but the doers of the law will be just."[Cf. next paragraph below]Nor is there real support for the claim of Eisenman and Wise that the Qumran community is the same as that of James the Just, or at least, that the latter sprang from Qumran, and so Christianity is not at all original, and Jesus is no different!
But it is time to come to the essential flaw in the work on Eisenman and Wise: The basic trouble is that they have bought the tragic mistake of Martin Luther, who thought Paul meant we can violate the law freely with impunity. So Eisenman and Wise call Paul's thought "antinomian" (p. 10).
Luther really was antinomian, Paul was not: Cf. Luther's Epistle of August 1 1521 (Luther's Works, American Edition 48. 282: "Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. . . . No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day."
This is really contrary to Paul as well as to James. In 1 Cor 6:9-10 Paul enumerates the chief great sins and sinners: "No fornicators, idolaters, or adulterers, no sodomites, or those who lie with males, no thieves, misers or drunkards, no slanderers or robbers will inherit God's kingdom." After a similar list in Galatians 5:19-22 Paul says, "those who does such things will not inherit the kingdom of God." Luther of course wanted to say that if we once have faith, and so take Christ as our personal Savior, then these lines of Paul do not apply. The trouble is that Luther did not study to see what S. Paul meant by the word faith , he merely jumped to the conclusion that it meant confidence the merits of Christ apply to him. But even the Protestant Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (Supplement, p. 333) knows Paul demands obedience in Rom 1:5, which the IDB explains as "the obedience that is faith". Similarly the standard reference, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, in the article on saved, salvation, does not even mention the foolish error of "infallible salvation. "It has no intellectual support at all! We underlined the word inherit. We are children of the Father. Children as such have a claim to inherit. They do not think they have earned that inheritance, yet know they could instead earn punishment, even disinheritance. This is in accord with the constant words of Jesus saying that God is our Father. And He also said (Mt. 18:3) "Unless you change and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." So Paul is fully in accord with Jesus. The Judaizers had said in effect: Jesus is not enough, you need the law too. Paul reacted by saying: "You are free from the law". But he meant only that keeping the law does not earn salvation, even though violations can earn punishment, as Paul said in the texts of 1 Cor and Gal cited above. Cf. also Romans 5:23: "The wages of sin [ what one earns] is death, the free gift of God [unearned] is eternal life." In 1 Cor 9:27 Paul said: "I chastis