The new light shed by the Dead Sea Scrolls on the New Testament give us ground for believing that Christianity - or more accurately, Pauline Christianity - was the result of a successful power struggle waged by Paul against the sect known among other names as 'Keepers of the Covenant', 'Congregation of the Poor', and 'Ebionites'. Its leader, as we already saw, was James, known as the 'Righteous'. Jesus was, at best, peripheral to this movement and the struggle, while James was its real leader. Over the centuries, the importance of James was gradually diminished by Christian writers until he came to be known simply as the 'Lord's brother'. Jesus became all-important - presented as the source from which Christianity sprang.
This is a radically new interpretation that follows from the research of modern Biblical scholars and historians, of Robert Eisenman in particular; it is no doubt an oversimplification of a more complex process. But whether or not this reading will prove to be correct in every detail, there can be little doubt that the study of the
Dead Sea Scrolls - especially following their release to the public - has sounded the death knell of the orthodox position of Christianity. Let us next examine where the orthodox position on Christianity stands, and what the Scrolls have to say about it, beginning with the light which the early sources shed on Jesus, James and Paul.
A useful point to note is that unlike Jesus, James and other members of the early Church who were steeped in religious duties and concerns, Paul was a man wise to the ways of the largely secular Graeco-Roman world. He was Saul of Tarsus born into a wealthy Hellenised Jewish family and a Roman citizen - in short, a child of privilege. He possessed rights and connections that his co-religionists living in their cloistered communities in Jerusalem and Qumran could scarcely dream about. The Acts of the Apostles, of which Paul may be regarded the hero, shows him to have enjoyed the friendship of high Roman officials. As we already saw, Eisenman's research suggests that he was actually a Roman agent; as we explore further, we shall see that this has a high degree of probability. At this time, however, it is sufficient for us to note that Paul and the members of the early Church came from backgrounds that were worlds apart.
The orthodox position of Christianity has always been that Saul of Tarsus - later St Paul - took the message of Jesus Christ and spread it far and wide. An essential part of the governing ethos of Christianity is that Christ and his message were so radical that they posed a threat to the Jewish orthodoxy of his time. For this reason, we are told, the Jews engineered a coup against Jesus, eventually succeeding in eliminating him. This is the central myth of Christianity for which the Jews have been made to pay a terrible price.
But history, and now the Scrolls, do not support this fable of Christianity saddling the Jews with the crime of deicide. We have already seen that Christ saw himself not as the propounder of a new doctrine but as a staunch upholder of the old Law and the prophets. He was an ultra-orthodox Jew himself. Here is the famous passage again:
Think not that I am come to destroy the Law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy but to fulfill.
For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the Law, till all be fulfilled.
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in Ihe kingdom of heaven. Matthew, 5. 17-19.
These are the words of the Jesus of the Zealot tradition - a fundamentalist Jew with 'zeal for the Law' in the mould of Mattathias Maccabaeus. The Qumran text known as the 'Community Rule' echoes the same sentiment: "Do what is good and right before Him, as He commanded by the hand of Moses and all His servants the Prophets... Let him then order his steps to walk perfectly in all the ways commanded by God, ...straying neither to right nor to left... "50
This finds an echo in another recently published Qumran text called 'Admonitions to the Sons of Dawn': "Walking in perfection in all the Ways of God, which He
50 Gela Vermes. The Dead Sea Scrolls in English. London, Penguin, 1973. pp. 72 & 75. The slight difference in wording between the two is attributable to the fact that they are born translations, but separated by nearly four centuries. Also, the New Testament was composed in Greek while most of the Qumran texts are in Aramaic and Hebrew. Both in spirit and imagery the Qumran texts and the Gospel of Matthew are strikingly similar. This has been acknowledged by scholars like John Allegro and Father Emile Puech, both familiar with Qumran texts in the original.
commanded... and not straying either right or left, not treading on even one of His words." (Eisenman and Wise, p 163; original emphasis.)
Qumranian origins of the Gospels are obvious. But Paul, the urbane cosmopolitan citizen of the Roman Empire is altogether a different creature from the inhabitants of the closed community of Qumran with their 'zeal for the Law'. More Roman than Jewish, his vision is largely secular and expansionist. Not for him the anguish and sufferings in the name of the Law and the prophets. To his expansionist vision the stern and uncompromising Law of Moses held little attraction. He saw Jesus as being "cursed by the Law." (Galatians, 3.4) He wanted a simpler doctrine that would find wide acceptance, especially among the Gentiles. For this purpose he coined the doctrine of Faith in Jesus practically repudiating the Law and the prophets. Here is Paul:
Therefore by the deeds of the Law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the Law is the knowledge of sin.
But now the righteousness of God without the Law is manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the prophets;
Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference. Romam 3. 20-22.
According to Paul, faith in Jesus Christ is good enough as 'righteousness of God without the law is manifested' through Jesus. And this theme is taken further and stated more explicitly in Galatians.
Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we may be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the Law: for by the works of the Law shall no works be justified. (Emphasis added) Galatians 2. 16.
In this Paul essentially overthrows 'the Law' - all-important to Jesus (and the early Christians) - replacing it with his doctrine of Faith. As Paul sees it, "If Righteousness is through the Law, then Christ died for nothing." (Galatiam, 2.21) If anyone was a revolutionary, it was Paul not Jesus. And he even makes Jesus agree with him by putting the following words in his mouth:
My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.
The contrast between Jesus and Paul is indeed striking. Between "Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the prophets; I am not come to destroy but to fulfil" of Jesus, and "we may be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the Law" of Paul lies a whole universe - a universe animated by the ambition of Paul inspired by the example of the expansionist Roman Empire. Verily, Jesus was no revolutionary - if there was one it was Paul.
How are we to account for it - this great chasm between the word of Jesus of the Gospels and the vision of Paul claiming to be his apostle - his 'chosen vessel' as the Bible puts it? The only logical explanation is that Paul had embarked on his own program of expansion in the name of Jesus and Christ. He had taken the name of the essentially inward-looking puritanical sect of messianic (or 'Christian') expectations, and used it to launch an outward-looking expansionist ideology. In the process he jettisoned the all-important Law of Moses and replaced it with a much simpler doctrine of Faith in Jesus that he could more easily sell to a larger audience, especially the Gentiles.
This of course is something that the Jews of Qumran - the real companions of Jesus 'who burned with zeal for the Law' - would never accept. Paul's expansionist vision was more Roman than Jewish, and this brought him into immediate and violent conflict with the Qumran community. This becomes clear upon studying the Acts of Apostles alongside the Qumran texts.
Central to the new theology of Paul is Faith in Jesus, which disregards the Law and is even opposed to it. James, as the leader of the early Church of Jerusalem (and the Qumranians) would not tolerate this heretical position. For according to James "a man was justified by the works" and "faith without works is dead." (James 2.20-4) 'Works' here refers to the works of the Law. In opposition, Paul and his successors set up Jesus - said to be a Christ or Messiah - in whose faith the world was to be redeemed without the Law.
Who was this Jesus that Paul invoked, placing in his mouth words that were contrary to the beliefs of the sect from which he came? And what is the position of Jesus in history? To see this we need briefly to review the classical sources and the early Church histories.
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