Herod, though a practising Jew, was of Arab descent from both his parents. Being as concerned about his dynastic legitimacy as any of his Jewish subjects, he married a Maccabean princess in order to strengthen his position as their ruler. But once he felt secure enough, he murdered his wife along with her brother and others of their line, effectively extinguishing the Maccabean line. He then proceeded to remove the priesthood from the hold of the old families and replaced them with his own favorites.
Through these effective if ruthless methods, Herod created a new privileged class loyal to himself and to his Roman masters. This upstart elite, enjoying the luxuries of their new-found positions had no concept of the sanctity of the Law nor much sensitivity to the feelings of the traditional Jewish subjects. In place of the Maccabeans with their uncompromising 'zeal for the Law', the Jews of Palestine had come under the rule of a pleasure-loving monarch and a corrupt and indolent priesthood ultimately beholden to the pagan rulers of Rome. And towards the end of his life Herod went mad.
Following Herod's death in 4 BC, his kingdom was divided between his son and grandsons known collectively as the Herodians. His actual successor in Palestine was his son Herod Antipas who was given a somewhat reduced portion of his father's kingdom. A crisis of sorts erupted when Antipas divorced his Nabataean wife and married Herodias - the former wife of his half brother. This further alienated his Jewish subjects, already opposed to the rule of Herod and his successors. When John the Baptist harshly censured Antipas for what was perceived in orthodox circles as an incestuous marriage, Herodias and her daughter Salome prevailed upon Antipas to have John imprisoned and later executed. According to the Bible, when Jesus was arrested in Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator of Judaea, sent him first to Antipas because Jesus came from territory under his jurisdiction. But Antipas, with the blood of the Baptist already on his hands, was reluctant to alienate his Jewish subjects further and sent Jesus back to Pilate.
This has an interesting connection with one of the texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls known as the Temple Scroll. The Jewish Law, as is well known, rests on the first five books of the Old Testament - namely, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The Temple Scroll is closely related to these law books and forms almost an appendix to them. Interestingly, it forbids marriage between a Jewish king and his niece - something not found in the five books of the Old Testament.
The same prohibition is found however in another of the Scrolls texts known as the 'Damascus Document'. As Eisenman and Wise observe (p 188):
The second [proscription], most probably to the Herodian family, as no other group before them can be demonstrably so identified. Niece marriage was a practice the Herodians indulged in habitually as a matter seemingly of family policy.
This is highly significant for this prohibition seems to have been directed specifically against Herod and his dynasty. Uncle-niece marriages were common among them. Herodias married two of her uncles in succession. It was this practice that was condemned by John the Baptist which led to his imprisonment and execution at Salome's instigation. From all this we may conclude that some parts at least of both the Temple Scroll and the Damascus Document date from the period of Herod and the Herodians, that is to say, the beginning of Christianity. This contradicts the position of the International Team and the Church which place all the Scrolls at least a century earlier. Through this device they have sought to negate the
The fast and loose lifestyle under Herod and his successors again provoked the inevitable orthodox reaction among the Jews of Palestine - those with 'zeal for the Law'. The priests installed by Herod are commonly known as the Sadducees; their orthodox adversaries are called Zealots by the great first century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. In the Qumran literature, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, they are often referred to as Zadokites. The Bible refers to them as the Nazorenes or Nazoreans. These, as we shall see later, were the early Christians - who saw themselves as the pristinely pure upholders of the age-old Law of Moses against the corrupting innuences of Herod and Rome.
Jesus Christ was one of them - a Nazorene.44 That is to say, he saw himself as an orthodox Jew sworn to uphold 'the Law and the prophets' against the corrupting Roman and Herodian influences. For this reason, it would be reasonable to hold the followers of Mattathias Maccabaeus and not Jesus to be the founders of early Christianity; the two sects, the Zealots and the early Christians were practically one and the same. 'Christian' simply means 'Messianic' which applies to the Qumranians who awaited the arrival of a Messiah. This predates Jesus by more than a century.
This is a necessarily simplified description of the bewilderingly complex sectarian world at the time of the birth of Christianity. To see the problem, within the Saducees themselves, scholars identify two groups in the Herodian period - the 'establishment' Saducees and their opponents, the 'Messianic' Saducees. To these we must also add the 'purist' or the Hasmonean Saducees. And we have not yet begun to enumerate the Pharisees. The need for simplification is obvious.
The Scrolls, as we shall see later, tell us the same story - that the early Church to which Jesus belonged was an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect. This is one of the great discoveries to come out of the Dead Sea Scrolls, one that the Church and its institutions like the Ecole Biblique are trying desperately to negate. Seen in this light, Jesus was an orthodox Jew and not any reformer or radical who led a revolution against the orthodoxy. This is also consistent with much of what is found attributed to him in the Gospels. Otherwise what could possibly make a supposed revolutionary like Jesus want to say:
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 the kingdom of heaven. Matthew, 5. 17-19.
These are the words of a traditionalist - not a revolutionary. Jesus saw himself as one in a line bent on upholding the Law and the prophets. Once we recognize these as the words of a man concerned with preserving traditions from corrupting influences, the passage becomes entirely coherent. As we shall see later, the words and style are strikingly similar to those found in the Qumran literature, again
43 Qumranians may be defined as the people responsible for the creation of the Dead Sea Scrolls. I follow the standard convention of using the terms 'Qumran text' and 'text belonging to the Dead Sea Scrolls' as being synonymous. The term 'Scrolls' always refers to the Dead Sea Scrolls.
44 Jesus of Nazareth is almost certainly a corruption of Jesus the Nazarene - one 'zealous for the Law'. Nazareth, celebrated today as his birthplace probably did not come into existence until much later and has nothing to do with Jesus. This is of course assuming Jesus was a historical figure.
indicating that Jesus was part of a long tradition and not a break from it. They also tell us that the authors of the Gospels borrowed heavily from the Qumran texts.
Jesus went further, threatening civil war pitting father against son, but this too was part of the same tradition; he was being no different from Mattathias who had waged war against the occupiers and their collaborators. This again becomes perfectly understandable when we recognize that both Jesus and John the Baptist had repeatedly inveighed against the corrupting innuences of the Romans and the Herodians - innuences that had no doubt come to cast a spell on many of their people. All this stemmed from their concerns about preserving the purity of the Jewish religion and its practices. Here is the famous passage from Matthew:
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.
And he that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
Matthew 10. 34-37. (emphasis added)
This can certainly be read to mean incitement to rebellion. The most logical explanation is that Jesus, who was a conservative in tradition with 'zeal for the Law', was exhorting his followers to be ready to rise up and fight in defence of the Law and the prophets. The same idea - of rebellion against the ruling authority is found in the last book of the Bible known as the Revelations of Jesus Christ, sometimes called the Apocalypse. In other words he was a militant Zealot prepared to instigate rebellion and civil war. (And this too receives support from the Scrolls as we shall see later.)
The Qumran settlement where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered was part of the Zealot stronghold. Its occupants exerted considerable influence over the affairs of Jerusalem and the Temple. This is the historical background supplied by the Scrolls which has helped Biblical scholars arrive at a picture of the first century of Christianity - a picture that is at once more vivid and coherent. It is also a picture that is quite different from the one which followers of Christianity are familiar with.
This is not altogether a new idea - that there is wide difference between the Christ of Christianity and Jesus of history. More than one scholar has found the two to be so divergent leading some to deny the existence of a historical Jesus. This may not be entirely warranted; what is needed is a change in perspective regarding the origins of Christianity and the message and personality of Jesus. It will become increasingly apparent that, if Jesus is historical, he and the sect to which he belonged were nothing like what the Church has been telling its followers.
The main point is: the picture of the origins of Christianity emerging from a combined study of the Bible and the Qumran literature is contrary to the orthodox view which holds the Qumran people - often referred to as the Essenes - to have been pacifists and recluses having little to do with the rise of Christianity. The Scrolls on the other hand tell us that they were militant Zealots. This is not merely an academic issue as we shall soon see: it changes the whole character of Christianity as a religious movement. It makes it no less a militant political movement than a religious one. The Jewish Wars were very much a part of the early history of Christianity.
The picture of the Qumran people as recluses uninvolved in worldly affairs is the one propagated by Church authorities and the International Team led by Father de
Vaux; it is of course part of the official Catholic position. The Catholic Encyclopaedia says of the Essenes:
There have been many unsubstantiated hypotheses about their [the Essenes'] influence on Christianity. The Dead Sea Scrolls, however, show grounds for suspecting considerable indirect influence, which does nothing to destroy the originality of Christianity.
The Catholic Encyclopaedia could hardly say otherwise; it could hardly go on to admit that the Scrolls do cast doubts on the originality of Christianity, not to mention the uniqueness of Jesus. This too should be seen as part of the effort to render the Scrolls harmless and preserve the orthodox Christian position now being seriously shaken by new discoveries. But the Scrolls do not permit such a simple, not to say simplistic interpretation of the Qumranians; they cannot be banished from the scene as a community peripheral to the evolution of Christianity. Recognizing this, the International Team of the Ecole Biblique has gone to great lengths to suppress most of this information. Their first line of defence has been the denial of access to the Scrolls. This of course has been rendered moot - thanks to the efforts of Eisenman.
When examined against the background of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the picture we get is quite different from the official version. The Scrolls tell us that the Qumran people played a major role in the Jewish War of AD 66-74, and may even have been the cause of it. Far from being pacifists, these men were militant Zealots - 'who burned with zeal for the Law', and prepared to fight in its defence.
This, of course upsets the orthodox view, which treats them as pacifist recluses -not militant warriors involved in secular affairs of the state. This is what the Vatican and its related institutions like the Ecole Biblique have tried to keep under the lid. We shall be taking a more detailed look at the Qumranians in due course, but first it is necessary to understand what the Dead Sea Scrolls do have to say about early Christianity.
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