Message of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Dead Sea Scrolls research is an involved subject, but its central message may be summarized as follows. The contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls challenge the two most fundamenlal beliefs of Christianity: the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, and Christianity as the embodiment of the message of Christ. Both these are put in jeopardy by the Qumran material. First, they show that the message of Jesus did not originate with him, and he was also not unique; he was at most one of several known as 'Teachers of Righteousness' that were part of an ultra-conservative messianic Jewish movement based in Qumran going back at least a hundred years before the birth of Jesus. Many of the practices that we now regard as Christian innovations - like the Lord's Prayer and the Lord's Supper - can be traced to the Qumranians, also going back to a century before the birth of Christ. And secondly, Christianity as we know today is really a creation of St Paul, having little to do with Jesus or his message. In many ways, the two versions - early Christianity of Jerusalem and Pauline Christianity that followed it - stand in opposition to each other.

It is well known and widely recognized that the real founder of Christianity as a world religion was Saul of Tarsus later known as St Paul. It is the position of the Church that Paul took the message of Jesus and carried it far and wide. According to this, Paul was no more than the emissary of Jesus - the only Son of God. The new twist introduced by the Dead Sea Scrolls is that Jesus had little to do with what passes for his teachings. The main conclusion that follows from the Dead Sea Scrolls is: Christianity as we know it today is rooted not in the message of Jesus Christ, but in the expansionist ideology of St Paul who laid the foundations of Christian imperialism while invoking the name of Jesus. Seen in this light, Pauline Christianity was but a theocracy modelled on the Roman Empire; its foundations were laid by Paul, the influential Roman citizen and not Jesus the orthodox Jew.

According to some scholars, even the existence of Jesus, as a historical figure, is brought into question by the Scrolls. John Allegro, who, as a member of the International Team had examined the Scrolls in the original wrote:8

My own opinion is that the scrolls prompt us increasingly to seek an eschatological meaning for most of Jesus' reported sayings: more and more become intelligible when viewed in the light of the imminent cataclysms of Qumran expectations, and the inner conflicts in men's hearts as the time grew near.

As far as details in the New Testament record of Jesus' life are concerned, I would suggest that the scrolls give added ground for believing that many incidents are merely projections into Jesus' own history of what was expected of the Messiah.

In other words, the Qumran texts leave ground for believing that Jesus was no more than the personification of the messianic expectations of the era and of the sect in question. This does not necessarily mean that Jesus Christ never existed as a historical person, but only that he came to be given the attributes of the Messiah who was expected to appear. That is to say, Jesus the Messiah was nothing like the

8 John Allegro, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Reappraisal, (Second edition), London, Penguin Books, 1990. p. 175.

Historical Jesus.9

This, as one can see, changes the whole complexion of Christianity as commonly seen and understood. In the light of this, the conduct of the scholars of Ecole Biblique like Father de Vaux becomes entirely understandable. The Scrolls deliver a severe blow to their whole position, beginning with the message of Jesus and the actual role played by Paul in early Christianity. They tell us, among other things, that Jesus, if historical, was an ultra-orthodox Jew whose main concern was the preservation of Jewish beliefs and practices then under assault from the liberalizing forces of the largely secular Graeco-Roman world. The 'early Church' was essentially an ultra-conservative Jewish sect ranged against these liberalizing influences. In due course, Paul's heresy grew into the theocratic world empire that we now call Christianity. In their pioneering work Eisenman and Wise put it this way (p. 10):

We cannot really speak of a 'Christianity' per se in Palestine in the first century. The word was only coined [by Paul], as Acts II :26 makes clear, to describe a situation in Antioch in Syria in the fifties of the present era. Later it was used to describe a large portion of the overseas world that became 'Christian', but this Christianity was completely different from the movement we have before us - well not completely.

Both movements used the same vocabulary, the same scriptural passages as proof texts, similar conceptual contexts; but the one can be characterised as the mirror reversal of the other. While the Palestinian one was zealot, nationalistic, engage, xenophobic, and apocalyptic; the overseas one was cosmopolitan, antinomian, pacifistic - in a word 'Paulinized'. Equally, we may refer to the first as Jamesian...

This crucial difference will become increasingly clear in later chapters. Nonetheless it is an interesting insight - that the early history of the Church can be seen as a conflict between the Jamesian orthodoxy and Pauline heterodoxy. Paul engineered a split within the early Church by introducing his own Doctrine of Faith in opposition to the Jewish Law favored by James (known as the 'Lord's brother') and other members of the early Church. No less remarkable is the fact that even this Doctrine of Faith -the crown jewel of Christianity - is a Qumranian inheritance. It is found in a Qumran text known as the 'Habakkuk Commentary' and some others. Paul lifted this message right out of the Habakkuk Commentary during his three year sojourn in Qumran, but did away with the all-important Law of Moses. This was to have momentous consequences for history as we shall see in Chapter 4 where it is discussed in some detail. What all this means is that there may not be much that can be called original in Christianity.

Put another way: Paul took a heretical movement from within the essentially inward looking Judaism of his day, and turned it into an expansionist ideology modeled on Imperial Rome while calling it a religion after the name of Jesus. This is the essence of theocracy: the pursuit of political and economic power in the name of God. And Christianity has undoubtedly been the most successful theocracy in history

9 In this chapter and throughout the book I shall be treating Jesus Christ as an historical figure. The historicity of Jesus is a vexing question and scholars are by no means agreed that he did exist. Even if he did exist, he was nothing like the man described in the Gospels. I shall on occasion point out the implications of new materials on his historicity, but the book is not concerned with the problem except peripherally.

- even more than Islam.

There is also evidence to show that this hijacking of their movement in the name of Jesus by Paul in pursuit of his own ideology was opposed by members of the early Church - by Jesus' brother, James, in particular. It emerges from the Qumran literature (and other early sources) that James was a much more important figure at the time than what Paul and other leaders of Christianity have been willing to acknowledge. James is mentioned in several early sources as the leader of the early Church of Jerusalem, whereas Jesus is not known in any reliable early record outside the New Testament: the few references that exist can easily be shown to be later forgeries. (See Chapter 4.) The doctrinal struggle in early Christianity was between Paul and James, with James holding out for the conservative Jewish tradition - the tradition to which Jesus himself belonged. This is what Eisenman and White imply in the passage quoted earlier. Recognizing this fact - of the conflict between Jamesian orthodoxy and Pauline heterodoxy - holds the key to understanding the history of Christianity.

It is helpful also to bear in mind the following facts: first, unlike James and some other early figures of Christianity, Paul did not know Jesus personally. Next, Paul was a privileged Roman citizen who enjoyed the friendship and patronage of Roman authorities at the highest levels of the empire. This fact raises some intriguing questions about the role actually played by Paul: it suggests that he was much more of a politician than a religious figure. This too is entirely in keeping with a theocratic movement. A theocracy succeeds not because of its message but due to the political skill of its leaders.

It follows also from the Scrolls that early Christianity, which began as a movement within orthodox Judaism, was more a political power struggle with the ruling authorities than a dispute about the divinity of Christ or his message. The Scrolls (and other early sources) indicate that Jesus Christ was not regarded as divine by his contemporaries - hardly surprising, for the idea of any human as God was abhorrent to the Jews. The idea of Jesus as a divine figure was the brainchild of Paul - to be used as a vehicle in propagating his own expansionist theocratic ideology. It received its final shape at the Council of Nicea in AD 325 where Emperor Constantine put pressure on the assembled bishops to gain firm control over the Christians. (Chapter 8)

Ultimately this power struggle between Paul and James was part of a larger political and religious struggle between Jewish nationalists known as the Zealots, and the High Priest of the Temple and his followers who were Roman puppets. These rivalries erupted in a major uprising in AD 66 that ended only with the defeat of the Jews and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in the Jewish War of AD 6674. What this means is that Christianity was a violent political movement right from the start. In this regard its history was not much different from that of Islam.

In order to understand the rise of Christianity and the implications of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it is necessary to have some idea of the political conditions in Palestine at the time when it was a province of the Roman Empire. This, no less than the doctrinal differences between various Jewish sects, or the message of Jesus, was what ultimately determined the course of Christianity.

Upon examining these struggles against the background of prevailing political conditions, it can be said that Paul - an influential Roman citizen - appropriated a Jewish movement and turned it into an expansionist theocracy by 'Romanising' it. It was Paul the Roman and not Paul the Jewish disciple of Jesus who created Christianity as we know it. His expansionist vision was the result of his knowledge of Rome as an imperial entity. Seen in this light, Christianity has been but a theocratic version of the Roman Empire. This also helps explain why the Popes have always acted more like Caesars than religious figures - concerned more about politics and economics than the world of the spirit.

This of course is a view that Church authorities can never afford to concede. John Marco Allegro, one of the few scholars with first hand knowledge of the Scrolls wrote (Harper's Magazine, August 1969):

The scholars [of the International Team] appear to have held back from making discoveries which, there is evidence to believe, may upset a great many Christian theologians and believers. The heart of the matter is, in fact, the source and originality of Christian doctrine. (Emphasis added.)

We shall be meeting Allegro again, for, as a member of the International Team until Father de Vaux booted him out, his research provides a unique perspective on the Scrolls as well as a rare glimpse into the mindset and methods of the International Team. However, his statement gets to the heart of the crisis confronting the Church: the uniqueness and the originality of Christianity, the full implications of which will be examined in Chapters 3 and 4.

Again, to summarize the great theological dilemma faced by the Church following the discovery of the Scrolls: first, Jesus Christ (if historical) was not unique, and secondly, Christianity has little to do with the message of Christ or the sect to which he belonged. For nearly two thousand years, what the Church has propagated as 'history' has been an elaborately constructed mythology intended to support its doctrine and the theocratic empire built upon it. The source for much of this later mythology was the Jewish tradition preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls, going back at least a century before the birth of Christ. It is therefore hardly surprising that Catholic scholars who controlled access to the Scrolls should have done everything possible to suppress their evidence and mislead the public. What the Scrolls have to say truly leaves their institution with shattered foundations. Recognizing the seriousness of the crisis, the Church is looking to Asia to make good its losses in Europe. This now may be seen as its main goal.

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  • otis
    What message does the dead sea scrolls give us?
    2 years ago
  • Kacey
    What is it that the war message of the dead sea scrolls says about the belief of Jewish sects?
    2 years ago
  • fabiola
    Did the dead sea scrolls say jesus never existed?
    12 months ago

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