30 May 2011

The Scrolls and the Christian Origin Theory

In the previous post we have seen how many different interpretations have been developed about the Scrolls origin. In this post we are going to analyse the Christian origin theory according to which, there is a specific relation between the Scrolls and the beginning  of Christianity.
If proved, this theory could change many certainties we have about the history of Christianity, including the historical time of his origin.
As we have seen in previous posts there are many books of the Old Testament present in the Scrolls, but no one about the New Testament. Therefore, no Gospel and no Apostles Letters.  

The Messiah

The word “Jesus” is never mentioned in the texts, as is never mentioned in any other document of the first Century. But as Florida International University scholar Erik Larson has noted, the scrolls have "helped us understand better in what ways Jesus' messages represented ideas that were current in the Judaism of his time and in what ways they were distinctive." One scroll, for example, mentions a messianic figure who is called both the "Son of God" and the "Son of the Most High." Many theologians had speculated that the phrase "Son of God" was adopted by early Christians after Jesus' crucifixion, in contrast to the pagan worship of the Roman emperors. But the appearance of the phrase in the scrolls indicates the term was already in use when Jesus was preaching his gospel.
In the Scrolls is present instead the word Christ, from the Greek “Christos” that means “the anointed” (the elected) from the Hebraic word “Mashiah”.  
Michael Wise, Assistant Professor of Aramaic  in the Department of Near Eastern Languages at the University of Chicago and Robert Eisenman of the Department of Religious Studies at State University of California at Long Beach, tried to give an answer to this enigma.

The Conspiracy Theory
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.
For this reason some Scholars began to think that the content of these Scrolls had dangerous revelations about the Christianity and for that they were keep under censorship by the Vatican.
 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.
John Allegro, member of the Scroll Team, wrote a letter to  John Strugnell, at the time chief editor in charge of the scrolls, who was considering becoming Catholic saying: "By the time I've finished there won't be any Church left for you to join". 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.
Not only,  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."
This case is similar to another attempt to discredit the Catholic Church: The “Da Vinci Code” book. It’s enough to invent strange hypothesis, usually with no evidence, and with the intention of giving the idea that the Church has  cheated you all this years, to sell millions of books and to earn a fortune.
Here I found a rare interview of former editor in Chief Prof John Strugnell and Fr O’connors  that openly declare that The Vatican is not afraid and has not reason to stop any archaeological research.

The Conspiracy Theory was clearly false, let us go back to our investigation about connections between the Scrolls and the Christianity.

Scholar studing the Scrolls

The Theory of Eisenman and Wise is based on three exhibits:
1)      They compare the text found in the scrolls (4Q521) “The Messiah of Heaven and Earth” with   lines 8 & 12 to the NT passage which cites Isaiah 61:1 "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted”.
My opinion about these thought is: It’s true that 4Q521 and the gospel are similar, but both comes from a common source which is Isaiah 61. Book that has been wrote before Christianity.

2)      The Pierced Messiah text: 4Q285
This text does not use the word Messiah at all, but Eisenman and Wise assume that the word nasi, leader, means the same. But the trouble is that this text is very ambiguous, as all admit.
In fact in Hebrew only the consonants are written, not the vowels. According to the vowels you add, you can change the meaning of the word. In this case the sentence could be “they executed the nasi”  (The pierced Messiah) or  “the nasi would kill another male person”.
Even considering this Hypothesis, I think we don’t have enough evidences to reconsider the Christianity origin. Too many possible interpretations and doubts about the translation.
3)      Works-Righteousness Texts: These three texts speak of justification by works, which Eisenman and Wise claim is the mirror image of what Paul teaches.
Because Paul says  “He will repay each on according to his works” and seems that the justification comes only from the works and not from the Grace.  But Paul is fully in accord with Jesus. In fact  when the Judaizers said: “Jesus is not enough, you need the law too”. Paul reacted by saying: "You are free from the law". He meant that keeping the law does not earn salvation,  but you need  the Grace of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Which is not mentioned in the Works-Righteousness text.
At the end many Scholars arrived to the conclusion that there is nothing in the scrolls to show Christianity came from Qumran or even is closely identical with it.


       Thy thora is emet 2010, Hebrew language study resources, viewed 24 May 2011,

      Isrealarchaeology 2010, The Dead Sea Scrolls Conspiracy Theory, viewed 24 May 2011,
Most, W 1999, Dead sea scrolls: threat to Christianity?, Global Catholic Television Network  viewed 24 May 2011,
 Lawler, A 2010, 'Who wrote the dead sea scrolls?', Smithsonian, Vol.40 Issue 10, pp 40-47, Australia/New Zealand Reference, Ebscohost, viewed 24 May 2011.
'Christ' [image], digilander, viewed 24 May 2011,
'Scholar studing the Scrolls' [image], New shawker, viewed 24 May 2011,

For this post I searched using Databases, Libraries Australia, Ulrich, Web Search Engine and Ebscohost.

24 May 2011

Who wrote the Scrolls?

To find out the origin of the Scrolls, and most of all, who the authors of these ancient texts are,  is a fundamental issue for a complete understanding of  the Dead Sea Scrolls. 

No one has doubts about the authenticity of the Scrolls but many theories, hypothesis and interpretations arose throughout the years about their origins and  their authors.
If you  have the chance to visit Qumran, the place of the discovery, you will certainly notice that is a quiet, deserted and desolated area.  Instead for Risa Levitt Khon,   who curated an exhibit about the Dead Sea Scrolls in San Diego in 2007, Qumran is “an enigmatic and confusing site, a powder keg among normally placid scholars” and  it must be  true if you consider that Qumran has prompted bitter feuds and even a recent criminal investigation.
The reason of all these controversies among  scholars and archaeologists is found in the question of the authorship, that has implications for understanding the history of both Judaism and Christianity.

The Essene Theory
It is important now to give an historical view  to our research.
In the 164 B.C. a group of Jewish dissidents, the Maccabees, overthrew the Seleucid Empire that ruled Judea. The Maccabees established an independent kingdom and, in so doing, tossed out the priestly class that had controlled the temple in Jerusalem since the time of King Solomon. 

Lawrence H. Schiffman
Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies
In relation of this event, the theory of New York University professor of Jewish and Hebraic studies Lawrence Schiffman  is that the Scrolls were written by one of the many rival sects, which were fighting against Maccabees dominance. Schiffman affirms: “While some sects were accommodating themselves to the new order in various ways, the Dead Sea group decided it had to leave Jerusalem altogether in order to continue its unique way of life."

Many scholars identify this sect with the Essenes and James Charlesworth, a scrolls scholar at Princeton Theological Seminary declare: “the Scrolls disclose the context of Jesus' life and message and John the Baptizer probably learned from the Qumran Essenes, though he was no Essene”. 

Charlesworth supports this theory referring to the  beliefs and practices of the Qumran Essenes as described in the scrolls, vows of poverty, baptismal rituals and communal meals.
Here is the explanation of Essene Theory according National Geographic web site:

If we agree with Charlesworth a question immediately arises: Was Qumran centre  the first Christian monastery where the community was living according to the vows described into the Scrolls and after in the Gospel?
The conclusion of this historical mystery is not so simple.
In fact if the Essenes were the authors of the texts, why the word “Essene” is never mentioned in any of the Scrolls? And why some of them are written in sophisticated Greek rather than a prosaic form of Aramaic or Hebrew that would be expected from a community of ascetics in the Judean desert?

 The Sadducees Theory
Probably  the question of who wrote the scrolls, is more likely to be resolved by archaeologists scrutinizing Qumran's every physical remnant than by scholars poring over the texts.
In fact there is another important event that had a huge impact in the Jewhis History: The destruction of the Temple by the Romans.  The Jerusalem Temple for the Hebrews is more than a Synagogue, more than a place where people pray. It is the pride of the nation, the symbol of an entire culture, and to destroy  it, is the equivalent of destroying a people. After such catastrophe the Hebrews had no place where to gather, no identity, and they were spread everywhere.
Consequently one of the theories says that the scrolls did not originate at Qumran but some Judeans brought the scrolls there, in order to save them from the Roman’s fury, before  the destruction of the temple in A.D. 68.
Schiffman brings also the hypothesis of the Sadducees. A religious community of scribes based on Qumran. This could explain the variety of religious texts, and rejects the “Essene theory”.

Reasons of controversity
The Qumran controversy took a bizarre turn, when Golb's son, Raphael, was arrested on charges of identity theft, criminal impersonation and aggravated harassment. In a statement, the New York District Attorney's office says that Raphael "engaged in a systematic scheme on the Internet, using dozens of Internet aliases, in order to influence and affect debate on the Dead Sea Scrolls, and in order to harass Dead Sea Scrolls scholars" who disputed his father's findings. The alleged target was Golb's old rival, Schiffman.

Many scholars with many different theories fighting each other’s,  Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina said: “there are more interpretations than data” and Schiffman added: ”Popular books with new theories about Qumran sell” Even jurisdiction over Qumran is a source of contention. The site is located on the West Bank, where Palestinians and some Israeli archaeologists say that Peleg's excavations are illegal under international law.
The only thing that the adversaries seem to agree on is “Money is root of every problem”.  It must be written in some passages of the Scrolls!

'Risa Levitt Khon' [image], Royal Ontario Museum, viewed 23 May 2011, 
'Lawrence H. Schiffman' [image], The Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, viewed 23 May 2011, http://hebrewjudaic.as.nyu.edu/object/lawrenceschiffman.html>
Schiffman, LH 2006, The dead sea scrolls, Biblical Archealogy Society, Atlanta, GA.
Lawler, A 2010, 'Who wrote the dead sea scrolls?', Smithsonian, Vol.40 Issue 10, pp 40-47, Australia/New Zealand Reference, Ebscohost, viewed 24 May 2011.
Greyshark09 2009, National Geographic - Riddles of the Bible: Dead Sea Scrolls 1/5, viewed 23 May 2011,

For this blog I used Trove, Ebscohost, Articles, web search engines and books.
There are a lots of materials about the Dead Sea Scrolls, specially on the Internet the only issue I had is to find something trustable, authorized references. Therefore I based my research on Professors and theological Scholars works, and official website, such National Geographic web site. 


08 May 2011

The Discovery

We are in the year 1947, the place is a desolate land between the hills of the Judean desert and the flats of the north shore of the Dead Sea.  This place is called Qumran,  very close to Jerusalem, the heart of Israel.    This area is mostly populated by Bedouins, that according to their nomad culture, they move their villages looking for better pastures.

Muhammed "The Wolf"

Our men are the Bedouin   Muhammed edh-Dhib, called “The Wolf” and his cousin Jum’a Muhammed. In this winter day of the 1947 they are very agitated, per lustrating the area of Qumran. They have lost a goat, and for Bedouins to lose a goat means to lose food and richness. They are looking everywhere and Muhammed “The Wolf” decides to enter in an abandoned old cave, to check if the goat is hidden inside.
He couldn’t find the stray goat, but came back with an old jar. Never has the loss of a goat been so fruitful.
Inside the jar in fact, he found three ancient manuscripts, what we call today “The Dead Sea Scrolls”.He then returned to his nomad tent camp to show the discovery to the other Bedouins. He had in his hands the Complete Isaiah Scroll, the Manual of Discipline and the Habakkuk Commentary, one of   the oldest written documents in the history of mankind, since we can collocate them between 220 B.C. and 68 A.C.  Muhammed edh-Dhib,  “The Wolf”, had  no a complete  understanding of the sensational importance and value of the texts discovered. They tried to sell the scroll to the local market, and at the beginning they found difficulties in doing this as  dealers thought that the scrolls were been stolen from synagogues.  Probably Bedouins had a very bad reputation.

First negotations of the Scrolls
After several months they offered the Scrolls to Khalil Eskander Shahin, "Kando," a cobbler and part-time antiques dealer. Kando took a scroll for himself and was able to sell three of them to a dealer for the unbelievable prize of £7 GBP ($29 in 2003 US dollars)!!!!
Kando and the Bedouins went back to the discovery site and they found other scrolls in 11 different caves. At this point someone realised the priceless value of these manuscripts. The Metropolitan Bishop of the Syrian Orthodox Church wanted to examine them and, understanding their antiquity, he managed to buy four of them:  Isaiah Scroll, the Community Rule, the Habakkuk Pesher (a commentary on the book of Habakkuk), and the Genesis Apocryphon.
Other three rolls soon appeared in the antiquates market and Israeli archaeologists at Hebrew University, Professor Eleazer Sukenik and Professor Benjamin Mazar, were able to purchase them.

At this stage the entire world has understood the immense value of the Scrolls. The University of California did analyse the Scroll with sophisticated tests and  attested their  authenticity. Many organizations and museums  wanted to buy them, trying to reunite the collection by purchasing them  from the different owners, but no one  succeeded. Now the price went up dramatically and it was even difficult to estimate them.

"Scrolls on Sale"
On the 1st of June 1954, the Wall Street Journal of New York had a very unusual advertisement: “Dead Sea Scrolls on sale”! After a month, and most of all, after a delicate negotiation, they were sold for  US$250,000 ($2.04 million in present-day terms). The buyers were Prof. Mazar and the son of Prof. Sukenik Yigael Yadin and they brought the Scrolls to Jerusalem, where they were on display at the Rockefeller Museum. After the Six-Day War, they were moved to the Shrine of the Book, where you can find them today.

Davies, PR, Dead Sea Scrolls, Encyclopaedia Britannica, viewed 6 May 2011,
Learn more about the Dead Sea Scrolls, All about Archaeology, viewed 7 May 2011,  <http://www.allaboutarchaeology.org/qumran-caves-faq.htm>
The Discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, West Semitic Research Project, viewed 7 May 2011,
‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ 2011, Wikipedia, viewed 6 May 2011,

Images Taken from “All About Archaeology”, published by AllAboutGOD.com Ministries, M. Houdmann, P. Matthews-Rose, R. Niles, editors, 2002-2011. Used by permission."
‘qumran-cave-1952-1’ [image], All about Archaeology, viewed 6 May 2001,