Sergey E. Rysev

 

The Dead Sea Scrolls as a Source on Palestine History of 1st Century CE


Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls there have passed more than 50 years but the question of their provenance is still far from its solution. There is hardly a hint of consensus among the scholars who deal with them. The dating of manuscripts ranges from the middle of 2nd century BCE to the time of the first Judaean revolt (66-73 CE). One of the difficulties the researchers deal lies in a very bad condition of the scrolls. The second and, perhaps, the main complexity consists in the fact that the names of almost all historical figures mentioned in the texts are hidden behind pseudonyms (Teacher of Righteousness, Wicked Priest, Man of Lies, Interpreter of the Law, Young Lion of Wrath, etc.). At that, the scholars dont want to realize one simple thing, namely: until they dont come to agreement on the persons behind these nicknames all their reasoning about the Qumran sect will be a kind of fruitless sophistication.


Since the early years of studying the texts most researches have held to the view that the works written by the sectarians proper (Rule of the Community, War Scroll, Commentaries, etc.) were created in 2nd or 1st centuries BCE. Only a small group of scholars (J. L. Teicher, C. Roth, G. Driver, B. Thiering, R. Eisenman and some others) have preferred a later dating. Among the hypotheses which relate the scrolls with 1st century CE the greatest attention - if not in scientific circles then at least in media - was given to the conception of Australian orientalist Barbara Thiering.


The most significant person found in the scrolls is the head of the community bearing the name of Teacher of Righteousness (moreh ha-zedeq). His identification with historical figures of 2nd and 1st centuries BCE has faced great difficulties. At the same time, many qumranologists acknowledge that there are many common points between this mans teaching as represented in the manuscripts and the preaching of John the Baptist. Barbara Thiering ventured to equate one of these men with the other. And she was not the first to do it. As early as in 1949, Austrian scholar Robert Eisler, known for his research of the Slavonic translation of Josephus Jewish War, indicated that Teacher of the Righteousness is John the Baptist (Rowley, p. 268-269; del Medico, p. 189).


The scrolls also mention two antagonists of the Teacher of Righteousness, the Wicked Priest and the Man of Lies. Deciding that these pseudonyms refer to the same person Thiering saw Jesus Christ behind them, who, according to her, opposed his teaching against Johns position and therefore was rejected by those sectarians who kept faith in the Teacher of Righteousness. She treats Gospels as an allegorical description of the schism by early Christians. She also thinks that one of the most important texts - the Commentary (pesher) on Habakkuk - was written in 30s CE.


After getting acquainted with Russian translation of the scrolls and with the scientific works dedicated to this question (publications by Russian scholars J. D. Amusin, K. B. Starkova, I. R. Tantlevskij, etc.) and comparing the content of the manuscripts with the data provided by Josephus Flavius (The Jewish War, Jewish Antiquities) and with the factual information that we find in New Testament the author of this article developed his own theory about when and by whom the scrolls were composed and who stand behind the above mentioned pseudonyms. Later he found that his approach has much in common with the starting points of B. Thiering presented in her basic work, Redating the Teacher of Righteousness (1979), but radically differs from what she eventually came to in her next book, Jesus the Man (1992).


It is reasonable to agree with Thiering that the Teacher of Righteousness is the same person as John the Baptist but its very hard to accept the idea that he and Jesus became enemies even if in the eyes of people who wrote the scrolls. Of course, we proceed from the assumption that Jesus is a real historical figure - the view that most experts in this question share now. If, owing to Josephus (Antiquities, 18, 5, 2), there is almost no doubt in historicity of John why take this right away from one of those who was baptized by him?!
Among the nicknames used by Qumranites there is such as the Interpreter of the Law (doresh ha-torah). It is clear from the texts that this name refers to a man whom Qumranites also considered their leader. Many qumranologists suppose that this is another pseudonym of the Teacher of Righteousness. Although, in intact fragments of the scrolls, the two nicknames never appear together it is dubious that both designate the same person. The main argument in favor of the idea that these are different persons may consist in the following: the scrolls show that the Teacher of Righteousness belonged to the caste of the priests, the tribe of Levi, while the Interpreter of the Law is connected in the texts with descendants of David, the tribe of Judah. If we identify the Teacher of Righteousness with John then it is only logical to presume that it is Jesus whom Qumranites called Interpreter of the Law.


This identification is supported to some extent by the books of New Testament. The Interpreter of the Law is mentioned twice in so-called Damascus Document closely connected with the Qumran scrolls from which it is understood that part of the community under the guidance of that man moved to the environs of Damascus. According to Gospels, Jesus took a trip to the same location, the territory near the town of Caesarea Phillipi (Mt 16:13, Mk 8:27). Damascus appears also in Acts: Saul (Paul) went on his punitive mission exactly to this city. The nickname Interpreter of the Law suggests that its bearer was versed in Torah and we may remember that Jesus comments many times on its precepts in the pages of Gospels.


Barbara Thiering is right in her proposition that there was a split in the Qumran community, only John was rejected not by disciples of Jesus but by those members of the sect who followed Judas Iscariot (Man of Lies, or ysh ha-kazab in the scrolls) and then formed a terrorist-like organization. In historical texts they are known as sicarii. The link between them and Qumranites is supported by the fact that during the excavations in Masada - the stronghold of sicarii that was taken by Romans in 73 CE - the archeologists found manuscripts of Qumran origin.


It is evident from the scrolls that Qumranites had another enemy, the Wicked Priest (ha-kohen ha-rasha). This moniker, in our view, refers to none other than apostle Paul. This identification is supported by numerous coincidences between accusations addressed to the Wicked Priest in Commentaries on Habakkuk and on Psalm 37 and things we know about Pauls life and views from Acts and his epistles. Qumranites strictly followed the Jewish Law which they thought Paul abandoned while preaching the new doctrine to the Gentiles. They also didnt forgive Paul his previous deeds - active involvement in persecutions of the sectarians when the future apostle had yet been a zealous Pharisee. Though, according to Pauls own words (Rom 11:1, Phil 3:5), he belonged to the tribe of Benjamin but not to the priestly tribe of Levy the sectarians might have given him the nickname Wicked Priest just to make a mockery of him. Once he was on good terms with the High Priest (Acts 9:1-2, 22:5); besides he himself regarded his evangelic mission as priesthood, I serve like a priest in preaching the Good News from God (Rom 15:16).


On the other hand, Paul might really belong to the tribe of priests. There are some doubts about the authorship of epistles ascribed to him in which his signature is absent. Incidentally, the New Testament contains quite a few of such epistles among which are exactly the letters to Romans and Philippians, the only ones that say about Pauls belonging to the tribe of Benjamin. If we look closer it turns out that Paul signed only the following epistles: 1st Corinthians, Galatians, Colossians, 2nd Thessalonians (With my own hand I write this: Greetings from Paul. This is the way I sign every letter 3:17) and Philemon.


When studying the Qumran commentaries it is important to understand one general principle: Qumranites gave pseudonyms to persons who were connected, one way or another, with their community! One more nickname mentioned in the manuscripts, the Young Lion of Wrath (kpyr ha-haron), refers, in our opinion, to Judas the Galileans son, Menahem, who seized power in Jerusalem for a short time in the very beginning of the Jewish revolt (66 CE). Proceeding from this assumption and from the above supposition concerning the identification of Man of Lies with Judas Iscariot there suggests itself a thought that Judas Iscariot is the same person as Judas the Galilean. Relating rebellious activities of Judas the Galilean to the time of the first census in Judaea (6-7 CE) Josephus, consciously or not, made a historical error that entailed numerous mistakes in calculations of researchers who took this information for a trustworthy fact. If Judas the Galilean did raise a revolt in 6 CE and was killed (Acts 5:37) one may ask how old was his son in 66 CE? Though Josephus says nothing about Menahems age the reader gains the full impression that he was far from an old man.


As for the Qumran commentaries themselves, it can be said that all of them, including pesher Habakkuk, were written by the followers of John the Baptist in the years that preceded the Jewish revolt and during it and reflected their peculiar reaction to the events of the time. Among the Qumran manuscripts the commentaries (and also the Damascus Document) are the main sources of historical information. The principle of the commentaries consists in the following: their authors took verses from Old Testament books and transferred their content to the time they lived. It is implied that the creators of Old Testament works could somehow foresee what would happen many centuries later.


Almost all qumranologists agree that the scrolls were hidden in caves during the war with Romans - most probably in 68 CE, not long before Qumran was captured by the Roman army. At the same time, it is clear that the commentaries were written by witnesses of the events described in them. Hence if we take the above date for granted and simultaneously suppose that these events relate to 2nd or 1st centuries BCE (as most of experts do) it follows that Qumranites who lived in 1st century CE were much more concerned with affairs of the old days than with the cataclysms that took place in Palestine during the governing of Roman procurators and the subsequent revolt. However fanatical in their faith Qumranites might have been its very hard to understand, from a psychological point of view, such an obsession with the past. One must also take into account that all the commentaries were found in a single copy, i. e. they are likely to have never been rewritten, being autographs. If they really relate to 2nd or 1st centuries BCE we can only wonder how carefully the sectarians should have handled them for at least a whole century before hiding them in the caves!


In the conclusion it makes sense to give one more chain of reasoning that supports later dating of the Qumran texts. As was mentioned above the researchers almost unanimously agree that the scrolls were hidden in the caves in 68 CE. John and Jesus perished about 40 years earlier. Everybody also agrees that the teaching of Qumranites and early Christianity have much in common. Thus, if one supposes that Qumran community and followers of John and Jesus are two (or even three) related but still different sects it turns out that, in small Palestine, for 40 years there existed side by side similar religious organizations that say nothing about each other in their writings.


Further, saying about philosophical schools of his time Josephus indicates three large sects except zealots: Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes. The abundance of manuscripts found in the caves might have been produced only by a large sect. The vast majority of specialists identify the Qumran community with Essenes. In Gospels, Jesus constantly disputes with Pharisees and Sadducees and there is not a word about Essenes. So it is quite logical to conclude that he himself expressed the views of that group - certainly enriching them with his own ideas. And if Jesus belonged to Essenes being one of their leaders and Essenes, in their turn, are identical to Qumranites then it follows that authors of the scrolls must have mentioned him in the texts concerning the events they took part in.

Bibliography
The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (ed. by Florentino G. Martinez & Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar), vol. 1,2. Brill/Leiden, 1997, 1998.
Graphic Concordance to the Dead Sea Scrolls (by James H. Charlesworth with R. E. Whitaker et al.). Tubingen: Mohr; Lousville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1991.
Avigad N. The Paleography of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Documents. Scripta Hierosolymitana 4 (1958), pp. 56-87.
Cross F. M. The Development of the Jewish Scripts. The Bible and the Ancient Near East (Essays in Honour of W. F. Albright). Ed. by G. E. Wright. N. Y., 1961, pp. 133-202.
Driver G. The Judaean Scrolls. The Problem and a Solution. Oxford, 1965.
Eisenman R. H. James the Just in the Habakkuk Pesher. Leiden, 1986.
Roth C. The Historical Background of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Oxford, 1958.
Teicher J. L. The Dead Sea Scrolls - Documents of the Jewish-Christian Sect of Ebionites. Journal of Jewish Studies (JJS) 2 (1950-51), 2, pp. 67-99.
Teicher J. L. The Teaching of the Pre-Pauline Church in the Dead Sea Scrolls. JJS 3 (1952), 3, pp. 111-118, 4, pp. 139-150; 4 (1953), 1 pp. 1-13, 2, pp. 49-58, 3, pp. 93-103, 4, pp. 139-153.
Teicher J. L. The Habakkuk Scroll. JJS 5 (1954), 2, pp. 47-59
Thiering B. Redating the Teacher of Righteousness. Sydney, 1979.
Thiering B. Jesus the Man. A New Interpretation from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Sydney-London, 1992.

 

 

 

 




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