Manual The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins (Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Literature)

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  1. The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins by Joseph A. Fitzmyer
  2. Resources For
  3. The Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Details disclosed from early excavations at Khirbet Qumran all worked neatly into the story: the ruins contained a large room that would have been a scriptorium a term previously used to describe rooms in medieval monasteries ; remnants of long tables were found that could have served for copying lengthy scrolls; and three ink wells were found. The integrity of this thesis was buttressed by highly restricted access to the scrolls.

Manuscripts were parceled out for study and translation to a small clique of academics, directed by de Vaux. In , literary critic Edmund Wilson published an influential series of articles in The New Yorker magazine later release in book form which help cement in popular imagination this accepted story of the Dead Sea Scrolls and their creators, the Essenes who dwelt at Khirbet Qumran.

Similar to the first Christians, Wilson explained, the Essenes at Qumran had honored an anointed Teacher of Righteousness, performed ritual washings or "baptisms", and shared a sacred meal. Popular interest in the Scrolls has continued ever since to be stimulated by conjectured links between the Qumran scrolls and early Christianity.

In the last two decades of the twentieth century, several objections to the Qumran-Essene thesis of the Scrolls' origins were voiced within the academic community. Even louder objections arose over continued refusal of the Dead Sea Scrolls "team" to allow all qualified scholars open access to unpublished materials in the collection. After forty years, Scrolls research remained the exclusive domain of a small, self-selected team of scholars.

The whole project was becoming an academic scandal, intermittently punctuated by conspiracy theories suggesting occult purposes motivating sequestration of the yet unpublished materials. Whatever its various motives, the monopoly on access to the Dead Sea Scrolls collection came to an end in when the Huntington Library announced it would make available without restriction a complete microfilm copy of the Scrolls in its archives.

Soon after, Emanuel Tov, director of the Scrolls project, announced open access and right of publication would be granted to all material in the official collection. During the last decade, the pace of DSS publication has picked up considerably. Norman Golb Professor of Jewish History and Civilization, University of Chicago has been among the most vociferous opponents to the classic story of the Scrolls' origins. The "Qumran-Essene dogma" was originally developed to explain a relatively small number of newly discovered documents, including texts in a previously unknown literary style that apparently represented a divergent, "sectarian" voice within Judaism.

Early studies of the DSS identified this voice as Essene, and viewed the Scrolls as a remnant of the sect's library. As the numbers and kinds of scrolls discovered multiplied however, critics argued that the probability all these manuscripts had been collected, copied, and archived by a single Essene community living at Qumran dwindled. Over distinct documents have been identified among the scroll fragments found in the caves of the Judean desert. A large number of these are previously unknown works written in several styles.

Hundreds of different scribal hands are found in the manuscripts, including fragments in Greek script. In addition, as Dr. Objective archeological scrutiny of the Qumran site also suggests it may have functioned in ancient times as a military fortress, and not principally or exclusively as a religious and scribal commune. Persuaded by such arguments, several scholars have completely rejected the traditional "story of the Dead Sea Scrolls".

At present, there is no generally accepted answer to either question. Some scholars now argue that the scrolls possibly came from one or more ancient Jewish collections, including the Temple library in Jerusalem. They were copied by many different hands and represent several types of Jewish literature produced in the intertestamental period, including some apocalyptic and sectarian writings authored by communities that might be called "Essenes". During the Jewish uprising and before destruction of Temple in 70 CE.

Despite such arguments and they remain arguments, not proofs , many highly reputable scholars continue to affirm that an Essene community existed at Qumran and produced or collected many of the documents we call the Dead Sea Scrolls. The question often asked by casual readers is simply, "What do the Dead Sea Scrolls say? The texts are diverse, they apparently do not speak with a single voice, or from a single viewpoint. Most of the manuscripts found are heavily damaged fragments of scrolls, some very tentatively pieced together.

Often the preserved scraps give only glimpses of what existed in the original text. Readers approach the Dead Sea scrolls from a variety of perspectives and with differing interests. The texts "say" different things to different people. For students of Hebrew literature, the biblical texts and commentaries preserved in the DSS collection offer the opportunity for textual research using early and previously unknown source documents. Experts in paleography find in the Scrolls material for analysis of developing and changing Hebrew writing styles.

Specialists in the history of Judaism find documents in the collection that shed new light on the diverse and heterodox trends present in Judaism during the intertestamental period. Students of Christian origins see in the texts evidences of the apocalyptic, messianic foment from which Christianity arose. While the DSS certainly do offer insights into the Jewish cultural milieu that gave formation to Christianity, there is probably nothing in the Scrolls collection directly reflecting events or personages known to early Christian history. Several individuals now suggest the Scrolls are globally less important than implied by decades of relentless publicity.

Consider the balancing and sobering appraisal given by Dr. Coming from someone who makes his living from the study of ancient Jewish texts, it might surprise some readers when I declare my conviction that the Dead Sea Scrolls are not all that important, and that their impact has been inflated out of all proportion by the media and various interested parties. The Christian scholars who controlled much of the research into the scrolls made every effort to uncover allusions to Christian concerns, and tiny fragments were fancifully pieced together so as to produce theological statements about divine or suffering messiahs.

Horsley ; Newsom Arnold , 53, , 68, ; Newsom ; Timmer The Community Rule tells us that the sons of light originated from a fountain of light. Nickelsburg The traits of these sons of light included goodness, humbleness and wisdom. Because of their inherently good nature, their ultimate fate would comprise of 'plentiful peace in a long life, fruitful offspring with all everlasting blessings, eternal enjoyment with endless life, and a crown of glory with majestic raiment in eternal light' 1QS ; cf.

The traits of these sons of darkness included evilness, dishonesty and greediness. Their apocalyptic fate would include 'a glut of punishments at the hands of the angels of destruction, for eternal damnation for the scorching wrath of the God of revenge, for permanent error and shame without end with the humiliation of destruction by the fire of the dark regions' 1QS ; cf.


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The function of such extensive annihilation was to eradicate injustice, deceit and sin from the world ad infinitum 1QS ; cf. Collins a, b, 86, ; Knibb ; Timmer , As in the rest of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the authors of the Community Rule believed that apocalyptic salvation and punishment had been preordained by God, even if the actual conduct of individuals determined innocence and blameworthiness in each individual case cf.

Before the ultimate end, however, the Community Rule foresees a period of severe refinement and cleansing. At the time when the Community Rule was authored, this preparatory period was still to be initiated see Collins b, Such decontamination pertained only to the Dead Sea sects themselves, and not to greater Israel cf. Flint The belief in a period of internal refinement raises the question of why the so-called 'sons of light', preordained for apocalyptic salvation, would need to be purified.

The answer lies in their particular brand of demonology. Even if the sons of light were not ruled by the spirit of darkness like the rest of humanity, they were nevertheless influenced by it Collins ; Knibb ; cf.

The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins by Joseph A. Fitzmyer

Arnold ; see Levison According to the Community Rule , people's hearts were inhabited by both the spirits of light and darkness. This pertained also to the sons of light. The Dead Sea sects believed that all people, members and non-members included, were made up of nine distinct parts Broshi ; Knibb ; cf. Since the number nine is uneven, every person on the earth belongs either to the camp of darkness or the camp of light, depending on which spirit controlled the majority of those nine parts.

In other words, the sons of light also experienced the influence of the spirit of darkness, even if they were for the most part controlled by the spirit of light. Every so often, the angel of darkness would cause an insider to stray from the path of righteousness 1QS ; ; cf. Yet, as we have seen, the sons of light had exclusive access to divine clemency. Even though the benchmark was perfection e. Lawrence ; Timmer ; see Ginsburskaya ; Qimron For this reason, they anticipated a period before the apocalyptic end when every son of light would be wholly purified by God 1QS Due to such a rigorous process of cleansing, this period would entail the achievement of 'perfect behaviour' and the complete nonappearance of injustice amidst the sons of light 1QS ; cf.

Arnold ; Puech ; Timmer , A lexical survey supports the foregoing summative analysis. No interpretation of 1QS should be attempted without taking into account the information that precedes this section. As with the passage on the two spirits, 1QS treats the intervening period of refinement and purification. On the one hand, the featuring of future tense verbs and future-directed temporal phrases leaves little doubt that this pericope deals with the future cf.

Berg , esp. At this interim period, Jewish and gentile outsiders are still in the world. Their condemnation must await the final judgement Hempel As with the sectarian Qumran scrolls that pertain to the end of days, 1QS imagines the in-group of the messianic period to be a kind of replacement temple Collins a, ; Horsley ; cf. Collins Arnold n. Collins , ; pace Metso These individuals should therefore not merely be understood as a symbolic designation of the community proper.

The numbers 'twelve' and 'three' do in all likelihood respectively reference Israel's twelve and Levi's three tribes cf. Collins ; Hempel ; Metso Additional support comes from 4Q Reading these two texts side by side almost forces a conclusion that reads the twelve men and three priests in 1QS as leaders of Israel's traditional tribes pace Metso Collins , , ; see Berg This seems unlikely, though, because the Community Rule uses the phrase in question here and elsewhere consistently in reference to the fifteen Jewish leaders, and only them.

The Damascus Document likewise refers to leaders of the Dead Sea sects as persons of perfect holiness Kapfer The term 'perfect holiness' describes an increased level of holiness and perfection when compared with isolated occurrences of the words 'perfect' and 'holy' or 'holiness'. The term denotes a state of complete and utter faultlessness.

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One day, it is imagined, such perfect holiness would be instituted and sustained via trials Berg Tribal leaders would submit themselves voluntarily to such scrutiny. It is not explained in 1QS who would judge during these proceedings. Yet, if this text is interpreted via both 1QS and the Liturgy of the Tongues of Fire 4Q; 4Q; 1Q29 , it seems most probable that the judge would be either the Maskil or the priestly messiah see Arnold , ; Berg Thus, the fifteen tribal leaders would subject themselves to a process of judgement, testing and cleansing directly before but also during their tenure.

It seems likely that this process has in mind the responsibility of the fifteen leaders to act as judges of their individual tribes. Both the War Scroll and the Damascus Document support the latter interpretation.

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According to 4Q frags. Arnold Metso Berg This untarnished community will embody the temple through perfect behaviour. In addition, they will be thoroughly ready for the final judgement. If 1QS is considered in literary and sectarian context, the function and meaning of this text is illuminated. Far from describing a form of future judgement that is devoid of condemnation, it describes a preliminary eschatological step that is absolutely necessary for the future condemnation of outsiders, as well as the future liberation of insiders.

Ultimately, the evidence is overwhelming that those responsible for the sectarian Dead Sea Scrolls expected the future condemnation and annihilation of all outsiders. The author declares that he has no financial or personal relationships which may have inappropriately influenced him in writing this article. Abegg, M. Tov eds. Allison, D. Arnold, R. Berg, S.

Strawn eds. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI. Blenkinsopp, J.

The Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Charlesworth eds. Library of Second Temple Studies Brooke, G. Broshi, M. Charlesworth ed. Collins, J. Flint eds. Collins eds. Daise, M. Davies, P. STDJ Davies, W. Flint, P. Watson, Brill, Leiden. Ginsburskaya, M. Falk, S. Metso, D. Tigchelaar eds. Grossman, M. Harrington, H.

Hempel, C.


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