Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls-Do the Scrolls Help us Understand Early Christianity?

by fulltimestudent 11 Replies latest jw friends

  • fulltimestudent

    I think most scholarship would agree with a positive answer to that question. But let's take a look for oursselves.

    Geza Vermes, in his excellent translation ( The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English-Penguin. 2004) suggests that there are three main headings under which the DDS can help us deepen our understanding of early Christianity.

    1.a Similarities of terminolgy. e.g. both in the DDS and the NT, the faithful are called 'sons of light.'

    1.b. Ideology. Both communities thought of themselves as the 'true Israel, both were governed (in theory anyway) by 12 leaders, and expected the imminent arrival of the KIngdom of God.

    1.c. Similar attitudes to the scriptures, both considering their own history as a fulfillment of the words of the prophets.

    Of course, there may not have been any direct influence (though, its hard not to imagine that), but these similarities may have been due to the general religious atmosphere in that era in Palestine.

  • fulltimestudent

    In regard to 1.b. in the first post, we can expand further on leadership. Both early christians and the DDS communities developed a monarchical administration, ( a single leader to each community). There were overseers at Qumran (where the DDS were found) and of course, bishops in the Christian communities.

    Both Christian and DDS communities developed some sort of communal care, funded at Qmran by a religious communism ( all things in common) and similarly in the early days of early Jerusalem Christian community (Acts 2:44-45). Vermes suggests that not having any other model the inexperienced church took the DDS communities as a model.

  • Crazyguy
    I believe that the experts believe that the scrolls we're burried before the 1 century so in effect they never effected christianity.
  • Mephis

    Just a minor point really, but one thing which really stood out for me the first time I sat down to go through the work done on them was just how difficult the idea of 'a bible' is to pin down. I suppose that was a legacy of the JW belief of there being one fixed divine word which has remained unchanged down the ages. And their claim the Dead Sea Scrolls prove that because all the OT is there unchanged. Well that ain't so.

    Instead what we see in the Dead Sea Scrolls is a group of texts which are passed down with few changes, often none. So the Torah, Isaiah, the Psalms and the twelve minor prophets seem to be fairly unchanging. But then everything else seems up for debate. It's not fixed. It's altered and amended and revised. They add new texts and new stories and new prophetic visions. They even rewrite books to form new books. A new version of the old process we see in what we call the canon with Deuteronomy and Chronicles.

    And one does see the same process within christianity too. Oral traditions get converted into written ones, and not only does the perspective change with the writer but also what actually is said to have happened. It's hard to escape the majority accepted conclusion that the gospels are re-writes from the same source material (probably Mark). Newly discovered letters are merged with older ones (eg the known pseudographical letters which made the canon vs those accepted to have been written by Paul), and then selection from amongst the various visions to get Revelation into the canon. And before the canon process semi-finalised things, what a crazy mix of texts were being used on a regular basis. eg The Shepherd of Hermas.

    Similar processes take place in Christianity as those we see happening with the Dead Sea Scrolls. The OP mentions the shared 'pesher' interpretation of prophesy, and the general atmosphere, but I think one sees a really strong Judaic strand to 'scripture' in its entirety too. And it's very, very different to the idea of a fixed word of God which passes unchanged through the ages.

    (References: Florentino Garcia Martinez is an interesting read on the scrolls generally, but his contribution to Authoritative Scriptures in Ancient Judaism (2010) supports the bulk of the factual assertions I've made here. He kindly shares a large number of his essays and lectures on if anyone has interest in learning at that level of detail).

  • fulltimestudent
    Crazyguy : I believe that the experts believe that the scrolls we're burried before the 1 century so in effect they never effected christianity.
    Thnx for raising the point of the DDS chronology, Crazyguy?
    One thing first though, the DDS were not buried, but stored in caves, at least for most of them.
    And in regard to whether the scrolls (or, at least the people who wrote them) affected early Christianity, I think that if these scrolls reflect Jewish thinking in the first century (and before) we would have to agree that they may have done so.
    We cannot be absolutely sure of how these documents came to be in the cave. Vermes (and many other scholars) think the Qumran site buildings were most likely used by a monastic branch of the Essenes. Some of the documents describe the rules for such a group and also for those of the sect that lived in towns. If that's true, then the buildings and caves were simply abandoned in the chaos preceding the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.
    Of course, there are other possibilities, including one which suggests that the documents came from libraries in Jerusalem, and they were hurriedly moved out of the city as the Roman armies approached. One item of evidence that suggests that is a list of treasures, but I think we'd have to agree that if the site was occupied by sectarians, who held all things in common, for some 200 years, that a deal of wealth would have been accumulated.
    The reasonably agreed dating as being in the first century CE, allows for the probability of contact between the Qumran sectarians (if they did indeed live there) and early Christians. They were all part of the religious ferment that bubbled away in first century CE Judaism.
    Why not get a copy of Geza Vermes', The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, for yourself. Amazon list it for sale at about US$13. Vermes explains a lot about the scrolls as well as offering his translation.

    The Israel Museum has also digitised some of the scrolls, but only the Isaiah scroll has been translated in their version.

    Some of these suggestions are outlined in this Smithsonian overview:

    Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?
    Resolving the dispute over authorship of the ancient manuscripts could have far-reaching implications for Christianity and Judaism
    By Andrew Lawler - Smithsonian Magazine - January 2010

  • stirred but not shaken
    stirred but not shaken

    I tried reading books about the DDS as i was fascinated by the traveling display of the DDS in the USA. We got to see it in a city near us. Lots of JWs went to see the display when it came. By that time, I was well into the books and knew a considerable more info than the "friends" who's main interest was to locate Jah's name. I remember offering some things to look for, and I'm afraid it was too much info for them to handle.

    I thought it interesting that the Qumran community was so monastic and determined to present themselves pure in body and spirit. They were all things communal. If you fell out of favor with the community, you could and would likely starve to death. Their location was close to the Jordan where John did his baptising, which for me was sort of a revelation. Like..why baptism? Where did that concept begin? While I'm not certain of the conclusion, that community at Qumran ceremoniously bathed several times a day. The Essenes were another faction of the Jews along with the Pharisees and Sadducees. They felt the existing priesthood in Jerusalem was illegitimate and were openly critical of it. Knowing the background of these sects helps when reading the words of Jesus and his apostles. Particularly in Jesus case, as he had to always consider his audience's background. Lots more to know about their (DDS) existence.

    The 2 books that were helpful for me: "The Dead Sea Scrolls and the First Christians" - Robert Eiseman and "The Dead Sea Scrolls: The Truth Behind The Mystique" - Lawrence A. Schiffman (this is available in 7 CDs incorporating 14 lectures) He's very animated. Listened as I drove around during business day. Understanding that period and the Maccabees era is a great help in putting puzzle parts together re: what Jesus had to deal with, and years later when decisions were made re: the Bible canon. Good background!

  • fulltimestudent
    Mephis: Just a minor point really, but one thing which really stood out for me the first time I sat down to go through the work done on them was just how difficult the idea of 'a bible' is to pin down.
    Mephis, I suggest that you point there is actually important. The concept of a sacred Bible has now been around for hundreds of years, and its hard not to view the past as not having a "Bible." But as you read about the Qumran community and the documents that gave their members their "rules' to live by, we don't really see a focus on a set of scriptures making up the Bible (OT) as we know it, we see as you posted:
    " we see in the Dead Sea Scrolls is a group of texts which are passed down with few changes, often none."
    And as you continued:
    "But then everything else seems up for debate. It's not fixed. It's altered and amended and revised. They add new texts and new stories and new prophetic visions."
    Its not an eternal truth, but its more like the WTS's "new light' - a continual revision as someone had a better idea than the last one.
    Vermes' describes the scribes as having "creative freedom."
    Quote: "redactor-copyists felt free to improve the composition which they were reproducing."
    Quote: " The Dead Sea Scrolls have afforded for the first time direct insight into the creative literary-religious process at work within that variegated Judaism that flourished during the last two centuries of quasi-national independence before the catastrophe of 70CE."
    What does it mean for us?
    Simply that the above makes it very difficult to accept the NT writings as "inspired scripture." The DDS show us how Jewish worshippers tossed spiritual ideas around.

    And we find similar thought processes at work in early Christianity as in the DDS. The age of the hoped for Jewish kingdom that Jesus thought he would lead is characterised by expectations based on texts such as Psalm 147, and Isaiah 61, with their predictions of divine intervention to first re-gather the dispersed Jews to their national homeland, to heal the broken hearted, relieving the meek (from the iron yoke of foreigners), to liberate the captives, heal the blinded and the wounded and to raise the dead.
    The ancient prayer of Nabonidus, telling of Nabonidus' cure by a Jewish exorcist parallels the Capernaum healing of a paralysed man by Jesus, who did so by forgiving his sins.
    Another DDS scroll, no, 4Q521, that some call "A Messianic Apocalypse," (and others have called, "the Resurrection fragment," lists healings and miracles as part of the messianic kingdom conditions. The script style dates this scroll to the beginning of the first century BCE and therefore it predates Matthew 11:4-5, (where Jesus tells John's disciples to tell John of his miracles). Here's a few extracts from this DDS document:
    " ... the heavens and the earth will listen to his messiah and none will stray from the commandments of the holy ones..."
    "... Over the poor His spirit will hover and renew the faithful with His power."
    "... He who liberates the captives, restores sight to the blind, straightens the bent."
    "... And the Lord will accomplish glorious things.... For He will heal the wounded, and revive the dead and bring good news to the poor."
    "... the life-giver will raise the dead of His people."
    The Jewish hopes of a national revival was the common foundation for the hopes of the Qumran community, the Essenes, Jesus and the early Christians.
    Jesus, of course did not return (as promised in Luke 21 verses 27, 32) The Jewish hopes for a national revival and freedom from gentile domination failed when in 70 CE the temple, the traditional focus for Jewish worship was destroyed by the Romans, never to be re-built.
    In contemporary times, the hopes of the American revivalists or the nineteen century, including both William Miller and Charlie Russell likewise failed.

  • slimboyfat
    Some scholars like James Charlesworth see a link between the teaching of the Qumran community and Christianity on resurrection.

    Do get the real feel of the early Christian Church you could [should] consult the church fathers and their writings. That is the real deal on what the early church was all about. It's important to remember that the bible followed the church [like 350 years later], the church didn't follow the bible [like it does for so many later Christian orgs]. Below is a copied/pasted article on a few early church fathers from Wikipedia. Notice that their writings are still preserved and available.

    Sorry, no comment on the dead sea scrolls

    Clement of Rome[edit]

    Main article: Clement of Rome

    His epistle, 1 Clement (c. 96),[5] was copied and widely read in the Early Church.[6] Clement calls on the Christians of Corinth to maintain harmony and order.[5] It is the earliest Christian epistle aside from the New Testament.

    Ignatius of Antioch[edit]

    Main article: Ignatius of Antioch

    Ignatius of Antioch (also known as Theophorus) (c. 35–110)[7] was the third bishop or Patriarch of Antioch and a student of the Apostle John. En route to his martyrdom in Rome, Ignatius wrote a series of letters which have been preserved. Important topics addressed in these letters include ecclesiology, the sacraments, the role of bishops, and theIncarnation of Christ.[8] He is the second after Clement to mention Paul's epistles.[5]

    Polycarp of Smyrna[edit]

    Main article: Polycarp of Smyrna

    Polycarp of Smyrna (c. 69 – c. 155) was a Christian bishop of Smyrna (now İzmir in Turkey). It is recorded that he had been a disciple of "John." The options for this John areJohn, the son of Zebedee, traditionally viewed as the author of the Gospel of John, or John the Presbyter.[9] Traditional advocates follow Eusebius in insisting that the apostolic connection of Polycarp was with John the Evangelist, and that he was the author of the Gospel of John, and thus the Apostle John.

  • truthlover

    Will we e ver know what was truly written down for " our instruction?"

    If you look at copyright laws and all the bible translations - a new bible has to be "significantly different from the orginal" to be copyrighted... so where does that leave us as to all the bibles floating around today?

    Do we really know what the ....... we are talking about, arguing about, worrying about? You could not copyright the scrolls, yet the many religions who claim to be Christian have their own bibles supposedly copied from the scrolls( or Catholic translations since they did obtain many of the scrolls)-- and over the centuries many translations have used the right to copyright their own bibles to support their own beliefs.

    Lordy, lordy!!

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