Idiosyncratic Views of the Dead Sea Scrolls
Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls
For 30 years, scholars have fruitfully used the Dead Sea Scrolls to understand the Qumran community, the Jesus movement and other Jewish groups within the rich context of first-century Judaism. These early Jewish and Christian studies have illuminated the complexity of the cultural, historical, religious, political and social forces that nourished all these movements. The Qumran community exerted an indirect influence on Jewish worldviews, practices, piety and laws. This is much easier to prove than any direct contact between the world of Qumran and any other specific movements. It is therefore regrettable that many essays in this volume try to substantiate direct links between the historical Jesus and the Qumran community. Despite the editor’s attempt to justify the search for such links, similar recent efforts to decisively attribute certain sayings and parables to Jesus have become mired in the most intricate and uncertain of arguments.a Happily, some of the authors ignored the title of this book and wrote about what we can know: the fascinating world of early Judaism (including the Jesus movement) manifested in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the New Testament and other sources.
Articles that relate Judaism, the Dead Sea Scrolls and early Christianity to one another in a broad, nuanced, theoretically clear context provide the most help to the general reader and serious student. Howard Kee, in “Membership in the Covenant People at Qumran and in the Teachings of Jesus,” summarizes his book Knowing the Truth: A Sociological Approach to New Testament Interpretation (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989), which presents a sophisticated comparison of the Qumran and Jesus communities under seven categories: boundaries, authority, status and roles, ritual and sabbath requirements, group functions, symbolic universe and literary modes of communication. The groups diverged by handling this common social agenda differently. In “The Risen Christ and the Angelic Mediator Figures in the Light of Qumran,” the best essay in the book, Alan Segal reviews his own and others’ work on angelic mediator figures in Judaism. This apocalyptic and mystical stream of Judaism—found at Qumran, in the New Testament and elsewhere explains many of the early Christian modes of speaking about Jesus. James 076Dunn’s “Jesus, Table-Fellowship and Qumran” admirably reviews Second Temple Jewish meal practices, inclusiveness and community identity in a very balanced way. It is regrettable that the last sentence makes a parochial, anachronistic attack on the Essenes, which reveals a lack of appreciation for the profound Biblical notion of holiness and also constitutes special pleading for a particular kind of Christianity.b
James Charlesworth’s introduction and lead article, “The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Historical Jesus,” and Craig Evans’s essay on movements in opposition to the Temple are marred by flaws in their theoretical foundations. Charlesworth’s introduction enumerates 16 points of scholarly consensus without noting well-argued dissenting positions and serious problems in some of the consensus points. Charlesworth’s article lists a jumble of 24 similarities and 27 differences between Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls without giving a nuanced, contextual discussion that would render these overlapping and related items coherent and intelligible.
Evans’s “Opposition to the Temple: Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls” sketches a series of Jewish and New Testament critiques of the Temple but makes uncritical use of later rabbinic literature and gospel traditions to locate everything in the first century in relation to Jesus.
The rest of the essays concern particular texts or problems. Two, by David Flusser and by Morton Smith, are recommended, and five are flawed by exaggerated claims based on poor method or little evidence. Flusser, in “The Parable of the Unjust Steward: Jesus’ Criticism,” connects the scrolls with Luke’s concluding comments to this difficult parable. The “mammon of unrighteousness” (Luke 16:9) and Qumran’s “wealth (hwn) of unrighteousness” suggest a similar negative evaluation of the wealth belonging to chose outside the community. However, Jesus (better, the first-century community) criticizes the “sons of light,” whom Flusser identifies with the Essenes, for not entering into honest economic relationships to attract followers (Luke 16:10–12). Smith’s “Two Ascended to Heaven—Jesus and the Author of 4Q491” complements Segal’s article with a Qumran mystical text in which someone has a mystical experience of being seated among the angels in heaven. Smith, who recently died, also treats the reader to a final defense of his rationalist polemic against religion and religious experience by interpreting the Qumran text as the delusional writing of an egomaniac. Smith goes on to connect this text to his earlier attempts to interpret Jesus as a magician and the founder of a mystery cult.
Charlesworth, in “Jesus as ‘son’ and the Righteous Teacher as Gardener,” uses 1QH8:4–11, which he published elsewhere, and the parable of the wicked tenants (Mark 12:1–11) to create a romantic reconstruction of the consciousness of the Teacher of Righteousness and of Jesus. Although Charlesworth acknowledges that the texts cannot be shown to have come from these two figures, he then proceeds to ignore this hurdle. In “Jesus and the Temple Scroll,” Otto Betz argues unconvincingly that the Herodians were Essenes and presents a biased view of Temple sacrifice. He covers the crucifixion texts, as do Joe Zias and Charlesworth, in “Crucifixion: Archaeology, Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” without making any original contribution. Paolo Sacchi’s “Recovering Jesus’ Formative Background” cursorily compares the Gospels and Dead Sea Scrolls on several points of debate but reaches the unproven conclusion that Jesus and the Essenes form one wing of Judaism and the Pharisees and Sadducees the other. Rainer Riesner, in “Opposition to the Temple: Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” uses his specialty in archaeology to examine the probable site of the Last Supper and the Essene quarter with its Herodian gate on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. His uncritical use of Acts, the controversial Pella tradition and other sparse data tails to support his claim for links between Jesus; Jesus’ early followers and the Essenes.
All in all, this collection makes some contributions but promotes many idiosyncratic positions and must be used carefully.
For 30 years, scholars have fruitfully used the Dead Sea Scrolls to understand the Qumran community, the Jesus movement and other Jewish groups within the rich context of first-century Judaism. These early Jewish and Christian studies have illuminated the complexity of the cultural, historical, religious, political and social forces that nourished all these movements. The Qumran community exerted an indirect influence on Jewish worldviews, practices, piety and laws. This is much easier to prove than any direct contact between the world of Qumran and any other specific movements. It is therefore regrettable that many essays in this volume try […]