The Hebrew text contains markings used by scholars to indicate the state of the original text. A lower-case c followed by a number, such as c4 in the first line, indicates the estimated number of letters lost in a missing section of a line. A filled-in circle above a letter indicates a damaged letter whose proposed reading seems almost certain; an open circle above a letter indicates a damaged letter whose proposed reading is uncertain. A period on the bottom of a line indicates the presence of an extremely damaged letter. Vacat indicates a space left empty by the scribe. The signs < and > on either side of a letter indicate that the letter had been written above the line by the scribe after he had detected a scribal error.

A recently released text from the Dead Sea Scrolls, known as 4Q521, reflects an extraordinarily close relationship to early Christian messianic beliefs. Above are 14 lines from column two of that text, which are the most substantially preserved part of it. In accord with scholarly convention, the parts in brackets have been reconstructed on the basis of surviving portions. Those who wish to analyze the text more closely will find these line-by-line comments helpful:13

Lines 1–2:

The restoration of “heavens” in line 1 is obvious.

The restoration of the “sea” in line 2 is not quite so obvious. Line 2 is based on Psalm 146, a psalm of praise that exhorts the audience to place trust not “in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help; when their breach departs, they return to the earth,” but in the Lord “who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them” (Psalm 146:3–4, 6). It seems clear that the author of our Qumran text was tracking verse 6 of Psalm 146.

This psalm was apparently quite important for the author of our text. Both the psalm and our text reflect a concern for the destitute—the poor and the hungry. In both the psalm and the Qumran text, crucial terminology includes the “righteous” (“The Lord loves the righteous” [Psalm 146:8] and “The Lord … will call the righteous by name” [Line 5]) and “spirit” (Psalm 146:4 and “His spirit will hover over the poor” [Line 6]). Other similarities between Psalm 146 and our text will be cited below.

The Hebrew word for Messiah (meshiach) in this text carries the possessive suffix (meshicho), so it must be translated “His Messiah.” Although God is not mentioned in the text, it is clear that that is the referent. In another previously unpublished fragment from Qumran (4Q287), we find this text: “The Holy Spirit rested on His Messiah.” Here the referent is explicit. In the apocryphal writing known as the Psalms of Solomon, Psalm 18:5 reads “for the appointed day when his Messiah will reign.” Like our Qumran text, this Psalm of Solomon has not previously mentioned the name of God, but it is clear he is the referent of “His Messiah.”

Line 3:

The words we have translated “Take strength in His mighty work” can be understood in Hebrew in at least three different ways: (1) The “work” performed for God. So understood, God is the object, the faithful believers the subject (compare Numbers 8:11, Joshua 22:27 and 2 Chronicles 35:16). (2) The “work” performed by God. In this interpretation God is the subject and the faithful the object. Isaiah 28:21 refers to an action performed by God using the term “work”; the context there is instructive: God will arise in anger to do his “work,” by which is meant his work of judgment in the last days. This understanding of the term fits the Qumran text especially well. (3) The “work” performed by His Messiah. So understood, the Messiah is the subject, God or the people is the object. Although it is very difficult to decide which of the three options is best, we have adopted the second in our translation.

Line 6:

Especially interesting is the clause, “His spirit will hover over the poor.” Genesis 1:2 also combines the terms “hover” and “spirit.” Nowhere else in the Hebrew Bible do we find this combination. “The spirit of God” also appears in Genesis 1, corresponding to “His spirit” here.14 By this reference to the Creation story, our text emphasizes its promise that the messianic time will be a time of renewal and a new age—in effect, a new creation.

“By His might will He restore,” our text tells us. This is clearly based on Isaiah 40:31: “They who trust in the Lord shall restore their strength.” The correspondence is much clearer in Hebrew than in English: compare the scroll’s wjsb ¹yljy with Isaiah’s js wpyljy hwhy ywq. The context of this passage from Isaiah relates to the Lord’s mighty coming in judgment.

It is of the utmost importance to understand the settings of the Biblical passages to which the author of our text refers. By alluding to and thus recalling a number of Biblical passages, our author draws them together and imports their power into a new literary creation.

Line 8:

This is a very slightly modified quotation of Psalm 146:7–8. The latter reads: “The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down.” Line 8 in our text reads: “He will release the captives, make the blind see, raise up the do[wntrodden.]” The only difference is that our text drops the name of God. That this line of our text is a quotation makes the restoration at the end of the line certain.

Line 10:

The first half of this line is so broken that any reconstruction is speculative. Accordingly, our suggestion for the first two Hebrew words is very tentative, and, it must be admitted, results in a difficult phrase. We further propose restoring “His Messiah” wjym at the end of the lacuna (“lacuna” is a technical term for a missing portion). This is a crucial and straightforwardly speculative restoration, but it has several considerations in its favor. First, if, as we believe, the text returns in lines 11–13 to the messianic figure it began describing in lines 1–2, then we would expect an explicit mention of that figure somewhere prior to line 12. Where was this mention? There are three options which can fit grammatically: first, the present lacuna; second, the lacuna at the end of line 10, or the lacuna at the end of line 11. For syntactic reasons, the last option is very unlikely. Thus the messianic figure was presumably mentioned somewhere in line 10. Perhaps that mention was indeed at the end of the line. But the reading of “holy” (though admittedly uncertain because of the damaged state of the first three letters) seems to favor the placement of wjym in the preceding, rather than in the subsequent, lacuna because the proposed reconstruction, “His holy Messiah,” is attested in another Qumran manuscript (1Q30).

Line 11:

However one restores the end of line 11, it is clear that the author intended a disjunction with what was said earlier. Up to this point, the author has been describing the miraculous acts of God’s final visitation and judgment; now he moves to something else.

Line 12:

“Heal the sick” is not a Biblical phrase. Nor does any portion of the Bible seem at all close to it in spirit. The phrase “resurrect the dead” (hyjy µytm) does not occur in the Bible, either. The closest text is Isaiah 26:19: “Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise.” This Biblical text apparently associates resurrection with God’s visitation of wrath and judgment “when he comes from his place” (Isaiah 26:21). This may have informed the thinking of our author. The Biblical text does not say precisely who is doing the resurrecting.

“To the poor announce glad tidings” is a modified quotation of Isaiah 61:1. In view of the importance of the phrase we should consider the whole of Isaiah 61:1:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,

because the Lord has anointed me;

he has sent me to announce glad tidings to the poor,

to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

and release to the prisoners.

This passage from Isaiah was certainly in our author’s mind throughout his composition—particularly words and phrases like “spirit of the Lord,” “anoint” (the root meaning of messiah, i.e. “the anointed one”), “announce glad tidings to the poor,” and “prisoners.” Moreover, Isaiah 61 can be understood as referring to the last days. Our text and Isaiah 61:1 also share a concern for the downtrodden (as does Psalm 146, referred to in the accompanying article). In light of the reference to “anoint” in Isaiah 61:1, the Second-Temple period reader of this passage from Isaiah would almost certainly conclude that it speaks of a messiah. Presumably the author of our text thought the same. Further, the author probably meant to say that it was this Messiah who would “proclaim glad tidings,” not God himself. (The Bible never uses the Hebrew term for “proclaim glad tidings” in reference to God.)

Line 13:

Compare “He will lead the Holy Ones” with Isaiah 49:7–11. The latter is an eschatalogical passage describing “the Day of Salvation.” Then he will “lead” (Isaiah 49:10) the hungry and thirsty, etc.

This same line of our text tells us that “he will shepherd them.” Compare this with Ezekiel 34:23: “I will raise up over them a shepherd … my servant David; he will shepherd them.” In this passage from Ezekiel, a messianic figure tends the flock of Israel. This fact is further support for the inference that all of the activities of lines 12–13 are messianic activities that will take place when the apocalypse dawns.

To be sure, our text is not without its interpretive difficulties. But the following points seem clear: In Lines 1–2 (and perhaps Line 3), the author describes a messianic figure. Lines 4–9 deal with an apocalyptic visitation in which God lifts up the oppressed and rewards his faithful. Line 11 then establishes a disjunction with the preceding lines. Lines 12–13 describe activities that the Bible (Isaiah 49:7–11 and Ezekiel 34:23) associates with a messianic figure. The cautious conclusion that it is a Messiah who heals the wounded, resurrects the dead, proclaims glad tidings to the poor, leads the Holy Ones and acts as their shepherd seems reasonable. Even if that conclusion is wrong, however, and it is God Himself who directly acts in these ways, this Qumranic text clearly describes the author’s view of the messianic time.