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Free «The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible» Essay Sample

Abstract

This research paper is about the Dead Sea Scrolls and their common relation to the Bible and its writings. There have been several contradictions regarding these Scrolls and what they present to people in relation to the Christian doctrine. This creates the need of not only to focus on the history of these Scrolls as presented by some scientific studies, but also to come up with clarification on their significance to the contemporary Christian doctrine. This research paper comprises of three main divisions. The first one discusses three main versions of the Scrolls and the Old Testament. The second part of this research paper looks at different editions of Biblical books found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and outlines their particular characteristics. The last part of the paper looks at several intriguing writings that are found in the Biblical Scrolls.

The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible

Introduction

One can describe the Dead Sea Scrolls as unique documents that are of great importance when it comes to fully understand both the Old and the New Testament. After coming to this understanding, one can consequently realize the challenge that Christian doctrine is facing today, while others may neglect the peril. The study of the Scrolls is of great importance to learn about Christian beginnings, its history as well as to reveal specific scientific findings. There have been several debates about the main idea behind these Scrolls, but few verses presented in these Scrolls have since been reviewed. At this moment, however, the big remaining concern is not about the history of these doctrines, but about clarification of their purposes (Flint, 2004, p. 24). Several theologists have come up with their own conclusions about the issue of Scrolls, and it is their findings that form the basis of this research paper.

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Historical Background of Dead Sea Scrolls

Dead Sea Scrolls are documents that are of great importance to Christian community in relation to the Old Testament. The Scrolls and their fragments that were recovered in Qumran environs represent a vast body of Jewish religious documents. In addition, Dead Sea Scrolls are claimed to date back to different times ranging between the 4th century BCE to 3rd century CE. No doubt Dead Sea Scrolls, which are considered to be the greatest manuscripts discovered in the 20th century, indicate richness of views of the Second Temple Judaism. They shed some light on several centuries that are important to both Christian and Jewish communities. Dead Sea Scrolls contain documents and a huge number of manuscripts, some of which are only represented fragmentally on the small scraps of parchment. The total number of these fragments comes close to several thousands, while the total number of different manuscripts is almost one thousand. Dead Sea Scrolls are written in different languages, namely Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek language. There is little agreement concerning the origin of Dead Sea Scrolls, which some scientists believe to originate in Qumran library. However, to many scholars the manuscripts of Dead Sea Scrolls are broken down in three categories: biblical, apocryphal or pseudepigraphical, and sectarian. Biblical category contains writings of the Hebrew Bible. All writings of the Hebrew Bible are represented in the collection of Dead Sea Scrolls, except for Esther’s Book. Apocryphal or pseudepigraphical section contains all other works which are omitted in various canons in the Bible and included in others. Sectarian part contains the manuscripts related to a pietistic commune and also include some ordinances, biblical commentaries, apocalyptic visions, and, finally, liturgical works. Although there are different views about the origin of Dead Sea Scrolls, several scholars are still stating that there is little evidence to supports the view that Dead Sea Scrolls originate from only one particular region. There are also some scholars who still believe that there exists a fourth category of Dead Sea Scrolls manuscripts, which is not biblical, apocryphal, or sectarian. To their personal views, such scrolls that include Songs of Sabbath Sacrifice are not sectarian documents and should only be regarded as simply some of the historical Jewish writings.

Three Main Versions of the Scrolls and the Old Testament

Sacerdotal Messianism

Common knowledge that is being presented today is that many people believe in the existence of only two Messiahs, namely the priestly Messiah and the common secular leader, also called the royal Messiah. Royal Messiah is considered to be more related to the orthodox conception of Judaism. There exists big controversy regarding some of the meanings provided by Dead Sea Scrolls and modern text of the Bible, which is a basis for Christian doctrine and faith. In Dead Sea Scrolls, there is a discussion about the ‘Teacher of Righteousness’. It is this same teacher that is known to be the founder of the Christian sect and who serves as the teacher of law. The term ‘Teacher of Righteousness’ is, however, ambiguous. The identity of this rightful teacher has indeed challenged many scholars up to date. There is no agreement on who this teacher of law was, since in the Old Testament period, Jesus Christ was not yet born. According to the current Christian doctrine, only Jesus Christ qualifies to be referred to as the real teacher of law. However, the contradictory part according to the Dead Sea Scrolls is that it happened in the Old Testament.  

To bring more clarification to this issue on accounts of Qumran messianism it is important to consider opinions of Pere Starcky of the Ecole Biblique. Starchy is a well known Dominican Hebrew scholar, who is also one of the paleographers that are working on the Dead Sea Scrolls in Jerusalem. This scholar has outlined four historical stages that describe the development of the doctrine. The first stage is an eclipse of messianism that took place in Hellenistic era, which is a period between 200-150 BC. In this stage, the scholar describes rise of the sect group, which was under the foundation of this ‘Teacher of Righteousness’. The second stage was the stage of reawakening. This stage dates back to 150-60 BC, which was the time of Hasmonean “kings”. This stage was accompanied with issues concerning the sacerdotal and the secular Messiah. The third stage, which took place at the beginning of Roman period, was the stage of absorption of messianic prerogatives, especially by future priestly Messiah. The fourth stage was the sage of renewal, which was possibly caused by Pharisaic influences (Doudna, 1998, p. 430).

Example of English translation of the Sacerdotal Messianism Scroll found in Old Testament (Tehillim) 11QPs is as follows:

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Surely a maggot cannot praise thee nor does a grave worm recount thy loving-kindness. But the living can praise thee, all those who stumble can laud thee. In revealing thy kindness  to them and by thy righteousness thou dost enlighten them. For in thy hand is the soul of every living thing; the breath of all flesh hast thou given. Deal with us, O LORD, according to thy goodness, according to thy great mercy, and according to thy many righteous deeds. The LORD has listened to the cries of those who love him and has graced them with his love and kindness. Blessed be the LORD, who executes righteous deeds, crowning his saints (The Qumran Library, 2006).

The Doctrine of Atonement

The Doctrine of Atonement is the second main version of Dead Sea Scrolls that presents the idea of messianic atonement as one of the most fiercely contested part in scroll interpretation. The interpretation found here is that the atonement is given to the people of Israel is a form of human suffering, and in this particular sect, the persecutions are not in dispute. A person is, therefore, expected to first recognize the real concept behind atonement, which can be interpreted in a number of unrelated ways. There is one controversial passage that claims that Messiah is the one behind making of atonements. This idea can also be considered as having close connection to the Grace Doctrine, whereby in some Hymns of thanksgiving, one may encounter deep spiritual insights on repeated occasions, particularly in the Book of Psalms. This spirit is considered to be of evangelical piety, whereby a man has no righteousness on his own will, except only on what God confers to him (Black, 1966, p. 24). 

Most of the evidence that attests to this version is found in the book of Second Isaiah in the Old Testament. For example, in the Manual of Discipline, there is a story about fifteen men, twelve of whom are laymen, while three are priests. These people are said to be perfect in all their undertakings, particularly revealed from the whole generation of Torah. In this particular scenario, the Messiah of Scrolls has been pictured to be connected to Jesus Christ, as the redeeming Messiah of people of Aaron and Israel, and thus this Messiah will forgive them all their committed sins. Professor Driver, who is one of the scholars studying Dead Sea Scrolls, claims that the passage contains great value of understanding. There is a big understanding among the covenanters doctrine of who the real Messiah is and how he is related to Christian doctrine. However, there is some confusion brought forward in this passage, since in the beginning and in the end there is no clear meaning of the word ‘Messiah’. From this section, it becomes clear that there are several norms of conduct, especially for the Master of those times, with their due respect to his loving and also his everlasting hating of men during the perdition in the spirit of secrecy.

Eschatology

Eschatology is the third version of the Dead Sea Scrolls according to the Old Testament version. Eschatology is known to have substantially influenced the writing found in the New Testament books. It is also believed that this writing was responsible for sharing beliefs with the early church, which were the same kind of beliefs that had immense influence on the last Judgment, which talks about the coming of God’s Kingdom. According to this passage, it is possible to see that the Christian doctrine is not really different, since the conflict that occurred between Jesus, the Romans, and Jewish authorities was a real one. The same passage was also interpreted by several New Testament writers to not only mean the terms of servant passages during the period of Second Isaiah, but also to give meaning to the cosmic conquest of evil forces (Qimron, 1991, p. 435). English translation that talks about Eschatology is as follows:

[She did not know that I had given her the grain [and the wine] [and the oil, and] (that) I had supplied [silver] and gold ... (which) they made into Baal. The interpretation of it is that people ate and were satisfied, and they forgot God who had fed them all. His commandments they cast behind them, which he had sent to them [by] his servants the prophets. But to those who led them astray they listened, and they honored them [ ] and as if they were gods, they fear them in their blindness. Therefore, I shall take back my grain again in its time and my wine [in its season,] and I shall withdraw my wool and my flax from covering [her nakedness.] I shall now uncover her private parts in the sight of [her] lovers no [one] will withdraw her from my hand (The Qumran Library, 2006).

 
 
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This passage may be interpreted to mean some form of punishment that God will provide to people so that stay morally upright. These forms of punishment may be effective in the contemporary world or even in the coming Kingdom of God, which is envisaged as the new creation, which is free of evil.

Different Editions of Biblical Books Found among the Dead Sea Scrolls

The edition of the Book of Isaiah is considered to be of great importance to people. This book contains a total of 66 chapters. It is rather remarkable the way in which there is an agreement with all  66 books of the Old and New Testament today. The discovery of the Book of Isaiah among the Dead Sea Scrolls has helped to build more confidence in people. Even secular scholars, who usually perceive the Bible to be just a book of the common men, have gained more confidence through the Holy Scriptures present in the Book of Isaiah. Many people can also note that the discovery of the Book of Isaiah links them with that period of the Old Testament. They can now be more confident that they have the Bible, which defends them and is also indeed very reliable. There exists a widespread notion that the Book of Isaiah was particularly valued by the people in Old Testament times. According to the New Testament, however, many prophecies describing works of Jesus Christ during his time on earth, including those done by his apostles, are included in the Book of Isaiah. Also, there is the prophecy about the virgin birth, which is found here. One can also find prophecies which are describing crucifixion of Jesus Christ and his entire life here on earth. They also show how Jesus was subjected to humiliation by the society that did not recognize him as the real Son of God during His time here on earth. The Book of Isaiah also has some of the greatest and flamboyant prophecies. Blood, thunder, and fire are found only in this book, more than in any other book in the Old Testament. In the Book of Revelations Isaiah is quoted extensively showing the divine judgments that God will inflict upon the rebellious Israelites and the rest of the human race. This version finally makes it very unique, when each edition is compared to each other (The Qumran Library, 2006).

Another difference comes from the Book of Habakkuk. This book is considered to have various commentaries concerning the Old Testament. The commentaries found in these writings indicate that a copy of first two chapters found in the Book of Habakkuk is accompanied by the verse-by-verse commentary. This commentary is known to give numerous details on the apocalyptic figure termed as ‘the Righteous Teacher’.  It is this Righteous Teacher that is being persecuted by the wicked priest.

The canon is also responsible for designating some of the books discovered among the Scrolls. The books are said to have some Jewish and Christian contexts in them, thus most of these scriptures are considered authoritative. The authority commanded by these books mostly deals with both faith and Christian doctrine. Canon is a term that originates from the Greek word ‘Kainon’ which means ‘to rule’. Thus, it is through this influence that we find most of the editions found among the Dead Sea Scrolls talking about leadership and rule. The canon can, therefore, be described as the list of books, which can be compared to others and only those that met the required standard can be accepted as the real Scripture, which indeed means the true word of God. In the Old Testament, such books with high command about the rule of God are books of Luke, Psalms, Kings, and Moses. These writings are one of key books found in the Old Testament that are related to the Dead Sea Scrolls.  

Intriguing Manuscripts Found in the Biblical Scrolls

A small fragment found in Deuteronomy, chapter 32: 8 for the first time shows the documentary evidence of one of Hebrew readings, which has also been long inferred following the basis of Septuagint. In the Masoretic text, this verse is presented as follows (as in the RV):

When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,

When he separated the children of men,

He set the bounds of the peoples

According to the children of Israel (Flint & Vanderkam, 2004).

In the year around 180 BC, Jewish sage Jesus Ben-Sira wrote a book of wisdom, which is well known to many people as Ecclesiasticus. The section of this book called “The Praise of the Fathers” celebrates memories of famous Israelites of the earlier days. The section of this reading is included further as it is presented in the book of Ecclesiasticus:

For Hezekiah did things that pleased the Lord,

And was strong in the ways of David his father,

Which Isaiah the prophet commanded, [p.60]

Who was superb and faithful in his vision?

In his days the sun went backward;

And he added life to the king.

He prophesied the events that happened at last;

And he comforted them that mourned in Zion.

He sewed the things that should be to the end of time (The Qumran Library, 2006).

The third reading goes as follows:

So justice goes forth perverted...

(1: 5) Look among the nations and see;

Wonder and be astounded for I am doing a work in

Your days that you would not believe if told (The Qumran Library, 2006).

This third reading can be interpreted to speak about all wicked and supremely deceitful men, as well as about the Men of Falsehood, since they did not believe in what the Teacher of Righteousness has told them to do from the mouth of God. This text also speaks about those who acted wrongly against the commandments of the Lord and also against the new covenant since they refused to believe in the covenant of the Lord and did not keep the Holy Sabbath.

The next important quotation comes from Numbers, chapter 24: 15-17, where the Mesopotamian prophet Balaam foresees the rise of a military conqueror in land of Israel (probably King David):

I see him, but not now;

I behold him, but not nigh:

A star shall come forth out of Jacob,

And a scepter shall rise out of Israel;

It shall crush the forehead of Moab,

And break down all the sons of Sheth.

The prophets, however, can also be described as God’s own chosen men, since they acted under His entire commission, even if they did not pour oil on their heads. Thus, in Psalms, chapter 105: 15 it goes as follows:

Touch not my anointed ones,

Do my prophets no harm! 

   

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