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Robert Eisenman and Michael Wise (editors)
The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered
Element Books,  1992

Reviewed by Robert M. Price




Readers of this long-awaited collection of the sequestered remainder of the Qumran Scrolls will naturally be forced to ask themselves: "Was it worth the wait?" Since the wait was totally unnecessary to begin with, probably not. Indeed one cannot help but wonder why the scholarly cabal of the International Team possibly imagined that fragments like these required their dilatory attentions (and no one else's) for all those decades. This collection of fifty documents represents what the editors judge to be the most interesting and important of the Scrolls hidden away by the Qumran brotherhood of Strugnell, de Vaux, Benoit, Milik and the rest. And yet there is little to merit the preceding hype. At least nothing obvious to the unaided eye.

And that is where the scholarly aid of editors Eisenman and Wise proves so vital. The Scroll snippets contained here, and snippets is what most of them are (after reading the introductory notes describing the importance of a fragment one may be startled to see how brief and full of lacunae it is!), assume their real significance only once they are read in the framework of the paradigm supplied in Eisenman's earlier books Maccabees, Zadokites, Christians and Qumran and James the Just in the Habakkuk Pesher. There Eisenman argues, marshalling a vast amount of eye-popping esoterica from neglected sources, that the Qumran Scrolls represent not a monastery of Essenes as conventionally defined, that is, as a pacifistic, vegetarian New Age movement bracketed off from the Zealots, Christians, and other Jewish movements, but rather a broad popular Zadokite  movement stemming from Maccabean times. This movement was marked by both nationalist and legal zeal, by xenophobia and messianism. They viewed themselves as a priestly people, taking Phineas-like zeal as the chief credential for priesthood. They presented the popular alternative to the Pharisees and Boethusian Sadducees, both Quisling lap dogs of the Herods and Rome.

If both what we have conventionally dubbed Essenes and Zealots were included in this movement, so were the Nazoreans, Ebionites, or Jewish Christians, though "Christian" is an anachronistic term better applied to the Hellenized offshoot religion as it began to take form under the sculpting hands of the pro-Roman, pro-Herod libertine, Paul. In fact, as Eisenman reads them, Paul himself figures quite prominently in the Scrolls as "the Man of the Lie" or "the Spouter of Lies" or "the Scoffer" who repudiated the Torah in the midst of the Congregation, becoming the Enemy by making himself the friend of men, pursuing "smooth things" rather than the rigor of the Law.

His opposite number, the Teacher of Righteousness, is to be identified as James the Zaddik, James the Just. The number of striking correspondences between the portrait of James in the New Testament and other sources on the one hand and that of the Teacher in the Scrolls on the other is very impressive. No less so is the way Eisenman is able to fit James the Just into the long tradition of popular "Zadokite" holy men attested from other sources. As Scrolls scholars have long recognized, in the Qumran materials we must be dealing with a major Jewish movement of the day. The only question was: which one? Why not the "Jewish Christians"?

What Eisenman sees had been invisible until now because of the consensus dating of the Scrolls a century or two too early. (Co-editor Wise is not as convinced of the Nazorean identity of the Scroll sect, leaning to a more conventionally-defined Zealot authorship, like Cecil Roth before him. Nonetheless, Eisenman has drawn his circle wide enough to encompass Wise's Zealots, so the two can walk together despite some lack of agreement. In any case, most of the commentary in The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered sounds like Eisenman's prose.)

A good handful of the "new" fragments and texts are particularly suggestive once one dons the new spectacles Eisenman has prescribed. 4Q525 The Demons of Death contains in its brief compass a surprising number of parallels with the New Testament Epistle of James. Both stress God's willingness to grant wisdom to the asker. Both warn against slander with the tongue. Both link Wisdom with the Law in the manner of Baruch 3:9ff. Both warn of the futility of seeking anything from God without singleness of heart. Both advise their readers to accept adversities as divine chastisements. Both compare sin to poison. Other parallels appear here and there in the texts, especially in the two Letters on Works Righteousness, where, as in the Habakkuk pesher, we have very Jamesian sentiments on the question of whether works are needed to complement saving faith. (The second of these Letters, incidentally, would seem to threaten to overthrow Lloyd Gaston's contention, in his Paul and the Torah, that we nowhere find the phrase "works of the Law" meaning "works that the Law requires.")

So intriguing and extensive are the Jamesian parallels between the New Testament epistle and the Qumran texts that one would love to see Professor Eisenman specifically address the case made by Dibelius and others that the Epistle of James is a thoroughly Hellenistic product,  representing a heavy assimilation of Stoicism with little Jewish (or Christian!) residue.

Eisenman and Wise argue that the writers of the Scrolls, whoever they were, seem to have believed in a single Davidic Messiah, who may nonetheless have had Levite lineage as well, a single "Messiah of Aaron and Israel." They admit that references in previously accessible Scrolls could be plausibly read as denoting twin priestly and royal Messiahs, but they feel the new materials rule this interpretation out. It seems, however, that even on Eisenman's theory, it would not be hard to make sense of a pair of Nazorean Messiahs, the priestly James playing the role of the Messiah of Aaron.

Perhaps the most sensational of the new Scroll materials is 4Q246 The Son of God, where we find a pseudo-Danielic prophecy of a kingly birth couched in terms almost identical to the annunciation of Gabriel in Luke's Gospel. More Lukan messianic exegesis, the allusions to Isaiah 61 in the Nazareth synagogue sermon, is paralleled by 4Q521 The Messiah of Heaven and Earth. Has Luke borrowed from Jewish messianic lore current in his day? Or do both Luke and the Scrolls depend on messianic exegesis in the wake of Jesus the Nazorean? On Eisenman's reading the latter would seem to be the case. This issue becomes all the more acute if the texts are to be read at one or two points as Eisenman and Wise do, referring to the death of the Messiah. They admit the text is grammatically ambiguous, but suppose they are right: do we infer a pre-Christian "Messiah ben Joseph" doctrine, and thus something of a pre-Jesus precedent for the notion of a dying Messiah? Or, as the editors imply, a Jewish Christian reference backward to the execution of Jesus himself?

Of course the very same issues, albeit in a slightly different form, have vexed scholarly discussion of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, where we have messianic predictions which seem uncannily to match Jesus' career as we read of it in the Gospels. Many scholars have followed R.H. Charles in bracketing such references as Christian interpolations in otherwise pre-Christian Jewish Pseudepigrapha. The great contemporary authority on the Testaments, M. de Jonge, argues rather that the Testaments are integrated literary wholes that in their present form must go back to Christians who have either simply made extensive use of Jewish sectarian traditions or have so thoroughly reworked older Jewish texts that the Testaments now read seamlessly as essentially new (and thoroughly Christian) works. One cannot just chop out the "suspicious" passages. The new Scroll material would seem in some measure to back de Jonge's theory, in that Hebrew and Aramaic portions of the Testaments of Levi and of Naphtali found at Qumran do not quite match the Greek versions as we have long known them. Thus the more familiar versions do represent a later stage of the transmission history of the Testaments. But may we not see as one of the implications of Eisenman's theory the possibility that the Testaments, with their thinly veiled references to Jesus, are integral wholes stemming from Nazorean "Christians" of the kind that wrote the Scrolls, too?

Apparently scholars have thought the references to Jesus to be too marginal for documents stemming in their entirety from Christian hands. If they were writing from scratch, would not Christian authors have given Jesus more of a central role? Thus, perhaps, the preference for theories that made the "Christian" passages interpolations into Jewish works or that made the Testaments as Christian works simply extensive recastings of pre-existent Jewish works. How else to account for all the Jewish material? But perhaps "Jewish Christianity" was not so very Christocentric to begin with! Perhaps Jesus was one of many Zaddikim venerated for his atoning sufferings. Others' favorite saint might have been John the Baptist or even James the Just. Christocentrism would have been born in the syncretistic matrix of the Gentile Mission, once (perhaps a la Sam K. Williams's Jesus' Death as Saving Event) the sufferings of Jesus had come to be reckoned by Greek-speaking Jews as an atonement for the Gentiles.

Eisenman and Wise speculate that the language of the Messianic Branch who will "stand up" or "arise" in the Last Times might refer to a future resurrection and second coming of the slain Messiah. (Of course such references occur in the previously available Scrolls as well.) Despite Eisenman's admirable propensity for casting his net widely enough to garner illuminating Religionsgeschichtliche parallels from both the Kabbalah and Shi'ite Islam, it is surprising that on the point in question he does not adduce the title of the Shi'ite eschatological deliverer variously called the Mahdi and the Qa'im. While the former means "the Rightly Guided One," the less familiar latter title means "He Who Shall Arise." Not only would the title of the Qa'im provide a parallel for the role of an eschatological deliverer, but specifically the Qa'im is a returned Imam, an inspired teacher of a past generation (one of the descendants of Ali who knew the esoteric interpretation of the Koran). Thus a Qumran Messiah who arises at the end of days might well be a returning teacher, too.

If the Messiah of Aaron and Israel who will arise at the end of days should indeed be intended as Jesus the Nazorean, brother of James the Teacher of Righteousness, there is yet another important implication. We are brought back to the suggestion of C.H. Dodd and others, made long ago now, to the effect that certain New Testament texts (e.g., the Johannine Farewell Discourses) imply that early Christians did not always have clear in their minds a firm distinction between the resurrection of Jesus and his second advent. Eisenman's suggestions would seem to imply that for the Nazorean Messiah to "stand up" (which equals precisely the Greek word for resurrection, anastasis­, "the standing up") at the end of the age is for him truly to be the firstfruits of the eschatological resurrection, part of the same process it initiates, unlike in Paul where the resurrection of Jesus, already years in the past, is more nearly the prefiguration or the proleptic foreshadowing of the general harvest of the dead. The band has stretched to the breaking point by the time 1 Corinthians 15 comes to be written.

Can it be, then, that originally the devotees of the crucified Jesus expected him to rise from the dead as Lord and Christ at the time of the second advent, in the impending future? And as that advent was longer and longer delayed, the Messiahship, as Wrede long ago suggested, was retrojected into his first coming, and so, it would now appear, was his resurrection. The resurrection itself would be seen as a piece of realized eschatology, as theological retrojection from what John A.T. Robinson once called "the most primitive Christology of all"--why not?  Years ago, John Allegro and others whipped up a storm (thus standing in the rainmaking tradition of Honi the Zaddik, appropriately enough!) by suggesting that certain possible references to the passion and future returning of the Teacher of Righteousness might make him a Christ before Jesus. Wouldn't it be ironic if Jesus himself turned out to be the pre-Christian Christ!

Another text that lights up with new possible meaning on Eisenman's assumptions is 4Q541 A Firm Foundation (working title: 4Q Aaron), which looks like a separate fragment of the  Testament of Levi. "[Now] I [am proclai]ming to you parable[s]...  rejoice. Behold, a wise man [will understand that I am seeing] and comprehending deep Mysteries, thus I am spea[king...] parable[s]. The Greek (?) [will not understand. But the Knowledge of Wis]dom will come to you, for you have received... [you] will acquire..." Do we not here have a parallel to (even perhaps an earlier version of) Matthew 13:11-17? One suspects that the reference to the Greeks who do not understand the parables is aimed at Hellenistic Christians who consider themselves able expounders of the parables of Jesus but in fact twist their meaning (cf. 2 Peter 3:16).

Down the page the same document offers a prediction of the one who "will make atonement for all the children of his generation. He will be sent to all the sons of his [generation]." Do we have here a nationalistic exclusivism like that in Matthew 15:24 (cf. 10:5-6), a restriction of Jesus' mission to fellow Jews? And when we hear it predicted that "They will invent stories about him. They will say shameful things about him," it is hard not to speculate that we are hearing the Nazorean estimate of what would become Hellenistic Gospel pericopes in which Jesus is made to set aside this or that provision of the Torah or Halakah. And this would account for the restriction of the mission of Jesus: it would serve to discredit and undercut the Gentile Mission whose leaders had fabricated "another Jesus" who had come to abolish the Law and the Prophets instead of fulfilling them.

Also worth mention is a section of the Testament of Amram (4Q543, 545-548) where we seem to have a variant of the tradition mentioned in Jude 9 (there derived from the Assumption of Moses) in which Michael and the devil dispute over Moses' body. In Jude's source, it has seemed, we are to understand a postmortem dispute in which Satan demands Moses's corpse, protesting that Moses mortgaged it to him when he disobeyed God by striking the rock. But Michael would have pointed out that Moses' misstep had been adequately paid for by his exclusion from the Promised Land. Michael carried the day, we must suppose, and he returned to the presence of God, bringing Moses with him, hence the title of the book. Maybe so.

But suppose the lost Assumption of Moses read more like the Testament of his father Amram, in which he tells of his visions, one of them a dream in which he beholds the struggle that takes place in every human soul. With nyctaloptic second sight Amram sees "Two (men) fighting over me... and holding a great contest over me." Asking their identities Amram learns that they are two mighty princes between whom all the human race divides its loyalties: the ophidian Watcher named Belial and Melchiresa, the Prince of Darkness, and his opponent Michael or Melchizedek, the Prince of Light. They bid him choose between them. He awakens. Could it be that in the  Assumption of Moses the great lawgiver gathered his loved ones to entrust to them his own visions on the eve of his departure into heaven, as Enoch does? Perhaps one of his visions was like this one attributed to Amram, a vision of guardian angel and devil wrestling above his supine "sleeping" body? Jude has somatikos, not nekros, after all.

            Finally, it may be that 4Q318 The Brontologion casts light on perhaps the most obscure passage in the New Testament, the suppressed revelation of the Seven Thunders in Revelation 10:3-4. It is interesting that the divination practices of Qumran combined conventional astrology with brontology, the discernment of thunderclaps. In view of the pronounced astrological imagery of the Apocalypse, where, e.g., Draco pursues Virgo across the heavens in chapter 12, it should be no great surprise to discover an occurrence of brontological oracles in the same book, though why the revelation is sealed up remains a mystery. Eisenman connects brontology in turn with the tradition of the Zaddikim making rain in times of drought. Noah, Elijah, and later Honi, Hanan, even James the Just were all credited with this feat. Eisenman discerns, admittedly in a glass darkly, some relation between the same tradition and the designation of James and John as "Sons of Thunder," especially since it is they who seek to sit at Jesus' right and left hands. Since the scene they seem to be envisioning is that in Daniel 7 where one like a son of man comes with clouds (the cloud-cherub chariot of Hadad/Yahweh?) and takes his throne, Eisenman would make the Sons of Thunder on the right hand and on the left as equivalent to the thunderheads with which the Son of Man is flanked. 

            That the same two names also are given the title Pillars (Galatians 2:9) seems to Eisenman not to be lacking astrological significance either. Are we not to think of the cosmic pillars that hold up the earth and the heavens? Eisenman cannot help but link the motif of James and John as brothers with astrological lore as well, but here he must resort to Thomas the Twin, pointing out that the Hebrew name for Gemini the Twins was Thomiah. Perhaps his missing link to the sons of Zebedee is the one supplied by fellow Dead Sea Scrolls scholar John Allegro in his universally despised and thus unread book The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, in which he hypothesized an unattested but grammatically feasible Sumerian word/name Gesh-pu-an-ur, "Upholder of the Vault of Heaven." This would be the Sumerian equivalent to the Greek name of one of the Heavenly Twins (who are actually mentioned, remember, in the New Testament in Acts 28:11). And if one imagines the prefix switching to a suffix (something common enough in Hebrew theophoric names), one would have the equivalent of "Bo-an-er-ges", the strange coinage interpreted by Mark as "Sons of Thunder."

            Eisenman and Wise managed to edit, translate, and publish the Scrolls with blinding speed so that speculations about what the hidden Scrolls contained might be replaced by speculations based on a reading of their contents. They are to be commended, in the words of the Dead Sea Scrolls, as "discerning interpreters of wonderful mysteries."




CopyrightŠ2007 by Robert M Price
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