Archives for the month of: December, 2012

The Final Hour

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Qumran34s2

To assess the foundations of Christianity and whether it was influenced by the teachings of the community at Qumran this essay will compare and contrast the texts of the Gospels of Matthew and John, the two apostles of Jesus of Nazareth, and the Qumran scrolls, which provide first-hand information on Palestinian-Jewish relationships during the the first century CE[1], as paleographic datings put the Qumran texts into the correct time frame[2]. The Old Testament also provides a background to the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth[3] and the particular Gospels were chosen because of the close relationship Matthew and John had to the life of Jesus. Although the Gospels have been redacted and are more than likely community documents written by more than one person, the texts of Qumran[4] and the books of the Old Testament also have these features. Therefore, through this method I hope to assess whether Christianity was more influenced by mainstream Judaism or the teachings of the Qumran community.

Christianity was based in the community of mainstream Judaism both religiously and geographically. The Gospels and the Qumran texts both refer to books of the Old Testament. In giving the genealogy of Jesus of Nazareth, the Gospel of Matthew begins with a tabling device found in the beginning of the First Book of Chronicles[5]. The writer of the Gospel seems to use this initial device to provide a voice of authority. A tendenz appears in the Gospels to select passages of the Old Testament to legitimize a certain stance[6], such as Jesus’ infancy[7] with the Immanuel Prophecy of Isaiah 7.14 or the Egyptian exile[8] with Hosea 11.1. The Qumran scrolls, on the other hand, used the authority of ancient texts in a different context. It is the right interpretation of the Law that has primacy for the Qumran community. For example, one can be expelled from the community for not adhering to the Law, and must study the Law[9], but can have alternative views of the prophecies contained within the doctrine[10].

Like the Qumran community, the teachings of Jesus are deterministic. In Matthew 10.29 Jesus states: “And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your father’s will”. Also, in John 6.65 it states that, “…no one can come to me unless it has been granted to him by my Father”. This can be compared with the 1QS[11] which states ‘that they may love all the sons of light, each according to his lot in God’s design…’. However, the teachings of the Pharisees are only semi-deterministic while the Sadducees are not at all[12]. This determinism in both sets of texts is also noted in a fulfilment of law. In John 5.17, Jesus states: Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfil’ and advocates for the commandments to be kept. Similarly, the 1QS[13] (1.4), and 4Q255, 257 state that the Master will do as commanded by the hand of “Moses and all His servants the Prophets”. This view has at its heart a strong dualistic notion of good and evil.

The dichotomy of good and evil has the Gospel of Matthew showing a marked similarity to 1QS and CD by offering potential converts the choice between darkness and light[14]. At 5.14 it states: “[Believers] are the light of the world”. This is similar to the dichotomic view in the1QS with all the children of righteousness being ruled by the ‘Prince of Light’[15] and all the children of injustice being ruled by the Angel of Darkness’[16]. At Matt. 8.12 it is stated: “I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” In particular, the Gospel of John at 6.13 states that John [the Baptist] was the witness to the True Light. Again at John 12.46 “I have come as a light into the world that whoever believes in me should not abide in darkness.” However, there is a significant difference to the Dead Sea sectarians in that Jesus also offers a mission statement: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven.”[17]

This missionary movement is seen in the Gospel of John at 21.42 where it expands Christianity beyond Judaism and the Temple, quoting Psalm 118.22: “The stone which the builder rejected has become the chief corner-stone”. In 1QS at 8.8 also refers to the community being the ‘corner-stone’. Matthew 3.9 states that John offered ritual baptism not only to Jews but to many non-Jews as well. However, there does not seem to be an apparent effort to convert non-Jewish followers in the Qumran Scrolls. The difference is that the communities described in the Dead Sea Scrolls tend to keep themselves separate for the sake of purity – ‘No member of the Community shall follow them in matters of doctrine and justice, or eat or drink anything of theirs, or take anything from them except for a price’[18], whereas, the Gospel of John quotes Isaiah to include Gentiles in its teachings[19].

Christianity also has an emphasis on purity, but it is an abstracted version.  Matthew 4 shows a similarity to the 1QS by telling about how Jesus went into the desert as a ‘purification’ process after baptism. In 1QS they also state that members should go into the wilderness and quote Isaiah[20].  However, in Matthew 18 a figurative measure of purity is used in that the greatest are as ‘little children’. Also, in John 9.6-7 Jesus tells the blind man to purify himself in the pool at Siloam. The 1QS also refers to such cleansing processes: ‘And when his flesh is sprinkled with purifying water and sanctified by cleansing water…’ [21]. However, in John 1.25 there is a dispute between John’s disciples and other Jews about purification, and at 4.2 it states that, unlike John, Jesus did not baptise. These types of contradictions seem to emphasise the nonconformity that Jesus appeared to uphold in his ministry.

While much of Jesus’ ministry was to do with healing the sick, blind, lame, and insane[22], the CD excludes such people[23] and the 1QS does not mention them at all. The Essenes, on the other hand, were known to be healers that travelled about the land[24]. They were thought by some to be a part of the Dead Sea sectarians and that John the Baptist was an Essene raised in the desert at Qumran[25].  Pliny the Elder also wrote about the Essenes living in a desert community as a place of no women and no money[26]. However, John is not identified as an Essene by Josephus or the gospels. Also John practiced the purification by baptism only once[27], whereas purification was seen as a ritual by all other known Judaic sects. That being so does not mean that it was impossible for John the Baptist to have started a splinter group from either of these groups at a time when he thought the Messiah had come. This situation may come about when a person involved in a belief changes that belief to encompass what they consider another reality. A clue to the possibility of a new belief is the revelation of a ‘new commandment’ by Jesus to ‘love one another, as I have loved you’[28] and the introduction of the ‘Holy Spirit’ or the ‘spirit of truth’[29] which become fundamental to the doctrine of Christianity.

While the 1QS and CD used the solar calendar, there is no evidence in either gospels of Matthew or John that the lunar calendar, used in the mainstream Jewish religion[30], was not used by Jesus. Jesus of Nazareth preached in synagogues and the Temple and he attended such feast days as the Passover[31], thereby implying that Jesus’ doctrine did not involve any change to traditional worship only a change to doctrine, and that Christian changes from the lunar calendar to a solar calendar came after the death of Jesus. The 1QS, like mainstream Judaism, was particularly strict about the keeping of festivals and holy days, however Jesus calls himself ‘Lord of the Sabbath’ and defends his healing of others on this day[32]. This would have been seen as sacrilegious by the other sects in Judaism, particularly the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Also, as the doctrine of Qumran revolved around paying particular attention to upholding ‘the seasons of Jubilee’[33] in which the holy Sabbaths have been revealed by God’[34], it infers that Jesus, although perhaps influenced by them, had no interest in complying with the doctrines of the Qumran texts.

Christianity is based in mainstream Judaism as much of Jesus’ ministry was spent preaching in synagogues and the Temple and upholding mainstream feast days such as Passover. Yet the doctrine of Jesus of Nazareth shows remarkable similarities to the doctrines of the Qumran texts through its determinism, dualism and emphasis on spiritual purity. Jesus’ ministry also holds some similarity with the Essene sect through Jesus’ practice of healing and John the Baptist early life hold some similarity with descriptions of the Essene movement. However, the amount of contradiction between the doctrines of these mainstream and unconventional religious movements and the particular teachings of Jesus of Nazareth about the ‘new commandment’ and the ‘Holy Spirit’ show that Christianity was influenced by all facets of Judaism but was primarily a new missionary doctrine which was intended to be preached to Gentiles as well as Jews. Therefore, it can be said that Christianity was influenced by the Qumran sectarians but only as much as it was influenced by mainstream Judaism.

 

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

  1. Beall, Todd S. “Conclusion” in Josephus’ Description of the Essenes Illustrated by the Dead Sea Scrolls , Beall, Todd S. , 1988 , 123-130
  2. Betz, Otto. “Was John the Baptist an Essene?” in Bible Review , 1990 , 18-25
  3. Brooke, George J. “Biblical interpretation in the Qumran Scrolls and the New Testament” in Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament , Brooke, George J. , 2005 , 52-69
  4. Burg A. et al., (date unknown) Christian Calendar- Jerusalem Centre for Jewish Christian Relations, viewed 21 November 2012, http://www.jcjcr.org/kyn_article_view.php?aid=50
  5. Fitzmyer, Joseph A. “The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins: General methodological considerations” in Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins , Fitzmyer, Joseph A. , 2000 , 1-16
  6. Josephus, The Jewish War, trans. G.A. Williamson, London: Penguin Books, 1970
  7. Pliny the Elder, Nat. hist. 5.15 (73) Natural History: With an English Translation, LCL 10; H. Rackham; Cambridge, Mass / London: Harvard University Press / Heinemann, 1962, PA6156.P65/1962
  8. The Holy Bible- Revised Authorised Version, (1982), British usage edition, Samuel Bagster & Sons Ltd, London
  9. Vanderkam, James  C. “The origin, character, and early history of the 364-day calendar: A reassessment of Jaubert’s hypotheses” Catholic Biblical Quarterly , 41: , 1979 , 392-411
  10. Vermes, G. (ed. & trans.), The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English London: Penguin Books, 2011

[1] Fitzmyer, Joseph A. “The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins: General methodological considerations” in Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins , Fitzmyer, Joseph A. , 2000 , p.4

[2] Fitzmyer, 2000, p.6

[3] Fitzmyer, 2000, p.5

[4] Fitzmyer, 2000, p.15

[5] Chron. 1; Matt. 1-17

[6] Brooke, George J. “Biblical interpretation in the Qumran Scrolls and the New Testament” in Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament , Brooke, George J. , 2005 , p.55

[7] Matt. 1.23

[8] Matt 13.15

[9] 1QS V 6-7

[10] CD VI, 18; XX, 32-33

[11] 1QS I, 10

[12] Josephus, BJ,2

[13] 1QS I, 4

[14] Matt 3.16

[15] 1QS III,20

[16] 1QS III, 21

[17] Matt 5.16

[18] 1QS V, 17

[19] John 12. 18-23

[20] Isaiah 40.3

[21] 1QS 3.8

[22] Matt 8-9

[23] CD XV, 15

[24] Josephus BJ, 2.145

[25] Beall, Todd S. “Conclusion” in Josephus’ Description of the Essenes Illustrated by the Dead Sea Scrolls , Beall, Todd S. , 1988 , 123-130; Betz, Otto. “Was John the Baptist an Essene?” in Bible Review , 1990 , 18-25

[26] Pliny the Elder (Nat. hist. 2, 5.15, 73)

[27] John 2

[28] John 13.34

[29] Matt, 12.31; John 7.37;16.5

[30] Vanderkam, James C. “The origin, character, and early history of the 364-day calendar: A reassessment of Jaubert’s hypotheses” Catholic Biblical Quarterly , 41: , 1979 , p.411

[31] Christian Calendar- Jewish Centre for Christian-Jewish Relations, viewed on 23/11/2012

[32] Matt. 12.1-8; John 710; 9.13

[33] 1QS IX, 15; CD IV, 1

[34] CD III, 15