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I received this as a gift several years ago, and never got around to studying it till I included it in my study of Palestinian backgrounds in the first centuries BCE and CE early in mid-2005. The authors claim the Dead Sea Scrolls were suppressed and church authorities and scholars tried to keep their story quiet, because the scrolls contained "a new account of the origin of Christianity and an alternative highly significant version of much of the New Testament."
A Different New Testament?
The wording of this sentence makes it sound like some documents of the New Testament were included in the DSS. Or perhaps some great revelation from a related document of the times that would give a whole new idea of who Jesus was and what happened. Well, new insights are always welcome, but this sensational headline is also, not fulfilled in the revelations of this well-written and otherwise entrancing book.
It turns out the authors don't actually mean that there are variant versions of New Testament texts in the Qumran collection. But what they refer to is that many of the documents deal with themes and topics that are in some of the New Testament texts.
The New Testament at Qumran
The Dead Sea Scrolls do not seem to contain copies of any New Testament documents. Two fragments, however, have now been analyzed by one scholar who provides aa convincing analysis showing these represent two New Testament documents. Carsten Peter Thiede makes this suggestion in his book The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish Origins of Christianity (NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003, 256p).
But these fragments Thiede has identified do not appear to be alternative versions at all, but copies of the text as we have it, from the analysis Thiede has provided.
None of the complete Qumran documents or substantial fragments of documents reviewed in publication have so far even been related to the origins of Christianity or the contents of the New Testament. There are themes that parallel New Testament writings, however. The book of Hebrews is the only sacerdotal model of Jesus in the New Testament, using the Old Covenant priest and sacrifices as a model to explain or interpret the role of Jesus Christ.
But it remains that no documents found at Qumran are directly related to the New Testament. Thus it is disingenuous of these authors to make the sensationalist claim that the Qumran findings radically modify our understanding of the origins of Christianity.
They certainly enrich it, yes. It would clarify some details if the Essene community were indeed to have been close to the Nazarene community. But what is so radical about this? The whole land of Judea and the kingdom of Galilee as well were in ferment of religious and political kind, ready with expectation and frustration.
Certainly the various messianic communities would be in communication. We should not be surprised if Jesus was associated with the Essenes, or even studied in Qumran, or stayed in Essene guest houses as he travelled around the two countries of Judea and Galilee. Certainly Yahweh was "doing a new thing in Israel."
But there are insights and terminologies in the Qumran documents which do shed considerable light on the dynamic movements and groups among 1st-century Judaism. There are more details and actual texts in the book I read in 2006, by Robert Eisenmann and M. Wise, The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered (NY: Barnes and Noble, 1994, 386p).
By "church authorities" they mean specifically the Roman Catholic Church. The documents were in the care and control of the École Biblique in Palestine, a Dominican school with direct ties to the Vatican and historically related to the Catholic offices controlling doctrine. They document and detail the continual delay in publication and refusal of access or photographic publication of the documents until the initial committee finished its translation and definitive interpretation.
The alternative origins they refer to are the similarities that may be found between the Qumran documents, various Galilean Zealot and Messianic movements before and after the time of Jesus, and the themes and terminology found to be similar between the early Judean church and the Qumran documents. They also discuss differences between the Essenes, as they are described by contemporary and subsequent Roman authors, and the community of Qumran as described in the documents.
See related reviews and articles on this site:
The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish Origins of Christianity
Delay, Deception and Delivery of the Dead Sea Scrolls
Religion in the Dead Sea Scrolls
Thessalonica, Qumran and the Cult of the Emperor
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Many other books have review notes with the reading list entry
Original review written and posted on Amazon.com July 2005
Revised and Expanded 31 December 2006
Posted on Thoughts and Resources 23 December 2008
Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2007 Orville Boyd Jenkins
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