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Everybody loves a good mystery. That's just what the Dead Sea Scrolls are to many people: A good mystery. Think about it: Hidden documents, undiscovered for two thousand years, largely suppressed by scholars for another forty years. Documents dating at least back to the time of Jesus and the early church. What new insights are contained in these mysterious scrolls? What can they tell us about Judaism and the early church?

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Why were many of them suppressed by scholars for so many years? These are the questions I intend to consider in this essay. In so doing, I hope to do two things. First, I hope to illustrate the flimsy basis of a number of sensational conspiracy theories about the scrolls. Recently the most basic claims of the Christian Church have been challenged by people, mostly non-scholars, who allege that the Dead Sea Scrolls have been suppressed because they undermine Christian doctrine. A few popular books and at least one television special have been dedicated to this theme. It has been so widely perpetuated that it may be worth our time to answer these critics. The second thing I would like to do in this essay is more positive in nature. Once we have swept aside some popular and bizarre theories of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we can then turn our attention to the more important matter of seeing what light they really do shed on Jesus and the early church. When we look into the teaching of the scrolls we will be able to perceive an ongoing dialogue between the writers of the scrolls and the writers of the New Testament. Listening to this dialogue will help to explain some otherwise obscure verses in the New Testament and will throw a flood of light on the world of early Christianity. The world of the first-century Jesus will come a little more to life and we will be better able to appreciate what he said and who he is. But for the moment let us turn our attention to sensationalists like Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh. In their book The Dead Sea Scroll Deception, they argue that the Vatican suppressed the scrolls because they contain information harmful to the Church. At first blush some of their claims seem credible. On the western shore of the Dead Sea lies Khirbet Qumran, the site of an ancient community of people who have been described as Jewish monks. In 6997 an Arab shepherd accidentally discovered some scrolls in a cave not far from Qumran. Between 6957 and 6956 ten more caves were located.

The scrolls of cave four, which contained over 555 texts, were for decades tightly controlled by an editorial team of mostly Catholic scholars. The team published only about 655 of them over the course of 95 years. To whom were these Catholic editors accountable? To a Dominican-sponsored school in Jerusalem which had direct ties to the pope himself. From here Baigent and Leigh paint a sinister picture of a ruthless Church suppressing or destroying incriminating documents to protect Church doctrine. An important strategy created by the editorial team to suppress the truth, the authors argue, was creating a rigid orthodoxy of interpretation of the scrolls. The linchpin of this interpretation was the dating. The team tried to put as much distance as possible between the Dead Sea Scrolls and early Christianity. Thus, the team claimed that the scrolls belonged to a period long before the Christian era. Anyone who might question the early dating or the team's interpretation, or who would fight for the publication of the secret scrolls, would be treated as a heretic. Why, then, did the editorial team drag their feet so much in publishing the texts entrusted to them? The answer is a little more boring than Baigent and Leigh's hypothesis but truer to the facts. The bottom line was simply greed. They wanted to be the first to publish the translations and lengthy commentaries on the texts from Cave Four. I would add that recently the monopoly on the scrolls has been broken many more Dead Sea Scrolls are presently available to the general public, and Church doctrine seems to have survived well enough so far. The evidence for this last point is overwhelming. What we know about the Essenes from ancient writers like Josephus and Philo is remarkably similar to what we know about the Qumran community from their archaeological remains and their literature. Pliny the Elder, who died during the volcanic destruction of Pompeii in the year 79 A.

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D. , described a community of Essenes living on the western shore of the Dead Sea, close to where Khirbet Qumran is situated. If the Qumran community was not made up of Essenes, then they were completely ignored by every ancient writer and historian. That seems very unlikely. Jesus, meanwhile, became part of a group known as the 67 Apostles. The group split into two factions: the Christians, led by Jesus, and the Zealots, led by Judas Iscariot. The temptation stories recorded in the Gospels are really secret accounts of the argument between Judas, represented by the figure of the devil, and Jesus. Judas offered to give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if he would subordinate himself to Judas and become his second-in-command, but Jesus refused. Thiering denies that Jesus worked any real miracles. Again, the miracle stories contain secret historical facts about the political history of the Jesus movement. Lazarus was not literally raised from the dead. He was considered spiritually dead because he had been expelled from the Qumran community, but Jesus symbolically brought him back to life by accepting him into his movement. Jesus did not really die on the cross he fainted instead and was later revived by friends and taken to Rome. He did not literally ascend into heaven his ascension figuratively means that he joined an Essene monastery. His appearances to his followers afterward were not post-resurrection appearances, but personal visits. All of these secrets are supposed to be contained in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible. Needless to say, her theory has been no more accepted than any of the others I have just mentioned.

The only fact more amazing than these theories is that those who propose these theories honestly believe that they pose a serious threat to the Church. John Allegro once wrote to a colleague, By the time I've finished there won't be any Church left for you to join. Well, Allegro is finished and there are still plenty of churches around. Now that we have considered the messages of the critics and the challenges to the consensus interpretation of the scrolls, we can proceed with the very positive task of seeing what light the Dead Sea Scrolls really do shed on Jesus and early Christianity. This task is very important, not only as a corrective against the sensationalist reinterpretations, but also as a corrective against those at the other end of the spectrum. As one may well imagine, some scholars have reacted so sharply against the sensationalists that they have gone to quite the other extreme. Since there is no evidence that Jesus ever visited Qumran, he could not have been influenced by the Qumranites at all. Charlesworth writes: The contentions that Jesus was not influenced in any way by the Essenes have a nonhistorical, dogmatic, and apologetic ring to them. Jesus must be unique - he is divine and in no way human - appears to be an underlying presupposition of many published statements. He is thereby shorn of his historicity, and the earliest Christian heresy, combated by 7 John 7 and endorsed by the Acts of John, begins to triumph. Docetism, the doctrine that Jesus was not human but a being of celestial substance, is surreptitiously endorsed. Reference6If we are really to know Jesus the Messiah, the Anointed Son of God, we must get to know him as a fellow human being. Consider the message of Hebrews chapter 7. In order to be the pioneer of our salvation, Jesus had to be a human being of flesh and blood. But that means far more than just living and walking among us and eating food. Jesus had to be subject to the very same limitations. He did not know everything Luke tells us about the boy Jesus in the temple learning from human teachers and writes that Jesus increased in wisdom and in years.

Jesus was like us in every way, only without sin. Physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and culturally, he was one of us while he was here on earth. Specifically, Jesus was an ancient Jew who spoke mainly Aramaic and who frequented the Synagogue. Thus it is no surprise that he would leave Galilee to seek the guidance of his cousin John, who at that time was preaching and baptizing along the river Jordan in Judea. Let's consider this man known as John the Baptist. What was his background? Where did he come from? Why was he baptizing everybody? The Gospels give us a few clues. He was a man of priestly descent who began his ministry in the Judean wilderness. The Judean wilderness is not a very big place, and it would have been incredible if John had not run into some of those Essenes living in and around Qumran. Now here is where the Qumran community and their scrolls can start shedding extra light on the Bible for us by filling in some historical and cultural background. First, the Bible tells us that John the Baptist was an ascetic. He dressed simply and ate locusts and wild honey. From our literary sources like Josephus and Philo we know that the Essenes were also ascetics. We also know, from literary testimony, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the archaeological remains of Qumran, that the Essenes practiced many water baptisms for ritual purification. Water baptism is believed to have originated in Diaspora Judaism, that is, among Jewish communities outside of Israel. It was used in the initiation of Gentile proselytes.

At Qumran, however, all members of the community were baptized with water for ritual purification. The baptism with water, however, was only an outer, ritual cleansing an inner, spiritual baptism was believed to take place at Qumran.

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