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Messiaism in the Dead Sea Scrolls

07 Oct

The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) community are popularly referred to as the Essenes, but this has come to be doubted by some in the scholarly community. The DSS community’s scrolls contain some of the earliest extant books of the Hebrew bible. The modern Hebrew bible is based on the Masoretic text (c. 200 CE). The DSS scrolls, however, date to around the beginning of the Hasmonean era (c. 150 BCE) to the Roman era (the first century CE). In quite a few instances, the DSS scrolls reflect the earlier polytheism of the Israelites that was later corrected in the Masoretc; even agreeing with the LXX when the LXX disagrees with the Masoretic.

The DSS community came about after the events recorded somewhat in Daniel. The outlawing of Judaism by Antiochus IV and the ousting of the previous high preisthood in favor of the Hasmonean priest-kings after the previous high priest had allowed Antiochus to desecrate the temple. While this was a victory for the Maccabees, the DSS community favored the previous high priest kicked out by the Maccabees, and their writings reflect their sectarian views. Thus for the Qumran community, they longed for two messiahs – one that would be a Kingly Messiah to re-estaish the authentic kingdom of David, and one that would be a Priestly Messiah who would re-establish the authentic pre-Maccabean priesthood. The Hasmoneans, however, made their own bid for authentic priestly succession with the introduction of the Sadducees. “Sadducee” is etymologically derived from Zadokim (or Tsadokim) implying that they followed the teachings of the high priest Tsadok who, according to tradition, anointed king Solomon.
Some of the DSS scrolls include The Temple Scroll; The Scroll of the 24 Priestly Watches; The Scroll of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice; The Scroll of Priestly Blessings; The Scroll of Melchitsedek (describes the Archangel named Melkitsedek who functions as High Priest in heaven); The Testament of Levi; The Zadokite Document (also known as the Damascus Covenant).

All of these scrolls have to do with priestly issues. Then there’s also the War Scroll (portraying the struggle between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness) and the commentaries (pesher) on biblical prophetic books which are rewritten and reinterpreted in a way that all consoling prophecies refer to the Sons of Light and all rebuking prophecies relate to the Sons of Darkness. The Sons of Light are lead by the Priest of Righteousness (Cohen Tsedek [or Zadok]) and the Angel of Light while the Sons of Darkness are lead by the Evil Priest (Cohen Resha) and by the Angel of Darkness

The Messainic Scrolls include:
4Q175 (or 4QTest), also known as The Testimonia, is one of the Dead Sea Scrolls and was found in Cave 4 at Qumran in the West Bank. Only one sheet long, 4Q175 is a collection of scriptural quotations seemingly connected to a messianic figure. The manuscript was written in Hasmonean script of the early first century BCE and was edited by John Marco Allegro.

The Testimonia is a short document containing five Biblical quotations arranged in four sections concerning God’s activities at the end-time. Only the last section is followed by an interpretation. The first three sections refer to future blessings which will come from three figures, a prophet similar to Moses, a messianic figure and a priestly teacher.

The first section consists of two texts from Deuteronomy and refers to the prophet-figure who is like Moses (Deuteronomy 5:28-29; 18:18-19). The second section is an extract from a prophecy of Balaam about the Messiah-figure, who is similar to David (Numbers 24:15-17). This prophecy predicts “A star shall come out of Jacob and a sceptre shall arise out of Israel; he shall crush the temples of Moab and destroy all the children of Sheth.”[Simon Bar-Kokhba, the Jewish Messiah of 132 CE literally means “Simon son of the star”] The third section is a blessing of the Levites, and of the Priest-Messiah who will be a teacher like Levi (Deuteronomy 33:8-11). The last section begins with a verse from Joshua (6:26), which is then expounded by means of a quotation from the Psalms of Joshua (see 4Q379). These verses show that the Qumran community was interested in the messianic prophecies found in the Tanakh.

4Q252 Column V, formerly known as Patriarchal Blessing, covers Joseph’s blessing of Judah. It contains a quotation from Jeremiah 33:17. The author links this blessing to Messianic expectation and the “covenant of royalty” given to David. The commentary serves dually as anti Hasmonaean polemic and affirmation of the Qumran community’s self understanding as spiritual descendants of David.

The Rule of the Blessing (1QSb) is a very fragmentary text once thought to be part of the Dead Sea Scrolls book known as the Community Rule. It is added as one of two appendices (including the equally eschatological Rule of the Congregation) following the book of the Community Rule, on one of the first seven scrolls discovered at the Qumran site. The Rule of the Blessing includes three benedictions for use during the eschaton: one for the general assembly of the eschatological Tribe of Israel, which describes a sort of “living water” bringing them into a new covenant with God, one concerning the Sons of Zadok, priests chosen by God who will act “like angels” and lead Israel after the War. The third prayer is that for the messianic meal, to bless the “Prince,” or Davidic messiah, who has come to deliver Israel. These blessings are meant to praise the sect who inhabited Qumran and its leaders, for the ultimate perfection had dawned, and they had been its harbingers. Similar prayers are found elsewhere in the scrolls, and some believe that this particular manuscript many be a collection of prayers for general, daily use.

1QSa (The Rule of the Congregation) The scroll [says] that in the “last days” there will be a great war with the Gentiles, and the whole of Israel will join with the Yahad (an eschatological community) to fight. The Rule of the Congregation then outlines in several sections the rules for governing the eschatological sect, stages of life for members of the sect and the duties expected of them at each age, those disqualified from service, duties for members of the Tribe of Levi, acts of the council of the community, a description of a man (or men) described as “the Messiah of Aaron and of David” entering, and the eschatological banquet that will follow to celebrate his arrival. The Rule of the Congregation concerns itself largely with the operations of the sect during these “end-times,” and the functions and purity prerequisites demanded of the sect during the messianic assembly (banquet).

The War of the Messaiah is a series of Dead Sea scroll fragments describing the conclusion of a battle led by the Leader of the Congregation. The fragments that make up this document include 4Q285, also known as The Pierced/Piercing Messiah Text, and 11Q14 with which it was found to coincide. It is possible that it also represents the conclusion of the War Scroll.

This six-line fragment, commonly referred to as the “Pierced Messiah” text, is written in a Herodian script of the first half of the 1st Century and refers to a Messiah from the Branch of David, to a judgement, and to a killing. Hebrew is comprised primarily of consonants; vowels must be supplied by the reader. The appropriate vowels depend on the context. Thus, the text (line 4) may be translated as “and the Prince of the Congregation, the Branch of David, will kill him,” or alternately read as “and they killed the Prince.” Because of the second reading, the text was dubbed the “Pierced Messiah.” The traditional transcription and translation support the “killing Messiah” interpretation, alluding to a triumphant Messiah (Isaiah 11:4).

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