Monday, June 19, 2006

The Dead Sea Scrolls - Part II (Photo in June 14 Entry)

Why do they matter?

Since, as far as is known, there is not a single original text of the Bible, Jewish or Christian, in existence, they matter a lot.

For Jews, they represent a confirmation of the accuracy of texts produced 1000 years later. Until the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, the earliest extant Hebew text was from about 900 CE. The Dead Sea Scroll texts are eerily similar to the later ones, and provide a bonus new paragraph to the Book of Samuel.

From a Christian standpoint, the Scrolls provide a new foundation upon which to understand the thoughts and beliefs that shaped early Christianity.

One of the major questions about Jesus has been: how much of his teachings were already present in first century Jewish culture, and what was original to Jesus? Until recently, little was known about first century Judaism. All modern Jews descend from the Pharisees; they are the only group for which written documentation has been available and, therefore, the only group to whose teachings those of Jesus could be compared.

There are striking similarities between Jesus' words and the teachings of the Pharisees in the areas of God as Father, the resurrection of the dead, helping the poor, and the law as, essentially: love God and love your neighbor.

The biggest discrepancies between the teachings of Jesus and those of the Pharisees have to do with a focus on end-times, including an end-time meal (as it was explained to us, what we think of as The Lst Supper in Mark actually looks forward to the return of Jesus, rather than backward to memory), an emphasis on baptism, an approach to the interpretation of Scripture in light of the community's experience (i.e., looking back to Isaiah for the words, "Make way a path in the wilderness"), and a value in the practice of celibacy.

Until the last several decades, it was believed that all of the above discrepancies indicated ideas original to Jesus and the Church, but the discovery of the scrolls idicated that they were all beliefs common to the Essenes. With respect to the passgae form Isaiah quoted above, the Essenes believed that they were in the wilderness and that study of Torah was "the Way."

None of this means that Jesus, or the early Christians, were Essenes, a theory I have heard from time to time. But it does demonstrate how many of the early characteristics of Christianity were Jewish.

And that the real differnece between Christianity and the ideas and concepts already floating around in its original culture are its beliefs in the Resurrection and Jesus as messiah.

Of course, I now have yet another new book, this one all about the Dead Sea Scrolls. . . .

(Cynthia: The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish Origins of Christianity by Carsten Peter Thiede, Professor of Early Christian History and ordained Anglican minister.)


Cynthia said...

I'm dying to know the title of the book you're reading. I've been trying very hard not to mention how jealous I am that you actually got to see part of the Dead Sea Scrolls, but I can't resist. I think it would have taken my breath away.

Lisa :-] said...

Lots of history there, about which I know very little...and about which you--straddling the worlds of Judaism and Christianity in your everyday life--are in a unique position to know. Fascinating!

Paul said...

Umm, I don't have anything intelligent to say, but I am nothing if not loyal.

Kathryn said...

I need to read more about the Dead Sea Scrolls. Do you have any specific recommendations?