Biblical Archeology

Do similarities between this document and early church teachings mean the church borrowed from Qumran?

George E. Rice is associate professor of New Testament, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

 

During the past several months news papers have reported the discovery and publication of yet another Dead Sea scroll—one that promises, they say, to throw light on the origins of Christianity. Actually, this scroll, the last of the known scrolls found in the caves beside the Dead Sea, lay hidden for years under the tile floor of a Jerusalem antiquities dealer. Yigael Yadin, Israeli archeologist and now deputy prime minister, first learned of the existence of the scroll in 1960, but not until after the Arab-Israeli war of 1967 were the tiles removed and the Temple Scroll presented to Yadin. The scroll was inside a shoebox, with a cigar box lying beside it guarding fragments that had been broken off the scroll.

Although the scroll had been wrapped in layers of paper, a towel, and cellophane before being placed in the shoebox, the humidity in the antiquities shop had done its damage. The top and bot tom of the columns were fragmented, and two or three columns were turned into "chocolate fudge" and hopelessly lost.

The scroll is twenty-eight feet long and contains nineteen sheets. Each sheet is ten inches high and eighteen inches wide. There are sixty-seven columns of text, with most columns containing twenty-two lines each. It has been suggested that the scroll was written during the second half of the second century B.C. probably during the reign of John Hyrcanus (134-104 B.C.) or slightly earlier. 1

After eleven years of patient toil Yadin has recently published a three-volume work and a supplementary booklet describing the acquisition of the scroll, its language and content, as well as the text and a commentary. An English translation is yet to appear.

The scroll's contents

The scroll derives its name from its content, an architectural description of a temple that the Essenes planned to build once the corrupt priesthood was driven from Jerusalem. The Temple description is similar to the one we find in Ezekiel, and its architectural details provide an opportunity for instruction of how the Temple services should be conducted. Beginning with a description of the Temple building itself, the scroll guides the reader outward, pausing at each important object in the Temple compound until the tour is concluded at the moat surrounding the outer wall.

The last part of the scroll follows the Deuteronomic Code. Not concerned with sequence, the writer of the scroll moves from topic to topic within the text of Deuteronomy, presenting the sect's point of view on the laws governing the sacrifices and their preparation, vows, ritual purity, idolatry, and ends with the laws concerning incest.

Milgrom points out that previous scrolls from Qumran are nonpolemical in nature. However, this is not the case with the Temple Scroll, where "the polemical thrust of the sect's laws is projected into clear relief. Indeed, when a law is emphasized either by alteration or repetition, the probability exists that the sect is opposing the point of view adopted by the establishment." 2

Two examples of the polemical nature of the scroll are (1) the exaltation of Levites and (2) the restrictions placed upon the king.

The Levites. At some point the priests had taken over the Levitic role as sacrificial slaughterers and usurped the Levi tic tithe, appropriating it to themselves. The scroll demands that the tithe be re stored to the Levites and that their role in the sacrificial service be reestablished. The scroll also questions the right of the priests to the shoulder portion of the sacrificial victim. It insists that the fore leg portion assigned to the priests does not include the shoulder which rightfully belongs to the Levites.

Milgrom concludes that "the scroll gives new grounds for investigating the tensions and struggles among priestly families and between priests and Levites at the end of the Second Temple period." 3

Restrictions on the king. The king is forbidden to have more than one wife. He cannot divorce her and can remarry only when she dies. He is also forbidden to marry a foreigner.

There is no question that the text of the Temple Scroll and Yadin's commentary will provide a fertile field of study for decades to come. The scroll makes a vital contribution to that area of study that lies between Biblical and Rabbinic Judaism, to say nothing of its contribution to our knowledge of the Qumran sectarians.

Relationship to the church

After a discovery such as the scrolls of Qumran, the question is always asked, "What is the relationship between the teaching of the apostolic Christian church and the new discovery?" Yadin sees a strong relationship between the teachings of the early church and the content of the Temple Scroll. He sees evidence that many doctrines of the Christian Church have their roots in the Essene teachings at Qumran. Milgrom finds Yadin's argument for this close tie convincing: "The founders of Christianity came into contact with the sect at the end of the latter's existence, long after it had separated itself from the main stream. Christianity, then, knew the sect at Qumran, when the sacrificial cult with its related laws of purity were in suspension. And what the sect suspended temporarily Christianity made permanent." 4

However, points of similarity between the Temple Scroll and the teachings of the early church do not necessarily mean the church borrowed from Qumran. For example, both the Essenes and the Christians eliminated sacrifices from their worship services. But the Essenes ceased sacrificing because they did not have control of the Temple, and because its services were not conducted according to their preferences, while the Christians abandoned sacrifices because the sacrificial services had met their fulfillment in Jesus.

Other points of similarity arise from the fact that the Temple Scroll is a pole mic against religious and social abuses. However, similarities are not surprising when we consider that the Essenes and Jesus were both seeking to correct wrongs, and both were using the identical norm for what is right—the Old Testament—although there was consider able difference between their interests and goals.

Although the publication of the Temple Scroll is an important event for Christians, it seems the better part of wisdom to wait for the text of the scroll to appear in English so it can be carefully examined by more scholars before extravagant claims are made for the influence of the Essene sect on the teachings of Christianity.

Notes:

1 Jacob Milgrom, "The Temple Scroll," Biblical Archeologist 41 (September, 1978), p. 119.

2 Ibid., p. 115.

3 Jacob Milgrom, "Studies in the Temple Scroll," Journal of Biblical Literature 97 (December, 1978), p. 504.

4 Jacob Milgrom, "The Temple Scroll," op. cit., p. 120.

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George E. Rice is associate professor of New Testament, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

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