Review of 'The Dead Sea Scrolls' by S. Hodge

By Vexen Crabtree 2003 Feb 16

Book CoverHere are some quotes and notes taken from "The Dead Sea Scrolls"" by Stephen Hodge. The book is a summary of the theories and history of the Dead Sea Scrolls, with a lot of introductory text to each area of study.

Quotes taken from 2001 paperback first edition. Published by Judy Piatkus Limited, London.

The quotes I've taken are biased towards my own interests, so I suspect I have removed some of the more Jewish-orientated history, and have not quoted any of the fascinating and detailed history of Judaea such as the author gives in the second quarter of this book, nor have I quoted much of the analysis of which Jewish sect may have lived at Qumran, etc.


p3-4
"Whereas it was previously thought that the Qumran library represented a homogenous collection of works written, or at least highly prized, by the Essenes, on-going reappraisal has led many scholars to recognize that the collection is really an invaluable cross-section of religious material that reveals for the first time just how rich and varied Jewish spiritual life was at that time. The scrolls offer an intellectual and devotional landscape into which Jesus and his movement can be placed. No longer does Jewish Christianity seem an inexplicable, isolated occurrence. [...]

In other words, the true value of the Dead Sea Scrolls is that they help provide a genuine context for what was to become Christianity. For example, they tell us just how widespread was the expectation and longing for a saving Messiah among Jews at that time, and that there were a number of competing theories about the expected role of this Messiah in the world of Judaism. The scrolls also reveal that the expectation found in the Gospels that the end of the world was imminent was a dominant belief in many quarters in Judaea."

These ideas are repeated in the conclusion on p217-218.

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    p16
    [In cave 2] "The shards of four smashed jars were found scattered on the floor together with the remains of about forty scrolls. When they were examined and transcribed, it was found that the majority of these scraps were pieces from various books of the Bible such as Genesis, Exodus and Deuteronomy, as well as some apocryphal works. [...] they have been used by biblical scholars to make small but sometimes significant corrections to the standard text that has been handed down over the centuries"


    p29
    "Despite occasional internal friction and disagreements from some members of the team, in particular John Allegro who eventually embarked on a private vendetta against the rest of the team and Christianity in general, the team worked reasonably efficiently throughout the 1950s and 1960s."


    p37
    "The scholars who have worked on the Dead Sea Scrolls almost universally accept that these precious fragments of early Jewish literature were copied, if not written, some time between 170BCE and 68BCE"


    p53
    "After the death of John Hyrcanus in 104BCE, Aristobulus, his eldest son, took over as High Priest. John had intended his widow Alexandra to become the secular leader - female rulers not being unheard of in the ancient Near East."


    p73
    "There is one final problem concerned with dating the scrolls. Apart from a few inconsequential legal documents such as receipts and accounts there are no autograph manuscripts, only scribal copies. What this means is that none of the important texts is an original in the handwriting of the person who composed it - they are all later copies"


    p78
    "Reviewing the situation regarding the derivation of dates for the Dead Sea Scrolls from both carbon-14 tests and palaeography, my overall impression is that scholars tend to play up or down the various difficulties arising from the dating methods in order to confirm their own hypotheses about the scrolls and who wrote or copied them. As one scholar has said, those dates which confirm one's theories are emphasized, those that diverge a little are relegated to footnotes, and those which are totally contradicted are discarded!"


    p92-93
    "Slightly younger than the Book Of Astronomical Writings, but still pre-Maccabaean in origin, is the Book of the Watchers. This section of 1 Enoch expands some material from Genesis and presents doctrinal themes concerned with the End of Days and the Last Judgement [...] [What was the cause of evil in the world?]

    The answer provided by the Book of Watchers marks a new phase in Jewish religious thought and may have been inspired by concepts that the Jews encountered during the exile in Babylon. Most religions are not happy about identifying God as the author of evil in the human realm, so they usually lay the blame on humanity itself. However, taking a cue from the enigmatic passage in Genesis 6:1-4 concerning the Sons of God who took wives from the daughters of men and gave rise to a breed of giants known as the nephilim, the Book of Watchers identifies these beings as the cause of evil which resulted in God sending the Flood to destroy much of humanity.

    We are told that God appointed two hundred angels to watch over his newly created human progeny. As time passed by, the allegiances of these angelic Watchers gradually shifted and they became enamoured of their erstwhile charges. In effect, they had become rebellious or fallen angels. Not only did they take human wives for themselves but they also divulged secret knowledge such as the ability to work metals and other skills. [...] The offspring borne by the human wives of these fallen angels, the gigantic beings known as nephilim, shared many of the attributes of their angelic fathers. Given that this section of 1 Enoch is thought to have been composed during the late third century BCE, it may well be an allegory for the impact of Hellenic culture on traditional Jewish society that began to be felt after Alexander the Great and his successors occupied Palestine.

    As the outcry against the irresponsible evil wrought by these Watchers increased, they incurred the wrath of God who was minded to destroy them. They came to Enoch, asking him to intercede on their behalf with God. Enoch agreed to do so, so presenting the author of the Book of Watchers with an opportunity to describe various apocalyptic visions seen by him in heaven. This probably takes its cue from an old legend associated with Genesis 5:24: 'Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, for God took him', for it implies that Enoch was taken up to heaven by God while he still lived. While in heaven Enoch has visions concerning the unfolding of history, the eventual destruction of evil and the regeneration of the world in a new age of righteousness."


    p94
    "The Epistle of Enoch, which combines themes from both the Book of Watchers and the Book of Dreams, is written in the form of an exhortatory testament attributed, like all the previous works, to Enoch. Here again the history of the world is described, but this time it is divided into a sequence of ten consecutive 'weeks', each with its special features, from the time of Enoch until the Last Judgement. This so-called Apocalypse of Weeks would have been important for sectarian groups, since it outlines a repetitive pattern in historical events where wicked people rise to power only to be overthrown or destroyed in some way.

    [...] In each of the cyclical 'weeks' a certain group of righteous, pious people are chosen or predestined for salvation. So, for example, Noah is chosen for salvation when God decides to rid the earth of evil people who have been corrupted by the fallen angels."


    p211
    "Almost as soon as the scrolls had been discovered at Qumran there were scholars who were prepared to link Yeshua directly with the Community; some, such as John Allegro, even went so far as to identify him with the Teacher Of Righteousness. As we saw earlier, Eisenman and Thiering imaginatively associated Yeshua in some way with person known to us from the sectarian scrolls only by their sobriquets, but these claims have received scant appreciation in the wider world of Qumranology. As with John the Baptist, the grounds for the claims of these writers partly be found in the widely accepted parallels between the Gospel reports of Yeshua's teachings and activities and what we read in the writings of the Community."


    p211-214
    Hodge lists many of the similar practices of the Dead Sea Scroll community and notes which ones were the same as those teachings accepted by the New Testament writers.
    1. Common Ownership of Property
    2. Exorcism. "Allusions to this practice of exorcism are found in some of the writings from Qumran, such as the Genesis Apocryphon where it says, 'so I prayed for him ... and I laid my hands on his head; and the scourge departed from him and the evil spirit was expelled from him' (XX22.29)"
    3. 3) Teachings on Divorce and Treatment of Enemies. "The scrolls have also been useful in providing valuable background information for ideas hitherto found only in the Gospels. For many years scholars had been baffled by the ban that Yeshua imposed upon divorce and remarriage, for this ruling had not been found in any other Jewish sources. but when works like the Temple Scroll and the Damascus Document came to light, it was soon noticed that members of the Community were similarly forbidden to divorce."
    4. The Ritual Meal. "Unfortunately, the account given by the Gospels of the so-called Last Supper has clearly been modified for the sake of later theological considerations, so it is difficult to unravel what was actually practised by Yeshua and his followers."
    5. The Beatitudes (p214). "Even teachings of Yeshua previously thought to be unique, such as the Beatitudes which he enumerates in the course of the Sermon on the Mount, find a parallel among the writings of the Qumran Community." One such work is called The Beatitudes (4QBeat) where a number of virtues are mentioned in a very similar spirit way to how they are in the New Testament. A series of beatitudes are listed which start "Blessed be they who...""
    6. Eschatological Dualism
    7. Literary Style and Terminology. "Writers in the Community used the unique pesher method of interpreting older scriptural texts in terms of contemporary events. When doing so, however, they expressed their interpretations in a heavily coded manner. As any student of the New Testament will know, the Christian writers also made liberal use of passages from the Prophets and other biblical books to prove that Yeshua was the Messiah and that everything that befell him was a preordained part of God's plan for the salvation of the world. Overall, the specific texts and the manner in which they were used by both groups to prove their respective claims are very similar, each having strong predilection for the Book of Isaiah"


    p217-218
    "All biblical scholars agree that, apart from their intrinsic value, the sectarian scrolls are of tremendous importance as background information to the social and religious conditions in Judaea that led to the rise of Christianity. Although there were some sensational claims, both in the early days of Qumranic studies and more recently, that that Dead Sea Scrolls contain material that is potentially explosive in its implications for the emergence of the Yeshua movement, it is probably safe to say that this is not so, no matter how beguiling the argument of scholars like Robert Eisenman.

    Nevertheless, to my mind there are more subtle implications that can be derived from the Qumran texts, for they not only provide interesting parallels to Christian concepts and practice but tend to reduce the uniqueness of the Yeshua movement. It is reasonable to assume that there was perhaps not that much direct contact between most members of each community, but that there was a pool of religious language and beliefs shared by many other Jewish groups which have long since disappeared."

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    By Vexen Crabtree 2003 Feb 16
    http://www.vexen.co.uk/books/hodge_deadseascrolls.html

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