Book Review

THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 46 THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS By Dr. Aziz Ahmad Chaudhri The Essene Sect At the time of Jesus there were three main sects of Judaism; Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Essenes. This is testified by a 1st Century Jewish historian, Josephus who writes that these three were the main sects during his lifetime. For some reason the Essenes are not mentioned in the gospels. But they were an important group. In this section we will confine our discussion to Essenes as in recent years there has been a resurgence of interest shown in this sect due to dis- covery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Moreover, the main reason for our interest in Essenes is the theory that Jesus had belonged to the Essenes during his early years. Josephus has written about Essenes in his work, De Bello Judaico (Ch 8) and especially in his Historia Antiqua Judaico (Book 3, ch 5). His description is authentic as in his early years he was personally associated with Essenes. On reading Josephus, we get the following description: The doctrine of Essenes tended to make men confident to trust their fate in the hands of God as they believed that nothing happened without His Will. They believed that the soul is immortal and aspired to lead a righteous and honest life. They were very industrious, enter- prising, and showed great skill in agriculture. They exercised justice and equality in their dealings with all people and having all their property in common, rich and poor shared with each other. They never married as they thought that it would create discord among the brethren. They did not think it right that one should be slave or servant of the other as all men are brethren and God is their Father. Therefore, they lived entirely separate from women and served and assisted each other. They chose most virtuous and honest men to work as accoun- tants for the profits of their agricultural labour and other handicraft. They also performed the service of priests and provided for all their wants including food and clothing. Compared to other Jews, they showed more amity and love for each other and lived a more moral life. They shunned and despised sensuality as a great sin but considered 47 THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS a moral and temperate life a great virture. They had the custom of adopting children of other people, especially when they were very young as this is the most impressionable age. They showed great kindness and love to these children and taught them all kinds of knowledge, sciences, morals, and religion. They did not reject wedlock altogether as it is necessary for the propagation of mankind but for themselves they prohibited marriage as they feared unchastity of women and considered it a source of discord. They despised riches and worldly gains and the equality of property among them was admirable. The laws of their order regulated that anyone who entered their brotherhood gave up all his property and wealth, donating it to the common property of the sect; as a result neither haughtiness nor slavish subjection was seen among them. They all lived together as brethern, sharing both good and evil. They did not live in any particular town but in every town their order had its respective house where members lived, received travellers and kept their supplies. Essenes wore their clothes until they were worn out. They neither bought or sold among themselves but every member willingly shared with each other. The Essenes worship of God was grand, sacred, and majestic. Before the sunrise they did not speak on wordly matters but read sacred prayers. The prayer being over, they worked in their various professions till noon time when they gathered again, bathed them- selves with cold water, and donned a white linen garb. Then they proceeded to special halls of the order where meals were served in silence. They offered prayer before the meal and again after it. They sang a hymn of praise to give thanks to God, the Giver of all good, both before and after the meal. They then took off their white aprons which they considered as sacred and returned to their work until evening. They observed the same ceremonies for their evening meal. They took their meals in most solemn silence, no noise or dispute disturbing the peace of the house. They observed great temperance in their way of living, eating, and drinking. One of their principles was “to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, comfort the sick, visit, assist, and comfort the prisoner, and comfort, aid and protect the widows and fatherless.” They never let themselves be overcome by anger, hatred, and ven- gence, or ill wili. Indeed they were the champions of faith, truth, and honesty and servants and arbitrators of peace. Except the oath they took at their initiation into the order, they did not bind them- selves through an oath. They had profound knowledge of the art of healing, and were well acquainted with medicinal herbs and plants and minerals. THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 48 Anybody who wished to belong to the brotherhood was not admitted at once but had to pass a whole year of trial and follow certain rules and regulations. If he proved himself worthy by living a strict moral and virtuous life, he was provided with a spade, an apron, and a white garb and again had to undergo further trials. Later he was sprinkled with water or baptized as a sign of his spiritual purity and liberation from material things. At last having proved strength of character and other qualities he was admitted as an actual member of the brotherhood and at that time had to take the following sacred vow: “Above all things to fear God, of a true and pure heart, exercise justice and honesty to all men; neither by impulse nor influenced by others, harm or hurt any man; during all his life to shun injustice, and ever undaunted, further truth and justice.” “Further, he vows sacredly ever to obey his worldly ruler, as nobody has the rule without the will of God, and if he becomes a ruler, he does vow not to misuse power, and to set an example for his subjects by a virtuous life, frugality, and plain clothing. He shall always love truth and shun falsehood, preserve his mind from any impure thought or impulse, and never stain his hands with unjust gain. For the third, he vows never to interpret or explain anything of the laws of the order in any other spirit than he himself has receiv- ed it from holy fathers and faithfully hide and take care of the books and archives of the order and according to special regulations to keep secret the name of angels with whom the fathers formerly stood in communion.” This was the vow that every member had to take and they considered it so sacred that they would suffer death than to break it. They kept sabbath more punctually and conscientiously than any other Jews. All members of Essene sect were grouped in four separate classes or ranks. Older groups were considered superior to younger ones. Essenes possessed courage and uncommon tranquility of mind. They could bear pain and suffering with the greatest fortitude and strength of mind and in defense of anything good and just, they gladly preferred death to life. In the Roman war (66-73 A.D.) they suffered great persecutions. Essenes believed the soul to be immortal which after death lives eternally. It was their saying that during worldly life the spirit is chained to the body like a prisoner in his cell but when these chains burst at death, the spirit is freed from the bodily prison and already tasting the heavenly bliss, it soars up to the bright kingdom of joy and peace. 49 THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS The greetings of Essenes to each other was “Peace be with you.” They had the custom of presenting their doctrines to younger members and brethren in parables or allegorical form, thereby to form and exercise the mind and sharpen the intellect. Above is a summary of description by the learned Josephus of this interesting Essene brotherhood. Another learned author about Essenes is the Jewish philosopher, Philo, who was a contemporary of Jesus but lived in Alexandria, Egypt. In several of his writings he has described doctrines and customs of Essenes. Generally, his descriptions of Essenes correspond and compliment that of Josephus. According to Philo, “The Thera- peuts” were those Essenes who of their own free will had retired into solitude and who for love of Godliness and heavenly things passed their time in studying religion and nature. They lived in several places in Palestine and Egypt and in the later country their greatest congregation was in the vicinity of the city of Alexandria. Thus we have two authentic authors who have described the Jewish sect of Essenes in their writings. A reflection upon the doctrines and customs of the Essenes reveals a similarity with the precepts and traditions of Christianity. Their emphasis on righteous life, forgiveness, brotherhood, and peaceful living is similar to the teachings of Jesus in the gospels. The Essenes’ vow to obey their worldly rulers remind us of the words of Jesus, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesars, and unto God things that are God’s.” Like gospel teachings, the Essenes emphasized to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless and comfort the sick. Like the Essene custom, Jesus taught religious truths in allegorical forms of parables. During his post crucifixion appearances to disciples, Jesus persistently used the Essene greeting, “Peace be with you”. According to some scholars, the Christian communion and baptism has its roots in the Essene rites of the sacred meal and sprinkling of water and baptizing to clean the body spiritually. The elements of atonement were added to it later on, when that became the church doctrine. Christian monasticism and ecclesiastical hierarchy remnd us of the celibacy and rigid heirarchy of Essenes. One wonders if the reason for Jesus not marrying during his Palestinian life was due to the influence of Essenes. Many Biblical scholars are agreed about the influence of the Essene sect on Christianity and the early church, especially in view of the dis- covery of Dead Sea scrolls which have thrown fresh light upon this Jewish sect. There has long been a theory that Jesus was an Essene which THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 50 would explain the similarities between his teachings and that of Essenes and it would appear probable that Jesus lived with Essenes during long periods of his life before his ministry about which the gospels are absolu- tely silent. It is also postulated that John the Baptist also belonged to the Essene sect. The Dead Sea Scrolls In early spring of 1947, a Bedouin boy was herding his goats near a cliff on the western shore of the Dead Sea. He noticed a cave he had not seen before and he just threw a stone into it. There was an unfamiliar sound of breakage. He was frightened and ran away. But later he returned with another boy and together they explored the cave. Inside they found several tall clay jars. They took off lids of jars and inside they found ancient manuscripts written in Hebrew but they did not know the language. They sold the manuscripts which eventually reached the hands of scholars. Thus began the story of the most spectacular manuscript discovery of modern times, known as the Dead Sea scrolls. Except for a few scraps in the past, these are the first ancient Hebrew manuscripts known. The area of the cave on the western shore of the Dead Sea where scrolls were found is known as Qumran. Later all the caves in Qumran neighbourhood, more than two hundred, were searched by archaeolo- gists and other experts. In addition to manuscripts they collected tens of thousands of fragments of manuscripts. It became apparent that a whole library had been hidden in the caves which seemed to have included almost all the books of the Bible, a number of apocryphal works and literature of the Essene sect. These manuscripts and their fragments were kept in the Palestine Archaeological Museum in Old Jerusalem for further study and research. Some of the manuscripts were acquired by the Government of Israel and a special museum was built to house them. These Manuscripts have been photographed, trans- lated, and published. Numerous books by Hebrew and Biblical scholars have been written about the Dead Sea scrolls. There was an old ruin near the original cave on the western shore of The Dead Sea with only a bit of stone wall protruding out of the ground. It has been known in Arabic as “Khirbet Qumran” (Ruin of Qumran). Discovery of scrolls in the caves nearby heightened the interest of archaeologists in this ruin. It was almost completely excavated by Roland De Vaux of the Ecole Biblique and Mr. Harding of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan. The result was astonishing. Excavation has resulted in a very ancient stone building containing twenty to thirty rooms and thirteen cisterns for water and with much of its equipment intact. Nearby there is a cemetery with more than a 51 THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS thousand graves. The building looks like a monastery and all evidence seems to establish that it was one of the habitations, if not actually the headquarters of the Essene sect. Most scholars are agreed that this Dead Sea community who deposited its library in the caves, were Essenes. However there is some dissent. Pliny in his writings has located the Essene community exactly where this Qumran building and the library in the caves nearby were found. It has been concluded by archaeologists like De Vaux that members of the Essene community lived in nearby caves and also in tents and huts and the monastery was their centre. From coins found in caves and the monastery and also evidence of pottery, the period of occupancy by the Essenes has been estimated from about the end of the second cen- tury B.C. to the year 68 A.D., the second year of 1st Jewish revolt when the building was destroyed and the community killed or dispersed by Romans. It was for fear of Romans that the Essenes hid their library in the caves nearby. The dating of the manuscripts is in accord- ance to this estimated period of Essene occupancy. Some of the manuscripts are known as the Manual of Discipline, the Habakkuk Commentary, and Hymns of Thanksgiving. A “Manual of Discipline” describes the practices and doctrines of the community which in general are similar to those described by Josephus about the Essenes. Mr. Edmund Wilson, author of “Dead Sea Scrolls”, (1947-1969) calls this community, located on the Dead Sea shore with a monastery as their centre, “a cradle of Christianity perhaps more than Bethlehem or Nazareth.” Teacher of righteousness One of the central figures of Dead Sea scroll literature is the person who is called “Teacher of Righteousness” who was persecuted by one called the ‘ ‘wicked priest”. This is based upon passages in Habb- akkuk Commentary. These persons are not named but evidently they were of great importance in the history of this Dead Sea community. The “Teacher of Righteousness” is presented as a priest and leader of a community whose members are poor and call themselves “the New Covenant”. The teacher was blessed with divine revelations and was referred as “Elect of God.” He insisted on strict observance of law but was in conflict with the priests of Jerusalem. He was persecuted by a “wicked priest” who is sometimes referred to as “Man of Untruth” or “Prophet of Untruth” who “swallowed him up in the heat of his anger” and who “has dared to strip him of his clothing” and has struck him “in the execution of inequitous judgements” and “odious profaners have committed horrors on him and vengeance on the body of flesh.” THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 52 On the three scrolls from the original cave there is a collection of thirty-five Psalms known as “Thanksgiving Hymns”, the complete text of which has been published by Hebrew University in Jerusalem. These Psalms are thought to have been composed by Teacher of Righteousness or by one of his disciples who acted as his mouthpiece. The author of these Psalms speaks eloquently of his persecution and persecution of his people and gives thanks to the Lord for his deliv- erance from the enemies. Dupont-Sommer, a well known French scholar, writes in his book, The Dead Sea Scrolls, a Preliminary Survey: “Everything in the Jewish New Covenant heralds and prepares the way for the Chris- tian New Covenant. The Galilean Master, as He is presented to us in the writings of the New Testament, appears in many respects as an astonishing reincarnation of the Teacher of Righteousness. Like the latter, he preached penitence, poverty, humility, love of one’s neigh- bour, and chastity. Like him, He prescribed the observance of the Law of Moses, the whole Law, but the Law finished and perfected, thanks to His own revelations. Like him, He was the Elect and the Messiah of God, the Messiah redeemer of the world. Like him, He was the object of the hostility of the priests, the party of the Sadducees. Like him, He was condemned and put to death. Like him, He pronounced judgement on Jerusalem, which was taken and destroyed by the Romans for having put Him to death. Like him, at the end of time, He will be the supreme judge. Like him, He founded a Church whose adherents fervently awaited His glorious return. In the Christian Church, just as in the Essene Church, the essential rite is the sacred meal, which is presided over by the priests. Here and there, at the head of each community, there is the overseer, the ‘bishop’. And the ideal of both Churches is essentially that of unity, communion in love—even going so far as the sharing of common property. “All these similarities —and here I only touch upon the subject — taken together, constitute a very impressive whole. The question at once arises, to which of the two sects, the Jewish or the Christian, does the priority belong? Which of the two was able to influence the other? The reply leaves no room for doubt. The Teacher of Right- eousness died about 65-53 B.C., Jesus the Nazarene died about 30 A.D. In every case in which the resemblance compels or invites us to think of borrowing, this was on the part of Christianity. But on the other hand, the appearance of the faith in Jesus —the foundation of the New Church —can scarcely be explained without the real historic activity of a new Prophet, a new Messiah, who has rekindled the flame and concentrated on himself the adoration of men.” (p 99-100) It is apparent from this discussion by Dupont—Sommer that 53 THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS there is a striking resemblance between Teacher of Righteousness and Jesus. Dupont-Sommer states that Teacher of Righteousness was condemned and put to death by his enemies. As Edmund Wilson discusses in his book ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ (1947-1969) there is no definite evidence in scroll literature that Teacher of Righteousness was killed. The date of his death is not given in the scrolls. Dupont-Sommer has tried to identify the Teacher of Righteousness and the wicked priest. He identifies the wicked priest as Aristobulus II, a Hasmonaean prince and states that Teacher of Righteousness died about 65-53 B.C. He gives date of Habakkuk Commentary about 41 B.C. This identification and assigning the dates is based upon analysis of historical allusions in some passages of ‘Habakkuk Commentary’. Other scholars like G.R. Driver of Oxford, disagree and find this analysis far-fetched and he assigns the general date to the scrolls as middle or late 1st century A.D. or early 2nd century A.D. and to the Habakkuk Commentary he assigns the date 70-73 A.D. after the destruction of Jerusalem. An intriguing question There is an intriguing question. Could the Teacher of Righteous- ness and Jesus be one and the same person? It may be that Jesus after escaping death on the cross and hiding from his enemies in Jerusalem exiled himself and took refuge with the Essene community on the western shore of the Dead Sea. He may have lived with this community for a varying period of time before he left Palestine is search of lost tribes of Israel in the East and travelled as far as India. Since he probably belonged to the Essene sect in his youth, he may be well known to them as a teacher and a leader who fulfilled their Messiahnic expectations. Thus Jesus may have been referred to as ‘Teacher of Righteous- ness’ in the scroll literature and the reason, among any others, for not calling him by his name would probably be the desire for secrecy for reasons of the security of Jesus after the event of the cross. In this view, ‘Thanksgiving Hymns’ by the Teacher of Righteousness would in fact be Psalms by Jesus, in post crucifixion period, in which he offered thanks to God for having delivered him from his enemies, like Caiaphas — the “wicked priest” — who tried to kill him on the cross and who had “dared to strip him of his clothing” and the ‘odious profaners who had committed horrors on him and vengeance on the body of flesh.’ It is contended that there is not enough resemblance between scrolls literature of the sect and Jesus’ teachings as in gospels. There are many resemblances but there are also differences. In this regard THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 54 it should be borne in mind that gospels have limitations as regards their claim to convey to us the authentic words of Jesus. Secondly, even though Jesus may have belonged to the Essene sect in his earlier years he was raised to the status of prophethood by God, and he was not bound by all their precepts and practices. As a prophet, though following Mosaic Law, he, in the light of his divine revelations, was a teacher and a reformer not only for Pharisees and Saduccees, but equally for Essenes. Thus he may have repudiated some of the doctrines and practices of Essenes, acting in the role of a prophet and a Messiah. This may explain the divergences between gospel teachings and those of the Dead Sea community, or for that matter, between Teacher of Righteousness and Jesus, as depicted by gospels. Among the Dead Sea scroll scholars, most like Dupont-Sommer, are not of the view that Teacher of Righteousness was Jesus. However, there are rare examples of this view. Dr. J.L. Teicher of Cambridge believes that Dead Sea sect were Ebionites ‘the poor ones’ —that is, Jews who had been converted to Jesus but who continued Jewish practices; and that Teacher of Righteousness was Jesus and that the person referred in scrolls as ‘wicked priest’ and ‘Man of Untruth’ was the apostle Paul. He assigns 1st century A.D. as date of the scrolls. It must be admitted that among the scrolls scholars there are disagreements and controversies about the various historical aspects of the Dead Sea scrolls. Nag Hammadi documents In the years 1945-47, apart from discovery of Dead Sea scrolls, Coptic documents belonging to early Christians were found in an ancient graveyard at Nag Hammadi, a village in Egypt. These are known as Nag Hammadi documents. These documents contain many apocryphal works including the gospel by Thomas. The gospel of Thomas is among the earliest documents of Edessan Christianity. We read in the book, The Crucible of Christianity’, edited by Arnold Toynbee, published in London 1969: “The earliest documents we have on Edessan Christianity — namely the gospel of Thomas, the song of Pearl contained in the acts of Thomas and the odes of Solomon — go back, in part, to the end of the 1st century and display the characteristic features of Judeo Chris- tianity — beyond Edessa Christianity penetrated into Adiabne, where there was an important Jewish community, and no doubt reached India very soon, since Pantaenus, writing in the mid 2nd century, asserts that he found in India a gospel in the Hebrew script. (P. 277 b) 55 THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS The odes of Solomon referred above are not by King Solomon but consist of 42 songs composed in Syriac. These are hymns celebrat- ed among the early Christians of Edessa and sung by them in congre- gations. They belong to 1st century. In 1908 James Rendel Harris, a famous Syriac scholar, located this forgotten treasure in a 16th century manuscript. Some odes included in this manuscript are put in the mouth of Jesus Christ who states: “They who saw me marvelled at me, because I was persecuted, and they supposed that I was swallowed up; for I seemed to them as one lost. And I did not perish, for I was not their brother nor my birth like theirs. And they sought for my death and did not find it”. (Ode 28, verse 8, 14, 15) “And I rose up and am with them; I will speak by their mouths. I did not perish, though they desired it against me. And I made a congregation of living men amongst his dead men, and I spoke with them by living lips.” (Ode 42, verse 6, 14, 18) (The Lost Books of the Bible—The World Publishing Company, New York, 1944. Second part, “Forgotten books of Eden.” The odes of Solomon P. 120-140) The above words of Jesus as quoted in odes of Solomon show that his enemies tried to kill him but did not succeed even though he seemed to them as one lost. This supports our view that Jesus did not die on the cross. Shaikh Abdul Qadir, a Pakistani scholar of biblical and Christian literature, gives his analysis of the Nag Hammadi documents and reaches the conclusion that according to these documents the death of Jesus on the cross is a myth. He writes in an article in the book, ‘Truth About the Cruci- fixion’: “The Nag Hammadi documents were contained in a sealed jar. The writings, 52 in number (consisting of 1,191 surviving pages) deal with the beliefs of early Christians. They are all written in the Coptic language. It is the literature of Gnostics the Hebrew Chris- tians — the more pious part of the Christian Community. When the Roman Church set about destroying this literature, early Christians collected it and buried it underground in a graveyard. This literature contains the Gospel of St. Thomas. This Gospel contains the earliest version of 114 sayings of Jesus Christ, many of which the present day reader does not find in the synoptic Gospels. The most interesting point is that this literature contains dialogues which Jesus Christ THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS 56 held after the event of the cross. This treasure includes besides the Gospel of St. Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, The Gospel of Truth and the Epistle of James. This discovery points to the changes which took place in early Christian beliefs. It also points to what happened to Jesus after the crucifixion. It also contains the parables and teachings of Jesus. These Gospels make clear that the death of Jesus on the cross is a myth. Jesus lived in Palestine for 550 days after the crucifixion, and he lived in the company of some of his followers and kept himself busy in teaching and training them. This proves that Jesus was alive after the incident of the crucifixion.” I give some excerpts from Nag Hammadi Gospels. The Gospel of Philip says: “Those who say that the Lord died first and then rose up are in error, for he rose up first and then died.” Quoting a passage from the unpublished document Bertil Gartner writes: “In one of the many documents from the Nag-Hammadi Library, the as yet unpublished Apocryphal of James, we read that the risen Lord walked with his disciples for 550 days after his resurrection, and that it is Peter and James who are there entrusted with the secret knowledge.” (Bertil Gartner, The Theology of the Gospel of Thomas, pp. 102-103). The same author quotes another passage from the Apocryphal of James. “Jesus said: Leave James and Peter to me, that I may fill them with fullness. And when we had called them both, he drew them aside at the same time commanding the others to attend to their tasks.” (p. 120-121) In the Gospel of Thomas (published in 1959) we read: “The disciples said to Jesus: We know that you are going to leave us, who shall (then) be chief over us? Jesus said to them: Wherever you have come, you shall go to James, the righteous one.” (Bertil Gartner; The Theology of the Gospel of Thomas; p. 56-57). “But the days shall come when you shall seek me and you shall not find me.” It is clear from the above quoted passages that Jesus Christ escaped death on the cross. He lived with his disciples for nearly a year and a half, he ‘filled’ Peter and James with ‘fullness’ because they had to look after his sheep in his absence. At last he left his disciples for good, nominating James as their Head.” (Truth About The Crucifixion – p. 134-136) 57 THE REVIEW OF RELIGIONS REFERENCES 1. A Dupont-Sommer, The Dead Sea Scrolls, A Preliminary Survey. Oxford, B. Blackwell 1952 2. A. Dupont-Sommer, The Jewish Sect of Qumran and the Essenes, 1956. 3. Driver, Godfrey Rolles, the Judaean Scroll, The Problem and a Solution. New York Schocken Books, 1966. 4. Edmund Wilson, The Dead Sea Scrolls 1947-1969. Oxford University Press, New York, 1969. 5. Caster, Theodor H., Dead Sea Scriptures, 1956. 6. Truth About the Crucifixion, published by The London Mosque, 16 Gressenhall Road, London SW18. <^^<^^<4£^ THE PROMISED MESSIAH When the 13th century of the Hegira drew to a close and the beginning of the 14th century approached, I was informed by God Almighty, through revelation, that I was the Reformer for the 14th century. I received the revelation (Arabic). 'The Gracious One has taught thee the Quran and has expounded its true meaning to thee, so that thou mayest warn people of their evil end those who through generations of neglect and through not having been warned have fallen into error. So that the way of those offenders may be made manifest who do not desire to follow the guidance after it has been openly declared. Tell Them: I have been commissioned by God and am the foremost of believers.' (Kitabul Bariyya, p. 201).