The “Messianic Apocalypse” (4Q521)

For students of the New Testament, and other interested Christians  today, the Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran provide many examples which shine a light on the religious world and thought inherited by early Christians from the Judaism of the time. Two texts, in particular, are tantalizing in the mode of Messianic thought expressed, and their possible relation to the understanding of Jesus as the Messiah in the New Testament and early Christian tradition. The first of these texts, which I discuss here in this article, is labeled 4Q521.

The customary title, “Messianic Apocalypse”, was applied by the editor Émile Puech—’Une apocalypse messianique (4Q521), Revue de Qumrân 15 (1992), pp. 475-519—who also prepared the critical edition published in Discoveries in the Judean Desert (DJD) Vol. XXV, 1-38, pls. I-III. The title is rather misleading, though the thrust of the surviving fragments certainly appears to be eschatological and Messianic. The handwriting is recognized as being from the Hasmonean period, and the text itself was likely written at the beginning of the 1st century B.C. (or perhaps late in the 2nd century). Like nearly all of the Qumran texts, 4Q521 is highly fragmentary; the intelligible surviving portions are represented by five principal fragments, of which the most substantial are numbers 2 and 7. Even so, there are many gaps, and no way of knowing (or even guessing) the extent of the work as a whole, nor where precisely these fragments fit into its outline and structure.

Overall, the fragments suggest a work of exhortation and instruction (for members of the Community) in light of coming end-time events. This may be glimpsed in the surviving pieces of fragment 1 (col. 1), where the importance of listening to wisdom/instruction, the need for repentance from sin, remaining in the fear of God and love, etc, appears to be in view. More practical instruction is indicated in fragment 5 (col. 1 + 6): “…do not serve with those [… with] his frie[nd] and with [his] neighbor […] good to you and fortify the [po]wer […] sustenance, the faithful ones will grow…” (transl. García Martínez & Tigchelaar).
Note: in these translations, square brackets indicate reconstructions, square brackets with ellipsis mark lacunae (gaps) in the text.

It is the larger fragment 2 (cols. 2 & 3) which has most intrigued scholars. The surviving portion of column 2 begins (lines 1-2):

“[for the heav]ens and the earth will hear {i.e. listen} to his anointed (one), [and all wh]ich (is) in them will not turn (away) from the commands of his holy (one)s.”

At first glance the use of j^yv!m* (“anointed”) need not refer to anything beyond the priest (or prophet) who instructs the people (i.e. the Community). The plural <yv!odq= (“holy [one]s”) could refer to the Prophets of old, but, more properly, to the faithful ones in Israel, i.e. the members of the Community, who hold to the tox=m! (commands/precepts of the Torah) and teach them to others. The ancient idea of the universe (heavens and earth) obeying God’s word has joined the religious-ethical concept of faithfulness to the Torah (and to the Community)—both are aspects of a single dynamic which is about to come more clearly into view at the end-time. Indeed, the context suggests an eschatological orientation, and that the “anointed (one)” is a Messianic figure who is (about) to appear. This is confirmed by a careful reading of the remainder of the fragment.

Following the exhortation in lines 3-4, the remaining lines (5-14) record a promise of what God will do for his people, inspired by the beginning of the famous oracle in Isaiah 61, blended with a citation of Psalm 146:7-8, and allusions to eschatological/Messianic passages such as Daniel 7. In applying this chain of Scripture passages, it is clear that the “poor” and suffering ones are synonymous with the pious and devout ones (<yd!ys!j&)—the faithful Community in the midst of the wicked and corrupt world. It is they who receive the “good news” proclaimed by the Anointed herald of Isa 61:1ff. Note how these associations are worked out in the wording of the text here:

“For my Lord will consider the devout (one)s and will call the righteous/faithful (one)s by name, and his Spirit will hover upon the poor/afflicted (one)s, and he will renew with his strength the (one)s firm (in trust). For he will give weight to {i.e. honor} the devout (one)s (by putting them) upon the seat of a kingdom unto (the Ages)…” (lines 5-7)

Four different plural nouns are used to describe the people who will be thus blessed by God: (1) <yd!y!sj&, µ¦sîdîm [“devout/faithful ones”], (2) <yq!yd!x~, ƒadîqîm [“righteous/loyal ones”], (3) <yw]n`u&, ±¦n¹wîm [“poor/afflicted ones”], (4) <yn]Wma$, °§mûnîm [“trustworthy ones”]. What follows in lines 8-9 echoes Psalm 146:7-8, referring to the freeing of prisoners, opening eyes, straightening the twisted, etc. Unfortunately there is a gap in line 10, but it indicates an imminent eschatological expectation: God is about to “do weighty (thing)s which have not (yet) been” (line 11). These deeds of deliverance will, it seems, be performed by an Anointed representative, such as is mentioned in line 1, identified with the herald of Isa 61:

“…according to that which he spoke, [for] he will heal the wounded (one)s, and will make (one)s dead to live (again), and will bring (good) news for the poor/afflicted (one)s…” (lines 11-12)

To this, in the badly preserved third column of same fragment, is added an allusion to Malachi 4:5-6 [Hebrew 3:23-24] and the end-time role of “Elijah” as the Messenger who prepares things for God’s appearance on earth to bring the Judgment (3:1ff). Thus, we find here two key passages—Isa 61:1 and Mal 4:5-6—understood in an eschatological and Messianic sense, referring to the coming Judgment and deliverance of the faithful. The eschatological/Judgment context is even clearer in fragment 7, despite the many gaps in the text; lines 4-15 appear to be a portrait of the Last Judgment, sharing features with apocalyptic works such as 1 Enoch, with its description of the heavenly geography, the role of the Angels, etc.

Isaiah 61:1 and Mal 3:1; 4:5-6 also feature prominently in the Gospel Tradition, relating to the identity of Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah). Both passages came to be understood in Jewish tradition as referring to Messianic Prophet figure-types—”Elijah” and the herald of Isa 61. Both figure-types were applied to Jesus in the earliest Gospel tradition, though eventually the role of “Elijah” was seen as being fulfilled by John the Baptist. Jesus identifies himself specifically with the Anointed herald of Isaiah 61:1 in two distinct lines of tradition (Lk 7:22 par [“Q”] and Lk 4:18ff). I discuss these matters in considerable detail in Parts 2 & 3 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. An especially interesting point in common between the Gospel tradition and 4Q521 is that the Isaian oracle has been adapted to include a reference to raising the dead (line 12, Matt 11:5b par), which, in Jewish tradition, came to be associated particularly with Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 17:17-24; Sirach 48:5, [11]; m. Sota 9; j. Sheqalim 3:3; Pesikta de R. Kahana 76a). By the end of the 1st century A.D., resurrection came to be connected with the appearance of the Messiah generally (2 Baruch 30:2; 2/4 Esdras 7) [cf. Collins, pp. 119-20].

The Qumran text 4Q521 demonstrates that similar Messianic associations were already being made early in the 1st century B.C., whereby an Anointed figure was expected to appear at the end-time, a divinely-appointed representative who would act on God’s behalf, able to work miracles, control/alter the natural order, and who would bring aid and deliverance to the faithful ones among God’s people.

References above marked “Garcia Martinez & Tigchelaar” are to Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (Brill / Eerdmans: 1997-8).
References marked “Collins” are to John J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] (Doubleday: 1995).