The Holy Spirit in the Dead Sea Scrolls: Part 1

As part of the celebration of Pentecost, I felt it worth including an article in the “Spotlight on the Dead Sea Scrolls” feature here on this site, dealing with references to the Holy Spirit in the Qumran writings. I addressed the subject briefly at the conclusion of the recent series of notes on “The Spirit of God in the Old Testament”, but I felt a more in-depth article would be appropriate, and should provide a valuable contribution to the overall study.

The Dead Sea Scrolls (esp. the scrolls/texts from Qumran) provide by far the most extensive repository of Jewish writings from the first centuries B.C./A.D. There is thus much more material available for study and for comparison, for example, with the New Testament and early Christian thought. This is certainly true in the case of the Holy Spirit.

As I discussed in the recent series of notes, while the Spirit of God is referenced numerous times in the Old Testament, along with the related concepts of God’s holiness and the cleansing that is produced by His Spirit, the specific expression “holy spirit” is extremely rare, occurring just twice (Psalm 51:11; Isaiah 63:10). In both instances, the literal expression is “spirit of (your/His) holiness” (vd#q) j^Wr, + suffix). Nor is the expression much more common in Jewish writings of the intertestamental period, being typically associated with special wisdom and understanding from God (Wis 1:5; 9:15, cf. also 7:22b-24; 2/4 Esdras 14:22). Perhaps the most notable instance of the expression (in Greek) is found in the 17th of the so-called Psalms of Solomon (17:37), where it is used in a Messianic sense (i.e. of the special inspiration of the Davidic Messiah), based largely on the wording in Isa 11:2. Also worth mention is the occurrence in Jubilees 1:21, 23, drawing upon the exilic prophecies (of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and deutero-Isaiah), and the message of restoration for Israel in the New Age, when God’s spirit would give a “new heart” to his people.

In the Qumran texts, the Hebrew/Aramaic term j^Wr occurs nearly 250 times, most frequently in reference to the human spirit—that is, the life-breath or “spirit” within a person. Where the expression “holy spirit” occurs, it often remains closely connected with the “spirit” of the individual, or of the Community as a whole (cf. the discussion below). We find the same construct expression as in the Old Testament (cf. above), “spirit of holiness” (vd#q) j^Wr), but also the more literal “holy spirit” (hv*odq= j^Wr), with the feminine adjective.

The approach in the first part of this article will be to trace the usage of the expression in terms of the pneumatology of the Qumran Community, as it can be discerned from the surviving texts. In other words, in order to gain a proper understanding of how the Community viewed the “holy spirit”, it will be necessary to consider it in the context of their wider concept of (the) “spirit” (j^Wr). This is best done through an examination of the stages involved in the life of a member of the Community:

    1. The “spirit” in humankind generally (pre-Community)
    2. Entrance into the Community
    3. Life in the Community

1. The “spirit” in humankind generally

Almost certainly, the Qumran Community followed the basic line of Old Testament and Jewish tradition that associated the spirit of God with the work of Creation (Gen 1:2 etc; cf. Judith 16:14; 2 Baruch 21:4; 23:5; 2/4 Esdras 6:39). In particular, it was God’s own spirit-breath that instilled the spirit-breath into human beings (Gen 2:7; Job 33:4, etc). This is referenced extensively in the Qumran Hymns (Hodayot, 1QH), especially in hymn/column 9 (previously 1). At creation, God fashioned all “spirits” (9.8-9) —both of Angelic/heavenly beings (9.10-11) and humans (9.15). The creation of the human spirit is described in more detail in lines 27-28, framed strongly in religious/ethical terms:

“…to you, Mighty (One) [i.e. God] of knowledge, (belong) all works of justice/righteousness, and the foundation of truth; but to the sons of man (belong) the service of crookedness and the works of deception. You created spirit/breath [j^Wr] on/in (the) tongue, and you know its words; you established (the) fruits of (the) lips, before their coming to be…”

The general corruption and wickedness of humankind, from virtually the beginning of creation, is alluded to here. This is important for establishing the religious worldview of the Qumran Community. While human beings possess a spirit from God, the vast majority have defiled and corrupted it, turning away from God’s truth in favor of wickedness and deceit. Even so, for those who choose to remain faithful, God will strengthen their spirit (line 32) so they are able to remain pure from sin, even in the face of affliction. The emphasis on the “tongue” and “lips” focuses on the communication of truth. The pure and righteous ones will give a proper account of God’s work (line 33), making known His wonders and His truth. Implicit in this is a heavy reliance on Wisdom tradition, though the preferred term here appears to be lk#c# (“understanding, insight”). In this line of tradition, God’s Wisdom is practically synonymous with His Spirit, and, similarly, the human “spirit” is understood primarily in terms of wisdom, knowledge and understanding—cf. for example, in line 31 where the expression “mouth [i.e. measure] of understanding” is parallel to “mouth [i.e. measure] of their spirit(s)” in 1QS 2:20, 9:14.

In the Community Rule document (1QS), which is an essential work for establishing the religious identity and organization of the Qumran Community, the spirit of humankind is understood from a dualistic standpoint. 3:13-4:26 of this text represents a distinct unit—the so-called “Treatise of the Two Spirits”; the key anthropological principle is stated in 3:17-19:

“He [i.e. God] created human(kind) to rule the world, and set in him two spirits [tojWr yT@v=], (so as) to walk about with them, until the appointed (time) of His visitation. They (are) the spirits of truth and perversion.”

This dualism in human beings corresponds to a similar dualism in the heavenly realm—i.e., spirits of Light and Darkness, led by a “Prince” of Light and a Messenger (i.e. Angel) of Darkness (3:20ff). On the one hand, people must choose whether to walk the path of light or darkness—that is, these two “spirits” represent competing forces over the human heart—yet, at the same time, there is a strong predestinarian emphasis in the Qumran texts, with the idea that certain people simply belong to one group or the other (“sons of light” or “sons of darkness”). Early Christians adopted a similar “Two Ways” principle, attested in the teaching of Jesus (Matt 7:13-14, etc), the writings of Paul (e.g., Gal 5:16-26), and elsewhere (cf. most clearly in Didache 1-6). The way of the Spirit of Truth is described in 4:2-8, while that of the Spirit of Perversion is laid out in 4:9-14. This inner conflict has raged throughout human history, all the way to the “appointed moment” of God’s visitation at the end-time (4:15-26). The Qumran Community had a strong eschatological orientation (as did the early Christians), and viewed themselves as the faithful ones of the end-time, a time generally characterized otherwise by faithlessness and corruption.

2. Entrance into the Community

In this Age of increasing wickedness, the Community represented a refuge for the faithful—those committed to observing the Torah and purifying themselves for the time of God’s visitation. Probably the best guides for understanding how the Community viewed itself—its religious self-identity—are the so-called Damascus Document (CD/QD) and the Community Rule (1QS). There are other related Rule-documents that have survived, but in many ways their contents are supplemental to the portrait provided by these two major texts.

The Damascus Document is known both from its Qumran manuscripts (collectively labeled QD), and from a separate version discovered in Cairo (CD). This suggests that the Qumran Community was part of a wider religious movement, identified by many scholars as Essene (though this identification, often taken for granted, is not without certain difficulties). There are a number of references to the “holy spirit” in this document, which clearly define the Community in relation to God, as those who remain faithful to the covenant. This religious self-identity is set within the context of Israelite history, identifying the Community as a faithful “remnant” in the land, taught by God’s holy spirit (“spirit of his holiness”, 2:11-12). These references will be discussed further below.

It is the Community Rule document which addresses, in summary fashion, the matter of those who wish to enter the Community (5:1-25). The very intention of joining signifies a willingness to: (a) turn away from the wickedness of the world, and (b) devote oneself to following God’s truth, in strict observance of the Torah. Even so, initiates have to be examined to see whether they are truly committed to following this path. It involves a binding oath, made publicly, to follow the Torah and the instruction/rules of the Community, separating oneself from all non-members and submitting to the Community’s authority in all things. This is described in terms of having their “spirits” tested in the Community (5:20-21)—a continuous process that takes place throughout their whole life and time as a member of the Community (cf. below).

Even though a person may belong to the “sons of light”, he/she is still subject to the conflict between the “spirits” of light and darkness (cf. above, on 1QS 3:13-4:26). Such a person is not entirely free from sin and evil, with the influence from the side of darkness/perversion being present in varying degrees, depending on the individual. Some are affected by it only a little, others to a greater extent—but it can never be the dominant influence for a true “son of light”. As an example, in the ‘horoscope’ document 4Q186, we read of persons whose “spirit” has “eight parts in the house of light” and “one part in the house of darkness”, and also the reverse (in the case of the wicked).

For this reason, it is necessary for the person who enters the Community to be cleansed from any and all wickedness. While this took place in a ritual context that involved bathing (going “into the waters”, 5:13b), part of a wider practice of ritual washing/ablution that was central to Community life (3:5, etc), the reality of it took place in the person’s spirit:

“For (it is) by (the) spirit of (the) true counsel of God (that the) paths of man are wiped away, all his crookedness, (enabling him) to look on the light of life. And (it is) by (the) holy spirit, for (the) Community [djy] in its truth, (that) he is made pure from all his crookedness. And (it is) by (the) spirit of straightness and lowliness [i.e. humility] (that) his sin is wiped away. And in answer of his soul to all the engraved (decree)s of God, his flesh is made pure th(rough) sprinkling with (the) water (that removes) impurity, and (so) to make itself holy with (the) waters of repentance” (3:6-9)

There are three different (parallel) references to a cleansing “spirit” in this passage:

    • “spirit of true counsel” (tma txu jwr)
    • “holy spirit” (hvwdq jwr)
    • “spirit of straightness and humility” (hwnuw rvwy jwr)

While it is possible that these are synonymous expressions for the cleansing Spirit of God, it seems more likely that they refer to different “spirits” that are manifest and work together to accomplish God’s purpose (on these “spirits” of light and truth, cf. above). In this regard, the pneumatology of the Qumran texts is more complex and diverse than that of the New Testament; however, there is here a clear and obvious parallel with early Christian Baptism, in which the cleansing action of the holy spirit of God occurs within the setting of the water-ritual.

3. Life in the Community

The member of the Community, already possessing an upright “spirit”, committed to the covenant and Torah of God, is thus cleansed—spiritually and symbolically—through the entrance ritual(s), and is made holy. It was of the utmost importance that this holiness of the Community be maintained and preserved. As part of this process, the “spirit” and the deeds of each member had to be tested continually, year after year (1QS 5:24). There was a strong sense of rank and hierarchy in the Qumran Community, to judge from texts such as the Community Rule (2:20, etc). The master/leader over each member was responsible for carrying out the necessary judgment “according to his spirit” (9:14-15ff); as each individual had a different “measure” of spirit, things had to be considered on a case-by-case basis. To the extent that a member fails to live up to their commitment, or falls away, it is due to a failure of their “spirit” (7:18).

Throughout the Qumran texts, references to the “holy spirit” (or “spirit of holiness”) are very much rooted in this idea of the holiness of the Community, as established and preserved by God. The Community saw itself as a holy remnant in Israel, the faithful ones of the end times. This eschatological orientation was paramount to the group’s self-identity, and the cleansing that occurs within the Community is a foreshadowing of the final cleansing that will take place at the end, at the moment of God’s visitation:

“Then God will refine, with His truth, all man’s deeds, and will purify for Himself the structure of man, ripping out all spirit of injustice from the innermost part of his flesh, and cleansing him with the spirit of holiness from every wicked deed. He will sprinkle over him the spirit of truth like lustral water (in order to cleanse him) from all the abhorrences of deceit and (from) the defilement of the unclean spirit…” (1QS 4:20-21f, translation García Martínez & Tigchelaar)

It cannot be stressed enough how this understanding of God’s “holy spirit” was centered in the holiness of the Community. It was a “community of holiness” (vd#oq dj^y~, 9:2), led by a “council of holiness” (vd#oq tx^u&, 8:21), and made up of “men of complete holiness” (vd#oq <ym!T*h^ yv@n+a^, 8:20); moreover, it was established, in truth, by the very “spirit of holiness” (vd#oq j^Wr) of God (9:3). The purpose of the Community was to preserve faithfully God’s covenant with Israel—something which the majority of the population had abandoned, but which the Qumran Community, as the faithful remnant of Israel, had been appointed (by God) to maintain. It was only in the Community that the Torah and the Prophets were correctly interpreted and explained, due to the special inspiration and insight that was believed to be present within the Community. Even as the truth in the Scriptures had originally been revealed by God’s “holy spirit” (“the spirit of His holiness”, 8:16), so, by extension, has its truth been maintained through the spirit-inspired teaching and instruction within the Community.

All of these themes and points are similarly expressed in the Damascus Document, in which the history of the Community is set within the wider context of Israel’s history. The past (and present) failures of the people are contrasted with the appointed role of the Community to remain holy and faithful to the covenant. The Community continues the Instruction by Moses (in the Torah) and the Prophets (“the holy anointed ones”), which God had taught to them by His “holy spirit” (2:12). Similarly, this “holy spirit” of the Community, once established, must be preserved—it must not become defiled, as the people defiled their “holy spirit” in the past (5:11ff). Any transgression or violation of the Torah means a defilement of this holiness; the importance of maintaining this constantly, throughout the entire Community is well-expressed in 7:3-4:

“…from one day to the next; to keep apart from every uncleanness according to their regulations, without anyone defiling his holy spirit, according to what God kept apart for them.” (translation García-Martínez & Tigchelaar)

In these instances, the expression “holy spirit” properly refers to the spirit of the righteous person (i.e. member of the Community), that has been purified by God, but is still in danger of becoming defiled (through lack of care and faithfulness). It is essentially equivalent to the purified “soul” (vp#n#) of the person, as the comparable wording in 12:11 makes clear. As in Israelite religious tradition, the defilement of one individual means that the Community as a whole becomes defiled; thus it is vital that each member maintains the purity/holiness of his own soul.

The Qumran Hymns (Hodayot)

These ideas can also be found in the Qumran Hymn collection (1QH), though within a more personal mode of expression. The Hymnist represents the Community as a whole (and especially its leadership), speaking with a single voice. It has been thought that the leading/founding figure known as the “Teacher of Righteousness” may have composed some of these hymns, though there is no way to be certain. It is also hard to be sure whether the references to the “(holy) spirit” simply relate to the Community as a whole, or if, to some extent, they apply to special inspiration (knowledge, insight, revelation) possessed by certain teachers (or the “Teacher” himself). Christian commentators face a similar dilemma in analyzing certain passages in the New Testament, regarding the role of the Spirit, etc—does it apply only to uniquely-inspired persons (apostles, prophets), or to all believers?

Note: The hymns are organized by columns in 1QH, with each column, apparently, containing a separate hymn. I am following the column numbers in editions such as that of García Martínez & Tigchelaar; the older hymn-numbers (in the edition of E. L. Sukenik, etc) are indicated by the corresponding square brackets [].

In Hymn 4 [17], the protagonist praises God for having purified him from sin (lines 11ff), and for the “spirits” (of truth, light, etc) placed within him (line 17). This suggests a measure of special inspiration and insight that the hymnist possesses—but is this a reflection of what belongs to the Community as a whole, or is it something more? It would seem that the author/speaker stands for the entire Community, given the emphasis on being purified from sin, on remaining loyal to the covenant, etc. In the closing lines (26ff), he gives thanks again to God, declaring that “you have spread your holy spirit upon your servant”; unfortunately, the gaps (lacunae) in the text make it difficult to determine the exact context of this statement. Presumably, the same idea is expressed in 5 [13].24-25:

“And I, your servant, have known, thanks to the spirit you have placed in me […] and all your deeds are just, and your word does not depart…” (translation García Martínez & Tigchelaar)

The dynamic outlined in 1QS 3:13-4:21 (cf. above), of the conflict between the spirits of good and evil in the soul of humankind, is referenced again in Hymn 6 [14].11-12ff. The members of the Community (and especially its leaders), have an ‘enlarged’ spirit, with a share almost entirely of the good (and little if any of the evil). This is due to God’s own action, by the “spirit of (his) holiness” (line 13); the hymnist claims to possess special insight in this matter, presumably as (representing) an inspired leader of the Community.

The opening lines of Hymn 8 [16] are quite fragmentary, but they contain several references to the “holy spirit” of God (“spirit of your holiness”, lines 10-11, 15), concluding with a prayer by the hymnist that he be strengthened by the holy spirit, so as to serve God faithfully, adhering closely to the truth of the covenant. Line 20 contains a similar request for God to “purify me with the spirit of your holiness”, suggesting the need for continual and regular cleansing as a member of the Community (on the danger of sin, cf. lines 22-23ff).

Hymn 15 [7] is written more consistently in the style of the Old Testament Psalms, utilizing many traditional expressions and motifs. The prayer of thanks in line 6ff is similar to that of 4 [17].26ff, including the idea of God “spreading” His holy spirit “over” the hymnist—implying strength, support, and protection, so that he is able to remain loyal and faithful to the covenant. The same basic thought is expressed in Hymn 17 [9].32, only including the idea that the holy spirit of God also brings delight.

In Hymn 20 [12], the protagonist identifies himself as a lyK!c=m^ (line 11), one who possesses special understanding and insight (lk#c#, cf. above). While this may be true of the Community as a whole, here a particular individual (teacher/leader) seems to be in view. He claims a special knowledge of God, which the “God of knowledge” has Himself established (lines 10-11), through “the spirit which you gave in me”. The hymnist states that he has listened carefully and faithfully to this spirit—identified as God’s “holy spirit” —which involved the revelation of a wonderful secret (zr*), and knowledge of the “mystery” of God’s wisdom (lines 12-13). If the “Teacher of Righteousness” was the author of this hymn, it would certainly be fitting.

In closing, it is worth mentioned several other passages in the Qumran texts where the expression “holy spirit” occurs:

    • In the so-called “Rule of Benedictions” (1QSb [28b]), a kind of supplement to the Community Rule documents, a series of blessings is presented, presumably to be used in various (ritual) settings in the Community. We read the following blessing in 2:24: “May He show favor (to) you with (a/the) spirit of holiness…”.
    • The tiny text-fragment 1Q30 mentions “the spirit of holiness”, though the exact context cannot be determined; it likely relates to the organization of the Community (cf. the wording of the [possibly] related text-fragment 1Q31).
    • In another tiny fragment (1Q39), the surviving portion ends with the phrase “by/with (the) holy spirit”.

In the next part of this article, we will turn to an entirely different series of texts, dealing with the idea of God’s “holy spirit(s)” in a specific ritual setting, focusing on the so-called “Angelic Liturgy” or “Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice”.

Note: In preparing this study, I have found quite helpful the article by Robert W. Kvalvaag, “The Spirit in Human Beings in Some Qumran Non-Biblical Texts”, in Qumran Between the Old and New Testaments (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Supplement Series 290), eds. Frederick H. Cryer and Thomas L. Thompson, Sheffield Academic Press (1998).

References above marked “García Martínez & Tigchelaar” are to The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, edited by Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, Brill/Eerdmans (1997-8).

 

 

Acts 2:1-4 and 4Q376

Acts 2:1-4 and 4Q376

One of the most striking features of the Pentecost narrative in Acts 2:1-4ff is the description of the coming of the Spirit upon the early believers as they are gathered together. The details are evocative of the ancient Near Eastern theophany (spec. the storm theophany) tradition, such as the famous Sinai theophany of Exodus 19-20. These details indicate the manifestation of God (El-YHWH): His presence on earth among His people, expressed through imagery associated with the storm—clouds, wind, thunder, fire, etc. Traditionally, the Sinai theophany, which marked the establishment of the covenant between YHWH and Israel, was associated with the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost); on the dating in support of this, cf. Exod 19:1; 2 Chron 15:8-15. The Torah, which served as the terms of the covenant, was given to the people (through Moses), in the context of this theophany (Exod 19-23), and the covenant was ratified in YHWH’s presence (chap. 24).

The Pentecost scene and narrative in Acts draws upon this line of tradition, only now it is a new covenant established among God’s people—who are believers in Christ. God is manifest through the presence of His Holy Spirit, and, just as the Torah was given at Sinai, so now the Gospel is proclaimed to all the people, as they are gathered together. The believers (the apostles and others) are the vehicle for this new manifestation of God’s presence; the Spirit comes upon them all collectively, as a Community, rather than upon one chosen individual (Moses).

The theophanous details in the Acts narrative are indicated in verses 2 and 3:

“And there came to be, without (any) shining (in advance) [i.e. unexpectedly], a sound (from) out of heaven, just as (of) a violent wind [pnonh/] being carried (along), and it filled the whole house (in) which they were sitting; and there was seen by them, being divided throughout, tongues as if of fire [glw=ssai w(sei\ puro/$], and it sat upon each one of them…”

The coming of the Spirit is marked by sound (a roaring) and the idea of wind (play on the related words pnoh/ and pneu=ma) blowing through the house, but is indicated more directly and immediately by the image of “tongues of fire” resting upon each of the believers. The motif of tongues is certainly related to the phenomenon of the early Christians miraculously speaking in tongues (i.e. other languages). Indeed, there is word-play of this sort throughout these verses; note the parallels:

    • Believers sitting (kaqh/menoi) together
      • The sound of the rushing wind (pnoh/) filled (e)plh/rwsen) the house
        • The tongues (glw=ssai) of fire came upon the believers
    • The fire (of the Spirit) sat (e)ka/qisen) upon each believer
      • The believers were filled (e)plh/sqhsan) with the holy Spirit (pneu=ma)
        • They began to speak in other tongues (glw=ssai)

While this may explain the use of “tongues” to describe the coming of the Spirit in the form of fire (cf. Matt 3:11 par), it is worth noting that the expression “tongues of fire” is attested in at least two other texts from the first centuries B.C./A.D. While the basic image is perhaps natural—i.e., a flame in the shape of a tongue, along with the idea of fire devouring/consuming (like a mouth), etc—it is interesting to consider how the expression itself is used.

4Q376 / 1Q29

The corresponding Hebrew expression (vva@ tonv)l=, “tongues of fire”) occurs in the Qumran text 4Q376 (= 1Q29). This small text-fragment provides an interesting example of the difficulties involved in trying to determine the context and nature of many of the Dead Sea Scroll writings. At least one fragment survives, preserving portions of three columns; what survives of each column is different enough for it to be unclear just how the text of the columns is related.

Column 1

This snippet (requiring some restoration) apparently refers to a sacrificial priestly ritual, involving the Urim and Thummim:

“[…and before the de]puty of the anointed priest […a young bul]lock from the herd and a ram […] […] for the Urim”

The expression “anointed [j^yv!m*] priest” is perhaps significant, given the evidence at Qumran for an Anointed (Messianic) priest figure-type as part of the Community’s Messianic expectation (cf. Part 9 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”).

Column 2

“[…] the stone, like […] […]they will provide you with light and he will go out with it with tongues of fire; the stone of the left side which is at its left side will shine to the eyes of all the assembly until the priest finishes speaking. And after [the cloud (?)] has been removed […] and you shall keep and d[o al]l [that] he tells you. And the proph[et…] […] who speaks apostasy […] […Y]HWH, God of […]”
The words in italics above represent the corresponding parts of the same text (presumably) in 1Q29 which go beyond what is preserved in 4Q376.

This portion of the fragment preserves more substantial text, and includes the expression “tongues of fire”. The reference to the “stone of the left side” suggests that a ritual involving the Urim and Thummim (Exod 28:30, etc) is still in view. The ‘shining’ of one stone or the other (on the right or left side) indicated the will of God. This oracular technique, of which we have little actual detail in the Old Testament, was reserved for the priests (Lev 8:8; Num 27:21; Deut 33:8, etc). The reference to a (false) prophet, in the corresponding portion of 1Q29, may reflect an intentional contrast between priest and prophet, with the priesthood being given a higher position of authority and access to God’s will. The text 4Q375, which many commentators feel is related in some way to 4Q376, deals specifically with the question of how to determine the true prophet vs. the false (cf. Deut 13:1-5), and what steps must be taken in response.

Column 3

“in accordance with all this judgment. And if there were in the camp the Prince of the whole congregation, and […] his enemies, and Israel is with him, or if they march to a city to besiege it or in any affair which […] to the Prince […] … […] to field is far away […]”

It is hard to be certain, but the preserved portion in this column seems to give an example of the sort of priestly message that comes with the shining stone of the Urim/Thummim oracle. Such oracles would be consulted prior to the beginning of a military campaign, for example, and almost certainly the Urim/Thummim would have been consulted for this purpose (cf. 1 Sam 14:41; 28:6, and compare the consultation of prophets in 1 Kings 22:5-28, etc). The expression “Prince of the congregation” in the Qumran texts tends to have Messianic significance—i.e. the Anointed leader of Israel who will specifically have (political/military) leadership over the Community (as the faithful remnant of Israel) in the end-time. This part of the text may indicate the relationship between the Davidic and Priestly Messiahs of the Community, intended to illustrate how this will function in the end-time; the Priest receives the divine message and conveys it to the Prince for him to act.

1Q29

In addition to the main fragment (cf. above), there are 6 additional tiny fragments belonging to 1Q29 (= 4Q376). Unfortunately, they are too small to add much to our knowledge of this writing. Fragment 2 seems to mention the stone on the right side (“the right stone”), corresponding to the “stone of the left side” that shines. In this context, we have the intriguing mention of “three tongues of fire”, a detail that further defines the expression “tongues of fire” in fragment 1 (= 4Q376 col. 2), above. It may be that the three tongues refer to the stone on the left side, the stone on the right, and the priest (in the middle?); there is, however, no way to be sure.

The remaining fragments, it would seem, tend to emphasis the role of the priest in conveying the will of God (YHWH) to the people (the Community). In particular, the (Anointed) priest is equipped to explain all that YHWH wishes, and that the people are to keep and observe this instruction. From the standpoint of the Community, this involves a correct interpretation and explanation of the Torah, but also of the other Scriptures (the Prophets). The prophetic emphasis in this text (cf. also 4Q375) suggests that there is also a special inspiration that belongs to the priestly leadership of the Community, which may have been expressed in the form of oracular messages. Admittedly, there is relatively little evidence for this charismatic aspect of the teachers/leaders of the Qumran Community, but it seems to have applied to the person known as the “Teacher of Righteousness”; and, to the extent that it was part of the religious/spiritual dynamic of the Community, it could form a certain parallel with the Spirit-inspired leadership (apostles, prophets) in early Christianity.

1 Enoch

The only other occurrence of the expression “tongues of fire” in Jewish literature of the period (as far as I am aware) is found in the book of Enoch (1 Enoch). In 14:9-10 and 71:5 the expression is part of a visionary description of the heavenly realm. On his journey through the heavens, the seer encounters a great wall, built of crystals, and “surrounded by tongues of fire” (14:9). He proceeds into this fire and approaches a crystal house, or palace, part of a complex that eventually leads to the Chariot-throne of God Himself (14:10-20ff). The reference in 71:5, is part of a similar description, in poetic form, composed almost certainly by a different author and at a later time.

These references in the book of Enoch make it likely that the expression “tongues of fire” in 4Q376/1Q29 is part of a visionary/apocalyptic tendency, in certain Qumran writings, blending the heavenly realm together with the religious ritual of the Community. The Qumran Community very much considered itself to represent the “holy ones” on earth who functioned in tandem with the “holy ones” (i.e. Angels) in heaven, and this was part of the imagery in a number of texts, such as in the War Scroll and the so-called “Angelic Liturgy” (or “Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice”). As the inspired/anointed Priest ascertains and explains the will of God, he touches upon the heavenly realm (of God’s Throne and His Angels), and the oracular response of the Urim/Thummim (the “shining” stones) is accompanied by “tongues of fire” that mark the Divine/Heavenly presence.

It is quite possible that the narrative in Acts 2:1-4 is alluding to a similar line of tradition, and that, here too, the “tongues as of fire” are meant to convey the idea of the Heavenly/Divine presence at work within the Community.

The translations of the Qumran texts above are taken from The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, ed. by Florentíno García Martinez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar (Brill / Eerdmans: 1997-8).

May 21: Wisdom 9:17, etc

Wisdom 9:17, etc

The this final note of the series, I felt it worth exploring the references to the spirit of God—and, in particular, the expression “holy spirit” —in the Deutero-canonical and extra-biblical writings of the intertestamental period. A survey of the evidence will show that the primary context of these references is rooted in Wisdom tradition—with a close association (even identification) of Wisdom with the holy Spirit of God.

This goes back to an ancient way of thinking, whereby a person possessing wisdom and discernment is seen as touched/inspired by a divine spirit (the word genius in English preserves something of this idea). We see this stated, for example, with regard to the leadership of Joshua (Deut 34:9, also Num 27:18), as also of Joseph, in his special ability to interpret the meaning of dreams, etc (Gen 41:38). To be sure, wisdom and understanding, such as is present in all human beings, reflects the role and presence of God’s spirit in creation (Job 32:8); even so, certain individuals are specially gifted with wisdom from God’s spirit.

The book known as the Wisdom of Solomon (or “Book of Wisdom”) is a Greek work from the first centuries B.C., which came to be immensely popular in Hellenistic Jewish circles and among early Christians, to the point of being regarded as authoritative Scripture by many. It is firmly rooted in Wisdom literature and tradition—both Israelite/Jewish and Greek philosophical. In such writings, Wisdom was frequently personified, either as a special manifestation of God Himself, or as a semi-independent Divine being. The famous hymn of Wisdom in Proverbs 8 is perhaps the most notable Old Testament example in this regard. The role of Wisdom in the Creation, with its life-giving creative power, is evocative of what is typically attributed to the Spirit of God (Gen 1:2, and cf. my earlier note). Thus, there is close association, at a fundamental level, between Wisdom and the Spirit, and this is certainly expressed in the Book of Wisdom as well—cf. the opening lines in 1:5-7; note also 7:22-24. The specific connection with the life-breath (spirit) given to humankind by God at creation, is mentioned in 12:1; 15:11, 16.

The expression “holy spirit” (a%gion pneu=ma) occurs in 1:5, where it is clearly synonymous with wisdom (sofi/a, v. 4). The passage seems to allude to the idea that the holy spirit (i.e. the spirit of God’s holiness, cf. the previous note) must depart when any wickedness or deceit (do/lo$) is present (cf. the earlier discussion on Ps 51:10-13). Wisdom is also characterized as a holy spirit in 7:22b-24, where its divine nature is very much in view. The other occurrence of the expression “holy spirit” is at 9:17, in the specific context of wisdom as a gift from God that touches certain individuals in unique ways. Persons (such as Solomon) who possessed wisdom and understanding to a high degree, were seen as having been specially inspired by God’s spirit (cf. above). The divine source of this wisdom is stated clearly:

“And who can know your will/counsel [boulh/], if not (that) you have given (him) wisdom, and sent your holy spirit [a%gion pneu=ma] from (the) highest (place)s?” (9:17)

The expression “from (the) highest places” (a)po\ u(yi/stwn) is reminiscent of Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit would come upon his disciples as power “out of (the) height(s) [e)c u%you$]” (Lk 24:49). Indeed, there can be no doubt that the coming of the Spirit, narrated in Acts 2:1-4ff, etc, represents a wider, more universal application of the tradition expressed in Wis 9:17, which there relates primarily to the special inspiration of certain gifted individuals.

We have already discussed the ancient principle of spirit-inspired leadership (of kings and prophets), as well as those individuals with special understanding, skill, and ability in certain areas—such as artistic production (Bezalel) or the interpretation of dreams (Joseph). In the latter case, we may note that what Pharaoh says of Joseph (in Gen 41:38) is essentially repeated, on several occasions, in the case of Daniel (4:8-9, 18; 5:11-12, 14; cf. also 6:3, and Susanna 45). The specific Aramaic wording in these references is worth noting:

“…(the) spirit of (the) holy Mighty (One)s [i.e. Gods] (is) in him”
HB@ /yv!yD!q^ /yh!l*a$-j^Wr

Aramaic /yh!l*a$ = Hebrew <yh!ýa$ (“Mighty [One]s”), a plural form which, when used of El-Yahweh, is best understood as an intensive or comprehensive plural (i.e., “Mightiest [One]”). However, on the lips of a Persian king, probably a normal (numeric) plural is intended (“Mighty [One]s”, i.e. Gods). At the historical level, the equivalent statement, coming from Pharaoh (rendered in Hebrew) in Gen 41:38, would also suggest a true plural:

“…(the) spirit of (the) Mighty (One)s [i.e. Gods] (is) in him”
oB <yh!ýa$ j^Wr

A different sort of inspiration is indicated in Sirach 39:6, where the faithful scribe—one who studies the Torah (and all the Scriptures)—will be granted a special “spirit of understanding” from God, which is equivalent to a divinely-inspired wisdom. Much the same is associated with the scribe Ezra, in 2/4 Esdras 14:22, when he asks God to “send the holy spirit” into him, so that he will be able to expound the Torah and Scriptures accurately for the people. On the association of the Torah with the spirit of God, cf. the earlier note in this series.

Finally, in terms of the association between the Spirit and Wisdom, it is perhaps worth mentioning Philo of Alexandria’s philosophical development of wisdom (and to some extent, the prophetic) traditions. This centers around the image of the divine spirit speaking (directly) to the mind, giving wisdom and understanding to the virtuous person—cf. On Dreams 2.252; 1.164-5; Special Laws 3.1-6; On the Cherubim 27-29; On Flight and Finding 53-58.

Conclusion

A brief survey of the remainder of the evidence from the first centuries B.C./A.D. may be summarized as follows:

The surviving Jewish writings of this period, many of which are pseudepigraphic in nature, rely heavily on the Old Testament Scriptures for their literary setting and context. Many Old Testament historical and prophetic traditions are continued, with little development, and this is certainly true with regard to the existing references to the Spirit of God or “holy Spirit”. In most instances, the earlier Scriptural traditions and passages are simply cited or integrated without much evidence of original treatment or development of thought. Indeed, some writings simply re-work the Old Testament narratives and Prophetic sections, and references to the Spirit in the Biblical Antiquities of Pseudo-Philo, or the Antiquities of Josephus, for example, do not go much further than this. The same may be said of the references in the various Scripture commentaries of Philo of Alexandria.

All of the main lines of Old Testament tradition, regarding the Spirit of God, that we have encountered in these studies, are found in the Jewish writings of this period. There is, for example, the idea of the Spirit’s role in Creation (e.g., Judith 16:14; 2 Baruch 21:4; 23:5; 2/4 Esdras 6:39), as well as the special inspiration given to the Patriarchs, Moses and the Prophets (1 Enoch 91:1; Testament of Abraham 4A; 1QS 8:15-16; Philo Life of Moses 1.277, 2.191, etc). If one were to isolate two tendencies that took on greater prominence in the intertestamental period, these might be defined as:

    • An increasing association on the Spirit with important figures from the past, rather than on the occurrence of dynamic, spirit-inspired leadership in the present. In this regard, it may be worth noting here the Rabbinic tradition in the Tosephta (So‰a 13:2-4) that, after the last of the Old Testament Prophets, the Holy Spirit ‘ceased’ operating in Israel.
    • Greater emphasis on the inspiration of Scripture, and the role of the Spirit in expounding/interpreting the Torah and Prophets—this was especially prominent in the Qumran Community (e.g., 1QS 5:9; 1QH 12:11-13), on which see further below.

One also finds a continuation of the post-Exilic emphasis on the spirit-inspired Community—that is, Spirit of God comes upon the people (community) as a whole, cleansing and purifying them (Jubilees 1:21, 23; Testament of Benjamin 8:3; Testament of Levi 18:10-12). There is often a strong Messianic association to this role of the “holy Spirit”, whereby the inspiration of the people reflects the special spirit-inspired status of the Anointed/Elect one (cf. 1 Enoch 49:2-3; Psalms of Solomon 17:37; Testament of Levi 18:7). Prophetic passages such as Isaiah 11:2ff, interpreted in a Messianic sense, were highly influential in shaping this tradition.

It is in the Qumran texts that we find the most significant references to the (holy) Spirit. As in many areas of thought and practice, there are numerous similarities between the Qumran Community and the earliest Christians with regard to their understanding of the Spirit. It is easy to imagine an early Jewish Christian of the 1st century, prior to accepting Jesus, holding a view of the Spirit much like that expressed in the Qumran texts.

The so-called Damascus Document (CD/QD), central to the religious history and identity of the Qumran Community, expresses the important idea of preserving the holiness of the Community. In this regard, the Community (which represents the righteous, faithful ones), already has a “holy spirit”, and there are stern warnings against defiling it—that is, of the need to maintain the purity of the Community and its members (5:11-13; 7:3-5; cf. also 12:11). Purity and holiness is restored through the cleansing that comes from God’s own holy Spirit, as stated in the Community Rule document (1QS 4:21). Even so, this spiritual cleansing is understood as taking place entirely within the context of the Community—that is, God’s spirit is manifest (and mediated) by the “holy spirit” that is upon the Community itself (1QS 3:6-8; 9:3-4). In the Qumran Hymns (1QH), this same idea of purification is given a more personal expression, in which the author/protagonist (representing the Community) recognizes the need for cleansing, etc, from God’s holy Spirit (e.g., VI [XIV].13-14; VIII [XVI].15, 20).

 

Birth of the Messiah: Qumran and Pseudepigrapha

This series on the theme of the Birth of the Messiah concludes with a pair of articles. The first will examine (in more detail) the passages in Jewish writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D. referring in some way to the Messiah’s “birth” as God’s Son. The second will deal with the early Christian evidence, outside of the Matthean/Lukan Infancy narratives, insofar as it may relate to the wider (Jewish) traditions regarding the Messiah. I begin here with the Jewish writings—passages in both the Qumran texts and several other writings of the period. Some of these have been touched upon in the previous articles, but is worth given them a more extensive treatment. The Qumran texts will serve as the starting point.

1Q28a [1QSa]

The text 1QSa [28a] is one of the key Rule documents for the Qumran Community, and should be studied in connection with the more famous Community Rule (1QS). It is referred to as the “Rule of the Congregation”, and also sometimes as the “Messianic Rule”, in light of the passage that is to be discussed here. What survives of this text is comprised of a lengthy fragment in two columns. It is clearly eschatological in orientation, with column 1 beginning “This is the rule of all the congregation of Israel in the final days…”. As such, it is certainly Messianic in significance as well, and not simply because of the wording in 2.11-12 (cf. below). The Community of the Qumran texts saw itself as the true Israel and people of God, the faithful remnant of the last days, and their Messianic expectations were centered around their own Community life and organization. The regulations in 1QSa reflect the organization of the Community, in its ideal form, in preparation for the end-time action by God, to be realized through the mediation and leadership of several different Messianic figures. I discuss these figure-types in the earlier series “Yeshua the Anointed”; they include an Anointed Priest in addition to the more familiar Anointed Ruler/Prince from the line of David.

The Qumran Community appear to have expected that it would be joined (and led) by these two Anointed figures (Messiahs), sometimes specified in the Rule texts as “the Anointed (Ones) of Aaron and Israel” (1QS 9:11; CD/QD 12:23-13:1; 14:19; 19:11; 20:1; 1QS 9:11). This is the case in 1QSa as well, though only one figure called “Anointed” (jyvm) is named as such—the “Anointed of Israel”, i.e. the Davidic Ruler. He is mentioned in lines 11-21 of column 2, beginning as follows:

“In a s[it]ting of (the) men of the name, (the) [ones called] (to the) appointed (meeting) for (the) council of the Community, when [God] gives birth to the Anointed (One) with them, the head Priest of all the congregation of Yisra’el will come…” (lines 11-12)

The italicized words in Hebrew are generally recognized as jyvmh [t]a [la] d[yl]wy; however, the reading of the verb form dylwy (“he causes to be born, he gives birth”) has been disputed by some scholars, due to the fragmentary (and faded) condition of the manuscript. Some prefer the restoration iylwy (“he brings/leads”), while dyuwy (something like, “he makes [them] meet at the appointed [place]”) has also been suggested. Probably the majority of commentators, especially those who have (re)examined the original photographs (when the leather was in better condition), today accept the reading dylwy. But what does it mean to say that God “causes the Anointed (One) to be born”?

Certainly, the context does not suggest anything like an actual human birth, such as is described of Jesus in the Gospel Infancy narratives. Instead, the “birth” must be understood in a more symbolic sense, and the best guide for this is Psalm 2:7 (discussed in an earlier article), where the verb dl^y` is similarly used of the “Anointed One” (j^yv!m*, v. 2). In the original context of Psalm 2, this “birth” refers to the inauguration (coronation and/or enthronement) of the Israelite/Judean king. In the Messianic setting of the Qumran texts, this has to be translated in terms of the Anointed One beginning his period of rule (i.e. over the Community). Here, the Messiah (“the Anointed One of Israel“) has a subordinate position to the “head Priest” (2.13-14, 40), which suggests that this is a priestly Messiah (i.e., “the Anointed One of Aaron“). By all accounts, both Messianic figures were human beings (not supernatural/Angelic beings), who were specially appointed by God to serve in those end-time roles of leadership. Their positions reflect a two-fold division of the Community, at least in terms of their end-time assemblies—(1) the “men of the name”, led by the Priest, and (2) the “thousands of Israel”, led by the Davidic ruler, the Anointed One of Israel.

This sense of the Messiah’s “birth”, with its allusion to Psalm 2:7, provides an interesting parallel with the baptism of Jesus in the Gospel Tradition. Jesus’ baptism marks the beginning of his earthly ministry, just as here the “birth” of the Messiah signifies the beginning of his period of rule over the Community. The divine voice from heaven (Mark 1:11 par) at the baptism alludes to Psalm 2:7, and, indeed, in some manuscripts and versions of Luke 3:22 it is a direct quotation (“You are my Son, today I have caused you to be born”).

4Q246

I have discussed the remarkable Aramaic text in earlier studies (including an article in the “Dead Sea Scrolls Spotlight” feature). According to the scenario in the two columns of the extensive surviving fragment, a king is troubled by a vision he has experienced, and a seer approaches the throne and offers to provide an interpretation similar to that of the vision in Daniel 7 (7:15-18ff): great distress upon the earth, with nations fighting each other, etc. The climactic portion of column I reads:

7 [Then shall arise a king, and he shall be] great upon the earth.
8 [All peoples sh]all make [peace with him]; they shall all serve
9 [him. Son of the gr]eat [king] he shall be called, and by his name he shall be designated
Reconstruction & translation from Fitzmyer (1993/2000) and Zimmerman (1998) [see below]

Column II then begins:

1 Son of God he will be hailed, and Son of the Most High they will call him. …

A major point of dispute among commentators is whether the figure called “Son of God” and “Son of the Most High” is a positive (Messianic) figure, or a negative figure, i.e. a ruler who takes/accepts these divine titles wickedly for himself. The majority of scholarly opinion today favors the Messianic interpretation. Scholars have found very little Jewish evidence (particularly in the pre-Christian period) for titles such as “Son of God” or “Son of the Most High” being used of enemy kings (such as Alexander Balas, Antiochus IV, Roman emperors, etc [cf. Jos. War II.184]), whereas the anointed (Davidic) king is already referred to as God’s “son” in the Old Testament (Psalm 2:7; 2 Sam 7:14). It is in early Christianity, with the development of the “antichrist” concept (partly in reaction to the Roman Imperial cult), that divine names and honors are shown being appropriated or claimed falsely by evil/satanic figures (cf. 2 Thess 2:3-4; Rev 13, 17; and esp. Didache 16:4). Therefore, it is most likely that a ‘Messianic’, divinely favored (or appointed) figure is meant in I.9-II.2ff. The correlation between “Son of God” and “People of God” may be drawing specifically upon the parallel in Daniel 7, where one “like a Son of Man” comes to receive an everlasting rule and kingdom (7:13-14) and the “people of the Most High” receive the sovereignty and kingdom of God (7:27). By the mid-late 1st century A.D., “Son of God” and “Son of Man” are both titles which come to be applied to heavenly Messiah-figures of the end-time who will judge/defeat the nations and restore/deliver Israel (cf. below, and Part 12 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”).

A Messianic interpretation would also seem to be confirmed by the extraordinary parallels with the Annunciation scene in the Lukan Infancy narrative (1:32, 35):

aura lu hwhl br[ ] “[he will be] great upon the earth” (I.7)
rmaty la yd hlb “Son of God he will be hailed” (II.1)
hnwrqy /wylu rbw “and Son of the Highest he will be called”
<lu twklm htwklm “his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom” (II.5)
ou!to$ e&stai me/ga$ “this (one) will be great” (Luke 1:32)
klhqh/setai ui(o\$ qeou= “he will be called | Son of God”
kai\ ui(o\$ u(yi/stou klhqh/setai “and Son of the Highest he will be called” (1:35)
kai\ th=$ basilei/a$ au)tou= ou)k e&stai te/lo$ “and of his kingdom there will not be an end” (1:33)

The application of the title “Son of God” to this Messianic figure likely reflects the same general influence of the royal theology (in Psalm 2:7) discussed above; only in this sense can we speak of the Messiah’s “birth” in this text.

4Q369

This highly fragmentary text is almost certainly another apocalyptic work, with similarities to other Jewish pseudepigrapha of the period. An ancient ancestor of Israel (Enosh has been suggested) prophecies the Israelite history, from the earliest period down to the end-time (i.e. the current time of the author/audience). Thus, like all such apocalyptic works, the emphasis is eschatological, presenting the future hopes and expectations (including Messianic expectation) of people as the sure fulfillment of ancient prophecy. The context of the work is established in column 1 of fragment 1, including a genealogy of the ancestors through Enoch. In column 2, it would seem that there is a prophecy of the establishment of the Israelite kingdom (at Jerusalem) and the Davidic line; the language used reflects Judean royal theology, and almost certainly has Messianic significance in such a context:

“…your Name. You allotted his portion to cause your Name to dwell there […] It is the glory of your earthly land. And on it dw[ell your people …] your eye is on it, and your glory will be seen there fo[rever …] to his seed for their generations an eternal possession. And al[l …] and you have made clear to him your good judgments […] in eternal light. And you made him a first-bo[rn] son to you […] like him for a prince and ruler in all your earthly land [… …the] cr[own of the] heavens and the glory of the clouds [you] have set [on him … …] and the angel of your peace among his assembly. And h[e … gave] to him righteous statutes, as a father to [his s]on [… …] his love your soul cleaves to for[ever. …] because by them [you established] your glory […]”
Translation by Craig A. Evans, Qumran-Messianism, p. 147.

It is noteworthy how heavenly/Angelic attributes are combined with the royal/Davidic motifs and traditions, very much suggesting that a Messianic figure is in view. The idea of the Messiah as God’s “first-born son” (rwkb /b) would be a development of the tradition of the faithful (Davidic) king as God’s son in Psalm 2:7; 2 Sam 7:14. The images of “eternal light” and the “glory of the clouds” are vaguely reminiscent of the scene of Jesus’ baptism, as also of his exaltation to heaven; in both contexts Psalm 2:7 was applied to Jesus, identifying him as both the Anointed One (Messiah) and God’s Son. Possibly, the Messianic/ruler figure in 4Q369 1 col. 2 is similarly understood to be “born” as God’s son through a dramatic heavenly manifestation that confirms his kingship.

The remaining fragments of the text (2-4), while tantalizing, are too small for much meaningful interpretation or reconstruction of the work as a whole.

4Q534

Another fascinating (and, unfortunately, highly fragmentary) text is 4Q534, an Aramaic word sometimes called the “Elect of God” text, due to the striking description in lines 8-11 of column 1 of the surviving fragment:

“…he will know the secrets of man. And his wisdom will reach all the peoples. And he will know the secrets of all living things. [And al]l their plans against him will come to nothing, although the opposition of all living things will be great. […] his [p]lans. Because he is the elect of God, his birth and the spirit of his breath […] his [p]lans shall be forever.” (Translation Martinez-Tigchelaar, p. 1071)

It has been suggested that, in the literary context of the work, this is a prophecy of Noah’s birth (the Flood is apparently mentioned in column 2, line 14). The language certainly indicates a special figure, with a status and place in the world that has been established by God. These are characteristics that could apply just as well to a Messianic figure, and it is possible that such an association is intended. The expression “the spirit of his breath” may allude to Isa 11:4, a popular passage that influenced the Messianic Davidic ruler figure-type in Jewish writings of the period. There is a gap in the text presumably where something would have been stated regarding the birth of this person, and conceivably could have read “his birth and the spirit of his breath [are of God]”, or something similar (Evans, Qumran-Messianism, p. 145 [citing J. A. Fitzmyer]). If more of the text had survived, we might be able to determine if there is genuinely Messianic significance to this passage, or if the similarities are coincidental.

There are even fewer references to the Messiah’s “birth” as God’s Son in other Jewish writings in the first centuries B.C./A.D. Indeed, I am only aware of two passages which can reasonably be cited, and neither refers to the Messiah’s birth per se.

Psalms of Solomon 17-18

The 17th and 18th of the so-called Psalms of Solomon represent the earliest depiction of the Messiah (that is, the Davidic rule figure-type) in any detail. These hymns are usually dated to the mid-1st century B.C. (sometime after 63 B.C.). There is no specific mention of the Davidic Messiah as God’s Son, but there are several references, in close proximity, which illustrate how such traditional birth/sonship motifs could come together and be applied within the same Messianic context.

In 17:21, God is called on to “raise up” this king, whose Davidic origins are clear in the reference to him as “the son of David”; he is to be revealed to the world, and to God’s people, in the time known only to God. This manifestation of the Messiah, could, in similar contexts, be referred to as his “birth” (cf. above, on 1QSa 2.11-12). Moreover, an allusion to Psalm 2 follows in verse 23, which suggests that Ps 2:7 (and the Messiah’s “birth”) may also be in mind when referring to his end-time appearance. The Messiah’s unique relationship to God’s people at the end-time is also emphasized in vv. 26ff, with the traditional identification of the faithful ones of God’s people as His “sons” or “children”; this association is made in v. 27b:

“For he [i.e. the Messiah] shall know them, that they all are (the) sons of their God.”

If the faithful ones who obey the Messiah are sons/children of God, then it certainly follows that he is God’s “son” as well. The close (filial) relationship between the Anointed king (Messiah) and God is developed in vv. 31b-34: he is righteous, will be taught by God, will be called Lord and Anointed One (Lord Messiah), and God (the Lord) Himself is the Messiah’s own king.

Psalm 2 is again in view in Ps Sol 18, where the people will be shepherded under the rod of the Messiah (v. 6). This “rod” is also expressed in terms of the discipline shown by a father (God) to his son (Israel); indeed, in v. 4, Israel is described as a “firstborn son, an only child”. Again, if the people can be called God’s (firstborn) son, then surely this applies to their king Messiah as well (cf. above on 4Q369).

2/4 Esdras 13

The writing known as 2 (or 4) Esdras, like many of the surviving Jewish pseudepigrapha, was preserved and edited by Christians, but is ultimately based on Jewish materials. Indeed, the core of this work (chapters 3-14), the portion typically referred to as “4 Ezra”, is thoroughly Jewish and dates from the latter part of the 1st century A.D.—thus making it contemporary with much of the New Testament. The work is apocalyptic, presented as a prophecy of things which are to occur at the end-time. As an eschatological Jewish writing, it thus evinces a strong Messianic orientation, especially of the Davidic ruler figure-type who will appear to deliver God’s people and usher in the Judgment on the nations. In chapter 13, there is a vision of a man arising out of the sea (vv. 5ff); in the explanation of this vision that follows in vv. 25-38, a divine/heavenly voice tells the seer (Ezra) about the coming deliverance. Prior to the coming of the Messiah, there will be a period of intense suffering and distress, including wars among the nations (vv. 30-31); then it is related that:

“when these things come to pass and the signs occur which I showed you before, then my Son will be revealed, whom you saw as a man coming up from the sea.” (v. 32)

According to the Messianic traditions studied above, based primarily on Psalm 2:7, this revealing of God’s Son, his rising up “out of the sea”, could properly be referred to as his “birth”, though that particular wording is not used here. The conflict with the nations and their Judgment certainly corresponds to the traditional Messianic interpretation of Psalm 2. In verses 33-34 it is describes how the nations ultimately gather together with the intent of conquering the Son, but the result is that

“he will stand on the top of Mount Zion. And Zion will come and be made manifest to all people… And he, my Son, will reprove the assembled nations for their ungodliness…and will reproach them to their face with their evil thoughts…and he will destroy them without effort by the law (which was symbolized by the fire)” (vv. 35-37, ellipses mine)

Again the revelation of God’s Son is mentioned in verse 52: “no one on earth can see my Son or those who are with him, except in the time of his day”.

Translations and references above marked “Martínez-Tigchelaar” are to Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, Brill/Eerdmans: 1997-8.
Those marked “Qumran-Messiasm” are to Qumran-Messianism: Studies on the Messianic Expectations in the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. by James H. Charlesworth, Hermann Lichtenberger, and Gerbern S. Oegema (Mohr Siebeck: 1998). “Zimmerman” is the article by Johannes Zimmermann, “Observations on 4Q246 – The ‘Son of God’, pp. 175-190; the article by Craig A. Evans is “Are the ‘Son’ Texts at Qumran ‘Messianic’? Reflections on 4Q369 and Related Scrolls”, pp. 135-153.
“Fitzmyer” refers to Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins (Eerdmans: 2000).
The translation of 2/4 Esdras is that of Bruce M. Metzger in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, ed. James H. Charlesworth, Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] (1983).

Special Study: Imminent Eschatology in the New Testament (Pt 2)

A reminder of the outline for this study:

    1. Evidence that the New Testament authors/speakers believed that Jesus would return and the end would come very soon—i.e. during their own time, in the 1st century A.D., roughly speaking. In so doing, it is important to determine whether this was the dominant view—that is, what, if any evidence is there to the contrary?
    2. An attempt to explain this eschatological expectation, from several aspects:
      1. The phenomenology of religion
      2. Eschatological and apocalyptic views common at the time, and
      3. New Testament theology and the doctrine of inspiration (of the New Testament writings)

The New Testament evidence was examined in Part 1; here, in the second Part, we will explore interpretive approaches to the question.

2. Explanations for the imminent eschatology in the New Testament

a. Phenomenology of Religion. It would seem to be a generally observable phenomenon that, where there is a strong eschatological component to the religious thought and belief of particular individuals or groups, this eschatology is almost always imminent. That is to say, there is present the belief that the current time is the “end time” and that people at the moment are living in the “last days”, the period just before the end. This is quite understandable from the standpoint of religious psychology—what is the urgency of a message about the end, if it does not relate directly to the life situation of those being addressed? Even adherents of religious traditions which have a broader conception of cyclical time—cycles of Ages—tend to envision that they are living at the end of a cycle, and/or at the end of the current Age. It would be difficult to find many examples where this is not the case.

Built into this idea is also the tendency to conceive of the current Age—and, in particular, the moment in which people are living—as especially corrupt, in comparison to prior periods, and becoming increasingly so. Eschatological thought serves, in part, to offer hope for a better future, an ideal time—of peace, prosperity, justice and righteousness, etc—that is a stark contrast with the present. From the theological standpoint, the expectation is strong that God will eventually correct the apparent evils in the current order of things, punishing the wicked and rewarding the righteous, removing the causes of suffering in the world, and so forth. The natural hope, of course, is that this might happen soon, in the very lifetimes of those living at present, that they might live to see a new and transformed world, with the power and justice of God more clearly manifest in the created order.

b. Eschatology and Apocalyptic in the first centuries B.C./A.D. Of the many eschatological and apocalyptic traditions and movements roughly contemporary with the New Testament, i.e. in the first centuries B.C./A.D., those most relevant to early Christianity, and about which we are best informed, are associated with the Community of the Qumran texts (the Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran). Like the early Christians, the Qumran Community believed they were living in the “last days”, and that God was about to act to bring Judgment upon the wicked/nations and to deliver the faithful ones among His people (i.e. the Community).

One way we see this expressed is in the use of the idiom <ym!Y`h^ tyr!j&a^ (°aµ¦rî¾ hayy¹mîm), “(the time) after the days”. Originally, this expression simply meant “in the time to come, in the future”, but its use in the later Prophets (Jer 23:20; 30:24; 31:33; 48:47; 49:39; Ezek 38:16; Daniel 10:14; cf. also Hos 3:5; Mic 4:1), as well as in two key passages which came to be understood as Messianic (Gen 49:1; Num 24:14), gave it a definite eschatological significance (often translated “end of [the] days”) by the 2nd-1st century B.C. It occurs some 30 times in the Qumran texts, and in at least two places there is the clear indication that the author/audience believed that this “end-time” was their own time:

    • In the so-called “Halakhic Letter” (4QMMT [4Q394-399]) section C 13-15ff, Deuteronomy 30:1ff is cited (“and it will be when all these things come upon you…”), framing the coming Judgment in terms of the covenant blessings and curses, and declaring that these have been (and are being fulfilled) in the present: “and this is the (time) after the days, when they will return in Israel to the Law…” (C 21). The members of the Community are those who faithfully observe the Law, and, as the end comes nearer, it is expected that more in Israel will turn and join them.
    • In the document 1QSa, a kind of supplement to the Community Rule text (1QS), it is declared in the opening words, “And this is the rule of all the congregation of Israel in the (time) after the days…”.

The expression also occurs a number of times in the interpretive (midrashic) works, such as the 4QFlorilegium [4Q174] and 4QCatena [4Q177], in which different Scripture passages are brought together, being interpreted in a Messianic (and eschatological) sense and applied to the time and life-setting of the Community (cf. also 1QpHab 2:5-6; 4QpNah 3-4 ii. 2; Collins, p. 79). There is also the similar expression /wrjah Jq, “the end (coming) after”, i.e. the final age, etc, which occurs, for example, in the commentary [pesher] on Habakkuk (7:5-6, on Hab 2:3); cf. also in the Damascus Document (CD 1:12). In the commentary on Hab 2:3, we can detect an awareness of a ‘delay’ in the coming of the expected end. According to the Damascus Document (CD/QD), the Community made use of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks prophecy (Dan 9:24-27, cf. the earlier article on this passage)—70 weeks of years, i.e. 490 years—which coincides with the Jubilee period framework (i.e. 10 x 49 years), to determine a general time for the coming of the end, one which coordinated with a period of 40 years after the death of the “unique Teacher” (CD 20:14). This leading figure is probably to be identified with the “Teacher of Righteousness” (or “Righteous Teacher”, cf. Part 4 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). The end-time of God’s Judgment will begin around 40 years after this person’s death. Quite possibly, 1QpHab 7:5-6 indicates that this benchmark date has come and gone, and that some explanation for the delay is required. This sort of thing occurs quite frequently in eschatological belief. As time passes, imminent expectation of the end must be re-interpreted and explained; and yet, there is no evidence for any ‘trauma’ within the Qumran Community due to this apparent delay. Eschatological thought tends to be rather flexible in this regard.

c. New Testament Theology. There a number of important areas of early Christian thought, as expressed in the New Testament, that are directly related to an imminent eschatology, and which help to explain the importance of this eschatological aspect. In no small measure, early Christian theology is based on an imminent expectation of the end. All of these areas for consideration have been, and will be, discussed in the various notes and articles of this series. Here I wish to delineate the most relevant strands of thought, touching upon each of the following:

    1. Belief in Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah)
    2. The early Christian understanding of salvation
    3. The Christian religious worldview as ‘dispensational’
    4. Christian identity and the early mission-work
    5. The early Christian movement as the fulfillment of Prophecy
    6. Theodicy and the future hope

(1) Belief in Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah)

As I have discussed in considerable detail throughout the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, Jesus was identified with all of the Messianic figure-types present in Jewish thought during the first centuries B.C./A.D. Messianic belief and expectation was fundamentally eschatological—the appearance of these Anointed figures corresponded with the end of the current Age, and, with it, God’s end-time Judgment on the wicked/nations and the deliverance of God’s people (the faithful ones). Thus, to say that a person (such as Jesus) was, in fact, the Messiah—whether of the Davidic Ruler tradition or another figure-type—meant that the current moment, in which that person was alive and present on earth, was the “end time”, the “last days”, etc. In other words, the very belief in Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah) necessitated a belief among the first Christians that the end was near. In all likelihood, such an eschatological view preceded their belief in Jesus, being part of the wider Jewish eschatology (and Messianism) of the time (cf. on the Qumran Community, above). I have discussed this in more detail in an earlier article of this series.

What is unique with regard to the Christian view of the Messiah, in relation to the end-time, is that Jesus departed earth, being exalted and ascending to Heaven, before fulfilling entirely the Messianic role expected of him. This entails a period of some length before his return to earth, at which point the Messianic eschatological expectation will be realized. However, as we have seen—in Part 1 of this article and throughout this series—this is quite compatible with an imminent eschatology, with the general understanding that this intervening period was to be relatively brief, i.e. with the lifetime of most believers.

(2) The early Christian understanding of salvation

It is possible to isolate two main ways salvation is expressed—typically using the verbs sw|/zw (with the noun swthri/a) and r(u/omai—from a religious/metaphysical standpoint, in the New Testament and early Christian tradition:

    • Salvation from sin—either: (a) from the effect of personal sins, or (b) from the power and control of sin
    • Salvation from the end-time Judgment by God, often described in terms of being saved from the anger/wrath of God which is about to come upon humankind

Interestingly, the aspect of salvation which is probably most commonly in mind with people today—that of the individual’s personal salvation following death (i.e. from the punishment [of Hell])—is not emphasized particularly in the New Testament. This, of course, was a popular way of thinking even in ancient times, usually depicted in some manner as the person standing before a divine/heavenly tribunal after death to be judged according to his/her deeds and actions while alive. The background of this idea is retained in early Christian thought, as for example, in the Beatitude form (Matt 5:3-12 / Lk 6:20-26) and the image of entering/inheriting the Kingdom (i.e. of the heavenly/eternal life), cf. Mk 9:47; 10:23ff; Matt 5:20; 7:21; 25:34; Jn 3:5; Acts 14:22; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:21, etc. However, specific references to the traditional (afterlife) scene of Judgment are somewhat rare in the New Testament (cf. 2 Cor 5:10; Rom 2:6ff; 14:10-12; also Matt 10:32-33; 12:41-42 par; 25:31-46). This is largely due to the fact that the eschatological emphasis has shifted to the (imminent) coming of the end—that is, the coming of God’s Judgment upon the earth, expected to occur soon, within the lifetime of most people. Early Christians widely shared this expectation, along with many Jews of the period; the distinctly Christian component was the role of Jesus as the Anointed One (Christ) of God and heavenly “Son of Man” whose coming (back) to earth from Heaven would usher in the Judgment. Thus the idea of salvation meant being saved from the Judgment (the anger/wrath of God) about to be visited upon sinful, wicked humanity (cf. the “day of YHWH” motif in the Old Testament Prophets). Christ, as the divine representative of YHWH, oversees the Judgment, but also acts as savior and deliverer of the Elect—that is, of God’s faithful people, the believers. This eschatological context for salvation is found all throughout the New Testament; of the many passages, I would note the following:

A similar (generalized) sense of eschatological salvation is found widely in early Christian thought—e.g., Luke 3:6 [Isa 40:5]; John 3:17; 5:34; 10:9; 12:47; Romans 10:9; 11:14, 26; 1 Cor 1:8; 3:15; 9:22; 10:33; 15:2; Phil 1:6, 9-10; 2:16; 1 Thess 5:23-24; 2 Thess 2:10; 2 Tim 2:4, 10, (15); 4:16; James 1:21; 2:14; 4:12; 5:20; 1 Pet 1:5, 9-10; 4:18? [Prov 11:31]; (2 Pet 2:9); (Jude 23); Heb 1:14; (7:25); 9:28. Virtually the entire book of Revelation deals with this theme.

What is the significance of this? It means that the whole of the early Gospel message tends to be eschatological in character, even apart from its central aspect identifying Jesus as the (end-time) Messiah (cf. above). For more on this, see the discussion in the two-part article on Eschatology in the book of Acts, as well as the upcoming articles on Paul’s eschatology.

(3) The Christian religious worldview as ‘dispensational’

By “dispensational” I simply mean the recognition of a clear demarcation between two different Ages—this Age, and “the Age to Come”. The earliest Christian communities were marked by certain religious phenomena which indicated that a “New Age” was being ushered in. This is expressed most clearly in the book of Acts, with the descriptions of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon believers in Christ, with accompanying phenomena—miraculous speaking in foreign languages (“tongues”), the ability to prophesy, the working of healing miracles, etc. Peter, in his great Pentecost speech, citing Joel 2:28-32, declares that this manifestation of the Spirit is a fulfillment of prophecy and shows that the early believers are living in the “last days” (vv. 16ff); for more on this, cf. Part 1 of “Eschatology in the book of Acts” and Parts 23 of the series “The Speeches of Acts”.

Much the same may be said of the other episodes in the book of Acts, involving the manifestation of the Spirit in the mission work of Paul and the other Apostles. The early Christian communities continued this “charismatic” tradition, experiencing similar spiritual phenomena and “gifts”, to judge from the New Testament evidence (esp. in 1 Corinthians). There is every reason to think that this was understood as a foretaste, an initial ushering in, of the Age to Come, during the (brief) period before the return of Jesus. Paul, it would seem, expresses this rather clearly in 1 Cor 13:8-12 (cf. my earlier note on this passage). Thus, even if early believers were to doubt that they were living in the “last days”, and even if a belief in Jesus as the Messiah did not necessitate it, the spiritual phenomena they experienced provided proof that the end was near and a New Age was about to begin.

(4) Christian identity and the early mission-work

If we accept the authenticity of the tradition in Acts 1:6-8, Jesus, in instructing and commissioning his disciples prior to his departure from earth (vv. 9-11), declared that their missionary work, proclaiming the Gospel to the surrounding peoples, was eschatological in nature (cf. Part 1 of the “Eschatology in the book of Acts”). This same point was made in the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus, fitting the early apostolic mission into a framework for the coming of the end (Mark 13:9-13 par). Moreover, this, along with the other aspects of early Christian thinking mentioned above, helped to inform the self-identity of believers in Christ as the end-time people of God—those faithful ones, living in the “last days”, who will be rescued from the coming Judgment. In this regard, the early Christian communities had much in common with the Qumran Community (cf. above).

The reality of their (daily) life and existence shaped the way this eschatological expectation was expressed, and vice versa. This took place in all kinds of small ways—see, for example, the eschatological dimension of Paul’s instruction on marriage in 1 Cor 7:25-31 (to be discussed). Or, consider how the imminent expectation of the end caused concern for the Thessalonian believers with regard to relatives and other believers who had already died (1 Thess 4:13-18, study upcoming), and how Paul addresses this. At other times, it might involved more complex and detailed patterns of thought, such as in Paul’s famous discussion in Romans 9-11 (also to be studied in this series).

What is most important to keep in mind is that the religious identity of early Christians was, in a very real sense, fundamentally eschatological. Perhaps nowhere is this seen so clearly and vividly than in Romans 8, especially the line of argument in vv. 18-25. The author of 1 John expresses something similar in 2:28-3:3 (esp. vv. 1-2), stating that our identity as God’s offspring now is only a reflection of what is about to be fulfilled for us at the appearance of God (in the person of Jesus Christ) at the end. The two aspects of the identity of believers—present and future—are closely connected, and, for early believers, close in time as well, expected to be realized within their lifetime.

(5) The early Christian movement as the fulfillment of Prophecy

Early Christians, like the Qumran Community, viewed themselves at the center of the fulfillment of Scriptural Prophecy. This began with their belief in Jesus as the Messiah (cf. above), and the various passages which were understood in a Messianic (and eschatological) sense and applied to Jesus. It was only natural that, by extension, other Messianic/eschatological prophecies would be interpreted in relation to Jesus’ followers, the first believers. This was especially necessary in light of the uniquely Christian aspect of this eschatology—of an intervening period, before Jesus’ return to earth, when his disciples (believers) would continue his end-time work (on this, cf. above). Numerous Scripture passages could be—and, indeed, were—interpreted on this basis. The two most notable are Joel 2:28-32 (in Peter’s Pentecost speech [Acts 2:16ff], already mentioned) and Amos 9:11-12 (in James’ speech at the Jerusalem Council [Acts 15:15-17]); also worthy of mention in the book of Acts is Paul’s use of Isaiah 49:6 (his speech at Antioch [13:47ff]; cf. also Lk 2:29-32). These passages are all discussed in the article on the Eschatology in the book of Acts, as well as in the series “The Speeches of Acts”. The force of this prophetic self-understanding, in connection with other aspects of early Christian thought (cf. above), always served to keep an imminent eschatological awareness in full view.

(6) Theodicy and future hope

One final area worth noting falls under the heading of theodicy—that is, an attempt to explain how a just God could allow so much injustice in the world, allowing wickedness and evil to go unpunished (in the present). Central to Jewish and Christian eschatology at the time was the belief that God would soon act to judge the world, bringing a decisive Judgment upon humankind, punishing the wicked and rescuing/rewarding the righteous. For early Christians, in terms of religious psychology, affirmation of this coming Judgment was all the more urgent since, during his time on earth, Jesus did not fulfill the traditional Messianic role of ushering in the end-time Judgment. Surely this had to occur soon, and so we see this expectation expressed all throughout the early Christian preaching in the book of Acts, in Paul’s letters, and in the remainder of the New Testament. Paul’s warning, in his famous Athens speech, captures this expectation most precisely (17:30-31).

The future hope for believers in Christ is tied to this idea of the coming Judgment, at which time the people of God (believers) will be rescued from the wickedness of the current Age, and will join with Jesus in the blessed heavenly/eternal life, in God’s own presence.

Paths of Interpretation for Believers today

It goes without saying that the imminent eschatology expressed in the New Testament poses significant problems for Christians today. How are we to reconcile the clear belief that the end was imminent with the reality, so it would seem, of more than 1,900 years (and counting) before the great Judgment and the return of Jesus comes? In the Introduction to this series, I outlined four possible approaches or ways of handling this question, which, for convenience (and not necessarily indicating any preference), I number #1-4:

    • The New Testament authors, like many today, truly believed that the end of the Age was close at hand, presumably to occur during their lifetime. God made use of that belief (common among many Jews and others at the time) for a greater purpose. While the inspired authors could, technically, be seen as having been mistaken on this point, it does not affect the truth of the message which they are communicating to us. [Approach #1]
    • In interpreting these passages, our emphasis should not be on individual statements (regarding the end being near, etc), but, rather, upon the overall worldview of which they are a part. This relates, in particular, to the unique way in which early Christians adapted traditional eschatological language. Conceivably, early Christians could also speak of the end being “near”, even though they realized it might not become manifest on earth in the way that traditional eschatology imagined. [Approach #2]
    • In speaking of the end as being “near”, this language is really expressing the idea that it could take place at any moment, since no one (not even Jesus [the Son], cf. Mark 13:32 par) knows exactly when the end will occur. [Approach #3]
    • The use of this language of imminence is primary rhetorical, rather than literal. It is meant to exhort believers to live and act a certain way, as well as offering hope in difficult times. This view, in part, draws upon a distinction between descriptive and prescriptive language—i.e., how things are (or will be) vs. how things ought to be. [Approach #4]

I will here make a number of brief comments regarding each of these, leaving a more definitive solution, on my part, to wait until the conclusion of this series.

Approach #1. This approach essentially involves the principle of accommodation. In terms of the doctrine of inspiration (of Scripture), accommodation theory posits that the inspired authors/speakers may have accepted or adopted views commonly held by people of the time, but which, technically speaking, from our vantage point today, could be deemed erroneous, inaccurate, or incomplete. This frequently relates to various kinds of scientific information—ancient cosmology, history, anthropology, biology, metaphysics, view of the afterlife, etc. As a simple example, in the parable of Lk 16:19-31, Jesus might be seen as simply drawing upon traditional imagery (for the purposes of the illustration), without intending to give a scientifically accurate portrait of the afterlife. Other examples could be much more controversial. Some traditional-conservative commentators and theologians are reluctant to admit any such occurrences of accommodation in Scripture, while others are willing to accept it in varying degrees. Much depends on the particular passage, and circumstances, involved.

The question of possible limitations (of knowledge) on the part of Jesus, as a human being on earth, is especially controversial and much debated. However, as it happens, there is at least one passage in the Gospel tradition where Jesus appears to admit such a limitation for himself—the saying in Mark 13:32 par, which is part of the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse”, and happens to involve the matter of precisely when the end will occur. Due to the sensitive nature of this passage, I will be discussing it in more detail as we approach the conclusion of this series. It would, however, naturally follow that, if Jesus himself did not know exactly when the end would come, the New Testament authors would not have known either. Accommodation theory would allow that the writers simply were expressing a general belief (regarding the end being imminent), common to Jews and Christians of the time, without necessarily stating it as an absolute fact.

Certainly, a number of the eschatological references (cf. Part 1 of this article, and throughout this series), could be viewed in this way and, as such, be incorporated within a sound doctrine of inspiration. Yet there are other passages where this approach becomes much more difficult to maintain. For example, in 1 Peter 4:7, it is declared bluntly to readers (living in the 1st century A.D.) that “the end of all (thing)s has come near”. This seems to go beyond a general belief, to the point of a positive (and absolute) declaration. Another example is in the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” (Mark 13 par). In spite of the qualifying statement in 13:32 par, the entire chronological framework of the Discourse is centered on the key event of the destruction of the Temple, with the accompanying end-time events, apparently, set within the general bounds of the lifetime of the first disciples (13:28-30 par). For more on this, cf. Part 4 of the Eschatological Discourse study and the separate note to this article.

Approach #2. This view is similar in certain respects to approach #1 (above), but formulates more precisely the idea that New Testament authors (and speakers) are regularly making use of traditional eschatological language and imagery, without necessarily affirming concrete eschatological beliefs. For example, various apocalyptic images from the Old Testament Prophets, related to the “Day of YHWH” theme, might be used to express the idea of God’s coming Judgment, without literally meaning that the moon will turn to blood or that the stars will actually “fall out of heaven” (Mk 13:24-25 par; Acts 2:19-20, etc). That is to say, much eschatological language is figurative, as evidenced, in a highly developed way, by the symbolism in the book of Revelation (discussed in the current series of daily notes). How might this relate to the expressions of imminent eschatology in the New Testament? It could be viewed as part of the traditional idiom—i.e., the end is always understood as coming soon, being near; this is simply part of any eschatological mode of expression (cf. the first section of this article, above).

The problem with this approach is that it tends to ignore the fundamental way the aspect of imminence is fundamentally tied to the early Christian worldview and religious identity (discussed above). Far from being a colorful detail on the eschatological/apocalyptic dramatic stage, the message that the Judgment and return of Jesus will soon take place is essential to the early proclamation of the Gospel (cf. the articles on the Eschatological sayings of Jesus and on the Eschatology in the book of Acts). Early Christian belief in Jesus as the Messiah, and of salvation in terms of rescue from the coming Judgment (on both points, cf. above), are shorn of their true significance without a concrete belief that the end was imminent.

Approach #3. The is by far the most popular approach to the problem adopted by Christians today. It basically holds that the language of imminence means, not that the end will come soon, but that it may come soon. It is certainly a convenient solution, in that it very handily allows for an intervening 1,900+ years of history. Indeed, some commentators and theologians simply define imminence (in eschatology) this way, thereby effectively circumventing the entire chronological problem. However, I consider this approach to be fatally flawed in the way that it seemingly ignores the straightforward language used by the New Testament authors. A careful study of the evidence in Part 1 of this article, as well as in the other articles of this series (and the daily notes on the book of Revelation), demonstrates, I think rather decisively, that early Christians in the 1st century (including the New Testament authors), believed that the end would come soon, probably within their own lifetime.

A variation of approach #1 (principle of accommodation) would handle this a slightly different way. While the New Testament authors believed, and declared, that the end would come soon, this expression of imminence was used, by God, for the greater purpose of conveying to all believers, in all times, that the end may come soon. As a result, every generation of believers, in responding to the message in the Scriptures, effectively responds just as the first generation did—believing that the end might well come in their lifetime. I find this version of approach #3 to be much more acceptable (and plausible) in relation to the tenets of orthodox Christian doctrine.

Approach #4. This approach looks more to the practical effects of the rhetoric and literary style used by the New Testament authors. In other words, what is the context of these eschatological references? What does the author intend to accomplish by introducing them where and when he does? For example, the eschatological references by Paul in 1 Cor 7:25-31 are part of his wider instruction on marriage (and marital relations) in chapter 7, and really ought not to be examined outside of this context (i.e. as independent eschatological pronouncements). More to the point, references to imminent eschatology could be meant primarily to exhort and comfort believers in various ways, rather than being intended to establish a chronological framework.

Some commentators would extend this approach to include a distinction between descriptive and prescriptive language—i.e., how things are (or will be) vs. how things ought to be. As applied to eschatology, the very notion of the coming Judgment and a New Age, generally reflects, in part at least, an idealized vision of how things should be, how many people wish they soon would be. Eschatological language and imagery naturally fits the mode of exhortation, and, in the New Testament, is frequently found in such a setting. In light of the coming Judgment, etc, we ought to live and act a certain way, not simply for fear of what is to come, but with the idea of God coming near to us, visiting humankind—the promise of His Presence, in both terrifying and comforting aspects, Judgment and Salvation.

There is something to be said for each of these approaches, in their various forms, while admitting, at the same time, that none of them offers a truly satisfactory solution to the problem. However, as possible paths of interpretation, we should keep them in mind, as we continue through the remaining articles of this series. I hope to bring together the strands at the conclusion, at which point I will attempt to offer my own humble solution.

4QMMT (“Halakhic Letter”)

The Qumran text 4QMMT, sometimes referred to as “Halakhic Letter”, has an especially interesting (and important) connection to the New Testament—the letters of Paul in particular. It is represented by 6 manuscripts (4Q394-99), all quite fragmentary; scholars would seem to be correct in assigning them to a single document, which has been reconstructed, as far as possible. The critical edition was produced by E. Qimron and J. Strugnell in volume 10 of the Discoveries in the Judean Desert (DJD) series, pp. 3-40, plates I-VIII.

The number of surviving manuscripts, spanning, it would seem, a period of more than 100 years (c. 75 B.C. – 50 A.D.), is an indication of its popularity and importance for the Community of the Qumran texts. Most likely it was viewed as an authoritative work, and one which represented the Community’s religious identity and principles in significant ways.

The designation “MMT” is an abbreviation of the Hebrew phrase hr*oTh^ yc@u&m^ tx*q=m!, miqƒ¹¾ ma±¦´ê hatôrâ (for more on this, cf. below), which occurs in an important section (C 25-32) now regarded by most commentators as the epilogue of the work. In some ways the title “Halakhic Letter” is more appropriate, though a bit anachronistic in terminology; for, indeed, the work appears to be a letter, of sorts, and contains what would come to be known as halakah. This term, referring to the way by which a person must walk, was used in a technical sense for the interpretation of the regulations and requirements of the Torah, and how they are to be applied in detail. A vast body of traditional teaching in this regard was preserved and given authoritative form in the Mishnah and Talmud; but it is found in the midrashim (commentaries) and other writings as well. The bulk of 4QMMT, or what survives of it, involves an interpretation of various regulations in the Torah; we can fairly assume that this halakah represents the views of the Community, and that they regarded it as an authoritative interpretation. It would seem that the purpose of the work (as a letter) was to convince other individuals or groups that those who did not adhere to the Community’s interpretation were dangerously in error. The letter may well have originally been written to a specific individual, presumably a leading/ruling figure (note the mention of David in C 25); a clear statement of the purpose of writing follows:

“Remember David…he, too, [was] freed from many afflictions and was forgiven. And also we have written to you miqƒ¹¾ ma±¦´ê hatôrâ which we think are good for you and for your people, for we s[a]w that you have intellect and knowledge of the Instruction. Reflect on all these matters and seek from Him that He may support your counsel and keep you far from the evil scheming[s] and the counsel of Belial, so that at the end of time, you may rejoice in finding that some of our words are true. And it shall be reckoned to you as justice when you do what is upright and good before Him, for your good and that of Israel.” (C 25-32, 4Q398 frag. 14-17 col. ii. 1-8).

The phrase miqƒ¹¾ ma±¦´ê hatôrâ is a bit difficult to render clearly into English. A literal translation would be something like “from the ends of the (thing)s made/done of the Instruction”. The “Instruction” (hr*oT, tôrâ), of course, means the Instruction given to the people of Israel, by God, through Moses (and written/preserved in the books of the Pentateuch)—i.e. the Torah or “Law” of Moses. In context, the word tx*q=m! (miqƒ¹¾), “from the ends (of)”, refers to some specific examples, or certain details, in the Torah. The word yc@u&m^ (ma±¦´ê) is a construct plural form of the noun hc#u&m^ (ma±¦´eh), from the root hcu, and meaning “something made or done”; here, however, it probably denotes “something that is to be done“. Thus, the basic sense of the phrase is “some specific things in the Instruction (Torah) which are to be done”.

The surviving portions of 4QMMT present some details and examples of these “things which are to be done”. It is not necessarily to go over them in detail, but a summary of some of the contents may be helpful (cf. R. A. Kugler, “Rewriting Rubrics: Sacrifice and the Religion of Qumran”, in Religion in the Dead Sea Scrolls, eds. John J. Collins and Robert A. Kugler [Eerdmans: 200]):

    • B 11-13—on the care that needs to be taken by the priests in performing their duties (Lev 22:16; Num 18:1)
    • B 9-13—on when the common meal portion of sacrificial offerings is to be eaten (Lev 7:15; 19:6)
    • B 13-17—details related to the purification ritual involving the ashes of the red cow (Num 19:1-10)
    • B 27-35—where the ritual slaughter is to take place, and how this is to be interpreted/applied (Lev 17:3-4)
    • B 36-38—the regulation against sacrificing a parent animal with its offspring (Lev 22:28)
    • B 39-54—regulations regarding who may be allowed to enter the sanctuary (Deut 23:2-4; also 18:13; Lev 21:17)
    • B 62-64—on the dedication of the produce and tithe of the herd/flock as “holy to the Lord” (Lev 19:23-24; 27:32)
    • B 75-82—regulations regarding priestly marriages (Lev 21:7, 14; also 19:19; Deut 22:9)

Generally, the halakhic interpretation by the Qumran Community would seem to be stricter than that observed by other Jews at the time, an attitude reflected in many other Qumran texts. The Community felt that it possessed an inspired, authoritative interpretation of the Torah (and of Scriptural prophecy, etc), which was the result of special revelation and guidance. The eschatological warning indicated in the epilogue (cf. above) shows the importance of following the Community’s inspired halakah (and the danger of disregarding it). Column i of the same fragment cited above presents this even more clearly:

“…concerning these things…we [have written that you must understand the bo]ok of Moses [and the books of the prophets and David…]…[it is writ]ten that you [shall stray from the path and evil will encounter] you. And it is written: and it shall happen when [all] these [things shall befa]ll you at the en[d] of days, the blessing [and the] curse, [then you shall take it] to your he[art] and will turn to Him with all your heart [and with al]l [your] soul [at the en]d [of time]…”

Paul and 4QMMT

When the text 4QMMT was made known, scholars were immediately struck by the similarity between the expression hr*oTh^ yc@u&m^ (ma±¦´ê hatôrâ) and the Greek e&rga no/mou used by Paul. It is the closest Hebrew parallel thus far found, and one that, at least in the latest copies of 4QMMT, would have been roughly contemporary with Paul’s letters. The Greek expression simply means “works of (the) law”, and generally corresponds with the Hebrew, though not without important loss of nuance. As indicated above, the Hebrew hr*oTh^ yc@u&m^, in the context of 4QMMT, should be translated “things (which are to be) done of the Instruction [i.e. Torah]”. If this Hebrew expression, and its use, truly underlies Paul’s Greek wording, then it has significant implication for the latter’s meaning. It is worth touching on this briefly, as it relates to the current discussion on “Paul’s View of the Law” (in Galatians and Romans).

Ever since Luther and the Reformation, Protestant Christians have been accustomed to thinking of Paul’s “works of the Law” in terms of a contrast of “faith vs. works”, in which “works” refers primarily to human effort as the basis of the contrast—i.e. human effort to achieve a right status with God, rather than relying on faith in Christ. While Paul doubtless would agree with this contrast (cf. the Pauline statement in Eph 2:9), a careful reading of Galatians and Romans—the only letters where the expression “works of the Law” is used—shows that Paul is actually making a very different sort of argument, and one which may be confirmed (decisively) by the expression in 4QMMT.

When dealing with fundamental religious issues like circumcision or the dietary regulations, the question involved is not about trying to gain righteousness through work/deeds, but on whether believers in Christ (and Gentile believers, in particular) are required to fulfill these regulations in the Torah. This is exactly the sense of the Hebrew expression in 4QMMT, i.e. things in the Torah which people are required to do, as I discussed above. Thus, issue lies not in the limitations of human effort (in regard to obtaining righteousness), but in the nature of the Torah itself, and its place (or lack thereof) in the new arrangement (covenant) believers now observe in Christ. Paul discusses this at length in Galatians and Romans, and I similarly have been presenting his arguments in detail in the current series (on “Paul’s View of the Law”). His teaching on the Torah is so unique (and controversial) among Jews (and Jewish Christians) of the time, that it must be studied carefully. Even today, many Christians are unable to recognize, and/or reluctant to admit, the consequences and implications of his line of argument. I recommend that you read these articles and notes on the key passages in Galatians and Romans. For reference, it may be useful to summarize the locations where the expression “works of the Law” (or its shorthand, “works”) occur:

  • The full expression e&rga no/mou (“works of the Law”):
    Gal 2:16 (3 x); 3:2, 5, 10; Rom 3:20, 28; in all but the last of these, the phrase is “out of [i.e. from, by] works of the Law” (e)c e&rgwn no/mou); in Rom 3:28, we have the opposite, “apart from [xwri/$] works of the Law”.
  • The shorthand e&rga (“works”) or e)c e&rgwn (“out of [i.e. from, by] works”):
    Rom 3:27; 4:2, 6; 9:11, 32; 11:6
  • We might also note, that, when Paul speaks of the “works of the Law” in relation to the Gentiles, on one occasion (Rom 2:15), he uses the singular “work [e&rgon] of the Law”; the distinction presumably reflects the idea that Gentiles have not had the specific regulations (“works”) of the Torah to follow, but are “under the Law” in a different manner (comp. with how he expresses this in Gal 4:1-11).

This special use of the word e&rga (“works”) appears to be unique to Paul in the New Testament, and its use is limited to Galatians and Romans. While other believers at the time may have used the word in a similar way (whether or not influenced by Paul), there is little or no trace of it in the New Testament. Elsewhere, “works” refer to things done (deeds), in a more general religious (and ethical) sense, either in terms of “good works” or the contrary, “evil deeds”. Even in the “deutero-Pauline” letters—that is, those where Pauline authorship is often disputed or considered pseudonymouse&rga is used almost entirely in terms of “good works”, and even the statements in Eph 2:9 and 2 Tim 1:9, which seem to echo Paul’s teaching on believers’ relationship to the Torah, likely refer to “works” in the more general sense of (good) deeds. The reference to “dead works” in Hebrews 6:1; 9:14 could also reflect Paul’s teaching, but may just as easily be the result of traditional ethical instruction.

The use of e&rga (“works”) in the letter of James is more difficult to judge. On the one hand, the author, throughout 2:14-26 (where the word occurs 12 times), seems to be speaking more generally of “good works”, i.e. acts of charity to others. On the other hand, the reference to Abraham, with a citation of Gen 15:6, almost certainly draws upon the traditional image of Abraham as one who faithfully followed God’s commands (i.e. the regulations of the Torah). However, the overall context of the letter suggests that, if the author has any “commands” in mind in using the word e&rga, it should be understood in terms of the single “Love-command” (2:8ff); in this regard, the author is fully in accord with Paul as to the relationship between believers and the “Law” (Gal 5:6, 13-15; 6:2; Rom 12:9ff; 13:8-10). Cf. my recent article for more on the use of Gen 15:6 by Paul and James.

Translations of 4QMMT above are taken, with some modification, from The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, ed. by Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar (Brill / Eerdmans: 1997-8).

John the Baptist and the Dead Sea Scrolls

With the discovery and eventual publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls (particularly those from Qumran), scholars and commentators were eager to note any possible parallels with the New Testament and early Christianity. A wealth of theories sprung up, some less plausible than others, including attempts to connect Jesus of Nazareth with the Scrolls in various ways. One theory which continues to have some measure of popularity (and acceptance) today among New Testament scholars involves a possible connection or association between John the Baptist and the Qumran Community. Before proceeding, it will be helpful to define and explain what is meant by the expression “Qumran Community”. In terms of the site of Khirbet Qumrân, and scrolls found in the vicinity, we can identify three groups, which may (or may not) be identical:

    • Those who copied, used, and/or hid away the scrolls in the Qumran caves, assuming that they represent a coherent group
    • Those who resided on the hilltop site of Khirbet Qumran
    • A community whose organization, and history, etc, is described in the scrolls themselves

With regard to the last point, most scholars believe that there was an actual group, or community, in existence during the period c. 150 B.C. – 70 A.D. (the time-frame of the scrolls), which sought to organize and conduct itself according to the ideals, principles, regulations, etc, outlined in a number of key texts—most notably the “Community Rule” (1QS and other copies), the related rule-texts 1QSa and 1QSb, and the “Damascus Document” (CD/QD). It is important to emphasize this, since there is virtually no definite external evidence for this group’s existence. However, their existence would seem to be confirmed by the evidence within the scrolls themselves; I would point to several pieces of evidence in particular:

    • The numerous copies of the “community rule” texts, produced over a significant length of time (to judge by the surviving versions/recensions)—this indicates a functioning, well-established community which required these authoritative texts and rule-books for repeated use. The same may be said for the corpus of the Qumran texts as a whole—the many Scripture copies, liturgical texts, and so forth, presumably served the needs of a specific (religious) community.
    • Many of the Qumran texts evince a decided sectarian viewpoint and orientation, which is almost impossible to explain without an existing group (or groups) to read/write/copy these texts. While the views within the scrolls are not always consistent in detail, there are enough features in common, within a variety of texts written/copied over a period of decades, to confirm the existence of a distinctive group or community of adherents.
    • The history of a definite community would seem to be preserved within a number of different texts, including liturgical works, hymns, commentaries on Scripture, and other writings. Most notable is the so-called “Damascus Document”, originally known from the copy discovered in Cairo (CD), but subsequently attested from a number of copies among the Qumran scrolls (QD). This text traces the history, self-identity, rules, etc, of a definite Community, though one which is probably not limited to the area around Qumran (and the scrolls). It is possible that the “Qumran Community”, as such, may represent an offshoot of a larger/earlier movement.

Most scholars would identity the Qumran Community with the Essenes, or as an offshoot of that movement. While this is far from certain (and, unfortunately, many treat it as an established fact), it remains the most likely hypothesis. As far as the site of Khirbet Qumran goes, the prevailing opinion is that the Qumran Community resided in that fortified structure, though not all scholars or archeologists agree. There is actually very little tangible evidence to support the connection, beyond the proximity of the scroll deposits to the site.

John the Baptist

What, then, may we say about the idea that John the Baptist may have been connected in some way with the Qumran Community? There is some plausible evidence which could support the theory that John spent time in contact with the Community. I offer here some points for consideration (for another useful summary, cf. J. A. Fitzmyer, The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins [Eerdmans: 2000], pp. 18-21).

1. To begin with, it must be noted that, by all accounts, John’s ministry along the Jordan river included the desert regions around the Dead Sea not all that far from the site of Qumran. In terms of geographical proximity, it is certainly possible that John may have had some contact with members of the Community (assuming that they dwelt/resided at or near that site).

2. The centrality and importance of Isa 40:3 for both John the Baptist (Mark 1:3 par) and the Community of the Qumran texts (cf. the Community Rule [1QS] 8:12-16) has led to the suggestion that John may have been associated at some time with the Qumran Community. According to Jn 1:22-23, the identification of John with the herald of Isa 40:3, comes from his own lips; it is likely that the wider Gospel tradition to this is also derived from John’s own ministry, rather than a reflection of subsequent early Christian belief about John. The importance of Isa 40:3 would seem to be the basis for John residing in the desert, just as it clearly was for the Qumran Community:

“And when these have become a community in Israel… they are to be separated from the men of sin, to walk to the desert in order to open there His path, as it is written: ‘In the desert prepare the way of [YHWH], straighten in the steppe a roadway for our God’. This is the study of the Law which He commanded through the hand of Moses, in order to act in compliance with all that has been revealed from age to age…” (1QS 8:12-15)

Admittedly, the reasons for going into the desert are somewhat different, but they share at least two important features in common: (1) an ascetic-religious emphasis on separation from sin (holiness and repentance, etc), and (2) a religious self-identity with a strong eschatological (and Messianic) orientation (for more on this, cf. point 5 below).

3. John’s family circumstances (as recorded in the Gospel of Luke) would fit the idea of his becoming involved with the Qumran community; note the following:

    • According to Luke 1:5ff, John was born into the priestly line, but (apparently) never served officially as a priest. Many of the leading figures of the Qumran community were priests opposed to the current religious (Temple) establishment in Jerusalem. One detects in the Gospel tradition, at the very least, a measure of tension between John and the religious establishment (Jn 1:19-27; Matt 3:7-10 par) as well.
    • John’s parents were quite old when he was born (Lk 1:7, 18, 25, 36f, 58), and likely would have died while he was still young; a child orphaned from priestly parents would have made a strong candidate for adoption by the Qumran community, as Josephus states was occasionally done by the Essenes (Jewish War II.120).
    • Moreover, as a serious, religious-minded youth, John may well have been attracted to the Qumran community, even as Josephus was drawn to the Essenes as a young man (Life §10-11).

4. The Qumran community practiced ritual washings, which symbolized cleansing/purification from sin and entry/participation in the community (cf. 1QS 3:3ff; 5:13-14). As such, it provides a distinct parallel with early Christian baptism, which is related in turn to the earlier baptism practiced by John. There is also an interesting juxtaposition of cleansing by water and the Holy Spirit (and fire) in 1QS 4:20-21, as we see expressed by John in Matt 3:11 / Lk 3:16.

5. As noted above, the religious self-identity, of both John and the Qumran Community, had a strong eschatological (and Messianic) orientation. In the case of John, this is absolutely clear, though Christians are not always accustomed to thinking about his ministry this way; note the following:

    • the use of Isa 40:3, in tandem with Mal 3:1ff (Mk 1:2-3 par; Matt 11:10 par; Jn 1:23), the latter being a passage which came to have a definite eschatological emphasis for Jews and early Christians (cf. my earlier study on this)
    • in particular, John was identified as the “Elijah” who would appear at the end-time (Mal 4:5-6; cf. Mk 1:5-6; 6:15; 9:11-13 pars; Matt 11:14; Lk 1:17, 76; but cp. John’s own denial of this in Jn 1:21)
    • John’s preaching involved a proclamation of the coming (end-time) Judgment of God (Matt 3:7-10, 12 par), with repentance as a precursor (and warning) to the Judgment (see esp. Lk 1:17, 76-77)
    • this aspect of John’s ministry was distinctive enough to make people question whether he might be the “Anointed One” (Messiah), esp. in the sense of being the end-time Prophet (or “Elijah”)—Lk 3:15ff; Jn 1:19-27
    • his references to “the one coming” (Mk 1:7 par; Lk 3:16 & 7:18ff par; Jn 1:27, cf. also vv. 15, 30) almost certainly relate to a Messianic interpretation of Mal 3:1ff, as I have discussed in detail elsewhere

With regard to the eschatological and Messianic belief of the Qumran Community, its is far too large a subject to address here; I discuss it in considerable detail all throughout the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. However, I would note one interesting parallel, in terms of Messianic expression, between the writings associated with the Qumran Community and John’s preaching (according to the “Q” Gospel tradition). In the Damascus Document (CD 2:11-12) we read:

“And…he raised up…a remnant for the land…and he taught them by the hand of the Anointed One(s) with his holy Spirit and through…the truth”

If we combine this with the words of 1 QS 4:20-21:

“…the time appointed for the Judgment…Then God will refine, with his truth, all man’s deeds, and will purify…ripping out all spirit of injustice…and cleansing him with the spirit of holiness from every wicked deed…”

we are not all that far removed from the language and imagery used by John, e.g., in Mark 1:8 par.

Thus we see that the theory of a connection between John and the Qumran Community, while quite speculative, is not entirely implausible, given the points in common and details noted above.

Translations of the Dead Sea Scrolls here have been taken, with some modification and abridgment, from The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, ed. by Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar (Eerdmans/Brill: 1997-8).

Jesus and the Gospel Tradition: The Baptism, Pt 1 (Isa 40:3, continued)

Isaiah 40:3 (continued)

Having briefly discussed the key passage of Isa 40:3ff in the previous note, it remains to explore further the association with John the Baptist in Gospel tradition. To understand the original context and background of this association, it is helpful to turn to the texts from the Qumran Community (the Dead Sea Scrolls). I will be discussing here two principal aspects which shed light on the establishment of the early Christian tradition regarding John the Baptist (and his relationship with Jesus):

    1. The Eschatological interpretation of Isa 40:3, as evidenced in the Qumran texts, and
    2. The possible relationship between John the Baptist and the Qumran Community

1. The Eschatological Interpretation of Isa 40:3

While the original setting of Isa 40 would appear to be the promise of the restoration of Judah and the return from exile, certain features of the prophecy, like many in (Deutero-)Isaiah, came to be viewed from an eschatological standpoint—as a promise of what God would do for his people in the future, at the end-time. Interpreted in this light, the herald (or “voice”) of vv. 3ff is calling on people to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord (YHWH) at the end-time, when he will rescue/deliver his people and bring Judgment upon the world. This eschatological orientation is reflected strongly in the Community of the Qumran texts, written primarily between the period of 150 B.C. and the first years of the common era (A.D.). Many of these writings evince a belief that the end was near, and that the Community, as the faithful ones (or “remnant”) of Israel, held a central place in the work of God that was about to take place. This is expressed most clearly in two central documents which shape and define the history and character of the Community—the “Community Rule” [1QS, etc] and the so-called Damascus Document [CD/QD]. The importance of Isaiah 40:3 in terms of the Community’s self-identity is seen in the Community Rule [1QS] 8:12-16; 9:19-20:

“And when these have become /a community/ in Israel /in compliance with these arrangements/, they are to be segregated from within the dwelling of the men of sin, to walk to the desert in order to open there His path. As it is written: ‘In the desert, prepare the way of [YHWH], straighten in the steppe a roadway for our God’. This is the study of the Law which he commanded through the hand of Moses, in order to act in compliance with all that has been revealed from age to age, and according to what the prophets have revealed through His holy Spirit.” (8:12-16a)

“This is the time for making ready the path to the desert, and he will teach them about all that has been discovered, so that they can carry it out in this moment…” (9:19-20)

The Community of these texts has separated from all other people, living apart together in the desert (presumably at the site of Khirbet Qumrân, among others[?]), devoting themselves to a strict communal lifestyle centered on the study and exposition/interpretation of the Law and Prophets. This Way (Heb. Er#D#) in the desert is a “way of holiness” (cf. Isa 35:8ff; 57:14), which also draws upon several important images and ideas from Israelite history and the oracles of the Prophets (esp. Deutero-Isaiah):

    • The return of exiles to the Land—defined in terms of the the coming of salvation from God (Isa 62:10-11)
    • This is parallel to the way of the Israelites through the wilderness (i.e. the Exodus traditions) into the Promised Land (Isa 11:16; 48:21; 51:10-11)
    • This same salvation is also understood more properly in an eschatological sense, in terms of the coming Judgment (Isa 1:27-31, etc)

These aspects play on the dual meaning of the verb bWv (šû», “turn, return”)—i.e., (1) the return from exile and the restoration of Israel, and (2) a return to God, that is, a turning back away from sin. The Qumran Community refers to itself at times as <yb!v* (š¹»îm), “ones turning/returning”, in two qualified senses:

    • The š¹»ê Yi´r¹°¢l—the faithful ones or “converts” of Israel, i.e. those who have joined the Community (CD 4:2-3; 6:3-7)
    • The š¹»ê peša±—the ones who have turned away (i.e. repented) from sin (CD 2:5; 20:17; 1QS 1:17; 10:20; 1QHa VI.24; X.9; XIV. 6); the expression is likely derived from Isaiah 59:20f.

By turning from sin and the wickedness/faithlessness of the world, and joining the Community, one follows the “way of holiness” and prepares for the end-time Judgment and the salvation God will bring for his faithful ones.

2. John and the Qumran Community

There are a number of similarities between the ministry of John the Baptist and the Community of the Qumran texts:

  • The desert location. Based on the evidence from the Gospels, as well as subsequent Christian tradition, much of John’s ministry would have taken place in the Judean desert, not all that far from the site of Qumrân.
  • The central importance of Isa 40:3 (cf. above). In Jn 1:23, it is John himself who makes the identification with Isa 40:3.
  • The practice of ritual washing/cleansing. For the importance of this for the Qumran Community, see esp. 1QS 2:25-3:12; 4:20-22; 5:8-23. Ritual washing marked the person’s entrance into the Community; in addition, there were regular washings for various times or occasions.
  • An eschatological emphasis. Warning of the coming Judgment (or anger/wrath) of God was a significant element in both the Qumran texts and in the preaching of John (according to the Gospels). For the Qumran evidence, see e.g., CD 1:5; 10:9; 1QHa VII.17; XI. 28; XXII.5; 1QpHab i.12; 4Q169 1-2.
  • The importance of repentance. Cf. the Qumran references cited directed above, as well as the self-identification based on the verb bWv (šû») listed earlier above. The related Hebrew word hb*WvT= (t®šû»â) generally corresponds to the Greek meta/noia (Mk 1:4 par, etc).
  • Opposition to Pharisees and other (religious) leaders. This is attested only indirectly in the Qumran texts, such as the pesher (commentary) on Nahum (4QpNah [4Q169] fragments 3-4); cf. also CD 5:13-14; 6:11-14, etc. In the Gospels, note Matt 3:7ff par, and Jn 1:19ff.
  • Fire and Spirit. The Baptist’s saying in Mk 1:8; Matt 3:11 par regarding cleansing/purification by fire and the (holy) Spirit has an interesting parallel, too, in the Community Rule (1QS 4:20-21):
    “the time appointed for Judgment… Then God will refine, with his truth, all men’s deeds, and will purify for himself the structure of man… and cleansing him with the spirit of holiness from every wicked deed. He will sprinkle over him the spirit of truth like lustral water (in order to cleanse him) from all… defilement”

These points of similarity have prompted many commentators to allow at least the possibility that John the Baptist had some contact with the Qumran Community (usually identified, in various ways, with the Essenes). Josephus, according to his own testimony, had spent time with the Essenes, and describes an ascetic figure similar in certain respects to John (Life §§11-12). Moreover, Josephus also refers to the Essene practice of ‘adopting’ children and raising them according to their own teachings and practices (Jewish War 2.120, for more on the Essenes, cf. throughout 2.119-161). If one accepts the biographical details of the Lukan Infancy narrative, John came from a priestly family, and his parents, presumably, would have died when he was quite young. This would have made him a strong candidate, perhaps, for joining the Essenes (and/or the Qumran Community) as a youth. All of these factors make this at least a plausible scenario.

Summary

Whether or not John the Baptist had any real contact with the Qumran Community, if he identified himself with Isa 40:3 (cf. Jn 1:23), such as they did, then we are immediately transported beyond a specific Christian interpretation of the passage. At the earliest (historical) level of Gospel tradition, John would have viewed himself as fulfilling the role of the Isaian herald, and, through his preaching and ministry, he was preparing “the Way of the Lord”—that is, preparing God’s people for His end-time appearance and the coming Judgment on humankind. It is important to keep this possibility in mind as we explore the way that the earliest traditions were interpreted and developed within the Gospel heritage.

Translations of the Qumran texts given above (adapted slightly) are from The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, ed. by Florentino García Martínez & Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar (Brill/Eerdmans: 1997-8 & 2000).

4Q541

In discussing the Qumran text 11QMelchizedek mention was made of the Messianic Priest figure-type (on this, cf. Part 9 of the series Yeshua the Anointed). Another important text which gives evidence of this line of Messianic thought at Qumran is 4Q541, variously called 4QTLevi (d) and 4QAaron (A), according to the analysis of two different editors (Émile Puech and Jean Starcky). The text is made up of 24 fragments, of which most are two small to be intelligible; only fragments 1-2, 4, 7, 9 and 24 are intact enough to provide readable content. The largest fragment (9) provides almost the entire context for the surviving document; the parallels with the Testament of Levi (18:2-5 [see below]) explain Puech’s identification of it as related to Test. Levi. In point of fact, while a priestly figure is clearly in view in fragment 9, neither Levi nor Aaron is mentioned by name in 4Q541.

In general, the text would seem to be part of a series of apocalyptic pseudepigrapha dealing with the Patriarchs, and of Levi (and his lineage) in particular (4Q537-549). The Levitical priestly line would culminate with Amram, Moses and Aaron, from whom the Aaronid priesthood would arise. The priestly emphasis in the Qumran texts is to be explained by the fact that many in the Community were priests, including the leading/founding figure known as the “Teacher of Righteousness”. A major point of contention with the Hasmonean rulers in the 2nd and early/mid-1st century had been their appropriation of priestly duties and privileges, even though they were not from the line of Levi/Aaron. In this regard, the Hasmoneans were following the royal theology expressed in Psalm 110, symbolized by the person of Melchizedek, a priest-king who served God (and was honored by Abraham) long before the Aaronid priesthood was established; on such basis, a king could also function as priest. For the Qumran Community, however, the significance of Melchizedek was almost certainly the opposite—a priest who served as king.

The Qumran Community thus gave strong emphasis to the priesthood in their Messianic and eschatological thought. The only other Jewish writing from the first centuries B.C./A.D. to reflect this is the Testament of Levi, a pseudepigraphic work known in Hebrew from the Cairo Geniza remains, and in a Greek form in the Jewish/Christian Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. As it happens, this work is also known, in an older (Aramaic) form, preserved in a number of the scroll fragments at Qumran. This “Aramaic Levi Document” is represented by 1Q21, and the scrolls/fragments 4Q213-214. Only small portions survive, but 1Q21 makes the important declaration that “the kingdom of priesthood [atwnhk] is greater that the kingdom of…”.

Fragment 9 of 4Q541 is the central, principal surviving fragment. Column 1, as we have it, begins as follows:

“[…] the sons of his generation […] his [wi]sdom. And he will cover [i.e. atone, rpk] over all the sons of his generation, and he will be sent to all the sons of his [people]. His utterance is like the utterance of the heavens, and his teaching (is) according to the will of God. His eternal sun will shine, and his fire will burn in all the ends of the earth, and over the darkness it will shine.” (lines 1-4)

The words in line 2 may be compared with the statement in 11Q13 that the “tenth Jubilee” (i.e. the end of the current Age) will correspond with the Day of Atonement, and will be the time in which “to cover [i.e. atone, rpk] over all the sons of light and the men of the lot of Melchizedek” (lines 7-8). Here priestly sacrificial imagery (associated with the Day of Atonement) is used to express the end-time deliverance brought about by Melchizedek. At this time, the true Israel, the faithful remnant (i.e. the Qumran Community) will be delivered from the dominion of Belial, and returned according to their true identity as “sons of light” belonging to Melchizedek (the “Prince of Light”). In 4Q541, it would seem that sacrificial language (using the verb rpk, “cover, wipe away”) is also used to express something beyond the sacrificial ritual. The emphasis in fragment 9 is rather on the priestly role of teaching, of bringing revelation and enlightenment to God’s people. Even though the ritual detail of sacrifice still holds an important place in the thought of the Community (cf. 4Q214 and 214b), because of their separation from the Temple cultus, it came to take on a wider (and specialized) symbolic meaning, much as it did for early Christians. It is through the teaching and revelation of God’s word that the eschatological/Messianic priest-figure of 4Q541 atones for “the children of his generation”.

Some scholars, reading a bit too much into the references of opposition to the priest and his work in the remainder of fragment 9 (lines 6-7), have suggested that this figure has something of the character of the Isaian “Suffering Servant”, who atones for his people through his suffering, bringing him more closely into parallel with the early Christian understanding of Jesus as the Messiah. This would seem to take fragment quite out of context. It is clear that the priest-figure makes atonement through his speaking [rmam], teaching and proclaiming the word and will of God.

Like Melchizedek, this figure stands and speaks in God’s place, with such powerful effect that “darkness will vanish from the earth and cloudiness from the dry land” (figuratively speaking). Yet, at the same time, unlike Melchizedek, this figure does not bring about the final redemption; rather, things in the world will actually get worse in his time, i.e. the current time of the Community which continues to exist as the faithful remnant during the dominion of Belial (the “Prince of Darkness”). Darkness vanishes for the Community, the true Israel, but not for the rest of humankind who “will go astray in his days and will be bewildered”. This is similar to what Jesus declares in his “Eschatological Discourse” (Mark 13 par)—that things will grow increasingly worse on earth, with a period of intense distress, before the end finally comes. Much the same idea is expressed elsewhere in the Qumran texts, notably in the Commentary (Pesher) on Habakkuk; there, commenting on Hab 1:5, we read:

“[… The interpretation of the word concerns] the traitors with the Man of the Lie, since they do not [believe in the words of] the Teacher of Righteousness from the mouth of God; and (it concerns) the traito[rs of the] new [covenant] si[n]ce they did not believe in the covenant of God [and dishonored] his holy na[me]. Likewise: [ ] The interpretation of the word [concerns the trai]tors in the last days. They are violator[s of the coven]ant who will not believe when they hear all that is going [to happen t]o the final generation, from the mouth of the Priest whom God has placed wi[thin the Commun]ity, to foretell the fulfillment of all the words of his servants, the prophets, [by] means of whom God has declared all that is going to happen to his people Is[rael].” (1QpHab ii. 1-10, translation García Martínez & Tigchelaar)

Fragment 24 of 4Q541, which may well represent the close of the work (or very near to it), has gained prominence due to the obscurity of lines 4-5, which have been variously translated; I offer two disparate examples (main differences in italics):

“Examine and seek and ask what the dove (or Jonah?) sought (?) and do not afflict the weak by wasting or hanging… [Let] not the nail approach him.” (Collins, p. 125)

“Examine, ask and know what the dove has asked; and do not punish it by the sea-mew and […] do not bring the night-hawk near it.” (García Martínez & Tigchelaar, 2:1081)

The translation of the word axx as “nail” (based on the Syriac) has suggested that it is a reference to crucifixion; based on what survives of fragment 24 as a whole, this seems rather unlikely. The context indicates that this is a concluding exhortation, either for characters in the pseudepigraphon, the readers of the work , or (most likely) both. Line 5 continues: “And you will establish for your father a name of joy, and for your brothers you will make a [tested] foundation rise. You will see and rejoice in eternal light. And you will not be of the enemy.” (translation García Martínez & Tigchelaar). From the standpoint of the Community, this serves as an exhortation to continue in faithful obedience—to the Torah, the message of the Prophets, and the inspired teaching of the Community—even during this current age of wickedness. Ultimately it will lead to salvation at the end-time (“eternal light”), even as now the faithful Community walks according to the light of the true teaching and revelation.

Testament of Levi 18:2-5

Above, I noted certain similarities (in thought and wording) between 4Q541 fragment 9 and Testament of Levi 18:2-5. I conclude here with a translation of these verses:

And then the Lord will raise up a new priest
to whom all the words of the Lord will be revealed.
He shall effect the judgment of truth over the earth for many days.
And his star shall rise in heaven like a king;
kindling the light of knowledge as day is illumined by the sun.
And he shall be extolled by the whole inhabited world.
This one will shine forth like the sun in the earth;
he shall take away all darkness from under heaven,
and there shall be peace in all the earth.
The heavens shall greatly rejoice in his days
and the earth shall be glad;
the clouds will be filled with joy
and the knowledge of the Lord will be poured out on the earth like the water of the seas.
And the angels of glory of the Lord’s presence will be made glad by him.
(translation by H. C. Kee, OTP 1:794)

In producing the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, as we have them, Christian scribes appear to have edited and adapted earlier Jewish material. We have the clearest evidence for this in the case of the Testament of Levi, due the parallel material in the Levi text from the Cairo Geniza and the Aramaic Levi document fragments from Qumran (cf. above). Christians appear to have been attracted to the Messianic thought expressed in these pseudepigrapha and sought to apply it to the person of Jesus.

References above marked “García Martínez & Tigchelaar” are to Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, 2 volumes (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).
References marked “OTP” are to The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 2 volumes, edited by James H. Charlesworth. Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL] (Doubleday: 1983).

11QMelchizedek

This article discusses the second of two Qumran texts which provide interesting parallels to early Christian ideas regarding the identity of Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah). The first of these texts (4Q521) was dealt with in an earlier article; the second is 11Q13, better known as 11QMelch[izedek] because of the prominent role of Melchizedek in the surviving portion(s) of the text.

11Q13 is made up of thirteen fragments; numbers 1-4 comprise a significant block, and, indeed, the bulk of the text. The remaining fragments make up a very small portion. The text dates from sometime in the mid-1st century B.C.; but, as is normally the case with these scrolls fragments, it is virtually impossible to establish the overall extent, scope, or contents of the work. It was first published in 1965 by A. S. van der Woude; the critical edition was prepared by F. García Martínez, E. J. C. Tigchelaar, and van der Woude, and published in Discoveries in the Judean Desert (DJD) Vol. XXIII, 221-241, pl. XXVII.

The main surviving block (col. 2, lines 1-25) is relatively intact, in spite of a number of gaps, enough to give us a clear and vivid sense of what is being described. This portion is unquestionably eschatological in orientation, with a strong dualistic approach. In this regard, it has certain features in common with works such as the War Scroll (1QM) and the Community Rule (1QS), which were central to the Community’s religious (and sectarian) identity.

The first lines establish an important Scriptural theme: the Jubilee year, an ancient Israelite tradition, described via citations from Leviticus 25:13 and Deuteronomy 15:2. The Jubilee year provides the chronological (and theological) framework for the eschatological events discussed in this section. Actually, there is a chain of Scripture passages involved, reflecting a distinctive kind of pesher (commentary) approach, seen in a number of Qumran texts, such as the famous Florilegium (4Q174), as well as the Testimonia (4Q175) and Catenae (4Q177, 4Q182). Like 11Q13, these commentary texts are eschatological (and Messianic) in outlook, with the distinct view (shared by early Christians) that the faithful Community held a central position with regard to the coming end-time events. We may outline the commentary chain in 11Q13 as follows:

  • Scripture:
    Lev 25:13; Deut 15:2—The Jubilee Year, the year of release and return. [Lines 1-3]
    Interpretation (pesher):
    God’s people, currently being held captive, will be released in the last days (soon to be realized), returning to the place where they belong. They belong to Melchizedek as “sons of light”, and it is Melchizedek who will bring about their release and return. Melchizedek has the authority to rule and judge, standing in a position over the holy ones. [Lines 4-9]
    • Scripture:
      Psalm 82:1-2 (+ 7:8-9)—God (Elohim) will act as Judge of the peoples. [Lines 10-11]
      Interpretation (pesher):
      God is about to judge Belial, the spirits under his control, and all the wicked (nations/people) over whom he rules. This judgment will be carried out by Melchizedek, who will also rescue the righteous from the power of Belial. [Lines 12-14]
      • Scripture:
        Isaiah 52:7—This time of release/rescue is the day of peace prophesied by Isaiah, the coming of a messenger announcing good news to the afflicted and declaring the truth about God to his people (“you God rules”) [Lines 16ff]
      • Interpretation (pesher):
        The messenger of Isa 52:7 is identified as an Anointed ruler (and teacher/prophet) who will comfort and instruct the faithful ones, announcing their deliverance. He is also identified specifically with the figure mentioned in Dan 9:25. The faithful ones are the congregation, i.e. the Community (“Zion”), who walk faithfully according to the Torah, the Prophets, and the precepts of the Community. Melchizedek acts in God’s place, freeing his people. [Lines 17ff]
        • Scripture:
          Leviticus 25:9 {the text ends here with the beginning of this citation} [Line 25b]

This surviving section provides us with a rare and precious window into a complex line of interpretation, involving a range of theological, eschatological, and Messianic associations. Central to any subsequent interpretation, on our part, is an understanding of what the author (and/or the Community) meant by the figure of Melchizedek. Clearly, a line of tradition is at work which goes far beyond the Canaanite priest-king of the ancient Abraham traditions in Genesis 14, and even beyond the royal theology expressed in Psalm 110 (on this, see my note on Ps 110:1). Scholars have debated here whether Melchizedek was envisioned as representing (a) an angelic/heavenly savior, or (b) a Messianic, but human, priest-king. Sound arguments can be made in favor of each view; however, I believe that such a distinction itself may obscure the thought-world that governs this text. The key, I think, is in the central Scripture cited in the text (cf. above), that of Psalm 82:1-2. Melchizedek is identified as one who stands (as Elohim) in God’s place, in the midst of the divine assembly (“in the midst of the gods [elohim]”). This would indicate that he is a divine/heavenly being himself, also evidenced by the expression “the year of favor (belonging) to Melchizedek” [qdx yklml /wxr tnv] in line 9, an adaptation of “the year of favor (belonging) to YHWH” [hwhyl /wxr tnv] in Isa 61:2a.

Such a view is confirmed by the dualistic contrast with Belial, who is elsewhere in the Qumran texts (1QM 13:10ff; 17:6-7, etc) set against the heavenly (Angel) Michael, also called by the title “Prince of Light” (even as Belial is “Prince of Darkness”). Moreover, in fragment 2 of the text 4Q544 (cf. also 4Q280), Belial is identified by the name Melchiresha [i.e. Wicked Ruler], an exact (negative) corollary to the name Melchizedek [Righteous Ruler]. In Jewish tradition, influenced largely (though not necessarily exclusively) by the book of Daniel (10:13ff; 12:1ff), Michael functions as heavenly protector and end-time deliverer of Israel, a conception which was retained by early Christians (Rev 12:7ff). The identification of Melchizedek with Michael was made explicit in later Jewish midrashim.

While this interpretation would seem to be correct, the dualistic worldview of the Qumran Community was actually a bit more complicated. Several texts make clear that the Community viewed itself as the “holy ones”—an earthly manifestation parallel to the heavenly reality of the “Holy Ones” (i.e. Angels/Spirits), both being identified as “sons of light”. Just as the Angel/Spirits were led by the “Prince of Light” (Michael), so the Community would be led by the “Prince of the Congregation” (Messiah). Both figures would appear, in tandem, at the end time to deliver the holy ones from the power of Belial (Prince/Spirit of Darkness and deceit, etc). This two-fold Messianic conception seems to explain the apparent ambiguity surrounding the citation of Isaiah 52:7, a (deutero-)Isaian passage which was understood in a Messianic sense by the time this text was written. The (Anointed) herald who brings the good news of deliverance is identified with the coming Anointed ruler prophesied in Daniel 9:25. Two distinct Messianic figure-types are thus brought together, to which are added two others associated here with Melchizedek, creating a complex of four; I outline these as follows:

    • Anointed One (Messiah)
      • Prophet/Herald (Isa 52:7)
      • Davidic Ruler (Dan 9:25)
    • Heavenly Deliverer (Melchizedek/Michael)
      • Ruler and Judge
      • Atoning Priest

Such an interconnection of Messianic figure-types is otherwise found only in the New Testament and early Christian tradition, applied to the identity of Jesus as the Messiah (I discuss all of these, in detail, in the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). The personage of “Melchizedek” also appears in the New Testament, applied to Jesus, in Hebrews 7, where we find an extensive interpretation of the Old Testament figure, both as he appears in Genesis 14 and the mention in Psalm 110. There is some evidence that the author of Hebrews may be drawing upon a line of tradition similar to that of 11Q13—i.e., the identity of Melchizedek as a heavenly/divine figure. For more on this, cf. Part 9 of “Yeshua the Anointed”, along with the supplementary note on Ps 110:1 and the supplementary study on Hebrews.

The priestly aspect of Melchizedek (lines 7-8 of col. ii)—i.e. his act of atonement for the “sons of light”—will be discussed in more detail in the next Dead Sea Scroll Spotlight article, on the text 4Q541.