Science in Christian Perspective
Allan A. MacRae, Ph.D.
The Relation of the Dead Sea Scrolls to Christianity
From JASA 9 (December 1957): 15-17.
Although there have been many interesting developments in Biblical archaeology in the last few years, no other is quite as outstanding as the discovery and study of the so-called Dead Sea Scrolls. In my column on archaeology some months ago I outlined the history of the discovery and told something of the bearing of the scrolls.
Since that time evidence as to the genuineness of the scrolls has constantly been increasing until today most scholars are ready to admit that they came from the time of Christ and from the two centuries immediately preceding. The evidence for this is so extensive that it has become almost impossible to believe anything else. Although many scholars originally greeted their discovery with great scepticism, only one outstanding professor is still standing by his original position. This man, Professor Zeitlin, of the Dropsie College, gives frequent lectures in Philadelphia and New York attacking the genuineness of the discoveries. At the Twenty-fourth International Congress of Orientalists, held in Munich this summer, he spent over an hour presenting his claims that they are from the Middle Ages and worthless as far as giving evidence of the time of Christ is concerned. However, hardly another outstanding scholar agrees with him. The scholarly world has largely passed him by.
As we noted in the previous article, the Dead Sea Scrolls are of great interest for the striking evidence that they give of the remarkable accuracy with which the text of the Old Testament has been preserved during the many centuries in which it was copied and recopied. This is bound to increase the confidence in the Hebrew Bible of many who formerly were inclined to scepticism regarding the accuracy of its transmission.
Yet, most unfortunately, more people have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls because of false inferences that have been drawn from them, than because of their true significance. An American journalist, Edmund Wilson, has written a romantic story of the finding of the scrolls, and has proceeded to draw from the non-Biblical scrolls all sorts of utterly unwarranted conclusions, detrimental to Christianity, and these have been widely publicized. Wilson's book has been trans lated into many languages. Wilson says: "The monastery of the Essenes, more than Bethlehem or Nazareth, is the cradle of Christianity." An English scholar, J. M. Allegro, has declared over the radio that Christian ideas about Christ were derived from the Qumran sect's ideas of their own teacher, who, he says, they thought of as "persecuted and crucified, and expected to rise again as priestly Messiah". A French scholar, Professor Dupont-Sommer, says that "the Galilean Teacher, as he is presented to us in the New Testament writings, appears in many respects as an astonishing re-incarnation of the Teacher of Righteousness." A Swedish journalist has concluded as follows: "Christianity has come into existence in a completely natural way, as a Jewish sect. It is not necessary to believe in the miracle that God has interfered by a special act of mercy in order to save humanity."
Such sweeping statements make one wonder what has been discovered, that has so destroyed the foundations of Christianity. The answer is, nothing. The statements quoted represent the imaginations of their authors. Perhaps they are the result of wishful thinking. Ninety per cent of the serious scholars who have studied the Dead Sea Scrolls will readily agree that no evidence has been found that warrants such statements.
Let us examine the basis upon which these revolutionary statements are made. The Qumran sect held in high esteem an individual whom they called "the Teacher of Righteousness". It is reasonable to think that he must have been a man of ability and energy, whose ideas found expression in the organization and continuance of the Qumran sect. But nowhere do we find an orderly account of his life and achievements. His name is never given, nor is there any clear indication of the time at which he lived. Many attempts have been made to identify him with some person known from other sources,-but none of these can be proven. These attempts select individuals scattered over a period of more than two hundred years. A few hints of the opposition that he faced are given, but these are rather vaguely stated. Almost every movement that has continued for any length of time has had a leader and founder, and Qumran was no exception. Christianity also has a leader, whose memory it reveres, and whose teachings it seeks to follow. Is there enough similarity to say that one was derived from the other? Those already noted could be found in almost every movement that ever existed.
Those who claim that the Qumran material destroys the basis of Christianity, insist that the outstanding ideas of Christianity, instead of representing actual facts, are simply taken over from the ideas of the Qumran sect. But one looks in vain in the Qumran material for the basic features of Christianity. Only an overactive imagination can find them there.
Dupont-Sommer declares that "the Galilean teacher, as he is presented to us in the New Testament writings, appears in many respects as an astonishing re-incarnation of the Teacher of Righteousness". This is a tremendous statement, but what are the facts?
Christians believe that Jesus was God Himself, incarnate in human form. He was miraculously born. He was tempted of Satan. He went about through Judaea and Galilee preaching. He was no ascetic, but took part in the happy occasions of life. He Himself said, "The Son of Man came eating and drinking" (Matt. 11:19). The New Testament declares that He performed great miracles of healing, even raising people from the dead. He claimed to be the Messiah, and declared that He would return on the clouds of heaven (Mark 14:62). He said that He would give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). He was seized, accused of blasphemy for declaring Himself to be God, crucified, and buried. On the third day He was raised from the dead. His disciples went all through the world declaring these facts, and asserting that all who would accept His atoning death as the propitiation for their sins could be saved, and that He would come to dwell in their hearts.
These are the outstanding things that were claimed by Jesus and taught about Him by His followers. This is "the Galilean teacher, as He is presented to us iii the New Testament writings." Is he "an astonishing reincarnation of the Teacher of Righteousness"? just how many o1c these features do we find in the Oumran pictures of that individual?
We find only this, that he was a teacher, who gathered disciples and established a sect, and that he was persecuted by those who disapproved of Him. This much could also be found in the history of almost every man who ever founded a sect.
In all the Qumran material that has yet been discovered and published, there is nowhere any statement that the Teacher of Righteousness was God, or that he claimed to be God, or that anyone else ever thought him to be God. There is no statement that he was born in any different way than other mortals. There is no reference to his having been tempted by the devil. It is true that he, like many another, was interested in spreading his views, but whether he went about preaching, as Jesus did, is not known. He made his followers take very strict ascetic vows, quite contrary to all that we find in the life of Jesus or in the attitude of the early church. There is no statement in the Qumran literature that he ever performed miracles of healing, and certainly no suggestion that he ever raised anyone f rom the dead. There is no evidence that he ever thought himself to be the Messiah. The Qumran sect seems to have expected that ultimately two Messiahs would come, a priestly Messiah and a kingly Messiah, but there is no proof that it expected that either of them would be the same person as the Teacher of Righteousness. There is no evidence that the Teacher of Righteousness ever said that he would return to earth on the clouds of heaven. There is no evidence that the Teacher ever said, or that anybody else ever thought, that there would be any special significance to his death. There is no real evidence that the Teacher of Righteousness was crucified. In fact it is not even stated that he was put to death, in any of the material that has come to light thus far. There is no evidence that the Teacher of Righteousness was raised from the dead, or that anybody ever thought he had been raised from the dead, though there is reason to think that he may have been dead many years when the last of the scrolls was written. There is no evidence that the Qumran people ever thought that the Teacher of Righteousness could do something that would save an individual. Their only hope lay in following his teaching. Their faith was in what he had said, not, as in the case of Christianity, in him personally or in anything he had done or could do. The followers of the Teacher of Righteousness formed a closed group, which no one could join without years of probation and the taking of very strict vows. This is entirely different from the procedure followed in the establishment of Christianity, as even a superficial glance at the Book of Acts will clearly show.
Mr. Allegro claims that the texts prove that the Teacher of Righteousness was crucified. However, this is purely an inference, and, in the opinion of most scholars, an unjustified inference. Nowhere do the texts say that he was put to death, merely that he was "gathered in", a phrase which could just as well refer to death from natural causes. Even if Mr. Allegro's claim that the Teacher was crucified should eventually prove to be true, there is still no slightest evidence that he or anyone else attached any atoning significance to his death.
What a great number of differences between Christ and the Teacher of Righteousness! None of the distinctive points of Christianity are found in him at all.
It is true, of course, that some of the teachings of Jesus can be paralleled by statements in the scrolls. For that matter, many of them can be paralleled in the teaching of the Rabbis, known to us as the Talmud. Along with the similarities are also found very considerable differences. Such parallels may in some cases enable us to understand His meaning better, but they do not in any way detract from His claims about Himself. He was the Son of God, come down to die for our sins. Through faith in Him we can be saved. The beginning of Christianity was a miraculous interposition of God into human life, opening the way for lost humanity to find eternal life.
The Dead Sea Scrolls give wonderful evidence of the dependability of our Old Testament text. They tell us some previously unknown facts about life in Palestine in the first century A.D. and before. But they neither add to nor detract front the unique achievements of the Son of God, who died that we might live.