History of religion

The professors' dispute over Qumran

(Published in Grail World 16/2000)

The riddles and conjectures surrounding the "Dead Sea Scrolls"

When, from 1947 on, ancient scrolls were discovered in rock caves, 12 km south of Jericho, these finds were considered a world sensation, and one can still read today that it was an archaeological event of the century.

 What was found

In eleven different caves around Qumran, a ruined settlement from Jewish times on the north-west bank of the Dead Sea, 80,000 to 100,000 individual fragments of around 800 different writings, probably from the first century BC, were stored. For example, an almost complete Old Testament (without the Book of Esther) was found in Hebrew, which was probably written in the first century BC.

However, those who - like me - have been waiting for the sensations to be revealed by the Qumran roles for decades had to be patient and were disappointed for a long time. And those who hoped for something comparable to the grave of Tutankhamun from the “archaeological find of the century” were hardly enthusiastic about an immense amount of difficult to decipher, inconspicuous parchment fragments of old scrolls, which only experts say something.

Forty years after the sensational find, only about a third had been published, and the scientists entrusted with the evaluation and supervision had to be reproached. These ranged from deliberately delaying publication to withholding explosive information in favor of the Vatican.

In the meantime, all Qumran finds have been published and are therefore accessible to experts. The interested public was able to get a picture of Qumran and his surroundings in exhibitions (for example one in the Roman-Germanic Museum in Cologne from November 14, 1998 to April 18, 1999) and even marvel at some of the originals of the finds.

Since the beginning of the 1990s, the “battle for interpretation” has broken out among the experts, in which the points of view sometimes clash violently.

The settlement of Qumran

The majority of scientists seem to agree that Qumran is an Essener (Essene) settlement. In addition to the Sadducees and Pharisees, the Essenes were a third religious group at the time of Jesus, although they are not mentioned in the Bible, although John the Baptist is considered an Essenes. The contemporary witness Flavius Josephus (37-95 AD), a Jew who later stood on the Roman side, writes:
“A threefold order of legal ways of life is among the Jews. One has the name of the Pharisees, the other the Sadducees, and the third the Essenes, who is purer than the two. They abhor any lust, but they praise celibacy and dispassionate life. And they despise marriage and lust for women. But they do not want wealth, and among them there is no property at all, everything is general with them, both in clothing and in food. However, they consider oil to be impure. But their robes are always white. " (“The Jewish War”, 11, 119 F.).

Some researchers see Qumran first as a settlement of celibate Jewish monks, in the spirit of Flavius Josephus' report. However, 30 to 40 % of the opened graves contain the skeletons of women and children, and some of the Qumran scriptures discovered recommend marriage, so that one cannot accept a typical monastic community.

Do the Qumran scrolls bring anything new?

The more or less official account sees the following in the Qumran finds:

* Old Testament writings. This find is interesting because the oldest known version of the Old Testament dates from the 10th century AD.

* The Qumran scrolls, which are a millennium older, correspond to the letter with the known Bible texts and prove the incredible fidelity with which these religious writings were delivered.

* A sect rule and other sect scriptures. These are actually only of value to specialist scientists. Anyone who, as a Christian or out of historical interest, turns to the Bible and its environment say little to the rules or the critical comments of a group of Jewish zealots that have long since disappeared.

* A particularly strange find is a copper scroll on which the hiding places of gold and silver treasures are said to be listed. So far, efforts by scientists to find these treasures have been unsuccessful.

Obviously, only specialist scientists can correctly assess the significance of the Qumran finds, while the interested layman leaves a Qumran exhibition with the impression: "Too much of a fuss for very little."

A sensational interpretation

However, there are some, if not necessarily compelling, references in the Qumran scriptures that make one sit up and take notice. There are the terms "teacher of righteousness", "godless priest" and "the liar". The majority of historians date the scrolls in question to the first century BC and recognize them as documents for disputes between the Temple of Jerusalem (with its Sadducee priests, who had made their peace with Rome) and the Essenes as uncompromising fundamentalists.

One of the scientists Robert Eisenmann, has, however, come to the public with a shocking interpretation. He dates the explosive writings in the first afterChristian century and sees in the community of Qumran an early Christian community under the direction of James, the apostle and biological brother of Jesus.

James: The "teacher of justice". This teacher of righteousness is described in the same words that early Christians spoke of the apostle James. The first Christians by no means called themselves “Christians”, but saw themselves as devout Jews.

Godless priest: The highest temple priest of Jerusalem.

The liar: A member expelled from the Qumran community, that is, a deviator or "heretic". Eisenmann is convinced that it is a name for the apostle Paul, the founder of the Christian church. (Compare with this "The early Christian communities" under "Religious Studies").

“James the Righteous” was the respected head of the “early church” or “Jerusalem assembly” from the forties to the sixties of the first century. After his murder, around the year 62, he was presumably succeeded by Simon bar Cleophas, a cousin of Jesus and James, who later became a martyr. Simon Peter, who later became so important for the church, apparently did not yet play a major role, so that he may not be a historically secured figure.

Some of the original congregation in Jerusalem emigrated before the Jewish War (66-70) and the destruction of Jerusalem (70), presumably because of a warning prophecy (Matt. 24, 15-20) attributed to Jesus. This community found a new home in Pella (today's Tabaqat Fahl in northwestern Jordan) until it disappeared from history after a few centuries.

The contrast between the early Christians (with their leader James) and Paul (the apostle of the “Gentile Christians”) is historically documented; even if the Acts of the Apostles only reproduces this discussion in a form that is embellished in favor of Paul.

If one follows the theses of Robert Eisenmann, then Paul spread a Jewish-Hellenistic doctrine outside of Palestine, which was not a threat to the Roman Empire and which could become a universal church. The devout followers of the Jew Jesus, including the community of Qumran, were not ready to compromise with the occupying power and the zeitgeist. For this they were destroyed or scattered in the Jewish War (66-70). The settlement of Qumran was probably destroyed at that time as well. The holy scriptures that were hidden in the last distress could not be recovered later, as hardly any of those who kept the secrets survived.

With these early Christian communities, the original teachings preached by Jesus, which clearly stand out from the "Pauline religion", were also lost.

Above all, the Christians outside Palestine who (with the exception of the small community of Pella) followed Paul have survived. He did not know Jesus and knew little about his teaching. The Gospel writers also relied on second-hand information. They often contradict each other, and the gospels they compose as confessional writings (not historical sources) are based on the teachings of Paul. This includes, for example, blaming the Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus because someone who was crucified by the Romans as a rebel outside of Palestine could not be placed as a founder of the religion.

Robert Eisenmann is currently quite alone with his theses, which he underpins interestingly in his detailed work "James, the brother of Jesus". It will be interesting to see whether his thoughts will prevail and whether the finds from Qumran will become the sensation that many have been expecting for decades.

(1) Baigent, Michael / Leigh, Richard: “Classified Jesus”, Droemer-Knaur, Munich, 1991.
(2) Betz, Otto: "Jesus, Qumran and the Vatican", Brunnen Verlag, Giessen, 1993.
(3) Eisenmann, Robert: "Jakobus, the brother of Jesus", Bertelsmann, Munich 1998.
(4) Schonfield, Hugh J .: "Die Essener", Verlag Bruno Martin, 2121 Südgellersen, 1985.
(5) Stegemann, Hartmut: "The Essenes, Qumran, John the Baptist and Jesus", Herder, Freiburg, 1993.