The Dead Sea Scrolls are ancient documents discovered in the Qumran Caves on the western bank of the Dead Sea. As people are awakening to the Hebrew roots of their faith, there has also been an increased interest in these documents. They bring challenging insight into Jewish tradition and life in the land of Israel around the time of Yeshua.
The discovery came over a period of years, starting in the winter of 1946/47 and continuing regularly for at least a decade. In fact, new discoveries have even been made in recent years, and they will likely continue. This is an area plagued by political and religious turmoil, and that has played a huge role in what has happened since the beginning of the discoveries.
Actually, there are very few scrolls remaining intact, the most significant being the entire book of Isaiah in Hebrew, the oldest known copy of this book. All of the rest of what has been discovered is fragments that had to be analyzed and assembled. Joel Lampe in the documentary Mysteries of the Dead Sea Scrolls offers this description:
To help understand this reconstruction problem a bit better, think about things this way. On your way home today, stop by a little quick mart. Go inside and pick up three bags of potato chips. Get a bag of Ruffles, get a bag of Lays, get a tube of Pringles. Now when you get back to your kitchens, scrunch all those potato chips up, then mix them all together in a bowl. Shake the bowl up, throw the bowl up in the air then let the chips fall where they may. Now sweep up all the chips, put them back on your kitchen table, and spend the rest of the day reassembling each and every one of those potato chips back to its proper form, then make sure each potato chip is put back into its right brand bag. Multiply that problem by close to 200 times. Now you know exactly what scholarship has been faced with.
The assembled scroll fragments are numbered using a code that designates the cave in which the fragment was found (such as 4Q indicating Cave 4 in Qumran) followed by sequential numbers or some other designation indicating the content. For example, Commentary on Hosea is designated 4Q166 and 4Q167. Commentary on Habakkuk is designated 1QpHab.
Sacred Jewish and Christian Traditions
Because of the time-consuming and difficult task of both assembling and translating these fragments, much of what was contained in the Dead Sea Scrolls was not made public for an extended period of time – according to some, almost 40 years. In The Dead Sea Scrolls Deception, authors Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh suggest that this delay was also due to fear from religious leaders that commonly held sacred doctrine might come into question.
As early as 1955, [American literary and cultural critic Edmund] Wilson detected a desire on the part of the ‘experts’ to distance the Qumran scrolls from both Judaism and Christianity. (p.42)
Professor [of Biblical Studies at the University of Sheffield Phillip] Davies pointed out, most scholars working with the scrolls were – and, for that matter, still are – Christian-oriented, with a background primarily in the New Testament. He knew a number, he said, whose research sometimes conflicted painfully with their most passionately held personal beliefs, and questioned whether objectivity in such cases was really possible. …Christian doctrine, in effect, ‘dictates the agenda.’ (p.43)
So with the few scrolls are about 19,000 pieces, assumed now to have made up about 800 scrolls. Roughly 200 of them are books of the Hebrew Bible; the remaining 75% are non-Biblical documents including Apocryphal books (such as Tobit and Sirach), Pseudepigraphal works (like Enoch and Jubilees), calendar texts, exegetical and commentary works, community rules and more. (For those interested in these Pseudepigraphal books, it is interesting to note that the book of Jasher is not among these texts. Jasher is likely a much later Rabbinic creation.)
Other sources give what looks like a different breakdown, but the point of reference may be on quantity of content rather than the number of assumed scrolls. According to Wikipedia, approximately 40% is Scripture, 30% non-canonized books from the Second Temple period (Enoch, Jubilees, Tobit, Sirach, etc.), and the remaining 30% sectarian manuscripts.
The Dead Sea Scrolls reveal much about a Jewish religious sect known as the Essenes, although they never refer to themselves by this name. The term is used only by outsiders. In particular, these are documents that describe the community of Essenes that lived in the area of Qumran.
Of course, scholars are not united in understanding this sect or community. According to John Bergsma, author of Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls:
One popular theory about the origin of the Qumran community holds that Jonathan Apphus, one of the Maccabees, drove out the legitimate Zadokite high priestly family when he (Jonathan) assumed the title of High Priest around 152BC, and the displaced Zadokites went into exile at Qumran and elsewhere. Some have identified the “Teacher of Righteousness” – the founder of the Qumran community – with the Zadokite Hight Priest that Jonathan removed. (p.164)
If this is, in fact, the case, then the Essenes and particularly the Qumran community predate Yeshua. This is one of the causes of concern among Catholic and Protestant Christian believers in that some of the teachings and characteristics of Yeshua that were presumed to be unique might not actually be unique. However Yeshua’s purpose was not to start a new religion (“Christianity”), but to return the people to the proper worship of the God of Israel (repent). The fact that many of his teachings were not unique should not be an issue, and if they are consistent with those of the righteous and pious Qumran community it just shows that not all of the Jewish religious leaders had forsaken the truth.
This might also taint the Jewish view of the Maccabees. At Hanukkah, the Maccabees are celebrated as men who rededicated the defiled altar and helped to restore proper worship. However, it may be that their motives were much more political than holy. Did they really did drive out the legitimate priests in order to established their own religious and political dynasty? If so, then their “revival” was no more genuine than that of King Jehu centuries before in the northern kingdom of Israel. You can read about that in my article Jehu’s Revival.
Some have suggested that John the Baptist was a part of the Essene community, or at least heavily influenced by their teaching. They base this on his clothing, his diet, his message, and his time in the desert. It is also thought that his father, Zachariah, was the proper heir to the office of High Priest, which would mean John the Baptist would also be in line to be the legitimate High Priest. All of this is conjecture but there seems to be at least some support for the idea.
It is very likely that, along with the Pharisees and Sadducees, there were Essenes in Jerusalem at the time of Yeshua. Because of their separatism and focus on community, they probably exclusively lived in their own neighborhoods, later known as the Essene Quarter. Some of the difficult Gospel accounts are better understood within the context of the Essene/Qumran community. This is especially true in the book of John, which is often hard to reconcile with the Synoptic Gospels.
One example is in the securing the location for Yeshua’s final Passover (commonly called the Last Supper). Both Mark and Luke record that Yeshua sent two disciples, Peter and John, into the city to meet a man carrying a pitcher of water (Mark 14:13, Luke 22:10). Bergsman writes:
What is the significance of a man carrying a jar of water? Most readers assume it’s just a random fact or some curious example of Jesus’ divine foreknowledge of events. But those familiar with ancient Near Eastern culture immediately recognize: carrying jars of water was women’s work.
So why would a free man in Jerusalem be carrying a jar of water? It so happens that we know of one branch of Jews who lived in communities with neither women nor servants, so their men had to do tasks usually performed by other groups. And that branch or sect was, of course, the Essenes. There was a community of Essenes who lived in Jerusalem… This all leads us to strongly suspect that the man carrying “a jar of water” – usually a feminine or servile task – was an Essene, and the house to which he led Peter and John was a building with the Essene area (or “quarter”) of Jerusalem. (p.95-96)
There is more that would suggest this was an Essene house, which is tied to an even more controversial topic.
There are documents in the Dead Sea Scrolls that are grouped together and called “Calendar Texts.” The Dead Sea Scrolls, A New Translation (Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., and Edward Cook) lists more than 80 documents in this category, primarily from Cave 4 and a few from Cave 11. Among those are The Sabbaths and Festivals of the Year (4Q327 and 4Q394 Section A), The Liturgical Calendar (4Q334), The Coming of Melchizedek (11Q13), and The Temple Scroll (11Q19 and 11Q20).
What will be discomforting to many in the Messianic and Hebrew Roots communities now is the idea that the Essenes followed a solar calendar and not the lunar (or luni-solar) calendar used by the Pharisees and other religious leaders of the time and later affirmed in the Hillel calendar. These documents suggest that the calendar used by ancient Israel throughout the Tanakh (Old Testament) was not based on “new moons” that begin the months but rather a fixed 364-day calendar that began on or near the Spring Equinox. The Essene community preserved this solar calendar after the Hellenized Jewish community adopted the Greek and Babylonian lunar-based calendars, even adopting Babylonian names. The calendar described in the Dead Sea Scrolls Calendar Texts corresponds to the calendar system described in the books of Enoch and Jubilees.
The calendar is one of the most divisive topics in the Hebrew Roots movement today, and rediscovering this solar calendar concept may fuel that fire. I will not attempt to explain the calendar here. However, it does help clarify apparent inconsistencies in the Gospel accounts, especially during the week immediately before Yeshua’s crucifixion.
John in his Gospel uses the phrase “feast of the Jews” several times. More accurately translated as “feast of the Judeans,” it may also be an indication of different calendar systems operating in Jerusalem during the time of Yeshua. In reference to Sukkot (the Feast of Booths or Feast of Tabernacles), in John 7:8 Yeshua tells his disciples, “Go up to the feast yourselves; I do not go up to this feast because My time has not fully come.” He later went up to the feast, confirmed in John 7:14.
Possibly Yeshua did not go at first because the religious leaders in Jerusalem were keeping the feast using a sighted-moon calendar, which is why John used the phrase “feast of the Jews/Judeans.” If Yeshua and his disciples were following a different calendar, like the Essene solar calendar, it is significant to note that he did not condemn those who were following the new moon calendar. The Scripture here might suggest that, in Jerusalem, both calendars were operating simultaneously and it did not create a conflict.
As for the timing of Yeshua’s final Passover and the crucifixion, this helps resolve the difficulty in reconciling dates (which are presumed but never specifically mentioned in the New Testament). Yeshua and the disciples ate the Passover according to the solar calendar kept by the Essenes, and as suggested above in a house belonging to an Essene. The date for Passover with this calendar was a few days before the date for Passover on the new-moon calendar. This explains how he was arrested and tried – a lengthy process – and crucified before the Jewish leaders who were not Essenes ate their own Passover using a different calendar.
I am not suggesting Yeshua was an Essene, and neither do the authors of the books I have mentioned. In fact, there are pretty clear indications that he was not an Essene – or a Pharisee or a Sadducee. He was Yeshua the Messiah, Son of Man/Son of God. He may, however, have followed the solar calendar that the Essene community used. Modern Messianic believers may have a hard time accepting these views of Second Temple Judaism.
Listed below are some resources if you want to read further about the Dead Sea Scrolls. I also recommend that you obtain a copy of the translation, at least to the extent it is available. The pseudepigraphal books of Enoch and Jubilees may also be of interest.