The Importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls
The Dead Sea Scrolls are ancient Jewish religious manuscripts discovered between 1946 and 1956 at the Qumran Caves located near Ein Feshkha in the West Bank, on the northern shore of the Dead Sea. Dating from the 3rd century BC to the 1st century AD, the Dead Sea Scrolls may be considered the most significant archaeological find in history for many reasons, not the least of which they include the oldest surviving manuscripts of entire books later included in the biblical canons. One of the most notable of these is a complete copy of the Book of Isaiah, providing the world with clear evidence that the Scriptures we use today are accurate. Also found are deuterocanonical and extra-biblical manuscripts, which preserve evidence of the diversity of religious thought in late Second Temple Judaism. Many of these provide great historical insights into the events covered in Scripture by its writers. At the same time, they cast new insights into the emergence of Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism. Nearly all of the 15,000 scrolls and scroll fragments are held by Israel in the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum.
Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest Hebrew-language manuscripts of the Bible were Masoretic texts dating to the 10th century AD, such as the Aleppo Codex. Today, the oldest known extant manuscripts of the Masoretic Text date from approximately the 9th century. The biblical manuscripts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls push that date back a full thousand years to the 2nd century BC. This was a significant discovery for Old Testament scholars who anticipated that the Dead Sea Scrolls would either affirm or repudiate the reliability of textual transmission from the original texts to the oldest Masoretic texts at hand. The discovery demonstrated the unusual transmission accuracy over a thousand years, rendering it reasonable to believe that current Old Testament texts are reliable copies of the original works.
According to “The Dead Sea Scrolls, A New Translation” by Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., & Edward Cook and published in 1996:
Some of them [the texts] support, and some undermine cherished theories about the scrolls and their origins. Some of them suggest that long-discarded hypotheses may have been amazingly accurate. Others suggest new and subtle shadings of old interpretations. Most important, the scrolls, now that we can see all of them, testify to the astonishingly rich and fertile literary culture that gave birth to the foundational religious documents of Judaism and Christianity. We find here previously unknown stories about biblical figures such as Enoch, Abraham, and Noah – including a work explaining why God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. A dozen writings that claim Moses as their author - yet that are not a part of our Bibles – have come forth from the caves; newly deciphered scrolls reveal ancient doctrines about angels, while others claim to be revelations by angels themselves, including the archangel, Michael. Among the scrolls are never-before-seen psalms attributed to King David and to the leader of the conquest of the Holy Land, Joshua. The scrolls include extrabiblical prophesies by Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Daniel. The last words of the patriarchs Joseph, Judah, Levi, Naphtali, and Amram, father of Moses, are here among the scrolls. Still, other writings pulse with the conviction that the end of the world is at hand and describe the rise of the Antichrist.
If anyone, therefore, reads the Scriptures with attention, he will find in them an account of Christ and a foreshadowing of the new calling (vocations). For Christ is the treasure, which was hid in the field, that is, in this world (for “the field is the world”); but the treasure hid in the Scriptures is Christ, since He was pointed out by means of types and parables. Hence His human nature could not (be understood prior to the consummation of those things which had been predicted, that is, the advent of Christ. And therefore, it was said to Daniel the prophet: “Shut up the words and seal the book even to the time of consummation, until many learn, and knowledge be completed. For at that time, when the dispersion shall be accomplished, they shall know all these things.”
when the dispersion shall be accomplished; they shall know all these things. It appears that Daniel foresaw the return of the Jews to their homeland as fulfilled on May 14, 1948, when Israel was recognized as a nation again (see also Daniel 4:14-17 and Ezekiel 4:4-6, both prophesying of that date). This is the exact timeframe as the discovery of the first Qumran caves and the Dead Seas Scrolls. Did Irenaeus foresee this incredible discovery in the second century? Isaiah 29 may hold the answer.
In 6 AD, the region was organized as the Roman province of Judea. The Judean population revolted against the Roman Empire in 66 AD in the First Jewish–Roman War, culminating in Jerusalem's destruction in 70 AD. During the siege, the Romans destroyed the Second Temple and most of Jerusalem. This watershed moment, the elimination of the symbolic center of Judaism and Jewish identity, motivated many Jews to redefine their religious activity apart from the Temple and adjust their existence to the prospect of an indefinite period of displacement.
A Voice from the Ground
According to Isaiah 29:1-4, the Lord would
But the multitude of your enemies will become like fine dust, and the multitude of the ruthless ones like the chaff which blows away; and it will happen instantly, suddenly. From the Lord of hosts, you will be punished with thunder and earthquake and loud noise, with whirlwind and tempest and the flame of a consuming fire. And the multitude of all the nations who wage war against Ariel, even all who wage war against her and her stronghold and who distress her, will be like a dream, a vision of the night. Isaiah 29:5-7
The above prophecy is fulfilled at a time when the Jews would again inhabit their promised lands, and the Lord would provide protection against all of their enemies, which will become like fine dust. The multitude of nations who rise up against Israel will be like a dream, a vision of the night. History since 1948 testifies that the Lord has aggressively protected Israel against many enemies to this day. As Daniel 12:3 states, knowledge is increasing, suggesting a progressive revelation of the Dead Sea Scrolls; new scrolls are still being discovered and studied to this day.
The Damascus Document
One of the most important scrolls found is known as the Damascus Document (4Q271D), located in cave 4. It includes a history of the Jewish priesthood, covering the 400 years before the coming of Jesus, otherwise known as the four hundred silent years. About 280 BC, the Sadducees established power over the Jewish priesthood even though they were usurpers, willing to side with pagan kings, and embraced twisted doctrines, a formula for immense corruption. This corruption spurred a new Jewish sect, the Pharisees (separatists), to confront the status quo. A third sect of Judaism, tied to the Zadok priesthood, is now known as the Essenes. From the time of Solomon until this time, the high priest had always been chosen from the line of Zadok.
The Pharisees invented the idea that the oral “Torah,” referred to by Jesus as the "Tradition of the Elders," would be enforced on the people with the same authority as the 613 Laws of Moses. The rivalry between the Sadducees and Pharisees ended in an all-out war in the latter part of the first century BC. During this time, the Zadok order reestablished itself, focused on repentance, reassembling many of the lost scrolls, and an expectation of the coming of the Messiah. According to the Damascus Document, this re-establishment occurred in 197 BC. In 177 BC, the Document reports a Christophany, an appearance of the Messiah to the order, who would guide them in the ways of His heart:
Root of His Planting
During the period of wrath, 390 years after He had given them into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, He visited them and caused a Root of His planting to spring forth from Israel and Aaron to inherit His land. And it grew fat through the nourishment from His soil. They understood their iniquity and knew they were guilty, like blind men groping after The Way, twenty years. God considered their works because they sought Him with a perfect heart.
He raised up for them the Teacher of Righteousness [the Messiah] to guide them in the ways of His heart. He revealed to later generations what He will do in the last generation to the traitorous community who departs from the Way. This is the period which Hosea refers to in Hosea 4:16: Israel slides back as a backsliding heifer.
The Lord instructed the Essenes to move to Egypt and resettle there for a season and build a Zadok temple close to Alexandria. (This Temple existed until 73 AD, according to Josephus’s War of the Jews). This protected them from the horrors of Antiochus Epiphanies, who ruled over Israel from 175 to 165 BC. They returned to Israel only after the Romans had established control and a pseudo-peace over Israel in the latter part of the first century BC. They established their headquarters in Qumran, on the northwest side of the Dead Sea, and named it New Damascus. They led a revival among the Jews, many of whom began rejecting the doctrines of the Sadducees and Pharisees and embraced the teachings of a coming Messiah who would die for the sins of mankind.
The Essenes became the keeper of the libraries, which included many ancient Jewish scrolls beyond the Scriptures. When it was anticipated that the Romans would attack them, they found a safe haven for these libraries in the caves above Qumran. The Dead Sea Scrolls contain many more fragments and documents than just Scripture, including the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. These were believed by many to be the writings of the twelve sons of Jacob, the last words to their children dealing mainly with morality but also some prophecy. They are not accepted as authoritative by Judaism because the scrolls are not available in Hebrew and also because they contain a number of references to the Christian Messiah.
The Testament of Benjamin
From the Testament of Benjamin, we glean from his proclamations many prophesies related to the coming Messiah as well as the Apostle Paul:
For Joseph also besought our father that he would pray for his brethren, that the Lord would not impute to them as sin whatever evil they had done unto him. And thus, Jacob cried out: My good child, thou hast prevailed over the bowels of thy father Jacob. And he embraced him, and kissed him for two hours, saying: In thee shall be fulfilled the Benjamin prophecy of heaven concerning the Lamb of God, and Savior of the world, that a blameless one shall be delivered up for lawless men, and a sinless shall die for ungodly men in the blood of the covenant, for the salvation of the Gentiles and of Israel, and shall destroy Belial and his servants. CHAPTER 3:6-8
And I believe that there will be also evil-doings among you, from the words of Enoch the righteous: that ye shall commit fornication with the fornication of Sodom, and shall perish, all save a few, and shall renew wanton deeds with women; and the kingdom of the Lord shall not be among you, for straight-way He shall take it away. Nevertheless, the Temple of God shall be in your portion, and the last (Temple) shall be more glorious than the first. And the twelve tribes shall be gathered together there, and all the Gentiles, until the Most High shall send forth His salvation in the visitation of an only-begotten prophet. And He shall enter into the first Temple, and there shall the Lord be treated with outrage, and He shall be lifted up upon a tree. And the veil of the Temple shall be rent, and the Spirit of God shall pass on to the Gentiles as fire poured forth. And He shall ascend from Hades and shall pass from earth into heaven. And I know how lowly He shall be upon earth, and how glorious in heaven. CHAPTER 9:1-5
Prophesy of the Apostle Paul
And I shall no longer be called a ravening wolf on account of your ravages, but a worker of the Lord, distributing food to them that work what is good. And there shall arise in the latter days one beloved of the Lord, a doer of His good pleasure in his mouth, with new knowledge enlightening all the Gentiles, bursting in on Israel for salvation with the light of knowledge, and tearing it away from them like a wolf, and giving it to the Synagogue of the Gentiles. Until the consummation of the age shall he be in the synagogues of the Gentiles, and among their rulers, as a strain of music in the mouth of all. And he shall be inscribed in the holy books, both his work and his word, and he shall be a chosen one of God forever. And because of him, Jacob, my father, instructed me, saying: “He shall fill up that which lacks from your tribe.” CHAPTER 11:1-5
Since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, there was no temple sacrifice, and a change in Judaism practices took place. The Rabbi and his interpretation of the Torah became the mainstream form of Judaism.
Rabbinic Judaism is generally defined as the beliefs and practices of the Jewish people, outlined in the Torah and interpreted by the sages (rabbis), incorporating oral traditions that have been handed down from Moses at Sinai. Rabbinic Judaism has its roots in the Pharisaic school of Second Temple Judaism and is based on the belief that Moses at Mount Sinai received both the Written Torah and the Oral Torah from God. The Oral Torah, transmitted orally, explains the Written Torah. At first, it was forbidden to write down the Oral Torah, but after the destruction of the Second Temple, they decided to write it down in the Talmud and other rabbinic texts for preservation. Rabbinic Judaism contrasts with the Sadducees, Karaite Judaism, and Samaritanism, which do not recognize the Oral Torah as a divine authority nor the rabbinic procedures used to interpret Jewish Scripture. Although there are now profound differences among Jewish denominations of Rabbinic Judaism with respect to the binding force of halakha (Jewish religious law) and the willingness to challenge preceding interpretations, all identify themselves as coming from the tradition of the Oral Law and the rabbinic method of analysis. It remains a veil over the minds of Jews until this day (2 Corinthians 3: 15-16).
Saved from Wrath
The Lord has a deep desire to see His people, the Jews, come to a saving knowledge of their Messiah and avoid the wrath of God prepared for those who have rejected Jesus as the Messiah. The revelations from the Dead Sea Scrolls, the extra-biblical ancient Jewish writings that enlightened the Essenes to become some of the prominent believers of the New Testament age, including Menachem (Manaen, see Acts 13:1-3), referenced by Josephus in Antiquities 15.10.5, who was removed from his position as Head of the Sanhedrin because he “apostatized,” or became a Christian. There is clear evidence that Simeon and Anna (Luke 2) were also Essenes who became believers in Christ, and John the Baptist, whose father, Zechariah, was a Zadok priest. Then there is the apostle John, whose writings suggest his Zadok influences.
An objective view of the Scriptures and the ancient Jewish writings causes an opening of the mind to the truth that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), and the highest quality of life is found in Him. A number of notable Jewish rabbis have found their Messiah during the past twenty years, including Rabbi Zev Porat and Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri. As the Dead Sea Scrolls become more acceptable to the mainstream, we will see more conversions within Judaism and a deeper understanding of the environment in which Jesus appeared two thousand years ago and what kinds of opposition He faced during that time.