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6.1 Introduction

In the spring or early summer of 1947 some Bedouins of the Ta’amireh tribe were on their way from Jordan to Palestine. They took a long route, probably to avoid the legal points of entry at the frontier, as their merchandise was contraband. Their journey through desolate country took them to the springs at Ain Feshkha on the Northwest shore of the Dead Sea. Here they filled their water tanks and rested before going to the Bethlehem market where they intended to sell their goods. Some of their goats went astray and one or more men or boys goat minders climbed the cliffs not far from the shoreline to look for them. We do not know if they found their lost goats but they, and, among them Muhammad Adh-Dhib, discovered a cave. It was well known that there were many of them in this region and some had been used over the years as hiding places for men or treasures. David hid in one cave in Engedi, twenty miles down the Western shoreline, three thousand years ago. King Saul went to look for him with three thousand men without success until David revealed his presence.

The cave found by the Bedouins to the North of ‘Ain Feshkha, half a mile above the Wadi Qumrân, was well concealed. Its entrance was a hole in a projecting rock that led to a cave twenty-five feet in length, seven feet wide and eight to nine feet high. On the floor they found many tall clay jars standing among the remaining of others that had been broken by previous discoverers. The jars were still well sealed, the Bedouins opened them, and found that they contained cylindrical objects partly decayed and smelly. These cylinders were ancient rolled manuscripts written in a strange language that the Bedouins thought to be Syriac. Only two jars were found intact although their original number must have been close to forty. The Bedouins, in their haste, smashed many jars and then took the manuscripts to Bethlehem where they hoped to sell them. They first showed them to a Muslin Sheikh who introduced them to a merchant member of the Syrian Orthodox community who, in his turn, sent them to another Syrian merchant in Jerusalem. From there they were sent to a Metropolitan, Mar Athanasius Yeshue Samuel, head of a small monastery with an unusual library of ancient Syriac manuscripts, St. Mark’s Monastery in Old Jerusalem. The Metropolitan was very interested, even after he realised that they were not Syriac but Hebrew. After some delay the Metropolitan bought the manuscripts left as some had been sold on another market.

The Metropolitan in the end bought five scrolls, two of them portions of manuscripts that had broken apart. One of the scrolls was badly decomposed and it seemed impossible to open it. The others could be examined and the Metropolitan tried for some time to identify them. Finally a visiting scholar from the Netherlands, Father J.P.M. van der Ploeg, identified the largest scroll as the Old testament Book of Isaiah.

Other scholars who were shown the scrolls said that they were worthless. It must also be added that Metropolitan Samuel was very reticent to disclose where he got the manuscripts. In fact most scholars thought that they were from his library.

In November 1947 Professor E.L. Sukenik of Hebrew University bought four leather fragments of a manuscript in Hebrew and two clay jars from an antiquity dealer, even if he was not then convinced of their value. Later on, in December, Sukenik bought another scroll and then some fragments.

At that time Palestine was in the middle of a war. However, in February 1948, the scrolls were sent to the American School of Oriental Research in the US where two young American scholars, Dr. William H. Brownlee and Dr. John C. Trever, photographed them and, soon, realised their importance. They were in fact looking at some very old fragments of the scroll of Isaiah. They sent some prints to Professor William F. Albright, of the Johns Hopkins University, who confirmed that the manuscripts had been written in the first century BC or earlier. In the meantime Professor Sukenik had translated his own scroll. By the end of 1948 the discovery became known in the scientific world and a controversy on their date and their significance started and is still going on. (29)

It must be remembered that the oldest copy of the Hebrew Bible known at that time was the so-called Masoretic text from the ninth century AD. Before that the main versions of the Scriptures are the Alexandrian Septuagint, a translation into Greek, whose writing is assumed to have started in the third century BC and finished 200 years later, and the St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate made in the fourth century AD. (26)

In 1949 the Qumrân cave had been rediscovered by some soldiers and many people tried to visit it. In February and March the new Director of the department of Antiquities of Jordan, G. Lankester Harding, and Père Roland de Vaux of the Ecole Biblique, made a systematic exploration. They found many fragments that showed that this was the cave where the Bedouins found the scrolls. They also concluded that the scrolls had been written at the beginning of the first century BC as the fragment included some of the Books of the Old Testament, the Apocrypha as well as some unknown writings, probably from an early religious sect. >From the remains of the jars, they estimated that nearly 200 scrolls had been hidden in the cave. They also found broken pottery of Greek and Roman origin.

>From the summer of 1949 the Bedouins brought to Jerusalem some more leather fragments with some writings in Hebrew and others in Greek. These new documents were said to be coming from a cave not close to Qumrân. An expedition made some more research in 1952 in the caves near Wadi Murabba’at, eleven miles south of Wadi Qumrân, and found more fragments as well as many coins. Some of the fragments were from Biblical scrolls and others from the second century AD. Evidence shows that these caves were occupied at the time when the documents are assumed to have been written. It has also been shown that the caves discovered in Wadi Qumrân were, in some ways, related to the ruins of a building at Khirbet Qumrân, the headquarters of a Jewish sect of that time. The main discovery in these caves was that of two copper scrolls, one containing two sections rolled up as one. The copper was completely oxided and it was not possible to unroll them. They have only been deciphered in 1956. Fragments have been found for many years after the first discovery at Qumrân.

The ruins of a building known as Khirbet Qumrân are to be found half a mile south of the cave where the first manuscripts were found. This big stone building contained from 20 to 30 rooms and thirteen cisterns for water. There is also a cemetery with about eleven hundred graves. >From the position of the corpses it is clear that they are not Muslim but there are no indication that they are Christians. A clue could come from Pliny the Elder who wrote, in about 70 AD, that he had seen a so-called Essene Monastery North of Engedi on the Western shore of the Dead Sea. This could be Khirbet Qumrân and, if this assumption is true as Professor A. Dupont-Sommer of the Paris University believes, then the scrolls were written there. In 1949 and 1951 Lankester Harding and Father de Vaux made systematic excavations that confirmed the Dupont-Sommer’s assumptions. The Khirbet Qumrân was certainly a monastery, 111 feet long and 90 feet wide, built according to the architecture rules of the time. The excavations of the tombs revealed that some of the skeletons were female. Even if it is accepted that the Essenes were celibate, we also know from Josephus that one of their order did practise marriage and admitted women in their sect. The monastery was destroyed by fire, probably in 70 AD, that is when Jerusalem was destroyed. But as the community knew that the Romans would attack them, they put their documents in jars, and hid them in the caves.

As we said, some Qumrân scrolls were bought by Professor Sukenik from the Hebrew University, and the others by the Metropolitan Samuel of St. Mark monastery. The Hebrew University tried to buy all the scrolls but without success. To avoid destruction during the war in Israel, Metropolitan Samuel took them in the USA in January 1949 where they were exhibited in many places, but nobody wanted to buy them. The department of antiquities of Jordan claimed that Metropolitan Samuel had taken the scrolls out of the country illegally, and this complicated their sale. However, finally, the scrolls were sold for 250,000 US dollars to an anonymous buyer later identified as General Yiagael Yadin, the son of Professor Sukenik. They were transferred to Israel in 1955. The unrolling of the so-called “Lamech” scroll was done in 1956 by the German Professor Biberkraut.

The two copper scrolls, that are the property of the Jordan Government, were loaned to the University of Manchester. Unlike the “Lamech” scroll, it was not possible to unroll them. But the University announced in February 1956 that they had been dissected and the inscriptions deciphered.

Most of the scroll fragments are in the Palestine Museum in Jerusalem where they are sorted and identified. (29)

In the cave discovered in early 1947 there was a copy of the book of Isaiah, older by about 1000 years than any other known Hebrew copy of the Old Testament. Further examinations of all the scrolls lead to the conclusion that the biblical book was the less important of what appeared to be the remains of a Jewish library dating from the time of Jesus Christ. More discoveries followed in the same region and, finally, hundred of scrolls covering a period of time scarcely documented were at the disposal of the scholars. The origin of Christianity was finally the object of written documents.

In the autumn of 1951 some Bedouins of the Ta’amireh tribe brought one more scroll fragment to the Jerusalem Museum, as well as a piece of a leather sandal, saying that they had been found in another cave not too far from the first. The Bedouins disappeared without bringing anything else. Joseph Saad, the secretary of the Palestine Archaeological Museum of Palestine, with the help of an Arab guide, found some caves at Murabba’at being searched by the usual Bedouins. Some of the caves were very large, but nothing of interest was found. Nothing more was done to find other caves in the region. Probably this was due to the fact that, at that time, many more scrolls and fragments were discovered by the Bedouins. The money required to buy them back became exhausted very fast

However in 1952 four more caves were explored, mainly by the Bedouins, and the material found was very impressive. There was an axle complete with the leather thongs dateable to 4000-3000 BC, as well as letters written by the leader of the Second Jewish Revolt in the second century AD. These finds were probably unconnected with the first ones. Some official search went on in Murabba’at but without much success.

As more scrolls were found in the vicinity of the cave discovered in 1947, it was decided to launch a search expedition in the region. The French and American Schools combined their resources and explored about 200 caves and clefts. The so-called second cave did not release anything specific, but a beautiful “copper scroll” was found in the third one. This nearly exhausted the funds of the two schools.

In September 1952 Father De Vaux told Harding that he had bought, for 1,300 pounds, a lot of fragments from a new source that had found a cave near where the first one was found. Harding went to check on the spot and found some Bedouins in a cave at the edge of the plateau and the cliff. Harding had been looking for caves near by before but he did not find anything beside the ruins at Khirbet Qumrân, the home of the Essene Library. This cave was numbered number four. It became soon known that the Bedouins had found a large quantity of scroll fragments in it, and now they were well hidden. To obtain them one had to pay the Bedouins. Two other caves labelled number five and six were found near by, but nothing of interest was found in them.

The Schools and the Jordan Authorities were short of money, and the price was still stable at one pound per square centimetre although the Bedouins were well aware of the historical value of the scrolls. Tens of thousand of pounds would have been required to buy all the scroll fragments found; this amount was not available, even if this discovery had caught the interest of the general public. Moreover the Bedouins had now the monopoly of the search in this desolate region. At Harding’s request the Government of Jordan allocated fifteen thousand pounds to buy some more fragments, but it was not enough to buy all of them, even if the price had gone down to 10 shillings per square centimetre. Harding persuaded the Jordan Authorities to allow foreigners to buy some fragments that would only be exported after their message had been studied and recorded in Jordan. Many countries, Universities, and State organisations were interested, and the money was made available to buy most of the fragments found. This went on until 1958 when a large fragment of the Deuteronomy dated to the third century BC was bought with American money. Caves number seven to ten were discovered by the Archaeologists near the ruins of the library. The Bedouins found cave number eleven in 1956; it contained a large quantity of manuscripts.

Unfortunately this last cave was found during the Suez war of 1956 and, if only for this reason, only part of the fragments reached the museum where they were kept locked in safes for at least five years. They were then auctioned at the highest bidder for publication and exhibition rights. Some of the scrolls were so stuck together that they could not be opened. Finally the Jordan Government offered the donors of 1952 to accept their money back in order not to disperse the fragments. This request was generally well accepted. Still the problem of the recovery of all the clandestinely escavated documents, their protection, and publication was not yet solved.

The construction of the sect’s building at Qumrân began in or soon after the reign of Hyrcanus (135-104 BC) since the first coins found are from this period. Again, from the coins found, it is well proved that the building was occupied until the time of Herod the Great (37-4 BC). The following coins found are from the reign of Herod Archelaus (4 BC-6 AD) and continues until the third year of the First Revolt (68 AD), and the main destruction by fire. Some Roman coins of the following years show that the site was occupied for some time by the Romans. The next large batch of coins is from the time of the Second Jewish revolt (132-135 AD).

Flavius Josephus, writing in the first century AD, tells us that there was a very strong earthquake in 31 BC that could explain the first destruction. It is not certain if the earthquake drove the occupants out, or if they had already left for another reason. It is very probable that they left before the earthquake as they did not rebuild the site for thirty years, that is until after the death of Herod, who was certainly responsible for their departure. It is well known that Herod liked the Essenes, but this would not prevent him to clear Qumrân if they created any security problem to the Romans. Anyway they rebuilt their monastery and lived there until 68 AD when the Romans occupied the site the second time. At the high of its activity two hundred people lived in the monastery. Before leaving they hid their precious scrolls in nearby caves. Traces of a battle on the site have been found, but it is doubtful that the Essenes were involved. More probably the Zealots used the monastery as a defence point until the Romans defeated them. The Romans occupied the site for many years afterwards then it was left unoccupied for many years until the Second Jewish Revolt. The Jewish guerrilla used the monastery because of its strategic position. When they were defeated again, the desert took possession of the site that was left unoccupied, except for a few shepherds sleeping there from time to time. When the site was searched in 1952, two rolled-up strips of oxidised copper were found. Originally they formed one long strip about 8 feet long and 11 inches wide. The indentation of an engraved message could be seen from the outside surface. Its opening presented many problems but it was solved three years later, in 1955.


Seven documents were taken from the first cave at Qumrân: two manuscripts of the Book of Isaiah, a Manual of Discipline of the Jewish Essene sect, Thanksgiving Palms, an Order of Battle for an Apocalyptic War between the Children of Light and the Children of Darkness, a Commentary on the Book of Habakkuk, and a Pseudo-Epigraphic document on the Book of Genesis written in Aramaic. The Hebrew University had one of the Isaiah scrolls, the Hymns and the War Scroll; they were finally published over a period of seven years. In the meantime the Americans had published, within three years of their arrival in the USA, the other Isaiah scroll, the Habakkuk Commentary, and the Manual of Discipline. The Aramaic scroll was difficult to open, and it could not be published in the three year period allowed by the Syrian Metropolitan who owned all of them. The complete set was sold by the Metropolitan in 1955 for $250,000 to a private purchaser, who was representing the Israeli Government. The editing and publication of a complete scroll is relatively easy. The difficulties arise when the document has been broken in hundred of small fragments. The work of putting together the pieces found on the first cave was very complicated, but it was finally done by two monks of the French School of Jerusalem who published the content in 1955 after three years of hard work. When the thousand of fragments from the fourth cave came in, Harding assembled an international team to do the editing and publication. The material from the other caves was entrusted to Father Maurice Baillet from France.

On their arrival the fragments are first cleaned of the white dust that cover them. Sometimes brushing was not enough and non-acid oil had to be used. The leather can also be deteriorated and, in this case, the use of infra-red camera has proved to be very useful. When the skin of the scroll was found to be dry and brittle, then it had to undergo a process of hydratation before it could be open. Joining the pieces of the puzzle together is not easy because the borders have been attacked differently by time, humidity, and insects. Moreover some of the documents have been encoded in a very primitive way.

Up to a few years ago it was widely believed that the Massoretic text would remain for ever the older manuscript version of the Old Testament. However most of the manuscripts found at Qumrân are 200 years older, and some documents are from the third century BC. Our standard translations of the Old testament are based on manuscripts of the ninth or tenth century AD, themselves believed to be copies of original texts of the second century BC. This gap between the original and the available copies leaves some doubt in mind on the reliability of our texts, even if it is well known that the Jewish scribes were very conscientious in their work. This is due to the fact that after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD, the correct religious observance of the Diaspora and the unity of the faith, had to rely on the accuracy of the texts transmitted from generation to generation as well as on their content. The choice of the scriptures forming the Jewish canon was made at a synod assembled at Jamnia, near Jaffa, between 90 and 100 AD. Later on the presentation of the scriptures was codified in details as well as the rules to follow by the scribes in their work. This standard text, that is still in use to-day, is called Massoretic (from the name of the Jewish scholars known as Massoretes who codified the Massorah or tradition in the seventh century AD) and is based on the first century choice of canonical texts codified by the Massoretes in the seventh century AD.

There were, of course, other versions of the Old Testament. The more important is the Greek version whose translation dates from the third century BC. Ptolemy Philadelphus assembled seventy-two Jewish scholars in Alexandria and asked them to translate the Hebrew scriptures into Greek. They produced the “Septuagint” or version of the “Seventy”. This became the Bible of the Greek speaking Jews and of the Early Christian Church. The Jews did not appreciate that their book was taken over by the Christians and they made other translations in Greek such as the “Aquilla”, the version of Theodotion, the version of Symmachus and, finally, the Hexapla written by Origen. The pre-Massoretic biblical documents found at Qumrân confirm that the standard Massoretic Bible in use is fairly accurately translated, and that the only differences can easily be explained. However some of the documents found near the Dead Sea show that the Septuagint could be, on the whole, closer in content to the original Hebrew text that the Massoretic.

Another version of the Old Testament (or better of the Pentateuch) is used by the small Samaritan community living at Nablus in Jordan. The oldest manuscript of this text dates from the eleventh century AD. It differs from the Massoretic text in 6000 places but most are orthographic or syntactic variations with some supplements to correct deficiencies, some repetitions, the removal of obscurities, and the insertion of explanations. The substantial differences were introduced to conform to the doctrine of the sect. However the Samaritan text is definitely more readable and closer to the Septuagint. The text of the fragments of the Pentateuch found in the fourth cave of Qumrân is closer to the Samaritan version that to any others. This only means that the Samaritan community’s version of the Pentateuch is based on a text dating from the fifth century BC when their community was founded, and that it has not changed much since the second century. It would be wrong to throw away the Massoretic text but, when the Samaritan text is clearer, it should be taken into consideration too. It is really strange that such an Orthodox Jewish sect, as that of Qumrân, has chosen, for their Bible, the text produced 200 years before by the heretical Samaritan sect. All the Qumrân biblical texts do not follow strictly one version only, even if the Massoretic was predominant. They seem to have made a free choice of which sacred scriptures to adopt, whereas their later brothers at Murabba’at, sixty years later, followed closely the Massoretic tradition. In Qumrân they did not hesitate to correct the text when its reading was difficult, or to adapt it to the belief of the time.

The discovery of the Qumrân documents shows that all versions of the Bible have their own merits, and that all of them are based on ancient documents, but we cannot say anymore that the Massoretic version is the best, and the only one based on original scriptures. The origins of the Greek version, for instance, are as old and as reliable. The ideal version of the Bible of the future should take into consideration all the existing versions and make a choice to decide which is the best one. Unfortunately this choice will always be subjective, and therefore subject to criticism. The safe alternative is to improve the Massoretic version to make it more readable, as it is the only one based on a Hebrew version of the Scriptures. It is nevertheless impossible to ignore all the discoveries made everyday (new documents, archaeology) and their influence on the understanding of the Bible.

The Essene sect

From the Archaeological evidence it is known that the Qumrân sect was founded during, or soon after the reign of John Hyrcanus (135-104 BC), and ended one or two years before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

The documents found in the caves allow us to see more clearly what this sect was, but their biblical commentaries must be seen in the correct light. Their authors, members of the Essene sect, were only interested in the contemporary relevance of what they were writing, and not in the historical and social context of the biblical prophecy. As a result they interpreted the Bible to suit their own interests. These “eschatological” writings interpreted the events of their time in the light of the old prophecies, in a divine way more or less as Jesus and St Paul did in their own time. They throw a new light on the way the authors of the New testament interpreted the Old Scriptures.

They used some keys words to avoid problems with the authorities of Palestine. For instance, the Romans are described as the” Kittim” a word used in the Bible for the people of Cyprus. The sect’s leader was referred to as the “Teacher of Righteousness”, or the “Righteous Teacher”, and the members are called the “Sons of Zadok”, or the “Children of Light”, whereas their opponents are the “Children of Darkness”. The sect believed that their leader has been told by God to lead some well-chosen Jerusalem priests in the desert and to create a close community of the pure faithful. There, they would await for the end of the age and the coming of the Kingdom of God; at that time they would form the nucleus of the New Israel. This strict doctrine and strong disciple must have been imposed by a strong personality. Even after his death, the rules remained as he had decided. The tradition tells us that the Teacher of Righteousness was persecuted by the Wicked Priest. This last character has been identified with the Jewish priest-king Alexander Jannaeus who reigned from 103 to 76 BC.
The Maccabean Revolt of 168 BC was due to the wish of the Greek ruler Antiochus Epiphanes, who followed the ideas of his predecessor Alexander the Great, to impose the Hellenic culture to the Jews. Many priests refused to give up their old religion and no punitive actions succeeded to make them change their mind. The Maccabean revolt was rather successful, and even the Temple of Jerusalem was dedicated again to the Jewish faith. The Orthodox Jews saw this as a temporary and partial victory. They believed that the main problem was due to the fact that the people of Israel had neglected God’ Law and had broken the Covenant made by Moses. The Maccabees succeeded to assemble a strong army to restore the independence of their country. Some Jews refused to join the fighting and remained true to the Law. They are known as “Pious Ones” or “Hasidim”. The Essenes and the Pharisees came out of this group.

The Maccabean House, or Hasmonean, was soon awarded the High Priesthood of Israel. This, although their claim to this divine office, normally given by God to a priest of his Choosing to govern the Chosen People, was very tenuous. The High Priest was the spiritual and temporal head of the nation as well as the supreme arbiter in matter of faith and conduct. As a consequence of the weakness of the Seleucid, the Hasmoneans increased the size of their Jewish Kingdom and took the additional title of King, to the greatest horror of the Orthodox Jews. The king-Priest Alexander Jannaeus was not well accepted by the Orthodox as he was a warrior, son of a slave. He killed many thousand of his own people and it is probably at that time, and for this reason, that the Teacher of Righteousness led his faithful priests and followers to the desert where they settled at Qumrân. While Jannaeus was loosing a battle outside Israel the Pharisees rebelled against him and, after six years of civil war, the Pharisees, with their ally the Greek King Demetrius III Eucaerus, defeated the Maccabees. Afterwards some of the rebels changed side and joined Jannaeus’ army because the Greek entered the holy city of Jerusalem. Jannaeus came back to power and crucified most of his enemies.

Habakkuk tells us that the Wicked Priest confronted the Teacher of Righteousness, his followers, and the Pharisees that took refuge in Qumrân after their defeat. The Teacher was killed with many of his followers.

The basic philosophical and religious concept of the sect is contained in their doctrine of the Two Spirits, one of good and the other of evil, known also as Light and Darkness. Both are under the Supreme Rule of God who will give the victory to Good after a long battle with Evil.

>From the very beginning the Christian Church was known as “those of the Way”, or “the Way of God”, and it was accepted as a distinct sect. The same term is used for the “Covenanters” of Qumrân or “those who choose the Way”. Both groups describe themselves as “The Poor Ones”, the “Children of Light”, the “Elects of God”, or a community of the New Testament or Covenant. Both communities, the Christians and those of Qumrân, see themselves as founded by a Teacher at the order of God to execute a judgement on earth at the end of days. The notion of suffering is basic to the doctrine of both sects and the Anointed One, or Christ, should be one of their members. They limited their teaching to the Jews, and the extension of the Messianic privileges to the Gentiles would have seemed unbelievable to both communities, as it did to St Paul’s opponents among the Jewish leaders of the early Christian Church in Jerusalem. However the notion of Israel’s universal mission is already present in the Old Testament.

The community of Qumrân is also called “The Many” and is governed democratically as described in the Manual of Discipline. The term is directly translated in the New Testament to describe the “Jerusalem Council of Acts”, the governing body of the early Christians. The office of “Bishop” is also similar to the Qumrân “Overseer”. The voting procedure was also identical in both communities as well as the pooling of their material possessions; lying about it was a sin. The Messianic Banquet, or Lord’ Supper, is also common to both sects. On the other hand it does not appear that Jesus and his church expected their disciples to sit at the common table according to their rank. The community of Qumrân did not associate the bread and wine of the Meal to the body and the blood of a messianic sacrifice, or to a participation to the body of Christ. Jesus’ Last supper is said, in the Synoptic Gospels, to have taken place the day of the Jewish Passover, while John says that Jesus’ trial and crucifixion took place the same day. This contradiction can only be explained if we assume that Jesus and his disciples followed the Qumrân calendar, according to which Passover in celebrated on the Tuesday night leaving enough time for the trial and crucifixion to take place on Friday.

The Qumrân sect expected the arrival of a Priestly Messiah, or Christ the Anointed One, whom they called the “Teacher of Righteousness” or the “Interpreter of the Law”. These were the names of their founder and from this we can safely assume that they were believing that it would be their Resurrected Teacher who would lead the New Israel in the Last days. This new Kingdom was a holy nation inhabited by saints devoted to the service of God and the study of his Law. The Covenanters would go on living the same pious existence as they did at Qumrân. However their communion with God would be complete, and any questions or problems of interpretation of the Law, or of their way of life, could be referred to the Teacher of Righteousness who could refer them to God if necessary. Beside this priestly Messiah they were also expecting another lay Anointed One, a prince of the line of David, one being the Messiah of Aaron, and the other the Messiah of Israel. This concept of two Messiahs was not new for the Jews. The origin goes back to the time of the breaking of the old theocracy of Israel when the spiritual and secular powers were in the hand of the High Priest. After the separation, the two powers fought very often between them and, under the Hasmonean regime, the High Priest was King again, even if the people of Israel did not like it. The duality of power was restored and lasted until the Second Revolt (132-135 AD).

At the Messianic Banquet described in the “Manual of Discipline”, both the High Priest and the Messiah of Israel are mentioned. The Davidic Messiah was the war leader and judge, the one who will restore the Kingdom of God and protect the pious poor. Jesus is very similar to this lay Messiah; this is why the Romans nailed the inscription “King of the Jews” above the cross. The Qumrân writings mention the idea of the lay Messiah who is the son of God and the Saviour of Israel. On the contrary, the scrolls do not mention anything similar to the “Christology” of St Paul, or the divinity seen in Jesus by the Greek church, nor the divinely begotten son-Messiah, and the coexistent Holy Spirit who is part of the Trinity.

In both the Qumrân sect and in the Messianic hierarchy, the Priest has precedence on the layman. The unification of the two functions is not without difficulties as it is shown when the New Testament tries to explain why Jesus, born in the non-priestly David family, can still be a Messianic High Priest. The New Testament can only conclude that Jesus, the Davidic Messiah, is given a special priesthood of a special and high level order.

There are many similarities between the scrolls and the New Testament that go beyond the common roots of Judaism and the Old Testament. For instance, the Essene Teacher of Righteousness and Jesus have been preaching a doctrine, a way of life, and a moral code that have many points in common together with some differences. We must not forget that the scrolls were written by the direct followers of the leader of an extremist Jewish sect, whereas the New Testament describes a Jewish Rabbi as seen by Greek writers, for a mainly non-Jewish or Gentile Church, that had to be convinced to accept him as its Lord. That there are some points in common between the two sets of Scriptures is astonishing. Moreover we know very little about Jesus and his background, even less that we know about the Teacher of Righteousness. The words attributed to Jesus in the New Testament are mainly translated, out of context, and full of allusion to his Jewish world from which we know very little. It is not easy to assess Jesus’ place in the Jewish world of his time and, if only for this reason, the scrolls do not help us much. That he knew of the Essenes is certain, as this sect was well known at that time.

In conclusion, we have to admit that the Dead Sea scrolls confirm that our knowledge of the events and doctrines of the Jewish sects of the time is very limited. They have, nevertheless, thrown some light where before there was only darkness. They have dispelled a number of false assumptions and opened the way to new ideas and, sometime, to the rehabilitation of old ones abandoned because they did not fit our preconceptions. The miraculous discovery of the scrolls allows us to reassess our knowledge. It is not certain if we are open minded enough yet to accept this opportunity. (27)