The authors of the scrolls were an insignificant little Jewish sect, without power or influence and, at the time, without any visible possibility to make history, even if the members thought exactly the opposite. They believed that they would play a leading part in events that would end the existing world order, and create a new and different one.
The members of this sect thought that most Jews where not faithful to the Covenant made with God, and they even had doubt if they understood its content. They thought of themselves as the Chosen Ones used by God to prepare the Way for a new world order that God will bring about through his “Anointed One”, the divinely appointed ruler of Israel and mankind. They believed that they were the only ones who understood the “Law and the Prophets” and who were able to interpret the Jewish Holy Scriptures. This sect had its own library that contained mainly books written according to their view. This important library interpreted the past, analysed the contemporary events, and prophesied the future as well as regulated the way of life of the members. They viewed themselves as an elite in the Jewish world. This sect living at Qumrân was therefore a very special religious community.
We do not know what happened to the Essenes but, with the Dead Sea Scrolls, we know how they lived and what they believed. Archaeology has shown that Qumrân has been occupied from about the last third of the second century BC to about 68 AD. Obviously they were living in the region before. This seems to settle definitely that the manuscripts were copied by the sect before 68 AD, at which date they were hidden in the caves, even if this does not tell us when the original works were written. Albright dated the Isaiah scroll at about 100 BC, a date that is compatible with the archaeological remains and the radio-carbon tests.
The ancient Hebrews were a nomadic, Semitic people of unknown origin. It is now believed by most scholars that the Patriarchs, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and his twelve sons, were not mythical but living persons of whom we know nothing or very little. They probably were not worshippers of Jehovah, anymore than most Jews until Moses. The accounts about them found in the Bible were written many centuries later, when the Hebrews had long been established in Palestine, and the religion of Jehovah was well implanted. The Jews of the late biblical period, such as those of Qumrân, believed that what was said about the Patriarchs was historically true, and that they had been chosen by God to generate a covenant people. When history first mentions the Hebrews in Northern Arabia in about 1500 BC, other great civilisation had already existed. It is sufficient to mention Babylon which King Hammurabi left a well-known legal code (most of the Hebrew law in the Old Testament is derived from it), the Sumerians, Egypt and Canaan (to whom the Hebrews own their writings as well as the Aramaic language).
The Hebrews had started to infiltrate Palestine several centuries before Joshua invaded it. They had also be authorised to live in North-Eastern Egypt. Later on, these Jews, under the leadership of Moses, revolted and escaped into the desert. They had to cross a lake and, according to the legend, Moses’ God, Jehovah, held back the shallow water only for the Jews. In the middle of the thirteenth century BC Moses succeeded to unify all the Jewish tribes through the divine Covenant reached with God at Mount Sinai, that is after Jehovah gave him the Law including the Decalogue or Ten Commandments. To the monks at Qumrân and to the majority of the Jews of that time, this was the most sacred Law. This Law, with the traditional understanding and interpretation, was called the Torah.
Moses’ brother, Aaron, a priest of the cult of Jehovah, helped to establish the early ritual. He became the high priest of the covenant tribes and, if only for this reason, he was an important figure to the Qumrân sect.
After about 50 years in the desert, Moses being dead, the Hebrews or Israelites moved to Canaan under the leadership of Joshua. It was more a slow infiltration than a conquest, as the legends want us to believe, and it ended in a merger of the two peoples. The Israelites who settled in Canaan were not monotheists. They were honotheists or believers in many gods even if they felt closer to Jehovah, their God of War. The worship of Jehovah took a long time to become established. It is not until Saul was chosen as King or “Jehovah’s Anointed” in 1025 BC, or even better, until King David, who chose Jerusalem as his capital, that the Jews became monotheists. Kings David and Solomon enlarged their empire that was truly independent. It was Solomon who erected the first temple to Jehovah in Jerusalem. After Solomon’s death the country was divided into two parts, Israel in the North, and Judea in the South.
Elijah, who lived in the ninth century BC, was the forerunner of the prophets. He succeeded to impose Jehovah as the only God of the Israelites, even if the worship of other gods went on during the eighth century. The prophets condemned this practice and proclaimed that Jehovah was the only God of Israel. Amos was the first recognised prophet speaking in the name of Jehovah; he was followed by Micah. The Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom and all the people were taken into captivity. After Samaria fell in 721 BC nothing more was heard of them. Judea, in the South, survived in part because the Judean prophets such as Isaiah were also statesmen. Jerusalem fell to Babylon in 586 BC as Jeremiah had foreseen and, later on, Babylon was conquered by Persia that allowed the restoration of Jerusalem, as well as a certain amount of Judean autonomy. The Judeans who had been deported to Babylon came back with a stronger feeling that Jehovah was the only God.
Hebrew religion rose to its greater high in the centuries before the exile, the period that produced most prophets. The following centuries were the period of the priests and produced fewer prophets. Priestly functions were defined and codified, and their power increased through hierarchical authority. The origin of the Hebrew priesthood is lost in antiquity. Moses’ brother, Aaron, was Jehovah’s priest; he surrounded himself with subordinate priests who knew the ritual appropriate to Jehovah. They probably created the sect called Levites whose function was to officiate at religious ceremonies. The shrines of Canaan had already their priests but it is not certain if they were absorbed by the priests of Jehovah. By the time of the return of exile, the priests had to be from the tribe of Levy and descending from Aaron and Zadok. The priests of the Qumrân sect had their own view on this subject. The priestly class became a theocracy where priests and rulers were often the same. After the return from exile many Jews settled in Egypt as refugees from the wars in Judea. They even built some temples there. The Macedonians defeated the Persians and Alexander entered Jerusalem in 333 BC. He granted autonomy to the Jews in Judea and Babylon, as well as in Alexandria in Egypt. The Jews were in trouble again after the death of Alexander in 323 BC when the Empire was divided between Ptolemy I, who received Egypt, and the Seleucids, who got Syria. In 301 BC Ptolemy I took Palestine that remained an Egyptian province until 198 BC. Afterwards the Ptolemaic Empire declined to become first a Roman Protectorate and, in 30 BC, a Roman province. The Seleucid Kingdom took possession of Palestine at the time of Antiochus III. Antiochus IV tried to suppress the Jewish religion and even ordered a great massacre of the Jews in 170 BC; he ransacked the Temple and gave it to the worship of Zeus. Jerusalem became, to all effect, a Greek city where it was forbidden to observe the Sabbath. The Maccabees revolted successfully against the Seleucids and ruled Jerusalem for nearly a century. Afterwards the power passed to the Sadducees and, later on, to the Pharisees. In 63 BC Pompey entered Jerusalem. The Qumrân community was founded during the period following the Maccabean wars to restore the orthodox Jewish religion and to impose the Torah as a guide.
Most of the books of the Old Testament have been written between the eighth and the third century BC, although a few fragments come from much before. Some books, such as Ecclesiastes, are from a later period. All the original manuscripts are lost -and were already lost in the first century BC- with, possibly, a few fragments recovered in the Dead Sea caves. It is not known how the old manuscripts survived, who did the compiling, the editing. It is only known that many variations came to life and that a standard text became necessary. This was done in the seventh and eighth centuries AD by the Massoretes. A Greek translation known as the Septuagint was made during the second or third century BC. Only copies exist to this date. On the other hand the New testament was written over a shorter period of time, from the second half of the first century AD to the end of the second, with a few changes made in the fourth. Only copies have reached us, the oldest from the fourth century AD. Other religious books were written after the completion of the Old Testament. They are mainly predictions of different nature, including the coming of the “Anointed One”, and are classified as apocalyptic and eschatological.
The Bible is an ecclesiastical selection (called canonical) from all this literature, and is not the same in all communions. For example, the Catholic selection is larger that the one made by the Protestants, and the Jewish Bible does not contain the New Testament. The documents excluded are of two types:
– The Apocryphas (hidden, suppressed) of the Old and New testaments have been excluded by the church. Very often they are also cryptic, or understandable only by the initiated.
– The Pseudepigrapha, or the “falsely inscribed”, are documents written under the name of a previous accepted writer. This was necessary since, for many years, it was forbidden to write any more on the subjects already included in the Bible. Some of these books were used by the Dead Sea sect.
In most cases the books of the Apocrypha excluded from the Bible are as important and reliable as those included; they were no less true, historically, or less reliable in their testimony. The main reason invoked for their exclusion was that they were less edifying, or more likely to create doubt. All these documents have been very valuable to the scholars and this will be the case of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
It is necessary to understand that the Jews were very Hellenized at the beginning of the Christian era. Alexander the Great and his successors imposed the Greek civilisation, language, and culture to all the Mediterranean countries for about three centuries before the Romans took over. This was also true for the Jews and Judea. Judeans, mainly the Maccabeans, revolted against this imposition but with little success. Jerusalem was a Greek city for a long time.
The Sadducees (this word is derived from Zadok, the high priest appointed by Solomon), led by the priests of Jerusalem, were pro-Greek. They were a minority of aristocrats and rich farmers. They took the religion lightly and politic seriously. They were practical, avoiding problems, and prosperous. One first hears of them in around 135 BC.
The Pharisees, on the other hand, were the popular party, more concerned with religion -especially religious freedom- that with politics. They looked for national liberation not through revolt, but through the coming of the “Messiah” who would not be divine, but would rule in the name of God. The word Pharisee means “separated” or “scrupulous”.
The Sadducees claimed that the Pharisees imposed observances not written in Moses’ Laws and that is true; that they believed in immortality, heaven and hell, a general resurrection, a Messianic Kingdom; they complained that the Pharisees were proselytisers since, according to them, all could enter the Jewish faith if they accepted the Pharisees ritual requirements; that they were interested in the Judaism of the Synagogue. On the other hand the Sadducees believed that nothing should be taught as nothing is known; they believed in free will; they were not interested in winning converts; their interest was in the Temple and the power centralised in Jerusalem.
It is true that the Pharisees were haughty and uncharitable, but they also took a very ethical view of religion. The Sadducees disappeared with the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 AD but the Pharisees flourished even after and provided the rabbinical tradition that still survives today.
The Zealots broke away from the Pharisees whom they believed not enough devoted to the cause of the national independence. Simon, one of the twelve disciples, was a Zealot. The Zealots are, in fact, a revival of the Maccabean movement. They were religious fanatics as well as freedom fighters. They revolted so often that they can be blamed for the war that led to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.
The sources of information on the Essenes are Philo of Alexandria (about 20 AD), Pliny the Elder (about 70 AD), and the Jewish historian Josephus (69-94 AD). It is not certain if they were part of one sect whose beliefs changed with time or of many sects with different beliefs.
Philo, who met them, said that they lived in “Syria Palestine” and numbered about four thousand, living initially mainly in villages, and avoiding cities. According to him they abstained from sacrifying animals, worked in agriculture, and opposed slavery. They were concerned in moral philosophy as taught in the Torah and not in abstract thought. They feasted the Sabbath and met in the synagogues, siting down in rank of precedence, and listening to the reading of the Scriptures. The teaching dealt with piety, holiness, justice, the house and city rules, knowledge of what is good, bad or indifferent, and what to avoid and to pursue. They were mainly interested in love of God, virtue, and man. They were noted for their kindness, their equality, their indifference to money, and to worldly aims and pleasure. They lived in colony where they had a common storehouse, common cloth, common treasury in which they placed their earnings and from which expenses were debited on behalf of all. Visitors from other colonies were warmly greeted and shared freely in meals and religious functions. They lived in many cities and villages of Judea. They joined the sect of their free will and did not marry. The movement seems to have been widely spread in Judea and formed of many communities linked by common beliefs and practices, in a kind of a church not connected with the synagogues of the Pharisees. They were practising a mild asceticism and they were not monastic.
Pliny the Elder, instead, described them as a solitary race living without women, money, and houses on the West shore of the Dead Sea. They are more like monks living in wilderness such as Qumrân.
Josephus said that the Essenes movement appeared at the same time as the Sadducees and the Pharisees, that is when the Maccabeans declined in the middle of the second century BC. The name Essenes was given to the sect by Josephus because of their saintliness. They lived in different places, did not marry, but adopted children to train them in their beliefs. There was, however, an other Essenic sect that allowed marriage, but it was a minor one. At Josephus’ time the Essenes were still giving their properties to the sect as well as their earning that were administered on behalf of the community. The Essenes were helping the poor and the needy, whether they were or not member of the sect. They were subject to Greek influence in their thinking and habits. They worshipped the sun, that they prayed at dawn, and believed in angels. After the morning prayer they had to do their assigned work. Later on they assembled, bathed in cold water, had lunch together and sang psalms. They went back to work and had again dinner together. All candidates to the sect had to go through a two year period of noviciate after which, if they were accepted, they became full member of the sect. They worshipped Moses as much as Jehovah, and blaspheming against them could be punished with death. They were true Jews, although they believed in the immortality of the soul. According to Josephus they are known as the “holy ones” or the “Saints”.
The scroll known as the “Manual of Discipline” of the Qumrân community, found in 1947, even if incompleted, reminds us of what Josephus said about the Essenes. If Qumrân was not a settlement of the Essenes, at least it was Essenic. One can easily imagine that Qumrân was the headquarters of the Essenic movement that could also have started there.
Another document found in Cairo and published in 1910, the “Damascus Document”, deals too with the rules of the Essenic Order. It was written by the descendants of Zadok, one of the high priests of David, who was appointed by Solomon to be the first high priest of the new Jerusalem Temple. It mentions the flight from Damascus to escape persecution, and describes a new Covenant made in Damascus between the sect and Jehovah. The Damascus document was difficult to date until the Dead Sea Scrolls were found but since fragments of a copy of it have been found in the Qumrân caves, we know that it is at least as old as the latest of the scrolls. The “Damascus Document” and the “Manual of Discipline” are so similar that they must have the same, or related, origins; in other words they must be two versions of the same original text, or one revises the other. There are however some differences. These two documents are obviously more accurate that the Josephus’ second hand description. Josephus spoke of the Community of the Essenes but we must be aware that the scrolls never mention any name for the Qumrân community. It could be that the Essenes did not describe themselves under this name or that they were known by this name by others.
The Zadokite fragments are part of a document, or documents, found in Cairo in 1896 in a medieval synagogue. The Egyptian copies date from the tenth to the twelfth century AD, but the original must have been from the same source and from the same time as the Dead Sea scrolls; they are very similar in doctrine and languages, and deal with the same events. Moreover some fragments of the Zadokite text have been found in other caves. The scrolls and fragments of documents found in the caves never mention the Essenes, the priests of the Qumrân sect are referred as the “Sons of Zadok”. It is believed that this is the Zadok of the Bible, the priest who anointed Solomon. They were called Essenes or “Holy ones” by outsiders. The Essenes are believed to have been reformers in conflict with the High Priests of Jerusalem who were responsible for their migration to Syria where they remained thirty years after abandoning their monastery.
Besides the Zadokite work (also known as Damascus Document), there were at least four Apocryphal Old Testament books that have close connection with the scriptures of the sects: The Book of Jubilees, The Book of Enoch, The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs and the Assumption of Moses. These books are dated from the second half of the second century BC to the early years of the first century AD. They were already known in Latin, Greek and Ethiopic translation, but they were originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic as the Dead Sea scrolls confirm. Some quotations of these books are found in the New Testament, as well as in other Christian writings that were, at a time, part of the canon but later rejected from it.
Other documents had been found before (from the beginning of the ninth century AD) that confirm the existence of the sect. In addition, a heretical Jewish sect whose members called themselves Karaites (it still exists to-day in the East) rejected the authority of the Talmud and renewed direct contact with the Bible. Their literature made frequent references to the Zadokite sect. Some of the Zadokite fragments found in Cairo were, in fact, part of the Karaite writings. In other words, the Karaites are descendants of the Essenes whom they called, sometimes, the Magharites (because their books were found in caves, Magharah in Arabic). They believed that this sect was alive in the first century BC. As a result, many documents that previously had no relation between them, are now falling into place and have a new significance. They belong to the Dead Sea sect or to other related religions. They allow us to understand better the history of the growth of religious ideas between Judaism and the early Christianity. This affects, of course, our understanding of the background of the New Testament. In particular the apocryphal documents of the “Inter-Testamental” period, even if already known in translations, are now known to be transitional literature between Judaism and Christianity. The invocation to the Saviour-Messiah becomes more urgent that in the canonical books; they take the form of apocalypses or supernatural visions of the past, present and future. The Judaic Law of the Pentateuch had become, in the last three centuries BC, the final and supreme revelation of God, leaving no room for the appearance of God’s representatives, the Prophets. As a result a writer who had something to say on religious doctrine had to do it under the name of an old Prophet or Patriarch.
It would not be right to assume that Josephus and Philo were wrong. Even if their books were published after the Essenes were dispersed in 70 AD, both authors lived when the sect was still alive. However the movement was not only local, as they say, since the Damascus Document implies the existence of local groups.
As a result we must conclude that the Essenic movement was widely dispersed in Palestine during the first century AD and that the sect of the scrolls, or the Qumrân community, was Essenic. Due to the size of the library, the baptisteries, the scriptorium, the large cemetery, it is most probable that Qumrân was the headquarters of the Essenic movement. This does not mean that the movement was not composed of many sects with different rules, ritual and, perhaps, doctrine. Their beliefs changed too with time, and in different ways. It could very well be that a given sect, or section, changed in such a way as to become the nucleus of the Christian community.
The Qumrân sect was part of the Jewish faith although it evolved in its own particular way. Essenic beliefs and practices outside Qumrân may have developed differently in each settlement. The Dead Sea Sect living in the wilderness at Qumrân must have been more orthodox in keeping with the rules and the doctrine of the movement. The documents that have reached us must, consequently, give us a true understanding of the Essenic beliefs and rules.
The monks of Qumrân believed that they belonged to the “Chosen People”, the people of the first covenant and of the very sacred Laws of Moses, and that Jehovah had chosen them to be an “elect group” among these people. They also believed that David’s victories announced the final triumph of Israel. The “Anointed One” who was to come, would be a descendant of King David. They believed that their priests descended from Zadok, the equal of David. It is not clear if all the priests of the sect were “Levites” as well as Zadokistes, how they were selected, or what was their relation with Aaron, Moses’ brother, the first Jehovistic priest. They also believed that a prophet would come as most Jews did. The Qumrân community was deeply imbued with the prophets such as Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah who had say that Jehovah would bring salvation after his people returned to Righteousness. All prophets are represented in the fragments recovered from the caves. The Essenic movement had joined in a “New Covenant” (synonymous to New Testament) in Damascus. It is a covenant to return to the Law of Moses guided by a “Teacher of Righteousness”, a priest sent by God to explain to his people how to reach salvation. The Teacher of Righteousness (known also as “Unique Teacher”), to whom the sect attached so much importance, was introduced to the outside world with the publication of the “Damascus Document” as well as two other persons, the Wicked Priest and the Man of the Lie. There are seven references to Him in the Habakkuk Scroll. The Teacher of Righteousness has not been identified with certainty; he lived in the second or the first century BC with the latter date more probable. A few possible candidates have been thought of by some historians: Onias III, Judah the Essene and Onias the Righteous. This last one was stoned to death in 65 BC according to Josephus. In this case the leader of the Sadducees could have been the Wicked Priest, and the leader of the Pharisees, the Man of the Lie since both were opposed to Onias and blamed each other for his martyrdom. There are few doubts that he existed even if he has not been identified. Jesus has been taken into consideration but they lived about one hundred years apart. We know that he was a Priest, or a High Priest of the Temple, that he lived in the second or the first century BC, and that he led his people in a new Mosaic Covenant. He created a new religious order, instructed the members in the meaning of the scriptures, adding his own teaching and prophecies, and becoming the martyred prophet of the order, adored, venerated and expected to play a part in the Messianic age of the future. We would know more about him if the book called “HGW”, mentioned in both the “Damascus Document” and the “Manual of Discipline”, was found even in part.
The sect of Qumrân also believed that Jehovah would send his “Anointed One of Aaron and Israel”, or “Messiah”, to end the existing world order and inaugurate a new one. This appears clearly in the two documents mentioned before. Dupont-Sommer and other scholars believe that the expected Messiah and the Teacher of Righteousness are the same person. The monastic sect of Qunràm, like the other Essenes, was fatalists. God had predestined the main direction and the chief events of history and had described its end.
The future “Anointed One” is the result of merging together “The Teacher of Righteousness” and the Messiah; he is “Prophet, King and Priest” of the spiritual lineage of Moses, Aaron, Zadok, David and Judah. This “Anointed One” will bring the Kingdom of God through his sufferings. These Covenanters thought that they were living at the centre of history, being the prime movers of a saga soon to be concluded. They believed that guilt and sin had to be eliminated, and that God could not save even his chosen people if they would not heed his call for Righteousness. The real world was evil, with greed and lust everywhere mocking God. Such a world had to be destroyed as soon as possible. This was specially obvious to the monks of Qumrân living in very difficult conditions in this desert near the Dead Sea. However, they also believed that, after the “Anointed One” would have cleaned the world, even their dreadful land near the Dead Sea would become fertile. This was their belief while they battled for Jehovah, awaiting for the “Anointed One” as prophesied by their “Teacher of Righteousness”. (29)
The Roman occupation of Judea was very soft at first. Antigonus, the last King of the Maccabean line, was succeeded in 37 BC by Herod the Great. Not many people liked him when he died in 4 BC although he left many new buildings, initiated a harbour in Caesarea, and began the restoration of the Temple. After Herod the country was divided. Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, married his living brother’s wife and was blamed for it by John the Baptist whom he executed. He ruled until 34 AD. In Judea, Archelaus reigned until 6 AD but he ruled so badly that Augustus removed him, and Judea became a Roman province under a procurator who reported to the Governor of Syria. Pontius Pilate was procurator from 26 to 36 AD. He was then recalled and banned to Gaul. The tension between the Romans and the Jews gradually increased mainly for religious misunderstanding between the two parts. Agrippa, who died in 44 AD, was the last King of the Jews. Afterwards Palestine was put under direct Roman rule. The Governor Antonius Felix crucified many Jews. A new sect called “Sicarii” dedicated itself to kill as many Romans as possible and they were very successful. We do not know what happened at Qumrân and to the Essenes. We know, however, that the Christian movement grew and that it was similar in its doctrines, its sacraments, its organisation to the Essenic sect, and to the “new covenant” preached at Qumrân. The Christians were known at that time as the sect of the “Nazarene”. After the death of Festus and the arrival of a new governor, the high priest Ananus had James, Jesus brother and head of the Nazarenes, assassinated. Later on Ananus was deposed by Agrippa II. By now Judea was in full revolution against the Romans. Gessius Florus who ruled from 64 to 66 AD was responsible for many massacres before being driven out of Jerusalem. The Roman garrison surrended but all the soldiers were killed. This was a clear signal that war was near and the Christians fled from Judea across the Jordan to avoid fighting. Some Essenes did the same even if some fought against the Romans. An emergency Government under Josephus was formed to defend Galilee but it failed and went over to the Romans. The Pharisees preached moderation to no avail. The Zealots took over and went on fighting. Unfortunately the Jews were not united and were even fighting between themselves. In 70 AD Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed.
In the meantime the Qumrân monks must have thought that the “Day of Jehovah” had arrived, and that the Messiah they were expecting would soon appear. They knew the Romans would come to Qumrân and they hid their precious manuscripts in local caves where the Romans would not think to search. They were hoping to come back after the war. (29)
The way of life of the Essenes was quite similar to the way the present-day Jews live in the Kibbutz of modern Israel; these modern Jews share everything between themselves and bring up, and adopt, abandoned children while facing terrible tyrants like the Essenes did two thousand years ago. Both groups are also very much like the first Christians, especially in relation to their doctrine of human brotherhood, ritual washing that reminds us of baptism, and sharing of wealth. Obviously to-day Christians are very different. They still consider that the body is corruptible and soul immortal. Moreover the Essenes, although they were a Jewish sect, accepted members of different races on a voluntary basis, like the Christians. This led many scholars to believe that Jesus was originally an Essene. (18
Two among the first scrolls discovered are of the Apocalyptic type. For instance “The War of the Children of Light against the Children of Darkness”, as named by Professor Sukenik, and published by his son, General Yigael Yadin, appears, at first sight, to contain commentaries on the Prophet Habakkuk but it fact it deals with later events supposed to be prophesied by Habakkuk. This kind of literature was unknown when the first scrolls were found. Later on, however, other such manuscripts have been found linked to the Prophet Micah. Even if these two documents appear to describe a war against the Kittin (the people of the Mediterranean countries in the Jewish language of that time), they are dealing with the war against the Romans of the last few centuries BC.
The “Commentary” mentions, among others, the Teacher of Righteousness who has never been identified, although he was of prime importance to the Dead Sea sect. He was obviously a priest, or Elect of God, who received divine revelations, and who was the leader of a community whose members call themselves “the New Covenanters”. He preached the strict observance of the Law even if he was criticised by the priests of Jerusalem. He was persecuted by a “Wicked Priest” (known also as “the Prophet of Untruth” or “the Man of Untruth”) and his followers. This Wicked Priest was thought to be Aristobulus II, a High Priest of Jerusalem as well as King of the Jewish Hasmonean dynasty from 67 to 63 BC before he was arrested by the Romans and sent to Rome. We have already mentioned the similarities between the “Manual of Discipline” and the Zadokite writings and, in particular, the mention in both of the Covenant, or New covenant, that bound their followers. The prophet of Untruth appears also in the Zadokite fragments and in the Micah commentary.
The name of Teacher of Righteousness could have been a title given to a succession of Messiahs. The first reference to the Messiah as “the Elect One”, “the Son of man” and “the Righteous One”, is to be found in The Book of Enoch that is presumed to have been written in the early years of the first century BC. These names appear in the writings of the Dead Sea sect and they are also used in the Gospels to Jesus (Enoch calls the Messiah the Son of man). The Dead Sea documents seem to identified the Messiah with one particular man. Osias has been suggested as a possibility but he died in 171 BC, well before the Dead Sea sect occupied Qumrân. In this case the Wicked Priest would be the Jerusalem High Priest Menelaus. Jesus fit the description of the Messiah much better but He was born to late.
In the three scrolls acquired by Professor Sukenik from the first cave, there is a collection of thirty-five psalms, unknown until then, that have been called the “Thanksgiving Hymns”. They are thought to have been composed by the Teacher of Righteousness, or in honour of Him by one of his disciple.
A certain similar theology is found in the late apocryphal documents, in the writings of the Dead Sea sect and in the New Testament. The morality of the Two Ways, that is unknown to the ancient Hebrews, is a good example. It consists to compare the Way of Good, that leads to Salvation at the Last Judgement, to the Way of Evil that conducts to torment. The Messiah, or Elect One, will save the Elects, the People of the New Covenant (those who kept themselves holy, followed their priests’ teaching and purified themselves by baptism and constant washing) while the others will be left behind to suffer. The notion of purification by water was also an old Zadokite belief before being integrated in Christianity as baptism. The Two Ways doctrine is described in the “Didache”, or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, that was found in the nineteenth century AD. It seems to be a Jewish document that has been adopted by the Christian Church. Some fragments of two columns of the Manual of Discipline found in the first Qumrân cave confirms that the rite of the Last Supper derives from a custom of the sect. Male members of the congregation met under the chairmanship of their head to feast a specific event or feast. They ate the bred and drank the wine in order of rank after the priest’s blessing, and after he has tasted the fare first. This is different from the Jewish Passover, a family affair where men and women participate.
According to Dupont-Sommer everything in the Jewish New Covenant prepares the way for the Christian New Covenant. Jesus appears as a reincarnation of the Teacher of Righteousness. Both preached penitence, poverty, humility, love of one’s neighbour, and chastity. Both insisted on the observance of the Law of Moses, adapted and perfected by their own revelations. Both considered themselves as the Elect and the Messiah of God, the Redeemer of the world. They were the object of the priestly hostility, the party of the Sadducees. They were both condemned and put to death and they believed that, at the end of the time, they would be the supreme judge. They both founded a Church whose members awaited their glorious return and whose more important rite is the sacred meal presided by their priests. The ideals of the Christian Church and the Essenes are unity and communion in love. We must now ask ourselves which church influenced the other? The answer is simple: as the Teacher of Righteousness died around 65 to 53 BC and Jesus died in 33 AD, the Christian Church is automatically the follower of the Essene Church. This does not mean that Jesus did not bring anything personal and new in his Church, the opposite is true. However the Christian Church must be seen as the continuation of the Essene’s and not the opposite.
There are, however, some scholars who believe that the Teacher of Righteousness was not the Messiah, while admitting that he was persecuted. On the other hand, the Christian belief that the advent of Jesus as the Messiah was prophesied in the Old Testament (Second Isaiah, chapter 53) seems more acceptable that the other possibilities put forward such as Isaiah, Israel (second Isaiah) and Jeremiah. Of course, as Dupont-Sommer said, each time the Anointed One, or the Prophet that will die for us, is mentioned in the Old Testament, this could mean the Teacher of Righteousness as well as Jesus Christ. It seems more probable that Jesus has found his Messianic role, and the pattern of a martyr’s career, prepared for him by the teachers of the Dead Sea sect. The reference to purification by water in the Manual of Discipline led many scholars to think about John the Baptist, who was even thought to be the Teacher of Righteousness. After all he was born not very far from the sect’s monastery and he lived a long time in the desert. Not only he believed in baptism like the sect, but his teaching was very similar. He also expected the Messiah who he, at some time, thought to be the Second Isaiah. However he did not live in any community like the members of the sect. Perhaps he was only an “adopted” follower and not a real member.
Some scholars believe that Jesus was a member of the Dead Sea sect during his early years when nothing is known about him, while others affirm that his only link with the sect was through John the Baptist. The only certainties are that John and Jesus were related through their mothers, that Jesus came all the way from Galilee to be baptised by John before going into the desert to fast for forty days. Not long after John was arrested by Herod to be put to death and Jesus started his ministry.
The little that is known of the first thirty years of Jesus’ life come from his followers, and it is not always believable. In the light of the scrolls, some scholars now believe that the Gospel of John, which had been thought to have been written late and under the influence of the Gnostic movement, is in fact a document of the sect and the most Jewish among the Gospels. The evolution from the morality of the sect (fraternity between the members, charity but, also, war on those who attack them) to Jesus’ morality (dominated by the principle of forgiveness) probably is the result of a constant evolution from one extreme to another.
If we now look at Jesus in the perspective given by the scrolls we can see more clearly the continuous path that led to Christianity. The Essene movement resisted for about two centuries to the Greek and Roman influences. We can imagine that about 50 years before their monastery was burned, this community inspired a new leader who transcended both Judaism and Essenism, and whose followers created a Church that outlasted the Roman Empire and was to be identified with Rome. If this is true then the ruins of the monastery at Qumrân on the Dead Sea, and not Nazareth and Bethlehem, are the real cradle of Christianity. This is difficult for the Christians to admit since it put the uniqueness of Christ at stake. It also obliges them to recognise that the morality and mysticism of the Gospels can be explained as the result of the work of many generations of Jews and that one does not have to assume the miracle of a magnanimous act of God, His death on the cross, to allow the salvation of the human race.
For those who believe that the Son of God was born in the family of a carpenter of Nazareth in Northern Palestine, that he preached by the lake of Tiberias, and that he was tried and condemned to death by Pilate, it should not be impossible to believe that he had been trained by a certain Jewish sect that also taught him his future role as a teacher, Messiah and martyr. (26)