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The Sea is Dead, but the Scrolls Aren’t

Posted on by arlen

It’s amusing sometimes, to see what lengths people go to in order to attack things they don’t believe in. In the case of Christianity, they often use strange interpretations of the Dead Sea Scrolls. You remember them? They were found near the ruins of Qumran, and there has been a project going since the late 40’s attempting to date them and translate them.

Anyway, the usual tactic I’ve run into is to assert they say things which they don’t, or to make other, similarly unsupported, speculations about the community of Essenes (for example, I’ve run into folks who proudly assert the Essenes were Christians, or were a sect which followed “True Christianity” — the intent of the last assertion is, of course, to support a claim that all current Christian sects are therefore false). Those who make arguments based upon these assertions manage to shut up their targets, not through the force of Truth, but in the main because the average Christian is notoriously uninformed about Christian history, often accepting rather bizarre revisions of history as fact simply through ignorance. (My daughter’s Advanced Placement European History teacher once stated baldly that the major difference of opinion between Martin Luther and John Calvin was that Martin Luther believed in free will while Calvin didn’t. We went out and bought my daughter an independent study guide for the AP European History exam, so the teacher’s ignorance didn’t hurt her. We’d both learned quite a bit earlier that pointing out errors to this teacher led only to reprisals, not truth, so there was no point in trying to educate the teacher.)

This is a rather long way round to introducing one of my current study topics, the Dead Sea Scrolls. The book is The Meaning Of The Dead Sea Scrolls by James Vanderkam and Peter Flint. It’s an excellent introduction to the scrolls themselves (the current “official” translation of the scrolls runs to 39 volumes; the nasty part of me thinks this is why they’re such fertile ground for fabrication — it’s not likely anyone you’re talking to has read them all). But more importantly, from my standpoint, is they tell the history of the project to translate the scrolls, and debunk a lot of the myths that have arisen around them.

The myths grew in part because of the speed (lack thereof) of publication. Many things slowed the pace of the scholarship, but to speculators outside the only real reason was that there must be something in the scrolls that would completely destroy the orthodoxy of the day, either Christian or Jewish (speculation on the latter rose sharply when Israel wrested control of the scrolls from Jordan after the Six-Day War). I mean it’s obvious that must be the reason for the delay — it can’t be because the work is difficult, or because there are so many things exploding around the scholars that it’s hard to remain there on the job, or any one of a hundred other, more innocuous reasons. It’s human nature to leap to the most malignant reason behind someone’s behavior.

This is a highly recommended read for anyone wanting to know something more (or just something, even) about the discoveries in Qumran. The authors have written a very approachable introduction to a very complex and important subject.

2 Responses to The Sea is Dead, but the Scrolls Aren’t

  1. Not once anywhere in the Bible has JC said himself that he died for your sins. Its always the other guys (the ones who were on a religion-founding trip) that said so.

    The basic premise of this so-called religion seems to be:

    God: Hey guys, you’re free to do whatever u wanna do, as long as its what I want you to do. Else, I’m gonna call u a sinner. In case u are a sinner, all u have to do is believe in my ‘son’ and ur free.


  2. “Not once anywhere in the Bible has JC said himself that he died for your sins. Its always the other guys (the ones who were on a religion-founding trip) that said so.”

    Not quite. If someone applies a title or honorofic to me, in my presence, repeatedly, and I do or say nothing to correct him, then I can legitimately be said to be endorsing their view of me. Way back before Jesus embarked on His ministry, John called Him, to His face, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Lambs were sacrificed as expiation for sins, so the intent of the message is clear. And if that’s not clear enough, if you insist on Jesus Himself saying something to that effect, take a peek at Mark chapter 8, Luke chapter 9 and Matthew chapter 17, where Jesus clearly expounds that He will be killed and raised again, And again in John chapter 3, in His conversation with Nicodemus, the theme is repeated. If that’s not enough, then in Mark 10:45 (or Matthew 20:28) He says He came to give His life as a ransom for many, which is about as clear an exposition of the requested theme as it gets.

    “God: Hey guys, you’re free to do whatever u wanna do, as long as its what I want you to do. Else, I’m gonna call u a sinner.”

    A tad simplistic, but close. It’s a reasonable proposition. Who else is better equipped to know the optimum operating parameters of machinery than the Designer Himself? What you apparently missed is that God calls everyone a sinner. Your use of the “else” clause implies there is a way to escape that appelation. There isn’t. To go back to the machinery analogy: the machines were knocked out of spec long ago, and must all be re-calibrated before they can return to their optimum operation.

    “In case u are a sinner, all u have to do is believe in my ’son’ and ur free.”

    Not quite; you’ve oversimplified this bit. Believing in Jesus isn’t what does it. Even the demons believe in Jesus, after all. It’s a step beyond that. The buzzwords are “accepting Jesus as Savior”; their meaning is a tad more complex, but it boils down to believing that His sacrifice applies to you, and being willing to follow Him. What does that entail? Entire books could be (and have been) written about the possibilities.

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October 2004
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