The Historical Jesus in Context

By Amy-Jill Levine; Dale Allison Jr. et al. | Go to book overview
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6
Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls

Peter Flint

The “Dead Sea Scrolls” denotes ancient manuscripts that were discovered at various sites along the western shore of the Dead Sea between 1947 (or perhaps 1946) and 1965. The most important site is at Wadi Qumran, where eleven caves containing some 870 Scrolls were found between 1946/47 and 1956. A nearby settlement also was discovered and was excavated in the 1950s. Almost all scholars now agree that the community that wrote and stored the Scrolls were Essenes, and pottery analysis conducted in the late 1990s confirms that those living at the site deposited jars containing Scrolls in at least some of the caves. Paleographic analysis and carbon 14 tests show that the earliest manuscripts were copied about 250 BCE or a little earlier, and the latest shortly before the destruction of the Qumran site by the Romans in 68 CE.

In addition to the finds at Qumran, dozens more Scrolls were discovered at other locations, including Wadi Murabbaât (1951–52), Nahal Hever (1951–61), and Masada (1963–65).

Approximately 220 Scrolls at Qumran are classified as “biblical.” Every book of the Old Testament is represented, with the exception of Esther, Nehemiah, and 1 Chronicles. These manuscripts constitute our earliest witnesses to the text of Scripture, and they offer important evidence for the closing stages of the Hebrew Bible.

Many of the other (almost) 800 Qumran documents—the “nonbiblical” Scrolls—are of direct relevance to early Judaism and emerging Christianity. They provide information about Judaism in the late Second Temple period, anticipate some teachings found in later Rabbinic writings, and illuminate many passages and ideas found in the New Testament.


The Scrolls, Jesus, and Early Christianity

Early Speculations

Long before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, several links were alleged between the Essenes—as described by Josephus, Philo, and Pliny the Elder—and Jesus. In

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