Magazine article Anglican Journal

Shepherd Boy's Find Makes for Lively Commentary

Magazine article Anglican Journal

Shepherd Boy's Find Makes for Lively Commentary

Article excerpt


Do the Dead Sea Scrolls provide a source outside the New Testament verifying the Gospels? Absolutely not, according to Lawrence Schiffman, one of the world's leading scholars in the decipherment of the 2,000-year-old Aramaic and Hebrew parchments.

Speaking at the University of Toronto last month in a lecture entitled The Dead Sea Scrolls: The Rise of Christianity and the Jewish Revolts, the New York University professor said Christianity shares with these Qumran materials the "immediacy, the notion that the Messiah is coming now in our lifetime, and that activity should take place to bring about this redemption."

Prof. Schiffman placed the scrolls in their historical context - the Messiah-saturated milieu of first century Palestine. The Roman conquest of the Levant in 63. B.C. set off centuries of messianically inspired guerrilla warfare, he said.

Some scholars have tried to link the scrolls to the community of the Essenes. But Prof. Schiffman argues that the ideas expressed in the scrolls did not originate with the small sectarian group but reflected a widespread movement among the Jewish people of the time.

"When you take a look at the scrolls, as well as certain other documents like Enoch, you see immediately that a variety of messianic ideas existed in the second and first centuries B.C.E. in the Jewish community. There is what I call `non-messianic messianism' that there is not to be a particular religious figure who leads the oncoming. Somehow there is no bigshot involved in this."

Most scholars fail to appreciate this background, he said.

"The average book that you will open up on Biblical religion or later Judaism will make the statement that messianism was a post-biblical invention. This is actually an oversimplification."

Contradicting other scholars, Prof. Schiffman said: "I do not think that the scrolls speak of the notion of a persecuted leader whose death or suffering will be part of his messiahship."

He disputed the theory of French scholar Andre du Pensoner who electrified the world of biblical scholarship by suggesting one of the scrolls, known as the Habakkuk Commentary, referred to Jesus. But Prof. Schiffman pointed out that a carbon-14 test dated the parchment to 140 B.C. He was similarly critical of scholars who forced interpretations into sensational headlines which had no merit.

"There is a second text which has been discussed from this point of view, and that is the socalled Pierced Messiah text. …

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