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The Dead Sea Scrolls

In my previous several posts I discussed the discovery and contents of the Nag Hammadi Library.  A lot of people on the blog know about all that, since it is a major topic of discussion among scholars of early Christianity.  But the reality is that among the general populace, no one really knows about it.  People may have heard about the “Gnostic Gospels,” but they don’t realize that there is such a *thing* as the Nag Hammadi Library (or, obviously, why it is called that).

On the other hand, everyone has heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls, even if they have no clue what the scrolls are, what they contain, and how they were found.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are by virtual consensus the most significant manuscript discovery of the twentieth century.  And they are decidedly *not* to be confused with the Nag Hammadi Library!   Here is what I say about the scrolls in my New Testament textbook.  (These paragraphs actually say more about the Essenes that produced the scrolls than the scrolls themselves.)




The Essenes are the one Jewish sect …

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Kickstarting a Debate
Mark Goodacre: Questioning the Discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library



  1. Avatar
    OperaGhost  June 23, 2015

    To what Jewish sect was Jesus belonging?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 24, 2015

      Like the vast majority of Jews, he didn’t belong to any. Maybe I’ll post on this.

      • Avatar
        pruffin  June 28, 2015

        I have picked up the idea somewhere that Jesus was the leader of a sect that he called “The Way’. Whether that is technically correct or not, would you say that Jesus was the leader of a distinct group?

        • Bart
          Bart  June 29, 2015

          Well, it was a very small group of some followers, not a bona fide and organized sect.

        • Avatar
          JeremeK  September 3, 2016

          Hebrew-Christians weren’t called The Way until after Jesus’ death, so no.

  2. Avatar
    qaelith2112  June 24, 2015

    I guess it might be an interesting point that the scrolls which represents the proto-Masoretic tradition (which do more or less validate the integrity of that tradition) were but one of several different traditions found among the scrolls. Another major family was the collection of scrolls which appear to have been in the lineage of the Hebrew source likely used in production of the LXX. This is a fascinating variation from the proto-Masoretic family, some of the books being much longer than the Masoretic versions, and readings deviating quite a bit in some of the common material. These LXX-related texts and the ones that appear to be Samaritan Pentateuch variants (also found in the caves) would seem to show that while the one family was preserved well, other traditions were also in widespread use which had deviated significantly at some point along the way. I often read commentaries on how well the proto-Masoretic scrolls agree with the later Masoretic manuscripts but the other variants aren’t discussed.

    I’d love to find a good, modern (last 10-20 years) reconstruction of the textual history leading up to these major families and how and when those might have split off, utilizing what is known at this point. I’m not aware of anything like this, though I’m sure that’s written about in abundance in the journals to which I do not have easy access. Should anyone know of any accessible (i.e., available on Amazon or other booksellers) books which address this, I’d be grateful!

    • Bart
      Bart  June 25, 2015

      Does Emmanuel Tov not deal with this book on textual criticism?

      • Avatar
        qaelith2112  June 25, 2015

        That looks like what I need. Thank you!

  3. Avatar
    RGM-ills  June 24, 2015

    what about other books found there, such as the book of Enoch?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 25, 2015

      Yes, that’s interesting too! And obviously significant for knowing what these sectarians were reading and accepting as authoritative texts!

  4. Avatar
    JRH  June 25, 2015

    Does the fact that Jesus is not mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls reinforce the “Jesus as myth” theory?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 25, 2015

      No, I’m afraid not. Josephus and Pilate aren’t mentioned there either (no one is by name, as it turns out), but no one would use that as evidence to suggest they didn’t exist!

      • Avatar
        RGM-ills  June 25, 2015

        Whether mentioned or not does not strengthen or weaken info as evidence. Many angel names are mentioned from Dead Sea docs and well, isn’t supportive of historicity. In fact, if Josephus and Pilate’s names were mentioned in series with Michael, Raphael and Azazel it would discourage rather than encourage historical probability.

  5. Avatar
    JSTMaria  June 26, 2015

    The new high priest was *non-Zadokite*… What does this mean exactly? Do we know what was going on in the temple at the time that was different and upset the Essenes?

    • Bart
      Bart  June 28, 2015

      It means he did not descend from Zadok, the famous head priest in the time of the United Kingdom (some 1000 years earlier), as high priests were *supposed* to be.

  6. Avatar
    Ophiuchus  June 26, 2015

    Do you suppose there is any Zoroastrian dualist influence in the War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness?

  7. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  March 10, 2016

    So there are Dead Sea Scrolls written in Aramaic? What books are they from? I thought you said that the Aramaic speaking people were generally poor and illiterate, and that’s why we don’t have any New Testament writings in Aramaic.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 11, 2016

      Yes. Most Aramaic-speaking people were poor and illiterate. Just as were most Greek-speaking people and Latin-speaking people. But not *all* of them!

  8. TWood
    TWood  May 3, 2016

    I know the Teacher of Righteousness (TOR) is sometimes claimed to be Jesus or John… or even James (against Paul)… I even read someone claimed there were multiple TORs who were called by this name… but what’s your take? Based on my limited study, it appears the anonymous TOR preceded any of these New Testament figures… Is the strongest reason we know the TOR wasn’t Jesus due to his being too early? or due to the fact that his ascetic teaching is in stark contrast to Jesus’ teaching? If it’s the latter only, then John seems to fit the description of the TOR, but if John is too late, then perhaps he was at least influenced by the TOR (or Essenes in general)?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 3, 2016

      Yes, the TEacher of Righteousness is quite clearly someone other than Jesus or his followers. For one thing, he died long before Jesus was born. You may want to read up on what scholars now say about it, for example in the books on the Dead Sea Scrolls by James Vanderkam.

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