In my previous post I talked about the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls for understanding Jesus and the milieu out of which earliest Christianity grew.  My basic point is that if Jesus was a Jew, then to understand him, you have to understand Jews in his world.  And the Dead Sea Scrolls provide us valuable information to that end.

I am not saying that the Dead Sea Scrolls are representative of what all or even most Jews thought at the time.  They clearly are not.  If the “Essene hypothesis” is right (that is, that the Scrolls were produced by members of a Jewish sect known as the Essenes) – and it is the view held by the vast majority of the experts (I am *not* an expert on the Scrolls) – then the Scrolls were produced by a Jewish sect that had very distinctive views of its own that were not, in many respects, shared by outsiders.  In particular, this was a group of Jews who insisted that the coming apocalyptic judgment, soon to arrive, would bring destruction not only to the hated Romans and the “obvious” enemies of God, but to many Jews as well, including the priests who were in charge of the Temple cult in Jerusalem.

This was not an unprecedented claim, but it was not a wildly popular one either (especially among the priests in charge!).  In terms of not being unprecedented: even a canonical prophet like Jeremiah could rail against the Temple and the sacrifices performed there, predicting that the Temple would be destroyed by God (e.g. Jeremiah 7).  So there was nothing “un-Jewish” about castigating the Temple.  But it was not widely done, because the Temple was the very center of religious life for most Jews.  God himself had ordered its construction and ordained the sacrifices that were to take place there.  And the Hebrew Scriptures see the Temple as the very center and focus of Jewish worship – not an incidental feature in the Jewish religion, but its heart and soul.  Opposing it was serious business.  And not just for religious reasons.  The Temple was also the center of social, political, and economic life in Jerusalem, the capital city of Judea.  Opposing it meant opposing almost everything the Jewish government and people embraced.

In order to express their opposition to the Temple and Jerusalem, the Essenes at Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, removed …

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