SHAFAQNA – Jewish history led up to Christianity to the extent that Judaism and Christianity shared a blurred boundary in history. Jesus was a Jew and historians find it difficult to classify many early texts as either Jewish or Christian. This confusion is increasingly apparent in Greek-influenced Jewish texts, or, are they Jewish-influenced texts of Roman Mystery religions? Whatever they were, we know one thing: Christianity did not suddenly arrive as a bolt from the blue, but formed part of a progression in history that led from pure paganism, through to the more ‘modern’ Christianity of the 4th century, without any sudden spurt of change or innovation.
Stephen Hodge studied the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were written variously between 170BCE and 68BCE, and he usefully lists many of the similarities found in the Dead Sea Scrolls to the teachings and organisation of the Jewish Christianity which was to arise from the same period in time. He concludes that these Jewish documents make the teachings and appearance of Jewish Christianity less revolutionary.
“… the collection is really an invaluable cross-section of religious material that reveals for the first time just how rich and varied Jewish spiritual life was at that time. The scrolls offer an intellectual and devotional landscape into which Jesus and his movement can be placed. No longer does Jewish Christianity seem an inexplicable, isolated occurrence. […]
In other words, the true value of the Dead Sea Scrolls is that they help provide a genuine context for what was to become Christianity. For example, they tell us just how widespread was the expectation and longing for a saving Messiah among Jews at that time, and that there were a number of competing theories about the expected role of this Messiah in the world ofJudaism. The scrolls also reveal that the expectation found in the Gospels that the end of the world was imminent was a dominant belief in many quarters in Judaea.”
“All biblical scholars agree that, apart from their intrinsic value, the sectarian scrolls are of tremendous importance as background information to the social and religious conditions in Judaea that led to the rise of Christianity. [… There are] subtle implications that can be derived from the Qumran texts, for they not only provide interesting parallels to Christian concepts and practice but tend to reduce the uniqueness of the Yeshua movement. It is reasonable to assume that there was perhaps not that much direct contact between most members of each community, but that there was a pool of religious language and beliefs shared by many other Jewish groups which have long since disappeared.”
Hodge lists many of the similar practices of the Dead Sea Scroll community and notes which ones were the same as those teachings accepted by the New Testament writers14. The list includes:
- Common ownership of property.
- Exorcism: ‘Allusions to this practice of exorcism are found in some of the writings from Qumran, such as theGenesis Apocryphon where it says, ‘so I prayed for him … and I laid my hands on his head; and the scourge departed from him and the evil spirit was expelled from him’ (XX22.29)’.
- Teachings on divorce and treatment of enemies: ‘The scrolls have also been useful in providing valuable background information for ideas hitherto found only in the Gospels. For many years scholars had been baffled by the ban that Yeshua imposed upon divorce and remarriage, for this ruling had not been found in any other Jewish sources. but when works like the Temple Scroll and the Damascus Document came to light, it was soon noticed that members of the Community were similarly forbidden to divorce’
- The ritual meal
- The Beatitudes: ‘Even teachings of Yeshua previously thought to be unique, such as the Beatitudes which he enumerates in the course of the Sermon on the Mount, find a parallel among the writings of the Qumran Community.’ One such work is called The Beatitudes (4QBeat) where a number of virtues are mentioned in a very similar spirit to how they are in the New Testament. A series of beatitudes are listed which start ‘Blessed be they who…’
- Eschatological dualism – a great fight between good and evil during end times
- Literary style and terminology: ‘Writers in the Community used the unique pesher method of interpreting older scriptural texts in terms of contemporary events. When doing so, however, they expressed their interpretations in a heavily coded manner