Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls, Part 1

Melchizedek Scroll fragment
Melchizedek Scroll fragment

I’ve recently begun giving the Dead Sea Scrolls a closer examination, particularly in light of research I am doing on Jewish worship in the Second Temple Period. While researching this, I have read through a few different translations of the Melchizedek Scroll (11Q13), which is known by various titles.

There are several things that link this particular text to the New Testament, in that is paints Melchizedek in much the same light as the author of the Epistle of Hebrews. From this text I believe we can better understand and appreciate the Melchizedek imagery of the book of Hebrews. I believe the correlation in the Melchizedek Scroll also gives us solid evidence that the author of Hebrews’ interpretation of the Messiah’s role as a Divine High Priest was not limited to Christian interpretation or a late Christian-influenced theological development (I hope to share more on this later).

What I would like to share now is the scroll’s view of Melchizedek functioning as one who, in the year of Jubilee, proclaims not only a release from captivity, but from sin as well. Commenting on Deuteronomy 15:2 (which details the release of debts during the year of Jubilee), the Melchizedek Scroll states:

“[the interpretation] is that it applies [to the L]ast Days and concerns the captives, just as [Isaiah said: “To proclaim the jubilee to the captives” (Isa. 61:1) . . . . just] as [ . . . ] and from the inheritance of Melchizedek, f[or . . .  Melchize]dek, who will return them to what is rightfully theirs. He will proclaim to them the jubilee, thereby releasing th[em from the debt of a]ll their sins.” (emphasis mine)

Wise, M. O., Abegg, J. M. G., & Cook, E. M. (1996). The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation. HarperOne, p.456.

In Luke 4:16-21 we find Jesus saying almost the exact same thing:

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (ESV, emphasis mine)

In the Melchizedek Scroll, the author has done exactly what Jesus does when he reads the text of Isaiah in the Nazareth synagogue. He links the text in Deuteronomy concerning the jubilee year and the release of debts to the passage in Isaiah where the speaker is “anointed” (Hebrew: mashach / מַשָׁח) in order to “proclaim liberty to the captives.” Many times Jesus couples his miracles of healing with the forgiveness of sin. In both the Melchizedek Scroll and in the thoughts of Jesus, bringing liberty to captives involved not only a physical release (and with Jesus, it began many times with healing and exorcism), but a spiritual release from the bondage of sin.

In the Melchizedek Scroll, however, it is not merely the Messiah who accomplishes this, but Melchizedek himself. We shall look at the scroll’s understanding of this Melchizedek figure more in subsequent articles.

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