Google / IAA Launch Digital Dead Sea Scrolls Online

Isaiah Scroll on Google's Digital Dead Sea Scrolls

Today, Google and the Israeli Antiquities Authority / Israel Museum officially launched the Digital Dead Sea Scrolls site. This is a watershed in DSS studies. By making these hi-res (If you’re thinking like 20-50 megapixels, think again. Try a whopping 1200 megapixels. Whoa…!) multi-spectrum images freely available to the public online for the first time ever.

With the launch of this site I believe that DSS studies will take off like a parabola curve. This site is making available to both scholars and laymen alike what has previously never been accessible to more then a select few specialists. It’s been over 60 years since their discovery and they are finally making their way to the public arena. I’m sure Hershel Shanks is dancing a jig right about now.

Right now they are offering 5 of the most important (and complete) scrolls, but I’m sure more will follow. Currently available is: The Great Isaiah Scroll, the War Scroll, The Temple Scroll, The Commentary on Habakkuk Scroll and the Community Rule Scroll. They even have English translations of the text as you scroll over the different sections. You can zoom in incredibly close and see the fine details of the text and the scroll. It is quite impressive. Be sure to check it out!

Lead Codices Followup

photo of lead codices

Today, I came across a followup on Yahoo! News regarding the 70 credit card sized lead codices which were found in Jordan and thought to be of Christian origin. Many are quick to call this discovery equivalent (or even superior) to the Dead Sea Scrolls. While the jury is still out on just how important (and more importantly how authentic) these codices are to the archaeological and religious world, they are garnering an extremely high interest.

I happened to look at my Google Analytics report for today, and my site visits looked like  a parabola. As of 5:00pm today my blog had received over ten (10) times my normal visits, 90% of which hit my site because they were looking for information on the lead codices. My highest entry page was my post on the lead codices, which raised the question as to whether they were Kabbalistic in origin as some have reported, or Christian as most seem to be favoring.

early christian codices2

Anyway, back to the followup. According to this article, the codices seem to find an affinity with first century Christianity. It states,

Philip Davies, emeritus professor of Old Testament Studies at Sheffield University, told Pigott he was “dumbstruck” at the sight of plates representing a picture map of ancient Jerusalem. “There is a cross in the foreground, and behind it is what has to be the tomb [of Jesus], a small building with an opening, and behind that the walls of the city,” Davies explained. “There are walls depicted on other pages of these books, too, and they almost certainly refer to Jerusalem.

Quite a description. But is it too good to be true? Only time will tell. I would love to hear your thoughts…

Further Reading

Yahoo! News

Newly Found Lead Codices – Christian or Kabbalistic?

Lead Codices

In Israel, a new archaeological “discovery” of sorts is buzzing and making bold claims that they may be the next “Dead Sea Scrolls.” They include a collection of scrolls as well as 70 lead codices (ancient scripts bound in book form, rather than as scrolls). However, we have conflicting reports on the nature of these “newly found” artifacts. They are owned by “Hassan Saeda, a Bedouin farmer in Galilee who says they have been in his family’s possession since his great-grandfather found them in a cave in Jordan, a century ago.” Although there is still a lot of skepticism surrounding these artifacts, there are some strong voices that are willing to attest to their authenticity, wanting to avoid another possible Shapiro Affair.

Christian or Kabbalistic?

Right now we seem to either have two camps on the theory of origins and contents of these manuscripts. However, this may be a result of the various text which may be present among the collection. According to one source, these manuscripts “could hold a contemporary account of the last years of Jesus.” According to another source, they appear to be Kabbalistic with references to Bar Kochba and Shimon bar Yochai, and “the nature of the content indicates a magical incantation style of writing.” Both reports confirm that the manuscripts are not just comprised of Hebrew or Greek text, but images and symbols which are in need of deciphering. Some of these codices are also said to be sealed and have created speculation that they may possibly be “secret writings referred to in the apocryphal Book of Ezra.”

How can these theories be so divergent? Just look at the early theories surrounding the Dead Sea Scrolls, and all of the controversy and imagination that has lead to cloak & dagger speculation in the last half a century, including John Allegro’s laughable “The Sacred Mushroom and The Cross.” When indecipherable manuscripts come to light, it seems sensational imagination rules the roost.

One legitimate reason for the diverse interpretation may simply be there are multiple types of documents contained within the cache, not dissimilar to the Oxyrhynchus Papyri. The different scholars are merely examining two different texts, which contain seemingly polar information. The quick evidence I see for this is the one article’s description of the codices, compared to the photo made available in the other article (the photo I have included at the top of this article). In the first article, the codices are described as being “tiny credit-card-sized volumes.” However, in the photo you can see that this particular codex is much larger than this.

Conclusion

Either way, we will have to wait and see what turns up by way of translation and authentication. Either way, it will be an exciting journey. Hopefully, the reports will be out sooner than later, and the texts of these discoveries will find their way to the public much sooner than the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Cairo Geniza Fragments or the Oxyrhyncus Papyri.

Update: Further Reading

I have just been made aware of these other (and more extensive) articles on this discovery:

Also, here is another (better) image of a codex:

lead codex 1
Lead codex with cryptic text and images visible

Follow Up

I have posted my first follow up here.

Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls, Part 2

In my previous post on the same topic, I related how the Melchizedek Scroll (11Q13) interpreted the passage of Isaiah 61 and it’s proclaiming “liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” in the same manner that Jesus understood it when he proclaimed this passage’s fulfillment in Luke 4. Both the author of the Melchizedek Scroll and Jesus understand these actions to relate to releasing the children of Israel from their sin.

In this post, I would like to continue with another DSS fragment also related to the same passage of Isaiah. It is fragment 4Q521. It is know by a few titles, but I think Geza Vermes’s “A Messianic Apocalypse” is apt enough for our purposes. A correlation between this fragment and Luke 7 has already been made by Martin Abegg, Jr. (Wise, M. O., Abegg, J. M. G., & Cook, E. M. (1996). The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation. HarperOne, p.420.). I would merely like to introduce my readers to this, and expound upon it briefly.

In this passage we find a glimpse into the author’s envisioning of the Messianic redemption of the future where the Messiah will rule, and the reign of God will be over all the earth. The author describes this time as follows:

. . . [the hea]vens and the earth will listen to His Messiah, and none therein will stray from the commandments of the holy ones.

Vermas, Geza (1998). The Dead Sea Scrolls in English. Penguin Books, p. 391.

A brief observation is in order here. During this time, not only will the earth “listen to His [the LORD’s] Messiah, but the heavens as well. The reign of the Messiah during Messianic era is typically limited in scope to either a heavenly realm (as in much of Christian thought), or an earthly realm (as in much of Jewish thought). Here the author proclaims that both the spiritual and physical realms bend their will to the Messiah as they come under his leadership.

A second observation is that the subjects of the Kingdom will obviously have entered into the New Covenant spoken of by the prophet Jeremiah in which God “will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33, ESV). The problem of a unruly heart will have been cured, and we will submit ourselves to His lordship without any deficiency. However, in this text, the commandments of the Torah are said to come from “the holy ones,” rather than purely from God himself. I find this interesting, because it seems to attest to a tradition in the Apostolic Scriptures in which the New Testament authors declare that the Torah was administered by angels. This is too much information to insert here, so I will save this for a subsequent article.

Continuing on with our text, a few lines down we read:

For He will heal the wounded, and revive the dead and bring good news to the poor (Isa. lxi, I).

Ibid., p. 392.

The author links these events (healing the sick, reviving the dead, and bringing good news to the poor) to the time of the Messiah (whether through the Messiah or God himself is unclear), just as we have seen by Jesus. Yet there is something deeper in this text. Let’s take a look at another instance in which Jesus uses the text of Isaiah in a similar manner.

In Luke 7, Jesus is questioned by the disciples of John the Immerser as to whether he is “the one who is to come” or if they should “look for another.” Here is the full context:

And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?'” In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Luke 7:18b-23, ESV).

Again, we see Jesus using this same passage of Isaiah 61 as a prooftext of his Messianic appointment. He speaks to John’s disciples in what Daniel Lancaster terms as a “cryptic answer” (see FFOZ’s Torah Club Volume 4: Chronicles of the Messiah, 2010, Parashat Mishpatim, p. 458.). Rather than coming out and answering the question in direct terms, Jesus, the master of remez, couches his answer in scriptural allusions in order to allow the hearer to make several conclusions at once. But his answer brings us back yet again to Isaiah 61.

Let’s return to the line from the Messianic Apocalypse. The text states that during the time of Messiah, “He will heal the wounded, and revive the dead and bring good news to the poor.” The incredible thing about this is how the author associates the resurrection of the dead with the events of Isaiah 61. Although this concept is never explicitly found in the Hebrew Scriptures, the author of 4Q521 associates the resurrection of the dead with the arrival of the Messiah. This is a rare glimpse into Messianic Jewish expectation of the Second Temple period which offers us a perspective we rarely see in today’s Judaism and its scriptural interpretation, which has been shaped over the last two millennia in reaction to Christian exegesis.

One can only assume that both Jesus and the author of 4Q521 view death as a time of captivity awaiting the final redemption, and interpret Isaiah’s use of “the opening of the prison to those who are bound” as glimpse into the time of this time in which all things will be restored, including life. In the presence of Messiah, not even death can hold his captive securely.

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.