By Donald P. Ames
Someone once said, “Don’t believe everything you hear, and only half of what you see.” The wisdom of that statement was certainly evident if you just casually glanced at the UPI release from Berkeley, California entitled “Dead Sea Scroll God’s Word: Expert” (as reported in the Chicago Sun Times, Feb. 20, 1979).
The “expert” was Prof. Jacob Milgrom, who helped Yigael Yadin (the Israeli scholar) unroll, restore and decipher a new 28 foot (19 page) scroll from the Dead Sea area. The scroll (called the Temple Scroll because so much of it deals with the reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem), is the last of 8 scrolls found in a cave near the Dead Sea by a Bedouin youth in 1947, and although it has not yet been translated into English, “In my opinion, it is probably the most important scroll,” says Prof. Milgrom. This particular scroll was not made public when the others were, apparently because the Arab dealer who was involved in the purchase of the earlier documents saw it had value and hid it in a shoe box under the floor of his shop, but was uncovered during the Arab war of 1967 after the Jews had captured the territory.
Prof. Milgrom goes on to say that the Temple Scroll “throws new light on the origins of many Christians doctrines,” and that it discloses remarkable new evidence about the origin of Christian teachings on sex, marriage and divorce. He says, “We see for the first time that the views of marriage and divorce, which were expressed in certain tendencies within the Gospels of the New Testament, can be traced to teachings of this sect, which antedates the time of Jesus by at least a century and a half.”
But is this actual proof from an expert, or merely the prejudicial conclusions of an unbeliever who rejects Christ and the N.T. in the first place? The article affirms, “Most Biblical scholars believe Qumran was part of the Essene faction in Judaism, and much study of the earlier scrolls has been devoted to linking this faction with the first Christians” (emp. mine – DPA). Thus, they are not too objective in their research, but first formed a hypothesis or conclusion and then tried to form the facts to fit that conclusion. Milgrom “believes the eighth scroll supports this connection.” Again we ask, “Because of the evidence or merely because he wants to believe it?” We shall see.
The Qumran community was occupied from the middle of the second century B.C. until the time of the Roman invasion in 67-70 A.D. by the Essenes – a “fringe sect within Judaism,” which felt society was so polluted with evil they would have nothing more to do with it and so withdrew themselves. This attitude is quite a contrast with the teachings and actions of Jesus, who was accused of being a “friend of tax-gatherers and sinners” (Matt. 11:19 NASB). Or contrast it with Paul’s teaching on withdrawing from Christians living in adultery, when he said, “I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters; for then you would have to go out of the world” (1 Cor. 5:10). Yet this is precisely what the Essenes – that “fringe sect within Judaism” – sought to do. (The label of a “fringe sect within Judaism” is by implication also tacked on to Christianity by Prof. Milgrom in such reasoning.)
But what links does Prof. Milgrom feel prove Christianity originated with this “fringe sect”? He provides three: (1) “There is this strong bond between Christianity and Qumran . . . similar teachings.” Of course-this proves nothing, as the Essene sect broke away from Judaism, hence it would naturally carry many similar teachings from Judaism with it. Since the Jews were God’s people in the O.T., and recipients of His revelations, His teachings were valid then, and so recognized by Christ, the apostles, and even the Essenes. Even Prof. Milgrom is forced to admit on this point, “That could be incidental or coincidental or come through a third source.” Hence, it is pure supposition, and proves absolutely nothing about the origin of Christianity.
The second reason offered is, “We also know through the New Testament that Jesus’ teacher was John the Baptist, who lived in the shadow of Qumran.” We also know from this that Prof. Milgrom has very little knowledge of the N.T.! There is nothing at all in the N.T. that even hints that John the Baptist was the teacher of Jesus. In fact, Jesus has His disciples, and John had his (John 4:1); and John even sent to Him for instruction John 7:18-23). John further disavows any advance knowledge of the person he was preparing the way for (John 1:29-34); hence it is extremely unlikely he was teaching Jesus for this mission. As for the fact John “lived in the shadow of Qumran,” so what? So did every other Jew that lived in the Dead Sea area! The professor assumes therefore John was a member of the Qumran community, assumes John taught Jesus this sect’s doctrines, and concludes this proves Jesus was a member of the Qumran community. No such connection exists, and I deny all of it.
The last reason offered is “The Gospels tell us that Jesus spent three years in the wilderness. Where else but with like-minded people in Qumran?” Again, he assumes the point to be proven (Jesus was at Qumran), and then forces his pre-conceived conclusion on his listeners. Some proof! But his lack of Bible knowledge is again evident. The Bible nowhere affirms that Jesus spent 3 years in the wilderness. It does say He spent 40 days in the wilderness. being tempted by Satan (Matt. 4). It does say John the Baptist was preaching in the wilderness (Matt. 3:1). It does say Paul was 3 years before returning to Jerusalem (Gal. 1:18). But it does not affirm Jesus spent 3 years in the wilderness, nor that He had anything to do with the Qumran community. Prof. Milgrom has built his whole case on false and flimsy assumptions, and then leaped over the facts to a false conclusion.
Interestingly enough, some of the “new truths” revealed about this “fringe sect” were that the scroll claimed to have God speaking directly, which Prof. Milgrom is quick to assert means, “This puts the scroll in a special category. You are dealing with revelation. His authorized word.” I wonder why he cannot be as ready to accept what God’s word does say in the N.T.? False gospels existed before and after the time of Christ (including such recent claims as Mormonism as well). Why are we to conclude this one is different and genuine? Some of the “great revelations” made known by this scroll are that it supports celibacy by banning sex anywhere in Jerusalem, and anyone who lived within the shadow of the temple must live a single life permanently. It forbid divorce or polygamy at all during the life of either partner. It laid our plans for rebuilding the temple at Jerusalem “when the sect was restored to power after an expected catastrophic war” and it “gives totally new laws as well as interpretations to old laws.” Furthermore, it “also banned toilets throughout Jerusalem and even prohibits defecation on the Sabbath – anywhere.” Now, does that sound like God’s revelation? Hardly! It neither harmonizes with nor supports what God has revealed in either the O.T. nor the N.T.
The article concluded, “Milgrom said questions about the meaning of the Temple Scroll will occupy biblical scholars for decades.” This is no doubt true – especially with the fanciful reasoning he is seeking to employ. But the cap of it all came in the very last statement: “He said attempts to link Jesus with the community at Qumran present `a paradoxical problem because although the similarities between early Christian teachings and the sect are now more obvious, so are the differences”‘ (Emp. mine – DPA). Yes, paradoxical is right. It is pretty hard to cling to a pet theory one has formulated before gathering the facts when the facts revealed keep knocking it back down. This is precisely what Prof. Milgrom is learning. His link between Christ and the Qumran community has been shattered – it does not exist, it never existed, and new evidence is demolishing the theory completely. Be not deceived.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 35, pp. 566-567
September 6, 1979