One Too Many Jerusalems

07/04/2013

Jerusalem is Jerusalem, right, and a rose by any other name is still a rose.  The point is that Qumran seems to have been referred to as Jerusalem in the Dead Sea Scrolls.  That seemingly minor understanding casts parts of the New Testament in a totally different light.

Historical backdrop

The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in caves overlooking the ruins at Qumran.    Qumran was established by a small sect of Jews who believed in a throw-back brand of Judaism based on strict adherence to the Torah (Jewish Law).  They were sometimes referred to as Essenes but it is more accurate to call them Nazarenes, as in Jesus of Nazareth.  They also believed in the overthrow of their overlords, the Romans.  In that respect, they were sometimes called zealots.  One of their scrolls has been called the New Jerusalem Scroll because it lays out the building of a city which would be a holy city just like Jerusalem, except on a much smaller scale.  After all, as Jews, Jerusalem was their holy city, except that they were virtual exiles in their own land.

Anomalies in the Bible

One of the strange anomalies in the Bible is that the original Greek writing of the New Testament uses both a singular and a plural form of the word Jerusalem.  For example, in  Acts, Paul was said to have gone from Jerusalem to Jerusalem (with one Jerusalem being a plural term in Greek and the other being a singular term).  This is certainly strange unless the use of a plural term signifies a different location.  In the Book of Revelation, it says that Jesus was crucified in a city that was “figuratively called Sodom and Egypt.”  Historians will tell you that Jerusalem was never referred to as such, but Qumran is altogether a different matter.  For one thing it is near Sodom and for another it was sometimes referred to as Egypt (see below).

Jerusalem in Qumran

Exactly why should it matter if Qumran was referred to as Jerusalem?  Well, for starters, it would change one’s perspective on the stories of the New Testament.  Jesus would have been crucified by his own people, the Nazarenes, as opposed to being crucified by the religious leaders of the day (who would have resided in the real Jerusalem).  The cave that Jesus’ body would have been put it in would have been in Qumran, which is perhaps why archaeologists have never been able to locate the crucifixion site (they’ve been looking in the wrong place, near Jerusalem).  The manger, of Bethlehem, would have been also in Qumran, as the names of other biblical sites were given to spots in and around Qumran.  The same for the Road to Damascus where Paul had his vision.  That would make Paul a Nazarene and might cast Paul’s post-resurrection vision of Jesus in an altogether different light.

Qumran and Christianity

Many historians have taken the position that the small group of Jews who lived at Qumran eventually morphed in Christianity.   Their church, which was referred to as the Jerusalem Church, was headed by James, the brother of Jesus.  In addition, Paul who would be largely responsible for spreading the Word of God throughout the Roman Empire, was an emissary/apostle for the Jerusalem Church (see Paul’s letters).  It was Paul, along with Peter, who established the branch of the Jerusalem Church in Antioch and it was in Antioch, with respect to its followers, that the term Christian would first be applied.

Epilogue

If nothing else, one has to ask themselves why such important writings (the Dead Sea Scrolls) of the people in Qumran  were repressed and/or forgotten about.  Why would the early Christian church downplay its Jewish origins?  After all, Jesus was Jewish.  All of his disciples were Jewish.  The Old Testament is basically the Hebrew Bible and the first five books of the Old Testament make up the Torah (Jewish Law).  The answer lies in the Christian concept of salvation through Jesus.  Jesus, as the Jewish messiah which many Jews were expecting in his day, could only have been human, a man.  A divine messiah would have been unthinkable to them.    The messiah prophesied in the Old Testament was supposed to have inaugurated in a kingdom of peace and the messiah, himself, would have to have been a priest, prophet and king, not a god.  However to pagans living in the Roman Empire, the idea of a divine messiah would fit nicely with the mythology of previous pagan gods (like Mithras, for example).  Albert Schweitzer, a world-famous Christian theologian and author of the seminal work “The Quest of the Historical Jesus”, believed in a Jesus who was the ultimate revealer of the Kingdom of God.  However, Schweitzer also believed that the Church conferred divinity on Jesus because of the nonfulfillment of his imminent return. As a result, the changing of Jesus from a Jewish messiah into a universal savior of all men became the defining moment when a radical form of Judaism was transformed into Christianity.

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