The Dilemma for Christian Orthodoxy
some extent, of course, this irregularity may indeed stem simply
from venal motives - from academic jealousy and rivalry, and from
the protection of vested interests. Reputations do, after all, stand
to be made or broken, and there is no higher currency in the
academic world than reputation. The stakes, therefore, at least for
those 'on the inside', are high.
Nag Hammadi Scrolls are a case in
point. Certainly, they afforded ample opportunity for venal motives
to come into play. Such motives, to one or another degree, may
indeed have done so. But the Church had no opportunity to establish
control over the texts found at Nag Hammadi. And, venal motives
notwithstanding, the entire corpus of Nag Hammadi material found its
way quickly into print and the public domain.
One is compelled to ask (as, indeed, many informed 'outsiders' have) whether some other vested interest may be at stake, a vested interest larger than the reputations of individual scholars - the vested interest of Christianity as a whole, for example, and of Christian doctrine, at least as propounded by the Church and its traditions.
Ever since the Dead Sea Scrolls were first discovered, one single, all-pervasive question has haunted the imagination, generating excitement, anxiety and, perhaps, dread.
Certainly official interpretation ensured that they did not. There is, of course, nothing to suggest any deliberate or systematic falsification of evidence on the part of the international team. But for Father de Vaux, his most intensely personal convictions were deeply engaged and were bound to have exerted some influence.
The key factor in determining the significance of the scrolls, and their relation, or lack of it, to Christianity, consisted, of course, in their dating. Were they pre- or post-Christian? How closely did they coincide with Jesus' activities, around AD 30? With the travels and letters of Paul, roughly between AD 40 and 65? With the composition of the Gospels, between AD 70 and 95?
Whatever the date ascribed to them, they might be a source of possible embarrassment to Christendom, but the degree of embarrassment would be variable. If, for example, the scrolls could be dated from well before the Christian era, they might threaten to compromise Jesus' originality and uniqueness - might show some of his words and concepts to have been not wholly his own, but to have derived from a current of thought, teaching and tradition already established and 'in the air'.
If the scrolls dated from Jesus' lifetime, however, or from shortly thereafter, they might prove more embarrassing still. They might be used to argue that the 'Teacher of Righteousness' who figures in them was Jesus himself, and that Jesus was not therefore perceived as divine by his contemporaries. Moreover, the scrolls contained or implied certain premises inimical to subsequent images of 'early Christianity'.
There were, for example, statements of a
militant messianic nationalism associated previously only with the
Zealots - when Jesus was supposed to be non-political, rendering
unto Caesar what was Caesar's. It might even emerge that Jesus had
never dreamed of founding a new religion or of contravening Judaic
So far as possible, for example,
the scrolls and their authors had to be kept as dissociated as
possible from 'early Christianity' - as depicted in the New
Testament - and from the mainstream of 1st-century Judaism, whence
'early Christianity' sprang. It was in adherence to such tenets that
the orthodoxy of interpretation established itself and a scholarly
There are, however, numerous points at which the Qumran texts, and
the community from which they issued, paralleled early Christian
texts and the so-called 'early Church'. A number of such parallels
are immediately apparent.
Secondly, in the Acts of the Apostles, the members of the 'early Church' are said to hold all things in common:
The very first statute of the 'Community Rule' for Qumran states that,
According to another statute,
And another declares of the new adherent that,
Acts 5:1-11 recounts the story of one Ananias and his wife, who hold
back some of the assets they are supposed to have donated to the
'early Church' in Jerusalem. Both are struck dead by a vindictive
divine power. In Qumran, the penalty for such a transgression was
rather less severe, consisting, according to the 'Community Rule',
of six months' penance.
In the Qumran texts, the figure is known as the 'Teacher of
Righteousness'. At times, in their portrayal of the 'Teacher of
Righteousness', the Qumran texts might almost seem to be referring
to Jesus; indeed, several scholars suggested as much. Granted, the
'Teacher of Righteousness' is not depicted as divine; but neither,
until some time after his death, was Jesus.
This assertion derives from Psalm 37:11:
The same psalm was of particular interest to the Qumran community. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, there is a commentary on its meaning:
The 'Congregation of the Poor' (or the 'meek') was one of the names by which the Qumran community referred to themselves. Nor is this the only such parallel:
Indeed, the whole of the Gospel of Matthew, and especially Chapters 10 and 18, contains metaphors and terminology at times almost interchangeable with those of the 'Community Rule'. In Matthew 5:48, for instance, Jesus stresses the concept of perfection:
The 'Community Rule' speaks of those 'who walk in the way of perfection as commanded by God'.9 There will be, the text affirms,
In Matthew 21:42, Jesus invokes Isaiah 28:16 and echoes Psalm 118:22:
'Community Rule' invokes the same reference, stating that 'the
Council of the Community... shall be that tried wall, that
According to the opening line of the 'Community Rule', however,
his letter to the Romans (15:25-7), uses the same terminology of the
'early Church': 'I must take a present of money to the saints in
Deliverance, he says in his
epistle to the Romans (3:21-3), 'comes through faith to everyone... who believes in Jesus Christ'. To the Galatians (2:16-17), he
declares that 'what makes a man righteous is not obedience to the
Law, but faith in Jesus Christ'. It is clear that Paul is familiar
with the metaphors, the figures of speech, the turns of phrase, the
rhetoric used by the Qumran community in their interpretation of Old
Testament texts. As we shall see, however, he presses this
familiarity to the service of a very different purpose.
The 'Community Rule' begins:
Later, the 'Community Rule' states that anyone who 'transgresses one word of the Law of Moses, on any point whatever, shall be expelled'15 and that the Law will endure 'for as long as the domain of Satan endures'.16 In his rigorous adherence to the Law, Jesus, strikingly enough, is much closer to the Qumran texts than he is to Paul.
In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:17-19), Jesus makes his position unequivocally clear - a position that Paul was subsequently to betray:
If Jesus' adherence to the Law concurs with that of the Qumran community, so, too, does his timing of the Last Supper. For centuries, biblical commentators have been confused by apparently conflicting accounts in the Gospels. In Matthew (26:17-19), the Last Supper is depicted as a Passover meal, and Jesus is crucified the next day.
In the Fourth Gospel (13:1 and 18:28), however, it is said
to occur before the Passover. Some scholars have sought to reconcile
the contradiction by acknowledging the Last Supper as indeed a
Passover feast, but a Passover feast conducted in accordance with a
different calendar. The Qumran community used precisely such a
calendar - a solar calendar, in contrast to the lunar calendar used
by the priesthood of the Temple.17 In each calendar, the Passover
fell on a different date; and Jesus, it is clear, was using the same
calendar as that of the Qumran community.
The 'Community Rule' states that,
And another Qumran text, the 'Messianic Rule', adds:
This text was sufficient to convince even Rome. According to Cardinal Jean Danielou, writing with a 'Nihil Obstat' from the Vatican:
One can only imagine the reaction of Father de Vaux and his team on first discovering the seemingly extraordinary parallels between the Qumran texts and what was known of 'early Christianity'. It had hitherto been believed that Jesus' teachings were unique - that he admittedly drew on Old Testament sources, but wove his references into a message, a gospel, a statement of 'good news' which had never been enunciated in the world before.
Now, however, echoes of that
message, and perhaps even of Jesus' drama itself, had come to light
among a collection of ancient parchments preserved in the Judaean
One would undoubtedly, and with something of a frisson, have felt closer to Jesus himself. The sketchy details of Jesus' drama and milieu would have broken free from the print to which they had been confined for twenty centuries - would have assumed density, texture, solidity. The Dead Sea Scrolls were not like a modern book expounding a controversial thesis; they would comprise first-hand evidence, buttressed by the sturdy struts of 20th-century science and scholarship. Even for a non-believer, however, some question of moral responsibility would have arisen.
Whatever his own skepticism, could he, casually and at a single stroke, undermine the faith to which millions clung for solace and consolation?
For de Vaux and his colleagues, working as representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, it must have seemed as though they were handling the spiritual and religious equivalent of dynamite - something that might just conceivably demolish the entire edifice of Christian teaching and belief.