(This is the 2nd Part of the series of Q&A''s I did for a popular internet Forum, conducted by Dennis Walker, whose penetrating questions are underlined in italics – Part 3 to follow):
Those books were produced well before all the Scrolls were publicly available. Did you feel at the time that "Consensus Scholars” generally wanted to keep these texts not only hidden from view in many cases, but also wanted the public to see them as only distantly related to the New Testament texts?
Well, not exactly. As you correctly surmise, it was these ideas and these books that led me to campaign for the release of all the Scrolls – and this in unexpurgated editions without the usual commentary. Why? Because the public then came to see such commentaries being ‘officially sanctioned’, or so it thought, as the last word.
The idea that such “Consensus Scholars" or members of the “International Team”, as it came to be called, purposefully wanted to keep such documents hidden – and I think I originally coined the term “Consensus Scholars” – was not really mine, but more people like Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh in their Dead Sea Scrolls Deception (1992). Of course, psychologically or, shall we say, spiritually these "Consensus Scholars" were intent on distancing these documents as far as possible from ‘Christian’ origins in Palestine, but I’m not even sure this was as purposeful as either you imply or many think.
For my part, I did not really think they themselves understood that there actually was a relationship to “New Testament texts,” as you put it, or “Christianity,” as it were – whatever this was in Palestine/Judea in this Period. I never gave them this credit. So convinced were they of the correctness of their view of "the external data" – particularly a pseudo-science such as paleography with quite large error parameters or margins-of-error as signaled above – they just never really saw any close connection with things like the New Testament, so how could they be frightened?
Moreover, if you took the New Testament to mean solely what we now call the Gospels, their attitude was quite understandable and – for the most part – largely correct as there was very little relationship. This was like comparing fiction to reality or, if one prefers, apples to oranges. Few people bothered looking closely at the vocabulary of the Pauline corpus because they didn''t really consider it had a relationship to any extent to the Scrolls – that is, before we started pointing it out and focusing on it.
People like Harvard Professor Frank Moore Cross, the doyen of Dead Sea Scrolls Studies in America, really had no speciality in this area anyhow. His speciality was perhaps some ten centuries earlier – Canaanite literature, if you want to call it that – so how could he and International Team scholars like him, as well as those people following them more or less like lemmings, correctly perceive the relationship to materials like the Letter of James in the New Testament or the authenticated letters of Paul such as Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, 1 Thessalonians, Philippians, and such like? They could not.
Therefore, I never really blamed anyone for suppressing the Dead Sea Scrolls for ideological reasons and not just plain empire-building or turf wars – except perhaps someone like Father Milik. Where he was concerned, the perception and insight might have been a little bit deeper. Milik even suggested in the introduction to the work he finally published, Ten Years of Discovery in the Judean Wilderness, that the group in question – which of course he was referring to as “Essenes” – would be almost indistinguishable from early Christians (as he conceived of them), except they did not have a really developed notion of the Gospel or Pauline concept of “Jesus" or "the Supernatural Christ” (i.e., their "Christology" was weak).
How surprising! But, of course, this would be true because there was no developed conception of "Jesus" or “the Supernatural Christ” at this time in Palestine or even much later, as the concept was Greek as Paul and others announced it, in any case, in their travels in the Dispersion or overseas in and from the mid-50s CE onwards. So in Palestine there was something else, “the Messianic Movement” as I liked to call it, because the Scrolls were, if nothing else, certainly “Messianic” – and this was, for lack of a better term, that is, the original “Messianic Movement” if one preferred to call it this.
So, I never accused anyone of purposely suppressing the Dead Sea Scrolls for ideological reasons – still don’t (as I said, this was more Baigent and Leigh''s and their imitators'' approach and they got good mileage, financially speaking, out of it). For me, the situation was more subtle. What was clear from what "International Team" scholars were doing is that they were empire-building and building academic and scholarly monopolies that, not only controlled all publication and reviews of publications, but gave them full control interpretation-wise of the materials and even, moreover, who got hired and where; so what developed was a kind of academic curia.
It followed, therefore, that In order to be admitted to this “curia”, you had to adhere to certain views. But this is to a certain extent almost always true in graduate studies. You have to have the same or similar ideas of your “Dr. Vater” as they call him in German – the person who directed your research. Otherwise, you really could not be expected to advance and, if you didn’t, you might as well quit. This was not only a problem in Qumran Studies but elsewhere too then; but in Qumran Studies it became very serious. As I put it in my Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered (1992), “Control of the unpublished manuscripts meant control of the field”, and this problem extended for some thirty years from the early 50’s, when the Scrolls were first discovered – though the Israelis did at first allow everything they had bought to be published in The Shrine of the Book – to the mid-80’s; and this is what I and then others, who came to grips with this problem, started to agitate against.
I really didn''t expect to find any new or significant materials in the unpublished fragments or manuscripts. I just wanted to get away from the Establishment''s editio princeps official interpretations, as it were, which gave the public the artificial idea that such ‘official’ or ‘semi-official’ interpretations were, so-to-speak, frozen in stone. This was the kind of interpretation that we were trying both to undermine and open up by “letting a thousand voices sing” as I put it in my Introduction to James Robinson’s and my Facsimile Edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls. (1991). This is what happened when the Scrolls became in their unedited, unreconstructed, and un-interpreted form free for everyone to look at and free for everyone to interpret for themselves without outside control.
The picture of first century CE Judaea is that it was a pretty bleak time for most of the population. Is the gospel picture strike you as accurate?
This is a pretty good question. Of course, in order to properly study the Dead Sea Scrolls, you must read both the Maccabee Books and Josephus very closely; and, of course too, it is a very bleak, as you put it, though, obviously, there was a lot of interest and enthusiasm in the burgeoning “Messianic Movements,” as I have explained and which were emerging in opposition to and which hoped to ultimately replace both the Herodian and Roman Regimes.
This is also the picture somewhat in the New Testament or the Gospels but for the opposite reasons, because the Gospels – if you can refer to such a multitude of them in this manner – have been, unfortunately, completely pacified and Hellenized and the real historical picture only occasionally peeks through. Again unfortunately, this is the general public perception of the Period too – and one means by this, not just the religious public, but also even the secular one as well – because both have grown up on and are familiar with Gospel stories and are completely unaware of the rather distorted nature of their lens because for almost two Millennia so many before them have credited these pictures as historical or that of true history.
Even today, one sees how impossible it is for either the unschooled or unlettered – nay even the lettered – to distinguish literature from true history. This is a skill only a very small number of highly-sensitized and critically-minded aficionados are able to exercise, since to run against an entrenched spiritual and conceptual axis that has been operating for some sixteen-seventeen centuries now is very difficult for anyone with just a finite, comparatively minuscule time-of-existence on this earth. How are such persons to stand against almost all of history, yet this is what a proper understanding of the Dead Sea Scrolls allow – nay, demand – one to do.
So yes, one must expect the reading public to start with a reading knowledge of these early sources but one cannot expect this to be very prevalent in a large segment of the population. This would also include Islamic populations, Hindu populations, Buddhist populations, or almost any other world cultural elites who, because of the insistent way these materials from the Western World have circulated and penetrated their cultures (who in the world, for instance, has not heard of "Jesus"?), have come to accept them as authentic stories or authentic history as well. Therefore, the barriers against developing this kind of insight into any of these materials in any widespread or popular way are almost insurmountable.
To start with, as just noted, one must have an almost meticulous understanding of the works of someone like Josephus, but even his lens must be corrected, as we have many times previously suggested, for the pro-establishment, anti-agitator/’Messianic’/ ’Zealot’ (he even seems to have first coined the last designation) enthusiast whom he so despises because he blames them and their agitation for the deaths of number of his friends and his own discomfiture. So, like a space telescope whose lens has been distorted, even the images of an historian such as Josephus (to say nothing of the Gospels) must be corrected; and this is a skill which is almost impossible to expect in the general population. Even for persons, such as those in your discussion forum or in the early stages of their academic careers, this task can prove Herculean.
But having said this – yes, the Gospel picture, too, is completely ahistorical or, if one prefers, absolutely distorted and has, as I have said, nothing to do with ‘true history’ but rather period literature; and its lens must be corrected by using the Dead Sea Scrolls as well even as early Church testimony about people like and the person of James, including how James emerges by refraction in and through the lens of the Pauline corpus, to say nothing of the Book of Acts and other works such as those scholars call “the Pseudoclementines” (“Pseudo” because they are supposed to be false!).
Though I have been criticized for the length or what some have called "the density" of my books, without length of this type or density and the complete presentation of sources for the general reader, as remarked in Part 1, this task is virtually impossible for the general reader to undertake in any serious and/or convincing manner. Just as in the social sciences or reading a work by, say, Karl Marx, I hope lengthy and heavy-duty works of this kind can help give the reader the tools, he or she will need to penetrate this literary and historical labyrinth and move forward.
For a start, one must also correct the inaccurate picture of the First Century which, while bleak, was essentially one of utter turmoil ending with the destruction of the Temple and independent Jewish life in what the Romans started calling – using a term in Greek based on the Biblical term for “Philistines” – the Province of “Palestine”.
Once one has developed the insight and the tools to start to correct the retrospective historical presentations of outside and overseas documents – like a giant snowball rolling down a hill, feeding upon themselves as more and more people unfamiliar with the true situation in Palestine and hostile to Jewish revolutionary and “Messianic” ideals motivating it, took over the production and course of this literature – then one can begin to come to real grips with questions like the true meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the real Historical James, and finally what most people, of course, are most interested in and want to know, who was the Historical Jesus.
There are two things in particular that stand out for me in your more recent books that we don’t see elsewhere: the Helen and Izates conversions and certain Scroll texts like the Damascus Document as providing a surprising amount of material for the NT texts. If that''s accurate, did you always know you were headed in that direction or did this insight come gradually?
Again a good question. No, these were things that developed out of my research and lengthy exposition of these matters. Perhaps the key moment of insight came at the climax of my James the Brother of Jesus (1997-98) when I discovered the similarity of the conversion in Acts 8:26-49 of the Treasurer of “the Ethiopian Queen”, returning from Jerusalem on his way to Gaza (the gateway to Egypt), with the conversion of the two sons of “Queen Helen” in Josephus, set in the Kingdom of Adiabene in today''s Kurdistan and Northern Iraq and Syria and also as reflected in Talmudic literature, which knows the actual passage from the Bible – as opposed to what Ananias and his unnamed companion (Paul?) are teaching in Josephus in her household – that the ‘Zealot’ teacher “Eleazar” from Galilee is using to convert and convince them to circumcise themselves (Genesis 17:27 about Abraham circumcising all his household); and saw the similarity between the two “Queen”s , to say nothing of Acts'' "eunuch" allusion (the Roman view of “circumcision”) as well as both Helen''s and Paul''s Antioch Community''s famine-relief operations.
Not only did this give me a good insight into the working method of Acts’ authors, but it is why my attention began to shift to Queen Helen whom I came to see as very important in the support of many of these Movements – not the least of which being, as just signaled, her famine-relief efforts celebrated in both Josephus and the Talmud, when she sent her “Treasury agents” (possibly including Barnabas and Paul) down into Egypt to buy grain, which so parallels this story about "the Ethiopian Queen''s eunuch" in Acts!
There is so much more buried here, it is difficult to describe it all; but readers can find complete expositions of all of these things in my two books James the Brother of Jesus (1997-98) and The New Testament Code (2006). Nor should Queen Helen’s rich gifts to the Temple – again described both in Josephus and Talmudic literature – be forgotten, including the golden candelabra, given by her and her son to the Temple, which stood in its forecourt and is still pictured as the central icon in the booty displayed on Titus’ Victory Arch in Rome, not to mention the splendid monumental burial complex – known as “the Tomb of the Kings” – constructed for her and her descendants in Jerusalem by the second of her two convert sons, which still stands on the Ramallah/Nablus Road and rivals any other burial monuments we know from this Period in Jerusalem today.
Nor is this to mention, either, the role of her descendants, who triggered the final Uprising against Rome in 66 CE and martyred themselves on the Road to Beit Horon as a prelude to it, nor her seeming involvement with a Simon Magus-type character at some point in her career, nor her relation, for instance (in Talmudic literature as well), to “Nazirite oath" procedures, so important to Qumran as well. All these matters helped focus my attention on her and the conversion of her two sons to a different form of Judaism than that both Paul and one “Ananias” were pictured as preaching in “Damascus” or Northern Syria in both Acts and Josephus'' account.
Moreover, all the time I had spent meticulously analyzing almost every line of the so-called “Damascus Document” called my attention, too, to certain passages seeming to relate to a cadre of Gentile adherents and/or “God-Fearers” as supporters of the positions of and the Community at Qumran. For instance, the use of the term “Nilvim” or “Joiners” in the interpretation of Ezekiel 44:15 in the 4th Column of that Document and known in both the Christian and Jewish worlds to have something to do with converts (cf. Isaiah 56 and Esther 9:27) was particularly illustrative of this (this is what I have meant by a meticulous reading of the texts themselves, not people speaking about the texts!).
In addition, as one moved through CD, as it was called, one could see that there were expressions like “raising the fallen Tent of David…in a Land north of Damascus” that also began to point towards an area such as that of Edessa and the Edessenes (Helen’s supposed husband’s homeland and her favorite son Izates’ father), but also Adiabene itself – her supposed homeland and today’s Kurdistan.
Finally, one could see in the closing Columns of that Document that one was addressing this same cadre of Gentile “God-Fearers”, “for whom a Book of Remembrance would be written out” (cf. “Jesus”’ purported words at “the Last Supper”), as well as Jews. These were the things that began to focus my attention on Northern Syria and the matters that were transpiring there. Moreover, all these were set in a 1st century CE provenance and that is why a good deal of the attention of a book like my New Testament Code (2006) turned its focus on these areas and these issues
Of course, when one did concentrate on these issues, one began to realize that even the term “Damascus” or “Land of Damascus” itself was a kind of code, that is, “the New Covenant in the Land of Damascus” was another version of what Paul was calling “the Cup of the New Covenant in his (Christ’s) blood” – in Hebrew “Dam” and “Chos”, even though rendered in the Greek formulation, were the words for “Cup” and “Blood”. There was very little chance that such a conjunction of vocabulary could be purely accidental (to say nothing of the addition of a variation of the word “drink” in the Hebrew formulation “Dammashek”, i. e., “give blood to drink”). So the two “New Covenant”s had to be related in some way, both in kind and orthographical similarity.
There was clearly a play-on-words going on somewhere, either in the Pauline/Gospel formulations that were to my mind later variations or in the original Damascus Document allusion which was, in fact, the direct opposite of what one finds in the Pauline and New Testament configuration – that is, instead basically of the Book of Acts’ version of these things, we were now talking about a rededication to the Covenant of Moses or, as the Damascus Document puts it so eloquently in its presentation in Columns 5-6 of “The New Covenant in the Land of Damascus” (from which it receives its popular name – Qumran documents having no titles), “to raise up the Holy Things according to their precise specifications.”
Of course, in Acts and in the Pauline corpus generally and the retrospective Gospel portrait of “Jesus” – and I use the term “portrait” advisedly – Paul and others are learning not to “call any man or thing impure" or "profane” (Acts 10:10-16). In other words, we are not to "raise the Holy Things up according to their precise specifications", as in the Damascus Document, but the opposite; and that is the importance of Peter''s "tablecloth" vision on the rooftop in Jaffa in Acts 10:9-11, just before being invited to visit the house of the Roman Centurion Cornelius in Caesarea (“a Righteous and God-Fearing Man,” “doing many pious and charitable acts,” and "highly-regarded by the whole nation of the Jews” – Acts 10:2 and 10:22 – sic! Right, Cornelius, the Roman Centurion from Caesarea – known as the most brutal of all contingents of Roman troops in Palestine whom, Josephus claims, even Titus blamed for provoking the Jews to revolt – was "a God-Fearer" and "a Zaddik"! If this isn''t one of the most cynical reversals of history imaginable, I couldn''t think of a more despicable one – especially when one realizes these were basically the characterizations applied to James).
This is the Gospels’ new “Jesus” and this, of course, is the very opposite of what was going on in Palestine in the First Century and, in particular, the point-of-view of the Dead Sea Scrolls. So yes, these are the things that grew out of what some may call my “over-dense” writing and my need to express these things meticulously and in their totality, as well as in my lectures – almost all of which are now free and on you-tube – but more my writings. It was necessary to set these things forth in detail so the private enthusiast or aficionado would have everything at his or her fingertips.
So, again, yes – my attention became more and more focused on these aspects of the Damascus Document and its parallels or, shall we say their non-parallels or reversals, and connecting these things to the “Jamesian Community” (i. e., “the Jerusalem Community of James the Just”/”the Zaddik”) particularly in Northern Syria – as well as the later retrospective New Testament portraiture of these matters or their outright Pauline reversal. I think your audience has perhaps realized these things but your question helps to further focus attention on them.
Do you see the Pauline redeemer myth in Gentile environs? Could this idea of the Messiah dying be thought of as a "Jewish" idea?
Well clearly, the idea of a living and dying God who is going to be resurrected in the here and now is a non-Judaic idea. Moreover, the idea of an almost God-like Messiah again has no connection with Palestine at all, nor an actual immediate “resurrection” and not one "at the End of Time" as it were – and this for all “the Righteous” not just “the Messiah” – which is nowhere envisioned. All these are non-Jewish and Hellenistic, if one prefers, or even Egyptian.
Of course, you can hark back, as documents like the Gospels try to do, to Daniel 7:13’s apocalyptic presentation of “one like a son of man coming on the clouds”; but this is meant to evoke the coming of the Heavenly Host in apocalyptic vengeance and Glory, as the War Scroll from Qumran – much as the Letter of James – in key passages definitively evokes and describes it.
Still, the general Gospel or New Testament presentation and Christianity’s to follow is based on an improper and even probably a reversal of the meaning originally in Daniel. Daniel avers in straight-forward Aramaic that he “saw one like a son of man riding on the clouds” – an obvious impossibility even for him since “men” don’t ride on the clouds. But the point was that whoever or whatever was “riding on the clouds” was “like a son of man,” i. e., had the appearance of “a son of man”, even though he wasn’t, meaning that, in our English, he looked like a man. There was no such thing as ‘the Son of Man” – this being an obvious figment of the New Testament artificers imaginations.
“Son of man” in Hebrew even to this day is the way one expresses ‘being a man’ and this is particularly the case in the Israel of today, where people often say “be a Ben-Adam” – meaning “be a son of Adam,” “Adam” and “Man” being the same word, that is, “be a man.” So, again, even here the fact is that there is no such thing as an expression or persona like “the Son of Man”. This in itself is a complete misnomer, a misunderstanding of the original Hebrew or Aramaic and probably a purposeful obfuscation of the original. At the very least, it was written by people in a more Hellenistic or non-Judaic environment who had no idea what they were talking about.
(The answer to this question and this series will be finished in Part 3. Look for it and Prof. Eisenman''s two shorter and more reader-friendly versions of his works aimed specifically at and for the e-reader: James the Brother of Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls I and II – cf: