Earliest Biblical Commentary: The Pesharim of the Dead Sea Scrolls

Of the many genres of texts that were discovered in the caves near Qumran, the pesharim, or running biblical commentaries, are among the most illuminating for understanding the beliefs and the world of the people of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In their unique position in the Qumran canon, these commentaries provide scholars with elements key to better understanding the community: First, the pesharim are among the few documents at Qumran which appear to speak directly to the community’s exegetical life and therefore may describe the group’s thoughts, rather than just expressing the group’s corpus. Second, the pesharim are key elements in determining what books the Qumran community found to be “scriptural”, as the inspired commentary could only apply to a divine work. And finally, the pesharim provide scholars with some of the few tantalizing clues into the true history of the community as well as cracking their code 

(This short essay is part of a collection that I wrote while working on a research project about the Dead Sea Scrolls a few years ago. It presupposes some understanding of the Scrolls and their narrative context, but should still be understandable for the lay reader.) 

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Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls

It’s impossible to deny the allure the Dead Sea scrolls have for scholars trying to better understand early Christianity. The corpus of scrolls found near Qumran represents a tantalizing glimpse into (a type of) Jewish life at the time and just before the life of Jesus. Many elements, which we might identify as part of Christian theology, are evident in the scrolls themselves. This includes a reliance on a charismatic teacher, a penchant for messianism of several sorts, and an increased almost-dualist emphasis on the works of “Satan” as they lay in contrast to God’s. But although it’s easy to see the echoes of what Christianity would become in these scrolls, these echoes represent patterns of thought rather than predecessors to Christian belief.

(This short essay is part of a collection that I wrote while working on a research project about the Dead Sea Scrolls a few years ago. It presupposes some understanding of the Scrolls and their narrative context, but should still be understandable for the lay reader.) 

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Purim in the Bible – Part 4: Esther’s Victory

queen esther

The Hebrew Bible never gives us paragons, flawless humans that we are called to emulate. Instead, all biblical heroes are deepened by tragic flaws, blemishes that remind us that even imperfect people can do great things and inspire great things in others. Esther is one of the greatest women of the Hebrew Bible, after all: she saved the Jews! But does she make all the right choices? As we close up our look at the book of Esther, we look at a decision that Esther made that seems to prolong the violence. If that really what this passage says? If so, would this make her less of a heroic figure? Perhaps, but perhaps not. We will also look at the human cost of Haman’s stupidity and a bit on when Purim is celebrated today.

If you are just joining us, you probably want to catch up on Esther’s story before proceeding:

So how did Esther prolong the violence? And did she? Read on for the conclusion of the story of Esther.

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Spooky Things in the Bible: The Ghost of Samuel, the Witch of Endor, and the Death of King Saul

ghost_penguinHalloween is the holiday of witches and warlocks, ghosts and goblins, and– if we are being honest– quite a few kids dressed up as the cast of Frozen. Halloween is also the season of ghost stories and the bible has a fantastic one: the Ghost of Samuel. The “Good Book” has its share of demons (we have discussed Azazel and Lillith in previous Halloween posts), but nowhere does the bible say more explicitly that witches are real, that necromancy is real, and that you can talk to the spirits of the dead than in the story of King Saul and the Ghost of Samuel. To do necromancy is against the Law of Moses, but that does not mean– the story seems to say– it does not work.

This is the story of King Saul and the Witch of Endor. It is a ghost story. So, gather around the campfire, bring out your bibles, and let’s talk spooky. Read on for more.

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Purim in the Bible – Part 3: The End of Haman

Xerxes I, carved in relief in a palace ruin in Persepolis, Iran. (Source: Wikimedia commons)

Thanks to the bravery of Esther and Mordecai, the tide was beginning to turn against Haman and the Babylonians who stood against the Jews. Haman had been publicly shamed and paraded through the city to pronounce the greatness of a man who he desperately wanted to see dead. But Esther was not done yet– it was time for her to make her request to the king and begin the process of saving the Jews from destruction. The clock was still ticking.

This is the third part of the story of Purim. I recommend reading part one and part two first, but if you are the type of person who enjoys reading the last page first, by all means. There will be at least one more part after this one! Read on for more.

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Asaph the Psalmist, and His Son Joseph

 

The_Beatles_and_Lill-Babs_1963How difficult is it to live in the shadow of a famous parent? How do you make your mark as an individual when your father or mother is a famous musician, artist, or actor? And worse, if you go into the same field as them– can you ever really escape the comparison? Could you ever live up to that? I am not sure I could. But that was the story for the first Joseph in this series, the son of Asaph: a musician and prophet of God, overshadowed by his much more famous father.

But who was Asaph? He was a Levite, a priest of David during the period before the First Temple, when the Tabernacle still sat on the Temple Mount. But he was not just any priest, he was the John Lennon of the priests. He was the very first musician-priest to say a blessing over the Tabernacle in Jerusalem, not to mention the writer of twelve of our psalms in the Book of Psalms– second only to King David in authorship. I am sure that almost no one has heard of him today, but in biblical terms is was a Big Deal.

Asaph the Psalmist and his son, the first among the musician-prophets of Jerusalem. Read on for more.

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Our Amazing Book of Psalms

psalm1-smThe Book of Psalms is one of the most beautiful in our bibles. In its 150 chapters, we find wisdom, comfort, hope, and a poetic appreciation of God that is nearly unique in the Hebrew Bible. It is no wonder that Jews and Christians have read and studied it for hundreds of years. After reading stories of law and prophets and of the Jewish ancestor’s struggles to accept and obey God, turning to psalms is frequently a relief and a comfort.

Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
Psalms 1:1-2

A full study of the psalms would take a lifetime, but there is much that we can say about this amazing book. Who wrote the psalms? What are they for? Scholars still debate these questions, but there is so much that we can learn about the psalms from the psalms themselves. Read on for more.

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My Namesakes: Josephs in the Bible

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetIn my family tree, I am named for a LOT of Josephs. My paternal grandfather was Joseph, as was his father, and his. Regretfully, we have no records of my great-great-grandfather’s name, but for all I know it was Joseph, too. (My father somehow missed out; only his middle name is Joseph.) It was not that Joseph was always the name of the first child, but each generation had a Joseph and I am directly descended from that line. It is pretty neat.

When I was younger, I would joke that I did not want to be named Joseph in honor of St. Joseph, the father of Jesus, but rather for Joseph of the Old Testament. He was a snazzy dresser! He saved Israel from famine! Sure, he contributed to the Exile of the Jews in Egypt, but no one was perfect. St. Joseph, on the other hand, was “just” the guy who famously never slept with his wife. Even though my opinion matured, when I created this blog years later, I chose to honor the Old Testament Joseph. This was a tribute, but also a way of making clear that I primarily focus on Hebrew Bible stories.

As I inch closer to Joseph of “Technicolor Dream Coat” fame, I am starting a brief new series: a look at all of the Josephs in the bible. So far, I have found eight: four in the Hebrew Bible and four more in the New Testament. Each post starts off about a different Joseph, but they lead into some very interesting discussions. It will be a lot of fun and touch on a few less well-known bible stories.

Want an advanced preview? Read on for more.

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Stealing from the Blind – Jacob Receives Isaac’s Blessing

1024px-Capra_ibex_nubiana_near_Mitzpe_Ramon_in_summer_2011_(4)You hear about these cases all the time: men and women who take advantage of an elderly or infirm person for monetary gain. Sometimes, the theft is large such as a police sergeant who stole $20,000 last year near Chicago, or the Boston couple that stole $130,000 from an elderly man and his handicapped daughter. It is easy to imagine many more crimes going unreported– like credit cards used by a caretaker without permission, or easily forgotten items being sold. To take advantage of anyone in their time of need is one of the worst violation of trust that I can imagine. I did not know how common this was until I researched for this post.

And yet, this is exactly what we are told Jacob did when he conspired with his mother to steal his father’s blessing and, by extension, the patriarchy of all of Israel. It is a violation of trust on a terrible scale, made all the worse because we readers of Genesis have seen Isaac grow from a boy to a man and now finally to this humbling end. Jacob is one of the great heroes of Genesis, and this is not a great way to start his story.

It all begins with a home-cooked meal. Read on for more.

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Purim in the Bible – Part 2: Esther’s Bravery

Esther_haramThe Jews were less than a year away from being wiped out. Haman, a Persian noble, sought revenge against a Jewish man who refused to show him deference by conspiring to kill all the Jews in the Persian Empire. Haman played his close relationship with King Ahasuerus and the order was quickly given that nearly all the Jews in the world would be destroyed. But all was not lost! Esther, a secret Jew and now Queen of Persia, and her adopted father Mordecai were hatching a plan to save the Jews once again.

This is part two of the story of Esther and the Jewish holiday of Purim. If you have not read it already, you probably want to read part one first. When you are ready to hear the exciting next chapter, read on for more! Continue reading Purim in the Bible – Part 2: Esther’s Bravery