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.) 

Continue reading Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls