Category Archives: Dead Sea Scrolls

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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The Demoness Lillith in the Bible

As we celebrate the increasingly “secular” holiday of Halloween, young and old embrace the spooky and the macabre and perhaps score some candy in the process. Since Halloween is about as far from the Bible as you can get, I want to turn instead to something that is both biblical and spooky: demons. Although demons are only directly mentioned in the New Testament, Jewish legends had demons playing a greater part in the Old Testament/Hebrew bible than our received text would indicate. The first and most well known of these demons is actually a demoness, Lillith.

If pop culture is any judge, Lillith is one of the most famous biblical figures to never actually appear in the bible. Whether she’s Adam’s first wife, a demon, a feminist symbol, or a combination of all three; she is a force to be reckoned with. She has been the namesake of a music festival, at least three comic book characters, several songs and films, the subject of paintings, astrology, and even a villainess on Doctor Who. There’s even an early personal computer named for her, though I’m not quite sure I see her appeal as a company mascot.

Who was Lillith? And where did this legend begin? Those questions are tough, but the answer starts in the bible– not with a capital-L Lillith, but with a type of demon, lowercase-L lilliths. In this post, I’ll follow the story of Lillith as it appears in the bible, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and eventually blossoms into her first incarnation as a feminist symbol in the Talmud. The full legend of Lillith as Adam’s wife is an 8th century invention of Jewish mysticism and outside the scope of this blog, but all of her roots are here. Read on… if you dare.

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Who or What Is Azazel?

In my post on the biblical origin of Yom Kippur, I stumbled on something I had never heard of: the sacrifice (of sorts) of a goat containing Israel’s sins “for Azazel” in the Day of Atonement temple service. Half of my bibles omitted or worded around this mention in Leviticus 16, usually with a tiny footnote reading “meaning of Hebrew uncertain”.

The difficulties of translation is one of my interests and when you have such variation, I just had to dig further. What I found took me through the Oxford English Dictionary, the Talmud, and finally into the Dead Sea Scrolls to answer this question “who or what is Azazel?” This isn’t a new puzzle. It might even have been an ancient typo. Whatever the answer, it has puzzled scholars for years.

One answer? Azazel was the Jewish Prometheus who came down from heaven to mate with our women, providing the tools of fire and war in return. Maybe not. Read on!

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Dead Sea Scrolls – Book of Jubilees

Did you know that there is a “lost” book of the Old Testament which reveals what God really told to Moses during his forty day sojourn on Mount Sinai? That  Jacob and Esau never really reconciled and instead went to war against each others’ tribes? That God revealed to Moses the destruction of the First Temple and the scattering of the Jews among the nations? That Adam and Eve lived in Eden for EXACTLY seven years?

No? Well, you would know this if you happened to be one of the 45 million Christians today who belong to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, one of the oldest branches of Christianity in the world. Just as Roman Catholics and Protestants believe different books of the bible to be “true”, other Christian denominations that we know less of in the United States have their own separate lists of canonical books. But more interestingly, you probably would also have known this if you happened to a member of the sect at Qumran (some say the Essenes) where this book, the Book of Jubilees (also known as the Book of Divisions) was considered part of the scripture, more than 2000 years ago.

Oh, and did I mention that God is very clear that a year is exactly 364 days and we’ve been screwing up the calendar ever since? No? Well, read on for more about this fascinating book.

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