Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Summary of Seminar on Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls

We were tempted at the beginning of the seminar to consider whether John the Baptist was an Essene, but that's another seminar (which this course has considered in past years and may consider again some day), so we resisted temptation and stuck to Qumran messianism and Jesus.

One slightly tangential question that we talked about for a while was whether the traditions about the priestly Messiah (usually alongside the Davidic Messiah or Messiah of Israel) reflected in some way the social situation of the Qumran sect. 1Q28 (the Messianic Rule or Rule of the Congregation) could be used to make a plausible case along these lines. It pictures the Yahad in the "last days," evidently the eschaton, and describes an assembly in which a priest presides over the meal with precedence even over the Messiah of Israel. Was this the ideological innovation of the priestly-centered sectarians? Maybe.

We moved on then to discuss how the Jesus tradition in the New Testament picks up many of the same "messianic" traditions as those found in the Scrolls. Jesus is the Davidic Messiah and so picks up on the royal tradition. Jesus is celestial high priest in Hebrews. Moreover, the writer of Hebrews seems to be saying that it is Jesus rather than Melchizedek who is celestial high priest. This seems rather an odd thing to make an issue of until one reads 11Q13 (11QMelchizedek) and perhaps the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice (see next paragraph) and realizes that Hebrews is reacting something like the ideas found in them. The tradition of the warrior Messiah (and Melchizedek as warrior angel) is also paralleled by Jesus, especially in Revelation 19, where he functions as the divine warrior. We considered whether the Gospels were inverting the warrior tradition indirectly by presenting Jesus as the suffering servant rather than the warrior Messiah, but we could not come up with specific passages in support of this (the closest we came was John 6:14-15, which really isn't quite the same thing). We also found ourselves tempted to take up Jesus as the Danielic and Enochic Son of Man, but we resisted this as well.

We considered the challenge of finding adequate terminology for talking about figures like the Davidic and Aaronic Messiahs, Melchizedek, and the speaker of the Self-Glorification Hymn at Qumran (and also the Son of Man elsewhere. "Messiah doesn't do as a general term, since not all of them are "anointed." Two useful terms that specialists settled on in the 1980s and 1990s are "eschatological redeemer," which applies to such figures who are active at the time of the end, and the still more general "divine mediator figure," which applies to figures who are also active in the past or present. I have a big website devoted to Divine Mediator Figures in the Biblical World, which arose from a course I taught on the subject in 1998, followed by a conference here at St. Andrews on the origins of the worship of Jesus. There I lay out a methodology and typology for talking about such mediator figures (it was later published in expanded form in the conference volume) and apply it in a very preliminary way to the figures of Enoch (also covered in the same article) and Melchizedek. I returned to Melchizedek in my 2001 conference on the Dead Sea Scrolls and my article on him was published in that conference volume. Some of my preliminary thoughts about Jesus and Melchizedek are given in the two Melchizedek links above.