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Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls

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Tiger Chan

Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, authors of The Dead Sea Scrolls Decep­tion, argue that a paci­fistic Jesus was very unlike­ly. As the authors point out, Qum­ran­ian phras­es flowed from his lips, some­times word for word. Tra­di­tion­al­ly, schol­ars con­cede that at least some Zealots made up Jesus inner cir­cle. The Bible itself reveals him act­ing in a Zealot-like way, dri­ving the mon­ey chang­ers out of the Tem­ple. He states in the gospels : I am come not to bring peace, but a sword”. In the same vein, when a cohort of Roman sol­diers comes for him in Geth­se­mane, Peter rais­es his sword against them, hard­ly the act of a meek Chris­t­ian. As reveal­ing is the num­ber of sol­diers in a Roman cohort, six hun­dred. Why send six hun­dred sol­diers except in antic­i­pa­tion of armed resis­tance ? And cru­ci­fix­ion, remem­ber, was the method of exe­cu­tion for rebels, not rab­bis. These bib­li­cal events, in con­flict with Chris­t­ian tra­di­tion, do not con­flict with the Qum­ran con­text. On the con­trary, they fit.

Through glean­ings from the gospels, how­ev­er, and from more obscure sources that we shall explore, Jesus appears noth­ing less than a rev­o­lu­tion­ary, albeit a deeply mys­ti­cal one, draw­ing on tra­di­tions from a far broad­er geo­graph­ic and spir­i­tu­al con­text than even the rene­gades of mod­ern schol­ar­ship dare spec­u­late. Was the mas­ter of Galilee far from Pales­tine, as some claim, dur­ing the time of unrest ? Could he have been in India, or Tibet, and returned to polit­i­cal chaos ? The Bible itself, specif­i­cal­ly the let­ters of Paul, sup­plies some clues.

Woven through the poet­ic and mys­ti­cal lan­guage, the scrolls reveal a devo­tion to Jew­ish Law that, if we are deal­ing with ear­ly Chris­tian­i­ty, seems to pre­clude Paul’s evan­ge­lism among the Gen­tiles, who were strict­ly off lim­its to the sup­pos­ed­ly xeno­pho­bic Qum­ra­ni­ans. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the Bible pro­vides lit­tle his­tor­i­cal infor­ma­tion about the Ear­ly Church. What is known has been gleaned from his­to­ri­ans writ­ing cen­turies lat­er. Reli­able accounts van­ished with the fall of the Jew­ish Tem­ple in A.D. 70, the burn­ing of the library at Alexan­dria and, as Mor­ton Smith has sug­gest­ed, with the pos­si­ble sup­pres­sion of texts writ­ten by Jesus him­self. The writ­ings of the apos­tle Paul, how­ev­er, help explain how ear­ly Chris­tian­i­ty may have evolved from a fer­vent nation­al­is­tic Judaism into the spir­i­tu­al move­ment that swept the West­ern world. Also, Paul’s expe­ri­ence on the road to Dam­as­cus may pro­vide anoth­er piece in the puz­zle, mys­ti­cal communion.

After the death of Jesus, Paul trav­eled and preached beyond Judea and Pales­tine, actions incon­sis­tent with the reli­gious nation­al­ism of the Qum­ra­ni­ans, or Judaism for that mat­ter, although his lan­guage resem­bles that of the scrolls. Was he a Roman agent infil­trat­ing the Jew­ish rebels, co-opt­ing the move­ment, as Baigent and Leigh sug­gest ? Or was he a mys­tic teacher inspired by pro­gres­sive rev­e­la­tion ? Let’s look more close­ly at his story.

After being struck by his vision of Jesus on the road to Dam­as­cus, Paul sets out for Rome, Greece and Asia Minor, spread­ing a new reli­gion that extols Faith in Christ, in con­trast to the scrolls, the writ­ings of James Jerusalem Church, which, we are told, extol Jew­ish law and works over faith. Keep in mind the New Tes­ta­ment did not yet exist. Chris­t­ian doc­trine, as we know it, did not man­i­fest until the Coun­cil of Nicaea in A.D. 325. Yet Paul makes Jesus into an East­ern-style avatar, like Krish­na, capa­ble of lead­ing his fol­low­ers into a divine state, a mys­ti­cal promised land. He preach­es joint heir­ship with Christ, a one­ness through inner con­tact, the force of the Star Wars tril­o­gy, a blend of east­ern mys­ti­cism and Per­sian dual­ism that to this day, though bib­li­cal, defies ortho­doxy (where spir­i­tu­al par­i­ty with Christ is blas­phe­my). Paul speaks of an inner man of the heart, much in the way the Vedas of ancient India speak of a inner spir­i­tu­al iden­ti­ty unit­ed with Brah­man, the All. The Dead Sea Scrolls also speak of this iden­ti­ty, sug­gest­ing ties, or at least shared knowl­edge, between East­ern mys­tics and the Jews of the New and Old Tes­ta­ment. That the scrolls resem­ble the Jew­ish mys­ti­cal writ­ings known as Kab­bal­ah, sup­port this as well.

Eisen­man offers the fol­low­ing reveal­ing trans­la­tion from a Dead Sea text, called The Beat­i­tudes for its sim­i­lar­i­ty to the bib­li­cal pas­sage of the same name. His trans­la­tion reads : Bring forth the knowl­edge of your inner self. This phrase (among oth­ers in West­ern scrip­ture) appears to derive from the Vedas of India, just as Jesus refer­ring to him­self as the Light of the World evokes Krish­na’s lan­guage in the Bha­gavad Gita. Implic­it in the trans­la­tion is that this self, or atman in the San­skrit, is the iden­ti­ty of Brah­man, or God, resid­ing mys­te­ri­ous­ly with­in the indi­vid­ual. (the force?) This teach­ing is not Judeo-Chris­t­ian in the ortho­dox sense. So, do the tra­di­tions of East and West have a com­mon ori­gin in east­ern mys­ti­cal experience ?

Oth­er evi­dence tells us that Jesus taught the ini­ti­at­ic mys­ter­ies, the sci­ence of immor­tal­i­ty, like the great East­ern mys­tics. In 1958 at a Greek Ortho­dox monastery in the Judaean desert, Mor­ton Smith dis­cov­ered a let­ter writ­ten in A.D. 200 by Clement of Alexan­dria. The let­ter speaks of a secret gospel of Mark, a more spir­i­tu­al gospel, Clement writes, “…read only to those who are being ini­ti­at­ed into the great mys­ter­ies.” This intrigu­ing let­ter, writ­ten long before Euse­bius, speaks of a secret mys­ti­cal tra­di­tion with­out nation­al­is­tic bor­ders. That Jesus taught and par­tic­i­pat­ed in this tra­di­tion is more than like­ly. So doing, he, in all like­li­hood, was no slave to region­al agen­das, ris­ing beyond sym­bols of rel­a­tive good and evil, Jew and Gen­tile, while fierce­ly opposed to spir­i­tu­al evil embod­ied in cor­rupt priests.

Could it be that Paul seized the ker­nel of Chris­t­ian and Vedic wis­dom, leav­ing behind the rind of pol­i­tics, that as a mys­ti­cal ini­ti­ate in East­ern wis­dom that he attempt­ed to bring to the West­ern world ? The teach­ings of Joint Heir­ship and the inner man of the heart seem to do exact­ly that, sug­gest­ing spir­i­tu­al par­i­ty with Christ, the path of one­ness in the Dead Sea Scrolls, stat­ed as : Bring forth the knowl­edge of your inner self. Could this be the real threat the scrolls present, spir­i­tu­al free­dom, indi­vid­ual enlight­en­ment as opposed to sub­servience to ortho­doxy ? Going a step far­ther, was this pur­suit of mys­ti­cal one­ness at the heart of ear­ly Christianity ?

Texts from a Tibetan monastery pro­vide some clues.

For many years rumors have sug­gest­ed that the Vat­i­can holds exot­ic texts about the life of Jesus Christ, which would dras­ti­cal­ly alter tra­di­tion­al beliefs about Chris­t­ian ori­gins. In 1887 a Russ­ian trav­el­er, Dr. Nicholas Notovitch, claimed he dis­cov­ered these texts in a monastery at Himis, Tibet. Return­ing to Rus­sia he wrote The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ, a book about Jesus jour­ney east­ward as a young man, his lost years. Anoth­er book by Notovitch, The Life of Saint Issa, describes Jesus study­ing and teach­ing the Vedas in India. Tak­ing up with a car­a­van at an ear­ly age, the sto­ry goes, Jesus trav­eled the Silk Road, then to Kapilavas­tu, birth­place of Bud­dha. While in India, he fierce­ly denounces the Hin­du priest-class, the Brah­mins, in much the same way he denounces the Phar­isees in Matthew’s gospel, which, as stat­ed, resem­ble the tone of the Dead Sea texts. An Indi­an Swa­mi, Abhedanan­da, pub­lished a Ben­gali trans­la­tion of the Bud­dhist texts in 1929. The same year, Nicholas Roerich, the painter and explor­er, trav­eled the far East. Tran­scrip­tions from his diary reveal a mys­ti­cal teach­ing on the Divine Fem­i­nine giv­en by Jesus in India, again, sim­i­lar to teach­ings in the scrolls, and a decid­ed­ly dif­fer­ent view of real­i­ty than that of the Vatican.

If it seems a stretch that Jesus trav­eled to India, stud­ied the Vedas, that Vat­i­can cler­ics stashed away Bud­dhist accounts of his jour­ney, then remem­ber the Vat­i­can-found­ed Ecole Biblique and its han­dling of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Con­sid­er that Thomas, the fol­low­er of Christ, jour­neyed to and built a mis­sion in India, where faith­ful Chris­tians wor­ship to this day.

If Jesus spent much of his short life in India and Per­sia, as the texts say, far from the din of Pales­tine, the alleged mil­i­tan­cy of ear­ly Chris­tian­i­ty becomes less of an issue. On his return, Jesus would have found him­self in the midst of zealotry and rebel­lion, which he would have, it seems like­ly, hon­ored in prin­ci­ple. If he was God, he was also man, as the gospels point out, telling us he wept and got angry, much like the rest of us. Why should we deny him the right to be caught up in the strug­gle of his people ?

Pieces of this puz­zle, scat­tered across time, tell us there is more to ear­ly Chris­tian­i­ty, more to our­selves, than West­ern tra­di­tion reveals. The truth reach­es from crum­bling texts, bar­ren land­scapes, into the most inward part of us, prompt­ing us to remem­ber the force, to solve the mys­tery from with­in. The bat­tle over the nature of Chris­t­ian ori­gins rages nev­er­the­less, like the bat­tle over the Holy Land itself, as if the most sacred trea­sure stands to be won or lost, and this is more than like­ly the truth. As the veil parts above the Dead Sea, the real trea­sure revealed may prove to be that of our own his­to­ry, our ori­gin. Our soul.Endmark

1 Comment

  1. Folks, Assala­mualaikum.

    May I put for­ward an sug­ges­tion for your good selves. How about a site/​forum/​helpline for infor­ma­tion about Mur­tads (Info­Mur­tad?). The recent trap­pings of the Per­ak Mufti by an ex-ex-mur­tad via SMS caus­ing an uproar and laugh­ter by the non-Islam­ic par­ties is def­i­nite­ly a shame upon us muslims.

    Info­Mur­tad (as in In for mur­tads”) can be a facil­i­ty for us to:-

    1. Share infor­ma­tion about friends under­go­ing murtad
    2. Advise and assis­tance (localised in Malaysia, maybe) for those try­ing to help their friends
    3. Pro­vide net­work­ing for phys­i­cal meetings”
    4. Get help” from those who know the Scrip­tures bet­ter thru these networkings.

    I think it will help if the infor­mants and helpers” have to divulge their IDs ie IC num­bers AND phone num­bers, for exam­ple. This may be required to pre­vent the SMS fias­co from hap­pen­ing again.
    In fact, you should have a list of Helpers/​Ansars” in each local­i­ty (reg­is­tered with yr facil­i­ty) – these may be peo­ple who were Ahlil Kitab or who have knowl­edge of the Bible to con­front” the wannabes.

    Sad” to say but I think that Jakim or what­ev­er Islam­ic Jabatans will NOT be of much use to Mur­tad-wannabes. They will just know how to say men­gu­cap, adik…”. So, it falls upon the shoul­ders of the likes of you most­ly. (This is a compliment..)

    A few morn­ings ago, on Mutiara FM, one Ustaz was hav­ing a Q&A ses­sion over-the-air. One girl asked for help to address her friend who is mur­tad­ing and has already buka tudung”. The Ustaz can only say, ask her to come to the Jabatan Aga­ma Islam office.” And then the Ustaz went on to answer IN LENGTH some ques­tion about sem­bahyang sun­nat Raya, etc,etc. Hah !

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