The World of Jesus, and Comparison Of Essene teachings, to the teachings of Jesus.

I have always found interesting the Unconscious Assumption of many that Jesus, Christianity, the Bible, and the Church, just happened, as if in a Vacuum!  As if there were no influences other than God’s strict appointment.  The Old adage that:  “No Man is an Island unto himself,” is profoundly true.  There was a very real, and living world, ever struggling to live when Jesus came to be, and that He would rightfully take his place in it.  The path he would take, both as a Man, and the Son of God, would assure his need to understand the world in which He lived, and changed.  From birth onward, He would be shaped, and molded, in 1st century Jewish thought, Religious belief, and Worldview! Worldview, cannot be emphasised enough.  This involves the Second Unconscious Assumption, that people from the 1st century, were, and are,  just like Us. They were like us as being Human Beings, but after that there are great differences.  It is not the purpose here to enter a discussion of those differences, but imagine if you could bring the Apostle Peter, James, John, or Paul, through time to visit You Today!  Imagine they would stay with you for a Year! Imagine all of their observations, and there questions you would have to answer.  Imagine all the bewilderment, awe, and how overwhelmed they would be.  I think this sufficeth the point.  One more thing to imagine, that is, showing them YOUR BIBLE!  What an absolutely incredible experience that would be for Them, and for You, and I.  So if we can rise above our TWO false assumptions, and open our minds to learn what is what like during the Life of Our Redeemer, we could understand so much more about what we as Christians Believe. 

As you read through this Article, you will see tremendous similarities, between Jesus and the Essenes. There were also strong similarities between the Pharisees, and Essenes, as well.  They both stemmed from the Hasidim, or the “pious ones,”  def. by Google, “a member of a strictly orthodox Jewish sect in Palestine in the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC that opposed Hellenizing influences on their faith and supported the Maccabean revolt.” There is a strong relationship between the Essenes, and the Sadducees, although not a good one. The overarching point is that the Three major schools of religious thought were all related by Torah, and that Jesus was affected by all Three.  There would be no way of escaping this for a 1st century, palestinian Jew! As you read below you will see strong similarities between the Essenes, Jesus, and the Gospel of St. John, of which we will point out, and discuss further as we continue to edit this document.  

The Gospel of John and the Dead Sea Scrolls 
Harold Attridge

Abstract: Discussion of the Scrolls and the Fourth Gospel has mirrored the general trend of scholarship. Despite skepticism about direct connections between the Scrolls and the Gospel, many scholars remain struck by significant parallels on issues such as “dualism,” “predestination,” and the framework of Messianic belief, although there is no consensus on how the parallels might have been generated. This paper prescinds from the question of historical transmission of Scroll-like materials, but, assuming the presence of these materials in the text asks how they have been used in the construction of this particular early Christian document. The paper argues that, like virtually all other traditions incorporated in the gospel, the “dualism,” “predestinarianism” and “exaltationist Christology” have been drastically reshaped by the ironic literary strategy of the text.

Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls more than 50 years ago, scholars have debated their relevance for the study of early Christianity. In the initial enthusiasm generated by the discovery, numerous parallels were found in the Gospels, the Pauline Epistles, the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Book of Revelation. In some cases these parallels generated genetic hypotheses about the relationship of the Christian texts, and the people who wrote them, to their Jewish forebears or contemporaries. One or another Christian author was viewed as a one-time member of the sect of the Dead Sea, usually assumed to be Essene. Before long, as one might expect in scholarly circles, the tide changed and scholars became more cautious. Rather than direct dependence or intimate relationship between the Dead Sea sectarians and the authors of the New Testament, the scrolls served as general background for the study of early Christian authors.

As scholars became more cautious about applying the scrolls to the NT, the study of the scrolls themselves became more complex. Rather than a simple collection of sectarian materials, the scrolls revealed their diversity, in literary form and ideology. That diversity, even more in evidence since the complete publication of the scrolls, has led to numerous attempts to reassess what they reveal about the religion of the Land of Israel in the late second Temple period. I hardly need rehearse the debates about the scrolls for this audience, but whatever your own hypotheses about what the scrolls tell us, it is probably more complex today than it was 40 years ago.

While the study of the scrolls has been progressing, the study of the New Testament has not been standing still either. New methods of analysis have challenged the hegemony of traditional historical-critical research. Although concern with literary form has long been part of NT study, a concern with what Aristotle called the formal rather than the material accounts of the NT texts has dominated much recent scholarship. Put another way, synchronic questions of literary form and function rather than questions of diachronic literary or community development have come to prominence. Some criticism has been even more strident. The so called “turn to the subject” characteristic of much contemporary humanistic study has focused not on the background to the New Testament, but to its foreground, its reception history and the contemporary reactions to it of faithful and unbelieving people alike.

Contemporary critics have also spent a good deal of energy worrying about how texts came to be used as instruments of social formation, how they worked to guide and control communities. Although I remain an old fashioned historical critic, interested in the ways in which ancient documents reacted to and communicated with their environments, I believe that we need to take account of some of the insights of these literary and socio-critical trends in scholarship, and what I do in this paper will be, as some would say, a “gesture” in that direction.

What is true of the New Testament in general is certainly of the Fourth Gospel. Initial enthusiasm about connections with the Scrolls met with skepticism, and eventually a more cautious, balanced approach prevailed. Parallels were recognized, direct dependence of the gospel on the scrolls has generally been doubted. Nonetheless, the heritage of the first stage of research into the scrolls still lives, and some scholars, particularly James Charlesworth in the US, and John Ashton in the UK, have continued to argue strongly for a direct connection, through some former sectarian (an Essene perhaps) who had become a member of the Johannine community. Others remain appropriately skeptical.
Perhaps the most important impact of the Scrolls on Johannine scholarship is their contribution to a general shift in the current assumption of Johannine scholars, that, despite its bitter polemic against “The Jews,” it is in many ways the most Jewish of the Gospels.

In the Fourth Gospel, the Messiah (John 1:41; 4:25) is endowed with much of the symbolic weight of Jewish tradition. As the locus of the divine Word he mimics the Torah, the locus of wisdom’s dwelling in Israel (John 1:14; Sir 24:8, 22). His resurrected body is the New Temple, the place where God dwells (John 2:21). His life of public proclamation replicates the sacred liturgical cycle, and his death is in various senses a New Passover.

If the Gospel, despite its sectarian spin, is thoroughly Jewish, much of its Jewishness is at least reminiscent of the piety found in some of the scrolls. Like the Scrolls, the Fourth Gospel delights in stark contrasts, oppositions of light and darkness, heaven and earth, all of which echo the stark contrasts of the Scroll of the Rule or the War Scroll. What has often been labeled the “dualism” of the Fourth Gospel comes to expression in these contrasts. Like the Scrolls the author(s) of the Fourth Gospel have a strong sense of the divine guidance that brings members into the community that the text addresses, whether we call that sense either divine predestination or prevenient grace.

Like the authors of (some of) the Scrolls, the author of the Fourth Gospel reads scripture through a special eschatological lens that focuses the meaning of the ancient texts on the life of the reader. Finally, the presentation of the character of Jesus in the Gospel Behind all of these conceptual similarities there lurks what many scholars believe to be two similar social organizations, both at odds with a dominant “Judaean” social stratum. Whether there is a genetic connection between the Scrolls and the Gospel may finally be irrelevant if such extensive parallels can be illuminating.

Before turning to those thematic elements of the Fourth Gospel with parallels in the scrolls, let me comment briefly on one other issue. Beyond and behind the thematic parallels between John and the Scrolls that have been adduced, some scholars have found correlations between the Scrolls and possible historical reminiscences in the Gospel. Students of the Fourth Gospel have long debated the question of the possibility of using the data of the text in attempts to reconstruct the historical Jesus. While it is clear that the text, like all the gospels, was created for purposes other than recording objective history, it may yet preserve valuable historical reminiscences.

Among these may be details that can at least be illuminated by the information of the Scrolls. Particular details in the Johannine account which stand in tension with the data of the Synoptic gospels, such as the dating and character of the last supper, have been explained on the hypothesis that Jesus and his followers followed a calendar like that attested at Qumran. He therefore could have eaten a Passover meal, as the synoptic gospels report, but at a time different from that observed by the Temple authorities. That remains a possible solution, but not without its own difficulties. Other solutions are also possible, including tendentiousness on the part of either the Fourth Gospel or the Synoptics.

To return then to the relationship of the themes common to the Fourth Gospel and the Scrolls, I begin from the fact that these parallels exist, even if they are not exclusive and do not constitute the basis for claiming direct dependence of the Gospel on the Scrolls. Scholars have proposed various speculative schemes to explain how the similarities occurred, from literary “borrowing” (Charlesworth) through the personal heritage of a once Essene author (Ashton). I am agnostic on the subject. I doubt that there was literary dependence on any known text, and if there was, it would be impossible to prove it.

We can imagine various forms of oral transmission of the perspectives of the sectarian scrolls but can verify none. Further speculation about the diachronic process of transmission of conceptual models from the scrolls to the author(s) of the Fourth Gospel is not likely to be productive. We may, however, get some insight into the workings of the Gospel if we look at what happened to what may have been the remote and even indirect heritage of the scrolls in the Johannine mix. Today I will focus on a few test cases where significant parallels have been suggested.

I approach this task with some assumptions that I shall not have time to defend in this context, but which I share with many of the current literary critics of the gospel. Primary among them is the working hypothesis that, whatever its process of composition — and it may have undergone at least one major redaction–, the Gospel should be read as a unitary literary work. There are, of course, some exceptions, such as the pericope of the adulteress, the textual evidence for which clearly indicates it to be a later addition. This unitary literary work is not, however, one that operates with a simple narrative logic, telling a straightforward, linear tale, however tendentious. It is, rather, a work that shows the marks of considerable reflection on the act of communication and it shapes the available vehicles of communication to convey what it takes to be a truly unprecedented content.

While it is a unified literary composition, it is not made out of whole cloth. One helpful image for what we find in the Fourth Gospel is the metaphor used by Levy-Strauss in his description of the mythmakers among the native peoples of Latin America, bricoleurs; handy-men who put together out of the discarded scraps of various cultural traditions odd bits and pieces of tradition that they reshape into new configurations. Levi-Strauss would argue that their bricolage is governed by an underlying structural logic of which the bricoleurs were unaware.

I suggest that what we find in the Fourth Gospel is another example of bricolage, but governed by a more explicit logic. The evangelist has gathered bits and pieces of lore and fitted them into what is probably a somewhat traditional framework of a narrative of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. But as he stitches his new garment together, he cuts and trims the pieces, he knocks the rough edges off the bricks of his new edifice to give the whole and most of its parts a form that will somehow match the novelty of the content. I believe that to be the case with materials familiar from the Synoptic tradition, whatever the precise relationship of the Gospel to that tradition, and I also suggest that we find the same phenomenon represented in the parallels with the scrolls.

The focal point of comparison between the dualism John and the Scrolls remains the passage on the Two Spirits from the Serek Ha-Yahad (1QS 3.13-4.26). Its resonances, particularly in the motifs of light and darkness, in the Fourth Gospel are found in the Prologue (John 1:1-18), and in scattered sayings throughout the Gospel, particularly in the first half (John 3:19-21; 8:12; 12:35-36). Light and dark function for the Fourth Gospel as symbols of the worlds of belief and unbelief, of belonging to the Son of Man and rejecting him, and the boundaries between the two worlds seem clear.

But are they, after all, as clear as we might expect, or as clear as one might expect having heard that God created Two Spirits who are perpetually at war? We need to remember, of course, that even in the Serek, things are not quite as black and white as they first appear, since the cosmological dualism eventually morphs into a psychological dualism, according to which the two spirits are at war within individual human beings. The doctrine of the two spirits functions within the Scroll as a cosmological framework grounding social and psychological realities.

The dualistic opposition in John is even more complex. The opposition of light and darkness is mapped onto a spatial dichotomy between above and below, which is also homologous with a dichotomy between spirit and flesh, and a moral or social dichotomy between insiders and outsiders, those who believe and those who do not. Yet the mapping of the oppositions does not form a stable or absolute grid, as it will perhaps in some of the interpreters of the gospel in the second century, people whom we used to call “Gnostics.” No, the opposition loses some of its potential metaphysical connotations because it works itself out in narrative form, with a focus on the person of Jesus.

Two passages illustrate I think the distinctive features of the Johannine riff on the “dualistic” opposition of light and darkness. The first is the prologue, which identifies the Divine Word and Light. Two affirmations here stand in some tension. On the one hand there is the universalist “the light enlightens everyone who (or when it) comes into the world” followed soon by “and the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness grasped it not” which is in synonymous parallelism with “and he came into his own, and his own received him not.” The potentially universal scope of the revealing light bumps up against a resistant, hostile darkness.

The latter affirmations about the darkness and “his own” failing to “grasp” the light obviously foreshadow the dramatic encounters in the narrative between the “one sent by God” and his fellow Judaeans, hostile encounters that involve the most bitter invective. The affirmations of the prologue also foreshadow the prayers and prophecies at the last supper that contrast the fellowship of Jesus’ followers with and unbelieving and hostile “World” (John 15:18-25). The oppositions are what we might expect of the kind of sectarian community that many scholars take the Community of the Beloved Disciple to be, one that first distinguished itself from its Jewish matrix and then stood in tension with a wider world of unbelief.

Yet the narrative is more complex. The most forceful dramatization of the power of darkness is in chapter 13. After Judas leaves the fellowship comes the darkly evocative, “and it was night” (John 13:30b). The dramatic placement of this phrase adds another dimension to the oppositions established in the Prologue. The Light has come to his own, now not the people or religious leaders of Judaea, but his Galilean friends, and even there he finds rejection. Even there, the darkness fails to comprehend. The cosmological dualism that, in the course of the narrative, had seemed to map clearly into a sociological dichotomy, with a clear boundary line separating two groups, now becomes problematic. Darkness is found in the midst even of those who have, in a special and limited sense, become the teacher’s “own.” The dichotomous barb directed at the Judaean outsiders in chapter 8, now points at the most intimate “friends” of the emissary from on high.

But the betrayal by Judas is just the first instance of darkness in the hearts and minds of the followers of Jesus. In the symposiastic dialogues that follow, particularly in chapter 14, the outer darkness is matched by the incomprehension of the disciples, whose lame questions and responses (John 13:36-37; 14:5; 14:8; 14:22) reveal their continuing obtuseness, a failure to comprehend that culminates in Peter’s denial (John 18:25-27). This traditional episode has been reworked by the evangelist to give it a more vivid dramatic character than it has in other gospel accounts. Most telling perhaps is the insistence that Peter was standing by a fire, warming himself (John 18:18, 25). That fire may warm his body, but it casts no light into his soul.

The twist in chapter 13 on the boundaries set by the old sectarian dichotomy ought not surprise us. We have heard already, in the reactions to the words about the “bread of life” in chapter 6, that some of the intimate disciples of Jesus “could not endure” his hard saying and went their own way. That narrative no doubt replicates the experience of the community of the Beloved Disciple, which having weathered the storm of expulsion from the Synagogue, came to confront schism in its own ranks. Scholars have debated about the relationship of the schismatic impulse recorded in John 6:64 and the explicit references in the Epistles to those who “have gone out from us” (1 John 2:19), apparently over a matter of Christological doctrine, but whatever the precise relationship, the two passages reflect the experience of a community that has found that a simple construal of how light and darkness relate to one another is inadequate to their religious experience.

The mixing of the boundaries continues in the latter chapters. A strong boundary remains fixed between the society of friends formed around the memory and shared practice of their departed Rabbi on the one hand and, on the other, various outsiders. The last supper discourses point to two rings of outsiders. One is the “World,” a place that produces “hatred” for the members of the fellowship. Such language recalls the strong language of the Scrolls that call for hatred between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness. Yet hate, at an explicit level, only flows in one direction in the gospel, from “the world” without toward the members of the sect. Hatred in response is not required. Instead, what undergirds the gospel’s attitude toward “the world” is the stance ascribed to God, an attitude of self-giving love that did not spare his own son.

The world may be the place of rejection and those who are of it may hate the disciples, but the only response that gospel explicitly endorses to them is love.
The dialectic of relationship also obtains toward the closely related outsiders. This is a less well defined group, and scholars such as Ray Brown have found various kinds of Christians in the environment of the gospel, including anonymous believers, schismatics, etc. A rigid dichotomous dualism might well have condemned them all to Gehenna, but for this Gospel there is a hope, repeated twice, in chapters 10 and 17, that the sympathetic others may yet become one with the faithful remnant.

Another way of expressing my point is to maintain that “dualism” or, to be more precise, the stark opposition of light and darkness that begins the gospel and is so reminiscent of the Scrolls, is not a rigid framework for reflection on metaphysical, social, or personal realities, but rather a more supple conceptual tool. In the hands of the craftsman (or men) who framed this gospel, the tool is used to think about relationships within and among religious communities. The gospel finally shows evidence of substantially modifying an inherited dichotomy, whatever its precise source.

What is true of the fundamental dualism of the text is also true of its language of predestination. The Gospel affirms on more than one occasion that people come to belief in Jesus if and only if the Father brings them. This stance seems at least formally related to the position of 1QS that the distribution of the “two spirits” determined where individuals find themselves and, if we believe Josephus, some sort of deterministic position was associated with the first-century Essenes, whatever their relationship to the Scrolls.

The “determinist” elements of the gospel stand in tension with affirmations that there is an obligation to “believe” in the Son in order to have eternal life.There are, of course, other determinist systems for thinking about human action in the period, most notably among the Stoics. And the “determinism” of the scrolls, like their dualism, has at least an unstable element, in the designation of the membership as “volunteers.”

A determinist anthropology can, like a fundamental dualism, be a useful tool for thinking about social phenomena, in particular why there should be insiders and outsiders, believers, unbelievers and apostates in the first place. It is dreadful to hear that one’s precious claims have not found favor among those who should accept them, and that some people outside the group may be so annoyed as to persecute the true believers. In that setting, it may be comforting to attribute human action to the influence of a higher power. The unfortunate flip side of the predestinarian stance is the downgrading of the choices that people do make. A strict doctrine of predestination seems to evacuate the self of any responsibility for one’s actions. It thereby eliminates the need for any judgment, either while one is alive or in some post-mortem state.

How does the FG wrestle with its heritage of predestinarian thought? The answer is instructive for the kind of cultural scene in which the bricolage of the text takes place. Recall that the Scrolls seem blithely to combine a notion of predestination with an assumption of personal responsibility. John has the same tension, holding alongside affirmations about the Father’s influence, complex affirmations about judgment, both present and future. Does the text somehow resolve the tension?

I believe it does, but not without calling on a conceptual resource not available in the Scrolls, a resource provided by the other great predestinarian system of antiquity. In their wrestling with the problem, the classical Stoics regularly held that despite the fatalistic premises of their mechanistic metaphysical monism, there was one tiny sphere within which there was freedom. In the soul of every human being there resides, if not quite a Cartesian ego, at least a hegemonic center that can give or deny assent to the forces that compel behavior.
The anthropology of the FG replicates, I believe, the structure of Stoic reflections on free will and determinism, but in a decidedly new key. Where the Stoics place “assent” as the locus of freedom and responsibility, the FG places “belief,” a notion which the gospel goes a good way to explicate, in its usual indirect, narrative logic.

For the Gospel, all is focused on the Cross of Christ. It claims that to see it with the eyes of the mind and heart open is to believe it, and such belief has healing power. That, in any case, is the significance of the saying by Jesus about the Son of Man being lifted up like the serpent in the desert (John 3:14). But, one might ask, is this transaction merely a bit of magic? No, to see the Cross, claims the gospel is to see it for what it really is, an act of self-giving love, what one does for one’s friends (John 15:13). The death of Jesus, so construed, is an exemplary act, prefigured by Jesus in his assumption of the role of a servant who washes his friends feet at their final meal (John 13:12-17). As a compelling example, it has the force of a command, made explicit by at John 13:34, when Jesus gives the only injunction in the gospel.

To return to the issue that may be framed in anachronistic terms as a doctrine of predestination or prevenient grace. The evangelist struggles with the implications of his community’s sectarian existence. He knows that not all have come to accept his message and offers an explanation for that fact. His explanation recalls that, for the Scrolls, membership in the community is in the hands of God. Yet the Gospel struggles with the implications of that solution, as had the sectarians, who lodged in the human heart the battle between the cosmic forces of good and evil. The Gospel’s solution is different and more complex. God’s wills to be beneficent to all his creatures and offers to all, Judaean and Greek alike, the possibility of relationship, as the prologue says, “sonship.” To have that relationship, to be “born anew,” is to assent, as would a Stoic, to the compelling truth that is active, self-giving love.

If there is any connection between the “determinism” of the Fourth Gospel and that of the Scrolls, it has been taken to an entirely new philosophical and religious level. The conceptual bricoleur of the gospel has combined the incompatible elements of determinism and human responsibility, as did the pupils of the Teacher of Righteousness, but the key to the combination he finds in two sources not on the horizon of the sectarians. One is the place left for human freedom in one brand of ancient philosophy, but that space has been filled by a content of which the philosophers did not dream.

I have so far pursued two large thematic complexes that have been argued to relate the Scrolls and the Fourth Gospel in a fairly direct way. Our exploration, starting from the hypothesis that there are some traces in the gospel of the doctrine found in the scrolls, has shown that even on that premise the evangelist has gone in a very independent direction. From the viewpoint of someone who is trying to make sense of the Fourth Gospel, the Scrolls provide the possibility of a remote source for elements of the text, but more importantly, they enable us to see the world of difference between the sectarian documents and our curious Christian gospel.

My final probe into the relationship between the Scrolls and the Fourth Gospel will be briefer. It looks not to one of the familiar sectarian texts from the earliest days of the Scrolls’ publication, but to one of the later comers, a fragmentary text from Cave 4, 4Q491, which may shed some light on the Christology of the Fourth Gospel. The text, originally published by Baillet in DJD 7, has caught the attention of several scholars.

Exactly what is going on in the text is a matter of some debate. The text refers to “a throne of strength in the congregation of the gods above which none of the kings of the East shall sit” (4Q491 frag. 11, 1:12). It also contains the voice of the individual sitting on the throne:
My glory [is incomparable] and besides me no one is exalted …. I reside in the heavens and there is no […] … I am counted among the gods and my dwelling is in the holy congregation; […] my desire is not according to the flesh [and] all that is precious to me is in glory […] and holy [pl]ace. (frag. 11, 13-15).

The speaker boasts that no one resembles him in his glory and, apparently, in his ability to endure suffering and opposition:
Who […] sorrows like me? And who […] anguish who resembles me? There is no one. He has (or I have) been taught but there is no comparable teaching. […] and who will attack me when I open [my mouth]? And who can endure the flow of my lips? And who will confront me and retain comparison with my judgements? […] For I am counted among the gods, and my glory is with the sons the king.

Exactly what is going on the text has been debated. Baillet originally proposed that the text’s “I” was the archangel Michael. Morton Smith argued for reading the hymn as an account of a mystical ascent to heaven. As he archly describes his reading:
Now to my amazement, the Qumran fragments have provided a little poem by some egomaniac who claimed to have done just what I conjectured Jesus claimed, that is, entered the heavenly kingdom and secured a chair with tenure, while yet commuting to earth and carrying on his teaching here.

John Collins notes weaknesses in Smith’s reading. The text does not in fact speak of the process of enthronement nor does it give a hint that the one enthroned has ascended to heaven. Collins has argued instead the text refers to an eschatological priest-teacher seated in heavenly glory. On either reading, the fragment would provide another interesting parallel between the messianic expectations of the Scrolls and what lurks in the background to John. Unfortunately, the identity of the “I” of the hymn remains a mystery.

Of what precise relevance is this text to the Fourth Gospel? Other fragments attest various Messianic beliefs, such as the so-called “Son of God” text, 4Q Aramaic Apocalypse (4Q246) or, perhaps, 4Q521, or the Visions of Amram 4Q543, 545, 547. Some of these may be relevant to the terminology used by other early Christians to express their faith and hope in their Messiah, but their specific relationship to the Johannine version of Jesus Messianism is at all obvious. At least some scholars have seen in 4Q491 something more directly relevant. Let me cite again the inimitable Morton Smith:

Whether the claims made by the author of 4Q491 ii.1 are completely false, or whether they reflect hallucinations he actually experienced, we have no way of knowing. In either event they prove that fifty or sixty years before Jesus’ crucifixion, men in Palestine were actually making claims of the sort that John was to attribute to Jesus. E.R. Goodenough, who argued for years that the Fourth Gospel expressed an early Palestinian theology derived from mystical Judaism, was a voice crying in the stacks of the Yale library. Everybody-and I among them-thought he was riding his hobby too far. Now, I must wonder.

Even if Smith is wrong about the construal of the text as a first person narrative of a heavenly ascent, and the text reports instead a vision of eschatological glory for a righteous teacher certainly reflect the background of the Christological affirmations of the Fourth Gospel, where Jesus describes himself, the one who has revealed what the Father is about, returning to the heavenly glory that was his before the creation of the world (John 17:5), a glory that he recovers once he embraces extreme suffering.

Yet the Fourth Gospel stands in tension with that pattern presented by the Qumran fragment and other images of eschatological glory that it evokes. The gospel famously plays on the themes of glorification (doxazo) and exaltation (hypsoo). The latter has a primary referent in the physical lifting up of Jesus on the cross (John 3:14; 12:22), but physical lifting is also spiritual exalting, and the moment of his betrayal is the moment when glorification begins (13:31). Irony is the trope most beloved of the gospel, and like other early Christians such as Paul, it takes particular delight in affirming the ultimate irony of exaltation at the point of ultimate degradation.

This ironic stance is a far remove from 4Q491, read as a description of eschatological exaltation of a vindicated teacher. The ironic play on the theme of eschatological glory is further developed in the gospel in the final prayer of Jesus, in which, from a temporal vantage point that already seems to be beyond death and resurrection, he says to his Father that the glory that he has been given he has in turn bestowed on his disciples, so that they might be one (John 17:22). If a scenario like that of 4Q491, read as an eschatological glorification of a teacher, was somewhere in the background of John, it has been transformed in the Johannine bricolage.

But what if we read the fragment as Smith would have us do, as an account of a heavenly ascent? That the Fourth Gospel is in some connection with ascent mysticism is a hypothesis that has made some headway in Johannine scholarship of late. But as in so much else that has come into the Johannine orbit, this too has been reshapen by our bricoleur.
The crucial text is the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus in chapter 3, which has much to do with coming and going from heaven. Jesus affirms that he has something heavenly to teach his nocturnal visitor (John 3:12). He also affirms that no one has ascended to heaven except the one who has come down (John 3:13). Is this an affirmation that Jesus was able to ascend because heaven was his home? Does this imply that he needed to ascend in order to be able to tell of heavenly things?

No, the logic of his comment works not so well at the level of the story, but in the world of the evangelist. Lurking in the background are probably people like Paul’s rivals, severely castigated in 2 Corinthians 11-12. Paul, who himself had mystical experiences, was not going to allow such experiences to warrant claims for authority over his flock! Similarly, the disciple of Paul who wrote the Epistle to Colossians struggled with a piety that involved some sort of ascent mysticism. So, too, the evangelist, through the saying of Jesus in John 3:13, resists any claim that someone other than Jesus could have had an authority granting mystical ascent.

But the ostensible aim of ascent was vision, a vision perhaps of the Merkavah or the one like a Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Majesty on high, a vision that could enlighten and transform. John too urges a transformative vision on his readers, a vision, of which we have already had occasion to speak, a vision referred to in the next verse of John 3, a vision of the exalted Son of Man, hanging, like the serpent in the desert, on a stake.

Let me then conclude. The major parallels between the Scrolls and the Fourth Gospel remain what they were at the start of the discussion some fifty years ago. A few new pieces have been added to the puzzle, but the results remain. The Scrolls do illuminate the Jewish background to the gospel. They may provide generic examples of the kind of traditions with which the text worked, even if they do not provide the specific stuff of which it was constructed. What the Scrolls do not do is to show how these building blocks were shaped into a new structure, one animated by an ironic spirit very different from what confronts us in the scrolls.


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76. Essenes are Rural Poor
75 Then too, Syrian Palestine is not unproductive in moral excellence. There the major portion of the Jewish people are distributed. It is said that among them there are more than 4000 persons with the name of Essenes. In my judgment—(though) it is not exact in the Greek dialect—they are , indeed, they have become servants (therapeutae) of God, not by sacrificing animals, but by praying to render their thoughts fit for the holy.
76 Now in the first place, they dwell in villages, keeping away from the cities because of lawlessness practiced by city-dwellers. They know that the pestilence bred from this company, as from polluted air, would render their souls incurable. There are some who till the soil, while others pursue crafts which work for peace. And so they benefit themselves and their neighbors.
77 They do not treasure silver and gold or acquire great sections of land because of a desire for the proceeds. Instead, they provide the necessities for the basic requirements of life. For they are unique among all the race of men, having become penniless and landless by choice rather than lack of good luck. But they count themselves very wealthy, judging ready satisfaction and contentment with little (to be) abundance, as it is.
— PhiloEvery Good Man is Free 12.75-77

77. Dead Sea Settlement of Essenes
73 On the west bank (of the Dead Sea) the Essenes take refuge, to the point where they are harmful. This is a solitary people and remarkable in comparison with others in the whole world. They live as partners of the palms, without any women—having renounced all desire—and without money. From day to day this throng of refugees is renewed by crowds weary with life, whom fortune drives in waves from afar to adopt their customs. Thus, through thousands of ages—incredible to say—a people in which no one is born is eternal, so fruitful for them is others’ repenting of life!.
— Pliny, Natural History 5.15.73

78. Some Essenes Marry
160 There is also another order of Essenes which, though agreeing with the others in life-style, customs and rules, is distinct in its doctrine regarding marriage. That is they think that those who do not marry cut off the greatest goal of life—the line of succession. Moreover, (they claim), if all were of this mind the race would very shortly die out.
— JosephusJewish War 2.160

79. Essene Monastic Rules
120 Although (the Essenes) are Jews by birth, they love one another even more than the others. They avoid pleasures as a vice and hold that virtue is to overcome one’s passions and not be subject to them. Marriage is disdained by them. But they adopt the children of others while still young, leading them like kin through their studies and impressing them with their customs.
121 (The Essenes) frown on wealth. And their common life is wonderful! No one can be found superior to others in property. For their law is for those entering the party to make their substance public for the order.
122 So nowhere is either extreme poverty or exceptional wealth evident. Rather, each man’s possessions are mixed into one property which is for all the brothers.
123 Oil they regard as pollution. And if anyone in the assembly is anointed he scrubs his body. For they count dryness as good and wear white everywhere. Those who administer the community are elected and their appropriate duties determined by vote of the whole.
124 They have no city, but many settle in each town. And all that they own lies open to those who have come from elsewhere, just as if they belonged with them. And they entertain those whom they have never seen before as their closest associates.
125 And so they make their journeys carrying nothing at all except weapons on account of the bandits. In each town an attendant is chosen by the order to serve strangers, and he provides clothing and whatever they need.
126 Like children, they are trained to be scrupulous about dress and bodily appearance. And they change neither garments nor sandals until they are tattered or worn out by time.
135 They master an even temper and control their anger. They advocate trust and assist peace. And all that is spoken by them has more force than an oath. But they avoid swearing, regarding it worse than perjury. For they say that he who cannot be believed unless God is against him is already condemned…
143 Now they expel from the order those who wander into substantial sins. And he who has been condemned often winds up with a miserable fate. For he who is bound by their vows and customs cannot partake of a meal with others…
144 Therefore, they take back many who are at their last breath out of pity, deeming the near fatal torture as satisfaction for their sins…
146 Now they obey their elders and hold that the majority is right. For example, when ten sit together, no one speaks if nine are unwilling. They also avoid spitting in their midst or to the right side.
147 And they are the most distinct of all Jews in abstaining from work on the Sabbath. For not only do they prepare their meals one day ahead so as not to light a fire on that day, they do not dare to move a dish or even relieve themselves…
— JosephusJewish War 2.120-126, 135-147

80. Communal Property at Qumran
11 …And all who volunteer for his Truth shall bring all their knowledge and powers
12 and possessions into the Unity of God:
–to purify their knowledge by the truth of God’s precepts, and
–to measure their powers
13 according to the perfection of his ways and all their possessions according to his righteous counsel.
— Dead Sea ScrollsCommunity Rule (1QS) 1.11-13

82. Directions for the Instructor
12 These are the precepts for the instructor to walk in with all who live according to the rule for each occasion and the value of every man:
13 –to go along with the will of God, according to all that has been revealed for each occasion; and to measure with all the understanding he has attained according to the times
14 along with the precept for each occasion;
–to separate and weigh the sons of Zadok according to their spirits and to uphold those chosen at the time
15 by his favorable decision;
–to judge each as to his spirit and to bring near each as his hands are clean and to advance him according to his understanding.
16 –Thus his love is like his hatred. He is not to argue or dispute with the men of corruption but to conceal the counsel of the Torah among the men of error.
— Dead Sea ScrollsCommunity Rule (1QS) 9.12-16

83. Essene Worship & Communal Meal
128 Moreover, their way of worshipping God is their own. For they utter nothing mundane before sunrise, but with some of their fathers’ prayers they beg him to arise.
129 After this they are dismissed by those in charge, each to his own craft. And they work strenuously until the fifth hour [= 11 a.m.], when they again gather together in one spot. Girding themselves with linen cloths, they wash their bodies with cold water. And after this purification, they assemble in a private room, where no one with other beliefs is allowed to come. Having purified themselves, they enter the dining hall as if it were some shrine.
130 When they are seated in silence, the baker passes out the loaves according to rank and the cook passes each one a portion from a single dish.
131 The priest prays before the meal; and one is not allowed to eat before this prayer. When they have breakfasted, he gives thanks again. So, they begin and finish (eating) by honoring God as the author of life…
132 …No shouting or confusion ever pollutes the house, but they speak in turn to one another.
133 Now, to those outside, the silence of those within seems like some awesome mystery. But it is really because they are allotted just enough food and drink and, so, are always sober.
— JosephusJewish War 2.128-133

85. Council of Twelve
1 In the council of the community there shall be twelve men and three priests
perfected in all that has been revealed from the whole
2 Torah:
–for practicing truth and righteousness, justice and loving kindness and walking humbly with each other;
3 –for keeping faithfulness in the land with firm intention and contrite spirit;
–for overcoming iniquity by deeds of justice and endurance of fiery trials;
4 –and for walking in all things by the standard of truth and the regulation for the occasion.
— Dead Sea ScrollsCommunity Rule (1QS) 8.1-4

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86. Essene Initiation
137 There is no immediate initiation for those who are eager (to join the Essene) party. Rather, they give one a small axe, the loincloth mentioned above above, and white garments, putting him under a discipline for one year while he remains outside.
138 And if during this examination period he gives evidence of his self-control, they lead him nearer to their discipline, letting him participate in cleaner waters for purification. But he is not yet received into their common life. For after proving his endurance, his character is tested for two more years. And then, if he appears worthy, he is admitted to the community.
139 But before he touches the common meal, he professes awesome vows:
–First (1) he is to be pious towards God.
–Next (2) he is to keep justice towards men;
–(3) he is to wrong no one either deliberately or on being forced;
–(4) he is always to hate the unjust and to take the side of the just;
140 -(5) he is always to extend trust to all, especially those in power. For no one’s rule can prevail against God; and
–(6) if he should rule, he is never to vaunt his authority, nor by dress or any outward ornament outshine those in lower ranks;
141 –(7) he is always to love Truth and challenge liars;
–(8) he is to keep his hands from stealing and his hands clean from unlawful gain;
–(9) he is neither to hide anything from party members nor to disclose anything of theirs to others, even if tortured to death.
142 Besides these, he vows:
–(10) to transmit their teachings in no way other than that in which he received them;
–(11) to keep apart from banditry; and
–(12) to protect the party’s books, and likewise the names of the angels.
Such are the vows by which initiates are bound.
— JosephusJewish War 2.137-142

87. The Qumran Covenant
1 The…order for the Community: —to seek God….
2 —to do what is good and right before him as
3 he commanded by the hand of Moses and all his servants, the prophets; and
—to love all
4 that he has chosen and
—to hate all that he has rejected;
—to stay far from all evil
5 and
—to stick close to all good deeds; and
—to do what is true and right and just
6 on earth; and
—to walk in stubbornness no more,
with a guilty heart and lustful eyes
7 doing all evil ; and
—to gather all who are willing to do what God prescribes
8 in a covenant of grace (berith hesed), joining with the counsel of God
and walking before him in exact accord
9 with all revelations of the times appointed for the testimonies; and
—to love all the sons of light, each
10 according to his lot in the counsel of God; and
—to hate all the sons of darkness, each according to his guilt
11 in the vengeance of God.
— Dead Sea ScrollsCommunity Rule (1QS) 1.1-11

88. Purification of Initiates at Qumran
6 …For it is by the Spirit of the Counsel of Truth concerning man’s ways that all
7 his iniquities shall be covered, so he may look on the light of life. And by a holy Spirit for union with his Truth shall he be cleansed from all
8 his injustices. And by an upright and humble Spirit will his sins be covered; and by humbling his soul toward all that God prescribes
9 his flesh shall be cleansed for sprinkling with purifying waters, and for sanctifying with cleansing waters. And he shall direct his steps to walk perfectly
10 in all the ways of God, according to his command regarding the times appointed for his testimonies. And he shall deviate neither to the right nor to the left; and he shall not
11 go beyond one of all his words. Then he shall be accepted by an atonement pleasing before God. And for him this will be for a covenant
12 of Unity everlasting.
— Dead Sea ScrollsCommunity Rule (1QS) 3.6-12

89. Ultimate Agent of the Holy Spirit
18 …But in the secrets of his understanding and glorious wisdom, God has set an end for the existence of Error. And at the time appointed for
19 his visitation, he will destroy it forever. Then everlasting Truth shall come forth on the earth! For during the dominion of Error, it wallowed in the ways of wickedness until
20 the time appointed for the decisive judgment. Then by his Truth God will purge all the deeds of a man (geber), and he will refine for himself (one) from the sons of Man (benei Ish) removing every spirit of injustice from
21 his flesh and purifying him from all deeds of wickedness by a holy Spirit. And he will sprinkle the Spirit of Truth on him like waters, purifying him from all the abominations of the Lie and of contamination
22 by an unclean spirit, to instruct the righteous in the knowledge of the Highest and to teach the perfect of way the wisdom of the sons of Heaven. For God has chosen them for an everlasting covenant;
23 and all the glory of Man (Adam) is theirs! And there shall be no more Error; all loose behavior will be put to shame. Until then the Spirits of Truth and of Error battle in the heart of man (gaber).
— Dead Sea ScrollsCommunity Rule (1QS) 4.18-23

90. Two Spirits
15 …From the God of Knowledge is all that is and shall be; before they were, he made all their designs.
16 And when they come to be they testify to his glory as planned, fulfilling their deeds and changing nothing. In his hand
17 are all judgments, and he will support them in all their needs. And he created Man (enosh) for dominion
18 over the earth; and he appointed two spirits for him to walk in until the time of his visitation. These are the Spirits
19 of Truth and of Error. Those born of Truth are in a spring of Light; and those born of Error are from a well of darkness.
20 In the hand of the Prince of Light is dominion over all the sons of Righteousness who walk in all the ways of Light. But in the hand of the Angel
21 of Darkness is dominion over all the sons of Error, who walk in the ways of darkness.
— Dead Sea ScrollsCommunity Rule (1QS) 3.15-21

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 Perspective on the World of Jesus 

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