The Messiah at Qumran
||Garry K. Brantley, M.A., M.Div.
Since the Dead Sea Scrolls first were discovered, there has been much speculation about the relationship between the early Christians and the Qumran community. Due to the striking similarities between the theological vocabulary of the Dead Sea texts and the New Testament documents, some scholars have suggested that the first Christians either were heavily influenced by, or an outgrowth of, the Qumran sect (see Vanderkam, 1992). The recognition of an important Messiah figure, or figures, espoused in the Qumran materials is a case in point.
Scholars currently disagree whether the people of Qumran believed in one Messiah, or more. One document, called the “Manual of Discipline,” reflected their anticipation that “the Prophet and the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel” shortly would come. From this somewhat obscure text (as most are at Qumran), scholars concluded that the Qumran community looked for both priestly and royal Messiahs. The priestly figure would preside in matters of the Law and ritual, while the royal figure would be a Davidic descendant and lead God’s forces into battle. Other scholars have argued that the Dead Sea community believed in only one messianic figure (see Wise and Tabor, 1992). They do generally agree, however, that the role of Messiah at Qumran involved a militaristic element apparently directed against Rome.
Interestingly, one fragment from Cave 4 speaks of a Messiah whom “the heavens and the earth will obey” (see Eisenman and Wise, 1992, pp. 21-23). This language closely parallels the statement by Jesus: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18). Further, this text from Qumran apparently describes this Messiah as one who heals the sick, resurrects the dead, announces to the poor glad tidings, and serves as a shepherd for the holy ones. Clearly this language is strikingly similar to the New Testament’s description of Jesus’ ministry (cf. Matthew 11:4-6; John 10:11).
These parallels, however, do not imply that early Christians either were influenced directly by, or grew out of, the Qumran sect. These texts simply provide an example of a common messianic hope that the royal Messiah would free Israel from Roman oppression. It appears that before His resurrection, Jesus’ disciples defined His Messiahship from such a perspective—one that did not incorporate His vicarious death (Matthew 16:21-23). Jesus, however, rejected this common view. He redefined His role of Messiah as One Who came to free humanity, not from national tyranny, but from the oppression of sin, which is the root of all injustice (John 8:30-36). Further, early Christians clearly believed in a singular Messiah (Jesus) in Whom the distinct Old Testament roles of prophet, priest, and king would coalesce (Hebrews 1:1-3). While there may be striking parallels between concepts espoused in the New Testament and the Qumran materials, the arresting differences attest to Christianity’s unique understanding of the Messiah.
Eisenman, Robert and Michael Wise (1992), The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered (Rockport, MA: Element Books).
Vanderkam, James (1992), “The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christianity,” Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. Hershel Shanks (New York: Random House).
Wise, Michael O. and James D. Tabor (1992), “The Messiah at Qumran,” Biblical Archaeology Review, 18:60-65, November/December.