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Reason and Revelation Volume 14 #3

The Stone that Rocked the World

by  Garry K. Brantley, M.A., M.Div.

Juma became increasingly apprehensive as he watched several of his goats climbing too high up the cliffs. Being a conscientious shepherd, he decided to retrieve the strays. As he climbed, he noticed two small openings to a cave. Thinking that one of his goats might be hiding inside, he tossed a stone into the opening. Much to his surprise, he heard an unusual cracking sound. His younger cousin and fellow shepherd, Muhammed adh-Dhib, investigated the cave the following day and discovered that Juma’s stone had broken open a pottery vessel containing ancient documents. Little did Juma realize that his fortuitously cast stone on that afternoon in 1947 eventually would rock the world of biblical scholarship for decades to come.

The cave (called cave 1) housed the first seven manuscripts of the now-famous Qumran materials commonly known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Subsequent expeditions in the 1950s and 1960s uncovered a vast cache of ancient Jewish writings from ten other caves in the forms of well-preserved scrolls and fragments that represent an entire library of over 800 volumes (Shanks, 1990, p. 1). Unfortunately, after nearly five decades large portions of these documents have not been published, which has caused considerable controversy over the last few years.

Some Qumran material has been published, however, and analyses of these manuscripts have produced some interesting developments in biblical studies. For example, these documents have radically altered mainstream Johannine scholarship. The gospel of John purports to have been written by one who was a contemporary and close companion of Jesus (John 21:20-24). Extrabiblical and biblical evidences suggest that John, the son of Zebedee, authored his Gospel during the latter part of the first century (see Thiessen, 1943, pp. 162-170). Obviously, it would be physically impossible for one of Jesus’ contemporaries to live much into the second century.

Prior to the Qumran discoveries a popular belief among more liberal theologians was that the Fourth Gospel was a mid-to-late second century document whose author was influenced heavily by Grecian philosophy (see Guthrie, 1970, pp. 277-279). This view, which clearly repudiated the biblical implication that an eyewitness wrote the narrative, was first espoused in 1847 by F.C. Bauer, and persisted into the 1950s (Charlesworth, 1993). Linguistic parallels between John’s Gospel and Grecian literature formed the basis for this perspective. These scholars argued that such terms as Logos, truth, light, and darkness appearing in the Fourth Gospel corresponded to Grecian thought but were foreign to common Judaistic concepts. Thus, John was regarded as the latest Gospel and, because of its late date, historically unreliable.

Texts from Qumran, however, demonstrate the usage of such terminology in Jewish literature during the first century. One manuscript called the Rule of the Community contrasts the “Sons of Righteousness” with the “Sons of Deceit.” This document states that the former walk in the “ways of light,” but the latter walk in the “ways of darkness.” Further, it declares that the “nature of truth” emanates from a “spring of light,” and deceit emerges from a “well of darkness.” This language is strikingly similar to many phrases in John’s Gospel. For instance, John 12:35 states: “Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going” (John 12:35; cf. John 1:1-9; 3:19-21). Due to this information from the Dead Sea Scrolls, most scholars now “...agree that [John] dates from around 100 C.E. [A.D.] or perhaps a decade earlier” (Charlesworth, 1993, 9[1]:20).

This does not necessarily mean, (as some scholars suggest) that John was influenced directly by the Qumran community, but it does demonstrate that these were terms commonly employed by Jews both earlier than, and contemporary with, John (see Charlesworth, 1993, 9[1]:25). Thus, as Charlesworth further admitted, almost all the scholarship that denied John as a first-century Jewish composition “...must be discarded” (9[1]:19). That small stone thrown forty-seven years ago continues to rock the biblical world of liberal scholarship.


Charlesworth, James (1993), “Reinterpreting John: How the Dead Sea Scrolls Have Revolutionized Our Understanding of the Gospel of John,” Bible Review, 9[1]:19-25,54, February.

Guthrie, Donald (1970), New Testament Introduction (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity).

Shanks, Hershel (1990), “The Excitement Lasts: An Overview,” The Dead Sea Scrolls After Forty Years (Washington, DC: Biblical Archaeology Society).

Thiessen, Henry (1934), Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).

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