Essays on John the Baptist: Mark our Earliest Narrative Source (4)

In this new six part series I present responses to s offered in my course at UNC Charlotte on “John the Baptist.” John is the most underrated figure in Christian tradition, rarely given his due as a messiah and inaugurator of the movement Jesus himself arose from. The responses are by my student, Jeff Poplin, now a USAF Lt Colonel, fighter pilot, married with two boys. Jeff wrote them without notes in response to exams given in the course! They offer a good, concise, and rather extraordinary summary of what we covered in the course:

Leaving aside the Q portrait of John, what emerges in the Markan narrative regarding the figure of John the Baptizer? In other words, what does “Mark as Mark” contribute to the tradition?

Mark contains many notable additions to the Q portrait of John. This gospel was written around 70 C.E. and has the tendency not to tell the reader secrets, instead letting them figure things out for themselves. Mark 1:2-3 is crediting Isaiah with a prophecy that isn’t entirely his own. Instead, it is a combination of Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1. “Behold I send my messenger before thy face who shall prepare thy way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Mark is utilizing a Qumran (pesher) style of combining texts to get his message across to the reader. He does this as an introduction to John (like Q he begins with John the Baptist). From Mark, scholars are able to add to their professional portrait of John and one of the first examples is Mark 1:6. It reads, “now John was clothed with camel’s hair and had a leather girdle around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.” Mark is describing some of the physical characteristics of John’s daily life in the wilderness of Judea. Scholars learn what he wore while “preparing the way” and what he ate (since it is already know that he neither ate nor drank) “locusts and wild honey.” As a side note, locust in Greek is akris and manna is ekris (only one letter difference) – it is possible that the Greek was translated incorrectly and John ate manna (honey wafer) instead of locusts (see the Did John the Baptist Eat Bugs or Pancakes?). Mark 1:9 also adds to the portrait that John in the Jordan baptized Jesus of Nazareth. After Jesus came out of the water, he saw the Spirit descending upon him like a dove, Mark 1:10-11. Here, Mark is relaying to the reader that this is more of a personal disclosure to Jesus in that only Jesus saw the spirit and the voice said, “thou art my beloved son.” Mark has Jesus in 1:14 coming onto the scene after John was arrested – almost signaling that since the main person/teacher (John) is removed from the scene, now one must come to take up the movement. Mark contains a wonderful story of John’s capture and subsequent death by the hands of King Herod. Mark 6:14 introduces the plot in that Jesus has been preaching and casting out demons and when Herod heard of it, some said, “John the Baptizer has been raised from the dead.”

Beheading Reubens

Then in Mark 6:16-29 the fate of John is told in detail – this is a very important addition to our running portrait of John the Baptist. Josephus records that Herod seized John and most likely took him to his palace/fortress Machaerus. While there, Herodias’ daughter danced seductively for Herod and in return he promised her anything, up to half of his kingdom. She asked for the head of John the Baptizer on a platter at the instruction of her mother (presumably because of his rejection of Herod and Herodias’ relationship). To stay true to his word, Herod sent a soldier to behead John and brought it in on a platter as requested. The reader is also made aware that after this had taken place, John’s disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. Another interesting addition Mark makes is Mark 8:27-30. Jesus and his disciples were heading to the village of Caesarea Philippi and he asked them “who do men say that I am?” Their first answer was “John the Baptizer.” Presented here is a strong indication of the importance John had in his time that the disciples and general public would say that Jesus was John the Baptist. John had done many great things in the desert (preaching, baptizing, etc.) and when Jesus comes along doing similar actions, the people begin to think John has come back from the dead in another form. Some scholars have even suggested that John and Jesus looked similar physically. From these reports, the general public, disciples, and even King Herod feel that John the Baptist has come back from his execution and if Jesus and John did in fact look similar, it would make sense that such reports would begin to circulate. Mark 9:9-13 details a conversation between Jesus and his disciples regarding the scribes recording that Elijah must come first. Jesus says to them (Mk. 9:12) that “Elijah does come first to restore all things” and then poses a question (Mk. 9:12) “how is it written of the Son of man, that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?” He is alluding to Daniel 7:13 “I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven,” yet the Son of man is not suffering in that text. He then goes on to say in Mark 9:13, “but I tell you that Elijah has come and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him”(Zechariah 13:7). Jesus is clearly hinting here that John is Elijah return but as it is written of him? Scholars are not sure what this is in reference to, but there are four suffering servant hymns – Isaiah 42, 49, 50,53. Jesus may not be referring to a specific line of text, but a combination of these Isaiah hymns to form a “corporate role” so to speak for any servant of God, here John. Mark is showing the reader the importance John not only held to his disciples, but the high regard that Jesus himself held John to be. Finally in Mark 11:27-33, the chief priests, scribes, and elders confront Jesus asking “by what authority are you doing these things or who gave you this authority?” It is as if John is the benchmark test against which all things are measured and if you cannot speak to that, then Jesus will not speak to you. Mark is giving the information as he received it. He is not pushing an objective per se, it appears as though he presents the material fairly – showing the events in John’s life and portraying the events in Jesus’ life without editing either for a specific purpose. From Mark (as discussed above), scholars have learned a great deal relating to John’s clothing, his diet, disciples, and the manner in which he met his death. Also, readers are shown the importance in which John was held to his own disciples, the public at large, to Herod, and even to Jesus. From Mark, scholars are able to draw a fairly detailed and complete profile of who the historical figure of John the Baptist was.

Essays on John the Baptist: The Q Source (3)

In this new six part series I present responses to s offered in my course at UNC Charlotte on “John the Baptist.” John is the most underrated figure in Christian tradition, rarely given his due as a messiah and inaugurator of the movement Jesus himself arose from. The responses are by my student, Jeff Poplin, now a USAF Lt Colonel, fighter pilot, married with two boys. Jeff wrote them without notes in response to exams given in the course! They offer a good, concise, and rather extraordinary summary of what we covered in the course:

Discuss the portrait (role, teachings, significance, etc.) of John the Baptizer that emerges from the Q Source (Lukan version), including the possibility that Lukan material such as 3:10-14 and 7:29-30 (and maybe even more), may well have been part of the original Q text (included by Luke but excluded by Matthew). Ask yourself: if all I knew was the John of Q, what kind of John would emerge?

The Q source is widely held to be the material common to Luke and Matthew, but not found in Mark. Scholars believe that is was a collection of the sayings of Jesus around the time of 50 C.E. Basing the discussion on the Lukan version of Q, a very distinctive portrait of John the Baptist emerges within the text. It is clear that John plays an important role from the beginning as the Q material begins with him instead of Jesus. In Luke 3:7-9 John is speaking to the multitudes, calling them a “brood of vipers,” and somewhat chastising them for not being more involved in the movement and with their own lives. This is the most solid Q example scholars have because it is word for word with Matthew in Greek. For such a document to start with John the Baptist instead of Jesus has strong implications and definitely displays the significance and importance John held to the author/people of the time. John is out in the wilderness of Judea baptizing all that come to him. Q even has John saying in Luke 3:16-17 that he baptizes people with water yet there is one greater than he who will come and baptize the multitudes with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Jesus is considered the leading figure of Christianity, well it was based on him, but nevertheless John is considered one of the major players in the movement and considered significant by the author of Q.

Brueghel JtB

 

In Luke 7:18-23, one finds John sending two of his disciples to ask Jesus if he is “he who is to come or shall we look for another?” Jesus heals a few people and then sends John’s disciples back to tell “John what you have seen and heard.” To begin with, John is on the scene before Jesus ever arrives into the picture plus John has his own disciples. He is an important leader of a community of followers in the wilderness, preparing the way of YHVH, and is doing so with his own set of followers independent of Jesus. By Luke 7:24-26 one sees the importance John holds in a question Jesus asks to the crowds about John. This is the main statement scholars have regarding John the Baptist. Jesus spoke to the crowds concerning John asking, “what did you go out into the wilderness to behold?” From this simple question, there are three answers offered; a reed shaken in the wind, a man clothed in soft raiment, and a prophet. After two failures, the people give the answer Jesus was looking for in their third response. “A prophet, yes, I tell you, and more that a prophet.”

Being a prophet is the highest rank one can obtain in Judaism, so for Jesus to say John is more than a prophet has strong implications as to his status within the religious community. It shows that even Jesus is of the opinion that John is someone special, doing what the LORD has commanded him to do, and that the people should listen to and heed his words carefully for he is “more than a prophet.” Adding to this is Jesus’ statement in Luke 7:27 where he is referring to John as the one spoken about in Malachi 3, saying this is he (John) of whom it is written, “behold I send my messenger before thy face who shall prepare thy way before thee.” Luke 7:28 contains one of the most important statements about John spoken by Jesus. “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater that John.” This simple statement adds considerably to the portrait of John in the Q source. Here is Jesus, considered to be the son of man, speaking of John as the greatest of all those born of women. Being born from Mary, this puts Jesus into that group as well.

The Q source also adds to John’s profile by explaining what not eating and drinking mean. In Luke 7:31-34, it states that John has come eating no bread and drinking no wine. This shows the reader that John was a vegetarian and abstained from wine, unlike the Son of man and others who are considered gluttons and wine bibbers. Also an important addition to the role John plays is Luke 16:16 where it reads “the law and the prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and every one enters it violently.” Here is an excellent verse showing the status John was afforded. Reading this, one notices that it is John who has brought a new covenant to the land of Israel and not Jesus. In addition, Luke 11:2-4 has Jesus’ disciples coming up to him asking to be taught the prayer John taught his own disciples. Here we have Jesus’ own disciples asking him not for his own prayer, but the one John taught his disciples and Jesus begins “when you pray, say…” Preserved here is quite possibly the very prayer John taught his disciples and it is of such importance that the disciples of Jesus wish to learn it too. There are a handful of teachings throughout Luke that are attributed to Jesus but are without any context. Scholars have suggested that these could very well be the original teachings of the Baptist. Some of these teachings are like blessed are the poor (6:20), be merciful (6:32), a blind man can not lead the blind (6:39), do not be anxious about your life (12:22), and no servant can serve two masters (16:13). It can and has been argued that these could have come from John. He and Jesus have geographic connections – Wadi el Yabis and the Jordan River. Family wise their mothers are related, both baptize, and both have disciples. Both carry very thematic teachings like care for the poor, repent and baptize, accept sinners, and the coming kingdom. It could be that these were the original teachings of John and are attributed to Jesus because he picked them up when he picked up the Baptist movement when John was arrested and imprisoned by Herod. Luke 3:10-14 is what scholars label as “maybe Q” – at least entertained as being a possible part of Q but not exactly fitting the definition. It is the only major teaching of John scholars can ascribe to him without doubt. This teaching contains many of the same themes as the various other teachings as stated above, attributed to Jesus but without any context. Here one can see John is telling the people if “you have two costs, give one away,” that sinners (tax collectors) are welcome in the kingdom also, and not to take money under false pretenses. Luke 7:29-30 is also with the “maybe Q” group of texts. Although set in parenthesizes, these too sound familiar to 3:10-14 above in that sinners (tax collectors) are accepted because they had been baptized by John and that the Pharisees and the lawyers had rejected God’s purpose since they rejected the baptism of John. Given such evidence, one can draw the conclusion that such teachings could be from the original Q source and that the various other out of context teaching running throughout Luke 6, 11, and 12, which are attributed to Jesus, could actually be those of John the Baptist.

Essays on John the Baptist: Messianic Expectations (2)

In this new six part series I present responses to s offered in my course at UNC Charlotte on “John the Baptist.” John is the most underrated figure in Christian tradition, rarely given his due as a messiah and inaugurator of the movement Jesus himself arose from. The responses are by my student, Jeff Poplin, now a USAF Lt Colonel, fighter pilot, married with two boys. Jeff wrote them without notes in response to exams given in the course! They offer a good, concise, and rather extraordinary summary of what we covered in the course:

In the 1st centuries BCE Messianic expectations among various forms of Palestinian Judaism were apparently widespread and complex. Both the John the Baptizer movement and the Jesus movement develop out of these contexts. Other than the New Testament materials, our best textual evidence of the ways in which such apocalyptic groups were casting their messianic hopes and dreams is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and related apocalyptic literature. Using Qumran as your main example, what composite picture emerges of the ways in which such groups appropriated the Messianic materials of the Hebrew Bible (as covered in question 1 above)?

The Qumran group has been emphasized as a breakaway movement of priests from the Essenes. They moved to the desert and set up a community along the shores of the Dead Sea, possibly following the doctrine of separation and preparing the way in the wilderness philosophy set forward in Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1. Fortunately, scholars have been able to recover some writings of this community dubbed “The Dead Sea Scrolls.” One important piece of this puzzle of their views on apocalypticism and messianic material is the Community Rule (1QS). Column VIII instructs its members to separate from ungodly men and go into the wilderness to prepare the way of Him. Column IX states, “this is the time for the preparation of the way in the wilderness.” Both these phrases reflect the groups awaiting of a coming messiah and following the words of Malachi 3:1 and Isaiah 40:3. Most interesting is Column IX of the Community Rule. It read, “…there shall come the Prophet and the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel.” Presented here is an idea of three figures (similar to Exodus17, I Samuel, and Zechariah 4, 6). Here the Prophet is unmistakably the “prophet like Moses” figure in Deuteronomy 18:15-18. Messiahs in this context is plural and it specifically states two of them (of Aaron and Israel). This reverts back to the notion of a priestly messiah (Exodus 40:13) representing Aaron on one side of the Adon and of a kingly messiah (I Samuel 10) representing Israel/Judah/David on the other.

4Q521

The Damascus Document is another valuable document allowing scholars to analyze and interpret the Qumran ideologies. From this text, unlike the Community Rule where one had not shown up yet, it appears the group came to believe they experienced the Adon/Prophet like Moses but not the two messiah’s. He is referred to as the Teacher of Righteousness as seen in Column VI of version A “until he comes who shall teach righteousness.” Column VII again visits the groups mentality of there being two messiah’s. It makes reference to the star (interpreter of the Torah) as the priestly messiah, coming from Damascus (Isaiah 9:1-2) and the scepter as a kingly messiah figure. This wording would suggest they were studying Numbers 24:17 and picked up the language of star and scepter. Version B of the Damascus Document is thought to come later as it mentions in Column VIII the “gathering in” or death of the Teacher of the community. The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs are documents also found in the Qumran material. They are said to be, although seriously doubted by scholars, the last words of Simeon and Dan. This Qumran two messiah tradition is visible in Column VII when it speaks of Israel submitting to Levi and through Judah (priest and king) because it is from them salvation will come. Plural messiah are implied here. One of the most fascinating finds was a copy of Malachi from Qumran that differs from modern day texts. In chapter 3, the text is talking of God sending a messenger to prepare the way and in verse 2 states, “but who can endure them, they come.” Present day texts state “who can endure the day of his coming.” Here we have a first century BCE text not affected by time or translation, showing a plural messiah tradition. What can be said of the Qumran group at this point? They appropriated messianic materials of the Hebrew Bible in such a way as to transform their way of life. First by moving to the desert and preparing the way Isaiah 40:3 for the coming messiahs. Relying on Exodus, and Zechariah, they formed ideas of the three figures: Adon, Priest(Aaron), and King (Israel) and wrote about them in community documents while awaiting their arrival. With the arrival of the teacher (died in 50 BCE), they thought this was it by sadly saw no messiah’s. However, after the teacher’s death, hope stayed alive for another century or so until the group finally disappeared without their prophecies or hopes coming true.

Essays on John the Baptist: Redemptive Figures (1)

In this new six part series I present responses to s offered in my course at UNC Charlotte on “John the Baptist.” John is the most underrated figure in Christian tradition, rarely given his due as a messiah and inaugurator of the movement Jesus himself arose from. The responses are by my student, Jeff Poplin, now a USAF Lt Colonel, fighter pilot, married with two boys. Jeff wrote them without notes in response to exams given in the course! They offer a good, concise, and rather extraordinary summary of what we covered in the course:

Discuss the complex of traditions found in the Hebrew Bible concerning the expectation of messianic or redemptive figures, whether Prophet/Teacher, Priest, or Davidic King/Ruler. Briefly cover the origins of the basic idea of “anointed figures,” in ancient Israel, then examine the main texts, images, concepts, and ideas, related to the arrival and mission of specific redemptive/messianic agents.

To discuss the basic idea of “anointed figures” (Messiah, Christ/Christos), one must first examine how or with what such figures are anointed. Oil, we are told, is the substance chosen to do the deed so to speak. Exodus 30:22 is our introduction to how God (YHVH) instructed Moses to make this “messiahing” oil from cinnamon, cassia, spices, etc. and how to anoint an individual, thus making them a Messiah. Psalm 45:7 also refers to this by recording God has anointed you with the “oil of gladness.” From the instruction of Moses, this ritual has come to symbolize the making of an ordinary individual into a public figure, one set apart from the others for having been chosen and gone through the rite of passage. Incorporated into this theory or idea of having importance to become anointed, the anointer must be greater than the anointed.

john-the-baptist

 

Numerous examples can be found to support this: Exodus 40:13 Moses anoints Aaron making him the first messiah in the biblical traditions (priestly), I Samuel 10 shows how Samuel anointed Saul, and I Kings 1:39 Zadok anoints Solomon. Again we can see the importance placed by the Israelites on this ritual of taking oil and actually pouring it onto the head of another to anoint him. Isaiah 61:1 talks about the spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the LORD has anointed me. Another reference surprisingly appears in Sirach 45:15 addressing the occasion of Moses anointing Aaron as the first messiah with the holy oil. However, it is not only this ritual the people are interested in, it is the person. Throughout the Old Testament, one can find examples of the Hebrews looking for and believing in an “anointed” individual. They see him as coming or arriving on the scene and having a mission from God to carry out. Although they look for the anointed, this does not necessarily imply it is one individual. However, a text may not present multiple messiahs but individuals looking at texts with an idea or notion of two and sometimes three messiahs may apply such a concept. In the middle appears the Teacher/Adon, with a Kingly and Priestly messiah on his right and left side. One indication of this comes in Exodus 17:8-12. Moses is pictured in the middle with Aaron (a Levite) on one side and Hur (Judah) on the other. Looking back to the anointing of Aaron, since he was from the tribe of Levi, he is considered the represent the priestly christ or messiah. Traditions in I Samuel show the tribe of Judah represented by Saul, David, and later Solomon is the other half of the equation being a kingly messiah. Zechariah also contains a three-figure scenario in which one may see three messiah-like figures. Zechariah 4:2-4, 13 has a lampstand of gold centered (Adon) and is flanked by two olive trees on opposing sides. Psalm 80 reinforces the position of the right hand in verse 17, “let your hand be upon the one at your right hand.” To highlight the priestly messiah theme, one must turn to Psalm 110:4, “you are a priest according to the order of Melchizedek (one who blesses Abraham in Genesis 14). With the arrival of one or both Messiah figures, the texts explain a mission he/they are to engage in to save the Israelite race from the evil doers. Isaiah 9:1-7 is a good example of events to come upon his/their arrival. The beginning is signaled through the arrival of a child, appearing as a light in the land beyond the Jordan (Gentile territory). Once in power, this occupant of the “throne of David” (Isaiah 11:1) will bring endless peace, establish and uphold justice, and authority will rest on his shoulders. Isaiah 11 continues explaining the rule of the Messiah, this shoot out of the stump of Jesse. He shall judge the poor and meek, bring peace so the calf will lie with the wolf, and wolf with the lamb. Most endearing to the people in Isaiah 11:10-16 when the messiah will restore all the lost tribes of Israel from Assyria to Egypt, from Elam to Hamath. Part of the messiah’s mission too is to occupy the “throne of David,” ruling Judah (Jeremiah 22:30). Their Messiah will come with the clouds and to him is given dominion and glory and kingship that all nations should serve him (Daniel 7:13-14). Although the term “messiah” or “Davidic messiah” is never used in the Hebrew Bible, the most complete portrait of a Davidic Messiah can be found in Isaiah 2, 9, 11, and Micah 5.

Extra:  Did John the Baptist Eat Bugs?

Israeli Court Finds Joe Zias Guilty of Libel

Additional news coverage: The Times of Israel

From Simcha Jacobovici’s blog this morning, breaking news from Israel…

Lod District Court (Lod, Israel) – After 4 years in court, Judge Jacob Sheinman handed down a landmark decision today in my libel suit filed against former Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) curator Joseph Zias.

I’m used to criticisms. As a journalist, I’m committed to the principle of free debate in a democratic society. But free speech ends where libel begins, and Zias crossed every red line of a civilized debate. He accused me, among other things, of “forgery”, “planting archaeology”, “pimping the Bible” and “inventing Holocaust stories”. He also accused me of being in intimate contact with various criminal elements around the world. All these are horrible, made up lies that he circulated on the Internet and sent to various universities, publishers and broadcasters. Incredibly, he found some people to support him, especially those with a theological axe to grind.

After I sued him, Zias and some of his supporters claimed that my lawsuit was an attempt to stifle free speech and academic criticism – as if libel and lies are a legitimate part of academic discourse. I only called 4 witnesses to make my case. For his part, Zias argued that he had spoken the truth and called 25 witnesses in his defense. But the strategy backfired as most of his witnesses testified against his position!

Today, the judge threw the book at Zias. He quoted Israeli law stating that freedom of speech has to be balanced with protecting a man’s “good name”. He found that Zias did not prove a single allegation. By the end of his 38 page ruling, the judge found Zias guilty on 10 counts of libel – 6 of them “pre-meditated libel with an intention to cause harm”. To underline the seriousness of Zias’ wrongdoings, the judge fined him a total of 800,000 NIS.

I waited a long time for this moment. Justice has been served and a clear message has been sent to those who use bullying and defamation as a tactic to silence free debate.

Over the past four years I have constantly heard colleagues incorrectly characterizing the Zias lawsuit as a “freedom of speech,” issue, as if Simcha Jacobovici filed his complaint to stifle legitimate criticism and debate on his work. Joe is desperate to cast things that way so he can appear the victim rather than the perpetrator–of slander and defamation–which he most surely is.  If you are interested in the facts, here they are. I know only too well what is at stake here because I have been the victim of Joe’s slander myself, having been a close friend of his for over 20 years. The only difference is Simcha Jacobovici decided to sue Joe whereas I have chosen to ignore Joe’s ugly behavior as much as possible while providing those interested in the facts of the case as I know them.

Zias & Tabor at Qumran

Scholars in my field of ancient Judaism and early Christianity often sharply disagree on issues. Pointed critiques and exchanges are common and welcome, so long as they remain respectful. This has been the case with the academic discussion of the Talpiot tombs in Jerusalem and their possible relationship to Jesus of Nazareth and his family over the past few years.  You can find a representative archive of strongly differing articles atBible & Interpretation here.

Jodi Magness and I laid out the parameters of the early stages of the debate, pro and con, on the Society of Biblical Literature web site here and here. Near Eastern Archaeologypublished a forum involving me and four other scholars on the topic in late 2006, see here. In March 2012 the ASOR Blog devoted the month of March to an intense academic discussion of the new discoveries in the Talpiot “Patio tomb” resulting from the robotic arm probe, see here.  Most recently Prof. James Charlesworth has published the proceedings of the 2008 Princeton Symposium in Jerusalem, The Tomb of Jesus and his Family with over 30 contributions to the discussion, representing a cross sections of interpretations and viewpoints.

PrincetonTalpiotWhat is happily absent from this intense academic discussion is personal defamation, slander, and libel. Unfortunately that has not been the case with Joe Zias, former Israel Antiquities Authority curator, who has publicly and vocally slandered and defamed me as well as my colleague Rami Arav and filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, in connection with our exploration of the Talpiot tombs. Many of my colleagues have cheered Zias on, mistakenly thinking that he is merely expressing his views and disagreeing with us on the interpretation of evidence.

The truth is Zias has moved way beyond respectful academic critique into defamation, libel, and personal slander. I know this firsthand because I have copies of e-mail and letters he has written to my Dean, Provost, Chancellor, literary agent, and publisher–Simon & Schuster, as well as dozens of colleagues, charging me with “conduct bordering on the criminal,” “planting of evidence,” and calling for my dismissal for academic misconduct. In fact, in those e-mails he even charges that we “faked” the Jonah ossuary image and entered the tomb clandestinely, planting it for later filming and “discovery.” Zias urges Simon & Schuster not to publish our book, The Jesus Discovery, charging that our work is based on fraudulent claims. More recently he has expanded his critique to the commendable work Gene Gallagher and I did on Waco–which was even praised by the FBI–charging that my defense of “cult leaders” before congress gave support to the Oklahoma City bombing. Early on I wrote him a couple of e-mails and urged him to drop the personal attacks and participate in the academic discussion, inviting his critique of any aspect of our archaeological exploration of the “Patio tomb” or our interpretations of these tombs. He replied that my career was ruined, that UNC Charlotte had shown itself to be an institution with no academic standards, and that none of my students would ever find jobs or achieve any respect in our field–even though our program in Religious Studies at UNC Charlotte is one of the finest in the country.

So far as I know, even though Joe Zias is surely the most vocal critic of our work on the Talpiot tombs, he has yet to publish a single scholarly article setting forth his own counter arguments or positions. What he has done is constantly post personal attacks in “Comment” sections of media and blog pieces against me, Rami Arav, Simcha Jacobovici, and those he loosely calls “The BAR Crowd,” (which apparently includes editor Hershel Shanks and anyone who is associated with Biblical Archaeology Review).

What is particularly ironic in all this is that Zias, back in 1996, was the first one to speak in favor of the possibility that the Talpiot “Jesus” tomb belonged to Jesus and a likely wife, expressing his amazement at the uniqueness of the “cluster of names” to a BBC film crew.

I care about Joe and his family on a human level and have always treated him with kindness and respect, despite his abuse and slander against me.  I take no joy in his personal pain, though I am pleased that justice has prevailed in this case. The lawsuit was never about Zias’s right to strongly express his disagreement with the theses of Simcha’s films on the Talpiot tombs or the books he had co-authored. It was specific in charging Zias with personal libel, slander, and defamation. Zias had a defense fund set up and various colleagues who have negative views of Simcha’s work have mistakenly taken the issue to be that of Zias’s right to the academic freedom of dissent. Joe has charged that “big money” interests have conspired to keep him from speaking out, punishing him for simply expressing his criticisms. Such is simply not the case, as hundreds of my colleagues who have gotten Joe’s defamatory e-mails can testify.

Biblical Name Eshbaal Found Outside of the Bible

Courtesy of “Bible History Daily” from the Biblical Archaeology Society
Link: http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/ancient-cultures/daily-life-and-practice/biblical-name-eshbaal-found-outside-of-the-bible/

Khirbet Qeiyafa excavators publish new Iron Age inscription
Robin Ngo   •  06/05/2015

qeiyafa-eshbaal

Ner was the father of Kish, Kish the father of Saul, and Saul the father of Jonathan, Malki-Shua, Abinadab and Esh-Baal.

—1 Chronicles 8:33 The Biblical name Eshbaal has been found for the first time in an ancient inscription. Incised before firing on a 3,000-year-old pithos (large ceramic storage jar), the inscription was discovered at the site of Khirbet Qeiyafa in Israel. Researchers Yosef Garfinkel, Mitka R. Golub, Haggai Misgav and Saar Ganor have published their study of this inscription in a forthcoming issue of the journal Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (BASOR).

The Eshbaal inscription reads “[ ] | ʾšbʿl | ˹bn˺ | bdʿ” (“ʾIšbaʿal son of Bedaʿ”) and was written from right to left in the Canaanite alphabetic script. The name ʾšbʿl, commonly translated as ʾIšbaʿal (or Esh-Baʿal—“man of Baʿal”), is known from the Bible. Eshbaal was the second king of Israel, King Saul’s son and a rival of King David (1 Chronicles 8:33; in 2 Samuel 2–4, this king is called Ish-Bosheth). The name Bedaʿ, however, is unique.

qeiyafa-mapRadiometric dating of the layer from which the Eshbaal inscription was unearthed dates the layer to c. 1020–980 B.C.E. The clarity and precision with which the inscription was written suggest, according to the researchers, that the inscription was the work of a skilled hand—perhaps a trained scribe.

“This new inscription marks a transitional stage between the writing system used for 800 years and the official, standardized Phoenician script used by kingdoms and states in Canaan by at least the 10th century B.C.E.,” the researchers wrote in their BASOR article.

The free eBook Life in the Ancient Worldguides you through craft centers in ancient Jerusalem, family structure across Israel and ancient practices—from dining to makeup—throughout the Mediterranean world.

 

The Eshbaal inscription, along with five other inscriptions—two of which are also from Qeiyafa, offers evidence that the Canaanite script was used in the late 11th–10th centuries B.C.E. Included in this important corpus is the five-line Qeiyafa Ostracon, a prize find unearthed during the 2008 season at Khirbet Qeiyafa and possibly the oldest Hebrew inscription ever discovered.*

qeiyafa-ostracon

Excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa, led by Yosef Garfinkel and Saar Ganor on behalf of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, were conducted from 2007 to 2013. Located about 18.5 miles southwest of Jerusalem, Khirbet Qeiyafa was occupied during several periods: Late Chalcolithic, Middle Bronze, Iron, Persian-Hellenistic and Byzantine. Qeiyafa’s main phase of occupation was during the Iron Age, when there was a heavily fortified city boasting a casemate wall, two gates and monumental buildings.In a Biblical Archaeology Review article, Yosef Garfinkel, Michael Hasel and Martin Klingbeil explain the importance of the Iron Age city at Qeiyafa:

The seven seasons of excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa […] uncovered for the first time in the archaeology of the Holy Land a fortified city in Judah from the time of King David. The date of this site (1020–980 B.C.E.) is confirmed by olive pits sent to Oxford University for radiocarbon dating.

[…]

Khirbet Qeiyafa redefined the debate over the early kingdom of Judah. It is clear now that David’s kingdom extended beyond Jerusalem, that fortified cities existed in strategic geopolitical locations and that there was an extensive civil administration capable of building cities.

Read the BASOR article on the new Eshbaal inscription from Khirbet Qeiyafa.

Riots on Mount Zion: Christians and Jews in Conflict

Some of you might remember the riots that broke out on Mt Zion last May when the Pope visited Jerusalem and held a Mass in the “Upper Room” or Cenacle, traditional site where Jesus ate his Last Supper. See the Jerusalem Post story here to refresh your memory.

Mass Cenacle

This past Sunday, which was both the Christian Pentecost and the Jewish Shavuot, similar skirmishes and arrests took place as Jewish protesters tried to prevent the Christians from worshipping in the Upper Room–which just happens to be over the so-called “Tomb of David.” I have not seen this covered in either the Jerusalem Post, HaAretz, or the Times of Israel, as of this morning, and a Google search yields only this AP wire story:

June 1, 5:54 PM EDT: JEWISH PROTESTERS TRY TO BLOCK CHRISTIAN RITUAL AT HOLY SITE

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli police say they forcibly removed dozens of Jewish protesters trying to prevent a Christian ritual from taking place at a holy site revered in both religions.

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri says the skirmish took place Monday at a site revered by Jews as the tomb of the biblical King David and by Christians as the site of Jesus’ Last Supper.

On Sunday, dozens of Jewish protesters also attempted to block Christian prayer there for the holiday of Pentecost.

A status-quo arrangement permits Christian prayer at the site on specific holidays. The Vatican is lobbying Israel for more access to the site, which fundamentalist Jewish Israelis oppose. The Custodia of Terra Santa, a Vatican representative in Jerusalem, said the events were “grave.”

This controversial site is unique in all the Holy Land. In a single building, the foundations of which might go back to the 1st century CE. I would say just about every one of the 3.5 million tourists–whether Christian or Jewish–visit this site. The reason is the upper floor, dating back to Crusader times, marks the traditional place of Jesus’ Last Supper, and precisely below, on the ground floor, is the traditional “Tomb of David,” also dating to Crusader times. These two communities, separated by a floor, stream in and out of their respective places. Before the Six Day War (June 1967), this area of Mt Zion was outside the Green Line and thus remained under Israeli control. It was the nearest Jews could get to the Old City from 1948–when they were all expelled–until 1967. This gave the tomb of David site an incredible significance–next to the Western (“Wailing”) Wall, which could not be accessed, as a place of prayer. Christians continued throughout this time to visit the Cenacle, or Upper Room site. I remember first going there in 1962 when I was a teenager, on my first trip to the Holy Land. I found it very moving. Here are some reflections on that trip written 50 years later with lots of links to my subsequent work in the area, “Fifty Year Ago: My First Visit to Jerusalem.”

Those of us who “Dig Mount Zion” each summer are intimately familiar with the Cenacle, as we walk past it daily from our dig site, just a few hundred yards to the east, to access the public toilets during our days in the field!

The history of the Cenacle has been a focus of my interest and research for 25 years spurred by the important article by Bargil Pixner, “The Church of the Apostles on Mount Zion,” published in Biblical Archaeology Review in May/June 1990. You can read the article here, reproduced with permission. In July 1990 I first met the author, the late great Father Bargil Pixner and we became fast friends over the years.

In now over 50 of trips to Jerusalem I have studied the various sites and their traditions and my views have settled over time. I have given particular attention to the theories of the late Bargil Pixner, whose instructive book, With Jesus in Jerusalem has become a classic. I knew Bargil well and spent many pleasant hours with him on dozens of visits to Jerusalem.  I helped him edit his influential 1997 article in BAR magazine, Jerusalem’s Essene Gateway.  Even though Bargil and I held different views on several matters, especially the location of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and initial burial.  I have a photo from the early 1990s taken in Jerusalem where we were discussing some of these very matters. It is of great sentimental value to me. I came to love and respect Father Pixner very deeply. Shimon Gibson and I visited the area last June, just after the rioting, to visit Pixner’s grave.  We were saddened to see the burning and vandalism at the Dormitian Abby nearby–very senseless destruction of priceless items–it reminds one of Isis or the Taliban.

Pixner.jpg

Pixner's TombstoneRD

One of my graduate students, David Clausen, who just finished his degree in May, has produced a marvelous M.A. thesis on the history and archaeology of the Cenacle that will be published early next year with McFarland (www.mcfarlandbooks.com). I think it is the best thing available on the subject. Shimon Gibson and I were readers. I will keep you all informed.

In the meantime, see some of you at Mt Zion very soon! And if you can’t join us help us–see here: Mt Zion Dig: How You Can Participate.

Did Paul Invent the Virgin Birth?

Legendary stories of gods fathering humans, so common in  Greco-Roman culture, may well have contributed to accounts of Jesus’ miraculous birth in Matthew and Luke but I would suggest an alternative. I am convinced that the idea of Jesus’ birth from a virgin–without a human father–implicitly goes back to the apostle Paul.

Christians regularly affirm that Jesus was “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.” This faith is embedded as a cornerstone of all the major Christian creeds and is recited by hundreds of millions each week. Surprisingly, the gospel of Mark has no account of the birth of Jesus. It opens with Jesus as an adult, traveling from Nazareth down to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. Since Mark is our earliest gospel the question arises–what is the origin of the idea of Jesus’ virgin birth? When and where did it originate?

Adonis & Venus Vecellio

In contrast to Mark both Matthew and Luke give us different versions of the “Christmas story,” but they both agree on the source of Mary’s pregnancy. In Matthew’s account Joseph had a dream shortly after finding out about the pregnancy. In this dream an angel told him that her pregnancy was “by a holy spirit” and that he was to go ahead with the marriage regardless. He was to name her child Jesus. By marrying a pregnant woman who carried a child that was not his, and legally naming that child, he was in effect “adopting” Jesus as his legal son. The phrase “by a holy spirit” implies that the pregnancy came from the agency of God’s spirit but falls short of saying, outright, that God was the father of Jesus in the sense that, say, Zeus was said to be the father of Hercules by his seduction of his mother, Alkmene. In that sense the account is different from those miraculous birth stories so common in Greco-Roman mythology.

Nonetheless, scholars who question the literal truth of Matthew and Luke’s birth stories have suggested that they are a way of affirming the divine nature of Jesus as “Son of God” by giving him an extraordinary supernatural birth. This idea of humans being fathered by gods is quite common in Greco-Roman culture. There was a whole host of heroes who were said to be the product of a union between their mother and a god–Plato, Empedocles, Hercules, Pythagoras, Alexander the Great and even Caesar Augustus. In text after text we find the idea of the divine man (theios aner) whose supernatural birth, ability to perform miracles, and extraordinary death separate him from the ordinary world of mortals. These heroes are not “eternal” gods, like Zeus or Jupiter. They are mortal human beings who have been exalted to a heavenly state of immortal life. In the time of Jesus their temples and shrines filled every city and province of the Roman Empire. It is easy to imagine that early Christians who believed Jesus was every bit as exalted and heavenly as any of the Greek and Roman heroes and gods would appropriate this way of relating the story of his birth. It was a way of affirming that Jesus was both human and divine. Modern interpreters who view the stories in this way usually maintain that Joseph was likely the father and that these supernatural accounts were invented later by Jesus’ followers to honor Jesus and to promote his exalted status in a manner common to that culture.

These legendary stories from Greco-Roman culture may well have contributed to accounts of Jesus’ miraculous birth in Matthew and Luke but I would suggest an alternative. I am convinced that the idea of Jesus’ birth from a virgin–without a human father–implicitly goes back to the apostle Paul. Paul’s letters date several decades before our New Testament gospels and it is Paul’s understanding of Jesus as the pre-existent, divine, Son of God, that lays the conceptual groundwork for our Christmas stories.

Paul never explicitly refers to Jesus’ virgin birth nor does he ever name either Mary or Joseph. What he does affirm is that Jesus pre-existed before his human birth and subsequently gave up his divine glory through his birth as a human being. He writes that Jesus “though existing in the form of God” emptied himself and took on human form, “being made in the likeness of humankind” (Philippians 2:6-7). He says further “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). He has to be referring here, metaphorically, to the “riches” of Jesus’ pre-existence with God, since all our sources have Jesus born of a poor peasant family. Paul also writes “In the fullness of time God sent forth his Son, made of a woman …” (Galatians 4:4). The implication of these texts is that Jesus’ mother was merely the human receptacle for bringing Jesus into the world. It is not a far step from these ideas about Jesus’ pre-existence to the notion of Jesus as the first-begotten Son of God–eliminating any necessity for a human father. Paul’s entire message centers on a divine not a human Jesus–both before his birth and after his death. For Paul he is the pre-existent Son of God, crucified, but now raised to sit at the right hand of God. Like the Christian creeds that jump from Jesus’ birth to his death and resurrection in single phrase, entirely skipping over his life, Paul paves the way for a confessional understanding of what it means to be a Christian. As Bultmann once put it, it is the “thatness” of the Gospel which interested Paul–that he was born of a woman, he died, that he rose, that he is coming again–with nothing inbetween.

The Jewish followers of Jesus later known as the Ebionites (see my previous post here) by the Orthodox Church Fathers, rejected Paul, used a version of Matthew in Hebrew that did not contain the account of the virgin birth in our present chapter 2 of the Greek text, and followed James the brother of Jesus in observing the Torah. It is difficult to imagine the virgin birth idea arising within these original Jewish circles whereas the perspectives of Paul lend themselves so easily to such mythology.

An alternative way of thinking about being a Christian is preserved in the gospel of Mark–our earliest narrative account of the career of Jesus. Mark mentions neither Jesus’ birth, nor any resurrection appearances on Easter morning (according to our earliest manuscripts that end with chapter 16:8). When a would-be follower addresses Jesus as “Good Teacher,” Jesus sharply rebukes him with the retort: “Why do you call me good, there is One who is good, God” (Mark 10:17-18). Mark emphasizes the suffering of Jesus on the cross, but only as a call to others to also “take up a cross” and thus give their lives as servants to others. In Mark Jesus defines true religion as loving God and loving ones neighbor, in contrast to all systems of religion. His version of the Jesus story is surely one that should not be forgotten despite the ubiquitous triumph of Paul’s theology.

Dig Mount Zion: How You Can Participate!

Our Mount Zion excavation begins two weeks from today. Here’s how you can participate if you can’t be on the site with us.

Mt Zion Logo

Sunrise MtZion RD

The magazine Popular Archaeology recently headlined our dig with the following update and you can read their full coverage here:

A team of archaeologists and students will be returning in 2015 to excavate at a site just below the ancient walls of Jerusalem not far from the Temple Mount, an area that has recently been yielding structures and artifacts that are beginning to show a slice of times both turbulent and peaceful in a city sacred to three great religions. Among the most recent finds are an Iron Age II (8th – 6th centuries CE) stamped pottery handle depicting a double-winged scarab with the Hebrew inscription, “le-Melek…” (of or belonging to the King) representing royal or state property; walls and structures from the late 1st century BCE to 70 CE, including a Jewish ritual bath and numerous coins; and more structures, features and artifacts from the Byzantine, Islamic, Crusader, and Ottoman periods.

We are very excited about our 2015 seasons and have over 60 participants from around the world joining us. It is not too late if any of you want to still join us–see digmountzion.uncc.edu for details and contact information.

Annual operational costs of our excavation run about $76,000 a year. We have already raised $56,000 from individual donors that we have approached directly but we need to close this $20,000 gap in the next two weeks. These funds are used directly for excavation costs, conservation, curating of finds, and post-excavation analysis–no personal salaries. The dig is under the academic oversight of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and is fully licensed by the Israel Antiquities Authority and the National Parks, who administer the land.

We are not using any of the popular programs such as Kickstarter or GoFundMe since they extract fees for their services. We want 100% of what our supporters give to go directly to our excavation. Our vender for the past decade, The Foundation of Biblical Archaeology (TFBA) is administering this special campaign and they do not extract fees for such services–simply because they are dedicated to advancing the projects they represent in the most economical way possible. TFBA is a IRS-Approved 501 (C) (3) non-profit and contributions are tax-deductible. All donations are promptly acknowledged and annual statements are provided to donors.

To participate you can go to the link here and give via Paypal or with a Credit/Debit card (add a note that your contribution is for Mt Zion), or you can send a check made out to TFBA/Mt Zion to:

The Mount Zion Excavation Fund
The Foundation for Biblical Archaeology
2175 Dahlonega Highway
Cumming, GA 30040

There can be great strength in numbers and we hope that hundreds of our friends who have dug with us in the past or followed our progress along the way will pitch in and help with whatever amount they decide to give. Please contact me via e-mail with any questions: jdtabor@uncc.edu.

MtZionDig.jpg

Waiting for the Messiahs–One, Two, or Three?

Who are you? Are you the Messiah? Or the Prophet? Or Elijah?

One of the ideas I explore and develop in my 2006 book, The Jesus Dynasty, was the notion of two Messiahs. I had no idea it would become sensational–much less controversial. It actually became headline news, with a cover story in USNews & World Report and special segments on ABC’s Good Morning America, 20/20, and Nightline!

Jews and Christians today have come to focus on the appearance of a single Messiah–a descendant of the lineage of David who is to reign as king in a messianic kingdom over the entire earth. These expectations are based on a dozen or more texts in the Hebrew Prophets that predict the reign of such a future scion of David (Isaiah 11, Micah 5, Jeremiah 23:5-6).

Lucas Cranach John & Jesus

 

One of the Thirteen Principles of the Jewish Faith as formulated by the great Rabbi Moses Maimonides (1135-1204 CE), known by the acronym “the Rambam,” states:

I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah, and though he may delay I will wait daily for his coming. ((The Koren Siddur, trans. and commentary by Rabbi Sir JonathanSacks, p. 204))

The Messiah expected is the Davidic King and this affirmation is sung daily in the Yigdal, a song based on the Ramban’s Thirteen Principles. One of the petitions of the Amidah, which is the heart and soul of Jewish daily prayer, beging: “May the offshoot of Your servant David soon flower.” ((The Shemoneh Esreh, The Koren Siddur, p. 124))

Christians affirm that Jesus of Nazareth, crucified but raised from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God, is this Davidic Messiah or King and that he will return in glory “with the clouds of heaven” in a Second Coming to establish his reign over all the earth.

SideBar: One question early Christians had to face, in declaring Jesus to be the King Messiah, was who anointed Jesus? Traditionally this was to be done by a Prophet. John the Baptist might be a candidate but we have no record of any such ceremony. Luke has Jesus “anointed of the Spirit,” picking up on Isaiah 61, rather than the traditional anointing with oil. Ebionites declared that Jesus was made “Son of God,” a term used for the Davidic messiahs, at his baptism by the Voice from heaven. But there is another surprising possibility some have suggested–more on that in a future post.

What few realize is that this expectation of a single Davidic Messiah had not so solidified in the time of Jesus. In text after text, in a diverse variety of of expectations reflected in a scattered range of primary texts from the period we read about any number of redemptive figures. In terms of “Messiahs,” what we find most commonly is not one but two Messiahs who are to usher in the Kingdom of God. One is to be a kingly figure of the royal line of David, but at his side will be a priestly figure, also a Messiah, of the lineage of Aaron from the tribe of Levi. The word “messiah” refers to one who is “anointed” or appointed. In ancient Israel both the kings and the priests were anointed with oil and were thus called “Messiahs.”  The verb mashach means to “smear with oil,” and a Moshiach or “Messiah” in English is one so smeared or “anointed” as we say in English. Technically speaking the “first” messiah was Aaron, brother of Moses, anointed with oil by his brother Moses in a formal ceremony that made him the Priest of Israel (Exodus 29:7). The first anointed king was Saul, anointed with oil by the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 10:1). When Saul lost favor with God David was likewise anointed by Samuel as king (1 Samuel 16:13; 2 Samuel 2:4). Both priest and king were accordingly “messiahs” or anointed ones. This means that the notion of two messiahs was the norm in ancient Israel and this norm, of the dual messiahs was, of course, the one that was projected into the future once the nation begin to be dismantled by the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions in the 8th-6th centuries BCE.

Zechariah, the 6th century BC Hebrew prophet, foretold of a man called “the Branch” who would bear royal honor and sit on his throne, but he adds, “There shall be a priest by his throne with peaceful understanding between the two of them” (Zechariah 6:13). Here is a clear picture of the Davidic King and his counselor, the anointed Priest. Zechariah refers in another vision to “two sons of fresh oil” (i.e., “anointed ones” or “messiahs”) who “stand before the Lord of the whole earth.” He likens them in his vision to two “olive branches” that stand before the Menorah, the seven-branched oil lamp that symbolized God’s Spirit and presence (Zechariah 4).

This ideal vision of two messiahs became a model for many Jewish groups that were oriented toward apocalyptic thinking in the 2nd to 1st centuries BC. The Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, dating from the 2nd century BC puts things succinctly: “For the Lord will raise up from Levi someone as high priest and from Judah someone as king.” (Testament of Simon 7. 2). Throughout this influential work there is an emphasis that salvation for Israel will come jointly from the tribe of Levi and from the tribe of Judah, the tribe of King David. The Priest Messiah receives more attention than the King Messiah and in many ways he stands superior to the Davidic figure. In fact, the patriarch Judah himself declares, “For to me the Lord gave the kingship and to him the priesthood, and he set the kingship under the priesthood” (Testament of Judah 21:1-2). The book of Jubilees, coming from about the same period, pronounces a perpetual blessing upon Levi as the progenitor of the priests, and Judah as the father of the “prince” who will rule over the Israel and the nations (Jubilees 31). It seems, based on these texts, that the notion of “Two Messiahs” was the ideal structure of Jewish leadership. It is for this reason that the Maccabeans or Hashmoneans, in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, who could claim only the Levitical priestly bloodline, were never really able to effectively establish themselves in the eyes of the populace as “kings,” despite massive political and military power. Ingrained in the Jewish imagination the ideal future in which both a Priest and a King would rule together.

John the Baptizer identified himself as the “messenger” who was to prepare the Way based on a prophecy from the book of Malachi. The version we read in our modern Bibles today is as follows:

“Behold I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming says Yahweh of hosts, but who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” (Malachi 3:1-2).

This translation is based on the standard Hebrew text (Masoretic), the oldest copy of which dates to the 9th century AD. We now have a version of this very passage from Malachi found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. This scroll dates to the 1st century BC, so it is a thousand years older than our standard Hebrew text. Notice carefully the differences in the pronouns:

“Therefore behold I send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me. And they will suddenly come to his temple, the Lord whom you seek and the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire; behold he himself comes, says Yahweh of hosts, but who can endure them when they come?” ((See Martin Abegg, Peter Flint, and Eugene Ulrich, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1999), p. 477.))

This ancient version of Malachi has two figures that are to come jointly—a messenger of the covenant who prepares the Way, but also one called “the Lord whom you seek.” The word translated “Lord” (‘adon) is not the Hebrew name for God—Yahweh, but a word that means a “master” or ruler of some type. It may well be that Jesus and John the Baptizer were familiar with this version of Malachi with the plural pronouns, and identified themselves accordingly. This was certainly the understanding of the sectarian community that wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls.

In one of the oldest founding documents of the Dead Sea Scrolls, The Community Rule, the community is expecting the coming of a prophet they called the Teacher, but also the “Messiahs of Aaron and Israel.” They imagined a future in which the Priest Messiah would preside over a “Messianic banquet,” with the King Messiah of Israel, whom they call the “Prince of the congregation,” or the “Branch of David,” as his companion. There are many references in the Dead Sea Scrolls to their fervent expectation that these two Messiahs would appear. As important as the “Branch of David” was to be, they nonetheless had the most extravagant hopes for the coming priest. In a text called the Testament of Levi we read the following:

“He will atone for the sons of his generation and he will be sent to all the sons of his people. His word is like a word of heaven and his teaching is according to the will of God. His eternal sun will shine, and his fire will blaze in all the corners of the earth. Then darkness will disappear from the earth and deep darkness from the dry land” (4Q541).

This amazing text seems to match the high view in which Jesus held his teacher John the Baptizer where he says that “among those born of women there is none greater than John” and that he was not just a “prophet” but “much more than a Prophet” (Luke 7:26-30) ((In my view the qualification “but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than John,” is a later gloss by gospel editors, shocked by the implications that Jesus was here putting John even ahead of himself.)) It is the very opposite of the theological overlay that our New Testament gospels in their final edited forms project in their effort to make Jesus greater than John. It certainly supports the historical probability that Jesus did view John as his teacher as well as the priestly Messiah of Aaron of whom the prophets had spoken. For those reasons Jesus would have deferred to John’s leadership and direction, a point completely lost in our gospels other than in the collection of Jesus’ earliest teachings that many scholars call Q.

The Dead Sea Scroll community waited a long time for the fulfillment of these central expectations. They had retreated to the Judean desert sometime in the 2nd century BC in response to the prophetic Voice they heard through the prophecies of Isaiah, Daniel, and Malachi. They became convinced that “this was the time” of the preparation of “the Way.” They were the community of the “Last Days” responding to Isaiah’s call to prepare the Way in the desert (Isaiah 40:3). Sometime in the 1st century BCE an influential figure arose among them who had great spiritual and interpretive gifts. They refer to him in the Scrolls as the “Teacher of Righteousness.” We don’t know his name but many events of his life, and even some of his writings, are preserved in the Scrolls. Michael Wise’s wonderful treatment of both the leader and the group, with the provocative title, The First Messiah: Investigating the Savior Before Christ is one I highly recommend. The community saw him as a type of “Prophet like Moses” who had called them into a “new covenant.” They viewed themselves as a remnant group of faithful Israelites who had turned from their sins and separated themselves from the ungodly society around them. They considered the religious establishment of their day, whether Pharisee or Sadducee, to be hopelessly corrupt and compromised. They lived by the strictest interpretation of the laws of the Torah and firmly believed they were living in the “last days.” They believed that their Teacher had given them the definitive inspired interpretation of all the secrets of their prophetic writings.

When their teacher was killed, probably sometime in the mid-1st century BCE, they were convinced the final countdown had begun and that the two Messiahs would soon appear. There are some texts that speak of a final period of “forty years,” following the death of their Teacher. The forty years passed but there is no record in any of the Dead Sea Scrolls that the two Messiahs ever appeared. It was as if all their hopes and expectations were stopped in time and put on hold. For more on these disappointed hopes see my paper “Dead Messiahs Who Don’t Return“). A small group of their community still lived at the settlement we know as Qumran in the 1st century CE, and if they are indeed the people we know as the Essenes, they were scattered in communities all through the land of Palestine. They did not die out despite the failure of their original expectations. It is likely that they were partly responsible for keeping alive the hope of the coming of the two Messiahs.

Given these deeply rooted hopes and expectations among these Messianic Jews one can scarcely imagine the excitement and fervor that John the Baptist and Jesus would have stirred as they prepared their next moves in the spring of 27 CE. John as a priest from the tribe of Levi and Jesus as a descendant of David from the tribe of Judah must have stirred the hopes of thousands who had come to expect the arrival of the two Messiahs as a sure sign of the end. Even Herod Antipas soon felt the sting of John the Baptizers’ blistering message of repentance. Christians are prone to imagine a “meek and lowly” Jesus who seldom raised his voice but the evidence will show that he learned well from his teacher and that like John the Baptizer, Jesus’ radical message divided households and villages and shook the religious and political establishment.

I have prepared a special handout titled “Two Messiahs-The Evidence,” for classes and lectures that pulls together all the primary sources and fills out more details.  You are welcome to download this, print it out, and use it for your own study.