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THE RUMOR MILL: SOME CLAIM EXPERTS WITHHELD 'SECRET' PART OF SCROLLS MENTIONING JESUS
During a recent visit to the Holy Land, including the mountains and caves of Qumran, where the famous Dead Sea scrolls were found, our guide, who exhibited a balanced, credible knowledge of archeology, said rumors persist that the famous scrolls -- stored now beneath a museum dedicated to them in Jerusalem, the oldest known version of the Old Testament -- still bear a secret.
We'll get to that in a moment.
Initially discovered by a young Bedouin shepherd boy at a cave near the sea in 1947 (in all they have now turned up in eleven such caverns), the scrolls demonstrate the remarkable reliability of current Bibles, which precisely match these 2,000-year-old documents down to minor detail in verbiage and include the entire Book of Isaiah. There are the remains of 825 to 870 scrolls. Most were written in Hebrew in this area 13 miles from Jerusalem. It is likely that there are others yet to be discovered, for not all caves have been searched.
It is widely believed the scrolls were painstakingly penned with carbon-based ink on parchment and papyrus by an exquisitely mysterious, devout, and strict religious sect called the Essenes. Many scholars believe these "Essenes" were not just a tiny sect of several hundred living the austere life in those spare parts near the salty shorelines, but counted membership in the thousands across various parts of what is now the West Bank (where Qumran is located) and Israel up to Mount Carmel.
The Essenes lived in a way that was strikingly similar to what is described as the lifestyle of John the Baptist -- who was from this same general territory where the scrolls were discovered and like those in the sect was an ascetic, dressing simply and eating wild honey and locusts.
It was this sect that made copies of the entire Old Testament from 100 B.C. to 67 A.D., along with some apocryphal books.
That of course is a period of history that overlaps with the life of Jesus.
And this brings us to the "secret":
According to the guide, an Arab Christian from Jerusalem, the scrolls have never been released in their entirety because they not only reproduce the Old Testament and apocrypha in stunning fashion but also make direct reference to Jesus.
Does it go beyond the allusions to Jesus already released?
As yet, it is just a rumor, perhaps a fantasy. There is no substantial evidence. And it may be confusing past controversies over released of scrolls that have since been translated for the public -- that have been released.
"For almost fifty years, the hopes of Christian scholars were frustrated by the decision of the small group of original scroll scholars to withhold publication and release of a significant number of these precious scrolls," notes evangelical Grant Jeffrey. "Some scholars speculated publicly that there might be evidence about Christ in the unpublished scrolls but the original scroll scholars vehemently denied these claims. While some scroll scholars had published part of their assigned texts, after forty-five years the team responsible for the huge number of scrolls discovered in Cave Four had published only twenty percent of the five hundred Dead Sea Scrolls in their possession."
Adds Jeffrey: "Finally, after a public relations campaign demanded the release of the unpublished scrolls to other scholars, the last of the unpublished scrolls were released to the academic world. To the great joy and surprise of many scholars, the scrolls contain definite references to the New Testament and, most importantly, to Jesus of Nazareth. In the last few years several significant scrolls were released that shed new light on the New Testament and the life of Jesus. One of the most extraordinary of these scrolls released in 1991 actually referred directly to the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ."
Still, while allusions are made to a messiah Who was martyred, nowhere in released scrolls is the Name Jesus written.
To show us how "iffy" this business can be, some scholars even dispute that it was the Essenes who recorded them. Again, it may be sheer fiction that parts are still held from the public and allude to Christ.
But there is no doubt Christ was known across the land and in presenting the Book of Isaiah, the scrolls include all those prophecies of the coming Messiah -- predictions that as we know so closely fit aspects in the life and suffering of Jesus.
"Consider the ministry of Jesus himself," writes author, Mark M. Mattison. "Jesus was heavily influenced by the ministry of his cousin John the Baptist. He sought John's counsel in the Judean wilderness and was baptized by John. The ties between John the Baptist and Jesus are strongly emphasized in the Gospels. According to the Gospel of John, some of the Baptist's disciples followed Jesus and became His disciples. Think about that for a minute: Could some of Jesus' disciples have been Essenes? The New Testament tells us about Pharisees who believed in Jesus and became Christians. But what about Essenes? Philo [a Jewish philosopher] tells us that there were more than four thousand Essenes in Palestine and Syria. There were around two hundred of them at Qumran alone. Josephus [a Roman-Jewish historian in the first century A.D.] tells us that they were to be found in every city. Jesus would have encountered Essenes on many occasions as he traveled through Israel; it would be difficult to imagine that Jesus never had anything to do with them."
In other words, it is indeed plausible, at least in theory, that Christ is mentioned in these scrolls -- if (and it's that huge "if") there are indeed parts of the scrolls that remain concealed. However, it is difficult to imagine keeping a lid on such secrecy. But the important point is that even those scrolls that have been released seem to refer to Jesus, and He likely strode on terrain right in the vicinity of the Qumran caves as He traveled between Galilee and Jerusalem.
It is believed that the Mount of Temptation -- where Satan approached Jesus during that forty-day fast -- is in this dusty, barren area. Not so far is also Jericho -- and we know Jesus was there (Matthew 20:29). Meanwhile, the reported similarities between practices of Jesus and the Essenes -- including chastity (in some levels of the order), blessing bread, and rigorous fasts -- are striking. "We also know, from literary testimony, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the archaeological remains of Qumran, that the Essenes practiced many water baptisms for ritual purification," says Mattison -- once more bringing us back to John the Baptist. The sect was highly prophetic, relying on visions, using herbs, and practicing healing.
The connection between Jesus and this devout sect was also featured prominently in the mystical writings of German stigmatic Anne Catherine Emmerich, who is now beatified.
It was Emmerich who described the alleged location of Mary's final residence in Ephesus, Turkey -- leading Turkish investigators right to it, although she herself never traveled anywhere near there. In The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary -- the same book that revealed the house in Ephesus -- Emmerich asserted, through mystical revelations, that the very ancestors of Mary's mother, St. Anne, were Essenes who lived mostly on the slopes of Mount Hermon and Mount Carmel.
If true, this too would argue for the intermingling of Christ and those who recorded the Dead Sea scrolls.
One must be very cautious with private revelations, and we should note that because Emmerich was beatified does not mean the Vatican has accepted her mystical writings; moreover, she portrayed the life of the Blessed Mother and Passion of Jesus in tremendous detail -- perhaps too much detail. Some even suspect a professional writer, Clemens Brentano, helped pen them. But, again, it makes for fascinating rumination. She claimed the Essenes' devout lifestyle was an inheritance from Moses and Aaron and in particular from the priests who carried the Ark of the Covenant. She also said they had a sacred relic -- a piece of clothing -- from Moses and were connected to the Blessed Virgin Mary's ancestry.
"Their organization was very much like that of a religious order," wrote the mystic. "All who wished to enter had to undergo a year's test, and the length of time for which they were accepted was decided by prophetic inspirations from above. The real members of the order, who lived in a community, did not marry but lived in chastity; but there were others who married and carried out in their families. These married Essenes always sought instruction and counsel from an aged prophet on Mount Horeb. St. Anne's grandparents belonged to this kind of married Essenes."
Blessed Emmerich went so far as to claim that Essene women helped Mary in Bethlehem right after the birth of Jesus -- preparing food for the Holy Family.
A final note:
It is said that back in the time of the Essenes, bodies of water like the Sea of Galilee had greatly evaporated, leaving muddy banks of decay. In our own period, officials are racing to halt the disappearance of the Dead Sea as well as Galilee, which due to extraordinary drought are vanishing at several feet a year. Some go so far as to speculate that without nourishment from the Mediterranean, the Dead Sea -- site of those scrolls -- will disappear in twenty-five years.
The Essenes saw the world in a state of war between forces of light and forces of darkness and the end times approaching.
Obviously, that did not occur in their time.
But a final intrigue, whether or not Jesus was mentioned -- whether or not there are any scrolls to be revealed -- is how closely the spiritual times as portrayed in the scrolls match our own.
We can ask: is there any significance in the fact that these prophetic scrolls should be revealed so prominently in our own era?
[see also: Extraordinary evidence for Jesus in the scrolls]
[Prayers were said at the holiest sites for all viewers of Spirit Daily. We thank 206 Tours in New York for so capably arranging our group trip]
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