An Update on the Dead Sea Scrolls
By Martin A. Larson
I was reared in a highly fundamentalist religious denomination, and although I had various early doubts concerning its dogmas and practices, and rejected them when I was about 20 years old, I never lost an intense interest in religion as a social phenomenon or in its influence upon mankind. I remember one philosopher who said that men create their gods in their own image; and certain it is that human beings in almost all times have believed in a great variety of supernatural beings. One scholar declared that the greatest miracle of all is the capacity of mankind to believe in things for which there is no actual evidence.
When I was doing my research for the Ph.D. degree at the University of Michigan, I became engrossed in Milton, especially his religious concepts; and I discovered that he was far from orthodox in these as well as in his political convictions. In fact, I found that he had embraced various heresies for which, under Puritan law, he could have been sent to prison or even executed. And this was especially true because he rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, which is a central dogma in both the Catholic Church and in the Protestant Reformation.
This set me off on a search for the sources of his beliefs; and I found that Michael Servetus, burned at the stake by Calvin in 1553, may have been the heretic who inspired Milton to reject this basic dogma.
However, when I was no longer a teacher but had to make my living in the business world, I had no time for research; and had to put this off until 1950, when I had both leisure and financial independence. Then I plunged into new research in the religious area.
I soon conceived an intense interest in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which had been found in 1947, and together with this, I sought to discover the ultimate as well as the immediate sources of the Christian gospel, as set forth in the New Testament. I therefore began research which involved the reading and examination of hundreds of esoteric volumes and the editing of a large book, entitled The Religion of the Occident, published in 1959, which has since been reprinted at least five times, and is now entitled The Story of Christian Origins.
As my interest in the Dead Sea Scrolls intensified, I prepared another volume dealing largely with this subject and entitled The Essene-Christian Faith.
A few years ago [in 1981], I gave a talk at IHR's Third International Revisionist Historical Conference on the Dead Sea Scrolls, in which I emphasized two points:
- that there is a definite relationship between the Essene cult and the teachings found in the New Testament gospels, especially that of Luke; and
- that both the Jewish authorities and the present Christian denominations seem determined to negate and deny any such relationship, and if possible, to prevent the publication of the Scrolls.
In 1947, two Bedouins stumbled into a cave near the Dead Sea and found there several scrolls, which were sold to some people in New York and published without delay. These furnished very strong evidence to support the belief that Jesus may himself have been an Essene before he appeared at the Jordan to be baptized by John, and that the New Testament Gospels contain many ideas and teachings very similar to those of the Essenes. After this first discovery, several well-financed expeditions were sent into the area to explore any other caves that might be found. Several caves were discovered, containing rich treasures of Essene material. Millar Burrows, the leading scholar in the field, stated that original Essene scriptures sufficient to fill two large volumes had been recovered.
It is indeed interesting to note that more than a hundred years before the discovery of the Scrolls, a famous English author, Thomas De Quincey, had written a long essay called "The Essenes," in which he maintained that there never had been such a separate community, but that the people described by Josephus, Philo Judaeus, and Pliny were simply Christians gone underground as a result of persecution. Even on the basis of the slight evidence available in 1830, this renowned scholar arrived at this momentous conclusion.
I wish to point out the fact that having any scrolls at all was simply an accident of history. The Bedouins who happened upon them had no interest in them except to obtain some money, and those who bought them had the same objective. As a result, these first Scrolls saw the light without any delay whatever.
Then, however, a completely different process began. The expeditions undertaken by religious groups, which recovered much additional treasure, placed this material in a Jordanian museum in Jerusalem. There it remained until 1967, when the Jewish government seized the area, the museum, and the Scrolls, in the war which occurred that year. Since then, virtually no one has been permitted access to any Essene material, although the Isaiah Scroll, found in one of the caves, has long been on public display.
We should note that even while the museum was under Jordanian control, strict secrecy was maintained. I know that, for when I wrote the curator asking permission to photograph certain pieces of parchment from the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the reply was that should I journey there I would not be allowed even to look at them!
Nearly 40 years have now elapsed since great quantities of original Essene material were found, much of which would undoubtedly have a definite bearing on the origins of Christianity. Many years ago, eight scholars were appointed to study, collate, arrange, publish and translate the Scrolls. However, all of them, except one, had religious commitments or obligations. Only John Marco Allegro was free of such limitations. He was assigned the difficult task of unraveling the Copper Treasure Scroll, which he did promptly and expertly. He also translated and published a few fragments from the Scrolls which are most interesting.. The others, of whom four were Roman Catholics and three Protestants, simply malingered on the job. And to this day, while the Scrolls may be disintegrating with age and exposure, virtually nothing of the task imposed upon these men has been accomplished.
I consider this failure perhaps the greatest and most contemptible cover-up that has ever occurred in the religious field. And we should note that while those in control see to it that the Scrolls are not published, they deny vehemently that there is any attempt to delay or prevent their publication.
At this point, I want to say a few words about the importance of religion. In my experience, I found that bigots in this area are more intolerant of others and more certain that they and they alone possess the truth -- even though they actually know nothing -- than is the case in any other realm of belief. There is nothing which creates more antagonism than an opinion or a fact which is at variance with their persuasions. For this reason, I try to avoid religious controversy. I usually withhold my personal opinions or beliefs and try to limit any discussion, if any, to unquestionable facts -- such as those pertaining to the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Since it is a fact that one of the greatest cover-ups in history relates to the suppression of these documents, it is certainly pertinent to ask why this has occurred. What powerful interests wish to suppress their contents? As far as I am concerned, the answer is not far to seek. Both the Israelis and the Christian denominations wish to ignore the content of the Scrolls and see them into oblivion for reasons which seem obvious enough to me.
And we should note that religion is perhaps the most powerful influence that exists on earth. Although there are several major faiths, and although Christianity itself is divided into hundreds of sects and denominations, one of them alone, the Roman Catholic Church, is considered by some scholars as powerful an economic and political force in the Western world as either the United States or the Soviet Union. Although all Christian divisions agree on certain matters, they differ sharply on various others.
Why, then, do Christian organizations desire the oblivion of the Scrolls? The reason is that they have always held that their creed was a single, unique, miraculous, and supreme revelation without predecessor or outside contributor. But the fact is that nothing could be further from the truth. Christianity is a composite of doctrines, teachings, and ideologies, which have forerunners in previous religions, with a proximate source in the Essene cult. If these facts were widely known, the authority of the Church or the churches would be drastically reduced. For this reason the reigning churches are determined to show that there is little or no similarity between Essenism and original Christianity. Or they prefer simply to ignore the whole thing as if it did not exist. It would be virtually impossible to do this if all the Scrolls were published.
We know also from the Scrolls as well as from many passages in the New Testament that both the Essenes and Jesus were bitterly opposed to the Jewish authorities, especially the religious. There can be little doubt that the Scrolls now crumbling into dust include many passages in which the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Scribes are excoriated in the most bitter terms, and that the tyranny exercised by them over the dissident Essenes is described in full detail. We know that about 104 B.C. the Essenes became a secret cult, went underground as it were, and forbade its members to discuss any of its beliefs with outsiders. We know also that about 70 B.C. the Teacher of Righteousness, the Essene leader, appeared in the temple in Jerusalem, where he denounced the authorities, and that, as a result, he was executed, probably by crucifixion; and that his followers therafter declared that he had risen from the grave on the third day, ascended to heaven, and would send a great messiah before the end of the generation to conduct the Last Judgment and inaugurate the Kingdom of the Saints on earth.
In addition, I think we would be correct in concluding or assuming that the Jews prefer not to believe that Christianity sprang from an obscure and secret cult existing practically underground among their own people.
I can assure you that I am not the only one who believes that there is a general conspiracy to conceal the content of the remaining Scrolls and, if possible, to hasten their destruction. One of these is the same John Allegro, mentioned earlier, who lost his position as a professor in an English university because of what he said, and who was denied all future access to the Scrolls after he declared that a predecessor of Jesus may also have been crucified about a century before. In an article entitled "The Scandal of the Unpublished Scrolls," published on May 18, 1987, in The Daily Telegraph of London, England, he states that the Scrolls:
Pose questions too hot for the scholars' liking. He considers the delays in publication pathetic and inexcusable... for years, his colleagues have been sitting on the material, which is not only of outstanding importance, but also quite the most religiously sensitive.
Mr. Allegro has no doubt that the evidence from the Scrolls undermines the uniqueness of Christianity as a sect "In fact," he declares, "we know all about the origins of Christianity." However,
... these documents lift the curtain. But the members of the international team are all ecclesiastically connected in some way and I think they are quite glad to sit on the stuff ... that has been the trouble with the Scrolls; they impinge so much on Judaism and on Christianity ... they became a political football when the Israelis marched in and seized Jerusalem from the Jordanians in the War of 1967.
"They are," he continues,
... now in Israeli custody and are stilt so far as I am aware, locked up in cabinets in the basements of the museum in Jerusalem, where one bomb could destroy them at any time.
Some thirty years ago, it was made clear that all the members of the team appointed to work on the Scrolls would soon make the documents assigned to them available for publication in learned journals and by the Oxford University Press. However, Allegro was the only member of the team who fulfilled this duty.
The only solution for the problem, he declares, "is the formation at once of an international, interdenominational and ecumenical committee to complete the study and decide how best to make the contents of the Scrolls available to the public." He might, I think, have added that such a committee should consist largely of dedicated scholars who are without specific commitments or obligations to religious organizations.
Will this happen? I very much doubt it. I am afraid that the cover-up will continue until the Scrolls have withered into dust -- forever lost. The seekers for truth will probably have to be satisfied with what we already have. But even that, I assure you, is ample to establish the fact that there is a close relationship between the Essene cult and original Christianity.
This is the text of an address by Dr. Larson at the Eighth IHR Conference, October 1987, in Irvine, southern California.
From The Journal of Historical Review, Spring 1988 (Vol. 8, No. 1), pages 79-83.
About the Author
Martin A. Larson (1897-1994) received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. He was the author of more than 20 books and countless articles, essays and reviews. From 1980 until his death, he was a member of the Editorial Advisory Committee of the IHR's Journal of Historical Review. He addressed several IHR conferences.