The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Christian Faith: In Celebration of the Jubilee Year of the Discovery of Qumran Cave I

By James H. Charlesworth and Walter P. Weaver, eds.
Harrisburg, PA : Trinity Press International (1998). xviii + 76 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
10.2 (Fall 1999) : 285-286

The sixth installment in the Faith and Scholarship Colloquies, the editors have brought together four short essays on the impact of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) on NT studies.

Joseph A. Fitzmyer discusses the DSS and Christian origins. He helpfully reminds the reader that the DSS are not singular or unified documents but rather a large number of “scrolls and fragments found at eight or nine different locations” (2). Fitzmyer discusses methodology of utilizing the DSS in terms of NT studies and their comparative value to other writers such as Philo and Josephus, highlighting their importance as “firsthand” accounts of Palestinian Judaism (6). Fitzmyer also briefly discusses certain Pauline expressions and their possible background in DSS fragments and includes an interesting summary of the relationship of 7Q4-10 and Mark 6:52-53.

John Collins presents an interesting discussion of Messianism in the DSS and particularly a review of 4Q285 and the question of a “dying messiah” and the conclusions of Wise and Eisenmen. This subject has been of interest to NT scholars because the traditional interpretation of Jewish backgrounds has been that the notion of a Messiah who would die was foreign to Jewish thought in the NT era. David Noel Freedman follows with an article on prophecy in the DSS. He points out that the Qumran community believed that they were living in “the last days” (48), and that lacking “a true prophet in their midst to give them direct revelation from God” (49), often re-interpreted the OT to fit their own current situation, this being done by an “authoritative interpreter” (ibid.). Freedman’s article is quite helpful and written in his usual readable style.

Charlesworth himself concludes the book with an interesting discussion of the DSS and the Christian faith. He talks about some of the perceived problems of the DSS and Christian theology, such as the conspiracy imagined because of the tortuously slow process in publication (66). He points out that the DSS have “revolutionized our understanding Christian origins” (72), especially in terms of background information. In the small number of pages in this book the reader w ill be rewarded with four stimulating essays and an update on the current thinking in DSS scholarship.