Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Beatitudes of Jesus

Tomorrow’s Gospel reading at Mass is taken from Jesus’ sermon in Luke 6, a passage with many similarities to the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew. Specifically, in the reading of Luke we hear Jesus issue four Beatitudes.

Much has been written about the Beatitudes and I can hardly summarize it all here. However, I thought I’d draw attention to a particular Dead Sea Scroll fragment some scholars think has significance for understanding Jesus’ teaching.

In 4Q525 Frags. 2 col. ii + 3 we read:
1 with a pure heart, and does not slander with his tongue. Blank Blessed are those who adhere to her laws, and do not adhere 2 to perverted paths. Blank Bles[sed] are those who rejoice in her, and do not burst out in paths of folly. Blank Blessed are those who search for her 3 with pure hands, and do not pursue her with a treacherous [heart.]Blank Blessed is the man who attains Wisdom, Blank and walks 4 in the law of the Most High, and directs his heart to her ways, Blank and is constrained by her discipline and alwa[ys] takes pleasure in her punishments; 5 and does not forsake her in the hardship of [his] wrong[s,] and in the time of anguish does not abandon her, and does not forget her [in the days of] terror, 6 and in the distress of his soul does not loathe [her. Blank] For he always thinks of her, and in his distress he meditates [on her, and in all 7 his life [he thinks] of her, [and places her] in front of his eyes in order not to walk on paths […] 8 […] together, and on her account eats away his heart […] 9 […] … and with kings it shall make [him s]it […] 10 [with] his [sc]eptre over … […] brothers … […] 11 […] Blank […] 12 [And] now, sons, lis[ten to … and do] not reject […] 13 […] … the evil of […]
What is striking here is that not only do we find Beatitudes, but that we find some that are in many ways similar to the ones pronounced by Jesus. Evans highlights some of the parallels:
“[Blessed is he who walks] with a pure heart” (4Q525 2:1).
“Blessed are the pure in heart” (Matt 5:8)

“Bles[sed] are those who rejoice in her” (4Q525 2:2)
“Blessed are you when men revile you . . . rejoice and be glad” (Matt 5:11–12)

Blessed is the man who . . . in the distress [or ‘meekness’] of his soul, does not despise her” (4Q525 2:3–6)
“In the meekness [or ‘meekness’] of righteousness bring forth [your] words. . .” (4Q525 4:20)
“Blessed are the meek” (Matt 5:5).[1]
Moreover, Puech has argued that the fragment originally contained 8 + 1, mirroring what we find in Matthew 5, a view picked up by Evans[2] as well as VanderKam and Flint.[3]

Furthermore, as one continues to read, it seems apparent that 4Q525 is linked with eschatological terminology used in other sectarian texts. This has led some to see the fragment as relating an eschatological vision,[4] something also suggested by the references to affliction, e.g., the eschatological tribulation, a theme my co-blogger Brant Pitre has examined a great deal.[5]

All of this is interesting and leads to a broader backdrop which potentially shines more light on the implications of Jesus’ Beatitudes. As Flint writes, “One contribution of 4Q525 is . . . to show that the structure of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 most likely was familiar to many Jews in the first century b.c.e.”[6]

[1] Craig Evans, “Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran Cave 4,” in Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Literature; eds. C. A. Evans and P. W. Flint; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 95.
[2] Craig Evans, Jesus and His Contemporaries: Comparative Studies (Leiden: Brill, 2001), 142.
[3] See É. Puech, “4Q525 et les péricopes des Béatitudes en Ben Sira et Matthieu,” Revue biblique 138 (1991): 90-106; James VanderKam and Peter Flint, The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Their Significance for Understanding the Bible, Judaism, Jesus and Christianity (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002), 336-338; Peter Flint, “Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in The Historical Jesus in Context (eds. A.J. Levine, D. C. Allison, and J.D. Crossan; Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006), 124–25.
[4] Jacqueline C. R. de Roo, “Is 4Q525 a Qumran Sectarian Document?,” in The Scrolls and the Scriptures: Qumran Fifty Years Later (eds. S. Porter and C. A. Evans; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1997), 338–367.
[5] Jesus, the Tribulation and the End of the Exile (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005).
[6] Flint, “Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” 124.


Anders Branderud said...

Quote: " The Historical Jesus in Context"

A logical analysis (found in ( is the website of the only legitimate Netzarim-group)) of all extant source documents and archeology proves that the historical Ribi Yehosuha ha-Mashiakh (the Messiah) from Nazareth and his talmidim (apprentice-students), called the Netzarim, taught and lived Torah all of their lives; and that Netzarim and Christianity were always antithetical.

It’s meaningless to consider, exclusively, the post-135 C.E. Hellenized Greek source documents of Roman Hellenists who, Oxford historian James Parkes demonstrated (The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue), were 180 degree antitheses of the 1st-century Pharisee Ribi), instead of the 1st-century Judaic sources (like DSS 4Q MMT).

The “historical Jesus” is an oxymoron.

The historical person was named Ribi Yehoshua.

Jimmy Doyle said...

Great post. Good info.

Just a quick note, though. The image you are showing as 4Q525 is actually the recto side of the the Greek John Rylands Papyrus (P52), not the Hebrew MSS 4Q525.

Bob MacDonald said...

I was at first struck by your post but I am a bit cooler on it after a few days reflection. These 'blessed' formulas are common in the Hebrew tradition particularly in the Psalms and Proverbs 8. Would these two references to 'her' in the fragment be to wisdom? I think it is reading too much into a fragment to attach the 8 and 1 form to it. Thanks though for pointing this idea out.

Eliyahu said...

"All of this is interesting and leads to a broader backdrop which potentially shines more light on the implications of Jesus’ Beatitudes. As Flint writes, “One contribution of 4Q525 is . . . to show that the structure of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 most likely was familiar to many Jews in the first century b.c.e.”[6]" So it boils down again to what was likely familiar to the Jews of the first century. And this should come as no surprise. Does anyone deny that Jews wrote the scrolls found at Qumran? There it is the Jews again. And by Jews let's not confuse the issue. The Jews that we speak of are those who kept both the Torah and the practice of Torah in it's pristine state. Accurate history shows a Torah observant Jewish mashiach named Yehoshua ben Yoseph. The time is running short. Will you follow the man or the myth? Will you follow Torah or your own eyes and hearts?

Justin from Ohio said...

Wow....2 of the 4 comments on this post are from these Netzarim folks (who I've never heard of before).

I'll leave it to more learned scholars than myself to respond to(or ignore) their posts...I will say, however, that this doesn't seem to be the forum for them to advertise or advance their beliefs.

Good post, Michael...very interesting.

Michael Barber said...


You got me. I didn't have time to find the actual picture of the fragment so I just posted up an example of an ancient fragment. I guess I should have at least picked a DSS fragment. Oh well. I suppose the Greek sort of gave it away!


Of course, I realize that reconstructing the 8+1 is speculative. What I find most fascinating here is that the fragment seems (and again, I realize we can't be sure) to describe beatitudes in the context of the sect's eschatological outlook, specifically tying it to "suffering". This is really interesting! In and of itself it seems like an interesting parallel with Matthew 5, where the Beatitudes are both situated within Jesus' eschatological healing ministry and closely linked to suffering. Thanks for dropping by. I'd encourage you to read the de Roo piece on it, which really got my attention. God bless!


Thanks for dropping by!

Anders and Eliyahu:

Thanks for coming to the site. I appreciate your comments. Here's a question for you: If Jesus' Jewish name was so important to preserve in its original form, why do the NT authors write it in its Greek form?

Eliyahu said...

Michael shalom,
The following are excerpts cited from The first is from Eusebius an early church historian, "But there were others besides these who have the same name. These escaped the absurd folly of the first mentioned, and did not deny that the Lord was born of a Virgin and the Holy Spirit but nevertheless agreed with them in not confessing his pre-existence as God, being the Logos and Wisdom. Thus they shared in the impiety of the former class, especially in that they were equally zealous to insist on the literal observance of the Law. They thought that the letters of the Apostle [Paul] ought to be wholly rejected and called him an apostate from the Law. They used only the Gospel called according to the Hebrews [i.e., Hebrew Matityahu] and made little account of the rest. Like the former they used to observe the Sabbath and the rest of the Jewish ceremonial, but on Sundays celebrated rites like ours in commemoration of the Saviour's resurrection." (Eusebius, loc. Cit.). From this we can see that there was “other” groups that held Ribi Yehoshua as the Mashiach and kept the Torah. We also see the rejection of nearly all that could be called the NT save a Hebrew version of Matityahu. This is but seminal evidence for rejection of the NT. If you simply Google “New Testament redaction(s)” you will come up with more citings then anyone might care to go through. Sufficient to begin with is this from the The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, "A study of 150 Greek MSS of the Gospel of Luke has revealed more than 30,000 different readings… It is safe to say that there is not one sentence in the NT in which the MS tradition is wholly uniform… But there are many thousands which have a definite effect upon the meaning of the text. It is true that not one of these variant readings affects the substance of Christian dogma" ("Text, NT," 2nd edition, Abingdon, 1962)

Therefore to answer your question, accurate history is not what the NT writers/redactors were/are concerned with. Perhaps you can tell me why this is the only Jewish name ending in ay'in ע , that is translated into Greek with the sigma ending instead of the upsilon? And for what reason since the ending should sound like “ah” not “s.” The reason will become obvious with study. Let me tell you the end of the movie. We have two sets of instruction here. The Torah that Ribi Yehoshua taught and lived by and Xtianity the opposite, what is correctly ascribed to Jzeus a name without corporeal history. Whoever said “those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” said a mouthful here. History of the 1st century which includes the earliest extant sources and archeology point to a Jewish man, with a Jewish name, and a Jewish message. The message was to Yisrael to come back to Torah. Are you familiar with חזרו בתשובה? It was the message of HaMashiach to return to Torah. But all of this information has been made available at Are you interested in learning from the historical man or the myth? Wow?

Kevin said...

Christ Crucifixion site and the Ark of the Covenant found burred under a trash pile in Jerusalem.

Anonymous said...

>>Are you interested in learning from the historical man or the myth?

The NT itself records how there were many who, though wanting to follow Jesus, also wanted to keep the old law, such as the groups to which you refer. Much of the NT is dedicated to this very issue. So, it's quite ironic that you have such contempt for the NT when most of the NT agrees with you on this very point. Besides, every student of the NT knows these things, so I'm not sure why you feel you are sharing something new with us here.

Anonymous said...

In the Sermon on the Mount, (Jesus' first public speaking engagement), Jesus began with 9 beatitudes. 8 short and 1 long. According to French scholar Emile Puech's reconstruction, Dead Sea scroll 4Q525 originally contained 9 very similar beatitudes (8 short + 1 long.) These original beatitudes were unknown in Hebrew literature until discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. They were likely recited during morning prayers among the sect that occupied the abandoned Qumran site at the time of Jesus. Anyone in the Sermon on the Mount audience who had been familiar with the Qumran version would have immediately recognized the reference that Jesus was making by phrasing his beatitudes as the Qumranites phrased theirs. (It's akin to beginning a speech with "five score and eight years ago..." and then talking vaguely about slavery and Lincoln. If you get the reference, you understand on a different level than those who merely appreciate the poetic form of the message. Bear in mind that Jesus was beginning his movement. He was likely fishing for sect expatriates in the crowd.)

Immediately after the beatitudes, Jesus said "you are the salt of the earth." It is very possible that Qumran was the "salt city" of Flavius Josephus. It is patently obvious that the series of cisterns at Qumran were for evaporating salt water to make salt. There is a large, flat area commonly believed to have been an Essene dining area (Locus 77) at Qumran. It was, in fact, designed as an evaporation floor. That its axis lines up with the summer solstice sunset, and water that had already passed through most of the evaporation cisterns was channelled onto it supports this theory. Therefore, I contend the salt metaphor in the Sermon on the Mount was the second reference to Qumran. This supports the theory that the Qumran sect and Jesus were intertwined. But not as much as the third reference...

After the allusion to salt city, Jesus next offered his assurance that he did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. This was the third, and most powerful Qumran reference - as he apparently meant he was to fulfill Isaiah 35:5-6, (eyes of the blind opened, lame shall leap, ears of the deaf unstopped), Isaiah 61:1-2 (bring good news to the poor) and scroll 4Q521 (heal the wounded, open the eyes of the blind, raise the dead, and bring good news to the poor). Scroll 4Q521 required two rather tall orders: the messiah would have to both heal the wounded and raise the dead. Neither of these two requirements were included in Isaiah, nor in the Old Testament.

In Matthew 11:4-5, Jesus sent a progress report to John the Baptist who was in prison. He said: "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them."

If neither Jesus or John were familiar with, nor felt obliged to fulfill scroll 4Q521, Jesus would not have included "the dead are raised" in his report. Also, note that Jesus apparently had not - to that point - been successful at healing the wounded.

As irony would have it, Jesus managed to fulfill this law by healing the severed ear of the leader of the mob that came to arrest him. (Note that he said: "Let me at least do this" as he reached out to touch the wounded man's ear. - Luke 22:51)

At that point, his job as messiah was complete. He had fulfilled all of the laws - including the two heavy Qumranite requirements. By healing the wound of the severed ear, he fulfilled the messianic requirements of the ancient TANAKH, and the Qumranite scroll.

The crucifixion was a demonstration by a teacher who had embraced the mountain-moving power of faith to overcome evil by not relating to it. Jesus was with God. The actions of those who knew not what they did were not of God. Hence they were impotent to kill him. THAT is the message of Jesus.