Archaeologist disproves widespread beliefs about the Dead Sea Scrolls

Jesus Christ did not live with the ancient people from the settlement near caves in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, even though some scholars have argued the contrary, an archaeologist said Thursday in a presentation sponsored by the Brite Divinity School.

Jodi Magness, an endowed archaeology professor from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, focused on the Essenes, an apocalyptic group that lived in Qumran, near the 11 caves in which more than 900 scrolls were discovered. She said that one-fourth of the scrolls represent all but one of the books of the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, all of which have at least one copy.

The rest of the scrolls are the Greek Septuagint, the Aramaic Targums, the Pesharim and the Apocrypha, which are found in early versions of the Catholic Bibles.

She said the Essenes were an exclusive, adult male group from the 2nd century BCE that lived a priestly lifestyle that practiced extreme ritual purity, even though they did not live in the Hebrew temple in Jerusalem.

Where the Essenes excluded based on ritual impurity, Christ included people and interacted with the impure, Magness said.

“The Essenes used an ‘admission process,'” Magness said. “In the course of admission, the Essenes were identifying how many parts of them were good and how many parts were evil.”

She said the closest relation between Jesus and the Essenes was their apocalyptic viewpoint.

Magness highlighted six particular sites in the settlement to prove the validity of the Essene lifestyle. She referred to a watch tower, a writing room, a dining room, a potter’s workshop, an aqueduct and a cemetery, all of which had specific objects- – dishes, pottery, channels, ink wells and benches – that indicated the Essenes had inhabited Qumran. The most important indication that the Essenes inhabited Qumran was the deep ritual bathing pools with many steps, into which the aqueducts flowed directly.

Furthermore, the pottery found in the potter’s workshop were identical to those in which many of the scrolls were discovered. She said about 500 of the scrolls were found in the “fourth cave,” which can be seen from the watch tower at Qumran.

Warren Carter, professor of New Testament at Brite Divinity School, said Magness’ viewpoints were free of any speculation.

“There have been all types of speculation (about the scrolls),” he said. “She’s looking for what is archaeologically sustainable. She’s not interested in conspiracy; she works with the data that we have.”

Magness said she is anticipating her upcoming book, “The Archaeology of the Holy Land,” which will connect with her earlier books about previous archaeological study in Qumran.

“(The book) tries to look at some of the issues that came up in our discussion about the observance of purity laws,” she said. “How do we see the observance of religious period reflected in the archaeological record?”

Although the energetic Magness unleashed a wealth of information on the audience, she said she hoped those at the presentation noticed how complex the subject matter is, but also learned what was true and false regarding the scrolls.

She said that those pursuing archaeology as a career need to have a specific skill set, namely an understanding of the ancient languages.