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The Teacher of Righteousness is a figure found in some of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, most prominently in the Damascus Document. This document speaks briefly of the origins of the sect, probably Essenes, 390 years after the Babylonian exile.

The Scrolls appear to be the library of a Jewish sect. The library was hidden away in caves around the outbreak of the First Jewish Revolt (A.D. 66-70) as the Roman army advanced against the rebel Jews.

The Dead Sea Sect or Qumran Community refers to a Jewish community which lived in the Second Temple period and which adopted a strict and separatist way of life. It is so called because the main source of knowledge about it derives from the discovery of a settlement at Khirbat Qumran, near the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, where it is believed to have lived, and where remnants of its library were found in neighboring caves (The Dead Sea Scrolls).

One of the first leaders of the Qumran community was the “Teacher of righteousness” identified chiefly in the Damascus Document and the Habakkuk Pesher. In the Pesher literature he is presented as a founding figure who directly clashed with an opponent called the “wicked priest”.

The Qumran sect like the broader Jewish movement from which it sprang took a critical view of the established orthodoxy of its time believing Israel to be under divine judgment, regarding itself as the true remnant of Israel and awaiting its imminent vindication at the “end of days.” With its advent, evil would cease, the wicked would be destroyed, and the righteous would live under divine blessing.

The persecution of the Essenes and their leader the Teacher of righteousness probably elicited the sect’s apocalyptic visions. These included the overthrow of “the wicked priest” of Jerusalem and of the evil people and in the dawn of the Messianic Age the recognition of their community as the true Israel.

From the Jewish Virtual Library on the subject of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Teacher of Righteousness. (edited).

 

Subsequent to that first discovery, eleven different caves have been found at Qumran. And new discoveries are expected even now. Among the caves were found, then, thousand of fragments of manuscripts and quite a number of whole, or mostly complete, manuscripts in scrolls stored in these jars. Among the cache of scrolls that we now call the Dead Sea Scrolls, are three distinct types of material. First, we have a collection of copies of the actual books of the Hebrew Scriptures.

These people were copyists. They were preserving the texts of the Bible itself. Secondly, there were commentaries on these biblical texts. But these commentaries also show their own interpretation of what would happen. This is where we begin to get some of the insights into the way the Essenes at Qumran believed, because of the way they interpret the prophecies of Isaiah, or the prophesies of Habakkuk as well as the way they read the Torah, itself. So among the scrolls, then, we have a complete set of almost all the biblical books, and commentaries on many of them. “The Isaiah Scroll” is one of the most famous of the biblical manuscripts. And the commentaries on Isaiah is also very important for our understanding of Jewish interpretation of Scripture in this period.

Who were the Essenes?

The Dead Sea Scrolls are usually thought to have been produced by a group known as the Essenes. And the Essenes are a group that literally abandoned Jerusalem, it seems, in protest… against the way the Temple was being run. So here’s a group that went out in the desert to prepare the way of the Lord, following the commands, as they saw it, of the prophet Isaiah. And they go to the desert to get away from what they see to be the worldliness of Jerusalem and the worldliness of the Temple. Now the Essenes aren’t a new group in Jesus’ day. They too, had been around for a hundred years at that point in time. But it would appear that the reign of Herod, and probably even more so, the reign of his sons and the Roman Procurators, probably stimulated a new phase of life of the Essene community, rising as a growing protest against Roman rule and worldliness.

The Essenes are what we might best call an apocalyptic sect of Judaism. An apocalyptic sect is one that thinks of itself as, first of all, the true form of their religion. In fact, that’s part of their terminology. Again, using the prophet Isaiah, they think of themselves as the righteous remnant … the chosen ones … the elect. But they’re also standing over against the mainstream … most of Jewish life, and especially everything going on at Jerusalem. So they’re sectarian. They’re separatists. They’re people who move away.

The basis for that understanding is their reading of Scripture. They interpret Scripture, especially the prophets, Isaiah, the Torah itself, to suggest that the course of Judaism is going through a profound change. “Far too many people are becoming worldly,” they would have said. The end, as they understood it, of the present evil age is moving upon them inexorably. And they want to be on the right side when it comes. In their understanding, there will come a day when the Lord revisits the Earth with power. And in the process establishes a new kingdom for Judaism. It will be like the kingdom of David and Solomon. A return to the golden age mentality. And this is part of that apocalyptic mind set.

…The Dead Sea Scrolls show us a lot about the beliefs of the Essenes. Now, we typically think of this language of the coming kingdom as reflecting a belief in the end of the world … as somehow coming upon them or us soon. But in fact, that’s not exactly what they thought. They use language like “the end” or “the last things” or “the last days”, but what they mean is the present evil age is coming to an end. Now this “end time” language is what we typically call “the eschaton” or “eschatology” … thinking about the end. But in Jewish eschatology of this period, what they usually seem to be talking about is an end of a present evil age and a coming new glorious age … a new kingdom.

From: The Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls by L. Michael White (edited).

 

Qumran Hellenistic period:

During the end of the 2nd C BC the site was resettled during the times of the Hasmonean kings – John Hyrcanus I or Alexander Jannaeus. The new settlers were a break-away sect known as the Essenes (or Essences), who populated the caves and oasis sites along the western shore of the Dead Sea.  They preferred to live in a remote area, far from the normal life in the cities and villages of Israel. Qumran was a regional center, since most of them resided in caves and tents. It was built as a self supporting communal village, functioning as a a sort of Monastery (which is one of the oldest known).

Josephus Flavius describes this sect, one of the main “three philosophical sects among the Jews”, with a very detailed description. Excerpts from his book (Wars 2 Chapter 8) include:  “…the third sect, which pretends to a severer discipline…these men are despisers of riches, and so very communicative as raises our admiration… And as for their piety towards God, it is very extraordinary…”. Josephus also added that the Essenes were subdivided between themselves, each with slightly different practices.

Qumran Roman period:

After the earthquake of 31BC in the Jordan valley, during the times of King Herod the Great, the settlement was severely damaged and deserted. The Essenes returned to rebuild the site in 4BC.

During the Great revolt against the Romans, the sect sided with the rebels. John the Essene was a local hero and general in the rebel army, and a messenger on behalf of the government to recruit other cities to the Jewish forces (Wars 2 20 4): “John, the Esscue, to the toparchy of Thamna; Lydda … and Joppa, and Emmaus”. He was killed in the military campaign near Ashqelon (Ascalon), as per Josephus (Wars 3 2 1-2): “This excursion was led on by three men, who were the chief of them all, both for strength and sagacity; Niger, called the Persite, Silas of Babylon, and besides them John the Essene”.

The residents of Qumran prepared themselves to the worst, and hid their precious treasures (the scrolls) in the caves.  The Romans indeed conquered Qumran (68AD), destroyed it and dispersed the sect. According to Josephus, the Dead Sea (“lake Asphaltitis”) was full of bodies from the Jordan valley cities and villages, killed by the Roman troops which were commanded by Placidus (Wars 4 7 6): “And now Placidus, after this good success that he had, fell violently upon the neighboring smaller cities and villages; when he took Abila, and Julias, and Bezemoth, and all those that lay as far as the lake Asphaltitis, and put such of the deserters into each of them as he thought proper. He then put his soldiers on board the ships, and slew such as had fled to the lake…”.

Years later, during the Bar-Kochba revolt (132-135AD) a Roman Garrison was stationed here to control the regional traffic. They left after 20 years, and Qumran was abandoned and left in ruins for 1800 years.

Scriptorium:

This was the scribes’ room, where the Essenes wrote their scrolls. The room is located in the center of the settlement, on the southern side of the tower, as indicated by a red square on the right diagram. The scribes wrote on papyrus, leather and copper Biblical books, Apocrypha (external books) and the sect’s own books.

Cave 4:

In this cave and 10 others in the area around Qumran, 15,000 fragments of scrolls were found during 1947-1956. They were later pieced together to produce 530 different scrolls, with about 200 books from the Old Testament. This restoration work was finally completed and published in 2001, and also published online in 2011. The Dead Sea scrolls are one of the most important archeological findings and an amazing discovery that shed light on the early Roman period and the Biblical research.

From: biblewalks.com: Qumran (edited).

 

Perhaps only a few dozen of the leaders of the community lived permanently at Qumran. Most of the members of the sect, probably totaling several thousand, lived in villages and cities. A large Essene community certainly lived in Jerusalem (according to Josephus, the name of the gate in the southern wall of Jerusalem, at Mt. Zion, was called the Essenes’ Gate). For certain periods of time, members of the sect lived in the desert near Qumran and during holidays and community events, many more arrived and lived in tents, huts and the caves nearby. In a survey and excavations conducted recently in the caves on the marl slopes north of the site, pottery vessels were found, indicating the use of the caves as dwellings. Stone circles nearby also indicate a tent encampment.

In the 1950s and 1960s, many caves in the canyons of the Judean Desert along the Dead Sea were surveyed and excavated. The documents found there, and in the caves around Qumran, include copies of all of the books of the Bible (except for the Scroll of Esther). The most famous of these is the complete scroll of Isaiah, which was written sometime between the 2nd century BCE and the destruction of the site in 68 CE. This date was recently confirmed by a radiocarbon examination of a sample of the parchment of the scroll. The books of the Qumran library are regarded as the oldest existing copies of the books of the Bible. Writings of the Essene sect, whose spiritual center was located here in the 200 years preceding the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple, were also found in the caves near Qumran.

From: Jewishvirtuallibrary.com: Archaeology in Israel: Qumran (edited).

 

Commentary:

This man, the “Teacher”, left a library of information on his teachings, himself and scripture and his community of followers continued to write of him after his death. But since only a few could read, it is a certainty that much about the teacher was based on story telling in the community at large and in Jerusalem.

The flexibility of oral storytelling extends to the teller. Each teller will incorporate their own personality and may choose to add characters into the story. As a result, there will be numerous variations of a single story. Some tellers consider anything outside the narrative as extraneous while other storytellers choose to enhance their telling of the tale with the addition of visual and audio tools, specific actions and creative strategies and devices.

Example of a good storyteller? Look no further. This is what happened.

…. and so my friends, the Teacher went away and died. How did he die storyteller? Ponders for a moment, slowing stroking his long grey beard… Well, no one really knows. I suspect he had words with a Roman and they killed him. Do you think he is with G-d storyteller? Well of course.

Later that month, from a listener of that story: ….. and so my friends, the Teacher went to Jerusalem, had some words with a Roman and was crucified with 74 other Jews, and is now in heaven with G-d.

Later that year in Jerusalem, from a street corner: ….. and so my friends, as you all know the Teacher was crucified for heresy to Caesar with many, many other poor Jews that day. (Crying and weeping from the crowd reached the storytellers ears and he continued.) And though very few know this, the Teacher came back to life. (Audible gasp from the crowd.) Yes, he came back to life, and to this day he walks among us and listens to any story his name is mentioned.

Now, two years later everyone wants to tell a story about the Teacher so that he will reappear and tell all he knows of the mysteries of heaven and G-d, and others are expanding on his life of an Essne in Qumran to exploits throughout Judea and Samaria, mixing in Roman religion to many G-d’s we call mythology, such as Hercules, son of God and a virgin human mother. Toss in Jewish mysticism of the dead, souls and spirits and the Teacher is a well known cannot fail crowd pleaser for storytellers.

Finally, the story is pretty set, and the scribes get involved and begin to write tying the stories of the Teacher to the scripture with robust arguments and discussion with the rabbi’s of the prophecies of the Messiah. They know the Teacher is not the Messiah in description or deed but the scribes did not care for few could read and fewer had  scripture scrolls. Just write “prophecy fulfilled” was their motto. Whose going to check was a laugh getter every time.

And the written stories changed with every new writing and became Gospels from unknown authors penned in the name of a “disciple” or “Luke, the Historian” to give weight to their veracity and truthfulness.

There are no writings referring to Jesus during his lifetime. There are no writings by Jesus, writings from Herod or Pilate, or any Roman newspaper, poem or book of this man who healed the multitudes, fed the poor, walked on water, raised the dead and turned water to wine.

And this is the only explanation for no writings by Jesus or his contemporaries in life. The Teacher of the Dead Sea Scrolls whose name is never mentioned became Jesus in the stories, the greatest “story” ever told.

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