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New discoveries and arguments about Messiah in "Dead Sea Scrolls."

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New discoveries and arguments about Messiah in "Dead Sea Scrolls."

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  • October 16, 2005
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Many older Bible commentaries discuss the type of messiah that the Jews at the time of Jesus were looking for. These older commentaries often state that a King David-type king that would free the Jews from the Romans was the archetypical messianic figure. However, the "Dead Sea Scrolls" shed a different light on Second Temple Jewish messianic expectations. There is, for example, some evidence in the scrolls that the messiah would be divine and that the messiah would suffer.

Israel Knohl, Chair of the Bible Department at Hebrew University, bases his argument on two hymns found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. One is a first-person account of what it means to be a "Suffering Servant" doing the will of God and seeking to bring the Jews to a time of sinless joy. According to Knohl, these are not words put in the mouth of some future Messiah, but were instead the writings of someone who considered himself to be the Messiah - decades before Jesus. Knohl argues that Judaism just before the time of Jesus began to develop the concept of a "catastrophic" messianism. This involved a person who would arrive to cast off the evil oppressors, but who would in the process have to undergo suffering, humiliation and even death.

Scholars have long argued that Jesus could not have foreseen his suffering, death, and resurrection because the concept of a slain savior who rises from the dead was alien to the Judaism of his time. But, on the basis of hymns found at Qumran among the "Dead Sea Scrolls", Knohl argues that, one generation before Jesus, a messianic leader arose in the Qumran sect who was regarded by his followers as ushering in an era of redemption and forgiveness. This messianic leader was killed by Roman soldiers in the course of a revolt that broke out in Jerusalem in 4 B.C.E. The Romans forbade his body to be buried and after the third day his disciples believed that he was resurrected and rose to heaven. This formed the basis for Jesus' messianic consciousness, Knohl...