While at the library the other day, I saw a book titled, “The Dead Sea Scrolls. Questions and Responses for Latter-Day Saints”. I was curious, so I began flipping through it. The Dead Sea Scrolls are a bunch of scrolls found a few decades ago in Israel in some caves near the Dead Sea. They were the documents of a religious Jewish group between 300 BC until 70 AD (when they were attacked by the Romans). The scrolls contained numerous copies of Old Testament books, along with some original documents belonging to the group. After recovering the scrolls, some of their contents were unpublished for decades. There were some allegations that the Christian church was suppressing their contents because they were damaging to Christianity – because there were uncomfortable parallels between Christianity and the Qumran group (which predated Christianity).
One section of the book reads:
43. Are there similarities between the beliefs of Christianity and those of the Qumran group?
Because members of the Qumran community were Jews living before the advent of Christianity, little can be learned from the scrolls about Christianity. However, a few approximate parallels and correspondences between early Christianity and the beliefs of the Qumran community may be drawn from the Dead Sea Scrolls, including:
1. Immersion in water. The scrolls mention water rites required of those who enter the community for the first time or reenter it after a period of separation. Like baptism of the early Christians, this rite was performed by immersion, but unlike baptism, the water rites had nothing to do with Jesus Christ or the remission of sins.
2. Healing through the laying on of hands. The New Testament refers to the healing of the sick by the laying on of hands (see Mark 6:5; Luke 4:40; 13:11-13), a practice that corresponds to a passage in the Genesis Apocryphon [which is a text specific to the Qumran group]. According to this text, Pharaoh, king of Egypt, was suffering from “scourged and afflictions.” He called upon his “magicians” and “healers” to heal him, but they failed to do so; he then called upon Abraham, who healed the pharaoh by the laying on of hands. Abraham explains, “So I prayed [for him] … and I laid my hands on his [head]; and the scourge departed from him and the evil [spirit] was expelled [from him], and he lived” (Genesis Apocryphon) 20:21-22, 28-29)
3. Twelve and three. According to the Community Rule, the Qumran community had at its head a group of twelve men, who themselves were directed by three … The number twelve corresponds with the number of the apostles whom Jesus selected; but the twelve men who directed the Council of the Community were not apostles, they did not possess the powers to cast out unclean spirits, heal the sick, and perform other such acts (see Matthew 10:1-5)
4. Beatitudes. The beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5:3-11), each of which begin with the word Blessed, correspond in some ways to the beatitudes discovered in the scrolls.
[Jesus] began to teach them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
A Cave 4 fragment called Beatitudes reads in part:
Blessed are those who hold to her (Wisdom’s) precepts
and do not hold to the ways of iniquity.
Blessed are those who rejoice in her,
and do not burst forth in ways of folly.
Blessed are those who seek her with pure hands,
and do not pursue her with a treacherous heart.
Blessed is the man who had attained Wisdom,
and walks in the Law of the Most High.
5. Light and Darkness. The apostle John’s writings contain many teaching regarding light and darkness. As recorded in John 12:35-36: “Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be children of the light” (see John 1:4-5; 3:19; 8:12; 1 John 1-5-6)
Professor Julio Trebolle Barrera of the Universidada Compultense of Madrid between these teachings and those in the scrolls that speak of “spirits of light and darkness,” “source of light,” “source of darkness,” “Prince of Lights,” “paths of light,” “Angel of Darkness,” “paths of darkness,” and “sons of light” (Community Rule 3:19-26)
6. Other similarities. Julio Trebolle Barrera discusses several other parallels between the Qumran texts and the beliefs of Christianity, including the two groups’ approach to wealth, their beliefs regarding divorce, the communal meal and the Last Supper, the bid for perfection, disciplinary action against those who break rules, the idea of the Creator, overlapping concepts from Paul’s epistles and the Qumran texts, and the way that the expression “Son of God” is used.
Not withstanding the correspondences between the two groups, there are many points of contrast that are noted in the following question.
44. Are there differences between the beliefs of Christianity and those of the Qumran group?
Parallels and correspondences between the groups can be misleading if the differences are not also pointed out. The foremost differences between the Qumran community and Christians is the Christian belief in Jesus Christ and his life, ministry, divine nature, and atoning sacrifice … Although the community at Qumran held a belief in a messianic figure (or more than one such figure), Jesus Christ was not their Messiah… Furthermore, the Qumran community did not share with the Christians beliefs in the plan of salvation, aspects of church organization, priesthood offices, the Second Coming, a living prophet, the bestowal of the gift of the Holy Ghost through the laying on of hands, the gift of tongues and the interpretation of tongues, other gifts of revelation and of the Spirit, and numerous other doctrines that were part of the early Christian church…
The group also had something called the meal of the righteous (which had certain parallels to the Last Supper). It is believed that Jospehus wrote about the group, but called them them “Essenes”. Here is what Josephus wrote about the Essenes:
They “despise riches and their sharing of goods is admitable; there is not found among them any one who has greater wealth than another. For it is a law that those entering the group transfer their property to the order; consequently, among them all there appears neither abject poverty nor superabundance of wealth, but the possessions of each are mingled together, and there is, as among brothers, one property common to all.”
Compare that to the structure of the early church according to Acts 2:
All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. (Acts 2:44-45)
And similarities to the Book of Revelations (as well as Daniel and Isaiah):
55. What is the War Scroll?
The War Scroll describes a war in the final age of the earth’s history. In this war between the forces of good and evil, the wicked will be completely destroyed, ushering in an era of peace. The writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls, who believed that they were the true, restored Israel, compose the righteous army. The War Scroll beings by designating the righteous as “the sons of light,” who are also described as “the children of Levi, Judah, and Benjamin.” They are opposed by the “sons of darkness,” identified as Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, Philistines, the Kittim (the meaning of Kittim is unknown), and the “trangressors of the covenant”… Angelic beings, both good and evil, will also take part in the conflict. Ultimately it is God who will give victory to the righteous and who will usher in a golden age of light for the faithful.
The Essenes also disagreed with the religious practices of the Jewish priesthood of the time (which also parallels Jesus teachings).
It should also be noted that this group was a mere 13 miles from Jerusalem.
For unbeliever, Christianity borrowed many religious practices from this group, and that fact had almost disappeared from history. I suppose the believer might argue that the Qumran group had some pre-revelation from God. Although, that doesn’t really explain the different uses of Baptism, why the contents of the “Blessed be” text would be different, and why they (as a group) didn’t accept Jesus despite this “pre-Revelation”. A second explanation for the believer might be that the parallels are coincidence, but that doesn’t seem very likely.