Special meanings

© 2005 Dr. Barbara Thiering (May, 2005)

The start of the process is to understand that terms for people have an ordinary sense in the surface narrative, but in the pesher a special sense. As is illustrated in the Qumran pesharim, universals are read as particulars. Whereas the ordinary reader sees only moral meanings in the terms "righteous" and "wicked", and applies them to all people, the Qumran pesharist reads the words as meaning particular persons, the Teacher of Righteousness and the Wicked Priest.

The special meanings usually add an institutional sense. Within the ascetic organisation, terms drawn from ordinary human experience were used as the names of their ministers. This applies also to terms apparently meaning supernatural beings.

For our first example, it has already been shown in the elucidation of the political history that the term "Father" means Pope. When Jesus prayed to the Father on the night before the crucifixion, he was making a petition to a priest who was the current Pope (Mark 14:36).

It has been shown that "Star" refers to the Star of David. When the Star led the Wise Men to the place where Jesus was born, it was Joseph, his father, a descendant of the Davids, escorting the Magians (magoi). They accepted that Jesus was legitimate and wished to honour him at his birth (Matthew 2:1,9). Thus there was no astronomical event from which the date of the birth can be calculated. The date is given by other pesher terms. For the same reason, the three hours' darkness on Good Friday was not an astronomical event, an eclipse of the sun. It has a natural meaning, as will be seen when we come to the chronology. In these and in all cases where there is an apparent supernatural event, it was a natural event.

The term Virgin means a nun, as has been shown. (See "The Virgin Birth"). The term Saint (hagios, "holy one") means a celibate, while its opposite, Sinner, means a married man. These special meanings reflect the attitudes of the Qumran sectarians to sex, well illustrated in the Scrolls. When Peter in Luke 5:8 said to Jesus, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a Sinner", he meant that he was a married man, and would expect Jesus to keep the Essene rule that a superior celibate of high grade should not even touch a man of low grade (Josephus, JW 2, 150). When the woman in Luke 7:39 was called a Sinner, the meaning is that she had just been married. She was Mary Magdalene, at her first wedding ceremony with Jesus. (See "Marriage of Jesus").

According to the Community Rule 3:7 a man initiated into the Qumran community "sees the light of life". He was given Life, meaning a higher spiritual life reserved for ascetics. Consequently, if he "died", he suffered the fate of being excommunicated. The rules of exclusion say that some members may betray the ideal so completely that they have to be permanently excluded (1QS 7: 22-25). In consequence they were spiritually "dead". In medieval Christian monasticism, an excommunicant was dressed in his burial clothes and literally put in a grave, then sent away for ever. But if the Qumran member had been excommunicated for heresy, and a leader with a differing doctrine re-instated him, he would be said to be "raised from the dead". This was the meaning of all stories of miracles of raising the dead in the gospels and Acts. Lazarus the leper was Simon Magus, his re-instatement presented dramatically in John 11. Jairus' daughter was Mary Magdalene, changing her views under the influence of Jesus (Mark 5:22-23, Mark 5:35-43). The son of the widow of Nain was James the brother of Jesus, another son of Mary, moving closer to the attitudes that would be called Jewish Christian (Luke 7:11-17). In Acts 9: 36-43) Dorcas is Mary herself, changing from a Jewish Christian to a fully Christian view. Eutychus in Acts 20:7-12 is John Mark, using his own name. He is the Eutychus who also appears in Josephus as the freedman and opponent of Agrippa I (Ant.18, 168-169). He had been separate from the Roman Christians for many years (Acts 15: 39-40), but was now returning to fellowship with them.

All supernatural places and terms have a natural meaning - heaven, hell, God, angel, spirit. When Jesus "ascended to heaven" after the crucifixion, he was going up to a physical place where prayers were offered by priests to heaven. It was a platform within the Qumran buildings, erected at the time their substitute sanctuary was defiled by the earthquake. It was reached by steps, which still stood there when the archeologists uncovered them. On the open air platform above their room for the sacred meal, priests offered prayers at all the significant times of the sun.

Correspondingly, "Hades" was also a place. When the Rich Man found himself in Hades in the parable of Luke 16:19-31, he was in the lower part of the cave at the end of the Qumran esplanade that was used as a sabbath latrine (See "The Resurrection"). The lower part was associated with filth, as Hades was in Greek mythology. Its upper part, in the fresher air, was called Paradise, referred to in Luke 23:43 as the place where Jesus would be later on Good Friday. The west side of the lower cave had a window looking across to Cave 4, the prominent cave at the end of the parallel projection, separated by a chasm from the Qumran esplanade. This was the place to which the Pope ("Abraham") and Simon Magus (Lazarus) were sent at the times they were excommunicated following doctrinal disputes. The Rich Man, who was James the brother of Jesus guarding the "filthy lucre" - money concealed in the cave - shouted through the window across the chasm to the men in Cave 4 asking them for support, but they would not help him because their doctrine was different from his.

The most difficult of the special terms to accept is that the name "God" meant a person also, a Sadducee priest of the Annas family. Gnostics believed that the God of the Old Testament was an inferior being, the Demiurge or creator of this fallen world. According to Philo, it was understood by Diaspora Jews that a high priest was a semi- divine being, belonging between heaven and earth, neither fully God nor fully man (On Dreams 2, 188-189). Among the Scrolls were found prayers intended to be offered by men conducting services in Diaspora synagogues. They are described as priests in a symbolic Holy of Holies, yet called "gods" (4Q400, Song for the Sabbath Sacrifice ). It was not uncommon at this time for hellenised Jews, even though monotheistic, to speak of priests as "gods".

The Annas priests shared this doctrine of priesthood, holding that as high priests they were incarnations of divinity, to be approached as intermediaries to God, and addressed as if they were God. Their view was the opposite of the humbler one of Pharisee priests such as Caiaphas. Whenever the word "God" appears in the six books, it means in the pesher an Annas priest. Since they represented God in heaven, the teaching they gave could be understood as coming from God. It was as a result of their exalted status that when Jesus claimed full priesthood he was called the Son of God.

An "angel" was a priest next in status below the high priest. In the story in Luke 1, the "angel Gabriel" was the Abiathar priest, the subordinate of the Zadokite priest in the hierarchy. The two priestly lines are endorsed in 1QM 17:3. In Acts 12:23 the "angel of the Lord" was another man who claimed the position of the Abiathar priest. This was yet another claim of Simon Magus.

A "Spirit" was the third priest, representing the third in the heavenly hierarchy. In this role the priest ministered to the ascetics related to the Essenes, the Therapeutae, whose meetings were characterised by ecstatic behaviour said to be spiritually inspired (Philo, Contemp.Life, 83-90). The Holy Spirit, in the form to pneuma to hagion in Greek, was this priest in another function, that of an abbot. Other forms of the term, such as pneuma hagion, refer to other men in their relation to the abbot.

A "demon" or "devil" was the opposite of a holy man. From the Christian point of view, the militant zealots were incarnations of demons. The demoniac Legion in Mark 5:1-20 was Theudas, who was again convinced to turn against zealotry when the "demons went out of him". The "devil" at the tempations of Jesus was Judas Iscariot, trying unsuccessfully to bring Jesus into the militant faction (Luke 4:1-13).

The name "Caesar" used alone means in the pesher, not the Roman emperor, but the royal Herod, who used the title as representative of the emperor in the east, signing documents in his name. The title was used by the Agrippas. It means Agrippa I in Mark 12:14, John 19:12,15, and Agrippa II in the later parts of Acts. When used with another name, that of the actual emperor, as in Tiberius Caesar in Luke 3:1, the same rule applies as with the term "high priest", that a different person, the actual holder of the name, is meant. The emperor Nero is referred to in Acts 25:21,25 by the title Sebastos, "august", one of the actual emperor's titles.

Adjectives and pronouns may be given special meanings also, referring to persons. One of these is the adjective "all", pas in Greek. It and its related forms are used frequently and apparently unnecessarily. This unimportant word is used for the most important person in the whole hierarchy, the royal Herod, because Herod the Great had claimed all power and all positions in the hierarchy.

Another such term is the pronoun "himself", heautos. It means a person derisively called Himself - in the way the Irish use the term - because he was a great leader who could only be spoken about indirectly. Wherever the word is used, it refers to Simon Magus. This gives an additional institutional sense to the saying in Mark 8:34, "If any man wishes to follow after me, let him deny Himself and take up his cross and follow me." The saying was written at the schism from Simon Magus, when a choice had to be made between being Christian and belonging to Simon's Damascus party. (The word "cross" (stauros) adds an extra point. Simon's party used the X shape, the archaic Taw, for the Taw symbol placed on the forehead at highest initiation. Taw, the last letter in the Hebrew alphabet, was a "t". The Christians used in its place the Greek "t", in the shape of the upright barred cross.)