The pesher on Psalms, 4Q171© 2005 Dr. Barbara Thiering (Mar 10, 2005) (revised April, 2005)
The major Qumran pesharim, on Psalms, Nahum and Habakkuk, together with the fragmentary pesher of Micah and that on Hosea, may be shown to fit neatly into the events that the gospels and Acts record.
First to the pesher on Psalms, 4Q171, and also the pesher on Micah, 1Q14, which goes with it. The pesher on Psalms turns to Psalm 37, and in its later extant part to Psalm 45. Psalm 37 suits the writer's purpose well, for he was in a situation of crisis and the psalm gave him comfort with its message that the righteous would prosper and the wicked be punished.
This is the famous one which can be shown to have turned the tide for carbondating. As has been argued in "Carbondating issues", it is proof that the Teacher of Righteousness was still alive on the 1st century AD. He is still living at the time of writing, and is the subject of the writer's distress. According to the 1995 Tucson carbondating test, the material on which it was written was not manufactured until AD 29-81, and it is not a copy of an earlier work, for all the pesharim are originals.
Each verse of Psalm 37, quoted in succession, is found by the pesharist to refer to his own contemporary situation, coming from his assumption that he and his associates are the centre of history, which must mean that divinely revealed scripture refers to them. From this starting point he proceeds consistently by the device of turning universals into particulars. Whereas "the righteous one" in the Psalm is shown by the context to mean a man typical of all righteous men, so of universal application, he narrows it down to one righteous man, the Teacher of Righteousness. The name Priest is also used for him, in apposition with the name Teacher of Righteousness in 3:15. The "wicked", both singular and plural, refers to the enemies of the Teacher. When plural, they are "the men of Ephraim and Manasseh", who "will seek to lay a hand on the Priest and the men of his council in the time of testing coming upon them." (2:18-19). When singular, a deceptive person is called the Man of a Lie (1:25-27), and a singular wicked person is the Wicked Priest who, following the words of the Psalm, watches out for the Righteous One and seeks to put him to death (4:7-8).
The men of Ephraim and Manasseh are, then, enemies of the Teacher. The traditional tribal territory of Manasseh was located on both sides of the Jordan, on the west side in the district that had become Samaria, on the east side in the district that had become Decapolis. In the fragment containing part of a pesher on Micah, 1Q14, a clear distinction is drawn between Jerusalem-Judah, which is associated with the Teacher of Righteousness and his followers, and Samaria, which is associated with "the one who drips lies" who has led astray the Simple (frags.8-10, lines 3-10).
The two documents make it plain, then, that the Teacher goes with Jerusalem and his enemies go with Samaria. They are classed as Samaritans.
From the starting-point that the Teacher appeared in AD 26, as has been shown in "Period of Wrath", and from the numerous parallels between the Teacher and John the Baptist (same doctrine of a coming judgement, same place of baptising in the Wilderness of Judea, same ascetic discipline, same title "he who rains down/baptises with righteousness", same term the Way of Righteousness, same quotation and application of the words of the prophets etc etc), the possibility appears that the Teacher and the Baptist were one and the same.
According to the Psalms pesher, the Teacher is in trouble, in a time of testing. The writer does not know what the outcome will be, and clings to Psalm 37 as his only comfort, with its assurance that the Righteous One will be saved. If all of the indications are sound that the Teacher was the Baptist, then it may be known with confidence that the pesher on Psalms was written in the year AD 30 or 31, during the period when John the Baptist had been arrested and had not yet been put to death. This event is recorded in the gospels, John 3:24; Luke 3:19-20; Mark 6:14-29. Josephus records the arrest and death of John (Ant.18, 116-119).
In 2:5-8 the Psalms pesher has a characteristic play on letters and numbers. When it comes to the word Heb: me'at (mem-ayin-tet) in v. 10 of the Psalm, meaning "a little while", it interprets it as 40 years, because the numerical value of Heb:mem is 40. It can be so confident that there will be a destruction of all the wicked in 40 years because it is working with a chronological scheme that places an eschatological crisis in or about the year AD 70. This fits perfectly with CD 20:14, in a passage using the language of the fall of Jerusalem, "from the day of the gathering in (death) of the Teacher of the community until the end of all the men of war who turned back with the Man of a Lie, there shall be about 40 years."
The identification of the Teacher with John the Baptist corresponds to all the evidence, and if it were not for an apparent major obstacle, might have been made very early. But the major obstacle is the fact that he had a rival, an alternate teacher who "flouted the law", "defiled the temple", and was said to commit other kinds of "wickedness", so much so that he could be called the Wicked Priest and the Man of a Lie. The only known alternate leader in the time of the Baptist was Jesus, and there were certain differences between them. But it seems offensive for conservative Christians to even entertain the possibility that Jesus could be accused of such things. An enormous amount of evidence is needed to sustain such an identification. It will be our subsequent project here to present this evidence, and to show that it recovers for us the real, historical Jesus, a heroic human political leader, one who helped lay the foundations of western civilization.