Scholarly Questions and Comments

Replies: © 2005,2006,2007,2008, 2009 Dr. Barbara Thiering

Second to Oldest Set

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Jesus and politics
C. John Siddons, formerly a Senator of the Federal Parliament of Australia, has sent a thoughtful document in which he relates the teaching of Jesus to political issues. Australians will find it interesting that Mr Siddons helped Don Chipp found the Democrats, who for us were an intermediate party, neither Liberal nor Labor.
One of his comments is:
"Jesus was strongly opposed to two vital national political and religious issues (a) the Zionists and the Pharisees' support for war with Rome to secure Jewish independence (b) the appointment of hereditary High Priests. Jesus insisted that all people, Jews and Gentiles, were equal in God's sight and had to be treated equally in religion and in politics."
A. I am in full agreement with what you say. I would add that it was not a simple question of good versus evil, peace versus war. Jesus was not acting as an individual against all others, but as one of the leaders of a widespread well established politico-religious organization. When it was necessary he co-operated with military action against Rome, although only as a subordinate. It was for that reason that he was crucified by Pilate. But when it went too far and became terrorism, he opposed it in councils. The terrorists then regarded him as a traitor, and contrived by deceit to mislead Pilate about his more discerning views.
Similarly with priesthood. It was a matter of how hereditary priesthood was interpreted - whether self-serving opportunism as in the case of Jonathan Annas, or the privilege of serving and educating others as in the case of Matthew Annas. Jonathan Annas illustrated very well the evil that can be found in a respected religious institution. The Christian non-hereditary priests subsequently developed in the same two opposite directions.
Thank you for your interest.
(More information on Jonathan Annas and Matthew Annas can be found in the Biographies section of this site.)
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Understanding the surface text
Q. Tim Mansfield, of Brisbane, Australia, writes:
Now that the discovery of the pesher has revealed the real historical reporting of Jesus' life and the early Church, I now find it difficult to clearly identify and differentiate teachings and lessons of the new movement in the surface text.
Would appreciate your perspective and if you can provide some examples of these messages.
A. Thanks for a very productive question. It is the case that every saying has a pesher, but that does not mean that the surface text is not valid. The skill in the device is that both are true, but they also have a particular application to an institution in the past, giving us its history.

A good example is "Love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44, agapate tous echthrous hymon). It is a particularly wise precept in these days of religious hatred. But the word "enemy", echthros, had the special meaning of "Roman" in the period when the gospels were written. They had occupied Judea, taken over its rule, and some governors such as Pilate behaved oppressively. It was a matter of honor for oppressed Jews to fight them with guerilla warfare. The ascetics among them held a sacred meal called agape, the "love-feast", at which celibate men and women were present but without sexual relationships, believing that human love was possible without sex. They also could be militant against the Romans, and it was something new to say "Invite the Roman governor to your agape meal", that is make him a member. That proved, however, to be the effective way, making Christianity a universal religion without distinctions of race, class or gender.

Another example is Mark 8:34, "If anyone wishes to follow after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" . The special meaning of "himself" (heautos) is "Himself", in the sense the Irish use the word, for an important person whom it would be too familiar to name. It always means Simon Magus, who was the political leader of the party Jesus belonged to. To "deny" (arneomai) has the special meaning "to deny that a man is high priest", as opposed to confessing a man as high priest, as in Hebrews 4:14. Simon Magus claimed that he himself held the office of the Zadokite, the high priest whose line the Essenes were aiming to restore. As his initiation emblem Simon used the X mark on the forehead, the archaic Hebrew letter Taw. He was an anti-Roman militant, and the mark became the Sign of the Beast. The Christians who broke away from his party, teaching peace with Rome, used the T sign of the cross, a Greek T against the Hebrew Taw, a T. So, while the surface meaning of the text is "Be a Christian practicing self-denial", its pesher is "Reject anti-Roman political terrorism". Still very relevant!

Could I suggest that any reader who would like further such examples asks for a text as a "Request for a pesher".
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Flaws in the crucifixion story
Q. Will Watson, of North London, England, asks:

Would Pilate really have ridden out in the middle of the night, to a secret den of fierce Judaism, at Qumran, to catch one or two anti- Roman "terrorists" ?

Who did the cutting in Jesus' side as he hung on the cross ? If a Roman soldier had done it, one may imagine he would have stabbed quite hard and burst or broken an organ, and Jesus would have died.

And then the "cup" that Annas tells Jesus about : did Annas explain that the "cup" was going to have not poison, but a knock-out drop, which would go towards saving Jesus' life?... How sure was Annas that he could make this switch?...How much risk was Jesus really taking ?
A. Will Watson, a friend from previous correspondence, writes from North London, where it is spring and the daffodils are blooming (I'll suppress a witticism about yet another exotic place for our questions to come from!)

Will is in heartfelt agreement with the main results of my research. He has now asked questions about the events of the crucifixion. He sees inconsistencies in my accounts of events. So, Sherlock Holmes, let this poor colonial reply by saying, "Elementary,my dear Sherlock. Bring out your magnifying glass and look more closely at all the evidence."

Or,put more bluntly, you have missed quite a lot ! Since Easter is coming round again, let me put in a reminder of the main facts behind the events, as shown by the pesher.

The history is not about individuals performing extraordinary actions. It is about a solidly established religious institution, which had been going for over a century, was highly organized, and had become a nice little earner for Herod the Great (37 - 4 BC). He taxed wealthy Diaspora Jews for the huge sums needed for his lavish building operations in Judea.

The organization had become so influential that it could lobby for appointments to the high priesthood of the Jerusalem temple. At the time of the Roman occupation of Judea in 6 AD, a Sadducee priest Ananus the Elder co-operated with Rome, against the Pharisees who opposed them. He was given the high priesthood, and his five sons after him all had a turn at it, but for political reasons did not last long in the office. They had very different temperaments. Matthew Annas the fourth son, the sponsor of the first gospel, became a founder of the Christian party that was gradually emerging from the original organization. But Jonathan Annas, the second son, who was a contemporary of Jesus in the gospel period, was vain and pompous, much too aware of his status as a priest who was superior to all laymen. He irritated everyone so much, and showed such dangerously poor judgement, that he was eventually assassinated. See the account in the biography of Jonathan Annas on this site. Jonathan in offering the cup was intending to poison Jesus, who had often mocked his priestly pretensions. It looked like compassion, giving him the chance of committing suicide to avoid the unbearable physical pain of weeks on the cross. But it was a personal vendetta within their own party. It was the friend of Jesus, Simon Magus in the cave, who gave him the antidote that expelled the poison.

All the characters in the story were acting not as individuals but as powerful leaders of an organization of thousands throughout the Diaspora, which had become a real threat to the Romans occupying Judea. Pilate's job was to deal with them, just as terrorists have to be dealt with these days (although the parallel is not too exact!). They kept staging demonstrations, stirring up civil disobedience. Pilate, a corrupt incompetent, was already in trouble with Rome, and it would be a feather in his cap if he succeeded in executing the three main leaders of the insurrectionists . He would go anywhere to catch them, once Judas told him where they were.

It was not a Roman soldier who stabbed Jesus' side. It was John Mark, the Beloved Disciple, who was standing near Jesus at his cross to help him. He was also called a centurion because Gentiles like him organized themselves for evangelistic mission using Roman military terminology. As you agree in your further remarks, it was only an incision that a doctor would make to determine if there was bleeding or not. He was using a medical lancet. All of the members of the Therapeuts were educated as doctors.

These are questions that I have been asked from the beginning of the research, so you are not alone! It takes time to balance out the surface impression of the gospels with the background history that was intended to be known only to insiders understanding the pesher.
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Why did Jesus go into hiding
Q. Calvin Johnson of Maryland USA asks:
"Why did Jesus need to go into hiding after the resurrection (particularly after political leadership in Judea changed)?
Would it not have been a more compelling story to have Jesus alive in Acts and the Epistles?"
A. He went into hiding after the crucifixion and alleged resurrection only in the sense that he went to live in monasteries. The monasteries to which he progressively moved until he reached Rome were the powerful centers of authority of a widespread political movement, long established. He was moving from one center to the other, himself one of the authorities, instrumental in the change from Judaism to Christianity that was gradually taking place.

We do need to adjust our thinking away from an individual to an institution. It had all come about through social forces - as religious revolutions do, including in our own time. The talented Jewish people who made Jerusalem their capital under King David had been settled there for centuries, but from about 600 BC the struggle for world power between rival empires brought many of them to countries outside, primarily Babylon, but subsequently to Asia Minor, Alexandria, and as far away as Rome. There they found living conditions more comfortable and prosperous than in the homeland, and they became the Diaspora, the Dispersion.

Being by tradition intellectually active, they absorbed much of the culture and learning of the outside countries, but remained stubbornly Jewish on one question, monotheism. There was only one God, as against the multiplicity of pagan gods, and that meant that reality was unified. Moreover God could not be objectified with a name. They found themselves derided by some pagans and respected by others on this central human question.

In the course of the history from the 2nd century BC that we have been tracing in detail, respect for them advanced in some places to a desire to convert to their religion. A process of proselytisation began. By the mid 1st century BC Hillel the Great was famed for making proselytes and giving them a modified version of Jewish laws that they could accept. The numbers of Diaspora Jews, with proselytes and added Gentiles, became so large that Herod the Great found them a primary source of income for the upkeep of Jerusalem.

In such a situation there was constant development through the meetings and clashes of the different cultures. One element began to separate - Gentiles who valued the central theology but could not accept ritual laws of any kind :circumcision, the sabbath, exclusiveness. When they found leaders with sufficient authority, who eventually came to include Jesus, they saw that they really had a new, inclusive religion. It went through its major developments caused by political crises in the 1st century AD, and eventually emerged as an independent institution called the Christian Church.

You ask: "Would it not have been a more compelling story to have Jesus alive in Acts and the Epistles?" I don't think so. A religion also needs a prophet, so that ethical decisions can be made in the name of an understandable person, not a history lesson. And in the hellenistic world, someone far more than a prophet. The emperors held power from the popular belief that they were gods. Heroic figures were said to be conceived from gods. The missionaries to proselytes had understood that, teaching that their priests were gods. Jesus had actually claimed priesthood, and that meant that he should be called a god. Consequently he should be kept largely invisible from ordinary society.

Jesus had the additional need to remain secluded because of the physical injuries he had sustained on the cross, his hands being irreparably damaged by the nails. Moreover, his ambiguous position as possibly illegitimate, together with the fact that he was a subordinate only to the brilliant leader Simon Magus, reinforced his social separation. What happened in the period of the Acts and Epistles was not primarily due to him, but he remained in personal contact with men like Paul, who had their own reasons for rejecting ritual Judaism. Jesus' great skill was in finding the words for the theological change, made into a permanent record in the books of the New Testament.

There is plenty for us to learn from that record!

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Did Jesus actually claim to be the Son of God
Q. Denoon Sieg, of Sun Valley, South Africa, writes:
My question is, as far as can be ascertained by the documentation (Dead Sea Scrolls, etc), "Did Jesus actually claim to be the Son of God?"
A. Yes he did - in the sense he was using the term. It simply meant that he was a levite, a deputy priest. It did not mean that he was a supernatural figure.

The historical evidence has always been there, now added to by the Dead Sea Scrolls. In the course of Christian history Jesus became transmuted into a supernatural figure, with the result that theologians did not dare to take account of the very plain historical evidence on what the term meant in its own day. There are three main sources for it: a passage in Philo, a series of Dead Sea Scroll documents, and the words of Jesus himself in a passage of John's gospel.

The passage in Philo of Alexandria, which has long been available, shows that Diaspora Jews believed that their high priest was a semi-divine being. Although it was quite contrary to Jewish monotheism to say that a human could be a god, they had been so influenced by hellenism - which had a multiplicity of gods in human form - that they claimed that their high priests were gods. The passage, in Philo's On Dreams (2, 188-189) reads:

"(The high priest is) a being whose nature is midway between man and God, less than God, superior to man. 'For when the high priest enters the Holy of Holies, he shall not be a man' (Leviticus 16:17). Who then, if he is not a man? A God? I will not say so, for this name is a prerogative, assigned to the chief prophet, Moses, while he was still in Egypt, where he is entitled the God of Pharaoh (Exodus 7:1) Yet not a man either, but one contiguous with both extremes, which form, as it were, one his head, the other his feet".

Among the Dead Sea Scrolls were found a series of fragments 4Q400- 407, which have been called Songs for the Holocaust of the Sabbath. A parallel to them was found at Masada. 4Q400 offers praises to beings who are plainly called "gods: (elohim, elim) and said to be priests in the Holy of Holies. "For he founded them for himself as the most [holy, who minister in the H] oly of Holies......He has established for himself as priests of the inner temple, the most holy...of gods, the priests of the highest heights...".

Its wording indicates that some men have been appointed to act as high priests, in the office of the high priest who officiates in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. They are actually called "gods". For Qumran, there was a symbolic Holy of Holies, not a building, but consisting of the priests of their community, the Essene priests who had been expelled from the literal Jerusalem temple (1QS 8:1-16). A further step was taken in the Diaspora, where there was a natural shortage of hereditary priests who had been born into the tribe of Levi. In the synagogues a man with sufficient merit and educational qualifications could be appointed to officiate on the sabbaths. The series of Songs for the Holocaust of the Sabbath set out the prayers they are to utter on each successive sabbath, acting as a prayer book. Since Diaspora Jews lived too far away from the homeland to attend the Jerusalem temple on the Day of Atonement, the synagogue services transmitted the atonement symbolically, and the educated layman who had been appointed represented the high priest in his hellenised role of a "god". A "son of God" was a deputy to him, a levite.

A passage in John 10:33-36 shows what was actually meant by the term Son of God in the time of Jesus. The Jews were attacking Jesus "because you, being a man, make yourself God". Jesus' tightly structured reply meant that scripture called all teachers gods, so there was nothing wrong with him saying "I am the Son of God". Quoting Psalm 82:6, he said,

"Is it not written in your law 'I said, you are gods'? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came (and the scripture cannot be broken), do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming' because I said 'I am the Son of God?"'

The actual objection to Jesus was that, being a layman, he was claiming to be a priest and the high priest. The Qumran community expected two Messiahs, a lay Messiah of Israel, and a superior priestly Messiah of Aaron. Even though Jesus could claim to be the Messiah of Israel as a descendant of David, he could not claim to be the Messiah of Aaron, the descendant of Zadok. Hebrews chapter 7 deals with this objection, arguing from the coronation psalm of the David kings that he could indeed be a high priest after the order of Melchizedek, like a descendant of Zadok.

Following on Jesus' combination of the two Messiahs, Christian ministers were ordained to their office, not born into it like Jewish priests. That meant no less than an abolition of traditional Judaism, which identified with its hereditary priesthood.

The parallels in our own time are worth considering!

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Do you believe in God
Q. Captain William Richardson, Aerial Delivery Officer on duty at an American camp in Iraq, writes:
May I be as bold to ask if you believe in any kind of God and what do you think happens to us when we die, as well as, why you believe that way? I have never asked these questions to anyone before........ If you are comfortable with answering and feel that others may benefit as well, please feel free to post it on your website.
A. Such questions can hardly be treated privately in this age of evangelistic atheism.

My own answer would be that no human language can ever say anything truthful on the subject we call God. Language is a human construct. To use language to assert a belief about God is to give a descriptive statement, implying that the speaker has knowledge on the subject . The speaker is therefore as good as God, or even better.

If he asserts that God exists, he is attributing existence to God, speaking from his human experience. We have existence, and it means that we can cease to exist. In supposing existence for God, the believer is not only implying that God can die, but is implying also that humans are the model for everything. We are the paradigm of all reality. Some would call that blasphemy, and idolatry.

The assertions of the new atheists are doing the same thing, saying that they have knowledge that God does not exist. They are useful for smashing the idols that are crippling believers, but their words are not adequate for spiritual perception.

It seems to me that silence avoids such presumption, that of asserting either existence or non-existence. It gives our brain a chance to be quiet, and to experience what I would call "faith", if a word has to be used - but it is better not to use words at all. Silence has been the path of Christian mystics, and of Buddhists among other traditional religions. But they still have had to form societies in order to transmit the means of faith, and societies have to use language. So we are double persons, necessarily active in society for the sake of our physical survival and that of others, but capable also of sensing divinity when wordlessly alone.

On the question of life after death, I take for granted what I would think is the common attitude these days, that there is no survival of our bodies and brains, and "soul" is a fiction. Some people have been fortunate enough to contribute something that is of great benefit to others, surviving in that sense, but through communication the record of their lives has to be so simplified that it also is a fiction.

I won't take your time quoting the theologians who in every generation have come up with understandings like this. It is the normal result of theological study by intelligent people to be freed through such perceptions. Just listen to your own growth, helped by thinkers who remove the impediments to growth.

Many thanks for asking, from battle-torn Iraq.

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DSS written in Stone
Q. Claude Robitaille, of Quebec City Canada asks:

Is there something you can add to tell us about what you think of this unknown Dead Sea Scroll ?

I lately read an article concerning "A New Dead Sea Scroll in Stone ?" written by Ada Yardeni.

Drawn from the text:
  • It is written on gray-colored stone! 3 ft high and 1 ft wide!
  • It is clearly dated by the shape and form of the letters to sometime between the late first century B.C.E. and early first century C.E.
  • The text is inscribed in 2 columns (like a scroll) - one of 44 lines, the other of 43 lines, for a total of 87 lines of script.
  • Chances are it came from Jordan and appeared on the antiquities market and was acquired by Zurich collector David Jeselsohn.
  • It is written in the first person, perhaps by someone named Gabriel (line 77).
  • Apparently the composer of this text supports the Davidic dynasty.
  • In addition to the name Gabriel, the composition refers to the "messenger (or angel) Michael"...
(The author asked the journalist to note that she studied this inscription in consultation with Binyamin Elizur.)

Biblical Archaeological Review January/February 2008 Vol. 34 No 1. (pp. 60-61)

The full Hebrew and English text can be found on the BAS Web site.
A scholarly article on the composition appears in Hebrew in Cathedra (2007).
A. It is known now that there is an industry producing profitable fakes on stone. It is possible to carve on stone convincing reproductions of Hebrew letters as they are drawn in the Scrolls, forming words of interest to historians and the general public. The fake "ossuary of James the brother of Jesus" had this character, and it fooled Hershel Shanks, editor of the Biblical Archeological Review. Scientific examination of the setting of the carved letters showed that they had been made in modern times.

While not necessarily in a position to examine the stone itself , a scholar who was closely familiar with the Dead Sea Scrolls would recognize from the wording that, at the very least, the stone in question does not belong with the Dead Sea Scrolls, and is very likely to be a fake.

The writing picks out words that are of great interest to the question of the Christian associations of the Qumran community, but are used in contexts that are different from the way they are used in the Scrolls. If only one of these terms appeared in the whole of a genuine scroll or fragment, it would trigger scholarly interest. They are crowded together in this piece. Examples: "the greatness of Jerusalem. Hasidim. My servant David; David the servant of Yahweh. Angel Michael. I am Gabriel. In three days you will know. These are the chariots, seven. The blood of this chariot. The three saints of the world. Sons of saints."

A descendant of David was expected by the Qumran community, as is shown in 4Q252, 6 and a pesher on Isaiah, "[the Branch] of David who shall arise at the end [of days]" (4Q171 frs 8-10, line 15). But the significance given to the sons of Zadok in extensive passages of the main documents 1QS and CD indicates that, of the priests and kings of the first temple, it was the Zadokite high priests who were the most important at Qumran, priests being of higher grade than the laity (CD 14:3). This piece if genuine would have included the sons of Zadok together with David.

Michael and Gabriel appear in 1QM 9:15 and 16 as names to be written on the shields, and in 1QM 17:6-7 Michael is named as the supreme archangel. They do not appear as living persons whose actions are described. They do appear as active persons in the New Testament, in Luke 1:19 and Revelation 12:7 - a point for the argument for fakery.

The word translated "saints" in lines 65, 76 is usually translated "holy ones". It is found very frequently in the Scrolls. The term "sons of holy ones" in line 76 is not found in the Scrolls, and if meant literally is unlikely, as the "holy ones" were celibates.

It is also the case that no other writing on a stone of that size was found at Qumran. Their compositions on small scrolls of vellum or papyrus were intended to be movable, as is shown by the fact that they were hidden in caves. That the existence of this stone has not been revealed before is a strong indication that it is part of the current wave of fraud.

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Beast 666 or 616
Q. Graham Hayward, from Guernsey in the Channel Islands, writes:
With reference to The Beast number 666.

I have read that there is evidence that the number 666 in Revelation 13:18 was wrong and should have been 616. Apparently this argument has been around since the second century. Do you have information as to the accuracy of this research and, if it is correct, how would this 'translate' into letters and affect the meaning you have drawn from 666?
A. It is not the case that one is wrong and the other right. They are both right, and 616 is a valuable confirmation of my case concerning the meaning of 666.

Both are plays on Hebrew letters, which were also used for numbers. The letter Taw, the last one in the Hebrew alphabet, also stood for 400. (The one before it, Shin, stood for 300, but it is not used in this case). The one before it, Resh, is used for 200. Taw and Resh together add up to 600. Then a letter further back in the alphabet, Samekh, is used for 60.Then further back still is the letter Waw meaning 6. Waw is frequently used with initials, and is found with an initial in the DSS. So the combination Taw-Resh-Samekh -Waw adds up to 666.

The reason for selecting those letters is that they were also used for grades in the Essene monastic educational system. Men studying in the system were promoted every year. When they reached the highest possible grade they were given the letter Taw, the last in the alphabet, to show that there was nothing higher. (It was written as an X, the archaic shape of Taw). There were three especially significant grades: first that of initiation at age 23, marked by the letter Samekh. Then, after four years of undergraduate study and a further year outside the sanctuary, they were promoted to the sanctuary with the letter Resh. It was the letter for the lowest of the three priests Taw, Shin, Resh, and it gave them for the first time a high honor, a form of priesthood. There were even higher honors to go to, culminating in Taw.

So for anyone familiar with the Essene monastic system and the coded way it talked, to say "666" meant "the monastic system in which initiates are at grade Samekh, lesser priests are at grade Resh, and highest priests at grade Taw". The three letters were bound together with Waw to show that they were initials. It had become the Number of the Beast because by the time of writing Revelation 13:18 the Christians had separated, being in favor of peace with Rome, while the Beast was the militant head of anti-Roman zealots who would eventually bring about the fall of Jerusalem.

That was the case for 666. The number 616 is a variant using the same principles, and referring to the educational system at a lower stage than Samekh, so as to include novices and other pre-initiates. The pre-initiate stage of the greatest significane was given at age 18 when studies began- equivalent to entry to university. Its letter in the system was Yod, even further back in the alphabet. Yod also meant 10. When the Waw 6 for initials was added, and the higher Taw and Resh preserved, this version summed up the system as Taw 400, Resh 200, Yod 10, Waw 6 = 616.

For your interest, the number system was Aleph 1, Beth 2, Gimel 3, Daleth 4, He 5, Waw 6, Zayin 7, Heth 8, Tet 9, Yod 10, Kaph 20, Lamed 30, Mem 40, Nun 50, Samekh 60, Ayin 70, Pe 80, Sadhe 90, Qof 100, Resh 200, Shin 300, Taw 400. They wrote 25, for example, as Kaph (20) + He (5). They had trouble with 15, Yod and He, and 16 , Yod and Waw because they also stood for the divine name, being abbreviations of Yahweh, so they wrote Tet 9 + Waw 6. and Tet 9 + Zayin 7. But Yod and Waw in the larger group Taw Resh Yod Waw did not present this problem.

The Number 666 of the Beast is certainly more dramatic than these boring mathematics! The writers of Revelation knew quite well that it would appeal to the imagination of the uneducated, and they left it that way so as to preserve a code available only to insiders. In my opinion it is a regrettable book, deliberately setting up superstitions. But its codes are great fun to solve in one's leisure moments, like cryptic crosswords. It is hoped that we will shortly post on this site the solutions to Parts C and D of Revelation.

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Dionysius The Areopagite
Q. Don Sanderson, of Brisbane, Australia, writes: "I am a PhD candidate at the Queensland University of Technology (Brisbane, Australia) ... I have become interested in the work of (and the person) Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (c. 5-6th century CE?) who has appropriated a number of neoplatonic, Jewish, Hellenic, traditions and morphed them into the new (Christian-Catholic) church dogma. In one of the Pseudo-D's work The Celestial Hierarchy he opens with the words, "To my fellow-presbyter Timothy." Using "Timothy" ties it to biblical characters; there was a Dionysius the Areopagite who the bible says becomes Bishop of Athens awarded by Paul after he had converted under Paul's influence - just like the Herodian Timothy in Dr Thiering's work. Timothy, according to Dr Thiering is a pupil of Paul's."
A. This comment raises the question why a Dionysius the Areopagite and a Timothy appear together in what is certainly a late work. On the usual 19th century assumption of pretended authorship, Dionysius has been labelled "Pseudo". Not so. Another piece of lost history may be unearthed by working out the pesher of Acts 17.

There is no doubt that this Dionysius' writings are late, dealing with matters that did not become central until the Council of Nicea and later. Two of his treatises may be found here.

He writes , for example, "In an ineffable manner, the simple Being of Jesus assumed a compound state" (Divine Names 4 ,79), and in his Mystical Theology

"Trinity, which exceedeth all Being, Deity, and Goodness! Thou that instructeth Christians in Thy heavenly wisdom!" (Chapter 1, introduction). There is no interest whatever in historical matters; it is all timeless philosophy of the neoplatonic school.

In Acts 17, Paul is shown in December 51 AD preaching on the Areopagus, a hill in Athens west of the Acropolis. Athens was the world center for philosophy. Paul did not have the 15 year old Timothy with him, but had left him in Macedonia, and was joined by him later in Corinth. The term tines (Certain Ones, plural of reproduction for Herod) appears frequently, in the pesher always meaning Thomas Herod. He is grouped with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in v.18. The plural of reproduction means an individual. The "Stoic philosophers" means Seneca, the eminent Stoic philosopher with whom Paul subsequently exchanged correspondence. (See Correspondence between Paul and Seneca in the The Other Gospels section of this site).

Dionysius the Areopagite appears in v.34. The title means that he was an authority at the Areopagus. The name Dionysius was that of the Greek god of wine. Paul's message has a pesher which means that he was not talking to pagans who had never heard of his doctrines, as appears on the surface, but to Herodians, with whom he was arguing distinctions of politics. Paul was in a Herodian abbey, an extension of the royal Herod Vineyard in Rome. Abbeys were characterised by the drinking of wine, in contrast with hermitages of the Therapeuts which did not permit wine at their religious meals. The pesher means that Agrippa II had another abbey in Athens, called after its setting on the Areopagus, where an education in Greek philosophy was given to Jews of his court who wanted to become hellenised.

The altar inscribed "To an unknown god" (agnōstō theō) (v. 23) concerned the king, Agrippa II. He could be called theos, without the definite article, in the same way as his father Agrippa I had accepted the title theos in Acts 12:22. He was a-gnōstos meaning "anti-gnostic", that is, it was not a Magian institution, for the Magian monasteries were at enmity with Herodian abbeys. Paul was objecting to the definition of a Herod as divine, a messianic figure. Although Herod the Great and Agrippa I had claimed it, the timid Agrippa II was not suited to the role, and under Paul's tuition abandoned it in favor of Jesus, who was called theos without article in John 1:1. Paul went on in vv. 24-27 to speak positively of ho theos with article, describing him in Sadducee terms. All Annas Sadducee priests were spoken of as ho theos. Paul was speaking of Ananus the Younger, the next Annas who was destined to become high priest (in 62 AD) after his four brothers had all had their turn. It was Ananus the Younger who became Dionysius the Areopagite, the approved head of the abbey after Paul's reform.

In an institution, the title of the head was used again by a successor. This was the case with the titles "John", "Jesus" and "Agrippa". The later Dionysius who wrote the neoplatonic treatises was a successor holding office in the Athens abbey, which had become Christian. He addressed his work to Timothy because there had been a role for a Timothy as chief student, although the particular Timothy in Paul's time was too young. The first Timothy was the adopted son and heir of the childless Agrippa II, so there was a place for the prince in the abbey. He however, abandoned his Herodian identity, as many hellenised Herods did at this time.

If scholarship would move to the assumption of institutions - an assumption forced on us by the Dead Sea Scrolls - rather than autonomous individuals acting for solitary purposes, a dramatic change in our understanding of Christian origins would take place.

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Book of Psalms
Q. Tim Mansfield, of Brisbane, Australia, asks:
"Could you please explain the intent and purpose of the Book of Psalms and if and where the pesher can be used to support the conclusions?"
A. One of the contributions of 20th century European biblical scholarship was to show that the Book of Psalms was never intended for private use. The Norwegian scholar Sigmund Mowinckel in a major book, The Psalms in Israel's Worship, showed that they were composed for public use, for state occasions in the temple. They were called the Psalms of David because as king all temple worship was authorised by him, in the same way as the King James version of the Bible was named after the reigning king.

The state occasions for which they were written included the coronation of the king, and a royal wedding. Psalms 2 and 110 were both written for the coronation. They would have been sung by a massed choir in the Jerusalem temple at this greatest of political events. At a particular point the new king, humbly kneeling and aware of his human limitations, was assured by Psalm 2 that he would have divine protection against the armies of the enemies who would try to defeat his country and dethrone him. The divine power is said to be laughing at the enemies, deriding them and terrifying them. He would be quoted as saying "I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill". Then the king would respond, speaking of his personal confidence, "I will tell of the decree of the Lord. He said to me, 'You are my son, today I have begotten you"'. "Today" means the coronation day, and "begotten" means made a king, a man looked up to by the people as having a familiar relationship with the divine, and so like a son to him. Such a belief was a necessary part of the ancient political myth, giving security.

In Psalm 110 the words to be used in another part of the coronation ceremony were set down. The words in v. 7 "He will drink from the brook by the way" give the actual point. It was during the traditional procession described in 1 Kings 1:38-40, when Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet escorted the new king Solomon, riding the royal mule, from the Mount of Olives across the valley to the temple on the west side to be crowned. When they reached the brook Gihon, the waters of which were held to be sacred, the king drank from it and Zadok anointed him with oil. " Then they blew the trumpet, and all the people said, 'Long live King Solomon!"

It had been at that spot that the Amorite Abraham, centuries before, had met with Melchizedek the Hittite priest-king of Jerusalem, and made an alliance with him (Genesis 14). The Amorites had actually taken over the Jerusalem religious site for the worship of their god Yahweh, but they did it through diplomacy, grafting their line of kings into that of Melchizedek. The coronation psalm 110 preserved the formula that continued to be used from that time, "You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek". (v. 4)

It will be apparent, from this understanding, why Psalm 45 was for a royal wedding in the temple.

Turning to the personal use of the Psalms, the above gives the reason why there is so much in them that does not make much sense for the spiritual believer trying to apply them to her or his needs. The word "I" in so many of them does not mean that they are for any individual, but for the king in one of his royal roles, as a representative of the nation. The words draw on an accepted mythology to speak of his reliance on the divine, not on himself. By extension, they do give a language to all individuals who can speak of their condition in the same terms. The symbols and metaphors can broadly apply, but there is no use of pesher, a concept that came much later. To pass over the incomprehensible parts, such as "You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek", is to miss a great deal about how our religious language arose from a particular institution in a particular place.

The concept of pesher was introduced into the Psalms, as into other Old Testament books, by the Teacher of Righteousness at a much later time, when the David kingship and ceremonies in the Jerusalem temple had lost their authority. The irrationality of the procedures is apparent in the surviving DSS fragment of the pesher on Psalm 37. Commenting on v. 10, which reads "Yet a little while, and the wicked will be no more", the pesharist says that it means "at the end of 40 years they willl be destroyed." He got the 40 years from the Hebrew word me'at, "little" for the sole reason that it starts with the letter Mem, which in Hebrew is also used for the number 40. Since, for him, the "'wicked" of the psalm meant the party that included the Wicked Priest, he saw it as a prophecy that that party would be destroyed in 40 years' time. The prophecy is preserved in another book from the DSS, the Damascus Document , which says in its col 19:14 that 40 years after the death of the Teacher of Righteousness those who deserted to the Man of a Lie would be destroyed. It is argued here that the Teacher was John the Baptist and Jesus was the Wicked Priest and the Man of a Lie.The prophecy suited very well the conditions of 70 and 71 AD, the fall of Jerusalem, 40 years after the Baptist's death. Except that it was the Teacher's party that was destroyed, and the Christians escaped to new centers in the Diaspora.

It is also argued here that the concept of pesher was developed by the Christians when it became necessary for them to record their previous history in the Qumran community, but keep it concealed from their simple believers, the "babes", who believed that Christianity was a revelation given directly from heaven. The big difference was that the Christians used it rationally, with such consistency that all words used with a special meaning always had the same sense. That is why the gospels, Acts and Revelation are a priceless source of the history of earliest Christianity, when the special meanings are discovered.

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Did The Jews Pioneer Monotheism
Q. Hans Olminkhof, of Sydney Australia, asks:
"I have noticed over the years that you appear to be convinced that the Jewish religion pioneered monotheism. You say this again particularly clearly in your latest answer "What does the bible actually say about creation?".

I'm wondering if you have a firm basis for this. I have noticed references on line and elsewhere over the years to Zoroastianism, Zoroaster or Zarathustra that suggest that this persons philosophy could also have been described as such. It is suggested that the date is around 1000BCE. In the context of your answer referenced above is there any certainty about early monotheism?"
A. There can of course be no certainty about the precise origin of big ideas that are likely to have come from universal human experience. But in as far as the ancient written sources that we happen to have can be relied on, there seems to be reason for concluding that while other major cultures underwent shifts in the direction of monotheism by reducing the number of gods, the smaller Jewish culture stood out among them by refusing to objectify divinity at all. Their refusal to even pronounce a name for God is the continuing evidence of this. No doubt they were accused of atheism in their time!

Their first geographical source was undoubtedly in Iran, in Mesopotamia,the fertile land between the two rivers Tigris and Euphrates. The Assyrian-Babylonian cultures stayed there, and at a certain stage produced a figure called Zarathustra, or Zoroaster in Greek. It was because the Semitic tribe that became Jews retained their contact with Mesopotamia that it has been argued that they derived their kind of monotheism from Zoroastrianism. No doubt the intellectual influence was part of the impetus, but for many reasons, the major one being their enforced isolation, the Jews developed a purer form of monotheism. They did not have the richness and variety of political experience that seemed to imply the existence of many deities.

The date of Zarathustra is disputed, the most recent understanding, about 1000 BC, to be found at Wikipedia.

It does not matter to our case when their prophet lived, only that such currents of thought were present when they lived in exile in Mesopotamia, most noticeably in Babylon during the 6th century BC. There they would have come in contact with what was respected as a more humanising world view.

Its main contribution was the removal of mythology and magic and the replacement of these by an ethical interpretation of the spirits governing the universe. It held a dualistic splitting of the cosmos between two opposing forces, good and evil, Truth and the Lie, which was closely associated with an eschatological view of history.

The Avesta, their scripture, contains Yasna 30, "The Gatha of the Choice". Its parallels with passages in the Dead Sea Scrolls, especially 1QS, The Community Rule 3:15- 4:1 have been apparent since their first discovery.

"Now at the beginning the twin spirits have declared their nature, the better and the evil, in thought and word and deed. And between the two, the wise ones choose well, not so the foolish. And when these two spirits came together, in the beginning they established life and non-life, and that at the last the worst existence should be for the wicked, but for the righteous one the Best Mind. Of these two spirits, the evil one chose to do the worst things, but the Most Holy Spirit, clothed in the most steadfast heavens, joined himself unto righteousness; and thus did all those who delight to please the Wise Lord by honest deeds. Between the two, the false gods also did not choose rightly, for while they pondered they were beset by error, so that they chose the Worst Mind. Then did they hasten to join themselves unto Fury, that they might by it deprave the existence of men"

The spirits were, however, personified, becoming the equivalent of gods. The evil spirit, the spirit of a Lie (druj) is personified as Angra Mainyu. He opposes Ahura Mazda, the good spirit, while the present temporal sphere lasts. But there are not two eternally coexistent deities. Only Ahura Mazda is omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent and eternal, whereas Angra Mainyu is limited in time, in power and in knowledge. There will come a time in the future, after the present form of human existence has run a measurable number of millennia (12 000 years in orthodox Mazdaism) when there will be a catastrophe and the renovation of the world will come, freed of an evil force.

There can be no doubt that this world view was absorbed by Jews of the exile and became part of what developed as the Essenism of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Another source of Jewish monotheism has also been claimed, that of Egypt in the period of Akhenaton, 14th century BC, who instituted a religious revolution by abolishing the shrines of the multiple Egyptian gods. His son-in-law Tutankhamon regained the loyalty of the masses by restoring them. One of his inscriptions reads:

"Now when his majesty (Tutankhamon) appeared as king, the temples of the gods and godesses from Elephantine down to the marshes of the Delta had gone to pieces. Their shrines had become desolate...their sanctuaries were as if they had never been...and the gods turned their backs upon this land" (in J.B. Pritchard's Ancient Near Eastern Texts,Princeton University Press, 1955, p. 251).

Moses appeared at around this time, as a Hebrew who had been taught, possibly as a slave, in the Egyptian court, and who led a band of Semitic slaves out of Egypt to join other Hebrews who were at that time invading Canaan. Since the tribe of Levi remained as the separate priestly tribe, a 13th, it has been reasonably supposed that the ex-Egyptian Semites, derived from the Hyksos, having a much higher standard of learning for that period, became the priest-teachers in Israel , taking the role of more learned men in all cultures. There would have been an influence on Moses from Akhenaton's objections to multiple gods, but gods were still named, the reformer himself taking one of their names. Israelite religion was less Egyptian than Amorite, and developed as something unique in the area. Whatever the actual origin of the name Yahweh, it came to be understood as meaning "I am who I am" (Exodus 3:14), simply Being, not a particular entity who was part of All-Being. In 2 Kings 18:13-35 the story is told of the Asssyran invader the Rabshakeh ("great sheik") taunting Hezekiah the king of Jerusalem for relying on a god whose shrines he had abolished by centralising worship in Jerusalem.

It was surely the nomad influence that preserved throughout Jewish history the perception that God cannot be localised in any place, or in any name. In the song of Balaam, in Numbers 23:9, their reputation is quoted: "Lo, a people dwelling alone, and not reckoning itself among the nations!"

It is from the desert, from isolation, that such insight has always come.

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What Does The Bible Actually Say About Creation
Claude Robitaille of Quebec City Canada asks another question, very relevant at the present time.

Q. "If your research on the Christian origin brings the conclusion that there is nothing supernatural about Jesus, the miracles, etc. would you expect and agree that the same conclusion may be applied to the origin of the universe meaning that there was no intervention from some kind of God or supernatural power. I still think that men created all kinds of gods and not the opposite."
A. Thanks for initiating discussion of some information that is very much needed, especially now. I'll take up one of your implications, that we have to go past the Bible if we are to be theologically truthful. But at the same time I'll be making distinctions between what the Bible says and what it does not say. People who swear by the Bible very often have no idea of what it says.

Of course the affirmation of Genesis that a God created the world is a consequence of its assumption of a supernaturalism that we can no longer hold. Taken with the solipsist assumption - not encouraged by the Bible - that humans are the center of everything, it is easy to identify where such a belief comes from. It is that of a young child, who has no other experience than its own family, and in its painful dependence has to believe in an infallible creating and protecting power. We all start that way, but in every generation there are people who grow out of it.

The Old Testament began as a collection of stone tablets containing the carved records of a particular tribe of Semites from Mesopotamia. They were nomads who had been driven out to the hills by a more privileged class of priests who had acquired some learning, especially of regular astronomical events, and who had developed writing enough to record them. The priests were admired and protected, possessing temples in fertile lands near the rivers, a garden of Eden. A differing race led by an Adam coveted their learning and retained some of it, but tried to seize more than they were qualified for and were driven out, becoming socially rejected.

They wandered from watering hole to watering hole with their bands of sheep, never permitted to practice agriculture. The dangers they were frequently exposed to sharpened their intellects and gave them close cohesion. They survived by struggling, overcoming threats, and after many centuries became aware that they had a longer and stronger identity than settled peoples whose empires rose and fell. The tablets with their records were carried around in a box, and they saw that they had developed historical learning, as opposed to learning about natural science. The retention of the history of their own tribe became central to their religious sense, that is to their questions about their own value. They also recorded the laws that they had found to be essential to their survival, preserving internal loyalty necessary at times of attack. No killing of their own fellows, no taking their women, no stealing their meagre possessions.

During the second millennium BC they turned their military skills and aggression on a strip of fertile land on the east coast of the Mediterrnaean. They invaded it, seized it from its complacent inhabitants unprepared for war, and wrested from them the knowledge of agriculture. By about 1000 BC they and other ex-nomads who joined them had mastered the land and become a significant political power. A talented leader, David, used intellectual and diplomatic skills to consolidate a small empire. It survived for some 400 years, with its own temple where priests developed their kind of learning, but it was no match for the mighty powers, Assyrians and Babylonians, who had now turned their attention west and were taking over smaller civilisations.

For another half-millennium the Israelites, now calling themselves Jews, lived quietly under a series of foreign overlords, having lost their imperial power. They turned instead to reflection, meeting in small groups in synagogues, and posing again the question, "what is our value?" Their records, transferred to parchment,went back further than those of any other nation they encountered, some 4000 years. They saw that their own rise to a strong identity had begun with Adam. Giving high religious value to historical origins, they came to believe that the world had begun with them. Raising more sophisticated questions about nature that were now current, they became persuaded that their God had created the physical world, for the benefit of their race. Their earliest records and laws, now adapted to include such practices as observance of the workers' day off, the sabbath, became central to study at their synagogue meetings, and the record collection was treated as an object of worship.

But their records never said that God created the world in 6 days. They were not so unrealistic as that. They adopted the commonsense belief that there must have been a succession of stages during which the physical world developed before the appearance of humans, who were consequently not the first principle. That belief still stands, in essence, and has been verified by observations of phenomena. Genesis held a kind of evolution in nature. It did not, however, give any timing for the stages.

I wish that influential biblical scholars would come out with what has been known to them for generations. Genesis is not trying to say that God created the world in 6 days. It is saying that there is to be a religious festival extending over 6 days, celebrating the successive stages of creation. On the first day the celebration of the first stage, the creation of Light, is performed with prayers and incantations. On the second day, another celebration, the creation of the firmament. Each stage is followed by the formula naming the topic for the day: "And there was evening and morning, the first day" etc. No doubt their stages were out of sequence - the sun moon and stars were not created until the fourth day - but at least they believed in stages of unstated duration, not 24 hour days.

This is known because we have the tablets describing the procedure of the Babylonian akitu festival in exactly this form, giving the topics for prayers and ritual at a New Year festival over a succession of 14 days. The translation and associated texts are to be found in J.B. Pritchard's Ancient Near Eastern Texts(Princeton University Press, 1955). In a document describing an Akkadian ritual, the prayers and readings for each of the 14 days of the month Nisannu (Nisan, March-April) are given. For the fourth day, "the urigallu priest of the temple Ekua shall recite the god Bel the composition entitled Enuma Elish." These are the first two words of the Creation Epic that has also come to light with these tablets. It deals with the way creation of the physical universe came about as a consequence of battles between the different Babylonian gods. Israelites, always standing apart because of their unique monotheistic theology, rejected the myth of creation through conflict, although recovering some of its elements in the Flood story that was also borrowed from Babylon. But they retained the festival structure for the great religious occasions at the seasons of the year, and on each of a successive 6 days read out the account of one of the stages of a unified creation.

We have gone considerably further in separating humans and their religions from the physical universe - or multiverse. We are now seeking reassurance about our own value in other ways, in the midst of yet another of our monstrous conflicts. We would be wiser to look further than to an ancient book on these matters. But when we do read it for what it says, rather than for superimposed misunderstandings, it can give us useful guidance about the way the human part of the natural world has always conducted itself.

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Who Was Melchizedek
Q. Claude Robitaille, of Quebec City Canada, asks a question about the mysterious figure Melchizedek, who appears occasionally in the Old and New Testaments, and is now known to have been important to the Qumran community.

"I would be interested to know about this Melchizedek, the order of Melchizedek, how he was made a priest, and the line after him permitting to be recognized as such.
I seem to have no problem with Aaron, the tribe of Levi, but for some reason I seem to know more about him. (I know that the Catholic Church mentioned the order of Melchizedek when ordaining their priests)".
A. Melchizedek appears in only two places in the Old Testament, making it all the more puzzling that the title is applied to Jesus in Hebrews 7. It is certain that he was a Canaanite king - why should he be revered by Israelites who had conquered Canaan?

The main source is Genesis 14, a chapter that deals mainly with the story of Lot being rescued from Sodom by his kinsman Abraham. In the course of it there appears the account of a meeting between Abraham and Melchizedek king of Salem, that is, Jerusalem. He was a "priest of God Most High", El Elyon in Hebrew. At this meeting, Melchizedek brought out bread and wine. He pronounced a blessing over Abraham in the name of El Elyon. Abraham then paid Melchizedek a tenth of everything, that is the tithe that was due to Israelite priests.

The historical background of this episode was recognized by Scandinavian scholars of the Myth and Ritual school, eg Georg Fohrer in "History of Israelite Religion" (SPCK 1973). They saw that Melchizedek was a descendant of a long line of Canaanite priest-kings who conducted worship on the sacred site of Jerusalem, a high place that was ideal as a religious site (and continues to be). They were from a quite different religion and culture from Abraham, who was a Semitic Amorite from nomad tribes that had moved west from Mesopotamia. Abraham worshipped God under the name of Yahweh, whereas Canaanites worshipped their god under the name El - as is known from numerous sources in the Ugaritic documents discovered in the early 20th century. The form El Elyon meant "God Most High", appropriate to the highest El on the supreme religious site, Jerusalem.

Abraham then brought off a diplomatic masterpiece, by uniting his religion and culture with that of the Canaanites. The names of the gods were joined, so that the combined god could be called both Yawheh and El, more usually Elohim in a plural form. In English it became Lord (Yahweh) God (Elohim). The union came about under cultural pressures, as major theological innovations always do. The Canaanites were agricultarists, settled people farming fertile land, producing grain and grapes, so their symbols were bread and wine. Abraham's Amorites were nomads, moving from place to place, warriors who always had to fight for the water springs where they temporarily settled. Arriving from the deserts into the fertile coastal strip of Canaan, they began to develop agricultural skills and settle down. Their warrior habits enabled them to take control of the lands, and eventually of Jerusalem. They were able to intimidate the current priest-king Melchizedek into a treaty. He consented to uniting their religions rather than being driven out. At the formal meeting where the treaty was announced, he offered the symbols of his culture, bread and wine, with a blessing from his God El Elyon, and Abraham in return treated him as if he were an Israelite priest entitled to tithes.

From that point the Amorites rose to dominance in the Jerusalem place of worship. The David line of kings, appearing around 1000 BC, were from the Yahwist Amorites, but could adopt the title Melchizedek as their own. At their coronation ceremonies their ritual included many of the psalms, which were composed for this purpose, not for individual use. Psalm 110:4 shows that the coronation ceremony included the words "Yahweh has sworn, and will not change his mind, you (the David being crowned) are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek". It was for this reason that Hebrews 7 was subsequently able to argue that Jesus from the line of David could be a high priest after the order of Melchizedek, even though he was from the tribe of Judah and not from the priestly tribe of Levi that had produced Aaron.

The culture clash that had produced the union of gods was seen by scholars as even more striking when the origin of the Jerusalem Canaanites became better known. In Ezekiel 16:3 the prophet is condemning Jerusalem's current apostasies, and says "Your origin and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite, and your mother a Hittite". The ancient Hittite civilisation, which had been as powerful as that of Egypt in the 2nd millennium BC, became known through excavations at Boghazkoi in Turkey. Its language was related to Indo-European, from which western languages come, not Semitic. For example its word for "water" was "watar" . A branch of the Hittites had moved south into Canaan and claimed fertile land there. It was for that reason that Abraham the Amorite bought his burial place from the Hittites who owned it. He "bowed to them as the people of the land", and gained the land through further diplomacy (Genesis 23:3-16.)

The name Melchi-zedek means, in Hebrew, "my king" (melchi) and "righteousness" (zedek). The Zedek part gives Zadok . When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, one of them, 11Q13 (11QMelch) showed that Melchizedek was very important indeed to the Qumran community, and was closely connected with their solar calendar and its predictions. In the context of a final jubilee at the end of 490 years on the Day of Atonement, they spoke of themselves as "the Sons of Light and the men of the lot of Melchizedek".

It is clear from passages such as 1QS 5:1-3, CD 4:1-7, 1QSa 2:1-22 that the Qumran community called themselves "sons of Zadok" and used messianic terminology. They expected two Messiahs, a priestly one from Aaron and a lay one from Israel. Although the consensus case for dating the Scrolls has hesitated to make the obvious connections - which lead straight to Christianity - a historical development can be readily discerned. The Essenes, driven out of the Jerusalem temple, preserved the descendants of its priests and kings in their communities. Zadok had been the Jerusalem high priest (1 Kings 1:32-40) and David the king. The exiled Essenes relied on their solar calendar and its predictions to give them the date when the descendants of these figures would be restored to power in the Jerusalem temple. The high priest of the line of Zadok, who still used the title Melchizedek, would be the important Messiah for this priestly community. John the Baptist was the current Zadokite and the title applied to him. Jesus, believing that priests were not superior to the laity, aimed to combine both lines. He himself would be the Messiah of both Aaron and Israel when the Kingdom came. The argument in Hebrews 7 justifies his claim on good biblical and historical grounds, for the title Melchizedek covered both priest and king. Jesus would be not only the king, but "the high priest of our confession" (Hebrews 3:1, 4:14, 5:1-10). Laymen - including the despised Gentile laymen - would be made priests by ordination, not through any privilege of birth.

It appears from what our questioner says that the Catholic Church has preserved this history, by repeating the coronation/ ordination language of Psalm 110. The DSS were needed to give the full background, and should help to put their ritual in its true historical perspective.

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Where was Jesus when Paul wrote his Letters
"Lisatdeppe" (whom we have unfortunately been unable to contact for details of country) has asked a valuable question:
Q. Where then was Christ when Paul wrote his letters ? Thank you.
A. There is evidence that Jesus was physically present with Paul when Paul wrote his letters in the 50's and early 60's AD.

When Paul approached the subject of divorce in 1 Corinthians 7, he gave two different opinions, one that of the Lord, the other his own, making a clear distinction between them (vv.10 and 12). That was in the 50's AD, long after the time that Jesus was believed to have died and ascended to heaven. If, as the surface reader would naturally assume, the opinion of the Lord was the ultimate authority, endorsed by his heavenly status, it was surely improper of Paul, to say the least, to give an alternative opinion on his own authority. His opinion - that there could be divorce in some circumstances - was in effect contrary to that of the Lord, who said that a husband should not divorce his wife, and a wife should not separate from her husband. If Paul wanted to present his opinion, he should surely have claimed that it was implied in the authoritative opinion of the Lord, as was the usual method on details of law, rather than plainly saying that it was not that of Jesus.

These verses are supporting evidence for what is given at every point of the pesher. Jesus was indeed alive and physically present with his friends in the 50's AD. During the latter years of that decade he was resident in Corinth, the city to which Paul was addressing his Corinthian letter. During that period he sometimes came across the Aegean Sea to Ephesus on the west coast of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). He had every opportunity of personal discussion with Paul in Ephesus.

There was a good reason why Paul would give a differing view on divorce, from his motive of maintaining the religious devotion to Jesus which it was his mission to teach. Jesus had in fact been divorced himself, and the scandal was threatening to destroy his authority, playing into the hands of his moralistic enemies. Mary Magdalene his wife had remained with the party of Simon Magus, militantly anti-Roman, with whom Jesus had been associated at the time of his marriage to her in the 30's AD. Under the emperor Claudius (41- 54AD) a tolerant attitude to Jews caused many of the missionaries, including Jesus and Paul, to change their politics. But Mary Magadalene believed that it was a betrayalof all they had stood for. She separated from Jesus, and a divorce followed, on her initiative. It was out of this unhappy and damaging experience that Jesus said, "The wife should not separate from her husband, but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband. And the husband should not divorce the wife". He was drawing on his own actual experience, saying that he had not initiated the divorce.

Paul first quoted the law in the conservative form that Jesus had relied on. Essenes were known for forbidding divorce once a child had been conceived after the second wedding. But Paul himself, as a Pharisee who in principle permitted divorce (Mark 10:2-4), had carried out the legalities of the divorce, and had himself officiated at the second marriage of Jesus, to Lydia (Acts 16:14-15 taken with other facts of the chronology). In his treatment in 1 Corinthians 7, in his own name, Paul was finessing the law in a form that left Jesus in the clear, circumventing the impression that Jesus was not being straightforward in regard to his own case, by showing that he had been justifiably divorced. It had taken place at the time of the schism of Christians, who only began to use that name in 43-44 AD. Mary Magdalene was not a Christian in the legal sense of the word. So Paul wrote "If any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her (And likewise if the husband is an unbeliever). For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband...But if the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. For God has called us to peace" (that is, in the pesher sense, to political peace, friendship with Rome).

A more subjective reason can be offered for saying that Jesus was present with Paul at the time of writing the letters. It is not factual evidence, but is persuasive on literary grounds. In his first known epistle, to Galatians, which may be dated about 45 AD, Paul embarked on a crucial argument that was taken up and expanded in his magnificent epistle to Romans from 57 AD. The argument gave the pivotal reason for the separation of Christians. Judaism in its traditional sense had become obsolete. It was no longer a cause of eternal damnation to disregard the Jewish law. "There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1-2)." Those words continued to ring through the ages, setting free subsequent reformers who felt themselves bound by a religion that had become ossified - as religions have periodically done throughout human history.

These words certainly represented the opinion of Jesus, who had been betrayed by the traditional form of Judaism into which he had been born. Having attempted suicide on the cross, he had found himself in the cave coming back to consciousness and life. He had undergone a kind of resurrection, accompanied by an act of intellectual liberation from beliefs that had bound him. The drama of his experience had supplied the Christian liturgical drama of resurrection, which those who needed it took literally. A new language for religion that was not the Jewish conceptual language had indeed begun on the cross.

But was Paul capable of such a supreme moment of inspiration? Were the words all his? In the same epistle to Romans he wrote of his own conflicts about separating from Judaism. "For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen by race. They are Israelites, and to them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriachs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ." (Romans 9:3-5).

At the times Paul wrote, Jesus was officially dead, but living in seclusion. A belief in a literal resurrection was proving immensely powerful to masses, both Jewish and Greco-Roman, who were converting to Christianity. Jesus himself understood how the theological revolution should be expressed, but he was silenced by the very beliefs of their unlettered membership. In constant contact with Paul, who had undergone a political conversion with the help of Jesus, a way was found. Jesus would have supplied the substance of the argument, including its very language in some cases, while Paul published it as his own, adding his own pastoral advice such as was appropriate in letters to believers.

In his final letter, 2 Timothy, written in 63 AD, Paul under arrest spoke of the lack of support from his other associates in Rome, but he went on: "the Lord stood by me and gave me strength." (2 Timothy 4:17). A vision? or an actual visit by Jesus from his own place of concealment in Rome?

There must have been times when Jesus was actually sitting with Paul as he wrote. Although the exact facts of what was his in the letters may not be known, the history of his life as given in the pesher is enough to indicate that we have in these letters Jesus' authentic voice. For those who need to think in terms of a human founder of a religion, this much can be a source of strength. For others, who are moving into the theological revolution of our own times, the history itself supplies a much needed guide.

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Missing Andrew
Q. Claude Robitaille of Quebec City Canada asks a further question about Andrew, an associate of Jesus. He first quotes G. Vermes:

"Andrew was one of the leading members of the circle of twelve apostles whom Jesus entrusted in Galilee with the mission of proclaiming the Kingdom of God and performing exorcisms. ... He was the brother of Simon-Peter. Apart from the lists of the apostles and a couple of insignificant anecdotal references, the Gospels report nothing about Andrew." (Vermes, G. Who's Who in the Age of Jesus. p. 45, Penguin, 2005)

Claude comments, "In fact, I realized that the fact of his not being mentioned has some importance. Would you feel the same thing?"
A. Vermes is reproducing from traditional writers the conclusions derived from the surface narrative of the gospels. He takes no account of pesher, nor of any of the apocryphal literature, which traditionalists, assuming a new revelation through Jesus, have rejected as later fiction. That position has been difficult to maintain since the discovery of the Nag Hammadi literature in 1945.

There is evidence even on the surface that "brother" was used in a symbolic sense, for a fellow-worker in the mission. (eg. in Acts 9:17 for Paul). In the pesher the singular of the word is used for the symbolic brother and the plural of reproduction for the literal brother. The singular is used for Andrew, meaning that he was simply a fellow-worker with Peter.

Andrew is the subject of a number of apocryphal books. They are undoubtedly hagiographa, full of fanciful inventions, and on an earlier assumption that all apocrypha are fiction have been dismissed as historically worthless. On the alternative assumption that there may be a nucleus of historical truth in these books, the fact may be extracted from them that Andrew was a pioneering missionary to pagans in the mid 1st century. In the less lurid of these records, the Acts and Martyrdom of the Holy Apostle Andrew in Christian Classics Ethereal Library, formerly Ante-Nicene Fathers vol 8) , he is said to have been sent by Jesus to the province of Achaia, southern Greece, where he came into conflict with the Roman proconsul Aegeates. Andrew attempted to convert him to Christianity, and the debates between the two on Christian doctrine are recorded. Aegeates refused to believe that this new religion Christianity, which "has lately made its appearance" should replace traditional paganism. He imprisoned Andrew, but the people of the city, hating Aegeates, took Andrew's side. He ordered Andrew to be crucified, and Andrew willingly accepted a fate that would imitate Jesus, certain that it would take him to heaven. After four days on the cross he was still alive (a useful point about the length of time that crucifixion lasted). The people of the city wanted to release him, but Andrew refused, insisting on his martyrdom. As he died he was granted visions of Jesus.

His death had the effect of converting Maximilla, the wife of Aegeates, who wanted to leave her brutal husband. As a Christian she devoted herself to celibacy, as is more fully recorded in another Andrew story. The process of winning women in unhappy marriages to a Christian celibate life is also attributed to Peter in Rome, in the apocryphal Acts of Peter.

It is indeed significant, as you say, that Andrew is given so little importance in the gospels. The difference between John's gospel and the Synoptics on this question is the first step in understanding the reason. In John's gospel (1:40-41) Andrew came first at the separation of two disciples who turned to Jesus and left John the Baptist. Andrew then found his "brother", Peter, convincing him that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ. In the pesher, that means that Andrew accepted that Jesus was the legitimate heir of David, against the Baptist who held that he was illegitimate. Peter expressed the same view later, when he said to Jesus "You are the Christ" (Mark 8:29). Andrew is thus presented in John as a superior of Peter, who deferred to his views.

From that point in John's gospel, Andrew is also paired with Philip, an association never found in the Synoptics (John 1:44; John 6:7-8; and especially John 12:21-22 where Philip and Andrew go directly to Jesus without mention of Peter). In the Synoptics, however, there is a group of four, Peter, Andrew, James of Zebedee and John of Zebedee. All four appear together in Mark at the outset (John 1:16-19 John 1:29) and in John 13:3, but three of them without Andrew - Peter, James and John - were present at Jesus' supreme moments (Mark 5:37; Mark 9:2; Mark 14:33). Philip in the Synoptics appears only in the lists of apostles, but in Acts is shown to have been an associate of Simon Magus (Acts 8:13).

The reason for the omission of Philip, and for some omissions of Andrew, would be that Peter, James, and John belonged with the western party and became Christian, while these two retained some forceful Magian methods from the earlier form of the mission. They were methods that included the multiplication of miracles, as seen in the Andrew apocrypha. They were rejected at the time of the schism of Christians in 43-44 AD. (See the biography of Philip in the Biographies secction of this site).

The separation from the Magians began during the gospel period, led by Peter, James and John. Peter is shown attacking Simon Magus in Acts 8:14-24, and in the Clementines - a very valuable historical source - it is shown that they , as the twin brothers Niceta and Aquila, had turned away from Simon Magus who originally educated them (Clementine Homilies 2, 20-21).

Once again it is seen that valuable historical facts may be uncovered by applying the pesher technique and by drawing on the full range of relevant material, not confining study to a list restricted out of theological considerations.

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Did Jesus Know Forbidden Secrets
Adrian Apollo, of Fresno California USA asks:
Q. Did Jesus know the secrets of the Pythagoreans, i.e. the secrets that its members were forbidden to reveal? Many teachings of the Pythagoreans are lost , because the members of the order were bound by an oath not to reveal the teachings of the master. I really am very curious to know if there is anything at all in your research that might point to the possibility that they used numbers in a secret or coded way. If so, then perhaps we could discover the secret history of the Pythagorean sect. I know there are lots of ways in which Jesus's group adopted certain Pythagorean ideas (as you have explained), but I wonder if it went further than that? (See the previous question from Adrian Apollo, "Pythagoras" for information on Pythagoras.)
A. Jesus had the same "secret" knowledge as a scientist in a research institution. After years of disciplined study, a competent scientist has gained skills in a particular area of knowledge that can be applied to the improvement of human life. Jesus' community was a school, the equivalent of a research institution, developing the science of the day. Their educational programme, with 4 years undergraduate study and 3 years postgraduate study, was devoted to the application of the skills of measurement that can be acquired through a mastery of numbers and keeping accurate records. They applied it to astronomy, and with others like them had discovered that our globe is spherical, not flat. Following the centuries of learning of other such institutions, in Babylon and Egypt, they were able to predict lunar eclipses and the positions of stars and planets.

To those who had not done such study, it looked like sheer magic when they announced that an eclipse would occur and it was subsequently seen. It also looked like irreligiousness, because these scholars were claiming to know as much as God. It was quite apparent to the religious man that God decided every day whether to make the sun rise. It was due humility to recognize that man was much less than God, and there were no laws of nature that could be discovered, for God was omnipotent and above all law. So for the Pythagoreans, their scientific knowledge must be kept secret, for fear of causing ordinary unlettered men to lose their faith and their trust in what was greater than themselves.

Their "secrets" would have been no more than this, scientific knowledge as far as it had been taken in their day. Such an attitude breeds myth in order to rationalise ignorance and keep society stable. The learned men were held in awe as magicians, and some of them played up to it with hocus pocus that brought them status. The Magians, who had brought their knowledge from Babylon, gave the words "magic" and "magician". Simon Magus was the original of the Faust legend, the man who had all knowledge but sold his soul to the devil. He had advanced medical knowledge - used in the "resurrection" of Jesus - but he had no hesitation in descending to thaumaturgy, magical tricks such as a stage magician would use. (See the biography of Simon Magus in Biographies.)

What the Pythagoreans knew was no more than can be worked out from the records about them, combined with our more extensive knowledge. So I don't think there is any more to be discovered about them from the pesher. The schools we are studying applied their theory of systems of measurement to the times for prayers, constructing a human clock that was later replaced by mechanical devices. It was a combination of science and religion, but of course was much too restrictive about religion. But their exact systems, particularly those derived from the solar calendar, are the main means of discovering the pesher.

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Hillel The First Pope
Claude Robitaille of Quebec City Canada asks:
Q. Did the recruiting of Gentiles really start with Hillel (Mesopotamia, Babylonia) or if it could be possible to trace that before him?
A. The process began with the spread of hellenistic culture among Diaspora Jews, so it really has to be traced back to Alexander the Great (356- 323 BC). One of his many wise diplomatic moves was to be friendly and respectful to the Jews of Jerusalem (Josephus, Antiquities 11, 329-339). In Hans Jonas' book The Gnostic Religion there is an insightful understanding of the profound effect of Hellenism. There were far more Jews in the Diaspora than in Jerusalem - "myriads of our race" according to Josephus (Against Apion 194). They had always valued learning, and had stood out among surrounding countries for their monotheistic theology. In close contact with the new Greek learning, they took it on eagerly, reconciling it with the laws of Moses by claiming that Moses had known it all along. Philo the Jew of Alexandria illustrates that very well, finding Greek philosophy and science in the Torah by his allegorical method.

By the second century BC the "seekers-after-smooth-things" had appeared, Diaspora Jews and Samaritans who had gone so far with the new learning that they sat loosely to Jewish identity and the moral side of Jewish law. They invited a successor of the Seleucid Antiochus Epiphanes into Jerusalem (4QpNah 1:1-3). They continued into the period of the Teacher of Righteousness, condemned by him as heretics (1QH 12/4: 9-12).

The extension of the process, with active mission to Gentiles, began under the Jewish king Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BC). He followed his father in becoming Sadducee, with a broader world outlook than nationalistic Pharisaism. With his wife Salome, he encouraged Gentiles who had become intrigued by the amalgam of Judaism and Hellenism that retained the best qualities of both. Gentiles were given a form of initiation into Judaism, with a center of learning and administration in Tyre. It had been a meeting place for female initiates, and since Gentiles were defined as equal to women, they were given schools in Tyre, Sarepta and Sidon.

At about this time the Jason mission to Gentiles of the west began. In order to communicate effectively, the Greek myth of Jason's ship was drawn on, with an acted drama using a boat bringing initiates to the dry land of salvation. The "Jason" was the Magus of that period, a Samaritan. Islands of the Mediterranean, already suitable for female convents, were taken up by eremitical Gentiles. The chief ones for males were Cyprus, Crete and Malta.

All of this was well established by the time of Herod the Great. When in 41 BC he began his rise to power as an ambitious, talented Idumean (west bank Arab) under the patronage of Rome, the huge numbers of Diaspora Jews gave him the opportunity of a system of taxation that brought in enormous wealth, needed for his building operations in Judea (4Q159 and the Copper Scroll give the details). The Jewish identity of Diaspora Jews was re-affirmed, with a modernised kind of Judaism called the New Israel, with its own new "Abraham, Isaac and Jacob". The boat mission was now reformed to use biblical imagery, under a "Noah".

In Babylon, a particularly learned Jew named Hillel was attracting Gentiles to become proselytes, converts to the moderately hellenised form of Judaism. He emphasised the Golden Rule as summing up the essence of the Law. As a Pharisee he emphasised the adoption of a Jewish identity, the ritual requirements including circumcision. His kind of teaching was endorsed by Queen Salome, once she became queen regnant and turned from her reckless husband to seek Pharisee advice (76-67 BC).

Hillel began his career in Babylon, then he moved closer to the homeland by establishing a center for mission to proselytes in Damascus. He was then invited by Herod the Great to move to Jerusalem. He became the well respected chief adviser to Herod on Diaspora matters, the "Abraham" of the New Israel, its first Father, or Pope. It was at this time that the mission was structured into the necessary organization for the taxation system.

Ascetics, the stricter party of Jews derived from Essenes, added the requirement of celibacy to the more orthodox ritual requirements. This aspect was attractive to intellectual Greeks, who believed in the superiority of the soul to the body. Gentile interest increased, but the emphasis on Jewish identity meant that they were still defined as low grade, unable to be given the kind of initiation that was reserved for Jews. It was the first stage of education for ministry, which could not be given to Gentiles.

In the latter half of his reign Herod's increasing paranoia produced a split among the ascetics, who parted from him decisively when he turned down their Temple Scroll plan. Sadducees and Magians separated, while the Pharisee Hillel and his sucessors (subsequently including Paul) remained loyal to the Herodian monarchy. Hillel died in 19 BC. He was the "Abraham" whom Jesus would have seen if he had been born in 19 BC, 50 years before the time of speaking about him in 32 AD (John 8: 57). Other ancient texts of this verse, understanding the pesher, change "Have you seen Abraham 50 years ago?" to "Has Abraham seen you?" as Jesus would have been a baby 50 years before.

It was the "left" of the New Israel that became Christian. But Hillel deserves the credit for having helped found the structured organization that became the Church, and for being the first Pope.

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Pesher in Gospel of Thomas
Dylan Stephens, our Webmaster, of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, asks:
Q. The Gospel of Thomas says 42."Become passers-by" Does this have a pesher significance beyond the concept of avoiding the corruptible world?
A. The Gospel of Thomas was found in 1945 in Codex II of the books in the jar at Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt. In the same volume was the Gospel of Philip, which also uses a great deal of symbolism, and is also called a gospel in its written title. Philip and Thomas especially raise the question of whether they are using systematic pesher in the same way as the New Testament gospels. The trouble is that we only have them in Coptic, the language of Egypt in its Christianized period. Systematic pesher only works in the simple Greek of the New Testament, sometimes called Koine Greek. Its grammatical constructions and cases are essential for the language devices. They do not transfer to other languages in such a complete form that it can be certain that there is a pesher. That was one of the main reasons why the pesher was lost.

It is the case, however, that much of the pesher depends on the special meanings of words. These may be used in varying contexts. The Lexicon we are offering here contains many of them. In the New Testament Epistles such as those of Paul it is found that they drop into the special meanings of terms when something secret is to be said, but do not use the devices that depend on grammar. It could well be that this is the case also with gospels such as Philip and Thomas, coming from gnostic circles that were not authorised to compose canonical gospels.

The passage in GThom 9 is capable of an exact pesher following the form of the canonical parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-9). Very strikingly, its final sentence alters the figures. In the canonical gospels, the seed bears fruit 30 fold, 60 fold and 100 fold. In GThom it bears fruit 60 and 120 fold. As may be seen, the figures in the canonical gospels tell the pesharist that there were 30 years to go to complete the numbers of initiated Gentiles. Some would study for 3 years (10 periods of 3 years in 30 years, periods x 10 for the 10 provinces, 100 fold) some for 5 years (6 periods of 5 years in 30 years, periods x 10 for the 10 provinces, 60 fold) some for 10 years ( 3 periods of 10 years in the 30 years, periods x 10 for the 10 provinces, 30 fold). These 30 years would be the final ones, between 30 AD and 60 AD, which was believed to be the year 4000 from creation, when the Eschaton would come. Thus the canonical calculation was from 30 AD, in the gospel period, beginning the "good soil" of Gentile additions. That was the date on which Herodians were working, as exemplified by Paul's "year 14" in 44 AD (Galatians 2:1).

In Thomas, however, the altered figures 60 and 120 work for a period of 60 years. Some Gentiles would study for 5 years, and for them there would be 12 periods in the 60 years, periods x 10 for the 10 provinces, 120 fold. Others would study for 10 years, giving 6 periods in the 60 years, periods x 10 for the 10 provinces, 60 fold. At what date did a calculation of 60 years begin? If the Eschaton was assumed to be 60 AD, it was 1 BC. That was the date that Matthew's parable of the workers in the Vineyard was relying on, each "hour" representing 5 years (Matthew 20:1-16). Or, it could be in Thomas that the beginning was 40 AD, after a zero generation had been added to 1 BC, putting the Eschaton at 100 AD. The latter is more likely, as the content of Thomas and Philip is gnostic, and it was in 40 to 44 AD that the schism between western Christian Herodians and eastern Magian gnostic anti-Herodians took place.

Coming to the question on GThom 42, it looks as if the tractate is dropping into special meanings of terms without having a systematic pesher, either because the original Greek did not have one, or because the Coptic was forced to reduce the scope. The text reads "Jesus said, 'Become passers-by"'. Its pesher meaning for gnostics may be shown to be "Become celibate missionaries to proselytes".

In the Greek of the canonical gospels, (para)poreuomenoi, which is normally from another verb for "go", has the special meaning of "travelers", and it refers to missionaries to the Diaspora. (See Travel in the Lexicon.) In Luke 24:28 & 32 it is connected with going on the Way. (See Way in the Lexicon.) The original meaning of "the Way" was the mission to proselytes, Gentile outsiders who were encountered by chance by ascetics as they traveled, whom they engaged in conversation on the way, and eventually persuaded to be converted to the Jewish religion. In the hands of western Christians the name came to be extended to uncircumcised Gentiles of the order of Asher, represented by James Niceta and John Aquila. Hence their communities were called the Way (hodos)in Acts 9:2, Acts 19:9, 23. The saying "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life" (John 14:6) refers to the three stages of promotion in ministry of such Gentiles, the Way when they became deacons, the Truth when they became presbyters, the Life when they became bishops. The sayings were attributed to Jesus because he was ex officio the Jacob patriarch of the west, as his grandfather Jacob-Heli had been. All Gentiles were grouped together with the west as being culturally closer to Rome.

As Josephus records in Josephus, Antiquities 20, 34-47, there was fierce dispute on whether all Gentiles should be forced to be circumcised and adopt all aspects of Jewish identity, or whether the circumcision requirement should be remitted and a measure of ethnic identity retained. This was the dispute that was dividing the existing mission in the gospel period, resulting in the separation of the left wing Christians. The gnostics of the Gospel of Thomas included in the definition of proselytes a commitment not only to circumcision but to monastic celibacy, and for them this was the main issue at the time of the schism of 40 to 44 AD. They attributed to Jesus, the patriarch of all Gentiles, the saying "Become passers-by", meaning "become celibate missionaries to proselytes", in order to make all Gentiles they encountered adopt their own lifestyle.

The gospel of Thomas comes, then, from the period 40 AD and onwards - very much earlier than has been supposed by conservative Christian scholars who were not taking into account the previous history of the ascetic mission that is now given to us through the Dead Sea Scrolls. (See The Gospel of Thomas in Section 4 The Other Gospels on this site for more information.)

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Aged Martyr Polycarp
James League, of Elmhurst New York, asks about later use of pesher, mentioning especially the Apostolic Father Polycarp:
Q. I am interested to know if the writings of the Apostolic Fathers in general and Polycarp in particular, yield to the pesher for the same reasons as in the gospel period.
A. The name Polycarp evokes such a moving story that it would be of interest to give it first before I go on to your specific question.

Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna in Asia Minor, suffered martyrdom in 155 AD at the age of 86, for refusing to pay homage to Caesar. Details of his martyrdom show that by the second century Christians had become so distinct from Jews that they were enemies. An earlier bishop, Ignatius, who was martyred in 108 AD, had written: "It is monstrous to talk of Jesus Christ and to practise Judaism. For Christianity did not base its faith on Judaism, but Judaism on Christianity."

The Jews on their side showed intense antipathy to the Christians. At the time of the martyrdom of Polycarp the Jews in Smyrna assisted at his death, helping to collect the wood for the fire, then they tried to prevent his body being buried.

When he knew that he was about to be arrested for breaking the law by refusing to perform the required sacrifices to the god Caesar, the aged Polycarp submitted without resistance. He was set on an ass and brought into the city, where the police tried to persuade him to save himself. "What harm is it to say, Lord Caesar, and to offer sacrifice and be saved?"

The proconsul pressed him, saying, "Take the oath and I let you go, revile Christ". Polycarp replied, "For eighty and six years I have been his servant, and he has done me no wrong, and how can I blaspheme my King who saved me?"

He was threatened with wild beasts and with fire. He replied, "You threaten with the fire that burns for a time, and is quickly quenched, for you do not know the fire which awaits the wicked in the judgment to come and in everlasting punishment. But why are you waiting? Come, do what you will."

The fire was prepared, and he stood at the stake, refusing to be nailed, saying that he would not try to escape the flames. Miracles were reported: the flames surrounded him but did not burn him, and when he was stabbed with a dagger, the blood that came out quenched the flames. After he died his flesh was burnt and his Christian friends were permitted to take his bones and preserve them, as it was their custom to do.
Polycarp was the author of an Epistle to the Philippians, following in the tradition of Paul.
Q. Our questioner also asks whether he was using pesher:
"In the first sentence of the second paragraph of his Epistle to the Phillipians, he states 'So gird up your loins now and serve God in fear and sincerity'. The pesher would indicate that it is a doctrinal statement about the subservience of the eremetic discipline to the monastic and the main feasts held on the pentecontads. His title Polycarp the Blessed, in the Martyrdom of Polycarp, chapter 19 is an indication that he himself was eremetic."
A. It should be noticed that Polycarp was paraphrasing New Testament texts. The example given alludes to 1 Peter 1:13, and he goes on to refer to other New Testament verses. The writers of the NT Epistles were not themslves using pesher in a systematic way, only occasionally dropping into their terms. It is the gospels, Acts and Revelation that use systematic pesher, in which every word has a special meaning. When Polycarp said "fear" he was not likely to have been emphasising the difference of the eremitical discipline from the monastic way of life. They had merged, especially in the west. He would just mean the word to cover the habitual attitudes of Christians of his type, living in the world but with a different inner commitment. The title Blessed was indeed used by the eremitical system rather than the monastic, because Poylcarp had been married, but such titles would have continued in general use without intending that every word should have a pesher.

It would be the case that by the second century the patristic writers were less concerned with preserving secret knowledge within Judaism than with defining their public front against pagans. The surface meaning of the gospels was moral and straightfoward enough to give them their public front. There would also be a growing distrust of the solar calendar on which the pesher depended, as so many of its prophecies had failed. By the 3rd and 4th centuries, it was time to redefine the ethical and intellectual side of Christianity, enabling it to flourish on the ashes of paganism.

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Jewish origin of the history
Jacob Shakarchy, writing from New York, says "I saw your book yesterday and I am fascinated."
Q. My question to you is as follows: Why the conflict between Paul and Jacob the Just on accepting gentiles if Jesus was still alive until after the stoning of Jacob the Just?
A. As you have seen, Jesus was still alive and influential after the crucifixion. But he was not the single authority who originated and directed everything, as you may perhaps be assuming - understandably, since it has always been taught that he was. The other major contribution of the pesher is that the history was that of a political movement. Jesus was only one of its office-bearers. At a time of crisis he took the side of change, and his brother Jacob the Just (better known in the form James the Just), who was a rival with him for the office, was on the side that resisted change. Jesus no longer had power with James' side. Jesus was living in Rome in 62 AD when his brother was stoned to death in Jerusalem.

As in any great political movement, the driving force for change came from a large body of the members. They were Gentiles, the thousands who had been attracted to the ascetic Jewish New Covenant mission in its heyday in the 1st century BC, when it had spread through the Diaspora. With its combination of Jewish monotheism with Greco-Roman philosophy and science, it offered a far healthier religion than decayed paganism. But from the start, since its purpose was to renew Judaism, interested Gentiles were simply tolerated, refused ministry and leadership. Those who chose to remain uncircumcised were defined as "unclean", like a low caste.

The inclusion of Gentiles had begun with Hillel the Great (c. 90 - 19 BC), whose teachings to them form a large part of the Sermon on the Mount. Those teachings were not original to Jesus and should not be attributed to him - he simply used them in instruction. Hillel while living in Babylon, Damascus and Jerusalem had so attracted Gentiles that they became proselytes. Since they were consciously adopting the Jewish religion, proselytes became circumcised and adopted most aspects of doctrine and ritual.

A well known anecdote about Hillel illustrates his introduction of the Golden Rule, against his more orthodox contemporary Shammai. Hillel's disregard of niceties of the Torah in favor of moral law spoke effectively to proselytes.

"On another occasion it happened that a certain heathen came before Shammai and said to him, 'Make me a proselyte on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot. Shammai drove him out with the builder's cubit which was in his hand. When he went before Hillel, he made him a proselyte. He said to him, 'What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary. Go and learn!" (Talmud, Babli Shabbat 31a)

In the century after its heyday, after 6 AD, the New Covenant mission was seriously threatened by the Roman occupation of Judea. For those holding the original doctrine and structure, there was no alternative than to fight the Romans, believing them to be evil Sons of Darkness. James brother of Jesus was one of these, although a moderate compared with the militants. They were all prepared to be martyrs for their religion. Jesus, from their point of view, was a traitor to their cause, exhibiting such friendship to Gentiles that he gave them equality and ordination into ministry. It was for that reason that they handed him over to Pilate, deceiving him into believing that he was one of the militants. His party of uncircumcised Gentiles, calling themselves Christians, split from the original party in 43-44 AD.

Paul, reflecting changes under the emperor Claudius, had changed from the extreme right wing to the extreme left wing of the mission, becoming so pro-Gentile that he was hostile to Judaism. He and Jesus were very close in the years following the schism. While common councils were still held, Paul opposed James, as he shows in Galatians, but he and Jesus actually lost in Jerusalem, driven outside and eventually to Rome. Peter stood in between the two sides, still believing that a Sadducee priesthood should be in charge- which was why he denied Jesus at his trials. Peter became Pope in Rome for the good political reason that he still had time for Jewish initiates.

It was a human political history, all the more understandable now that some striking parallels are happening on a global scale. From some points of view, including mine, it is healthier that Jesus is no longer made central, as if he was a divine man.

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Reality of Hell
Jim Edwards, of Bondi Junction, NSW Australia, asks:
Q. "Pope Benedict XVI has reasserted the reality of Hell as a place where sinners burn in eternal fire, as Jesus is reported to have said in Matthew 25:41.
Is this what Jesus really meant, or has the pesher of the parable of the talents and dividing the sheep and the goats a meaning in terms of ritual? "
A. The doctrine of hellfire was once a means of controlling people through fear. It was the work of religious institutions to exercise such control for the sake of social order. They began at the pre-rational level, working through myths, appealing to imagination rather than analytical ability.

Myths can be living and effective, or can be decayed and ineffective. At the lowest stages of the history of religious institutions, when they are threatened by cultural change, their leaders may cling to the myths that once gave them power, long after they have ceased to communicate with people who are in touch with the changed culture. That is when revolutions and reformations happen. We are going through such a cultural revolution now - as I hardly need to prove. The social pressures that divide primitive societies from highly educated ones are causing the clashes that are now rending the globe.

In his youth, the present Pope was taught to interpret events in Germany as the struggle of oppressed Germans against British and other European powers who had humiliated them after World War I. It could be seen as heroism to take part in the struggle. In old age the Pope has recognized that the struggle of the oppressed has moved to primitive societies such as some African ones, and that the myth of Hell can still work there. From the viewpoint of scientifically advanced societies, he is not dealing effectively with the paradigm shift that makes such language wholly obsolete.

In the 1st century AD Greco-Roman world there was already such a divide between primitives and educated scholars. The Roman masses were kept down, given "bread and circuses", by the emperors whose power came from military might. As can now be seen, Christianity came from scholars in the monasteries which had combined Jewish monotheism with the learning of philosophers and of Pythagorean scientists. Christians set out to equalise society, giving learning to the masses. But advanced learning only came after years of study and commitment to a disciplined life. In the transition phase, they controlled the "babes" with myths such as that of a fiery Hell.

Popular Greek mythology believed in Hades, an underworld sea of slime into which sinners were thrown. In the particular experience of Jews in the mission, influenced by the Greek concept, the Hinnom valley in Jerusalem was seen as an image of Hades. At the lowest point on the south side of the Zion height, the valley was the local tip, the place for rubbish to be thrown and burned with perpetual fires. Latrines were placed there. The word Gehenna, translated Hades, came from the name Hinnom.

The Book of Revelation perpetuates the myth. It includes "And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever........Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire, and if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:9-10, Revelation 20:14-15).

As is shown in "Torments in Hades" in Section 5, Pagan Neighbours of Early Christians, the Greek Apocalypse of Ezra illustrates in lurid detail the image of Hades that was preserved by Jewish Christians in 100 AD. A seer was led down many steps, through stages where different kinds of sinners were being tormented. At the very lowest level were the worst of sinners:

" And again they led me down 500 other steps. And there I saw the unsleeping worm and fire consuming the sinners. And they led me down to the foundation of Apoleia (Destruction) and there I saw the 12-fold blow of the abyss. And they led me away to the south and there I saw a man hanging from his eyelids and the angels were beating him. And I asked, 'Who is this and what is his sin?' And Michael the archistrategos said to me, 'This man is incestuous; having carried out a small lust, this man was commanded to be hanged."' (4:1-24)

The double layer of the gospels permitted such a concept to be taught to the "babes" until they matured into greater experience and reasoning power. Matthew 25:41 speaks of "the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." It had a literal, natural meaning. As is shown in the pesher of the Crucifixion (Section 6 part B on this site), the first trials of Simon Magus and Jesus took place in the north vestry at Qumran , just near the great furnace, the remains of which still stand in loc 101. They were being tried and condemned to crucifixion for political rebellion against the armed might of Rome. The "devil" was Judas Iscariot, leader of one of the internal factions believing that the missionaries should take up arms against Rome without ethical scruples. Within the mission there were laws for excommunicating such rebels and heretics, the ritual process beginning with a trial at the "fire of judgement", the perpetually burning furnace for cooking.

Two parables in Matthew 25 use such language. The parable of the sheep and goats concerns circumcised proselytes, the "goats", and uncircumcised Gentiles, the "sheep". When Matthew's gospel was finalised in the mid-40's AD the circumcision controversy was raging, leading to the schism of Christians, who denied the need for Gentiles to adopt Jewish identity. It was as intense as any political campaign in a time of crisis, and condemnatory language was used. It was indeed the case that Christians were consigning the more traditional Damascus party to excommunication, using the imagery that accompanied their rite of expulsion. Those requiring Jewish identity would be sent to "the eternal fire". Simon Magus, now in the Damascus party, was the man who buried his mission income in the ground - in a vault in his own monasteries - not sharing it with the rest of the mission, so in the parable of talents he was to be "cast into outer darkness".

Christians preserved their myths as a social necessity in a culture that is now past. But since science has displaced such language in the past three centuries it is no longer possible to use the decayed myths truthfully.

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Differences between abbey and monastery
Q. Stuart Weinberg of Boston, Massachusetts, who has been making a close study of pesher, and is well advanced in the application of the special meanings of gospel terms, has asked some specific questions about words with a pesher, reflecting the two different kinds of schools. The answers begin with a general description of the schools.
A. In the original Jewish ascetic movement there were both monasteries and abbeys. The monasteries were Essene, as described by Josephus. Men who were initiated into them surrendered the whole of their property, renounced marriage, and were given a high level of education, advancing through yearly grades, four for undergraduates and three for postgraduates. They were found in both the homeland, originally based at Qumran, and in the Diaspora. Diaspora Essene monasteries were Magian.

The abbeys were the schools of Therapeuts, who were described by Philo. Therapeuts began as hermits in the wilderness (erēmos giving "hermit") in solitary study, but met together at the pentecontads when they held an Exodus liturgy. They had both male and female members. From the pesher it appears that they developed higher schools under an Abba, Aramaic for "father". These were more open institutions than monasteries. Members were usually unmarried, but were free to marry if they wished. They did not hold common property.

The Essene villagers described by Philo, members of the "camps", were married men living with their families, earning their living through trade. They held meetings in their own homes, and had a system for helping indigent members from their earnings. They believed that the exiled Essene priests were the true ones, and brought them the required food tithes, acting as pilgrims. They came to Qumran in parties of 120, and were allowed as far as the outer hall (loc 77) , although not within the enclosing walls of the monastery. The outer hall was an abbey, where they met with Abba, and also with his subordinate, a dynast acting as a bishop.

During the 1st century BC the Essenes and Therapeuts began to attract Gentiles. Some were interested in the monastic lifestyle and were educated by Magians in the Diaspora. Others were attracted to abbeys, with their freedom to marry. Gentiles who remained uncircumcised were admitted into the two female orders, of Dan and Asher. In the gospel period John Mark, educated by Magians, was the chief Gentile of Dan, and James Niceta, taught by Therapeuts, was the chief Gentile of Asher.

There was ambiguity about the status of John Mark. His way of life and high standard of education made him equal to monastics, but as an uncircumcised Gentile he belonged with "unclean" married men and could only come to an abbey. Relegated to a low status by Jewish Essenes, those like him, under the leadership of Jesus, eventually broke away from the Jewish structure. James Niceta, who had chosen not to marry but live in an abbey, also broke away. They formed independent Gentile celibate institutions, the first in Antioch, where James Niceta with Peter adpted the name "Christian". John Mark's institutions developed as Christian monasteries, and those of James Niceta were Christian abbeys, the more frequently found institutions in the west. John's gospel, written first, preserved the traditions of John Mark, and the Synoptics preserved the traditions of James Niceta.

The answers to Stuart Weinberg's specific questions depend on the foregoing facts.
Stuart Weinberg writes:
Q. "I am interested in terms which point to the two tiers of meaning. Is paroimia ("figure of speech") used only in John(10:6, 16:25,29) in any sense a precursor to parabolē ("parable") introduced in Chapters 3/4 of Mark. Are these terms referring to the pesher as does akribōs ("accurately"); Luke(1:3), Matthew(2:7,8,16), Acts(18:25,26/ 23:15,20/ 24:22/ 26:5)."
A. All three terms, paroimia and parabolē, as well as akribōs, refer to the pesher, the hidden history. The fact that paroimia is found only in John is a significant indication of the difference between the two kinds of schools. John comes from the monastic schools that taught John Mark, while the Synoptics come from the abbeys where James Niceta belonged. The precise meaning of the two terms is different: a paroimia develops a symbol so as to supply rules of conduct , eg. John 10:1-6 gives the rules for dynasts with a monastic education when outside the monastery, concerning their role as bishops to the "sheep", Essene villagers. A parabolē is in the form of history, a story that records the successive events in the history of the mission, eg. the Sower recording the history during the past jubilee in Mark 4:3-8, and the many historical parables in Luke such as the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan.. The difference corresponds to that between law (taught by paroimia) and history (taught by parabolē). These were the two subjects that dominated the curriculum in the two different kinds of schools.
Q. Stuart Weinberg writes further: "You nuance the meanings of the two dominant "knowing" verbs, oida and ginōskō. I am interested in verses in which the two are integrated (John 8:55)."
A. In John 8:54b-55 Jesus addressing "the Jews" says "It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you (plu. Antipas "Jews") say that he is your God. And you have not known (ouk egnōkate) him (RLR to God); I know (oida) him ( God). And k-A-N (kan) I say that I do not know (ouk oida) him (God), I will be like (homoios) you, a liar (pseustēs). Nevertheless (alla) I know (oida) him (God). And the Word of him (God) I keep."

The two different words for "know" always refer to the two different kinds of knowledge, ginōskō to what is taught in a monastery, oida to what is taught in an abbey. See the words Know{ginoskō} and Know{oida} in the Lexicon. The word "not" (ouk, ou) does not simply negate, but says the opposite of the meaning of the word it is with. Also see these words in the Lexicon: Father, Glory , Jews , Likewise , False , and Word Also meanings of the letters A and N in CLASSES AND GRADES in "For Reference". From these special meanings, the pesher of these verses is:

Jesus said, "The Annas priest Jonathan Annas appoints me as a bishop, sitting on row 7 at the table, called the Glory in the triangle Kingdom, Power and Glory. You, Antipas, are not a monastic but an abbey member, as you are married. I also am an abbey member, with Jonathan Annas the abbot. But at times I belong in a monastery as a dynast, acting as a class A priest to pre-initiate Gentiles grade 8 N (Nun) . The Qumran monastery belongs to Agrippa, and while there I have to obey the royal Herod, who is a false king. You Antipas are now upholding Agrippa, so I am in your power also. But while there as a dynast I can still act as a bishop under Annas in the outer hall to visiting pilgrims."
Q. A further question concerns the verbs "to see". "Two of the verbs of vision are fascinating as well; horaō and blepō contraposed in Mark(4:12)". See the words See{horaō} and See{blepō} in the Lexicon.
A. Mark 4:12. In order that seeing (blepontes) they (RLR to Those Ones outside v. 11) may see (blepōsin). And they (Those Ones outside) may not see (idōsin)"

The different verbs "to see" refer with great precision to the nunber of cubits between the person seeing and what is seen. The words See{eidon} and See{horaō} mean that there are 2 cubits between, the word See{blepō} that there are 3 cubits between. The positions for those with 2 cubits between are those of master and servant. A teacher and pupil had the relationship of master and servant. The two related verbs eidon (the one used in this verse) and horaō are found with the sense that the subject of eidon looks down through 2 cubits, so is the master, and the subject of horaō looks up through 2 cubits, so is the servant. "Not see" using eidon means the opposite, so means the same as horaō. The subject "Those Ones outside" (ekeinoi hoi exō) is said by this means to be a servant, not a master. In the verse the same subject "sees" using blepō with 3 between, so he is lower than a servant . Both positions were true of Peter, blepō when he was in the corridor as a pilgrim in Luke 22:61 (also of Mary Magdalene in John 20:1). Mark 4:11 says that "Those Ones outside" hear parables, that is the histories given in the Synoptics. The pesher is, then:

A person of the grade of the Chief Pilgrim, Peter, is given stories in the form of historical parables, even when he is not in the status of student. However, he may become a permanent student, on the south side of the table, with his teacher, a bishop, on the north side.

May I thank Stuart for such questions, and invite others who have studied as closely to submit similar ones.

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History of Dr Thiering's research
Q. Helen Snyder of Arkansas USA writes:
"I have some questions regarding Dr. Thiering's research of the Dead Sea Scrolls. I am extremely interested in the how and when of her entire process from the beginning of her research of DSS until the present. How and when did she first start suspecting there was a pesher? How did she unlock the secret code? Was she the first and/or only one to do this?"
A. I can give a sketch, only, of the long process that it has been to work out the pesher. It was not seen by other scholars in the field, largely for reasons that can be conjectured from its content.

While studying privately when my children were young, I obtained the BD and MTh degrees externally. In the early 1960's a helpful supervisor suggested that since I had the languages I might study the Dead Sea Scrolls, then a new subject. I obtained all the sources, and now have a fine library of all relevant material.

In 1963 my first scholarly article on the Scrolls was published in a leading academic journal.It brought an invitation to lecture at Sydney University, where I remained as a part-time lecturer, moving to the School of Divinity in 1975 after I obtained my PhD. The work of teaching gave me constant familiarity with the text of the Scrolls, and I became increasingly critical of the consensus scholars, who had settled for the conclusion that the Teacher of Righteousness and the Qumran community belonged near the beginning of the 1st century BC. It seemed to me that they were ignoring a very large part of the evidence, and were avoiding for theological reasons some obvious indications that some at least of the documents came from the time of Jesus in the 1st century AD.

In 1979 my book Redating the Teacher of Righteousness was published under the auspices of our Australian theological society. It argued that there were very strong reasons for identifying the Teacher of Righteousness as John the Baptist, and a rival teacher as Jesus. It was followed in 1981 by The Gospels and Qumran, a New Hypothesis, in which I opened up the argument that the Qumran theory of a pesher of scripture was applicable to the gospels. They had been deliberately written in a double way. On the surface they looked like moral treatises, studded with miracles. No scholar believed in the miracles, which had been explained away in the 19th century as legends, the products of growth of tradition about Jesus. It was then believed that he was a figure about whom little could ever be known.

But that explanation did not account for a great deal of the content of the gospels. Aided by what the Scrolls now give us about their pesher technique, I began to see that much was concealed there. It was capable of being discovered when terms that seemed to have a general meaning were seen to have also a special, technical meaning. That meaning, and the techniques of discovery, were known to insiders, the learned members of the Qumran community.

I kept at it in my own time, becoming increasingly certain that a concealed history was there, capable of being both discovered and proven by objective tests.It was testable - an unusual situation in religion, but a necessary one in science. Far from being a figure who could not be known, a very detailed history of Jesus was being given. He was not a founder, but a reformer of the community of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He was not an individual sage who appeared out of nowhere, but a political figure, a member of a political movement which had begun in the 1st century BC and reached a crisis in the 1st century AD when Judea was occupied by Romans. All the events, including the crucifixion of Jesus, were determined by the presence of the Roman power.

By 1983 I was in a position to write The Qumran Origins of the Christian Church. British scholars at Manchester invited me to conferences, and I made valuable contacts.

In Sydney I gave additional courses in Adult Education, and began to attract people who were willing to hear about such a different approach to Christian history. A class member was a friend of a film-maker, who saw that the subject would make a good documentary. We filmed in Israel, which I had visited several times previously to obtain exact measurements and photos. After many ups and downs the documentary was shown by our ABC on Palm Sunday, 1990. It attracted record audiences, and subsequently I was asked to write popular books. These are the ones from a major publisher, now called Random House, that are best known. From then on the case was spread through the world. Jesus the Man has been translated into 8 other languages. It was reissued by Simon and Schuster in November 2006, with a new Foreword.

From the late 90's I took part in Internet Discussion Groups on the Scrolls, and in 2005 Dylan Stephens, who had been a member of one of the groups, offered to adapt his website for the Infinite SOULutions Foundation to my research. It has done very well, and has been the means of publishing a great deal of further information that is not in the books. I wish to express my gratitude to Dylan for his technical skills in making available this further research.
Q. Helen Snyder of Arkansas USA continues:
"These questions only begin to relate my interest. For example, how does she know about the space-time system of the Essenes? Is it common knowledge among historians that the Essenes were Pythagorean? Which information is original to her and which is common knowledge among historians?"
A. The space-time system is the concealed means of giving very exact dates, even to hours and minutes, in books that on the surface seem extraordinarily vague about time. The special meanings of time terms is the basis of the proof that the historical pesher exists.

The brief answers are: it is stated by Josephus, the reliable contemporary historian of the period, that the Essenes were Pythagoreans. "This is a group which follows a way of life taught to the Greeks by Pythagoras." (Josephus, Antiquities 15, 371). Pythagorean influences have also been discerned in the New Testament.

Detail of the distinctive 364 day solar calendar of the Essenes is supplied by the apocryphal books 1 Enoch and Jubilees, and is now confirmed and added to by Scrolls documents. It was the case, however, that other scholars thought the 364 day calendar was sheer theory, as it would not work without intercalation in a 365 1/4 day year. They could not see a workable method of intercalation. It was when I saw the method that I was well on my way. It is explained in the books and on the website. It is complicated, but is used with perfect consistency, enabling all dates to be discovered. Moreover, the unity of space and time held by Pythagoreans- an interesting anticipation of Einstein - enabled exact locations to be known when the architecture of Qumran is taken into account.

I trust this information will clarify further research on this important topic.

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Fake Tomb of Jesus
Q. Mitchell Hackerman of New Jersey USA asks for this site's reaction to the latest media sensation, the claim that the tomb of Jesus has been found in Jerusalem, together with that of other members of his family. Mr Hackerman writes "All the news stations get one sided Preachers who know nothing, yet dismiss things based only on their belief systems."
A. There are two reasons for believing that the ossuaries are fakes:

The first is that any normally observant person would suspect that the inscribed limestone boxes illustrated are not genuinely ancient. That is despite the statement in the documentary that they were discovered in 1980 and have been in storage since. The archeological world is not as ordered as it should be, especially in Jerusalem.

If the ossuaries with the names so clearly on them were discovered in 1980, their publication then would have made the discoverers both famous and rich. It is more than suspicious that nothing was known of them until Dan Brown demonstrated last year that millions were to be made out of saying that Jesus was an ordinary mortal who married Mary Magdalene and had offspring.

There is now an industry of fakery, especially of ossuaries. The editor of the Biblical Archeology Review, Hershel Shanks, was deceived a few years ago by one that looked genuine enough, an inscription saying that a bone-box was that of James the brother of Jesus. It was sold to a museum but then found to be a clever modern fake, reproducing letter forms found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. That industry, which had developed considerable skills, has no doubt not died out, just gone quiet until this new way of financially exploiting gullible people opened up.

The second reason is that full written evidence, meeting the highest standard of proof, is available that Jesus died in Rome in the 70's AD. From that evidence, it may be supposed that his bones were substituted for those of Peter and are now in St Peter's basilica in Rome. Readers of this site will know why that can be said.

The media, whose memories are as short as most of their readers, know only the Either-Or of Christian orthodoxy versus this new claim. The only positive thing about it is that the new fraud has gone through the door opened by genuine historical research on the human Jesus that has been going on since the 19th century. Every step of the genuine research has been met by denunciation, but in fact has gradually disseminated enlightenment. There is no future in that scene for petty crime.

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Rotas-Sator Word Square
Q. Dr Edward Bliss of Wiltshire, UK, asks an interesting question about a longstanding puzzle, the meaning of the Rotas-Sator word square that was found scratched on walls and pillars in Roman times. It reads the same way whether sideways both ways or up-down.

A. I believe it is confirmation of the plays on Hebrew letters that meant so much to the Qumran pesharists, and consequently it is evidence of their activity in Rome in at least the 1st century AD, to which the Political Pre-History in "Complete Pesher of the Crucifixion" testifies.

Leaving out the vowels, as was customary for Hebrew writers, the 3 letters at the sides are R - T- S or the reverse. T is always in the middle. These letters correspond to Hebrew Resh, Taw and Shin. They are the letters which in the grading system belonged to the three leading priests and to their positions in the Qumran substitute sanctuary. The Taw, the last letter in the alphabet, was the highest, belonging to the Zadokite priest called Michael. The letter Taw, in the archaic form X, was drawn on the forehead of a man who had reached the highest level of education (Damascus Document 19:12; Ezekiel 9:4). Next below him the letter Shin belonged to Gabriel the next priest, and the letter Resh to Sariel the third priest. They could stand in a row, with Michael Taw always in the center as the most important.

The Hebrew letters were also used for numbers. For this reason it was common to add up words by the process called Gematria. Taw was used for 400, Shin 300, and Resh 200. Taw and Resh marked the two main stages of entry to ministry of the sanctuary, Resh to its lowest third and Taw to its highest third, the Holy of Holies. An earlier significant stage was Samekh, when the first initiation took place. It was used for 60. These three essential stages, Taw, Resh and Samekh, added up to 660. Another letter, Waw, was regularly used to go with initials, its number being 6. Thus the group of initials that designated the essential stages of the Qumran hierarchical system added up to 666, the number of the Beast (Revelation 13:18).

The monastic system under the Magians was active in Rome in the 1st century BC, as the Political pre-History shows. Its leader in the 1st century AD was Simon Magus , a powerful figure about whom there is a considerable body of literature. He is the Beast of Revelation.

The Christian Church emerged from the monastic system, separating from it decisively in 44 AD to teach peace with Rome and equality of Gentiles. It had begun in the gospel period in alliance with Simon Magus, but political events forced the schism.

The inside of the word square contains Latin words meaning "works" (opera) and "he holds" (tenet) with the meaning of Arepo uncertain. The letters at the sides lent themselves to these words. It all made good sense to the secret society that was out to convert pagan Rome to its ways, forming a slogan written on walls in the way that slogans still are.

The word square is thus an important piece of outside evidence for the history given in the pesher of books of the New Testament.

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Did King David actually exist?
Edward Lawrence of Illinois USA asks:
Q.Some modern historical criticism questions whether the biblical King David actually existed. With this in mind, I was wondering whether the references to "David" in the New Testament refer to the biblical character or whether you think it possible that David is a code name for someone else? For example, could Herod the Great have used David as a code name for himself?
A. Both sides of your question are worth taking up - the name David in the New Testament, and the opinion of some critics about the historical King David.

In the course of setting out the political pre-history in our Section 8 Part A , it was shown that the name David when used in the gospels and Acts was indeed a pseudonym, a code name. But only for men who were actually descended from a junior branch of the David line.When the grandfather of Jesus, Jacob-Heli, joined the party in schism from Herod the Great in 21 BC, he adopted the title David in order to claim an alternative kingship to that of Herod. His son Joseph continued in the family hostility to the Herods, and when his father died he himself adopted the title. The historical chapters Acts 7 and 13 give an account of Jacob-Heli and Joseph under this name.

As for the original King David, the Old Testament texts leave no room for doubt that he really was a powerful king of Semitic descent who founded an Israelite dynasty about a millennium before the time of Jesus, making Jerusalem its center. Jerusalem is named in the Amarna letters of the 14th century BC. Recent scepticism arose from the fact that few remains of buildings were found from the time of David, and by a fallacious argument from silence it was said that David did not exist. But a study of the sources makes it clear that there was no temple there in the lifetime of David himself. He took over the religious functions of the Jebusites who had long worshipped on the elevated site, and only at the end of his life built an altar for sacrifices on the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite (2 Samuel 24:18-25). There had been a threshing-floor on the height because the wind assisted the separation of wheat from the chaff. It would have been a previous Jebusite religious site, but without extensive buildings. Only under Solomon was a temple built there, as the first chapters of 1 Kings make very clear.

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Adrian Apollo of Fresno California USA, asks:
Q. Does applying the pesher technique to the New Testament provide any clues that lead us to historical insights about Pythagoras of Samos?
A. Pythagoras, the 6th century BC philosopher of mathematics, is of the greatest relevance to our subject. The Essenes, according to Josephus, "follow a way of life taught to the Greeks by Pythagoras" (Josephus, Antiquities 15, 371).

For his life and teachings, would you see first the thorough entry on Pythagoras in Wikipedia. It is only lacking in its failure to mention his influence on the Essenes, and through them on the earliest Christian church.

The Therapeuts, directly related to the Essenes, were consciously Pythagorean in every aspect of their organization. Their divisions of time were governed by the number 50. "Fifty the most sacred of numbers and the most deeply rooted in nature, being formed from the square of the right-angled triangle which is the source from which the universe springs" ( the squares of the sides 3,4,5 are 9, 16, 25 totalling 50, the theorem of Pythagoras). Numbers were an expression of moral truth. "These people assemble after seven sets of seven days have passed, for they revere not only the simple seven but its square also, since they know its chastity and perpetual virginity." (Philo, Contemplative Life 65).

The Pythagoreans lived in ascetic communities, in retreat from cities, devoted to the study of mathematics and philosophy, which were in effect schools for intellectuals. They permitted women as associates. These features were true of the Therapeuts, whose initial ascetic practice was an eremitical discipline (from the Greek word for "wilderness") but whose more advanced students lived in abbeys, usually in the Diaspora. Their Essene fellow-sectarians, keeping the same solar calendar, lived a stricter monastic life, based in their homeland Judea. The steady progress of Hellenism since the 3rd century BC had brought Jews into friendly contact with Greek thought, and the formation of their own schools was an inevitable result.

The consequences for the pesher are far-reaching. It is able to be solved because of the practice of systematisation that came from the mastery of mathematics. In Aristotle's essay on the Pythagoreans, in his Metaphysics, he shows how some of them went on from the observation that numbers are the primary elements of the whole of nature, to arrange everything in reality in systems. The 10 first principles of everything could be arranged in pairs , in parallel columns:

One Plurality
At restIn motion
Good Evil

In the Dead Sea Scrolls, the symmetrical calendars based on the number 7, the measurements of square courts in the Temple Scroll, the emphasis on the exact observance of time, indicate their Pythagorean interests. The theory of secret knowledge hidden in scripture, giving rise to their pesher technique, came from their urgent need to reconcile their own ancient writings with the new knowledge that was spreading everywhere and was proving immensely powerful for human confidence and cultural advance.

In the gospels, Acts and Revelation, there is a pesher, giving a whole hidden history of the early stages of the Christian church. It depends, as is shown in this site, on the special meanings of words, which are all part of a unifying set of systems. governing every aspect of the life of the sectarians. The interrelated systems make it possible to discover from one or two items what are the remaining ones. When it is found that the systems work in all texts without exception , it becomes certain that the pesher has been placed in these records.

The easiest example is: The Heavenly Man in Section 3. From the use of the terms ""heart", "bosom", "loins", "knees", it becomes apparent that seating in the communal meal-room was governed by the concept of a 12 cubit high divine human within whose body all initiates belonged. It gave rise to the term "the Body of Christ". He was visualised as lying over cubit-rows 6 to 17 inclusive of the room for the sacred communion meal which evolved into a Christian church. The supreme leaders had seats on the top of his head on row 6, leaders next below him on his face on row 7, with a meal table on rows 8 and 9. His "bosom" was on row 10, so that when John 13:23 says that the Beloved Disciple was "on the bosom" at the Last Supper, his exact status is being given - a servant sitting on the opposite side of the table to the leaders. The other parts of the Body may consequently be worked out, giving the significance of those who sat in these rows. All Gentiles belonged in the "unclean" place of the "seed" on row 13.

That Pythagorean numbers are used explicitly in the New Testament books is evident, for example in the sets of 7's in which the Book of Revelation is constructed, its sets of 4, its 144000 Elect celibates who are redeemed and morally perfect (Revelation 14:3-5). In John 21:11, 153 "fish" were caught. As has been recognized, this is a Pythagorean triangular number, and it also reflects the known monastic organisation of 150 - 100 undergraduates and 50 novices - with 3 superior priests.

All this is now able to be recognized with the help of the Dead Sea Scrolls, throwing immense new light on the origins of Christianity.

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Mishmarot Calendar
Claude Robitaille of Quebec Canada, asks:
Q. Some terms I would like to understand better: concerning the calendar (lunisolar) what would be the origin or meaning of "Mishmarot"
A. Thank you for giving the opportunity of explaining more about this intriguing piece of calendar art. For those who are inclined to mathematical puzzles it is an enjoyable study.
The solar calendar of the Essenes, with its 364 day year, can be worked out from the descriptions in early writings, I Enoch and Jubilees. It was followed from at least the 3rd century BC, probably much earlier. It has been shown in our Section 3 how important it is to the discovery of the pesher.
Please go to The Mishmarot Calendar in Section 3 and also read about the solar calendar in the discussion above it.

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Essene toilets
John Geiger, of Oklahoma USA, and Robert Smart, of Melbourne, Australia, have asked about an item on Essene toilets that has appeared in at
Robert Smart writes:
There is a report of a study of a latrine NW of Qumran that claims to support the view that Qumran was an Essene site. It also claims that the Essenes were unhealthy for reasons related to their peculiar rules.
Q. Do these investigations fit with the view derived from the Pesher? The news report, unfortunately, doesn't point to the original information, and google is unhelpful.
A. Like most public pronouncements these days on the Essenes, it is a mixture of truth and error. It doesn't need the pesher to prove what is plainly stated by Josephus, that the Essenes were noted for their remarkably good health. Josephus writes,
"They (the Essenes) live to a great age - most of them to upwards of a century - in consequence, I imagine, of the simplicity and regularity of their mode of life". (Josephus, Wars of the Jews 2, 151)

They were well known for their toilet habits, which came from their medical knowledge of the value of cleanliness. Their practices were strikingly unlike those of the Romans, whose streets contained an open central drain used for the purpose, freely spreading infections. The Essenes, on the contrary, "dig a trench a foot deep with a mattock - such is the nature of the hatchet which they present to the neophytes - and wrapping their mantle about them, that they may not offend the rays of the deity, sit above it. They then replace the excavated soil in the trench. For this purpose they select the more retired spots. And though this discharge of the excrements is a natural function, they make it a rule to wash themselves after it, as if defiled." (Josephus, Wars of the Jews 2, 148-149)

In the Qumran War Scroll 7:8-9, in the rules for the military camps, it is specified that the latrines are to be 2000 cubits, about a kilometer, away from the camps. It is this rule, taken with the archeological finds, that gives the position identified in the pesher, a building a kilometer south-east of the Qumran settlement . The remains of two adjacent buildings were found, one of them outside the long wall running south. It fits all detail as being not only the latrine but also the manger for stabling transport animals, including the royal mule. (It was not used on the sabbath, as another strict Essene rule forbade defecation on the sabbath. The distance of 2000 cubits was outside the sabbath limit specified in CD 10:20. For the last use on Friday afternoon , a cave well within the sabbath limit was used. These facts are part of the essential data for the crucifixion and "resurrection".)

The PhysOrg article describes the study of soil samples from an area "500 metres to the north-west of the (Qumran) settlement". That is less than the kilometer that the War Scroll rule specified, and there were no remains of a building. The writers of the article are likely to have been following the indications of the Temple Scroll 46:13-15 that when Jerusalem itself was taken over, the latrines were to be 3000 cubits (approx 1 1/2 kms) to the north-west of the city. There was to be a building : "These shall be roofed houses with holes in them into which the filth shall go down."

If the soil analysis described in the article does prove use as a latrine, it could be that it was an alternative spot for lesser grades on the sabbath. But the Temple Scroll rule combined with the War Scroll rule forbidding visible nakedness (7:8-9) would indicate that there would also be a covered place for superiors who were always kept physically apart from members of lower status. (Josephus, Wars of the Jews 2, 150)

The PhysOrg article does, however, make the identification that is much more strongly proved in the literary sources, that Qumran was an Essene site. See our entry in Questions and Comments: "Was Qumran a pottery factory?" refuting the unsubstantiated argument that it was a pottery factory.

It surely does not need to be emphasised to scientists that ALL of the relevant data, including the literary sources, must be taken into account before conclusions of interest to the public are announced.

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Was Qumran a pottery factory?
Graham Scott of Victoria, Australia, writes, I am diffident about writing to you again so soon, but there was an article in the New York Times of August 15th which purports to review the work of a recent archaeological survey at Qumran. This concentrated on the relatively sophisticated watering system at the site and concluded that it had been put in to support a pottery making enterprise.

The attendant conclusion is that the site had little or nothing to do with the writers on the scrolls found in the caves nearby.

The link is here.
A. The article about Qumran being a pottery factory published in the New York Times gives the views of Drs Magen and Peleg, supported by Norman Golb, that the elaborate water system at Qumran, together with remains of potters' clay, mean that Qumran was simply a site for the pottery industry. Other similar opinions say that it was a fortified manor house or villa. These views deny any connection with the scrolls, usually maintaining that they were brought from Jerusalem and hidden in the nearby caves.

It is simply not the case that most scholars now hold these views, nor that there is "diminishing conviction" about the Essene connection. These theories were put forward in the early 1990's. They are not held by establishment scholars now. Two leading scholars, Geza Vermes and Michael Stone, have re-affirmed the Essene interpretation. While both of them have disputed my case for the Christian consequences of the Scrolls, they have rejected the pottery factory-villa theory. Michael Stone came back to the Essene interpretation, as he said in a documentary film. Geza Vermes in a book review wrote derisively of the "Qumran Hilton", and at the Jerusalem Congress in 1997 said that Cave 4 containing most of the scrolls, at the end of the parallel projection to the Qumran esplanade, was "within spitting distance" of the Qumran remains. It is indeed. I tested a theory by calling across the intervening narrow chasm to Cave 4, and proved that a person in Cave 4 could easily speak with a person at the end of the Qumran esplanade.

At the same Jerusalem Congress a Jewish scholar took issue with Norman Golb's view that the scrolls do not reflect the attitudes of a single sect. He emphasised strongly that they were unified, coming from a single ascetic outlook. The large audience seemed to agree with him, and I certainly did.

The pots found at Qumran were not simply stored, as the factory theory would require, but placed where they indicated a purpose, the purpose consistent with Essene usage. According to their views on holiness they would have manufactured their own pottery because they were sacred utensils that they could regard as "clean" in contrast with objects coming from the unclean outside world. The large pots were used for holding scrolls, according to the practice illustrated also at Nag Hammadi. There had to be a means of protecting them from damage when they were carried around. The 708 eating bowls were stacked in an annexe adjoining the large hall, loc 86, showng that it was used by large numbers of people meeting there for meals, consistently with the Essene community numbered in 100's (I would add that the outer hall was for visiting pilgrims.) The smaller pots of the kind used for storing perfumes were not an indication that it was for balsam manufacturing, as has been claimed. The Essenes were known to have been scrupulous about cleanliness, their toilet habits being the subject of record. In my research case, the literature derived from Essene sources gives attention to large quantities of perfume in the form of nard ( John 12:3, Mark 14:3-5).

About 90% of the archeological evidence is ignored in these theories. All around the Qumran grounds are large open cisterns, each as big as a suburban swimming-pool, most with steps leading down into them arranged in groups. (See Figure 1 in Section 6, the plan of Qumranon this site)

The cisterns are at locs 71, 49, 58, 11, 119, 91, 138.. The Essenes were known for their bathing practices - they took a full bath every day at 11 am to wash off the sweat from their physical labor before they put on white robes to enter their sacred meal chamber. It was a religious rite also, used at initiation baptisms, and the steps in groups would be for stages of the ritual.

The elaborate water system, with an aqueduct leading from the wady coming down the cliff, was absolutely necessary for people to survive in this hot barren area. It was made for people, not for pottery. When I asked a supporter of the villa theory about the cisterns, she said they were for drinking water! All were uncovered, in temperatures up to 40 degrees Celsus, where it only rains once a year! Drinking water came from the deep round well in loc 110, which was able to be covered like all ancient wells.

This theory tried to explain away the tall writing desks that had fallen down from an upper floor above loc 30, each with an inkwell containing remains of ink. They were very obviously for the copying of scrolls such as were found in the nearby caves. It really was absurd, it seemed to me, for this case to claim that the scrolls in the caves had been brought from Jerusalem and had no connection with the adjacent buildings. They were found right at a site where there was every facility for writing them, and where a baptising community lived whose interests were reflected in their contents.

This theory denies the relevance of Pliny's statement that the Essenes lived at the north-west of the Dead Sea - just where Qumran is - by misapplying a Latin phrase to make it mean Ein Gedi, much further down the coast. A small group of cell-like houses were found there. In fact, further research showed that there were Essene outpost all down the west coast of the Dead Sea, with some also on the east side opposite. The more extensive Qumran buildings on the main plateau were the mother-house.

The revival of these theories comes at a time when there is renewed interest in the Christian connection of the Scrolls. The Essene- Christian link has been known since the 19th century, but was not accepted by conservative Christians. There would be ideological reasons now for reviving interpretations that run counter to so much evidence.

Graham Hayward, Guernsey, Channel Islands adds these comments:
I always have difficulty with academics. They are often brilliant but sometimes lose the wood for the trees. I also read the New York Times article and three thoughts occurred to me at once:

Anyone who has seen the site at Qumran must surely see that it was hugely too large and sophisticated for a pottery factory, even before considerations of stepped baths and so forth. We could not be talking about Wedgwood Israel Ltd. at such a time and place. Given that the raw materials were probably on site, Qumran was at the end of a long road from civilisation, so passing trade would be minimal, even if there was some kind of ferry service in operation. They only really had donkeys to carry things and pottery is notably heavy and unwieldy, so transporting the goods to Jerusalem would be prohibitively expensive and inconvenient.

Aside from the desks and inkwells, to think that anyone would decide to move an entire library all the way from, presumably, Jerusalem, to Qumran, at a time when Roman patrols would be stopping and searching anything that moved on the roads, is simply ridiculous.

Thirdly, of course the inhabitants of Qumran would need pottery in quite large quantities, both for their own use and in their function as the hub of a large and vigorous religio/political sect. And of course they would make it themselves.

Barbara's arguments are splendidly solid, but one is left wondering how three eminent scholars could float such a preposterous theory in the first place, apparently after working on the project for years. That a serious paper should give them space to air their ideas is a little more understandable, although you might expect someone to have asked questions such as I have noted above.

I think Barbara might have hinted at ulterior motive in her note, which makes the whole thing scandalous as well as stupid.

While writing, I wonder if I could ask you to comment on the Wikipedia site, and the comments of Geza Vermes and the author of the commentary at the end of this. Is it true that Scrolls scholars and theologists alike have given no credence to Dr Thiering's research and findings? And if it is not true, shouldn't someone challenge such assertions? After all, her theories about the dating of the Teacher of Righteousness were rubbished by academia at the time, but I notice they are supported, by research from a different angle entirely, in "James the Brother of Jesus", by Robert Eisenman, who is certainly not a Thiering supporter.
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Did Jesus have any brothers?
Graham Scott, of Victoria, Australia, asks,
"Did Jesus have brothers - and sisters - i.e. siblings from Mary and Joseph?"
A. The belief that Jesus had no full brothers, only half-brothers who were sons of Joseph from his first wife, arose in support of the belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary. It is cherished in the eastern Orthodox tradition of Christianity, and in forms of Catholic and Anglo-Catholic piety. A belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary, although increasingly out of touch with even conservative Church doctrine, is readily associated with a personal aversion to sexual activity of any kind.

It holds that not only was Mary a virgin at the time of the supernatural conception of Jesus, but that she herself had had a virginal conception. The story is told in the document called the Protevangelium of James Protevangelium of James. Only one copy of this document exists, and is dated on paleographical grounds to the 3rd century.

The parents of Mary are called Joachim and Anna, described in biblical terminology. The barren Anna (derived from Hannah of the Samuel stories) laments and prays, and is divinely given a daughter, Mary. Her upbringing is the same as that of Samuel, brought into the temple as an acolyte. At the age of 16 she is given to Joseph, who was old and already had sons.

"The priest said to Joseph: 'Joseph, to you has fallen the good fortune to receive the virgin of the Lord; take her under your care.' But Joseph answered him, 'I already have sons and am old, but she is a girl. I fear lest I should become a laughing-stock to the children of Israel"'. The priest persuaded him, and Joseph took her into his house, but himself went away to work as a builder. At a time she went out to a well to draw water, an angel appeared to her and promised her that she should conceive, in the words of Luke 2:30-35.

She was found to be pregnant, and Joseph thought she had deceived him. But she asserted "I am pure, and know not a man". The birth of Jesus is recorded with some extra flourishes such as his birth in a cave. At the moment of his birth, everything around was frozen motionless.

For this belief, the four brothers of Jesus whose names are given in Mark 6:3 - James, Joses, Jude and Simon - were only half-brothers. Or, if Joseph was not the father of Jesus (despite the two genealogies in the gospels), they were no relation.

Contrary to these flights of fancy, the objective evidence of Josephus says that Jesus had a brother called James (Ant. 20, 200). In the Pauline epistles the tensions between Paul and "James the Lord's brother" (Galatians 1:19) are accounted for by the authority of James as a real brother. In the further record of James in Hegesippus , the later history of James and of other relatives of Jesus is given, treating them as ordinary men whose social standing derived from the relationship. (In Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2, 23).

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What is the pesher of the story of the cursing of the fig tree?
Greg Hoover of Missouri USA asks
for the pesher of the cursing of the figtree.
A. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to add another entry to the Natural Explanations in the Miracles section on this site. The story parallels the Gadarene swine, apparently showing an irrationally destructive Jesus.


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What is the pesher of the story of the Gadarene Swine?
Greg Hoover, of Missouri USA, asks for
the pesher of the story of the Gadarene swine found in the gospels.
A. I'm glad you assume that there is one. The story hardly does credit to Jesus, like other similar stories of wilful destruction. In fact, its pesher means that Jesus actively opposed the destructiveness of militarism.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to add another entry to the Natural Explanations in the Miracles section on this site. Please follow this link: JESUS THE DESTRUCTIVE EXORCIST?

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How was the knowledge of the pesher preserved
Stuart Weinberg of Cambridge, Massachussets, USA asks a question about how was the knowledge of the pesher preserved.
Q. Was there anything like a codified lexicon providing the deeper tier of meanings for the politcal/historical level of interpretation of the gospels, acts and revelation at the time of their composition? Were the rules for the pesherist, the devices of the text, stipulated in any similar fashion? Was there any attempt to pass either of these foundational aspects of the pesher to following generations? (At least one generation seems to be involved in the final phase of revelation)

How significant are the nuances of verb tense for the political/historical tier of meaning?"
A. There certainly was a fixed lexicon of special meanings which was always referred to, but I can't say whether it was in written form, as it would have to be for us. We are dealing with a secret society which had political reasons for confining knowledge to its own inner members. They had passed through years of an educational process, and every day they received practice in such matters as the exact positions at the meal in the rows defined as the parts of body of the Heavenly Man - a scheme that was easily remembered. The prayers they constantly uttered were determined by the close detail of the calendar, and were a way of measuring time before they had clockwork. These matters would stay in their memory from constant repetition. Other detail such as plays on letters were learned through the process of solving puzzles and riddles that occupied their evenings - their form of recreation which must have given them some sober amusement. As I found after the process of working them out, once solved they are always remembered.

So I imagine it would have been safer not to write it down, simply to ensure that the lexicon was transmitted orally. The written text for the "babes" would be given to them by their missionary ministers for their moral education, but only a few could read and make a close study of the text. Some among them who were asking intelligent questions would be encouraged to enter the schools, so keeping the educational system alive.

There is every reason to believe that the knowledge of the pesher was preserved in the monasteries. It is reflected in the textual variations by such as the D text. I'll repeat here the best illustration of the way the D text (Codex Bezae) shows knowledge of the pesher. In Acts 19:9 there is an addition . "(Paul) taking the disciples with him, argued daily in the school of Tyrannus (added by D: from the fifth hour to the tenth) ", that is, from 11 am to 4 pm. The addition refers to the hours of Essene monastics, who worked at physical labours in the mornings, up to the 5th hour, 11 am, then took a bath preceding their sacred meal (Josephus, Wars of the Jews 2, 129). After the meal they "returned to their labours". In the pesher , exact hours are given, some of them on the surface. The first two disciples were called at the tenth hour, 4 pm. (John 1:39). They were men of low grade, Gentiles, and other time indications, more concealed, mean that 4 pm ended the day's study and was the time for outsiders such as Gentiles, who were taught after the Jewish monastics had gone elsewhere. The D addition means that Paul taught them within the Jewish hours, according to Christian practice.

Eventually the monasteries died out and western culture entered its Dark Ages. The Church was needed by the popular masses, as long as it did not make the demands that had been a political necessity in its first few centuries. So I don't think a copy of the lexicon will be found in the Vatican!

On your other question, about the tenses, this, as you say, is a matter of nuances. The original writers were native speakers of Hebrew who had learned Greek. Biblical Hebrew has a quite different approach to tenses. They do not primarily reflect time, but a state of completeness or incompleteness. An imperfect tense may refer to both the past and the future, depending on usage. It appears that the writers were influenced by this fact and were not drawing closely on the differences that were expressed by Greek perfect, aorist, imperfect and pluperfect. Their rule that quoted speech does not continue successive events allowed them to use the future tense in speech. The difference that they seem to be using between present and past tenses is that a past tense means an event of permanent significance, of a kind that could be repeated in the ritual, while a present tense means a once-only event.

(If some members wanted to take a particular passage of interest and work on its pesher as a kind of exercise, I would be very glad to correspond with them.)

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666, The number of the Beast
Mitchell Hackerman of New Jersey, USA asks about 666, The number of the Beast
Q. "I just want to explain to my 9 year old son what '666' actually represents as opposed to the mythological number of the devil. Due to my son's persistence and actually being in touch with reality, we are seeing the movie 'The Omen' and such information is helpful in allowing him to enjoy such movies realizing they are not real and cannot actually occur."
A. I'm glad you and your son asked. The answer is that it is a play on the numerical values of Hebrew letters, together with the grades in the initiation process. It is simply intended to say: "Simon Magus' monasteries are evil". There is no relevance to us!

The "Beast" was Simon Magus, who in the Book of Revelation was the great enemy of Christians, for he was conducting a rival mission to theirs. He controlled monasteries that used the Qumran system of grades, naming them by Hebrew letters. Certain grades marked significant stages. These were called Taw, Resh and Samekh. At Taw, a man was at the very top and was equal to the highest priest. At Resh he entered the sanctuary and could act like a lesser priest. At Samekh, he became an initiate, beginning the studies that would lead him higher. Below is the list of grade letters and numbers.

Since Hebrew letters were also used for numbers, Taw could be read as 400. Resh could be read as 200, and Samekh as 60. That totals 660. Further, when initial letters alone were used, they were accompanied by the letter Waw, as is illustrated in the Scrolls (CD 4:19). The numerical value of Waw is 6. Total, 666.

The writers of Revelation (one of the early parties in the Church) were very interested in numbers, following their Pythagorean studies, but were too attached to magic-sounding numbers. They knew that semi-educated people would read significance into them, and used 666 as a way of describing evil. Before the present information became available, scholars used to think that 666 in Revelation 13:18 meant the Roman emperor, but they could not account for the actual number. Now it is explained by the Qumran grade numbers, which account for many details of the pesher.

Here is the system of Hebrew letters, numbers, and grades from initiation upwards For the significance of all the grades, see (See "The Heavenly Man and the Grades" in Section 3, Finding the pesher on this site.

Hebrew LetterHebrew Number
Taw400Highest priest Michael
Shin300Deputy priest Gabriel
Resh200Sanctuary priest Sariel
Qof100Levite Raphael

Numerical value of all Hebrew letters. Aleph 1, Beth 2 , Gimel 3, Daleth 4, He 5, Waw 6, Zayin 7, Heth 8, Tet 9, Yod 10, Kaph 20, Lamedh 30, Mem 40, Nun 50, Samekh 60, Ayin 70, Pe 80, Sadhe 90, Qof 100, Resh 200, Shin 300, Taw 400.

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