Welcome back to Blog Gnosis! We took a little time off so excuse me while I do a little catching up. Though our latest podcast/videocast is on Marcion, I have some unfinished business with our previous topic, the Dead Sea Scrolls!
It’s hard to understate the popular cultural frenzy that erupted around the world through the 50s and 60s about the discovery, translation, and publication, of the Dead Sea Scrolls. These ancient texts weren’t just obsessed over by clergy, scholars, and the spiritually curious—the public at large seemed to be seized with DSS-Mania! This is partly because they came at a time of major religious upheaval in the West, and anything that promised new and shocking revelations about Christianity and Judaism was something that was sure to grab the public’s attention.
But I believe there’s other roots for this surprising enthusiasm for some old scrolls. There seems to be something in the religious imagination that gets primed about the discovery of lost ancient texts containing TRUTH that’s been lost to us for ages untold. It’s a popular trope found in many times, places, and faiths.
It’s even in the canonical Bible its self, in a passage that’s some 2600 years old we read about King Josiah finding a mysterious hidden scroll in the Jerusalem Temple! This secret forgotten book, said to be written by Moses himself, inspires Josiah to launch a complete over-haul of the religion of the nation!
But there’s some other examples worth repeating like Mormonism with their scriptures hidden in Upstate New York until the 1800s, Tibetan Buddhism with it’s plethora of Termas (secret texts and teachings discovered only when they’re needed) Johannite Christianity and the Levitikion, the Alchemists and their Emerald Tablets, and the list goes on….
And these are just some historical examples, we also have a few hundred years (at least) of numerous forms of fictional entertainment revolving around thrilling plots of conspiracies and world-changing hidden gospels and religious tracts! These are pop culture tropes that far predate Dan Brown and his ilk!
So, with all of this background built up to an explosive interest in these ancient texts and the public got to hear differing, but all startling, theories from top scholars about what the DSS revealed, such as
- They came from the community of John the Baptist and fill in the mystery of John’s background and beliefs, blessing us with vital information about the forerunner of all Christianity.
- That the texts were actually from the first Christian community, possibly headed up by Jesus’ brother.
- The scrolls contained clues about the location of a literal lost treasure trove of gold from the Temple.
- And my favourite: the scrolls proved Jesus was actually a code for hallucinogenic mushrooms and that texts came from a sex and mushroom cult. This may sound like a thesis dreamed up by a total crackpot, but it’s a theory advanced by one of the original translators of the texts to English.
As exciting as these ideas are there’s little chance they’re true. And to be honest, only about 30% of the Dead Sea Scrolls is material we didn’t already have. And that new material consists of calendars, rules for communal living, rules for properly observing Jewish religious law, and apocalyptic visions of battles soon to come with the end of the world. To be honest when I read them I find them a bit of a snore. BUT just because they don’t live up to the hype are they totally boring and useless? No, no my friend:
But for all the exciting good stuff in the Dead Sea Scrolls you’ll have to tune into our podcast with Dr. Glen J. Fairen: