The Messiah in the Dead Sea Scrolls — how like the Gospel Messiah

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by Neil Godfrey

DSS fragment photographed by myself
Corrected and updated -- Neil Godfrey, 1:15 pm 30th July 2011 

Comment by Steven Carr — 2011/07/29

It is interesting to see how mainstream scholars are edging towards mythicist ideas.


‘The old idea that exalted epithets such as “Son of God” or “Son of the Most High” applied to Jesus reflect Greco-Roman thinking, rather than Jewish thinking, has been seriously challenged by the Aramaic fragment, 4Q246, in which an eschatological figure is described with these very terms. Moreover, the idea of a Messiah figure, whose appearance brings healing, resurrection of the dead, and good news for the poor—concepts that define the identity and ministry of Jesus—is now attested in 4Q521. Indeed, the idea of a figure who acts in the very place of Yahweh himself, in fulfillment of Isaiah 61 and an expected eschatological jubilee, is attested in 11QMelchizedek.’

Curiously James McGrath claims all Messiah figures were expected to be conquering kings.** (Note by Neil: McGrath has clarified that he is only referring to “Davidic Messiahs” and he does not dispute that there were other messianic notions among the Jews.)

And Mike Wilson is adamant that no Jew could have thought of a figure acting in the very place of Yahweh himself (unless that figure was a crucified criminal, if I understand Mike correctly. )

It is interesting that mainstream scholars claim that mythical eschatological figures, people who never actually existed, are described in the same terms applied to Jesus.

The texts are available online, but for easy reference I copy the relevant ones here, with links to the site sourced:


“[X] shall be great upon the earth. [O King all (people) shall] make [peace], and all shall serve [Him. He shall be called the Son of] the [G]reat [God], and by His Name shall He be hailed (as) the Son of God, and they shall call Him Son of the Most High like a shooting star.”


F.2 + F.4 col.2

(…. For the heavens) and the earth shall listen to His Messiah and all which

is in them shall not turn away from the commandments of the holy ones.

Strenghten yourselves, O you who seek the Lord, in his service.

Will you not find the Lord in this, all those who hope in their heart?

For the Lord seeks the pious and calls the righteous by name.

Over the humble His spirit hovers, and He renews the faithful in

His strength. For He will honor the pious upon the Throne of His

eternal kingdom, setting prisoners free, opening the eyes of the blind,

raising up those who are bowed down.

And forever I shall hold fast to the hopeful and pious (…) (…)

shall not be delayed (…) and the Lord shall do glorious things

which have not been done, just as He said. For He shall heal the

critically wounded, He shall revive the dead, He shall send good news

to the afflicted. He shall (… the ….), He shall lead the (…), and the hungry

he shall enrich (?) (…) and (…)

F.7 + F.5 col.2

(…) see all that the Lord has made, the earth and all that is on it,

the seas and all that is in them and every reservoir of water and the streams.

(…) those who do good before the Lord (shall bless … and not) as these who curse.

They shall be destined to die, when the One who revives raises the dead of His people.

Then we shall give thanks and relate to you the righteous acts of the Lord that (…) those

destined to die. And He shall open graves (..) and (…) and (…) so commit your works (…)

and a bridge of (…) the accursed shall be little esteemed(?) (…)

and the heavens shall meet (…) and all the angels (…)

Compare Matthew 11 and Luke 7

2 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[b] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.


 20 When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’”

 21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 23 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

11Q13 Melchizedek (I have added references — in square brackets — here from Geza Verme’s publication of the DSS to point out what is otherwise missing from the translation or his own translation.)

(…) And concerning what Scripture says, “In this year of Jubilee you shall return, everyone f you, to your property” (Lev. 25;13) And what is also written; “And this is the manner of the remission; every creditor shall remit the claim that is held against a neighbor, not exacting it of a neighbor who is a member of the community, because God’s remission has been proclaimed” (Deut.15;2) the interpretation is that it applies to the Last Days and concerns the captives, just as Isaiah said: “To proclaim the Jubilee to the captives” (Isa. 61;1) (…) just as (…) and from the inheritance of Melchizedek, for (… Melchizedek) , who will return them to what is rightfully theirs. He will proclaim to them the Jubilee, thereby releasing them from the debt of all their sins. He shall proclaim this decree in the first week of the jubilee period that follows nine jubilee periods.

Then the “Day of Atonement” shall follow after the tenth jubilee period, when he shall atone for all the Sons of Light, and the people who are predestined to Melchizedek. (…) upon them (…) For this is the time decreed for the “Year of Melchizedek`s favor”, and by his might he will judge God’s holy ones and so establish a righteous kingdom, as it is written about him in the Songs of David ; “A godlike being has taken his place in the council of God; in the midst of divine beings [=ELOHIM=”gods”] he holds judgement” (Ps. 82;1). Scripture also says about him ; “Over it take your seat in the highest heaven; A divine being [=EL=”god”] will judge the peoples” (Ps. 7;7-8) Concerning what scripture says; “How long will you judge unjustly, and show partiality with the wicked? Selah” (Ps. 82;2) ,the interpretation applies to Belial and the spirits predestined to him, because all of them have rebelled, turning from God’s precepts and so becoming utterly wicked. Therefore Melchizedek will thoroughly prosecute the vengeance required by God’s statutes. Also, he will deliver all the captives from the power of Belial, and from the power of all the spirits destined to him. Allied with him will be all the “righteous divine beings” [=ELOHIM=”gods” of justice] (Isa. 61;3).

(The …) is that whi(ch …all) the divine beings [=sons of God]. The visitation is the Day of Salvation that He has decreed through Isaiah the prophet concerning all the captives, inasmuch as Scripture says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion “Your divine being [=ELOHIM=”god”] reigns”.” (Isa. 52;7) This scriptures interpretation : “the mountains” are the prophets, they who were sent to proclaim God’s truth and to prophesy to all Israel. “The messengers” is the Anointed of the spirit, of whom Daniel spoke; “After the sixty-two weeks, an Anointed shall be cut off” (Dan. 9;26) The “messenger who brings good news, who announces Salvation” is the one of whom it is written; “to proclaim the year of the LORD`s favor, the day of the vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn” (Isa. 61;2)

This scripture’s interpretation: he is to instruct them about all the periods of history for eternity (… and in the statutes) of the truth. (…) (…. dominion) that passes from Belial and returns to the Sons of Light (….) (…) by the judgment of God, just as it is written concerning him; “who says to Zion “Your divine being [=ELOHIM=”god”] reigns” (Isa. 52;7) “Zion” is the congregation of all the sons of righteousness, who uphold the covenant and turn from walking in the way of the people. “Your divine being [=ELOHIM=”god”]” is Melchizedek, who will deliver them from the power of Belial. Concerning what scripture says, “Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; in the seventh month . . . ” (Lev. 25;9)

Of course, it is no big leap to modify a Davidic idea to the messianic concepts in the DSS. The concept of a Davidic Messiah is not necessarily to be equated with a conquering king concept until from the time of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 and the second century with the revolt of Bar Kochba.

Responding to Standard Arguments For Jesus’ Historicity

“Minimalist” Thomas Thompson’s Take on the Messiah Myth

Old Testament Messiahs as Raw Material for the New Testament Christ

An Old Testament Messiah Struck Down By God

What a Davidic Messiah Might Have Meant to Early Christians

Jewish Scriptures as an Inspiration for a Slain Messiah

The Meaning of “Anointed-Messiah-Christ” in the time of Jesus

The Myth of a General Messianic Expectation in Jesus’ Time

Does the notion of a Crucified Messiah Need a Historical Easter Experience

Did the Jews Before Christ Expect a National Messiah?

“Son of David” as an anachronism in . . . the Gospels

Popular Messianic Movements up to the time of Jesus (this is an ongoing series)

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Neil Godfrey

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5 thoughts on “The Messiah in the Dead Sea Scrolls — how like the Gospel Messiah”

  1. ‘Moreover, the idea of a Messiah figure, whose appearance brings healing, resurrection of the dead, and good news for the poor—concepts that define the identity and ministry of Jesus…’

    These concepts DEFINE the identity of Jesus , do they?

    Gosh, Paul and the other writers of Epistles totally missed the very identity of Jesus, didn’t they? They just don’t have these concepts of healing, resurrection of the dead by Jesus, and good news for the poor.

    How could they have done that? How could Paul have missed concepts that define the identity of Jesus?

    Perhaps it was Christians who had in mind a different identity of Jesus that Paul was writing about when he wrote ‘ For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.’

    If Paul does not have concepts which define the identity of Jesus, then what is the identity of Jesus in Paul’s letters?

  2. Evan, you are right to a degree. The NT epistles and the NT Gospels do define Jesus in different ways. But they do conform well to the Gospels portrait.

    On the other hand I don’t know how this seems like moving toward mythicism, but I suppose you do think that. It seems to be based on the notion a victorious king could not be imagined as doing these things even though he rules a kingdom from an eternal throne.

    Steven, on, “mythical eschatological figures, people who never actually existed,” No one from the future exist yet do they? The 45th president does not exist, but I have no doubt there will be one. Being referenced as an eschatological figure does not disqualify one as historical. Some people think Hitler was the anti-Christ, but he is historical.

    The presentation of Melchizedek, acting in the role of Michael, reenacting an ancient motif of the hero of the high god who defeats the rebellious demons and becomes the new King of Gods, like Baal or Marduk, takes YHWH’s prerogative to forgive sins, sins that were committed against YHWH. Here though I doubt he is intended to supplant God. First, there are text in the DSS that support the traditional interpretation Judaism, that the living God is one and there are no others. Second, in the apocalyptic work Revelation, the archangel Michael cast out the chief Demon, there called Satan and Devil. Michael is clearly ranked lower than Jesus and God in this work.

    Like wise i don’t think we have reason to conclude or favor that this Apocalypse means to tell us that Melchizedek is YHWH. The use of El and Elohim is interesting. It seems to get inspiration from some Old Testament text that retain traits from a more polytheistic time. I would have to have more evidence to conclude that the intention was to worship this being as a God though. It need not be taken as being divine (blasphemy according those who charged Jesus for making a similar presumption, to forgive sins) though detractors may have thought so. It could simply be that YHWH is delegating this authority to one of his faithful servants, as He has given the right to Judge and as he gave the right to reign as king to the house of David (also a son of God). In each role, the being could be seen as partaking in an attribute of YHWH without ever being Him.

  3. The messiah(s) in the DSS are also like “Jesus” to me in the sense that the Scrolls do not focus on them as much as the Righteous Teacher, who has a biography that is more “real” than imagined. Though the DSS group was messianic, they “followed” the Righteous Teacher, who, like early Christians (especially James in the Clementine literature), was able to interpret scripture “correctly”: “To whom God made known all the Mysteries of the words of His Servants the Prophets” (1QpHab 7.4-5).

    Eisenman argues that the similarities of messianic language in the DSS and the NT indicate that the gospel writers knew of the ideas in the DSS and attempted to create a messiah who was friendlier to Rome, as part of the Roman struggle against the kind of messianism that inspired the First Revolt.

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