The Messiah Before Jesus:
The Suffering Servant of the Dead Sea Scrolls
by Israel Knohl & David Maisel
The Messiah Before Jesus:
The Suffering Servant of the Dead Sea Scrolls
by Israel Knohl & David Maisel
Herod and the Essenes
Most scholars of the Dead Sea Scrolls accept that the Qumran sect can be identified with the Essenes. In his writings Josephus describes the sympathy and respect that Herod had for the Essenes.
The Sadducees - the priestly aristocracy who had supported the Hasmoneans - were hostile to Herod.
Menahem & the Essenes
Menahem's relationship with Rome and its culture was two-faceted. On the one hand, he was influenced by the Roman culture of his period, as we will discuss at length in appendix B. At the same time, like all the members of his community, he nurtured a deep hatred for the Romans, whom the Essenes saw as conquerors and oppressors. The fact that Menahem was one of the “friends” of Herod, who ruled by favor of the Romans, caused him to live a double existence. Yet this way of living was nothing new for Menahem and his followers. In the Manual of Discipline from Qumran - a description of the laws and regulations that governed the behavior of the members of the sect - we find the following:
These are the rules for the instructor in those times with respect to his loving and hating: Everlasting hatred for the men of perdition in spirit of secrecy…and meekness before him who lords it over him; to be a man zealous for the ordinance and its time, for the day of vengeance.
These are instructions for living a double life! A member of the sect must behave humbly, “like a slave before his master,” toward the “men of perdition” who “lord it over him,” but in the secrecy of his heart he must hate these men and await the day of vengeance when he will openly wage war against them. The pacifism of the Essenes was only a provisional pacifism and would end on the day of vengeance. However, as we have tried to show with the imaginary reconstruction at the beginning of the book, this general injunction to live a double life was apparently exemplified in a special way and to an exceptional degree in the life of “the king's friend,” Menahem.
Herod’s Golden Eagle
By erecting the eagle Herod had been trying to please the Romans, for whom the eagle was a major symbol. Thus the opposition to the eagle must be seen as a mixture of political and religious zealotry.
The Paraclete to follow Jesus
We have seen that from start to finish, Jesus' messianic vocation bears the imprint of Menahem's messianism. In this section I demonstrate that the Gospel of John, in particular, preserves a tradition that reflects the line of continuity from Menahem to Jesus. This tradition is the mysterious concept of the Paraclete.
According to the Gospel of John, at the time of the Last Supper Jesus promised his disciples that he would ask the Father - that is, God - to send them “another Paraclete.” The Paraclete, which is also described as the “Holy Spirit” and the “spirit of truth, ” would lead them to the truth and show them “things to come.” Similarly, the Paraclete would “convince the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” In view of these statements, the Paraclete could be described as a teacher, a prophet who foretells the future, and a revealer of truths. Jesus told his disciples that the Paraclete would appear only if and when he left the world. We can conclude from this that Jesus regarded the wondrous figure of the Paraclete as someone who would replace him.
After Caesar’ Death
In the year 44 BC Julius Caesar was murdered. Caesar had declared in his will that he had adopted Octavian, the son of his niece, as his son. The adopted son was now given the name of the murdered Caesar: Caesar Octavianus. In order to glorify Caesar's memory, Octavian organized games in his honor in July of 44 BC. At the time of the games a comet appeared in the sky for seven nights in a row. This caused a great stir among the Roman populace. The comet, called Caesaris astrum or sidus Iulium, was regarded by the Romans as the soul of Caesar, which had ascended to heaven and become a god. The episode is described in Octavian's memoirs:
Comet in the Sky
On the very days of my games a comet was visible for seven days in the northern part of the sky. It was rising about an hour before sunset and was bright…The common people believed that this star signified the soul of Caesar received among the spirits of the immortal gods, and on this account the emblem of star was added to the bust of Caesar that we shortly afterwards dedicated in the forum.
The comet was regarded as not only a sign of Julius Caesar's divine status but also a sign of the dawning of a new era, a “golden age.” It was also considered an indication of the divine nature of the new ruler, Octavian. Wishing to stress that he was the son of the “divine Julius,” Octavian called himself divi filius, which means “son of God” or “son of the deified.”
The years following Caesar's murder were a time of war. Though at first Octavian and Mark Anthony fought together against Caesar's murderers, once the two had overcome them, they divided the empire between them. Octavius was based in Rome and ruled the western empire, while Mark Anthony was based in Alexandria and ruled Egypt, Syria, and other eastern countries. Mark Anthony's close relations with Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, caused great tension between the two rulers, and the rivalry between them eventually resulted in the battle at Actium in 31 BC. Anthony and Cleopatra were defeated by Octavian's fleet. They fled to Alexandria, where they committed suicide.
Octavian was now the sole ruler of the Empire. He received the title “Augustus” - the “exalted one” - and in many provinces in the empire, temples and altars were set up where he was worshiped as a god. After the battle of Actium there was peace in the empire, and a period of tranquility and prosperity began…
…Augustus - the title for Octavian - was the king who was “great on the earth” and whom all would serve. He was the sole ruler of the Roman Empire and was worshiped as a god by his subjects. Augustus was described as “son of the great Lord” because he was adopted as a son by the great ruler Julius Caesar, and he was given his name: Caesar Octavianus. The titles “son of God” and “son of the Most High” also refer to Augustus, who, as we have seen, was called divi filius — the Son of God.
Virgil’s New Age
Virgil was a contemporary of the Qumranic Messiah. He wrote his poem in the year 40 BC. The atmosphere in Rome in the forties of the first century BC was one of longing for redemption. The collapse of the Republic, the civil wars, and the murder of Julius Caesar had brought a state of depression upon the Romans and a feeling that only a miraculous redeemer could save them. In the Fourth Eclogue Virgil addresses Asinius Pollio (76 bce4 AD), who was consul in Rome in 40 BC. Pollio, a well-known statesman, historian and intellectual was one of Virgil's patrons. Virgil assures him that in the year he served as consul a great change would occur and a new era would begin:
And in thy consulship, Pollio, yeah in thine, shall this glorious age begin… under thy sway, any lingering traces of our guilt shall become void, and release the earth from its continual dread. Virgil's announcement of a new age in which guilt and fear have vanished is extraordinarily similar to the proclamation of redemption in the messianic hymn from Qumran:
Peace appears, terror ceases; injustice is removed], [and guilt is no more.
In Virgil's vision the release from guilt and fear are associated with the appearance of a miraculous child. This child is the son of the gods and mingles with gods and heroes:
He shall have the gift of divine life shall see heroes mingled with gods and shall see himself be seen by them.
This description recalls the words of the Qumran Messiah:
I have taken my seat-in the heavens - I shall be reckoned with angels, and established in the holy congregation.
In 40 BC, the year Virgil wrote the Fourth Eclogue, Mark Anthony and Augustus reached an agreement in the city of Brindisium that led to Anthony's political marriage with Augustus's sister Octavia. The miraculous child described by Virgil appears to have been the hoped-for product of this marriage. W. Clausen comments:
To contemporary readers, the vexed question, “Who is the boy?” would not have occurred. They knew well enough who was meant: the expected son of Anthony and Octavia…the son that never was; a daughter was born instead.
As we have seen, this marriage did not last. Anthony left his wife Octavia, returning to his mistress, Cleopatra, queen of Egypt. After Anthony married Cleopatra and cast Octavia out of his house, Augustus waged war against Anthony and Cleopatra. At Actium, Anthony and Cleopatra's fleet was routed by that of Augustus. Augustus now became the sole ruler of the Empire, and Virgil hailed him as the one who had realized the vision of the “son of God” and ushered in the “new age”...
…The divine character of Augustus the redeemer is also clearly expressed in the art of the period. In some artifacts Augustus is shown sitting on a splendid throne in the company of the gods…
…The Messiah of the Qumran sect described himself as sitting on a “throne of power” in the congregation of the gods, exactly as Augustus is depicted.
…We have seen that the Qumran “son of God” text touches on certain cardinal points of Augustus's ideology: the description of Augustus as the “son of God” and mention of the comet that augured a new era.
The Fourth Eclogue, as we have seen, was addressed to Asinius Pollio, who was consul in 40 BC, and a patron of Virgil. We now find that Herod had a special relationship with Asinius Pollio. They first became acquainted in 40 bce, the year in which the Fourth Eclogue was written. At that time, Mattathias Antigonus, the last of the Hasmonean rulers, had taken office in Judea with the help of the Parthians. Herod fled from Antigonus and his Parthian supporters and reached Rome, where he turned to Mark Anthony for his help. On Anthony's initiative and with the agreement of Augustus, the Roman Senate came to assembly and proclaimed Herod the king of Judea. After the Senate had dispersed, Anthony and Augustus made their way to the Capitol, with Herod between them. The procession was headed by the consuls in office that year: Caius Domitius Calvinus and Asinius Pollio.
The connection between Pollio and Herod grew stronger in the following years. In 22 BC, Herod sent his sons Alexander and Aristobulus to Rome for their education. The boys stayed in Rome for about five years and lived in the home of Pollio, whom Josephus described as having a special relationship with Herod. It can therefore be assumed that Herod and his court were in- deed aware of the Fourth Eclogue, which Virgil had addressed to Pollio.
In view of all this, I claim that it is possible that the Messiah of Qumran was influenced by the Roman vision of redemption and Augustus's propaganda. Augustus was depicted as a ruler with a divine nature, fusing the earth with the kingdom of heaven. It is in this spirit that the Qumranic Messiah describes his relationship with God and his position in heaven in terms derived from a royal court. He depicts himself as “the king's friend” - i.e., the friend of God - and describes himself as equal to the “king's sons,” the angels. In the messianic hymn from Qumran we find a picture without precedent in Jewish literature: the portrait of a Messiah with a divine nature sitting on a lofty throne in heaven and associating with the angels. This Messiah ushers in a new age in which guilt, sin, and fear have disappeared. It is possible that this portrait was fashioned under the influence of Virgil's message of redemption and release from guilt, and the artistic depictions of Augustus sitting on a throne surrounded by gods.