Theology Thursdays: The Dead Sea Scrolls, Prophecy and Messiah XII (April 17, 2003)
One day some years ago I was with a childhood friend of mine who was studying to become an ordained Christian preacher. He made a comment about how Jesus celebrated Easter. I told him that wasn't true. He disagreed and I asked him to show me the location in the Gospels where this was indicated. He opened his Bible and pointed to a certain passage. Indeed, he found a passage that read that Jesus "observed Easter." I knew this wasn't true. Sure enough, there was a number by the word "Easter" as it appeared in his Bible, which indicated a footnote. I pointed to the footnote where it stated that the word "Easter" had been inserted in place of the word "Passover." I do not recall the name of his version of the Bible but in subsequent years I have encountered other Bibles that take out the word "Passover" and replace it with "Easter."
I recalled this incident yesterday while speaking to a Brother of mine about how this past Sunday, called Palm Sunday, and this coming Sunday, called Easter represent some of the most significant events in world history and how important it was for Black people to understand the root of both observances. We discussed how it is still striking that in 2003 many Black Christians are unaware of the deep relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament, but more specifically between Moses and Jesus. A relationship with which the Jesus of scripture was intimately acquainted. Why the tremendous gap between what Jesus knew of Moses, the Torah, and the prophetic writings; and what those who believe in Jesus today, know of those same writings -particularly those who are Black and live in the Western Hemisphere? Revelations 19:10 reads (The Living Bible translation): "The purpose of all prophecy and of all that I have shown is to tell about Jesus." Is it possible to really get into the spirit of Jesus without seeing and thinking about Moses, the Torah and the prophetic writings as he (Jesus) is written to have saw and thought of them? Another Black preacher friend of mine and I have discussed that question and subject, off and on, for over a decade, and always with respect and in a beautiful, Brotherly manner. Never arguing once.
Some may say or are definitely thinking as they read this, "Cedric, why such a race-centered view on this subject?" Well, I hope that by part twelve of this series I don't have to fully revisit this subject. Anyone reading this entire series, should know by now, its premise. But such comments or thoughts can be answered by simply looking at recorded history and the numerous ways in which all people are classified and categorized - by both the God of the scriptures and by historians, social scientists, anthropologists, archaeologists, political scientists and economists.
Things happen to people for better or worse according to how they are categorized in the minds of others. Some times it is the category of geography. On different occasions it is on the basis of morals and good and evil acts. Other times it is on the basis of gender. On other occasions it is on the basis of language. Sometimes age. At other moments it is determined by income level. And yes, it most certainly has been on the basis of race or skin color. Black people were enslaved in the largest amounts and in the cruelest and most comprehensive of methods largely on the basis of skin color. This is irrefutable. How does this relate to God and the scriptures? The Supreme Being of the Torah, Gospels and Qur'an responds consistently to suffering and oppression. Slavery is not a tangential issue with God. It is of primary importance. It is, according to the scriptural narrative, part of a chain reaction of events that initiates His coming to a people, on a certain place on the earth in order to improve the condition of those people and remove from power, the nation that enslaved them. Read Genesis 15: 13-15.
God is very much into dividing, distinguishing and identifying people on many levels. Race is one of them. Please consider what I wrote in a 2001 essay titled, "God Conservatives And Race"
The story of Moses is central to the account of God's coming or visiting, and the process of His revelation and liberation process. When Jesus of the scriptures observed Passover and when millions of Jews observe the same, this time of the year, the focus of their hearts and minds is on the events that are central to the process by which God used Moses (and his eloquent spokesperson Aaron) to liberate the Children of Israel from their 400-year slave sojourn in Egypt. The deeper one studies the birth, ministry, life and death of Jesus, as described in the book of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the more one finds themselves bumping into Moses (and Aaron) - over and over again.
In the book Is It Possible That The Honorable Elijah Muhammad Is Still Physically Alive??? by Jabril Muhammad, appear two critical sentences that are relevant to the root of this dynamic "Most Black people are much more emotionally attached to Jesus than to Moses. Moreover, Jesus is identified with God to a much greater degree in the minds of most Blacks than is Moses."
Is this emotional attachment in anyway connected with how Blacks were educated regarding Jesus during slavery and immediately afterward? If one is unfamiliar with this process, they should get acquainted with whole books and studies that deal with this subject. One will find that Blacks, after being deliberately kept from reading and writing, were deliberately kept from reading the Old Testament and the account of Moses liberating the slaves out of bondage. Whites who called themselves Christians who were also masters or slaves or their earliest educators combed the Bible and selectively taught and emphasized those passages of the Bible that they thought were compatible with the survival or passivity of Blacks during the eras of slavery, sharecropping and peonage.
But, as we made clear last week, the Whites who were physically closest to the slaves were not the most knowledgeable of the scriptures. There were other Whites in America and in Europe and other people, in Africa and what is called the "Middle East," who handled the earliest translations of what became or was already the Torah; and Old and New Testaments. There were still, more scholars and theologians who maintained an intense study of the scriptures in different parts of the world, including books that were taken out of the original compilations. Such studies and relatively "private" undertakings continue today and certainly continued well into and throughout last century. The controversy over the discovery, handling, and studying of the Dead Sea Scrolls is an excellent case study for those interested in getting a look behind the veil into this reality.
Among other things, experts on the Dead Sea Scrolls say the controversy over them develops largely out of a historical context which includes the interpretations of three religious communities regarding their expectations pertaining to the coming or appearance of the Messiah and the identity of the Elect people of the last days (God's chosen people). Those three communities, among others, are the Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes. Josephus wrote extensively about the Essenes, stating that they were, "There are some among them who profess to fortell the future, being versed from their early years in holy books...and oracular utterances of prophets." The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in caves in Qumran, include some of the most ancient manuscripts of the prophetic books of what is today called the Old Testament, like Isaiah; as well as additional writings that refer to what is expected to happen during the last days of this world system. John D. Rockefeller, Catholic scholars, Jewish scholars and a host of archaeologists were involved in handling the most valuable portions of the Scrolls and, to varying degrees, their release to the public.
Some scholars who have studied the scrolls say that they clearly make reference to at least one man or figure who would appear in the last days who would be like what many theologians have referred to as a "second Moses." Many scholars make reference to the expectation, contained in the scrolls of two Messiahs who would come from a certain community in the last days. They make the case that one or a combination of these views was held by the Sadducees, Pharisees and the Essenes. Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, Dr. Hugh Schonfield wrote in "The Passover Plot":
The Sadducees, proving everything from express statements in the Law, looked for the coming of the Prophet like Moses. The Pharisees and Essenes ranged more widely and brought into prominence the perpetual covenants with Levi and David. The prophecies of Jeremiah had further contained this promise:
'Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will perform that good thing which I have promised unto the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of Righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgement and righteousness in the land. In those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell safely...For thus saith the Lord; David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel; neither shall the priests the Levites want a man to offer burnt offerings, and to kindle meat offerings, and to do sacrifice continually.'
Therefore, it was held, God would intervene by means of Anointed Ones (Messiahs) of the tribes of Levi and Judah. One writer declares: 'And now, my children, obey Levi and Judah, and be not lifted up against these two tribes, for from them shall arise unto you the salvation of God. For the Lord shall raise up from Levi as it were a High Priest, and from Judah as it were a king: he shall save all the race of Israel.'
For the Essenes the Priestly Messiah would be the superior of the Royal Messiah, while for the Pharisees, who became disillusioned with hierarchical government, the Messiah par excellence would be the ideal king of the line of David. But they admitted the priority of a Levitical messianic personality to the extent that the Davidic Messiah would be preceded by a priestly forerunner in the form of the returned Prophet Elijah, whom they held to have been a priest.
Today, many Jews are expecting the arrival of two men - Elijah and the Messiah.
In a footnote to the above excerpt from Mr. Schonfield it reads:
A late commentary on the Psalms illustrates the position taken by the Pharisees. 'To that generation (in Egypt) thou didst send redemption through two redeemers, as it is said (Ps. Cv.26), "He sent Moses his servant and Aaron whom he had chosen." So also to this generation (of the Last Times) he sendeth two, corresponding to those other two. "Send out thy light and thy truth" (Ps xliii. 3). "Thy light", that is the Prophet Elijah of the house of Aaron...and "Thy truth", that is Messiah ben David, as it is said (ps. Cxxxii. 1l)
Represented by this footnote and a body of literature in the public, there are numerous arguments that boil down to the same thing: At the end of the world, there will appear two human beings who are anointed by God who will end the rule of the wicked of this world and spread righteousness and justice. They will begin their work among a certain community or people (to whom they are sent or from whom they are raised from among by God) and then will continue their work through and with that particular community or people throughout the entire world. These two men are frequently compared or linked to Moses and Aaron who were written to have been raised from among the Children of Israel. The Children Of Israel, you will remember, are described in the Torah as having served in slavery in a foreign land, to a foreign people, for 400 years.
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught that Jesus was mostly a sign of two men and a people. He publicly taught that the "people" were the Black man and woman of America.
Can one possibly have two end-time messiahs who are like a returned Elijah; or a second Moses or a second Aaron - as expected by certain communities - if there is no end-time people whose history reads like that of the Children Of Israel? No one would fit this description any better than Black people in North America.
As many Black Christians celebrate Easter they would do well to study or "observe" the Passover.
In his book, The Prophets, Norman Podhoretz writes, "Every year at the seder, the festive meal that Jews celebrate at Passover in memory of the deliverance of their ancestors from slavery in Egypt, a special cup of wine is set aside for Elijah, and at a certain point the door is opened to let him in as the assemblage sings a melodius prayer asking that he come to them soon accompanied by the Messiah."
Black Christians, in particular, and others should also take the time to study the arguments that learned Jewish theolgians make regarding why they think the Messiah is yet to come and why he will have a forerunner or herald.
Thursday, April 17, 2003
Re-read the Black Electorate series The Dead Sea Scrolls, Prophecy and Messiah
Thursday, January 5, 2006
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