Theology Thursdays: The Dead Sea Scrolls, Prophecy And Messiah
On a track called, "Revolutionary Warfare," off of his new album, God's Son, Nas states,"...We are the lost Children Of Israel in this western world region...". This lyric comes from an artist who has had two albums debut at the number one position on Billboard's Top 200 album charts. The current album is projected to sell millions worldwide. What was Nas referring to? In 1994 and 1995 over a period of several months, and at different levels of depth, I discussed the subject of this lyric with Nas, primarily in the confines of his Long Island apartment. That subject being whether or not the description of a 400-year slave period to be endured by one people, under another, described in the Torah, and the eventual visit to the land of enslavement by God Himself, and the subsequent liberation of the enslaved people was in fact not a history, but a prophecy that has been fulfilled in the United States of America. At some point in the future I would like to get into some of what those conversations were like.
Of course Nas and I aren't the first people to ever discuss this subject. In fact, a growing minority of individuals, of varying levels of knowledge, have discussed the topic for decades. Some have studied the subject intensely, while others use language that comes from the Bible but they are very much unfamiliar with the Bible and its storyline. Some speak matter-of-factly that Blacks (taken from Africa)and their slave experience in America fulfill the bulk of the prophecy in Genesis 15: 13-14, in particular; yet they do not demonstrate that they are aware of the enormous consequences and implications of not only their verbal expression, but of the potential geopolitical, cultural and economic impact of their belief, if it is true and becomes widespread.
There are some who state outright that what is written in the Torah, that deals with the account of a massive enslavement and God's execution of a plan that reverses those circumstances, is not necessarily history or prophecy. They have made their in-depth presentations in public. Some of the media have broadcast their arguments. One example is that of Rabbi David Wolpe, of the influential Sinai Temple, the oldest Conservative Jewish congregation in Los Angeles. Rabbi David Wolpe argued in the year 2001 that the Biblical account of Exodus, which deals with the story of Moses, Aaron, and the Children of Israel coming out of slavery in an Egypt ruled by an oppressive Pharaoh, did not take actually take place in history. He received quite a bit of attention for doing so.
An individual who has written about this subject from a variety of perspectives and with unique depth and detail, in public, is Minister Jabril Muhammad, a Nation Of Islam theologian directly trained by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. He writes the weekly article, "Farrakhan The Traveler" which appears in The Final Call newspaper. His books, particularly This Is The One and Is It Possible That The Honorable Elijah Muhammad Is Still Physically Alive and his website http://www.writtentestimony.com/ deal in great depth with this subject and many others.
In the volume 22 number 15 issue of his "Farrakhan The Traveler" column, he writes the following:
Why do Jews, Christians and Muslims, who are considered experts on God and the scriptures, ignore the history, condition and position of Black people in the most powerful of all countries-America-in their writings about the end of this world?
Do these scholars see Black people as important in the fulfillment God's plan to the establishment of God's rule or kingdom on earth, beginning here in America? Over the last few decades they are beginning to see. But, their views are mixed. Is this due to bias, intellectual dishonesty and a kind of ignorance?
...At present, America is the most extraordinary of all the nations of the earth. What is her place in scriptures? We cannot honestly ask nor even try to answer that question without facing who Black people really are.
The attention that both the Bible and Holy Qur'an give to enslaved and oppressed people is striking. Their struggle and condition receive a significant amount of attention in the narratives, parables and prophecies contained within both books. The promise of their improvement; progress and exaltation; and increasingly intimate relationship with a Supreme Being parallel to the eventual triumph of good over evil is the dominating core of both books. Of course, this assessment has and can be discussed in great depth and from as many individual perspectives as there are human beings.
But the dominant idea, that in specific locations on the earth, and among specific individuals and specific groups of people, the Divine Supreme Being would alter a "power pyramid" that has one elite group lording over an impoverished downtrodden group is rarely debated. That God would one day bestow upon an oppressed people the most intimate knowledge of His nature and way of life - His identity - is pictured throughout the scriptures.
Atonement, redemption, salvation, reconciliation, elect, and chosen are all words that contain different aspects and elements central to this process.
But through revelation and the selection and production of human beings, the process of union between a fallen humanity and a Supreme Being takes place. This Supreme Being, according to many of the major world religions is in mastery over the structure, function and purpose of life, including the origin of the universe. This God is described as giving identity, meaning and power to particular people at a particular time or moments in history.
Some theologians and authors very beautifully write about the love and lesson that God displays by taking human beings in the worst of conditions and bringing them into a first place position, in the eyes of those who formerly beat, mocked and destroyed them; that God would take a people who have been made "nothing" by the cultural, political and economic measurements of the rulers of this world, and give to them everything from Himself, largely, but not entirely in the sight of their previous conquerors.
In I Peter 10 (Contemporary English Version) it reads, "Once you were nobody. Now you are God's people. At one time no one had pity on you. Now God has treated you with kindness." In search of the deepest understanding of the concept and process involved in God's identifying with a people, theologians have looked intensely into the words, "lo-ammi" and "lo-ruhamah."
That it is written throughout scripture that God would actively choose a people is difficult to argue against, although the identity of that people is frequently a topic of rich debate. Some have taken positions that the group of people selected is determined by their class; others say it is their religion; many argue it is the land mass upon which they live. Some Bible translators and scholars say that I Peter 2:9 speaks of a "chosen race." As I have written previously, the subject of race as it relates to the concept of a "chosen people", is ignored or marginalized by politicians, economists and social scientists but given great attention by theologians who dig deeply into the Greek and Hebrew versions of the New and Old Testament.
The Holy Qur'an speaks of this concept in terms of "nations" and "people" according to respected and popular English translations of the Arabic text. In the Maulana Muhammad Ali transalation, Surah 10: 47 reads, in part, "And for every nation there is a messenger..."; Surah 35:24 reads, "And there is not a people but a warner has gone among them."
So, by placing this principle alongside the nation-states that dominate world affairs today, it can be argued that the United States Of America, as a nation, should at some point in time, expect a messenger or warner.
Different people of different religious persuasions, as well as agnostics and atheists understand this principle as expressed in the Holy Qur'an differently, independent of any discussion of the history of the United States of America. Once the United States is included in the discussion, the arguments can become more complex and more detailed. Some groups argue publicly that among their own communities such a warner and or messenger, has appeared and has or is doing their job by this country, America. One very powerful group that believes this and makes no secret about it is The Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, more commonly referred to as the Mormon Church. Many interact and do business with the Mormons without this fact even remotely on their minds. Prominent Mormons are Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah); Steve Young, the All-Pro quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers; Madison Square Garden President/GM Dave Checketts; and Steven Covey, the popular and influential character development teacher and consultant, and author of The Seven Habits Of Highly-Effective People.
The discussion of a chosen downtrodden people has been discussed over millenniums. Of course, the groups commonly referred to as "Christians," "Muslims," and "Jews" have dominated such discussions. They generally argue that with the coming of Jesus, Muhammad, and Moses, they received the greatest of warners and messengers. Some disagree with them and have forcefully written their rebuttals and dissenting views. Many, interestingly have done so from within the three major religious communities.
They say that the "nation" or "people" that is to receive the greatest of warnings and messages, due to the time of delivery, location, and the implications of the acceptance or rejection of such; is a group of people who are present just before the greatest of all wars takes place. Many of these writers refer to numerous detailed prophecies regarding the circumstances, characteristics, and chain reaction of events that lead right up and just after that war takes place, written of in both the Bible and Qur'an. Christians, Muslims, and Jews believe or follow religious teachers that present cases that one, or a combination of two, or three men will deliver this most important of warnings and messages to a particular people and (some scholars say through that particular people to) the entire world. The one, two or three men wear the titles or names, depending upon the religion referred to, of "Elijah," "Messiah" or "Mahdi." The use of the title or description of "herald" or "forerunner" or "forewarner" is also used for this single individual or combination of human beings. Some of the most interesting writings revolve around what Jewish theologians have to say about the relationship between Elijah and the Messiah and what Muslim theologians have to say about the relationship between the Messiah and Mahdi. Most of these writings are not presented in public. Why? The Dead Sea Scrolls are also said to describe more than one person serving in the capacity of Messiah. There are varying levels of judgement, teaching and military powers that these persons are written to possess and exercise. A detailed distinction of these arguments is beyond the scope of this series, but not this column, over time. (For now I will just say that the detailed descriptions of the "Messiah" - if looked at from the perspective of all of the three major religous texts [Judaism, Christianity and Islam] and the Dead Sea Scrolls - include not only their duty by a particular people, but information regarding their talents, physical appearance, domestic lives, health condition, friendships, enemyships and attempts on their lives. In study I have seen books that are solely devoted to listing and commenting on the hundreds of prophecies that "describe" what the "Messiah" would think, feel, and do. Serious theologians know that a clear composite sketch of a man or more than one man can be made from the details.)
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught publicly that it would be among Black people in America that this particularly important message and warning would be first delivered. He explained repeatedly, as have some of his best students, that Black people in America had in fact been made into a "new people" and even "no people" by nature of the depth of the stripping process of chattel slavery and laws that denied Blacks freedom, justice and equality in the United States Of America. Like the Children Of Israel, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught that Black people in America best fit important aspects of the description of what is written in the Torah. He wrote in part of the Muslim Program, which has appeared in either the Muhammad Speaks or Final Call newspapers for over 40 years, "...we believe we are the people of God's choice, as it has been written, that God would choose the rejected and the despised. We can find no other persons fitting this description in these last days more than the so-called Negroes in America..." This statement should be studied from the very best and most authoritative and well-researched accounts of the experiences of Black people in this country, beginning in the 16th century and onward until today. It is a very superficial undertaking to evaluate the depth of Black suffering by what Blacks have experienced in the last two centuries, as is commonly done among political observers. How many of us have even read two thorough books on slavery as it was practiced in the Western Hemisphere?
The Honorable Elijah Muhammad also taught that there were portions of the Holy Qur'an that uniquely referred to Black people in America. He articulated that Surah 32 verses 1 to 5 (in the Maulana Muhammad Ali version) is one such place. He placed great emphasis on verses two and three which read:
2.The revelation of the Book, there is no doubt in it, is from the Lord of the worlds. 3.Or do they say: He has forged it? Nay, it is the Truth from thy Lord that thou mayest warn a people to whom no warner has come before thee that they may walk aright.
A great many Muslims argued that this verse was referring to Muhammad of 1,400 years ago; the Honorable Elijah Muhammad countered that this could not be the case due to the fact that the people of Mecca, whom Muhammad rose from among, had already received warnings from Ishmael and Abraham. Surah 32 verse three clearly states that the people to whom revelation is directed were a group of people who had not received such a warning. Minister Farrakhan spoke about these verses in Surah 32 in his recent address to the United Kingdom, last month.
In February of 2000, in Chicago, in front of over 20,000 people (and tens of thousands more via satellite), Minister Farrakhan spoke of the reality that Islam had been prevented from being taught in the Western Hemisphere. He made clear, with Imam Warith Deen Mohammed present on the dais (at a certain point during the presentation Imam Mohammed interrupted Minister Farrakhan, to bear witness, in a very touching way, to a point being made about how Islam had been kept out of the Western Hemisphere), that although Arabs and others had already received the Holy Qur'an, nobody had successfully visited this hemisphere and taught Islam on a mass level, prior to the 20th century. There was an effort to strip the earliest slaves of the knowledge of Islam and keep them from passing that knowledge down to their children. Alex Haley's research for Roots clearly showed this. Alex Haley once wrote Minister Farrakhan a letter detailing the profound impact that the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad had on his research and his own reaction to his findings.
Minister Farrakhan has said, on more than one occassion, that in order to read a Qur'an in the Boston public library, last century, he had to identify himself as a Muslim and then be escorted to a rare reading section of the library to access the book. Similar scenarios played out all over the United States. Minister Farrakhan's experience took place in the 1950s. Why would the American public be denied access to that book, so late in world history?
While others may attempt to make the case that they qualify as a people who have never received a warner; the question of whether America has received such a warner cannot be overlooked. As a new nation herself (relative to the recorded history of nations) with an excellent collection of documented history; settling the issue of whether or not America has fulfilled the promise written in the Holy Qur'an should be verifiable - even more than was the case in any nation in the past 6,000 years. The adherents of three of the world's major religions, including Islam, are focused on the area known as the Middle East as the place where the last warning and message, prior to the greatest of all wars is to be delivered. These groups expect the appearance of "Elijah," "Messiah," and "Mahdi" in that part of the world. Why don't they consider that the United States may receive such warning or message or appearance? Is America's place in divine prophecy a problem for the theologies and scriptural exegesis of the world's major religions? Is the history of Black people within America also a profound problem for scholars and theologians to deal with, in light of the parallel that exists between what Blacks have experienced in America and that which is written of in the first five books of the Bible - the Pentateuch or the Torah? Are the problem of the United States in prophecy and Black people in prophecy intertwined in such a way that the revelation of the identity of one reveals the revelation of the identity of the other, in divine scripture? What would be the consequences of a public revelation of this?
Many people have been part of the effort to oppress and deny freedom, justice and equality to Black People. Economics and politics have certainly been part of that effort. Has religion? Some have argued that the arguments that Jesus has White skin or that all of the great prophets and personalities in scripture have been made White, when other evidence shows they were Black or Brown-skinned; is the key to understanding the religious effort against non-Whites in the Western Hemisphere? Is that all? Or is there a critical element wrapped up in the identity of God's chosen people or a "no people"; and the warner or messenger or combination of such that is written to be sent to them, or even raised from among them?
Last century, J. Edgar Hoover wrote while running the FBI that he was looking to "prevent the rise of a Black Messiah." People use words loosely every day. Or they utilize words in one forum or discipline that have a root meaning or more common or appropriate usage in another discipline. Numerous people in politics use the word "messiah" for instance who have no idea of the root meaning of the word or the various concepts that are wrapped up in the word.
J. Edgar Hoover was no such person. He was a Shriner - a group of people who have studied intensely at least 35 to 50 years before they achieve the highest levels of knowledge and responsibility within the organization. Not every Mason is a Shriner. At the 32nd or 33rd degree of Masonry(the next-to-highest-or-highest level), members receive a Holy Qur'an. They are taught many secrets, parables and narratives. One of the most important is the story of Hiram Abiff. The story of Hiram Abiff is a parable of Black people being taken from Africa, by force, by Europeans, and brought to the Western Hemisphere and North America. In the account Hiram is eventually raised out of his grave by a Master. Shriners are taught many things about Black people in America - literally and in symbolic language. Some of what they are taught is a 64-year hidden history regarding the depth to which Blacks were stripped of the knowledge of themselves, from 1555 to 1619. Several U.S. Presidents have been Shriners. In 2000 there were at least 6 members of the United States Congress who were Shriners.
J. Edgar Hoover had more in his mind than the vast majority when he used the word "messiah" in conjunction with Black people.
As a Shriner who was given a Holy Qur'an, J. Edgar Hoover was familiar with the importance and central tenets of the book of scripture. Was J. Edgar Hoover familiar with Surah 32 and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad's arguments pertaining to it? As a Shriner familiar with the Holy Qur'an and a hidden history of Black people in America; as head of the FBI with access to the lessons of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad regarding the prophecies of the Holy Qur'an; and as an American familiar to some degree with the Bible and the history of Black people in America; did J. Edgar Hoover connect the "Black Messiah" he was looking to keep from rising, with his knowledge of the Holy Qur'an and the reality that the history of Black people in America, in many ways, reads a lot like the narrative of the Children Of Israel? Would this explain, in any way his ferocious opposition to Marcus Garvey in the 1920s? Did J. Edgar Hoover see messianic leadership characteristics for Black people in Marcus Garvey that he wanted to prevent from fully manifesting and spreading among Blacks in America and Africa? Did he and those who were educating him in the Shrine see Marcus Garvey, as perhaps a forerunner to such a messianic figure? In the late 1990s, Minister Jabril Muhammad, in his "Farrakhan The Traveler" article raised the question of how many of us have ever thought of Marcus Garvey in terms of John The Baptist? There are students and followers of Marcus Garvey who are aware of what the great Black leader thought of his leadership role relative to the future spread of the Islam in the Western Hemisphere.
Serious students and the very interested and curious should avail themselves to detailed accounts of Marcus Garvey's philosophy and beliefs and the virulent opposition he received from J. Edgar Hoover. Then look into how John The Baptist was opposed by Herod. And finally, one should dig deep into the seldom-publicized discussions among Christian scholars regarding the arguments of a few that John The Baptist was a or the long-awaited messiah. To this day there remains great confusion over the relationship between the Biblical John The Baptist, Elijah and Jesus and their respective identities. A study like that is very instructive especially when considered in light of Minister Jabril Muhammad's question from a few years ago, which many have overlooked, forgotten or ignored.
Still others have considered the relationship between the concept and identity of "Messiah" and the narrative of the Children Of Israel, which many believe to be prophecy. One such person was the late and highly respected theologian Dr. Hugh Schonfield. In his book, "The Mystery Of The Messiah," Mr. Schonfield writes:
What has to be clarified and appreciated is that the Bible presents us not only with an individual Messiah, but also essentially with a Messiah-collective. The Messiahship is shared (Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:15). The Nation-Messiah would have to be singular among the nations, set apart for the service and benefit of all peoples, and as a mediator Between God and Mankind.
So, when Abraham, the progenitor, was called to Canaan from Chaldea, he was told: "In thee shall all families of the Earth be blessed"(Genesis 12:3). The promise is reiterated that the nation arising from Abraham's descendants would be for the blessing of all nations. It will be agreed that this is a very exceptional reason for a nation's existence.
Here is no lust for conquest or tribal egoism. The function of this nation is to serve and to bless, to operate in a priestly capacity, performing as a mediator for the nation-states.
But for such a purpose a severe training and discipline was called for, a priestly code of national conduct, the experience of slavery, as in Egypt, and of homelessness, as in the wanderings in the Wilderness.
The Messianic requires us to read and study the books of Moses with a new appreciation and insight, not as something relating to a past experience which has been superseded, but as something of present and future relevance to that ideal world economy which would come to be expressed as the Kingdom or rule of God on Earth.
Dr. Schonfield spent considerable amount of time studying and writing about the contents of what popularly became referred to as the Dead Sea Scrolls - a collection of scrolls found in caves in the Middle East that contain the earliest known copies of several books of the Old Testament, as well as books that were taken out of the earliest known copies of the Bible. In addition, the Dead Sea Scrolls contain some striking and detailed writings that describe a clash between a particular people described as chosen by God and others who oppose them, vehemently. Dr. Schonfield wrote about the contents and leading figures of the Dead Sea Scrolls and his view of them in his book, The Passover Plot. In the final chapter, he writes of how the author(s) of the Dead Sea Scrolls wrote what they did for the benefit of a future people. Remember that Dr. Schonfield wrote in The Mystery Of The Messiah, that we are obligated, after understanding the Messiah concept in a new light, to "read and study the books of Moses with a new appreciation and insight, not as something relating to a past experience which has been superseded, but as something of present and future relevance." If we take what Dr. Schonfield wrote in both of his aforementioned books, we are faced with an argument that both the biblical narrative of the Children Of Israel in the first five books of the Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls have relevance to the future (well beyond the time they were written) and these days in particular. An excellent comprehensive book about the Dead Sea Scrolls is available in the BlackElectorate.com Book Store. It is called, The Meaning Of The Dead Sea Scrolls.
In 1976, Minister Jabril Muhammad and Dr. Hugh Schonfield engaged in a 7-letter exchange regarding the Dead Sea Scrolls and their future relevance. To learn more about what led to their communication and more of the details of the subject of their correspondence, join Minister Jabril Muhammad's WrittenTestimony.com mailing list.
Many of us in the Black community have been cautioned by intellectuals and political leaders against persisting in any expectation or preference for a "messianic-style" of leadership. I have repeatedly heard and seen Professor Cornel West, now of Princeton University make this admonition. Professor West openly states that he is a Christian. I have always found his remarks and those of others who speak in a similar vein to be striking. The sentiment is usually the same. These warnings come from people who are uncomfortable with the idea of a single leader for an entire people. I never hear such discussions in other communities. But in every community, nation and form of government that I have studied - secular and religious - there is always a single leader, as head of a community body. The theocratic form of government includes councils, leading groups of disciples and elders, but always a single prominent leader with a chief helper or assistant.
Have J. Edgar Hoover and others been so successful in "beheading" the Black community that we now rebel against the natural idea of a body of people having a head? Have Black people internalized what their enemies have sought, externally - that they should have no "messiah" rise among them to lead them out of the worst aspects and legacy of their excruciating 400-plus year experience in America? Perhaps this attitude serves the religious aspects of the effort against Black people - that they would never see themselves fully on the pages of scripture. And if a warner or messenger were sent to them or raised from among their own, they would be predisposed to reject him (or them).
But even that rejection was forseen and described in advance. And according to the narrative in the scriptures would be overcome, in the last days.
Thursday, January 16, 2003