The Spiritual History of the Dead Sea Sect and Jewish Sources in Early Christianity by David Flusser are now available on the Internet Archive!
In this study Professor Ruzer suggests that there was a broader first-century Jewish context behind the narrative strategies employed in Mark’s prologue to Jesus’ messianic biography. On the other hand, he also demonstrates that Mark 1:9-11 can be used to recover an early phase of a pattern of messianic belief, seemingly shared by wider Judaism, that continued into the rabbinic period. In other words, New Testament evidence can be an important witness to broader trajectories in early Jewish messianic beliefs.
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Melchizedek in Second Temple-period literature is a figure who combines the roles of the kingly messiah and the priestly messiah. In the Second Temple period, this figure, who was quite marginal in the Bible (Gen. 14; Ps. 110), develops into an elevated messianic figure in some circles. Was Melchizedek a messianic figure for broad Jewish circles or just for small groups?
Among the more creative scriptural interpretations related to the fulfillment of prophecy in our day is one centering on Jeremiah 16:16. According to it, the “hunters” in this verse are the brutal pursuers of the Jewish people, such as the Nazis who systematically murdered millions of Jews. The “fishers,” on the other hand, are the quiet and gentle persons who assist the Jewish people, for instance, the Christians who presently are engaged in rescuing Jews from the republics of the former Soviet Union.
Couched within Jesus’ teaching is an idiom which is difficult to translate, “If your eye is single, your whole body is full of light” (Matt. 6:22). The Hebraic expression, “good eye” to denote generosity is well known in the Bible (Deut. 15:9; Prov. 22:9; 23:6; 28:22; Eccl. 14:10) and the writings of Israel’s Sages (m. Avot 5:15). Nevertheless, in Matthew 6, where you would expect to find the idiom, “good eye,” the adjective used in our saying is not καλός (kalos, good, pleasant) but ἁπλοῦς (haplous, single, simple).
One of the most poignant pictures which exemplify the chasm of historical misunderstanding between Jews and Christians is that found in Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. It is a photograph of a life-size crucifix that stood outside an unknown German village prior to World War II. In a twist of tragic irony a sign was hung on the cross to warn Jews not to enter the village. It read: “Jews are not welcome here.”
The New Testament is one the best sources of information on the Second Temple period, and one of the most important groups of that era was the mysterious and monk-like Essenes. So it is especially curious that the New Testament never directly mentions the Essenes. Its failure to discuss the Essenes openly is even more curious in view of the fact that Josephus held them to be as significant as the Pharisees or the Sadducees.
Many images flash across the mind when this sect of Jewish mystics is mentioned. Life in the desert, asceticism, harsh discipline, caves, scrolls and idealism seem inextricably associated with the Essenes. It is these images that Professor David Flusser addresses, attempting to carry the reader back through the centuries to explore the life and thought of these fascinating men. His purpose is to paint a broader picture of the Essene sect so often neglected by the generally narrow focus of the scholarly world.
There is a vast difference between the approach of the Essenes toward unbelievers, and that of Jesus and his disciples. The Essenes practiced extreme separatism, particularly forbidding economic relations with outsiders. Whoever wanted to follow Jesus, however, had to live in brotherly love with the outside world and not withdraw from society. This emphasis on relations with others not only guaranteed Jesus’ followers friendship with outsiders, but helped open non-believers’ hearts to Jesus’ message of love.