08/07/2013 10:22 pm ET Updated Oct 07, 2013

Internal Evidence vs. External Evidence Like Carbon Testing in the Dead Sea Scrolls

There are two kinds of data for materials such as those found at Qumran (the Dead Sea Scrolls), 'external' and 'internal.' 'External data' consist of things like archaeology, paleography, and carbon dating. In a situation like of the Scrolls, the latter turn out to often be either imprecise or unreliable.

It has been my position from the beginning of my work (the 70's), in a situation of the kind represented by the materials and discoveries at Qumran, when there is a contradiction between the results of techniques such as these and 'the Internal Data' - meaning, what the documents themselves say which is what my books generally focus on - then 'the internal data' must take precedence, given the quality, imprecision, and kind of 'the external data' that exists for Qumran.

While many might be familiar with the latter - what, for instance, might be considered 'internal data' where the Scrolls are concerned? Unfortunately, the outside observer must actually read the documents themselves to grasp this - which first of all are not easy for the non-specialist (to say nothing of for the 'specialist') to know these. Primarily these consist of the most important allusions at Qumran (a term 'scholars' generally use when referring to the Scrolls). These include references such as 'making a Straight Way in the wilderness,' alluded to twice in the document called "The Community Rule" at Qumran and one of the first douments found there in Cave I; and, as is generally well known, associated with the teaching and coming of John the Baptist 'in the wilderness' in the Synoptic Gospels (that is Matthew, Mark, and luke - but not John).

A related terminology is 'the New Covenant,' a phrase originally based on Jeremiah 31:31 and a central theme of the Damascus Document, known of course as the basis of the word 'New Testament' (i.e., the 'New Covenant'). Equally important is the allusion to and exposition of Habakkuk 2:4, perhaps the climax of the Habakkuk Commentary (or, as we in the field call it, 'The Habakkuk Pesher') and perhaps the central Scriptural building block of early Christian theology as set forth by Paul in Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews and, of course, in James.

Related to these and, in particular, this last are the repeated reference to the two 'Love Commandments' of 'Piety' and 'Righteousness' (I will capitalize important concepts just as I will italicize important phrases and ideas whether in quotations or part of my own exposition) - in Josephus defined as, 'loving God' and 'loving your neighbor as yourself' - and 'Justification' theology generally. Not only are these the essence, allegedly, of 'Jesus'' (also, I prefer to put 'Jesus'' name in single quotes) teaching in the Gospels and James' in the Letter ascribed to his name in the New Testament and in early Church literature generally; but they are also the basis in the picture provided by Josephus of John the Baptist's teaching and a central category of 'Essene' doctrine as well (see Josephus' famous description of John in The Antiquities - patently more reliable than that in the Gospels based upon it).

Then there is the wide use of 'Zealot' and 'Nazirite' terminology (in the sense of 'Nazoraean' or 'Nazrene'), designations known to the First Century, but not clearly attested to in any consistent manner earlier. Related to these is 'the Poor' (in early Church literature, 'the Ebionites'), the only really clearly identifiable term of self-designation in the Dead Sea Scrolls - a denominative also designating the followers of James par excellence and the group succeeding or basically coeval with 'the Essenes.' In a controversial reference in the Habakkuk Pesher - a Document which, together with what is called the Psalm 37 Pesher, definitively denotes the followers of 'the Righteous Teacher' as 'the Poor,' that is, we are definitely in the realm both of 'the Ebionites' and of 'Ebionite' literature - not only would both of these be 'destroyed' or 'swallowed' by 'the Wicked Priest'; but, in turn, he would be made to 'drink the Cup of the Wrath of God' and 'paid the Reward which he paid the Poor' (i.e., 'the Ebionim')! Here 'the Cup of the Lord' relates to 'Divine Vengeance' which is, once again, also the sense of parallel allusions in the New Testament Book of Revelation.

Again there is an allusion to the same theme in the Psalm 37 Pesher and, as opposed to the superficial analyses early on in Qumran Studies, the allusion has nothing whatever to do with the 'drunkenness' of the Wicked Priest or consonantly any 'banquet' or 'dinner party' he might have been attending, except metaphorically (this, I explain, ad nauseum in all my books). On the contrary, as in Revelation 14:8-10 and 16:19, 'drinking his fill' of such a 'Cup' has to do with 'drinking his fill of the Cup of the Wrath of God' or 'the Divine Vengeance' which 'would be visited upon' or 'paid' the murderer of the Righteous Teacher for what he ('the Wicked Priest') did to him ('the Righteous Teacher') and his followers among 'the Poor.' The attestation of this usage in Revelation, not to mention the allusion to 'the Poor' connected in some manner with James in Galatians 2:10, again, should be seen as chronologically definitive 'internal data' no matter what the 'external' one chooses to evoke.

To name a few other such First-Century dating parameters: there is the insistence on 'fornication' as descriptive of the behaviour of the Ruling Establishment in the 'Three Nets of Belial' section of the Damascus Document (mostly in Columns IV-VII). In it, regardless of its meaning in any other context, 'fornication' is specifically defined in terms of 'polygamy,' 'divorce,' 'marrying nieces' and, curiously enough, 'sleeping with women during their periods' - all things that, taken as a whole, can be said to be descriptive of 'Herodians' and not 'Maccabeans.' Among Herodians, in particular, 'niece marriage' was rampant and an aspect of purposeful family policy.

Another of these so-called 'Nets' had to do with the 'pollution of the Temple.' Not only was this a matter not unrelated to 'things sacrificed to idols,' mentioned in both the 3rd Century Christian theologian Hippolytus' description of what he called 'the Sicarii Essenes' and in the Qumran Document known as 'MMT '; it is likewise a matter connected to James' directives to Overseas Communities, where it is also expressed in Acts 15:20 in terms of a variation 'pollutions of the idols.' Interestingly enough, this condemnation of 'eating things sacrificed to idols' is even found and grouped together with both 'fornication' and the language of 'being led astray' in Revelation 2:20 - all additional First-Century dating parameters.

Much debate, too, has crystallized about the term 'the Kittim,' so important to the literature and outlook of Qumran especially in the Commentaries ('the Pesharim'), the War Scroll, and those documents related to it. Several references are absolutely critical for the correct elucidation of this seemingly purposefully obscure allusion and archaism. The first is in a document called the Nahum Pesher where 'the Kittim' are specifically identified as 'coming after the Greeks.' Several others come in the Habakkuk and Psalm 37 Peshers where - in the former anyhow - they are specifically described as 'pillaging the Temple.' Josephus is very specific about this point and makes it quite plain - contrary to the rather simplistic scholarly 'Consensus' analyses of such matters - that there was no 'pillaging of the Temple' by the Romans either in 63 BC under Pompey because they wished to ingratiate themselves with the People; nor by Herod for the same reason in 37 BC who, Josephus tells us, actually had the soldiers paid out of his own purse to expressly avoid such a happenstance.

That leaves us only Vespasian and his son Titus to satisfy this characterization who did, in fact, plunder the Temple in 70 CE and used the proceeds afterwards to pay for the abomination, now famously referred to worldwide as 'the Coliseum.' There can be a no-more definitive chronological placement of the Habakkuk Pesher than this extremely telling allusion and this is what is meant by a proper appreciation of 'the internal data' being frustrated or rendered meaningless by inept and/or over-inflated claims for and reliance upon 'the external' - especially those like carbon testing which also depend on the interpretation of the data by the analyst.

Of course, in this context, too, there is the decisive reference to the Kittim 'sacrificing to their standards and worshipping their weapons of war.' Obviously, I am not the only one to have called attention to this crucial allusion in Column VI of the Habakkuk Pesher in its run-up to the interpretation of the all-important Habakkuk 2:4 ('The Righteous shalll live by his Faith'), which also includes reference to 'tax-farming' (known to have been carried out by the Romans) and the wholesale and wanton destruction wrought by these foreign invaders. It has likewise been pointed out by numerous commentators - but seemingly to little avail - that this is Roman military practice, not Hellenistic or Greek - and, specifically, Imperial Roman military practice from Augustus' time forward since the Emperor, whose bust was on the standards, had commencing in that period been deified and worshipped as a God.

Just as telling is the reference, immediately following this and just alluded to, to how these same violent and brutal 'Kittim,' who conquered 'Nation after Nation,' had 'no pity even on the fruit of the womb' - Josephus describes just such carnage by the Sea of Galilee in 67 CE in the run-up to the siege of Jerusalem two years later where the Romans - Nazi-style and joyfully - did actually kill just such infants - and 'whose eating was plenteous,' 'parcelled out' their taxes like fishermen catching fish in their nets. Here, to be sure, one has a combination of motifs familiar in the 'fishermen' and 'nets' allusions in the Gospels - of course, as always, with reverse or more effectively trivializing signification. Matthew 17:25-27 even goes so far in response to matters concerning the paying of 'tribute' (in this case, delineated in terms of paying the Temple tax) to actually portray Jesus as sending his favorite Apostle 'Peter' (also a Galilean 'fisherman') to the Sea of Galilee to retrieve the required coinage out of the mouth of a fish!

In addition, however, as just alluded to as well - but it is worth repeating - it is clear that what is being described in this pivotal section of the Habakkuk Pesher is the well-known Roman administrative practice of 'tax-farming' particularly among the petty Kings in the East (like the 'Herodians', who functioned as Roman juridical and 'tax-gathering' officials - in the Gospels, that is, 'Publicans'!) and which the Romans practised so assiduously in the Eastern part of the Empire (therefore, the 'Census' referred to in Luke). Once again, these petty or Eastern Kings were specifically referred to in Roman juridical language as 'Kings of the Peoples' - of which such 'Herodians' were prototypical. This is clear to anyone who looks into this subject. Here, too, the exact phraseology actually appears in the Damascus Document in describing just such kinds of 'pollution' - which included even 'polluting the Temple Treasury,' 'robbing of Riches,' and 'approaching near kin for fornication'- meaning, 'marriage with nieces' and 'close family cousins' (again, this is from Columns IV-VII of the so-called Damascus Document).

Of course, once one has accepted such evidence, it must be accepted, as we have been trying to point out, that all 'sectarian'-style texts - or those referred to also as 'extra-Biblical' at Qumran - have to have been written at more or less the same time since they all use the same vocabulary, refer to the same dramatis personae, and express basically the same concerns and orientation. As hard as this may be to appreciate for those making superficial analyses on the basis of pseudo- or quasi-scientific 'external data', this is true and defeats both palaeographic theorizing and archaeological reconstructions, such as they are, not to mention the 'wishful thinking' embedded in the unrealistic expectation or inflation of 'the results' of radiocarbon test-data analysis and the margins-of-error implicit in them. To be sure, there may be copies made of copies, but all of the key 'extra-Biblical' or 'sectarian' texts - except some very early apocryphal and pseudepigraphic ones - particularly those including real historical indications or dating parameters, had to have been written in more or less or at the same period of time.

One could go on perhaps endlessly to give examples of allusions or expressions from the Scrolls demonstrating a First-Century CE provenance for these kinds of later 'sectarian' Documents, all of a kind - but not a particularly earlier one. Two of the most telling of these are 'the House of his Exile' or 'his Exiled House,' used in the Habakkuk Pesher to describe a final confrontation of some kind between 'the Wicked Priest' - clearly the Establishment High Priest of the time - and 'the Righteous Teacher,' which seems to have ended up in the destruction of the latter along with a number of his followers referred to, as just noted, by the very telling terminology of 'the Poor' (Ebionim).

No sense whatever has ever been made of this 'House of Exile' by any commentator (including, as far as I can see, the recently-departed, late Professor Geza Vermes of Oxford, who literally portrays me almost as an idiot in his work - please, don't all agree); but, as I think I have in work after work - which of course, he gives very little evidence of ever having read - repeatedly demonstrated; it clearly relates to the 'Exile' of the Sanhedrin around the 30's-60's CE, frequently attested to in the Talmud (therefore, the 'House' in question is 'his House,' meaning the High Priest's 'House' and not the 'house' of the Righteous Teacher as per the usual 'dumb-bell' exposition - Hebrew typically being imprecise in genitives of this kind), from its place of sitting in the Great Stone Chamber on the Temple Mount to a 'House' outside its precincts (not unlike the trial at 'the House of the High Priest' in Luke 22:54/Matthew 26:57 in the New Testament) - the implication of this being in both the Talmud and Josephus that, because of this, all capital sentences imposed in this Period under such jurisdiction were to be considered unlawful or invalid.

Finally there is the reference in the Damascus Document to 'raising' or 're-erecting the fallen Tabernacle of David' in a Land seemingly North of 'Damascus' (this comes in Column VII and also in the quasi-duplicate material in the 2nd Document found at the end of the 19th Century in the Cairo Genizah and to some extent paralleled at Qumran - usually referred to as Columns XIX-XX). But this usage is also one expressly attributed to and expounded by James in his speech at the famous so-called 'Jerusalem Council' in Acts 15:16, which I elaborate in considerable detail particularly my two books: James the Brother of Jesus (Penguin, 1998) and the whole second part of The New Testament Code (Watkins/Sterling, 2006).

Another such allusion, expressly attributed to James in early Church accounts of the circumstances leading up to his death (to say nothing of 'Jesus''), is the proclamation of 'the coming of the Heavenly Host upon the clouds of Heaven' which forms the backbone of the two extensive apocalyptic sections of the War Scroll - one in Column XI, significantly, proceeding upon the exposition of 'the Star Prophecy' in terms of the 'Messiah' and partially repeated at the end in Column XVIII. There, of course, it is 'the Star Prophecy' of Numbers 24:17 which is being both evoked and expounded and, once again, we have come full circle because, according to Josephus, this was the 'ambiguous Prophecy' - 'ambiguous' because it was capable of multiple interpretations - that 'most moved' the Jews to revolt against Rome.

To put this in another way: this 'Star Prophecy' of Numbers 24:17, referred to upwards of three times in the extant corpus at Qumran, together with Isaiah 10:34-11:5, also extant in Pesher-form in at least two contexts at Qumran, was the driving force behind the Revolt against Rome - again, yet another and, for the writer, unambiguous final dating parameter for the 'sectarian' documents found among the Qumran Scrolls. One need not mention, of course, the fact of the emergence of the whole 'Christian' tradition itself - another response to this 'ambiguous Prophecy.' Then, of course, there is the very term 'Damascus' itself, the esoteric meaning of which I delineate in the whole final section of my New Testament Code (2006 - mentioned above and, in pirated form, I think available on Scribed) and which can also be seen and downloaded in a paper by that name on my website:

Though one could go on and on in this vein, this is the kind of powerful 'internal evidence' (i. e., what the texts themselves say - not what 'scholars' say) that exists for a First-Century provenance of many crucial and interrelated texts at Qumran, particularly those called 'sectarian' or the ones never seen before - 'external evidence' notwithstanding.

Author note: This piece is based on a section from the Introduction to my book: The New Testament Code: The Cup of the Lord, the Damascus Covenant, and the Blood of Christ (Watkins/Sterling, London/New York, 2006)