Did the Qumran Sect Believe in Resurrection?

For many years, scholars did not know whether the Qumran sect believed in resurrection or not. Although scholars rightly took Josephus' description of their afterlife beliefs with a grain of salt, they nevertheless found the lack of mention of the doctrine intriguing. But that changed with the release of manuscript 4Q521, now often referred to as the "Resurrection fragment." Here are the most cited passages:

The heavens and the earth will listen so His Messiah, and none therein will stray from the commandments of the holy ones.

Seekers of the Lord, strengthen yourselves in His service!
All you hopeful in your heart, will you not find the Lord in this?
For the Lord will consider the pious and call the righteous by name.
Over the poor His spirit will hover and will renew the faithful with His power.
And He will glorify the pious on the throne of the eternal Kingdom.
He who liberates the captives, restores sight to the blind, straightens the bent,

And forever I will cleave to the hopeful and in His mercy….
And the fruit will not be delayed for anyone
And the Lord will accomplish glorious things which have never been
As He….
For He will heal the wounded, and revive the dead and bring good news to the poor
…. He will lead the uprooted and knowledge….

The part about reviving the dead is found in line 12. Many Jewish and Christian scholars have concluded that this is definitive evidence that the Qumran community believed in the bodily resurrection of the dead. Geza Vermes writes that this fragment “describes God in the age of the Messiah as healing the wounded and reviving the dead. If this poem is an Essene composition and not a psalm dating to the late biblical period, it can be said that one out of many hundreds of Qumran manuscripts definitely testifies to the sect’s belief in bodily resurrection.” Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls, page 89. Another top scholar, James Charlesworth, agrees:

Thanks to the recent publication of fragments of scrolls available since the 1950s, it is now clear that a hope and belief in an afterlife and postmortem resurrection is explicit in some scrolls found in the Qumran caves. The claim that no passage in the Dead Sea Scrolls refers to the belief in a resurrection after death is now disproved by the publication of some fragments that clearly refer to this belief…. This is an obvious reference to the resurrection of the dead. What is clear in On Resurrection is the presences of a belief in the resurrection of the dead; what has been disputed is the means and actor. It seems clear, though, that God, either directly or through his Messiah, will raise up, ‘bring life,’ to those who are dead.

Resurrection: The Origin and Future of a Biblical Doctrine, page 15.

As is often the case in New Testament studies, there are dissenters. Joseph Fitzmyer, also a noted DSS scholar, believes it is “unfortunate” to refer to this passage as discussing “resurrection.” The word ‘resurrection’ evokes different images among readers, Jewish and Christian; so it is better avoided in the interpretation of the Jewish text. For ‘resuscitation,’ which is the proper understanding of line 12 of this text, is something different from ‘resurrection,’ whether that of Jesus Christ or of the general resurrection of the dead.” Joseph Fitzmyer, The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins, page 95. Fitzmyer’s point is that line 12 refers not to a general resurrection of Jews, but – apparently – to discrete miracles by the expected Messiah. N.T. Wright agrees, stating:

[T]his tantalizingly fragmentary text speaks of the work of the coming Messiah, and does so in language not dissimilar to Matthew 11.2-6/Luke 7.18-23, with obvious echoes of biblical prophecies. The prediction that the Messiah will make the dead live does not seem to be a prophecy of eventual resurrection in the sense intended by Daniel 12, but rather of the sort of actions performed by Elijah and Elisha – and, according to the gospels, by Jesus – in bringing back into present life some who had just died: a dramatic extension of ‘healing’, in fact.

Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God, pages 186-87.

There point is that since the above passage refers to the Messiah raising the dead, it is not referring to the final resurrection but only to certain miracles performed by the Messiah. But though they disagree with the interpretation of line 12, they do think that elsewhere in manuscript 4Q521 there is evidence of belief in a general resurrection. The passage is from 4Q521, 2, 2:1-137 + 5 ii 6:

…see all the Lord has made: the earth and all that is in it, the seas and all they contain, and all the reservoirs of waters and torrents. . . . those who do what is good before the Lord . . . like these, the accursed. And they shall be for death . . . he who gives life to the dead of his people. We shall give thanks and announce to you .. of the Lord, who.

Because this passage unambiguously refers to resurrection being performed by God, it is evidence that the Qumran community -- at some point at least -- had members who affirmed the resurrection of the dead rather than the immorality of the soul.

But are Fitzmyer and Wright correct in dismissing the first passage about raising the dead? I think they are correct in noting the that line 12 refers to the activities of the coming messiah. And it is true that Matthew and Luke used a similar statement to refer to Jesus' miracle working rather than to the general resurrection of the dead. Must we, however, conclude that the Qumran community used the statement in the same way as the early Christians?

I think not.

Christianity departs from most Jewish thought in believing in a Messiah who comes before the full establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. To most Jews, however, the Messiah’s arrival ushers in that Kingdom. This more traditional perspective is well-represented in 4Q521, with its references to establishing the righteous on the throne of the "eternal Kingdom," liberating the captives, and doing glorious things that have never before been seen. Moreover, since the general resurrection occurs at that time, could this passage not be referring to the general resurrection mediated through the presence of the Messiah? I need to do some more work on the eschatological beliefs of the Essenes, but the possibility that line 12 refers to a resurrection of the dead by God through his Messiah seems worth exploring.

In any event, the answer to the titular question is, Yes. Whether we look only to the second passage accepted by even Fitzymer and Wright or to both passages, there is evidence of resurrection belief in the Qumran community.


Tenax said…

this is very good. Many thanks.

Alfed Edersheim demonstrated in his Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, that the idea of Messiahing coming before the kingdom and the end of the age, being rejected by his people, being imprioned, perhaps killed, returning latter with the Kingdom, was standard for second temple Judastic beliefs.

The issue would be that his evidence from from largely Talmudic sources meaning that he is reading that back into two or three centuries prior to the period from which his evidence comes. But Edersheim hmiself admits this and argues that these beliefs came from the ground up. Tehy worked their way into Rabbinical commentary form the popular masses over time.

The evidence for this view is clear, the Jews as a Rabbinical group were making moves to seperate themselves from Christian belief from the destrution of the temle onward. Yet, this belief would seem to move back toward Christian style beliefs. That is a good indication that it was still clinging to certin Rabbniical circles from an easlier period.
slaveofone said…
From studying numerous scholastic works on patriarchal history, I've learned a principle of cautious skepticism that would apply to this situation. One of the problems encountered in the study and search for patriarchal history when a wealth of material in the ANE began to be uncovered from sites like Nuzi, Mari, Ugarit, etc, is that some scholars would make assumptions about the patriarchs based on 1. evidence at a single site instead of multiple sites, 2. a single tablet in an entire archive at a site, or 3. a single fragment or sentence of a tablet. Inevitably, almost all these assumptions about the patriarchs based on fragmentary and isolated evidence (or in some instances, hypothetical reconstruction of that scare evidence) were invalidated.

This relates to the issue of the post in that a very small amount of data from a random piece of evidence has been picked up as the basis for holding an opinion about the belief system of an entire community or cult. Is it wise to assume--especially when we have so many instances in the past of this sort of assumption failing--that a single textual example represents a much wider spectrum not only of belief, but material representing that belief that has not been discovered and would increasingly confirm the picture that this one text gives us if they were found?
slaveofone said…
Either no one cares or I hit the nail on the head...
Gary said…
Are our pastors telling us the truth?

Are Christian pastors honest with their congregations regarding the evidence for the Resurrection? Is there really a "mountain of evidence" for the Resurrection as our pastors claim or is the belief in the Resurrection based on nothing more than assumptions, second century hearsay, superstitions, and giant leaps of faith?

You MUST read this Christian pastor's defense of the Resurrection and a review by one of his former parishioners, a man who lost his faith and is now a nonbeliever primarily due to the lack of good evidence for the Resurrection:

-A Review of LCMS Pastor John Bombaro's Defense of the Resurrection-

(copy and paste this article title into your browser to find and read this fascinating review of the evidence for the Resurrection)
Anonymous said…
The original post concerned the belief in resurrection among the Qumran community. While several Scroll texts may be produced in support of the claim that there was such a belief, there are only a few such texts, and at this point resurrection does not seem to have played a major role in "the Qumran eschatology" (if there was such a thing).
There are some who argue that the Sadducees are to be understood as the true descendants or followers of Zadok the Priest. There seems to be some good evidence that the community at Qumran understood themselves as such (hence, Sadducees?), but there was also a priestly cadre at Jerusalem who also considered themselves as sons of Zadok (i.e., Sadducees). We have been led to believe by ancient sources that the Sadducees did not believe in a "resurrection", hence is is assumed (but not proven) that the Qumran folk (if they were Sadducees) did not believe in a resurrection.

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