Book Review – “A Man Attested by God” by Daniel Kirk (part 4 – Priests as Idealized Human Figures)

This is my fourth post containing my review and thoughts on Daniel Kirk’s newest volume, A Man Attested by God: The Human Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels. Today we will look at the significantly important section on Priests as “idealized human beings” in Judaism, data upon which the Synoptic evangelists drew in order to articulate their christological conceptions of Jesus of Nazareth. Kirk covers a lot of complicated ground, so as usual I will use bullet points and put my own thoughts in italics.

  • Melchizedek in Scripture– This enigmatic figure developed in tradition by combining priest.JPGthe priestly image in Genesis 14 and the kingly role in Psalm 110. Since King David and his sons, on rare occasions, functioned as both kings and priests (2 Sam 8:18) this allows Psalm 110 to promote a human lord as the idealized priestly king. Furthermore, Psa 110:1 envisages this human lord as exalted to God’s right hand, followed by an appointment of priesthood forever (110:4). Yet this figure is distinct from YHWH in both Genesis 14 and Psalm 110.
  • Melchizedek in Qumran – The Temple scroll (11Q13) identifies Melchizedek as “god” of Psalm 82, which is generally understood to be referring to human judges. Kirk rightly notes that this is in line with previous attributions of elohim to the human king (Psa 45:6; Isa 9:6). As priest, this figure represents both sides, human and divine. Therefore, Melchizedek becomes an intense figure crossing the boundaries between God and humans without compromising strict monotheism.
  • Priest in Sirach – Written in a period when Israel only possessed priest and no kings, Sirach highlights Simon ben Onias as an idealized human figure echoing divine images drawn from the vision in Ezek 1:28. He may even be intended to be understood as one reflecting the “glory of Adam” (which appears in both Qumran and Paul). Of no small significance is that Sirach 24 describes Lady Wisdom as the personification of God’s wise ordering in creation, only to take those traits and give them to the high priest Simon in Sirach 50 (thus making Simon the poetic incarnation of Wisdom nearly three hundred years before the Gospel of John was completed). The same chapter takes images of the idealized Davidic ruler from Psalm 89 and reinterprets them for Simon the priest.
  • Testament of Levi – An eschatological priest evokes God’s glory reminiscent of Moses’ face in Exodus. Furthermore, he is gifted with the heavenly spirit of understanding and sanctification, allowing him to bound Belial and the ability to grant authority to others over wicked spirits. There is a lot of food for thought regarding depictions of Jesus along these very lines of thinking.
  • Jubilees – More priests are depicted as possessors of the divine glory. These priest perform functions on earth likened unto angelic functions taking place in heaven.
  • Priests in Qumran – 1Q28b ushers in a blessing for the community’s priest so that they may shine with heavenly angelic light, thus illuminating the congregation. This draws upon Moses’ face and the Aaronic benediction of Numbers 6, but goes further than the picture of Moses and states that these priests will indeed allow their glorious faces to shine upon their people. These priests are nevertheless still human figures, albeit while possessing luminous glory of their God. 4Q400 depicts the priests who serve in the holy temple as ascending into the heavenly throne room. They also are agents through whom God’s sanctification is carried to the holy people. 4Q418 notes how the addressee (either a king, priest, or ruler) is described as a “holy of holies over all the earth.” This make the inner room of the Jerusalem temple into a person, one who bears in himself the very presence of Israel’s God (or as I call it, “poetic incarnation”). The Self-Glorification Hymn (4Q471b, 4Q491c) depicts a singer, who is a “friend of the king” who is exalted to heaven, seated, and sharing in the lot of the angels. Yet this person is a human member of the Qumran community, albeit a highly exalted human figure. My favorite citation made by Kirk is 4QApocryphon of Levi wherein the human eschatological high priest is described as sharing in the creative word of God which made the Genesis creation. Kirk summarizes the scroll’s contribution by noting that the “priest is identified with God through the recapitulation of God’s role in creation…without any indication that the priest is being identified as God or as some other divine being.”


Kirk also has an interesting section noting that at least habpeshertwo times in the DSS the authors replaced the divine name (YHWH) with the name of a human priest (just as the NT does with Jesus in Rom 10:13 and Acts 2:21). In particular, the moreh hatzadik (“Teacher of Righteousness”) in the Habakkuk Pesher puts the reference to the teacher in for the divine name. This also occurs in 4Q167 where the “last priest” replaces the first person reference to Yahweh’s “I” in Hosea 5:14. This observation is hugely significant, noting that the NT authors were not going rogue in their high claims made of Jesus. They were only doing what other Jews were practicing before them.

Although one might not think that a study on priests bears any significant relevance on the development of Christology, this section of Kirk’s book argues persuasively to the contrary. I feel a growing excitement reading this book, attempting to process all of the small changes this makes for some of the more popular arguments regarding the divinity of Jesus which now are shown to have a broken foundation. It might be a little premature for me to state this, but Daniel Kirk’s contribution here might be as noteworthy as James Dunn’s Christology in the Making published some thirty years ago.

Do the Dead Sea Scrolls Preserve a Better Version of 1 Samuel?

One of the most significant discoveries in the cache of texts discovered in the caves near the Qumran settlement is the scroll containing 1 Samuel. This scroll, which is several centuries older than the oldest 1 Samuel texts scholars possessed prior to the DSS discovery, contains a noteworthy passage at the end of chapter ten. Most modern translations, which are based off of the Masoretic text, reads as follows:

(10:27) But certain worthless men said, “How can this one deliver us?” And they despised him and did not bring him any present. But he kept silent. (11:1) Now Nahash the Ammonite came up and besieged Jabesh-gilead; and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, “Make a covenant with us and we will serve you.”

However, the scroll in the DSS which records 1 Samuel adds the italicized text as follows:

But certain worthless men said, “How can this one deliver us?” And they despised him and did not bring him any present. But he kept silent.   Now Nahash, king of the Ammonites, had been grievously oppressing the Gadites and the Reubenites. He would gouge out the right eye of each of them and would not grant Israel a deliverer. No one was left of the Israelites across the Jordan whose right eye Nahash, king of the Ammonites, had not gouged out. But there were seven thousand men who had escaped from the Ammonites and had entered Jabesh-gilead.   Now Nahash the Ammonite came up and besieged Jabesh-gilead; and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, “Make a covenant with us and we will serve you.”

As you can see, there is a section between what we call 1 Sam, 10:27 and 11:1 which was preserved in the DSS which was unknown to the Masorites. This small passage, known as 4QS1, seems to be the appropriate transition between the end of 1 Sam. 10 and the beginning of 1 Sam. 11.

What is even more interesting is that Josephus seems to be aware of this passage when he recounts the Antiquities of the Jews (6:68-71). The text is, however, absent from the LXX, which itself was forced to add the words “about a month later” in order to smooth over the rough transition between 1 Sam. 10:27 and 11:1.

Thus far (correct me if I am mistaken) it seems that the only translation which has included the lost passage into the main body of Scriptural text is the NRSV. Others have moved it to a footnote (Holman, TNIV, JPS, NLT).

DSS 4QSambHow have scholars of 1 Samuel addressed this issue? Ralph W. Klein, in his contribution to the Word Biblical Commentary includes the passage and views it as a restoration of the original text (p. 103). In the New Interpreter’s Bible, Bruce C. Birch offers commentary on the passage as if it was a legitimate as the rest of 1 Samuel’s text (pp. 1053-4). He also points out that the NIV has chosen not to include it in their translation.

My question is this: if the DSS have truly preserved a passage of 1 Samuel which was accidentally lost before the Masorites composed their text, should modern translations start including it?



Who were the Essenes and what did they believe?

This is part of a study I am doing on the variety of Judaisms available to both Jesus and Paul. Hope that someone finds it useful. Looking forward to any comments or interaction.

In a rather ironic way, the Jewish sect which is not spoken about within the New Testament happens to be the one which we know the most about. The discovery of the scrolls in the 1940s has since then opened up the world of ancient Judaism with new information as well as new questions. There is now a scholarly consensus that Qumran housed an Essene community which produced most, if not all, of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Comments from both Philo[1] and Josephus[2] indicate that this was not the only group of Essenes in existence, but it seems to be the only group whose writings survived for us to study.[3]

The community at Qumran is the best example of a “sect” in the modern understanding of the term. Their theology which is recorded in their writings establishes them as a sectarian Jewish group. Their origin is best placed in the Hasmonean period as a response to the growing acceptance of Hellenism among the priestly aristocracy. Many of their works indicate that they saw themselves as a counter-temple movement (hence their withdrawal into the wilderness). Their insistence on purity has led some scholars to think that the founders of the Qumran community were initially priests. They focused on interpreting Scripture in dynamic ways, known to us as the pesher method.

As was indicated before, the number of writings left by the Essenes puts the historian in a good place when it comes to reconstructing their beliefs and practices. They saw God as a God of grace and mercy, using similar language found in the Hebrew Bible.[4] This God had called this community into covenant with him and designated them as the elect.[5] The Essenes saw their response to God’s covenant initiative as one of free choice, using language such as “freely volunteer,” “submit freely,” etc.[6] They show legitimate sorrow for their sins by freely confessing them and admitting their guilt.[7] They even interpret the nature of covenant obedience with Shema language:

they shall enroll him with the covenant oath which Moses established with Israel, the covenant to rev[ert to] the Torah of Moses with the whole heart [and with the whole] soul…when he has imposed upon himself to return to the Torah of Moses with all his heart and all his soul. –CD 15.8-10, 12-13.

The label of “prideful” or “self-righteous” can hardly be a fair claim upon members of this sect, especially when they frequently speak of God’s own righteousness as the means of bringing forgiveness, atonement, salvation, and deliverance.[8] 

The Essenes could quite easily be classified as the most sectarian group of Jews known to us within the second temple period. They considered only themselves as the true “congregation of Israel.”[9] God was depicted by the Qumran community as “hating” those who rejected his precepts (as interpreted by the sect).[10] Their covenant identity was bound together in their specific interpretations of purity rules,[11] Sabbath stipulations,[12] and calendar designations.[13] These boundary markers are labeled “works of the Law,” a phrase which precedes the usage of Paul’s letters to the Galatians and Romans.[14] The observance of these works, quite specifically, gave the Essenes the understanding that they “have segregated ourselves from the rest of the people in order for us to avoid mingling in these affairs and associating with them in these things.”[15]

Those Jews who have rejected the Essene’s way of life were cursed with considerable vernacular. Those associated with the corrupt temple are labeled as “sons of the pit”[16] while the one in charge is often designated as the Wicked Priest.[17] False Jews are called “traitors,”[18] “sons of destruction,”[19] and most harshly, the “sons of Belial.”[20] In fact, those who refuse to join the community are not included with the community’s definition of the “upright.”[21]

Since the community was conceived by former priest, it can be expected that the purity regulations would be quite strict, and that is in fact the case.[22] The document entitled The Rule of the Congregation actually lists who cannot be admitted into the midst of the congregation, including those defiled in flesh, paralyzed in the feet or hands, the lame, blind, deaf, mute, or visibly blemished in the flesh.[23] If someone in the community voluntarily became impure, there was a threat of expulsion from the camp.[24] If one went so far as to use the pronunciation of the name of God, then they were to be excluded as well.[25]

Something that makes the Essenes stand out from among their Jewish contemporaries is their devotion to a single leader. Throughout their writings is mention of the Teacher of Righteousness, a prophet like figure who was thought to have been given Danielic abilities to interpret the Scriptures. To demonstrate the significance of the role which the Essenes gave to this teacher, a look at the Habakkuk pesher is needed:

(quote from Hab. 2:4) and not be pleased at the judgment… but the righteous (man) by his fidelity shall live. Its interpretation denotes all those who obey the Torah in the house of Judah whom God will rescue from the midst of the house of the judgment because of their suffering and their faith/fidelity to the Teacher of Righteousness. -1QpHab 7.16-8.3, my translation.

What is so fascinating here is how the Qumran community are reading Hab. 2:4 within their own context. The Habakkuk Pesher shows that they saw true covenant faithfulness as loyalty/faith to/in the leader, the Teacher of Righteousness.[26] This makes the Jesus movement in the first century C.E. not as different as scholars once supposed. Both groups define themselves as the true Israel by their faith/fidelity in their leader. I’ll have more to say on this later.

The Essenes, like the Pharisees, believed in the future resurrection into the world to come[27] where the righteous would share in the glory of Adam.[28] When the time came for the final apocalyptic intervention by God, the Essenes believed that they would actually fight in the decisive battle.[29] It seems that they saw the purity expectations of the priestly clan in Jerusalem as heavily compromised with the spirit of Hellenism and wrote them off as impure Jews. The Pharisees, I argue, are those who seek smooth things.[30] This must be a verbal polemic against their oral laws (which the Essenes seemed to reject) or attempts to flatter the people. As I argued earlier, the Essenes saw the purity regulations of the Sadducees concerning the dead as not going far enough. In short, the community at Qumran saw humanity fitting into two groups: the righteous Essenes and everyone else.

[1] Prob. 76.

[2] War 2.124.

[3] The most comprehensive collection of the scrolls set alongside the Hebrew/Aramaic is Martinez, F. Garcia, and Tigchelaar, E.J.C., The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, 2 vols, (Brill/Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997).

[4] 1QS 1.22; 4.4; 11.12-13; 1QH 5[13].23.

[5] 1QM 10.9-10; 13.7-9.

[6] 1QS 1.7, 11; 5.21.

[7] 1QH 9[1].21-3; 12[4].29, 34-6.

[8] 1QH 4.17; 7.17; 12.7; 19.30-32; 1QM 11.3-5; 14.4-5; 18.7-8; 1QS 1.21-22; 3.10-12; 10.23; 11.2, 3, 5, 11-12, 14; CD 1.4-8, 17-20; 3.13-20; 6.2; 7.4-6; 8.1-2; 19.26-28.

[9] 1QSa 1.1; 1QS 2.22; 5.5, 22.

[10] CD 19.31-34.

[11] CD 10.10-13; 12.1-23.

[12] CD 10.14-11.23.

[13] 4QMMT A.1-5.

[14] 4QMMT A.113.

[15] 4QMMT A.92-3.

[16] CD 6.14-18.

[17] 1QpHab 8.8-9.

[18] 1QPHab 2.1-4; 5.3-8.

[19] 1QH 13[5].25.

[20] 1QH 13[5] 26.

[21] 1QS 3.1.

[22] 11Q Temple 47.

[23] 1QSa 2.3-10. See also a shorter list in CD 15.15-16.

[24] 1QS 7.26-7.

[25] 1QS 6.27-7.1.

[26] Wise, Abegg, and Cook offer commentary which is worth considering: “The writer here contemplates the final judgment. How may one escape the wrath to come? By obedience to the Law and loyalty to the Teacher. It is not clear if the Teacher here mentioned is the founder of the sect, or a Teacher who will appear later. The sect appeared to believe in both a present and future Teacher of Righteousness. Whether they were one and the same is still debated.” Wise, M., Abegg Jr., M., Cook, E. The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation – Translated and with Commentary (New York: Harper Collins, 1996) 119.

[27] 1QH 14.8, 34; 19.12-13; 4Q385; 4Q386, 4Q521.

[28] CD 3:20; 1QS 4.23; 1QH 4[17].15.

[29] The cache of weapons unearthed by archeologists digging in Qumran give us this indication.

[30] Saldarini thinks that the phrase encompasses a broad coalition of groups with included the Pharisees. He argues that the Essenes used the term against those who were too accommodating with changes to Jewish culture and society.  See his comments in ABD 5:301.