The prophet Yeshu, Pt. 8—The DSS, Yeshu, and Samaria

In the previous post I identified Yeshu ha-Notrsi—whom I consider to have been the founder of Christianity—as a significant figure written about in the Dead Sea Scrolls: “the Man of the Lie.” Once this identification is made, it becomes possible to investigate the ministry and death of Yeshu via the DSS.

I have already noted that Yeshu, on his return from Egyptian exile shortly after the death of Aexander Janneus in 76 BCE, probably went to Samaria. This suspicion was initially based on evidence from Samaritan sources. They, however, are very late (dating to the Middle Ages). Welcome confirmation of a period of Yeshu’s activity in Samaria is now also to be found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

(a) “Therefore I will make Samaria a heap in the open country, a place for planting vineyards.” [Micah 1:6] This refers to the Spreader of Lies, who will mislead the simple-hearted. (1QpMic 8.3–5)

Here, the “Spreader of Lies” (Heb. matif ha-kezev) is simply a variation of the more common epithet “Man of the Lie” (ish ha-kezev) encountered in the DSS. The author of the Micah Pesher associates the Spreader of Lies with Samaria and, furthermore, he tells us that the Spreader of Lies misleads “the simple-hearted.” We thus infer that this Spreader of Lies was active in Samaria, and also that the Dead Sea Sect considered his teaching reprehensible.

We also learn from the foregoing citation that the Dead Sea Scrolls writer referred to the followers of the Man of the Lie/Spreader of Lies as “the simple-hearted.” Such a characterization is understandable. After all, the DSS represent the views of a priestly sect for which the finer points of the Mosaic Law were precious (cf. the lengthy Temple Scroll, possibly authored by the Teacher of Righteousness himself). It is not surprising that such ultra-correct sticklers for the Law considered gnostic-Buddhist supporters of Yeshu (who did away with the Law entirely) as little more than naive dupes. The term “simple-hearted” also occurs elsewhere in the scrolls. I propose that it is a favorite way in which the Dead Sea Sect referred to the followers of Yeshu ha-Notsri.

All this recalls the many acrid interactions depicted in the Christian gospels between Jesus and “Pharisees and scribes.” Tradition views those as interactions between Jesus and hostile elements of the Pharisaic establishment—generally taking place in the Galilee. Indeed, the gospels themselves conceive of those religious conflicts in such a way. But Pharisees were not yet in the Galilee at the turn of the era (they went up north only after the fall of the temple c. 70 CE). The Christian gospels have evidently transposed an earlier conflict between Yeshu ha-Notsri and members of the Dead Sea Sect, “Essenes.” These Essenes were found by the Dead Sea (Pliny) and also in other places of Judea (Josephus), including Jerusalem.

The foregoing explanation explodes another popular myth regarding Jesus: that he was an Essene. Quite the contrary: Jesus/Yeshu was inveterately opposed to the Essenes and, in fact, was successful in drawing disciples away from the Dead Sea Sect. Yeshu is best viewed as an independent preacher, one with unique and significant government connections who was, truth be told, a mortal enemy of the Essenes. For them, he was “the Man of the Lie.”

(b) The interpretation concerns those who lead Ephraim astray, who by their false teaching and their lying tongue and lip of deceit will lead many astray, kings, princes, priests, and people together with the resident alien. Cities and families will perish through their counsel, nobles and rulers will fall because of what they say. (4QpNahum 3–4.ii)

The interpretation of this passage now becomes fairly straightforward. “Those who lead Ephraim astray” are Yeshu and his followers, active in Samaria (“Ephraim”), which for the DSS writer is a region of “false teaching… lying tongue… lip of deceit…” This passage must have been written after Yeshu had achieved some success in Samaria—c. 70 BCE. This date in turn furnishes a provisional terminus post quem for the composition of the Pesher Nahum.

Scholars have interpreted the “[K]ings, princes, priests, and people” who are led astray as a reference to the ancient conquest by Assyria in the eighth century (Wise et al 218). This is forced and quite unlikely. Such a remote allusion would make little sense, for the passage also says that the “Cities and families will perish through their counsel… because of what they say.” These words reveal to us that no external attack is being described. We are dealing here with a contemporary internal corruption in Samaria, one resulting from religious “counsel” and what “they say.” This has nothing to do with Assyria.

To properly interpret the passage, we must look at the immediately preceding sentences:

(c) Its interpretation concerns the rule of the Seekers-after-Smooth Things, when there shall not depart from the midst of their congregation the Gentile sword, captivity, and plunder, and heated strife among themselves, and exile from fear of the enemy, and a multitude of guilty corpses shall fall in their days, and there shall be no end to the total of their slain, and furthermore, in their body of flesh they shall stumble over their own guilty counsel. (4QpNahum 3–4.ii.4–6)

Again we encounter “their [guilty] counsel”—a reference to followers of Yeshu. However, we now also are furnished clear evidence of a contemporary or future military attack: “the Gentile sword, captivity, and plunder…”, “a multitude of… corpses”, “no end to the total of their slain…” That attack is doubtless the Roman conquest of the land under Pompey in 63 BCE. Putting this information together with that given above, we can adjust the terminus post quem of the Pesher Nahum to not merely post-70 BCE, but post-63 BCE when the Roman legions devastated the land.

As for the identity of the “Seekers-after-Smooth-Things” (translated by Wise et al as “Flattery-Seekers”), they are not merely the Pharisees (as is generally acknowledged) but also include the followers of Yeshu in Samaria. Basically, the Seekers-after-Smooth-Things are all those who do not follow the Rule of the Community—i.e., all outsiders. The DSS also occasionally use the epithets “Men of Mockery” and “Scoffer(s).” All these designations are closely related, though not identical in meaning. Sometimes they refer to Pharisees, sometimes to the followers of Yeshu, and sometimes to both groups—even including gentiles. According to the theology of the scrolls, they generally refer to outsiders who are not among the “elect” of God and who will be eternally damned in the last days.

On the other hand, the more specific designations for the followers of Yeshu in the scrolls are the “simple-minded of Ephraim,” the “men of the lie,” and the “traitors”—this last designation referring specifically to members of the Dead Sea Sect who went over to Yeshu.

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About René Salm

René Salm is the author of two books on New Testament archeology and manages the companion website

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