October 23, 2007 Pesher
A pesherist is particularly concerned with the accuracy of language. Assumption is dangerous, therefore a great care must be taken to interpret as precisely as possible. Errors are often made and so much has been lost in translation. Going back to the root words is painstaking, but a necessary task. Once a word (i.e. Sheep) is used as a symbol, then it should continue to be taken as symbolic in each of its further uses in a particular text. Words often have more than one meaning, and in many cases they can mean more than one thing in any given text. There are, then, layers of a text. There is a literal layer and the symbolic layer of language that often coexist in the same text. For the pesherist the subtext is not about implied interpretation, but a set of symbols that are part of specific system. It is a sort of secret speech that relies on a concrete set of rules to decode it. The post-modern consideration of perception and possibility is ignored or denied.
This pesher technique is used by scholar Barbara Thiering in her book Jesus and the Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1992). Her theory relies on idea that Jesus was closely connected to the Essenes and that the Essenes were responsible for writing the Dead Sea Scrolls. Many scholars dismiss her basic premise based on the established dates given for the composition of the Dead Sea Scrolls. They play the composition before Jesus was born, before the central argument of John the Baptist being the “righteous teacher” and Jesus being the “wicked priest” is dismissed.
I’m not sure even carbon dating is accurate enough to confirm the possibility of the Dead Sea Scroll/Jesus connection. There is still a window of 50-100 years that is iffy. That is enough of a window for error. As it is, scholars debate the exact year of Jesus’ birth. The gospels don’t match up to history exactly, so it is unknown. The bet they can guess is within a 10-20 year time frame. Most opt to go with the later date, despite its inconsistency with the whole taxation and birth in Bethlehem story.
Barbara Thiering places a sort of transparent map over the bible of people and places. She argues that most of the action happened in what is known as “New Jerusalem” or the Qumran. All of the cities, temples and locations correspond to their twin in “New Jerusalem.” It is understandably confusing if the locations are all moved. This part of her theory is the weakest to me.
However, she does arrive at some of the same conclusions as other scholars. The virgin birth in Bethlehem and the crucifixion are more myth than fact. It is interesting that the Dead Sea Scrolls provide the same sort of evidence of the life of Jesus as do the Nag Hammadi Gospels. The Dead Sea Scrolls appear to be part one and the Gnostic Gospels of Nag Hammadi appear to be part two of the same story! Alone these non-canonical texts are puzzling, but as a part of a trinity with the canonical Bible they create a tapestry of truth.
Jesus, without a doubt is enigmatic figure. The Orthodox Christian religion portrays him as a mystical incarnation of God, a spiritual being that was completely pure and unspoiled by humanity. This historical figure became a deity, or living God, not much unlike the Egyptian Pharaohs of old. Thiering, instead, portrays Jesus as a political minded man, a person of power and passionate religious background. Other scholars paint Jesus as more of an outsider. He is often seen as a reluctant priest-king who challenged authority. Increasingly, he is being demystified, but his purpose and passion and political alliances remain under debate. Personal perception, not the pesher method, plays the largest role in redefining the past and Jesus’ part in it.