Barbara Thiering's "Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls"

We once quoted James Charlesworth as referring to scholars of the Dead Sea Scrolls who are confused or perhaps even "insane". I thought he only meant John Allegro of “sacred mushroom” fame, until I read Thiering’s Jesus and the Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Now, at least, I know there’s two people in that subset.

Words cannot describe the breadth of astonishment I feel at the bald historical revisionism, the outright oddity, of this book’s thesis; moreover, I am astonished that a respectable publisher like HarperCollins would print this, but I suppose the Almighty Dollar is a most persuasive god to serve.

What’s the bottom line here? Thiering relies on certain basic assumptions that no respectable scholar would accept:

  1. That certain of the Dead Sea Scrolls are to be dated much later than they are presently, into NT times;
  2. That Christianity and the Qumranites were pretty much one movement, prior to the advent of the church, which distorted the message; and,
  3. That the NT (notably the Gospels and Acts) were written using an esoteric method of exposition that, once we know the key, reveals a history of Christianity and Jesus totally unlike that we know.

Needless to say, almost no support is offered for the first two suppositions; one would hope for an entire book’s worth of arguments in order to overturn the present monolithic consensus in the matter. As for the third, Thiering relies upon a backwards form of a eisegetical interpretation method used by the Scrolls people called the “pesher” method. Basically, the interpreter read an OT passage and interpreted it in light of current events - so that Habakkuk’s pronouncements, for example, actually referred to the Roman occupation. Similar methods are often used today by people who interpret the Book of Revelation.

Thiering, appropriately enough, rejects such interpretation, but then goes on to suggest - based on the highly questionable Christianity = Qumranites equation, that the NT was written as a “reverse pesher” that reveals a true history of Christianity. I need not go into many details here; the peculiarities suggested by the “new history” include, for example, the idea that Jesus was actually crucified at Qumran, along with Simon Magus (who is described as “Pope”) and Judas Iscariot. From there, it's less credible as we go along. Thiering whisks her way through her new history, never stopping to offer sufficient documentation; what little documentation is offered mostly comes from displaced NT quotes, her own works, and from the works of similarly questionable sources like Carmignac.

Of greatest concern to the Christian reader is how to deal with people who believe that Thiering’s material actually has some substance to it. My answer is the same as for those who adhere to the Christ myth: Present the Gospel clearly, then leave. Then, find someone else to talk to whose mind has not been affected by this and similar material.

-JPH