on June 23, 2008
Included in this volume are Professor Eisenman's two ground-breaking works, "Maccabees, Zadokites, Christians and Qumran" and "James the Just in the Habakkuk Pesher," which were first published in the mid-1980's, but were not previously widely available. These classics are a foundation piece of his research on the Dead Sea Scrolls and fascinating for the beginner and scholar alike. Most importantly, these works triggered the debate over the relationship of the Dead Sea Scrolls to Christian Origins, which ultimately led to the freeing of the Scrolls in the early 1990's a struggle in which Eisenman played a pivotal role. Also included are previously unpublished papers and essays written by Eisenman and presented at international conferences over the last decade. In addition, this volume provides new translations of three key Qumran documents, "The Habbakkuk Pesher," "The Damascus Document," and "The Community Rule," available previously in the sometimes inaccurate and often inconsistent renderings by consensus scholars, missing the electric brilliance of the writers of the Scrolls.
on August 29, 2010
An underground classic -- and, at least indirectly, the only "Historical Jesus" book you may ever really need. A series of essays that are definitely academic, and perhaps rather abstruse for the layman; and any reader, lay or not, will have to go through Eisenman's muscle-bound prose line by line, with pencil in hand. In "James the Just in the Habakkuk Pesher" he shows, using multiple sources, by the process of elimination, that James, "the brother of Jesus," was ALMOST certainly the "Teacher of Righteousness" in the DSS -- which of course means that they're the first "Christian" scriptures, and contain nothing about miracles, parables, etc. As might have been expected, the "consensus scholars" have tried to pick holes in his argument, and without much success, in this layman's opinion, among other reasons because they apparently can't recognize that they're implicitly taking the side of Paul in the James-Paul dispute -- and Eisenman demonstrates, in the essay "Paul as Herodian," was ABSOLUTELY certainly a Pharisee in the nastiest sense, probably a Roman spy, and the PERFECT candidate for "The Spouter of Lies."
After reading this essay, by the way, I was moved to re-read the Pauline material, and was stunned to note such details as the bizarre end to Romans, the near-paranoid tantrum in the second half of Galatians, and the apparently-intentional Monty Python-esque multilayered humor hidden in plain sight in the "Trial of Paul" scene in Acts -- one can envision John Cleese, as Herod, strutting around and pontificating, while Eric Idle, at his oily best ("Nudge, nudge! Say no more!") exlaims that he does not lie as he preaches the risen Christ, and Terry Jones and Michael Palin, as "The Jews," sharpen their sicarii while making grotesque faces.
They don't tell you about this in church.
on May 8, 2012
This is a collection of essays and as such they are old covering the 1983-1994 period with nine articles practically in chronological publishing order. This is the 2006 new edition of the 1996 first edition with apparently only one new thing, the new translation of The Habakkuk Pesher with no specification of the date and two old translations of excerpts of The Damascus Document and the Community Rule. This new edition gives us older articles that enable us to better assess Eisenman's more recent books like "James, the Brother of Jesus" and "The New testament Code."
The method is to be commended. First in his rejection of retrospective imposition which is a real plague in historical linguistics that does not descend time from older forms analyzed in themselves to the newer forms whose innovation is to be explained, but that ascends the time line imposing on the past forms the values the modern forms derived from the older ones have today. Eisenman works with the texts of the documents and meets that problem though he does not identify it linguistically.
In fact Eisenman encounters the same problematic in Qumran studies. Qumran documents are all analyzed via the later reconstruction, in this case the Pauline Christian reconstruction, of events and debates that took place within and around the Jewish religion and community essentially in the first century CE. The Pauline reconstruction negates that debate that shows Paul under a very negative angle within the Jewish community he is supposed to be a member of. Modern gospels endorse Paul's non-Jewish development of Christianity without clarifying what Paul rejected by doing that. The victor writes history and we have to deconstruct this retrospective imposition to understand the documents and the events behind the documents.
Eisenman does a marvellous job in that direction. Here is a summary of his method.
"If a hypothesis not only helps to explain the data, but [...] in addition is able to elicit new information from that data that was not apparent or could not have been suspected previously without it, it is very strong proof of its validity or, at least, its usefulness. This is induction, through which scientific proofs are built up by a process of data accumulation - by a process of gradually approaching certainty. Certainty is rarely arrived at in a single instant." (p. 335)
In this method there are essential elements but they might be confusedly expressed. That's a remark on Eisenman's writing or exposing method. We get lost quite often in strings of arguments that are purely syncretic in presentation as if the line of arguments just set one after the other was a way to establish the validity of the argument itself. This is particularly true with linguistic arguments that even shift from ancient Hebrew to ancient Greek and to modern English as if there was a perfect continuity or unity from a consonantal language to an old Indo-European heavily declined language and to a modern indo-European creole language practically free of declensions and conjugations.
His accumulation of date is based on the fact that he takes absolutely all documents, testimonies and other factual events or artefacts in consideration treating all of them as equal. He rejects nothing and he is so right since on that subject there are a lot more missing elements than surviving elements. So why should we reject some of these surviving elements?
The second step in his accumulation is to consider the language, the words, the original language and the original words as well as the Greek versions and their later Greek words. He implements here the method that considers the New Testament Gospels and even some Old testament books as containing parallel verses; one older set of verses originally in some Semitic language and a second set, parallel in meaning but added directly in Greek. In the original language he pins out the words that build networks of references, metaphors or simple connections. He joins - an essential word in that period and in this work - all the references to Biblical books and verses to the words and verses of the Qumran documents and all apocryphal documents. This builds rich networks of metaphors and meanings that he tries to confront with all testimonies and historical reports from the same or later periods in order to come up with a hypothesis about the sitz im leben of the events he sees behind the Qumran documents and community.
That's where intuition comes into the picture. If one network of words connects the Old Testament, New Testament and Qumran Dead Sea Scrolls, and if this falls in line with all historical testimonies from Josephus , the Talmud and many other sources, then the hypothesis is fairly probable. You can notice he speaks of the usefulness of his hypothesis. I prefer speaking of the probability of it because it has to remain all the time open, and at times Eisenman is slightly too categorical about the "implied truth" of his hypothesis.
This inductive method is absolutely essential in all sciences and since we are dealing with literary, historical and other texts, and the words of these documents, it is inescapably central since we have to deal with linguistics which is the only science that can really works on words and sentences. And that is where Eisenman's method suffers because he does not qualify the linguistic phenomena he is using in various extremely different languages as for their phylogeny, syntax, semantics, lexicon, etc.
For example when he sees the continuity between the Hebrew root ba-la'a (note the mistake that he does not do in other pages of the book: the root is the consonantal cluster B-L with no vowels) and the Greek word ballô, he does not see that the network of words constructed in Hebrew on the basis of the root B-L is entirely contained in the root itself and evoked by any particular discursive realisation of that root, whereas the Greek word, and he gives examples, can vary with the use of particular prefixes, for example, plus conjugations (if verbal) or declensions (if nominal), and yet each discursive realization of this derivation does not carry the others in reference, not even in metaphorical reference and the word thus produced is the association of the meaning of the initial word and the meaning of the prefix and other pre-, suf- and/or in-fixes eventually. He does not see that Hebrew because of this linguistic characteristic is perfect for messianic apocalyptic constructions since one root contains a whole and rich cluster of meanings referring to the "past" recollection and announcing the "future" prediction. On the other hand Greek is a perfect language for description, story telling and speculative reasoning (philosophy). That does not mean there cannot be any messianic apocalyptic stories in Greek, that John's Apocalypse cannot be translated into Greek: it means the effect of Hebrew is not and cannot be the same as the effect of Greek. More about that in other places and articles.
Without going into more details about this methodological problem, and without giving you all the details of the deciphering hypotheses given by Eisenman, let me provide a few elements we could consider as valid and debatable approaches.
1- Qumran documents are a direct testimony of the debate within the Jewish community about the new Christian approach in the first century CE.
2- The Righteous Teacher is James, the elder brother of Jesus.
3- He was illegally sentenced to death for blasphemy by the Sanhedrin sitting in illegal session outside its normal seat in the Temple from which it had been removed at the time. The direct associates of James were in the same batch of people dispatched to be stoned to death.
4- The Jewish community was divided in several segments:
a- The Herodians who were systematically breaking the Jewish law and particularly the three nets of Belial: fornication, riches and pollution of the Temple.
b- The priests, among them the Wicked Priest, Ananus, who illegally sentenced James and his supporters with an illegal meeting of the Sanhedrin Ananus' own home. These were the direct allies of the Herodians, constituting with them the essential political and religious establishment of the time in Jerusalem.
c- The Pharisees, Jews who looked for simple and easy ways to enjoy peace and life within the frame of the Roman Empire. Paul is in that last group of the establishment, though he seems to play a role that is slightly more important by being a Roman citizen and a close associate of some Roman officials, including Emperor Nero, and of some Herodians higher-ups.
d- Those who are against this drift towards integration into the Roman empire and under Roman rule, in the name of the Covenant, God's law, circumcision in the flesh and in the heart, the rejection of the three nets of Belial. These are James, his associates and the Qumran community.
e- Beyond the Jews, but these new ones are the stake of Pauline Christianity, we have the gentiles who are integrated in the Roman Empire entirely and who are integrated in the new Christian organization by Paul, against the will of James. Paul is an essential figure in that evolution and as such is the Liar, the Comedian and many other names in the Qumran documents that show what he appears to be is nothing but a treason and lie of what God's law is and has to be. Circumcision is an essential piece of that debate and conflict.
f- And around all those you have the Kittim, that is to say the Romans and their legions.
This complex set of hypotheses, vastly supported by data, can and has to be of course discussed but cannot be either negated or neglected. It is an essential approach.
I won't give you more of this tremendously rich approach of how Pauline Christianity emerged from and against James' rather Zealot Jewish Christian vision essentially reviving the resurrection, messianic and second coming prophecy contained in the Star Prophecy and the rain metaphor of these documents that directly echo Old Testament and apocryphal apocalypses and other messianic visions. Note too John's Book of Revelation is the direct descendant of this debate; conflict and traumatic drama (imagine Jesus' own brother betrayed by a self-appointed new-coming apostle of gentiles, along with his followers in the worst possible death sentence: stoning for blasphemy). This Book of Revelation is both the perfect continuation of this messianic tradition, hence of James, and the Christianization of it. It directly echoes Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, and yet it is a perfect transfiguration of Jesus into the Messiah and the Apocalypse into his Second Coming predicted as imminent, as permanently imminent. Does that mean it will never come? No answer at the time but the destruction of the Temple in 70 and of Jerusalem fifty years later seemed to be that apocalypse, and yet the world went on living.
To conclude we have to say that Eisenman would have been inspired to use a phylogenic linguistic approach that would have opened great vistas: as soon as the Messianic vision shifted from Semitic Hebrew to Indo-European Greek, later Latin, it shifted from apocalyptic inspiration to purely speculative description, hence some kind of mythological tale or political discourse. More about that in Créteil, France on June 14-15, 2012.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU