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A reconstructed history of the Essene Teacher,
This review is from: The First Messiah: Investigating the Savior Before Jesus (Hardcover)
This is a truly remarkable book. Wise offers an interpretation of the enigmatic figure of the Teacher of Righteousness, who figures as a unique teacher and interpreter of the Bible in central texts of the Qumran scrolls. Many scholars have ascribed a large part of the Thanksgiving Hymns to him. Alphonse Dupont-Sommer regarded him as a forerunner of Jesus. Wise goes much further. Based on a close examination of the Hymns and other Qumran literature, Wise is able to reconstruct the life and career of the Teacher, who started out as a high-ranking Jerusalem priest, and ended up as an exiled rebel, but deriving strength from his firm belief that he is the Messiah of God. As a careful and highly respected scholar, Wise naturally realises that such a reconstruction has to be speculative. He therefore presents it as a kind of historical novel. The result is astounding But it is largely convincing. The story of the First Messiah comes to life. Wise presents us with a detailed picture of the inner life of a great religious figure. He starts his account with a review of various Messiahs of the modern world, finding several common characteristics. He ends by comparing the First Messiah with the Jesus of the New Testament, finding many parallels between them. But he derives the similarities rather from the psychological mind-set of all Messiah figures, not from more direct influences. Remarkably, he never even mentions the Essenes, considered by most modern scholars as the religious group responsible for the Qumran Scrolls, and thus the community in which the Teacher was working. It is also remarkable that Wise, when discussing the Jesus of the New Testament, does not bring out the very marked difference between the Jesus figure of Paul - remarkably similar to the Essene Teacher - on one hand, and the Jesus of the Gospels and Acts, on the other. The largely fictional nature of the latter figure is emphasized in recent books by George A. Wells (The Jesus Myth), Earl Doherty (The Jesus Puzzle), T. Freke and P. Gandy (The Jesus Mysteries), and myself (Jesus, - A Hundred Years before Christ). Altogether Wise's superlatively written book is a weighty contribution to our knowledge of Judaism and and its Christian offspring in the centuries around the beginning of our era.
Alvar Ellegård, University of Göteborg, Sweden.