From the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Damascus Document and the Pesharim (“commentaries,” singular: pesher) date the Essene community’s birth to 390 years after the destruction of Jerusalem. Since Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BCE, that would put the community’s inception at 196 BCE (before the Common Era—the zero point of the Gregorian calendar). These documents describe a “Teacher of Righteousness” having appeared twenty years later, which would place him at 176 BCE: “. . . yet for twenty years they (i.e., the Essenes) were like blind men groping for the way. And God observed their deeds, that they sought him with a whole heart, and he raised for them a Teacher of Righteousness . . .”
Other scholars consider these dates unreliable, point out that both Jesus Christ and his disciple, James, could be considered “Teachers of Righteousness,” and suggest that one of these two might be the Teacher referred to in the Dead Sea scrolls. To support this assertion, they point out that numerical errors in the Bible are not only abundant, but canonized.
For example, II Samuel 8:4 and I Chronicles 18:4 describe the same event in biblical history, but one documents 700 horsemen, and the other 7,000. Are we to assume that somewhere in time, a scribe flubbed a zero in copying the biblical manuscripts? No, and for a simple-enough reason. Numbers in ancient Hebrew were written longhand. “Seven hundred” in ancient Hebrew is ‘sheba’ me’ah’ and “seven thousand” is “sheba’ eleph.”
Numerical errors in the Old and New Testament manuscripts are word disparities, not numerical disparities. The Bible authors did not employ the so-called Arabic numerals, which were not yet invented, and the mathematically revolutionary zero dates to 933 CE in any case.
So is the above error an isolated example? Not at all. II Samuel 23:8 and I Chronicles 11:11 differ between 300 or 800 men; II Samuel 24:9 and I Chronicles 21:5 differ between 800,000 and 1,100,000 in one instance and between 500,000 and 470,000 in another; I Kings 4:26 and II Chronicles 9:25 differ between 40,000 and 4,000. And these are just a few of the more glaring numerical errors in the Bible—disparities of 6,700 in one case, 500 in another, peaking at a whopping discrepancy of 300,000 and then dropping back down to a still spectacular error of 36,000.
In the face of such obvious discrepancies, scholars reasonably argue that an error of two hundred years falls well within the realm of scriptural tolerance.
So could the “Teacher of Righteousness” described in the Dead Sea Scrolls be Jesus or James? And could the “Wicked Priest,” the “Man of Scoffing,” “The Man of the Lie,” “The Spouter of the Lie,” and “The Priest who Rebelled” all refer to Jesus’ antagonist, Paul? Could those who “seek smooth things” be a euphemism for Paul’s followers, in line with the quote, “This concerns those who were unfaithful together with the Liar, in that they did not listen to the word received by the Teacher of Righteousness from the mouth of God?”
If we understand “the word received by the Teacher of Righteousness from the mouth of God” to refer to revelation, then yes, we can very well match these descriptors with Jesus and Paul, not on the basis of scriptural dating, which can be inconclusive, but on the basis of the old adage, “if the shoe fits, wear it.”
After all, the Damascus Document reveals that the “Teacher of Righteousness” claimed to be the one through whom God would convey “the hidden things in which Israel had gone astray” (DC 3.12-15). And was this not Jesus’ declared purpose—his raison d’être? Was it not Jesus Christ who told us that he was not sent “. . . except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel?” (Matthew 15:24) And is this not the whole point behind the chain of revelation—to correct the corruption of preceding revelation, at each and every interval?
Further discussion is beyond the scope of a work of fiction. However, for those who wish to pursue the subject, I offer two books of comparative religion, MisGod’ed and God’ed, to be read in that order.
And may God guide all those who turn to Him in sincerity, seeking the truth of His revelation.
Dr. Laurence B. Brown