By Eric Johnson
Mention the Dead Sea Scrolls to a Mormon and a Christian alike and it is likely both will have at least some familiarity with the topic. The first cave containing these important scrolls was first discovered in 1947 by several young Bedouin shepherds. In the ensuing years (until 1954), eleven caves were opened and the prize manuscripts were found by Bedouin shepherds and archaeologists. The information that comes from these caves can be enlightening as well as confusing. What exactly are these Scrolls? Who were the people who copied them? Do they support Christianity? Mormonism? Scholars continue to assess the information and often disagree as to how to interpret the writings and the lives of the people who put them together. The discussion is fascinating.
A little background to the Dead Sea Scrolls: A total of 230 of the 930 manuscripts—produced from the third century BC until the middle of the First Century AD when the Roman army chased the Essenes away from their village on the northwest side of the Dead Sea—were from the Old Testament. the vast majority written in Hebrew. Nine of the 11 caves contained biblical texts, with about half (137) being found in Cave 4, which contained thousands of fragments from more than 500 scrolls. The most valuable single book is undoubtedly the “Great Isaiah” scroll (1QIsa(a)) found intact in Cave 1. In fact, scholars estimate that this scroll was produced in the second century BC, which would have been more than a century before the birth of Jesus! Comparison of this manuscript with the earliest manuscripts we had before this (the Masoretic text from, at the earliest, 10th Century AD) shows no major deviations. As biblical archaeologist Joel Kramer has often said, if we were to pick just one biblical book that we could find in complete form, then Isaiah would be the best choice. (See the video at the bottom of this article.) One reason is that the prophecies predicting Jesus were written more than a century before He lived, a proof that meddling transcribers didn’t monkey with the text.
Other facts about the Dead Sea Scrolls include:
- Scholars date the Scrolls from 250 BC to AD 50
- The final publishing of the Scrolls was in 2002
- 90 percent of the texts are written in Hebrew, with a few penned in Aramaic and Greek
- The vast majority were written on animal skin (also called velum or parchment), with a few written on papyri and even one on copper
- Most of the Scrolls were not found in jars (as in Cave 1 where 7 manuscripts were kept in jars). Instead, the majority had been lain into the caves and, over 2,000 years of being exposed to the air and elements–were badly deteriorated.
The study of the Dead Sea Scrolls continues today. Meanwhile, many Latter-day Saint writers point to this discovery as proof that Mormonism’s teachings can be seen in these writings. Do the Dead Sea Scrolls support such an assertion? This is the purpose of this article and podcast series.
Mormons who continue to point to the Scrolls
While church leaders and many LDS scholars no longer point to the Dead Sea Scrolls for support of ancient Mormon doctrines, there are some lay Mormons who continue to do so. As biblical archaeologist Randall Price writes, “Many of today’s cults and the New Age movement have drawn parallels between themselves and Qumran doctrine and practice in order to historicize that belief” (Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls, p. 379).
In his book Immersion in Mormonism (self-published, 2014), LDS laymember Charles Abbott references the Dead Sea Scrolls, utilizing a book titled Evidences of the Church written by Dennis K. Brown to support his case. Summarized, here are the five points Abbott gives concerning the Dead Sea Scrolls:
- Referencing the Mormon teaching of preexistence while citing Jeremiah 1:5: “It must be noted that in the Dead Sea Scrolls there are frequent references to pre-earth life when we all lived as spirits with our Heavenly Father” (p. 105)
- Referencing the Mormon teaching that it is possible for people to become gods: “The Dead Sea Scrolls state that we can all progress to eventually become as God” (p. 106)
- Referencing the Mormon teaching that marriage is eternal and families are forever: “It is noteworthy that in the Dead Sea Scrolls there are references to sealings to spouses and families so that they can be together for eternity” (p. 107)
- Referencing the Mormon teaching that the priesthood was valid in New Testament times (but would later be lost): “The Dead Sea Scrolls refer to a greater and lesser priesthood, the lesser of them being after the ‘sons of Aaron.’ They also refer to a future prophet named ‘Asaph,’ who will restore the priesthood in the last days, and who will be killed by lawless men. Asaph, translated into English, is ‘Joseph’” (pp. 108-109)
- Referencing the Mormon teaching that temple ordinances are necessary for eternal life: “The Dead Sea Scrolls speak of the temples as being the center of life and even mention the importance of a new name, key words, special garments and a sacred oath” (p. 109)
Let’s take a look at each claim along with what was said by Brown and see if these claims are able to stand up to scruntiny.
A closer look at each of Abbott’s points
Let’s take a closer look at each of these points to see if they are accurate.
- Do the nonbiblical Dead Sea Scroll texts talk about preexistence?
Brown claims that “the scrolls frequently mention a pre-earth life where all mankind lived as spirits with God the Father before coming to earth. To my knowledge, we are the only church on the earth that preaches this doctrine.” (No page numbers are used since we have a Kindle version of Brown’s book.) Brown says the Essenes were living in a “dispensation” of apostasy although they had left Qumran at AD 68, never to return for their library. According to most scholars, the apostle John did not die until close to AD 100. If so, this means that there were still living apostles of Jesus on the earth. When did this period of apostasy begin? Brown says that
the fulness of the gospel was given to Heavenly Father’s children at the beginning of each dispensation, that is to say, to Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and to Jesus Christ. After a period of time during each past dispensation, the people fell away and lost parts of the gospel. Although Qumran was in one of these periods of apostasy, it is interesting to see many of the doctrines, which they believed and taught, were remnants of the fulness they had lost.
Brown leaves many questions unanswered in his short explanation. For instance:
- If the latest apostasy happened at the time when the apostles were no longer living (and these documents could have been copied no later than AD 68), then how could there have been an apostasy that occurred? We know, for instance, that the apostle John lived to the end of the first century.
- If the Scrolls were written before Jesus (200 BC until AD 30), and the gospel had not been restored since the time of Moses (intertestamental period), then how can we know that the preexistence was really a “remnant of the fulness they had lost”?
There is a lot of speculation that must take place to come up with this theory. Regardless, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls provides no indication that the doctrine of the preexistence was something that was later lost in apostasy. Referring to a Mormon writer Eugene Seaich, author of Mormonism, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Nag Hammadi Texts (lulu.com, 2012), Price writes,
Seaich first attempts to find Dead Sea parallels to the Mormon doctrine of the heavenly pre-existence of the soul. He begins with Josephus’ statement that the Essenes believed the human soul was “immortal and endured forever” (Jewish Wars, 2.8:154). This, of course, assumes that those who wrote the Scrolls were Essenes. Yet all Josephus’ statement tells us is that the Essenes held to a doctrine of immortality, not preexistence. What’smore, nowhere in the Scrolls themselves do we find evidence that the Sect taught a preexistence for the human soul. (p. 385)
Neither Brown nor Abbott provide specific references that would lend support to this theory. Price continues,
Seaich next cites 4Q Serek Shirah (today known as Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice or the Angelic Liturgy) as teaching the concept of a corporate pre-existence. He says, “This ‘heavenly Council’ was an early form of the pre-existent community of which the sectaries at Qumran claimed to be a living part.” However, the context of this poetic praise clearly delineates between a present heavenly angelic order whose benedictions and blessings will come upon a present earthly community “who have laid the foundations of [true] knowledge.” In his analysis of this work, Dr. Lawrence Schiffman pointed out, “The poet looks at the heavens and the angelic hosts arrayed in them. Yet although the poet witnesses this angelic drama, the text does not suggest that he joins in the process himself.” Also, no known Qumran text regards “heavenly angels” (also called an “angelic priesthood”) in their “heavenly Temple” as preexistent souls who later find bodies on earth. On the contrary, as both the War Scroll and the Damascus Document reveal, “Holy Angels” were regarded as being in the camps with the members of the Sect. There is nothing to support Seaich’s claim (which follows his reference to 4Q Serek Shirah) that “the pre-existent community of apocalyptic became the pre-existent Church of Primitive Christianity.” Nor can he rightly add: “The pre-existent community can further be seen in such works as the Qumran Hymn Scroll . . . 1QH 13:7-10.” The context of 1QH 13 will not support this interpretation, for it contrasts the temporal nature of things “newly created” and whose “outworn forms” are “done away” with the “eternal nature” of God that “endures for all time” (13:1, 10-11; cf. 19-21). (p. 386)
Summary: Immortality, not preexistence, was taught by the writers of the Scrolls.
- Do the nonbiblical Dead Sea Scroll texts suggest men can become gods?
(Picture: Opening to Cave 4 in Qumran, as seen from the village)
In his book, Brown writes, “The Scrolls clearly state that we can progress eternally, eventually becoming as God. Other churches have called us blasphemous when we teach this.” No support for this assertion is given except a passing reference to notes given by Daniel Ludlow as recorded in “tapes.” I’m guessing these are cassette tapes, which doesn’t make it easy to check Ludlow’s research.
I have studied this topic for many years, and while I am not an expert, I have never once heard a claim the Dead Sea Scrolls support the teaching that people can become gods. We must understand that whether the Sadducees or the Essenes were the authors of most of the Scrolls–there is a division in the scholarly ranks, though most believe it was the Essenes–these people belonged to a sect of Judaism and appeared to be faithful in their practices, even if they were different from the larger Jewish groups. I find it interesting that more copies of the book of Deuteronomy (31 manuscripts) were discovered in Qumran than any other biblical book, save the Psalms (39 copies)! (The next in line are Isaiah (22), Exodus (18), Genesis (15), and Leviticus (13).)
It is Deuteronomy 6:4, known as the Shema, that defines the very heart of Judaism and its belief in one God. It reads, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This short statement is cited in Hebrew at most Jewish synagogue services each Shabbat (Sabbath) throughout the world. Monotheism is the rule, not the exception, and becoming God is not something religious Jews are seeking. Why would a group that believed they could become gods emphasize the unity of God? The plurality of gods is a unique LDS teaching and has no support of the Book of Mormon, meaning that the “Nephites” and “Lamanites” did not know about multiple gods. There is a conversation between the wicked Zeezrom and the righteous Amulek in Alma 11:26-29:
26 And Zeezrom said unto him: Thou sayest there is a true and living God? 27 And Amulek said: Yea, there is a true and living God. 28 Now Zeezrom said: Is there more than one God? 29 And he answered, No.
Amulek had every opportunity to correct a teaching that there was only one God, but instead he affirmed the belief in monotheism. Then, verse 44 reports that “Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit” “is one Eternal God.” Meanwhile, 2 Nephi 31:21, apparently referencing Acts 4:12, says,
And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.
Mormon 7:7 states:
And he hath brought to pass the redemption of the world, whereby he that is found guiltless before him at the judgment day hath it given unto him to dwell in the presence of God in his kingdom, to sing ceaseless praises with the choirs above, unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Ghost, which are one God, in a state of happiness which hath no end.
3 Nephi 11:27 adds:
And after this manner shall ye baptize in my name; for behold, verily I say unto you, that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one; and I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one.
None of these passages say or infer “one in purpose,” which is what many Mormons want it to say. Yet while Smith “translated” the Book of Mormon, he contradicted its teaching later in his life when he taught:
We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see. These are incomprehensible ideas to some, but they are simple. It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did, and I will show it from the Bible (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 345-346. See also Gospel Principles, 1997, p. 305).
Regarding whether men can become gods, Smith also said,
Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the dead and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in everlasting power” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 346-347).
It seems strange that, if men can become gods, this teaching wasn’t better laid out for the Nephites who lived in the New World. It seems odd that this would have been believed in the ancient world since it certainly is not taught in the Book of Mormon. While it is true that the writers of the War Scroll believed they belonged to the “Sons of Light” (in contrast to “Sons of Darkness,” or other Jews), they did not believe they would become glorified as gods. In addition the way to become as gods is through marriage and having families, but as the next point will show, most Essenes were celibate and families were not emphasized. Therefore, there is no parallel with current Mormon doctrine.
Summary: The evidence denies that the writers of the Scrolls believed they would be divine gods, of any sort.
- Do the nonbiblical Dead Sea Scrolls texts teach that marriage and family go into eternity?
(Pictured: Bill McKeever, Joel Kramer, and Eric Johnson inside Cave 1 in Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were originally discovered)
The Scrolls have many references to eternal families ands state that we will be sealed with our spouses and families in the hereafter. They state that our families will be our greatest joy in the eternities. No other church besides ours teaches this today.
He references a course outline for a class (three or more decades ago?) at Brigham Young University given by Dr. Hugh Nibley, a copy of which is “in the author’s possession.” As with his previous resource, I’m not sure how somebody is supposed to check up on this claim.
Even though the ancient historian Pliny said the Essenes lived without women and the fact that many who lived at Qumran were celibate males, marriage was not prohibited in Qumran. Scholar John J. Collins references some of the manuscripts uncovered in Qumran:
The Damascus Document clearly allows for married life, but seems to imply that this was not the case for all members of the sect. . . . The Community Rule (1QS) does not mention women or children at all, despite its great concern with issues of purity, and has consequently been understood as a rule for a celibate community. It does not, however, make any explicit demand for celibacy (Collins, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Biography, pp. 54-55).
Regarding the Community Rule, an important document found in Cave 1 that described the way the “Yahad” (community) was to live, it seems to be a major omission that women are not discussed. Gary A. Rendsburg explains,
The Community Rule refers to ritual immersion in a number of places, which was practiced by all Jews in antiquity for the removal of ritual impurity. But the Community Rule presents something new. 1QS 5:13-14 indicates that ritual bathing can remove not only ritual impurity but also sin and transgressions. The setting of this passage is the initiation rite into the community. Thus, ritual bathing was a final act before one enters the Yahad. Together, these items are paralleled in the various books of the New Testament. There are no references to women in the Community Rule. This point confirmed for many interpreters that the sect was celibate. . . (The Dead Sea Scrolls Course Guidebook, pp. 12-13).
Still, It must be understood that marriage and family were not emphasized by those who wrote the Scrolls; marriage and family appears to have been the exception and not the rule in the Essene way of living. As biblical archaeologist Jody Magness concludes in a chapter titled “Women and the Cemetery at Qumran” on page 185 of her book The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls, “Thus, the archaeological evidence suggests only minimal female presence at Qumran and an absence of families with children” (p. 185). Magness, who has done archaeological work at Qumran and is a recognized expert on the Scrolls, explains that “many scholars believe that the group at Qumran was celibate. Ancient historical sources also seem to indicate that the community at Qumran was composed of adult, celibate men. As we shall see, although it is not unambiguous, the archaeological evidence supports this point of view” (p. 38).
Referring to first century Jewish historian Josephus who wrote for Rome, Magness says that his
testimony indicates that the group or groups our ancient sources describe as Essenes included men who practiced celibacy (at least occasionally if not permanently) as well as married members. . . . the archaeological evidence suggests that the community at Qumran consisted mostly of adult men. . . . Not only did the celibacy practiced by at least some Essenes attract their attention, but it fed into the authors’ misogynistic biases and was part of the ascetic lifestyle they considered to be virtuous (p. 165).
Later in her chapter, Magness writes, “While marriage did take place in Qumran, Josephus said that this was only for “the propagation of the species” (p. 166). She adds that while the village cemetery “suggests that women were present at Qumran,” it apparently “represented a disproportionately small part of the population. The complete absence of infants and children among the excavated burials in the western sector is striking given the high rate of infant and child mortality in antiquity. Despite the small size of the sample, this evidence suggest that the community of Qumran did not include families” (p. 173).
Stating that “the archaeological evidence suggests only minimal female presence at Qumran,” Magness went on to explain that
one means of identifying women in the archaeological record is to find objects that reflect their presence, that is, objects that were used or owned exclusively by women. Scholars refer to these as “gendered” objects. Tampons and brassieres are modern examples of gendered objects. Were any gendered objects found at Qumran? Unfortunately, few organic materials are preserved…items such as hairnets, which might attest to the presence of women at Qumran, have not survived (assuming they originally existed) (p. 176).
Responding to a rebuttal that “the absence of gendered objects does not necessarily indicate that women were not present at Qumran,” Magness agrees at face value because “based on the absence of gendered objects alone, it is impossible to prove that women were not present at Qumran, because this is an argument from silence.” Still, she says that “this argument tries to circumvent the archaeological evidence. Second, Josephus does not describe female Essenes as refraining from wearing jewelry or cosmetics . . . In addition, there is no legislation in the sectarian scrolls prohibiting the use of these items by women” (p. 183).
It seems pretty evident that women had a limited, if not even nonexistent, role in the Qumran community and that families were not a major part of the focus of these people. However, LDS leaders adamantly teach that marriage and children play an important role throughout eternity. This difference should be considered a strike against anyone who claims there is a parallel between the belief system of the Essenes and Mormons.
Summary: There is no connection between Mormons and the Essenes when it comes to women and family. The Essenes minimized husband/wife/children relationships while the Mormons glorify them. If marriage and families are important in the next life, it seems this should have played a bigger role with the Essene people.
- Do the nonbiblical Dead Sea Scroll texts refer to a future prophet that would bring the priesthood back?
The Scrolls mention a greater and a lesser priesthood, essentially the same as the Melchizedek Priesthood and the Levitical or Aaronic Priesthood. Those called the “sons of Aaron” administered the temporal affairs of the community of Qumran.
It needs to be noted that, while the Essenes apparently had claim to the Levitical (Aaronic) priesthood, there is nothing to support the idea that they understood what a “Melchizedek priesthood” was. In fact, the Essenes believed the Hasmoneans wrongfully took away the priesthood that they believed belonged to them. While they rejected the Pharisees and Sadducees, they never accepted the idea that the “priesthood had been lost.” According to the War Scroll, they as the “Sons of Light” were connected to the Levitical priesthood. They did not believe the Hasmonean priests had the authority to manage the temple in Jerusalem and viewed themselves as the rightful heirs and potential successors.
Yet another of Seaich’s parallels involve the organization of the Qumran community. Citing texts in the Damascus Document and the Manual of Discipline (Rule of the Community), he notes that there was a supervisor over every “camp,” and that they were to be priests. This he equates with LDS bishops, who are of the Aaronic Priesthood (Doctrine and Covenants 107:76). While we may question whether the Qumran overseer (Hebrew, mebaqqer) is the equivalent of a bishop (Greek, episkopos), these roles are typical of the structural organization of the synagogue and the church, and again, offer no mysteries that confirm Smith’s revelatory knowledge (p. 387)
In an article printed in the February 2006 Ensign titled “The Dead Sea Scrolls and Latter-day Truth,” Andrew Skinner—the dean of religious education at LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University—distanced himself from the claims made by Seaich, Brown, and Abbott. He wrote,
Cave 11 yielded the longest scroll—the Temple Scroll. Written on very thin parchment, the text turned out to be about 27 feet long, although not intact (by comparison the great Isaiah scroll from Cave 1 is 22 feet long and is intact). Dating to about the second century before Christ but presented as the words of God to Moses, the Temple Scroll text supplies laws dealing with issues important to the Qumran group. Of interest to Latter-day Saints is the scroll’s description of an ideal temple to be established by God Himself at the end of days and that temple’s association with Jacob at Bethel. The Temple Scroll states, “And I will consecrate my Temple by my glory, … and establish it for myself for all times, according to the covenant which I have made with Jacob at Bethel.” While Latter-day Saints might remember that President Marion G. Romney (1897–1988) drew a parallel between Jacob’s experience at Bethel (described in Gen. 28:10–22) and our temple experience, we have no indication that the Qumran community regarded this ideal future temple as anything more than an Aaronic Priesthood structure, associated with the rites and rituals of the Mosaic law in a pure and uncorrupted form. The Qumran community believed that the Jerusalem temple was full of corruption. Source
Skinner not only distances himself from an LDS General Authority (Marion Romney) but also discounts the claims made by Seaich, Brown, and Abbott. Notice how he says that “we have no indication that the Qumran community regarded this ideal future temple as anything more than an Aaronic Priesthood structure, associated with the rites and rituals of the Mosaic law. The Melchizedek priesthood is completely ignored in the lives of those who produced the Scrolls. It is an argument from silence to say this priesthood was lost when there is no evidence the Essenes ever had it!
Meanwhile, the Bible mentions several “Asaphs,” the most popular of which would have lived during the time of David. The idea that Asaph is a reference to Joseph Smith is without basis. According to 1 Chronicles 6:39, Asaph was a Levite and was one of the leaders of David’s choir. Joseph Smith did not claim to hail from the Levitical tribe. In addition, Psalms 50 and 73-83 are attributed to him. The “sons of Asaph,” mentioned in 1 Chronicles 20:14 and Ezra 2:41, were his descendants. Despite the claim made by Abbott, the word Asaph means “one who gathers together” and does not mean “Joseph” in English. In fact, in Hebrew Joseph means “May Jehovah add/give increase.”
Summary: There is no evidence that the Essenes were referencing any future prophet who would restore the priesthood, including Joseph Smith.
- Do the nonbiblical Dead Sea texts reference temple ordinances as necessary for eternal life?
The Scrolls talk extensively about temples. The temple was the center of life for the community. The Scrolls mention the importance of a new name, key words, special garments, and an oath to keep the ceremony sacred, even at the peril of life itself.
First of all, there is no evidence to show from the Scrolls that the Essenes believed they were doing temple work in Qumran. Indeed, the manuscripts found at Qumran do talk much about the temple…the one and only one in Jerusalem. It was the place where blood sacrifices took place. There is even a complete scroll called the Temple Scroll found in Cave 11. As mentioned before, the Essenes (if they really wrote the Scrolls) did not believe the Hasmonean (originating with the Maccabees) priesthood has authority to represent God. The Essenes believed that, someday, they would be in charge, and until that day, they made themselves ready to take over.
To show how weak the theory is, we can point to Apostle Mark E. Petersen who, at a general conference in 1973, discounted the idea that the Essenes were involved with temples. He said, “The Essenes, who are believed to have written the Dead Sea Scrolls. They rejected temple worship” (“Salvation Comes through the Church,” Ensign (Conference Edition), July 1973, p. 109). Price agrees, writing,
Another parallel raised by Seaich is that of the Qumran community as a spiritual temple. He says: “Their idea of the Congregation as a ‘temple’ for the Lord’s Spirit also foreshadowed the Church’s belief (1QS 5:5ff; 8:4ff).” Here he also references Bertil Gartner’s work on The Temple and the Community in Qumran. However, this concept, rightly understood, is also clearly taught in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 3:11; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:19-22). In the Pauline epistles the Jerusalem Temple is used metaphorically of the sanctification relationships that exist for the believer (individually) and in community (corporate). Because the Holy Spirit takes residence in the lives of believers, their relationship to their flesh is like that of the physical Temple to the presence of the Shekinah—that is, the outer structure acquires sanctity by virtue of indwelling holiness. For this reason, believers are not to involve their now “holy bodies” in immoral acts (1 Corinthians 6:18-20). Using the same analogy, the church—believers in community—is like the Temple in that it is comprised of those set apart to God (like priests). For this reason, those who are unholy must be separated from the church just as those who were ritually unclean had to be excluded from the Temple (2 Corinthians 6:14-17). Therefore, the idea of a sanctified community representing the spiritual concept of a temple is not an unknown or secret doctrine that requires a Qumran parallel (pp. 386-387).
As far as Mormonism’s belief in secret doctrines that should not be disseminated outside the group (in the temple), Price cites Seaich as writing:
The Community Rule, for instance, speaks of “those things hidden from Israel” which the founder of the Sect received for restricted use in the community (1QS 8:11). Every member of this esoteric group was commanded to “conceal the teaching of the Law from men of falsehood (outsiders) but shall impart true knowledge and righteous judgment to those who have chosen the way…and shall thus instruct them in mysteries of marvelous truth” (9:17-18) (p. 388).
Seaich is correct in this interpretation of Qumran practice. Other Jewish sects and almost all pagan cults (especially the mystery religions) also guarded secret doctrines reserved only for initiates or an enlightened inner circle. So common was this trait in religions of the time that even the early church was mistakenly charged by the Romans with practicing secret rituals in its seclusive observance of the Lord’s Supper. However, the New Testament rejected the concept of secret revelations and rituals in its declaration of the sufficiency and perspicacity of Scripture. . . . the New Testament issued a strict prohibition against those who “teach strange doctrines” (1 Timothy 1:3), and “pay attention to myths” (Titus 1:14) (pp. 388-389).
If the New Testament professes, then it is difficult to see how Seaich can conclude, “Thus, secret knowledge was part and parcel of Qumran belief, and represented the same mentality which characterized early converts to the Church (p. 389).
Summary: While the Jerusalem temple was important to the Essenes, they never considered this to be a place where secret ceremonies were performed or where marriages and families would be sealed forever.
Several ways that the Qumran community were close to Mormonism
To be fair, I would like to point out some of the similarities between the Essenes and the Mormons. Here are a few:
- The Jews in Quman felt they were superior in their theology to other Jews, such as Pharisees and Sadducees. Mormons are taught that their church has the authority of God and that Mormonism is the true faith
- The Jews in Qumran felt that cleansing themselves in a mikveh was necessary for salvation. Accrording to Gary A. Rendsburg,
The Community Rule refers to ritual immersion in a number of places, which was practiced by all Jews in antiquity for the removal of ritual impurity. But the Community Rule presents something new. 1QS 5:13-14 indicates that ritual bathing can remove not only ritual impurity but also sin and transgression. The setting of this passage is the initiation rite into the community. Thus, ritual bathing was a final act before one enters the Yahad (community). Together, these items are paralleled in the various books of the New Testament” (The Dead Sea Scrolls (The Teaching Company, 2010), pp. 12-13).
Although ceremonial cleansing and baptism are not the same, Mormonism does teach that baptism is the rite necessary for both salvation and entrance into the Mormon community.
- The Jews in Qumran had unique beliefs that differed from the historical Jewish faith, including what was held by the more mainstream Pharisees and Sadducees. Mormons hold to unique beliefs (such as baptism for the dead, the Word of Wisdom, and temple worship) that contrasts with the rest of the Christian world.
- The Jews in Qumran believed in temple worship, though not in any way similar to what Mormonism teaches. Mormons also believe in temple worship by constructing dozens of temples all over the world.
Several ways that the Qumran community were not close to Mormonism
On the other hand, there are many dissimilarities between the Essenes and Mormons, including:
- The Jews at Qumran were separatists, moving themselves outside of Jerusalem to distance themselves with the other Jews. While there are many polygamists who follow Joseph Smith and attempt to separate themselves, Mormons generally believe in assimilating themselves into society and are not separatists.
- The Jews at Qurman believe that everything is preordained or predetermined by God, limiting the free will of man. As Randall Price writes,
One of the theological distinctives of the Dead Sea Sect was their emphasis on predestination. They believed that from creation all people and events were predetermined, and that there existed a divine order which was progressively unfolding in the history of Israel (Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls, p. 25).
Mormons, meanwhile, believe in the freedom of man to make choices and are strongly against the idea that anything is foreordained.
- The Jews at Qumran followed a “teacher of righteousness,” although we are given little clue who this was. The Mormons emphasize their founder, Joseph Smith, as well as the current prophet of the church who leads them as a “teacher of righteousness,” a man who has a direct connection with God.
- The Jews of Qumran were communal and everything was shared. The Mormons are not communal.
What do Mormon leaders say about the Scrolls today?
Before the early 1990s, many of the Dead Sea Scrolls had not yet been made available to the public. That all changed when the scholars who had control of the documents were continually pressured to release them. By 1993, most of the Scrolls had been published and today they are, for the most part, easily accessible in print or on the Internet.
Many LDS scholars who wrote in the 1980s or before, including Blake T. Ostler from BYU, made some pretty big claims about the Scrolls and taught (as Brown and Abbott have done) that the manuscripts support the doctrines of Mormonism. While the LDS Church has invested much money in the Scrolls, including research and traveling exhibits, I have seen very little (besides the books cited above) citing these from current LDS scholars, including those from BYU. And there is practically no reference to these by the General Authorities.
A search on the church’s official web site, www.lds.org, show the top results as:
- Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit Travels Across Europe (Liahona, September 2005)
- BYU Project Aids Dead Sea Scrolls Studies (Ensign, December 1995)
- BYU Hosts Masada, Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit (Ensign, March 1997)
The fourth entry is an article titled “The Dead Sea Scrolls—Window to the Modern Bible” published in the December 2014 issue of Ensign. Donald W. Parry, a professor of Hebrew Bible at BYU, did not say that the Dead Sea Scrolls support Mormonism or even refer to long-lost doctrines. Rather, he concluded his short article by touting how the Scrolls support the accuracy of the Hebrew Bible. He wrote:
Most of the scrolls are severely fragmented because of age and exposure to the elements, but scholars have been able to glean a wealth of information about the scribal practices. The scribes’ careful and meticulous work indicates a high level of professionalism and competence as they copied and transmitted sacred texts from one generation to the next. Those of us who love and appreciate the holy scriptures owe a great debt to these scribes for their careful work. When we consider the ancient methods of transmitting texts by hand, we realize that the Bible went through a remarkable process to make it into this century. The Dead Sea Scrolls stand as a witness that the Old Testament has been passed down through the centuries with a respectable degree of accuracy. For this, we must be grateful to prophets, scribes, copyists, and everyone who was responsible for the Bible’s transmission from generation to generation. Source
Nothing to support Mormonism is included in the church’s online Bible dictionary either. In fact, the entry’s last paragraph states:
The finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls stimulated considerable interest among scholars of the antiquities. Not all the answers are in the Dead Sea Scrolls, but they constitute one of the most important archaeological discoveries of modern times. If discoveries continue, we may learn many things about the ancient people that will give us clearer historical insights. It is to be expected that such discoveries will support and supplement many principles and ideas that are already known to us through latter-day revelation. Source
In that February 2006 Ensign article written by Andrew C. Skinner referenced earlier in this review, the subheading reads, “The Dead Sea Scrolls provide valuable information but also embrace notions contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ.” In the article’s first paragraph, Skinner appears to contradict everything written by Brown and Abbott when he explained:
Archaeological and historical discoveries of the past century have recently generated tremendous interest in ancient religious texts and their teachings. Popular fiction has also fueled much speculation about them. Among the best-known and oft-quoted in this regard are the Dead Sea Scrolls, which have been cited in support of ideas ranging from the need to reinterpret Christianity—because of mysterious rituals and secret beliefs kept hidden by an ancient conspiracy—to another false notion that there was an unknown group of pre-Christian “Latter-day Saints” living down by the Dead Sea in the Holy Land. Source
Skinner does point to the “Copper Scroll,” a treasure map that was discovered in Cave 3, as possibly tying in to Joseph Smith’s discovery of the gold plates. The last sentence in that description says, “But the use of metal as an important scribal material in the Holy Land is now beyond question.” This is quite a stretch. In a chapter titled “The Mystery of the Copper Scroll” written by P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., an explanation is given for the unique features of a scroll titled 3Q15, also known as 3QTreasure, that described 64 locations of hidden treasure:
It does not fit readily into any of the categories customarily included when the scrolls are discussed. It is not biblical, it is not literary, and it does not contain sectarian doctrine. Written in a language—a form of Hebrew—different from the language of any of the other scrolls, and in a script that is not quite like any of the others, it is even made of a different material. Most of the scrolls are leather, and a few are papyrus, but 3Q15 is a sheet of copper. And its content has no true parallel at Qumran or anywhere else. It is unique . . . Many of its characteristics –the material from which it was made, its content, even its language—have no parallel in any of the hundreds of other scrolls from the eleven caves (Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls, edited by Hershel Shanks (Vintage Books, 1992), pp. 228, 238.
Notice that “no true parallel” can be found at “Qumran or anywhere else”! McCarter explains that the scribe does not appear to be a professional, saying “we may assume that the scribe who produced the Copper Scroll, whoever he might have been, was writing in his own dialect with all of its idiosyncracies. . . .it seems likely that this is not the hand of an expert scribe such as those who wrote most of the leather manuscripts in the Qumran archive (p. 235).
Skinner’s assessment (metal being an ancient “scribal material”) is an anomaly in an article that otherwise refrains from fantastic claims. His view is nothing more than speculation and a long shot at that. The Copper Scroll did not contain biblical text but rather a map leading to treasure that, by the way, was never found. It was just one of almost 1,000 scrolls. Later in his article, Skinner explains how
the Qumran sectarians were a unified community that recognized the apostate condition of Judaism and inaugurated reforms focusing their own lives on the tenets of true religion under the Mosaic dispensation, but they also embraced notions contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. For instance, the Qumran community did not believe that anyone had the right to worship in the name of the Lord unless a quorum of 10 individuals gathered in the company of a priest. Contrast this with Jesus’s statement that whenever two or more were gathered together in His name, there His spirit would be also (see Matt. 18:19–20). Jesus flatly contradicts another Qumran belief in His Sermon on the Mount: “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:43–44). Hating one’s spiritual enemies, however, is precisely what the Rule of the Community advocates when it declares, “Love all that He [God] has chosen and hate all that He has rejected.” Thus it seems clear that some points of Jesus’s doctrine were an intentional rebuttal of teachings like those of the Essenes. Source
Even though there is a misreading of Matthew 18:19-20 (i.e., the context is referencing church discipline and not an idea that Jesus in not present unless you have another person or two), it is clear that this teaching of needing a quorum of 10 people is not related to Mormonism or Christianity. Meanwhile, two BYU professors distance themselves from the Scrolls. In 1991, BYU professor Steven E. Robinson stated,
So far the plain and precious things have not been restored to us in the Dead Sea Scrolls. If Latter-day Saints would just get a good English translation of the [already] published scrolls, they would discover that the people of Qumran are not [Latter-day] Saints of former days (“LDS Scholars Renew Interest In Mysterious Dead Sea Scrolls,” Salt Lake Tribune, December 7, 1991, p. A5. Brackets in original).
In an article titled “Bearing Pure Testimony” published in the Religious Educator 1, no. 1 from 2000, BYU professor Robert Millet explained,
I was asked some years ago by a mission president to speak to his missionaries at a zone conference. We had a lovely gathering and a fine exchange of ideas. I was invited to stay for lunch and visit with the missionaries. I did a great deal of listening and learned much. One of the most interesting conversations revolved around a young couple who were being taught by the missionaries but who were not progressing. “They’re golden people,” one elder said, “ripe and ready for membership in the Church. They just won’t commit to be baptized.” Several suggestions were made by the missionaries listening in-fasting with them, having the bishop meet with them, intensifying the friendshipping effort, etc., to all of which the first elder said, ‘We’ve tried that.’ After a long pause, one elder spoke up: “Have you given them the Scrolls Discussion?” The first elder responded: “No, do you think this would be a good time for the Scrolls Discussion?” “Sounds like a perfect time to me,” the second came back. Now I had never heard of the Scrolls Discussion. I was dying to know what it was so I blurted out: “What’s the Scrolls Discussion?” The second elder looked quizzically at me and said: “Surely, Brother Millet, you’ve heard of the Scrolls Discussion?” I indicated that I had not. “The Scrolls Discussion,” he said, “involves showing the people how the Dead Sea Scrolls prove the truthfulness of the Church!” I asked: “How do you do that?” “Well,” he replied, “as you know, the Dead Sea Scrolls contain information about a group of Christians out in the deserts of Judea.” I said: “No, they don’t. The Dead Sea Scrolls were written by a group of hyperreligious Jews.” He said: “Oh. I didn’t know that.” Then the elder followed up: “Well, you do know that they had three presiding high priests at the head of their church.” I indicated that the leaders of their group were Aaronic priests, not Melchizedek. He went on: “Well, there’s much doctrine within the Dead Sea Scrolls that proves our church to be true.” I commented that the Scrolls were interesting historical documents but did very little for us doctrinally. This exchange went on for about ten minutes, the elder providing what he thought to be airtight “proofs” and me trying to gently let him know that most of what he understood about the Dead Sea Scrolls was simply untrue. I could see the frustration in his eyes. He breathed a sigh and then concluded the conversation with: “Well, I’ll just say this-the Scrolls Discussion has always worked perfectly for me!” I thought then (and have since) about all the people who may have come into the Church as a result of what they learned in the famous Scrolls Discussion. I shuddered. Source: https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/volume-1-number-1-2000/bearing-pure-testimony
Perhaps both Brown and Abbott ought to take a closer look at the reasons given by these two LDS professors for why they ought to also refrain from linking the Qumran community with Mormonism.
The accuracy of the Bible as shown through the Dead Sea Scrolls
In the days before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, LDS leaders seemed to do everything they could to disparage the Bible. After all, it is believed that corrupt Catholic priests must have changed many teachings throughout the Old Testament. The Eighth Article of Faith (“We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly…”) is cited by many Latter-day Saints when showing they don’t believe everything the Bible has to say.
Founder Joseph Smith explained, “I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 327). Apostle Bruce R. McConkie wrote, “As all informed persons know, the various versions of the Bible do not accurately record or perfectly preserve the words, thoughts, and intents of the original inspired authors” (Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 383). And the First Presidency consisting of President Ezra Taft Benson, Gordon B. Hinckley, and Thomas S. Monson explained: “The Bible, as it has been transmitted over the centuries, has suffered the loss of many plain and precious parts” (“Letter Reaffirms Use of King James Version of Bible,” Church News, June 20, 1992, p. 3).
Before the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered and later translated, the earliest copies of the Old Testament came from the tenth century Masoretic text. While there are discrepancies, the discovery of the Scrolls has helped us understand the accuracy of the biblical transmission of the text.
First, they show the accuracy of the Old Testament text. According to Price,
Every person with a cursory knowledge of the Dead Sea Scrolls has been told that they are significant because they confirm for us the accuracy of the Old Testament text. This is true, and it was one of the most obvious benefits derived from discovering the Scrolls (p. 126)
These texts, which could have been dated no older than AD 68, predated the earliest Masoretic text copies from the 10th century AD. As Price explains,
Before the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, the biblical text of the Old Testament was known only from a text dating to the Middle Ages. The earliest known complete Hebrew manuscript of the Old Testament was the Ben Asher Codex in the Public Library of Leningrad. This was our oldest copy of the Bible, dating to about AD 1008 . . . Because of the vast amount of time that passed between the writing of the originals and the tenth-century copy, it was assumed that generations of scribes had entered mistakes of transmission into the Bible text. . . . These doubts were settled forever with one of the first Scrolls discovered, which was a copy of the entire book of Isaiah. (p. 126)
Amazingly, a comparison of the earliest Masoretic text with the Great Scroll of Isaiah showed how similar, not different, they were. Price states that “it was evident that, except for minor details (such as spelling) that do not affect the meaning of the text, the two were almost identical” (p. 127). Explaining how textual variants do take place in the different biblical manuscripts but how this does not take away from the preservation of the Bible, Price states,
Yet we can say–and say with greater confidence than ever based on the witness of the Scrolls–that our present text is accurate and reliable, and that nothing affecting the doctrine of the original has been compromised or changed in any way in the manuscript copies. . . . Those who expected the Scrolls to produce a radical revision of the Bible have been disappointed, for these texts have only verified the reliability of the Old Testament as it appears in our modern translations. (p. 144, 146)
Second, the Dead Sea Scrolls show that Joseph Smith’s Inspired Version has no biblical support. In their book The Changing World of Mormonism, Jerald and Sandra Tanner wrote,
Bible scholars have reason to rejoice over the discovery of manuscripts of Isaiah dating back to ancient times. Mormon scholars, however, are faced with a dilemma, for although these manuscripts support the text of the Bible, they could turn out to be one of the strongest evidences against Joseph Smith’s “inspired revision” of the Bible and his “translation” of the text of Isaiah found in the Book of Mormon. . . . If Mormon scholars could find similarities between the text of the Book of Mormon and documents that were not known in Joseph Smith’s day, this type of evidence would be impressive. The Dead Sea Scrolls, for instance, should provide a great deal of evidence for the Book of Mormon if it is really an ancient record. The Isaiah scroll found at Qumran Cave 1 should have caused a great deal of joy among Mormon scholars, for here is a manuscript of Isaiah which is hundreds of years older than any manuscript previously known. Surely, if the Book of Mormon were true, this manuscript would be filled with evidence to support the text of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon and thus prove that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. Instead of proving the Book of Mormon, however, it has turned out to be a great disappointment to Mormon scholars (pp. 372-373).
Imagine the positive publicity that the LDS Church could have received had anything been discovered showing how Joseph Smith was correct in his Bible translation! For example, if the part in the JST where Smith added a half chapter prophesying a “seer” named “Joseph” would have been found in a document at Qumran, it would have proved that corrupt priests took away this section out of Genesis and would have been immediate support for Smith’s “translation.” It would have been an unbelievable discovery and lent support to the idea that Smith really did have the ability and right to correct the biblical text. Here is Genesis 50:26-31 that will give an idea of what he added:
26 A seer shall the Lord my God raise up, who shall be a choice seer unto the fruit of my loins.
27 Thus saith the Lord God of my fathers unto me, A choice seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins, and he shall be esteemed highly among the fruit of thy loins; and unto him will I give commandment that he shall do a work for the fruit of thy loins, his brethren.
28 And he shall bring them to the knowledge of the covenants which I have made with thy fathers; and he shall do whatsoever work I shall command him.
29 And I will make him great in mine eyes, for he shall do my work; and he shall be great like unto him whom I have said I would raise up unto you, to deliver my people, O house of Israel, out of the land of Egypt; for a seer will I raise up to deliver my people out of the land of Egypt; and he shall be called Moses. And by this name he shall know that he is of thy house; for he shall be nursed by the king’s daughter, and shall be called her son.
30 And again, a seer will I raise up out of the fruit of thy loins, and unto him will I give power to bring forth my word unto the seed of thy loins; and not to the bringing forth of my word only, saith the Lord, but to the convincing them of my word, which shall have already gone forth among them in the last days;
31 Wherefore the fruit of thy loins shall write, and the fruit of the loins of Judah shall write; and that which shall be written by the fruit of thy loins, and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah, shall grow together unto the confounding of false doctrines, and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to a knowledge of their fathers in the latter days; and also to the knowledge of my covenants, saith the Lord.
The Dead Sea Scrolls don’t help authenticate Smith’s translation in any way, shape, or form. His “translation” is not based on any manuscript evidence and should therefore be rejected as authentic.
For more on this topic, see here.
There are many, many problems with any Latter-day Saint who wants to point to the Dead Sea Scrolls as a support for the doctrines as taught by the LDS Church, including:
- The doctrines claimed by some Mormons are not really teaching of the Qumran community;
- Current LDS leaders and recent LDS scholarship do not seem to point to the Dead Sea Scrolls as support for Mormonism;
- Any support for the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible as found in the Scrolls is nonexistent.
What the Dead Sea Scrolls do help us understand, however, is that the Old Testament is a very reliable set of manuscripts and can be read with confidence. Instead of support for Mormonism, these writings support biblical Christianity. Mormon laypeople who are quick to point to the Scrolls as a reason why Mormonism is true ought to follow the leads of their leaders and scholars by ceasing their impossible claims. The Dead Sea Scrolls are not a support for the Mormon religion.
Abbott, Charles. Immersion in Mormonism: Especially for New Members and also Teens and Members who Struggle. Charles Abbott, 2014.
Brown, Kevin. Evidences of the True Church. Cedar Fort, 2008.
Collins, John J. The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Biography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013.
Magness, Jodi. The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2002.
Price, Randall. Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1996.
Rendsburg, Gary A. The Dead Sea Scrolls Course Guidebook. Chantilly, VA: The Great Courses, 2010.
Shanks, Hershel, ed. Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls: A Reader from the Biblical Archaeological Review. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1993.
For more information check out The Dead Sea Scrolls Q&A
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