Beginning with Part 6 of Nibley’s An Approach to the Book of Mormon, he spends several chapters on the Dead Sea Scrolls and how they tie in to this study of the Book of Mormon. Sadly, one of the scholars he quotes frequently in these chapters, Frank Moore Cross, passed away on October 16, 2012, just days ago. He has been a stellar scholar in ancient Judaism, and particularly with the Dead Sea Scrolls. His scholarship and guidance to the world in these issues will be missed.
Nibley does not go into detail on the discovery of the DSS, except for certain issues that tie into the discussion.
I would note some things to consider, though. First, the DSS were first discovered in 1947 by some Bedouins who discovered a few of the caves near Qumran, where the scrolls were found. Scholars were later apprised of some ancient documents being sold in the market place, which led them to first buying several of the documents, and later finding the larger caches in about 30 caves. 972 texts were eventually found, from several near complete documents to fragments the size of a fingernail. All the books of the Old Testament are represented, except for Esther (the only book that does not mention God). Of these books of the Bible, Deuteronomy and Isaiah have the most copies.
The documents were assigned to people on the translation team, a small group of scholars headed by Roland de Veaux, the archaeologist that excavated Qumran. Sadly, the translation process proceeded at a snail’s pace. Few outside the small translation team were allowed to see, view, or handle the scrolls. 40% of the documents were those we find in the Bible. Another 30% were non-Biblical documents that were already known from other ancient sources. The final 30% were unknown documents, such as the Community Rule, the Temple Scroll, and the Habakkuk Pesher/Commentary.
By the early 1990s, very few of the third group of documents had been translated by the team. Scholars everywhere were frustrated at the slow process. Due to several events, quality photographs of the scrolls were suddenly made available, and many scholars made independent translations, or were eventually added to the Scroll teams, including LDS scholar Dana Pike.
In 1957, when Nibley’s An Approach to the Book of Mormon was published, very few documents had been translated or provided to other scholars. It caused a lot of speculation in regards to the scrolls, such as Nibley notes on Solomon Zeitlin, a well known Jewish Rabbi of the time, who rejected the scrolls as medieval gibberish.
It is interesting to study this section in light of so much more information now available to us today. We have several translations of the Dead Sea Scrolls in English and other languages available. I have two on my bookshelf. Nibley did not have such a luxury in writing these chapters, yet he quickly recognized issues that still hold true today.
All scholars now agree that the scrolls date primarily between the 2nd century BC and the 1st century AD, although some may date as early as 400 BC or as late as 300 AD (depending on the caves they were found in). All scholars agree that the documents were prepared for long term storage, but not necessarily like one did in a Genizah, where old and tattered documents were discarded behind a wall. As with the Assumption of Moses, found in the DSS and elsewhere, the Lord discussed with Moses the importance of saving documents for future generations. We can easily agree that the DSS were preserved, just as the metal plates of Mormon were hidden by his son for a future generation to discover.
There are still some who mock the Book of Mormon because it claims a Jewish group acting like Christians. The BoM speaks of baptism, a Messiah who redeems mankind, etc. But we find this same thing in the DSS. The Community Rule and other scrolls tell of a community of people, who enter into the group via baptism. The members partake of wine and bread to represent their anticipation of the coming Messiah.
In Professor Geza Vermes’ translation of the Community Rule, we read,
“And this is the Rule for the men of the Community who have freely pledged themselves to be converted from all evil and to cling to all His commandments according to His will….
They shall separate from the congregation of the men of falsehood and shall unite, with respect to the Law and possessions, under the authority of the sons of Zadok, the Priests who keep the Covenant, and of the multitude of the men of the Community who hold fast to the Covenant. Every decision concerning doctrine, property, and justice shall be determined by them….
On joining the Community, this shall be their code of behaviour with respect to all these precepts.”
“Whoever approaches the Council of the Community shall enter the Covenant of God in the presence of all who have freely pledged themselves. He shall undertake by a binding oath to return with all his heart and soul to every commandment of the Law of Moses in accordance with all that has been revealed of it to the sons of Zadok, the Keepers of the Covenant and Seekers of His will, and to the multitude of the men of their Covenant who together have freely pledged themselves to His truth and to walking in the way of His delight. And he shall undertake by the Covenant to separate from all the men of falsehood who walk in the way of wickedness.
“For they are not reckoned in His Covenant. They have neither inquired nor sought after Him concerning His laws that they might know the hidden things in which they have sinfully erred; and matters revealed they have treated with insolence. Therefore Wrath shall rise up to condemn, and Vengeance shall be executed by the curses of the Covenant, and great chastisements of eternal destruction shall be visited on them, leaving no remnant. They shall not enter the water to partake of the pure Meal of the saints , for they shall not be cleansed unless they turn from their wickedness; for all who transgress His word are unclean…. ”
The Community Rule continues discussing entrance into the Community, and of the sacred meal the members partake of:
“Every man, born of Israel, who freely pledges himself to join the Council of the Community shall be examined by the Guardian at the head of the Congregation concerning his understanding and his deeds. If he is fitted to the discipline, he shall admit him into the Covenant that he may be converted to the truth and depart from all falsehood; and he shall instruct him in all the rules of the Community…. after he has entered the Council of the Community he shall not touch the pure Meal of the Congregation until one full year is completed, and until he has been examined concerning his spirit and deeds; nor shall he have any share of the property of the Congregation….He shall not touch the Drink of the Congregation until he has completed a second year among the men of the Community. But when the second year has passed, he shall be examined, and if it be his destiny, according to the judgement of the Congregation, to enter the Community, then he shall be inscribed among his brethren the order of his rank for the Law, and for justice, and for the pure Meal; his property shall be merged and he shall offer his counsel and judgement to the Community.” (The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, Geza Vermes, Penguin Books, 1987, pp 67-70),
To this day, many scholars believe that John the Baptist probably was a member of the Qumran group, and some still believe Jesus was influenced by them, as well.
The discussion of the Community and of being a Covenant People is very important in the Book of Mormon, and to the DSS group.
Interestingly, the people of Qumran were led by a group of 3 high priests and 12 elders.
Nibley notes, “The scrolls are typically Christian and yet they are Jewish, typically Jewish and yet Christian! Moreover, they are typically biblical in style and composition, and yet not biblical.”
We definitely can see this in regards to the Book of Mormon, also.
As with the Book of Mormon, the Dead Sea Scrolls still make many Jews and Christians nervous. At least the ones who take the time to study them. Imagine what either would say in reading this in the scroll, Heavenly Prince Melchizedek”
“And the day of Atonement is the end of the tenth Jubilee, when all the sons of Light and the men of the lot of Melchizedek will be atoned for…and he (Melchizedek) will, by his strength, judge the holy ones of God….Elohim has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment…And your Elohim is Melchizedek who will save them from the hand of Satan.”
Christ is Melchizedek, or the Righteous King and Messiah.