M* Book Club: Nibley’s An Approach to the BoM, ch 15

chapter 15: Qumran and the Waters of Mormon

Nibley notes that both the people of Alma and of Qumran (near the Dead Sea) were a “church of anticipation.”  They were both driven from power and regular society into the wilderness.  Each would anticipate the coming of the Messiah, believing their covenant communities would prepare the way for his coming.

Nibley notes,

“We can now read the Book of Mormon in a totally new context, and in that new context much that has hitherto been strange and perplexing becomes perfectly clear.”

This is a very important concept for LDS, as well as all who study scripture.  Too often, we study holy text from one perspective, normally a modern one that we feel comfortable with.  Here, Nibley shows that we can now see a new context and a new method to understanding scripture. This is not only true in regards to the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Book of Mormon.  There are many things found in all scripture (and the temple endowment, for that matter) that we miss simply because we only see it within one set of parameters we have previously chosen.  There is an ocean of information, but we only skim across the surface, never delving into the waters to see the coral reef or exotic fish that are hidden from the surface.  Thankfully, there are many current LDS scholars that are helping us to wade deeper into the waters of scripture, getting us out of the comfortable tidal pools and into the real ocean of truth and light.  For example, I suggest the books at www.saltpress.org as a great starting place for understanding key sections in the Book of Mormon.

Amazingly, this all began with Hugh Nibley looking beyond the scriptures to see what ancient documents helped make sense of the things we are studying.

Nibley quotes from the Manual of Discipline, now commonly known as the Community Rule scroll (1QS).  He primarily uses Millar Burrows’ translation (one of the first translations available), which contained a handful of books from Qumran and while not the best translation available, still is valid for what Nibley is teaching here.

The people of Qumran, whether Essenes, Zealots, or another group, were a covenant community that anticipated the coming of the Messiah.  They partook of the sacred Community meal and drink in anticipation of his coming.  They believed they were cast out of Jerusalem and the temple by the Wicked Priest, who usurped the power and authority of the priesthood.  He was the opponent of the Teacher of Righteousness. Today, many scholars believe this wicked priest was probably Jonathan Maccabeus. He and his family fought outsiders to regain Israel’s independence during the Maccabean wars. Jonathan took upon himself the role of king and high priest, re-regulating the order and works of the temple.  It is believed that some groups of priests were dislocated from their places of power. These would have fled into the wilderness and established a colony or community of devout believers, awaiting the time when the Messiah would come and restore them to their rightful place in the temple.  Various scholars believe that John the Baptist was raised in the wilderness at Qumran, given major similarities between his teachings and those of Qumran – and that he was also promoting a church of anticipation for the Messiah.

He quotes Georg Molin, on things scholars were finding out about the Qumran society.  One interesting thing is what name they would have called their community:

“Thus the whole way of life of the sect appears constantly in the light of the Last Days. ‘Latter-day Saints’ a certain ‘Christian’ sect of a later time called themselves. One can correctly attribute the title to the sect we are dealing with here. They knew no other way than the Jewish way, but they pursued that way with a holy devotion that puts us to shame.”

Since Nibley’s time, the scrolls have been translated.  Many continue showing the anticipation the Qumran community had for the coming Messiah.  One scroll, entitled the “Pierced (or Piercing) Messiah” (4Q285), says that the Messiah would either pierce and kill his enemies (the Kittim) or be pierced and slain by them.  Either translation denotes the anticipation of the community for the Messiah’s coming.  Both of the translations can be accepted by Christians as regarding to either Christ’s First (pierced Messiah) or Second (piercing Messiah) Coming.