Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Why Qumran?

Around 160 BC, a group of Israelites called the Essenes settled down on the Northwest corner of the Dead Sea in a place called Qumran. The Dead Sea is called so because of the high salt density which makes it impossible for life to inhabit it. The Sea also gives off a putrid stench which makes the smell of the mills in Steubenville, Ohio seem like roses. So why would anyone want to live there? Why, of all the places in the Judean desert, did the Essenes settle at Qumran? There are a couple of reasons. One of these is that the Qumranites saw themselves as an Eschatological community waiting for the coming Messiah. Another reason which the Qumran document, The Manual of Discipline, explains is:

“When these become members of the Community in Israel according to all these rules, they shall separate from the habitation of ungodly men and shall go into the wilderness to prepare the way of Him; as it is written, Prepare in the wilderness the way of…., make straight in the desert a path for our God (Is. 40:3).”

Yet, the passage from Isaiah only tells them to go out into the wilderness, it does not tell them precisely where. While I haven’t found anywhere in the Qumran documents to support this, I believe this passage from Ezekiel 47:1-12 may have provided the Essenes with a more specific destination:

“Then he brought me back to the door of the temple; and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me round on the outside to the outer gate, that faces toward the east; and the water was coming out on the south side. Going on eastward with a line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the loins. Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through. And he said to me, "Son of man, have you seen this?" Then he led me back along the bank of the river. As I went back, I saw upon the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other. And he said to me, "This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the stagnant waters of the sea, the water will become fresh. And wherever the river goes every living creature which swarms will live, and there will be very many fish; for this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. Fishermen will stand beside the sea; from En-gedi to En-eglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets; its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing."

The water flows out from the Temple and falls into the Dead Sea. It seems that the Essenes would have seen this passage and resolved to follow the path where the water poured out from the Temple in hopes of meeting the Messiah there at Qumran when he comes. Unfortunately for the Essenes, they were a bit off on their interpretation as Danielou tells us in his book, Christ and Us:

“[The] flowing into human nature of the grace first contained in the Manhood of Christ, as at its source, is expressed in Scripture through a series of images, each of which throws one aspect into relief. The first is that of a spring from which the Spirit flows as a fountain of living water bearing all before it, as a river giving rise to life wherever it spreads forth its waves, the cosmic Jordan whose source is in heaven, and which carries up to heaven the souls baptized in its water. This is the fulfillment of the ancient prophecy. Ezekiel had claimed that in the days of the Messiah a stream of water would flow eastwards from beneath the temple and fall into the eastern sea, the Dead Sea, so as to make all things live. This living water flowed indeed from the pierced side of Christ, the Temple of the New Covenant, to give life not to the fishes of the sea, but to those living souls which should be caught by the fishers of men, and of which the fishes were a type. Thus from the Manhood of Christ, transfigured by the divine energy, the divine life, the Spirit begins to be poured out upon the whole of mankind, so as to give life to all flesh by virtue of the continuity that unites His humanity with the rest of humanity.”

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