A few years ago, it was "The Gospel According to Judas." At other times, it's been some other major bombshell revelation that will call into question even the most basic beliefs of the Christian church. I don't remember them all because it gets hard to tell them apart after awhile. I don't know if this story from Time magazine actually qualifies, because its subject is not nearly as big a deal as some others have been. Maybe this is just the warm-up act.
In any event, writer Tim McGirk does his best to make his subject matter A Major Controversy. Somehow, he happened across an Israeli scholar who asserts that the Essenes (gulp) never existed! Stop yawning and listen, doggone it! You see, the Essenes were a Jewish sect in the first century who may have been linked to John the Baptist and who are most famous for their collection of Biblical texts known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Those scrolls, discovered at the caves of Qumran as long ago as 1947, consist of copies of books of the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. Hebrew scholars and Biblical archeologists have believed they were a sect of super-devout Jews who moved to the desert in order to get away from the unclean influence of the Greek culture of Judea's cities. The scrolls were either copies of Old Testament books they made while they lived there or that they brought with them, as well as some of their own writing. Rachel Elior, who teaches Jewish mysticism at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, thinks they didn't exist because they never use the name "Essene" in their scrolls. She may have other reasons, but McGirk doesn't list them.
Another professor, who is in charge of a project studying the scrolls at Princeton, suggests that the reason for this is because "Essene" is a name given to them by other people. Kind of like how people in Mexico don't refer to themselves as Mexicans, since that's an English word, but use a Spanish word instead.
But this is the teapot writer McGirk has got, so he's going to do his dead level best to make a tempest in it. In his lede -- the opening paragraph -- we learn that Elior's claim "has shaken the bedrock of biblical scholarship." You know, I wondered why all of the books in my office fell over in a dead faint the other day. Their bedrock had been shaken. Even those written in the 97% of Christian history that happened before we ever heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls!
Professor Elior may or may not have some substance for her theory -- like I said, McGirk doesn't trouble our pretty little heads with lots of detail about it, so who knows. Nor does he do a lot of digging into her claims before making statements about how they are received.
He also seems unaware that if he picked up a copy of a magazine like Biblical Archaeological Review, he might have read dozens of stories about controversy over the origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The bedrock of biblical scholarship he surmises would have been well-shaken as well as stirred by now if that's all it took. He might also have learned that before the discovery of the scrolls, the earliest known texts of the Old Testament dated to the the 4th century, not the 9th as he says.
Of course, BAR has a much smaller circulation than Time. But it looks to me like McGirk & co. are working on that.
(H/T Get Religion)