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Theology Thursdays: The Dead Sea Scrolls, Prophecy and Messiah XI

Last decade I had the opportunity to directly speak to and otherwise interact with three men who are members of the highly regarded Jesus Seminar. The Jesus Seminar is a group of scholars, historians and theologians who, among other things, make an intensive study of the words of Jesus, as contained, in the four Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Their detailed study takes them into the exercise of many disciplines - linguistics, archaeology and anthropology, to name a few.

The very first time I spoke to a Jesus Seminar member was early in 1997. First we spoke over the telephone and then I met with him - a respected and controversial Bishop - in the Spring of 1997, after he invited me to his office. We spoke for approximately two hours about the history of the Vatican church, early Christianity, the resurrection, Easter, the domestic life of Jesus, Judas, Islam and his commitment to inter-faith dialogue. The second time I spoke to a member of the Jesus Seminar was in the last week of December in 1997. It was by telephone. I initially asked this member a question regarding the earliest communities or individuals that claimed to follow Jesus of 2,000 years ago. The Jesus Seminar member whom I spoke to - who was an extremely respected and influential Catholic theologian - told me that the belief system of the earliest believers in Jesus, in many key ways, was incomparable and totally unlike that which most believers in Jesus, today known as Christians, claim as the key tenets of their faith and religion. I then asked him of his view of how Jesus is depicted in the Holy Qur'an. He told me that what is contained in the Qur'an regarding Jesus corresponds almost exactly with the beliefs of the earliest followers of Jesus, after his death. We communicated with one another off and on, for a couple of years, via the Internet, regarding this subject and others.

In the spring of 1998, after a couple of preliminary telephone conversations, I had a three-hour meeting with a third Jesus Seminar member, at his invitation, in his home. He explained to me more of the group's inner-workings, how they were divided amongst each other - in groups and categories. We spoke about politics, the Black community, Islam, and we exchanged some interesting opinions over a documentary on Jesus, which was airing on public television at the time, and which was based primarily upon the work and findings of the Jesus Seminar and certain of its individual members. One of the key factors that this Jesus Seminar member and I discussed was his belief and that of the Jesus Seminar that it is likely that as much as 80% of what is written in the Gospels to have come from the mouth of Jesus (commonly distinguished in Bibles in red ink or color) was never uttered by the man who lived 2,000 years ago.

There was an enormous and intentional difference between what and how Blacks coming out of slavery were taught and exposed to about Jesus and how and what their White slave masters and former slave masters believed and were taught about Jesus. There is, today, generally speaking, a tremendous difference in what is taught from the pulpit by ordained Christian preachers, and that which is taught in the theological seminaries that educate and train these same Christian preachers. There is a significant difference between what the Jesus Seminar teaches and what is taught in theological seminaries. And, there are important details of information contained within the Dead Sea Scrolls that some members of the Jesus Seminar have not encountered or studied. (Some, not all, I believe.)

What about the special study sponsored in 2001 by the office of the United States' Secretary Of Defense called, "Sustaining Military Dominance: Examples from Ancient History," which undertook a deep study of Republican Rome and Macedonia under Alexander the Great? Considering the interaction between "Macedonia" and the Jews; and the Roman government and Jesus, and his earliest followers and believers; those involved with the Defense Department study should have undertaken a review of the Old and New Testaments, if their work was thorough. It is very possible that they reviewed the recorded history of events that occurred 2,000 years ago and what is written in the Gospels about Rome and Jesus, in particular.

Where and how do the 100 people that the Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught were paid by the U.S. government to deal with the "problem of prophecy" fit into this rough schematic or outline of a "Jesus knowledge pyramid" that I am describing and alluding to? Of the groups that I have mentioned - Black slaves (and ex-slaves) taught about Jesus; White slave masters (and former slave masters) who claimed Jesus; today's ordained Christian preachers; today's theological seminaries, Dead Sea Scrolls Scholars; Jesus Seminar members; members of the Defense Department study group; and the 100 people paid by the U.S. government to deal with the "problem of prophecy" - who is the closest, in their view of Jesus, to that of the earliest followers of the man who lived 2,000 years ago?

Is this tremendous gap in viewpoints that currently exists between the "average Christian" and the learned Dead Sea Scrolls or Jesus Seminar scholars, for example, inconsequential, insignificant or accidental? Is it irrelevant?

Consider this from Hugh Schonfield, in his book, The Passover Plot:

...not all of the messianic mysteries were public property. The extreme pietists who delved into such matters largely kept their knowledge to themselves, setting down some of their ideas in books only disclosed to the initiated. To supplement our knowledge we have to ferret out information to the extent that we have access to the internal literature of these groups, some of it, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, only recently available.

In all of the years that I have attended various churches, watched Christian preachers on television, or heard their public broadcasts on radio, I have never heard a single one make reference to the Dead Sea Scrolls or teach anything about their contents or the controversy surrounding their handling. Of course my not hearing it does not mean it has not and is not happening.

Over the past decade or so, I have periodically spoken to two of my childhood friends who are Black Christian preachers, about the Dead Sea Scrolls. Although they were somewhat familiar with them, they had never mentioned them to their congregations in a public setting.

Let's try and keep this simple and not unnecessarily complicate the matter (smile).

Just, for now, reflect and think over the "gap" that exists between the "average Black Christian" and that of the few Catholic, and then Jewish scholars, who handled the Dead Sea Scrolls last century. Hugh Schonfield wrote about the Dead Sea Scrolls in a manner that indicated his conviction that their ultimate relevance, comprehension and utility was for a future people living well beyond the time of their original authorship. A group of people that he believed were alive today. Mr. Schonfield is one of many scholars who have wrestled with the issue of how to close the "knowledge gap" that exists between the masses and the most elite scholars where the subject of Jesus and prophecy is concerned. There are theologians inside of the Vatican today, as well as popular Protestant Christian preachers in America who have wrestled with the same.

While I cannot guarantee that it won't happen, I do not think that we should expect a member of the Jesus Seminar or one of the leading experts on the Dead Sea Scrolls to open up for 50 Cent and Eminem this summer in their upcoming amphitheater tour (smile). Nor should we expect such scholars, historians and theologians to speak at halftime during one of the nationally televised games in the upcoming NBA Finals. The best I think we can hope for, in the short term, is a private and public conference about Jesus and the prophesied Last Messenger(s) to come (appear) in the Last Days (Latter Times)by the leading theologians, scriptural scientists, historians, and religious scholars.

Part of the work of making up the deficit in what the masses know and what an elite minority know about Jesus - in the historical and prophetic sense - is our collective and individual responsibility. All of us can make progress in this area by educating ourselves on the controversy regarding the Dead Sea Scrolls and by learning what we can about the work of the Jesus Seminar, pro and con. In the short term, we can do even more to close the gap by curling up with Jabril Muhammad's, easy-to-read 104-page book, "Is It Possible That The Honorable Elijah Muhammad Is Still Physically Alive???" and joining the Written website mailing list. Earlier this year, for the first time in this manner, Minister Jabril Muhammad went into some of the details of his 7-letter exchange in the 1970s, with the aforementioned highly regarded Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, Dr. Hugh J. Schonfield.

There is absolutely a "Jesus knowledge pyramid." And non-White people around the world have been deliberately kept at the bottom of it.

No, you say? Look into a good history of the Shriners (Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine).

Cedric Muhamamd

Thursday, April 10, 2003

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