On Being a Seminarian: Enjoy the Process of Rejection…

Over last weekend I was privileged to attend a couple sessions for the West Coast Qumran Study Group, which felt like a miniature conference with scholars from the west coast of the U.S. and Canada gathered to share ideas, research, and give tips on utilizing Bible software. Or, at the very least, those were the topics of the sessions I was able to attend (the bulk of the study group was held on Saturday – the same day I had my eight hour class). After the final session on Sunday, we went to the Stickmen Brewery in Lake Oswego for lunch.

What was really cool for me was to see my former professor from U of O, Dr. Daniel Falk, talking with one of my new professors at George Fox – my advisor, in fact, Dr. Steve Delamarter. What I found even cooler, though, was having the opportunity to chat with Falk after everything was over. I had told him that I had just finished my first year of seminary and am hoping to continue on for a PhD thereafter. Somewhat to my surprise, he seemed excited and after sharing a couple tips here and there, we got to talking about how scholarship – that is, the advanced study of a particular subject in a particular field – works. He had told me that if I spent my time researching and presenting a topic that doesn’t get rejected, then I haven’t really done much for scholarship. However, if I were to find something – preferably something that hasn’t been tried before – that does get rejected by other scholars, then I actually have advanced – however minutely – scholarship. By ruling something out, one is actually moving the greater pursuit forward.

As I ruminated on this while heading home, I realized there are a few things that I must focus on even as I pursue my Master’s. First of all, however studied one may be, one must never fall in love with their thesis or their particular methodology. Should this happen and that thesis become utterly rejected, then one will feel that they have failed – even though, as just discussed, one has done something for the field. Ultimately, then, my focus should be on being proven wrong; to do as much research as I can and as well as I can with the hope that it gets knocked down. It will not be for naught; it’ll be an opportunity to try something new.

Secondly, I must never carry myself as though I’m always right. In fact, I ought to do the opposite: invite my professors and fellow students to prove me wrong, even in the littlest of essays. Our culture, of which I am very much a part, has become so engrained and fixated against criticism that we’ve become blind to the benefits of criticism – of our work and ideas being out-rightly proven wrong, unsupported, or too steeped in presuppositions. My first paper for writing 121 in college received an ‘F.’ Had it not received such a low, demoralizing grade (with extensive commentary in the margins), I highly doubt that I’d be as motivated to try harder and rework the incorrect areas until they were right – or at least closer to being right.

Thirdly, I must lower whatever expectations I might have about being an influence in scholarship. As Dr. Falk told me on Sunday, nobody really sends waves throughout the rest of the scholarly world for nearly fifteen or twenty years later. There are the rare exceptions, sure, but they’re the geniuses of the scholarly world. I still ought to strive to change the world, but adjust the scope toward something very, very small with the major focus on being utterly rejected and sent back to the drawing board. This, of course, leads to the last thing I realized.

Enjoy the process. Studying more and more is less about acquiring knowledge and more about creating more questions and unraveling one’s knowledge. My experience in seminary has ultimately been a journey of epistemology – of learning and relearning how I know what I know, which requires unraveling one’s knowledge and asking more questions instead of giving more answers. Such a process seems hopeless, if not annoying. But perhaps, once again, this is because our culture has misled us into believing that success is in finding more answers than questions – in being right more than wrong.

Dr. Falk’s words could not have come at a better time. I just finished my first year, have already signed up for classes this fall, and have begun deciding where I’d like to explore for my Master’s thesis (or if I even want to write a thesis). Having my understanding of what defines successful scholarship flipped around allows me to see that the thirst for understanding thrives in an environment where things are proven wrong rather than right. Even as I head into more coursework and build ideas for a thesis, I am shifting my focus not onto proving my arguments right, but to boldly push small, new ideas to rule them out and keep trying. I mean, after all, it gives me an excuse to read more books.


Most job interviews I’ve been in have been awkward, especially group interviews. People stutter, nervously tap their shoes, or have something stuck in their hair when they walk in (you know who you are). Wednesday’s group interview was incredibly different, for none of us was applying for a job; we were applying for school.

George Fox Evangelical Seminary was one of the first schools I had thought about back in ’09 and ’10 when I was figuring out my future. Of course back then I was also considering law school, but due to terrible LSAT scores, I wisely gave up that pipe dream. And in the fifth year of undergrad studies, I had the opportunity to take two more Religious Studies classes with my favorite professor, Daniel Falk, who not only wrote me a letter of recommendation to George Fox, but also thought seminary would be a good fit for me.

During those classes I read material, participated in group discussions, and wrote more than I ever have before for any of my English classes. It was stressful, uncomfortable, and nerve-wracking, but I loved every bit of it. When that winter term was over, Dr. Falk invited both of those classes (totaling maybe 20 people, tops, with three overlap students – myself included) to his house for dinner to celebrate a fun term. We watched The Life of Bryan with side commentary from Dr. Falk and ate Yumm bowls, which were surprisingly delicious. Afterwards we talked church, theology, and Scripture and it was then that I truly knew what I wanted to do next: Seminary.

At approximately 11:30 Thursday morning I received an email from one Sheila Bartlet, admissions counselor for George Fox Seminary, congratulating me on my acceptance to the Seminary for this fall. Even though it has been two full days since that email, it is still sinking in. An idea I had in the fall of ’09 has now become a reality; I’m going to be a seminarian. I have the opportunity of a lifetime waiting for me right around the corner. With a few more forms to fill out and some finances to gather together, the only thing I really need to do between now and September 2nd is show up. Somehow, I am dumbfounded by this.

And yet I have never been more excited about attending school and I know that the excitement will only increase the closer we get to September (I’ve always been one of those weird kids who gets excited about school not for seeing all my friends again or getting new clothes – though they’re a part of it – but for the new pencils, paper, backpacks, and other school supplies. I am a nerd. I was born that way). While the excitement is a great thing, I know (and hope) that this will be the most challenging academic environment I have ever been in. I will read, discuss, and write more than I did in those two classes with Falk or really with all the classes I’ve ever taken combined. Whatever social life I did have, especially on Facebook, will probably be non-existent. Yet I believe there will be one more thing, something I noticed while in the interview on Wednesday: Belonging.

Unlike any interview I’ve ever been in, I felt comfortable in that interview. I mean I still stuttered, tapped my toes, and I’m pretty sure something was in my hair, but none of those things kept me from being engaged in the discussion of the group surrounding me. I felt more than focused; I felt as though I was where I belonged.

A little under three months remain between now and September 2nd and there is a lot I need to prepare for: moving, finances, a potential car change, and refreshing my mind on the things I’ve studied with Falk. All that to say there might be fewer posts in July and August, but there also might be more posts because I tend to write more when I’m reading more. Those posts might also become more theologically and/or Scripturally based due to my reading material. But I hope to keep writing no matter what – even through Seminary – on the things God teaches me and leads me through. Some grow by talking about it; I grow by writing about it.

What I cannot help but acknowledge is how this feels like a major accomplishment, which it is, but it is only the beginning. It’s going to be tough and my mental, emotional, and spiritual endurance will be tested again and again at greater levels than it has before. But I believe I’m ready for it.

Thank you to everyone who helped encourage me in this pursuit, despite it taking me at least two years to finally do. Your encouragement, however small you might have thought it, proved to be enormous because it kept me thinking about it. It kept me asking God about it, which is always what encouragement should beckon one to do: seek God.

God bless.

Still a Student…

“You’re a gentleman and a scholar,” the man told me as I handed him his pizza, 2 liter of Pepsi, and side of chicken strips and potato wedges (a.k.a. “jo-jos”). I awkwardly said, “You, too,” and turned around to my delivery car.

Ever since that night back in high school, I’ve always been intrigued by that phrase – mostly that last word, “scholar.” In my time in college, I came across this word quite a bit and I began to treat this word with a high regard: It’s not just a “student” of one subject or another, but rather a well-educated student – one who could easily teach classes on that particular subject.

What I find interesting, though, is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a professor or anyone with a PhD. It could be a college graduate or maybe even a high school graduate – anyone who is knowledgeable in a particular subject beyond the average person. Strangely, this hit me on my way home from Starbucks tonight.

I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but I’ve gotten used to saying, “I’m not a student anymore.” Every time I’ve said this, though, it’s been in reference to how I’ve just graduated and am no longer a student at U of O. By definition, though, I could theoretically be considered a “scholar” if given the right topic in the right setting. Not that anyone would call me such a thing; I’d prefer it if they wouldn’t. But by the definition of the word it could happen.

I really don’t want it to, though.

Why? Because I don’t think I would be learning very well if I was teaching. Some people can still learn as they teach; those are probably the better teachers. But I know that for myself, I often have the tendency of sticking to my own opinion if given the platform of “teacher.” Not to say that I would always stick to my own knowledge and never learn anything. But if constantly referred to as a teacher, my own learning capabilities would be severely hindered.

One definition of “scholar” actually does mean “student,” but how we’ve come to use the term throughout the years, it’s usually referring to someone with a particular expertise in a specific subject. For instance, one of my favorite professors, Dr. Daniel Falk, is considered a Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, but even then it’s too broad. His expertise is even more refined than that; his focus is on the liturgical texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls. But if you wanted a lecture on the New Testament and how it came to be, he could still give you ten lectures on the Gospels alone.

His knowledge in many biblical studies subjects is beyond that of the average person. In more ways than one, he’s a “scholar.” But the cool thing about Dr. Falk – what makes him a great teacher – is that he doesn’t stop learning. He’s not the only one, no; I’ve had a handful of professors quite like him. I just use him as an example because in the two seminars I had with him last winter, I could really see his desire to learn.

So I guess what I’m saying is that I never want to stop learning. I never want to become so “knowledgeable” in a particular subject that I stop letting my opinions be reworked and challenged. Francis Bacon once said, “Knowledge is power,” but I think knowledge loses its power if it stays the same. If nothing is added to it or redeveloped within it, then I think whoever possesses it will become nothing more than another book on the shelf. Books, unlike people, do not change once published.

What does my degree mean, then? Shouldn’t it mean that I’ve learned all one can learn and is now able to turn around and teach the current students? No. It means I’m now a professional student – equipped with the proper skills and know-how to continue asking questions and seeking out answers. What my degree means to me is that I have a set of skills that allows me to never stop learning.

I may not have anymore assignments, quizzes, or exams, but that does not mean I can’t still be a student. It does not mean I can’t still be studying certain subjects into the late hours of the night. It doest not mean that I must now put down the pencil, turn off the laptop, or close the book. It means I must do all of those things in any direction I choose.

Baptism Part 7: Introduction to Christian Baptism…

Baptism gets interesting when it’s brought to Christianity. In the Dead Sea Scrolls, ritual immersion plays a major role in the belief system and practice at Qumran. But in the New Testament, there is a rich diversity of what baptism means and how it’s practiced. It’s difficult – probably near impossible – to give one decisive meaning for baptism, which then makes it essential to look at each text in and of itself to see what possible meanings can be deduced.

In my paper I broke it down to five main spheres of influence: John’s baptism (which combines the various Gospel views), Paul’s baptism (drawing from Galatians 3:27-29 and Ephesians 4:5), Acts 19:1-7 (which is an interesting turning point in the Christian baptism), 1st Peter 3:21, and – since it was a discussion of early Christianity and not just New Testament Christianity – Didache 7, which probably has more of a philosophical interpretation than the others.

I really didn’t get to discuss these varying facets at any real length, just briefly highlighting one or two main points. But since I’m not trying to fit any 12-15 page limitation, I’m hoping to break open each of these more fully. Also, after writing two 13-page papers on people being dunked in water, I’ve noticed other verses and passages in the NT that offer an interesting view of baptism and I’m looking forward to discussing those as well.

Right now, my plan for this next set of posts is to implement Gerd Theissen’s thoughts mixed with a couple other scholars (Everett Ferguson, N.T. Wright, and others). Theissen’s book, The Religion of the Earliest Churches: Creating a Symbolic World, acted as the framework of thought for Dr. Falk’s Early Christianity class in the winter, so I thought it’d be interesting to present some of his main points and invite readers into some of the discussions we had as a class.

Since from here on out is a long discussion on Christian baptism, I think it’d be best to title this set of posts as such; “Christian Baptism.” Of course there will be references back to Qumran or Greco-Roman washing rituals to discuss certain similarities, but ultimately my focus will be on the New Testament books as well as some of the non-canonical books (books that, for one reason or another, didn’t make it into the New Testament).

Ultimately the goal is to see/discuss the formulation of Christian thought regarding baptism’s role in following Christ. Was it simply an initiatory rite or could an early Jewish-Christian still partake in purity rituals? Was it thought of as simply a metaphor or did one need to physically be baptized? In answering and/or discussing these questions, I’m hoping to read through the New Testament and relevant books to see the evidence with fresh eyes. As scholars indicate, we can’t look into the minds of the New Testament authors and know what they were thinking when they penned their letters/gospels. But what we can do is read the text for what it is and go from there.

As N.T. Wright says, though, it can’t simply be a discussion based on speculation and mystical fantasy; there must be some grounding in historical evidence. Currently I’m reading his book The New Testament and the People of God, which I hope will provide some historical insight that isn’t otherwise present in the New Testament. I’ll also borrow information from Bart Ehrman and his textbook, A Brief Introduction to the New Testament.

There isn’t much time left in the summer, so I’m hoping to milk it for all it’s worth. Once again, though, I open the floor to any who would like to share questions, thoughts, or possible conclusions on the various things I write. What drove both my religious studies classes last winter wasn’t a long series of lectures from Professor Falk (although I’d pay just as much for that as well). No, what drove those seminars were the class discussions. Students’ thoughts were shared, challenged, and refined and I’m hoping something similar happens through these posts.

***For all the previous posts on baptism/ritual immersion, please click here or the “Baptism” tab on the side.

Ehrman’s Error…

My first experience with Bart Ehrman actually proved more positive than negative. Reading through Misquoting Jesus gave me a much different and brutally-honest perspective of the Biblical manuscripts we have – such a perspective that compelled me to dive much deeper into the study of Scripture. After reading Misquoting, I turned to his text book, A Brief Introduction to the New Testament, and received an even deeper education into the formulation of each book of the New Testament. In comparison to Misquoting, Ehrman’s text book was also much more balanced.

As a recent post of mine makes clear, inerrancy is not an essential doctrine for my faith in God and His Son, Jesus Christ. In fact, if anything, it dilutes Scripture for me – dulling it down to a mere book on doctrine and systematic theology rather than a unique, inspirational text that interacts with the divine God, Yahweh. From this standpoint, I gravitated (at least initially) towards Ehrman’s approach much easier than many of my friends might. But after reading the first chapter of his most recent book, Forged, I must say that Bart Ehrman has gone off his rocker.

If you’re unfamiliar with Ehrman, he’s gained much publicity for his controversial books: Misquoting Jesus; Jesus, Interrupted; God’s Problem; and finally Forged. While I haven’t read either Jesus, Interrupted or God’s Problem, I could easily detect throughout Misquoting an undertone of cynicism and bitterness towards Christianity. I detect an even more intense undertone in Forged. But that’s beside the point. What really ticked me off was certain moments in his new book where he’d mention something in passing that was completely subjective, but yet he wouldn’t back up his claim with the evidence. The premise of this new book is to see how the New Testament books were all (or at least mostly) deliberately forged by other names and not the names the books claim to. He claims “objectivity,” but fails to recognize his conclusions are completely subjective.

Ehrman does admit that this new book is not a thorough study of ancient forgeries. Be that as it may, as a “layperson,” I want evidence. If you’re going to make a claim such as “[W]e know of over a hundred writings from the first four centuries that were claimed by one Christian author or another to have been forged by fellow Christians,” you better have the objective evidence – that is, evidence not stilted by one’s own personal agendas when reading the text – to back it up. I personally believe that pure, untainted objectivity is extremely unlikely, bordering impossible. There always seems to be some deep root of subjectivity that has a major influence on how we read texts and formulate opinions. In a paper for one of my English classes, I called this natural-subjectivity our “literary goggles.” We all have them. Some are more obvious than others; while some are less. Ehrman’s literary goggles are laid out flat on the table in his introduction.

I really became frustrated with this book when I came across page 22. Ehrman says in passing, “The book of Hebrews was particularly debated; the book does not explicitly claim to be written by Paul, but there are hints at the end that the author wants readers to think that he’s Paul (13:22-25),” but does not back up this passing claim with any evidence nor does he refer to a later chapter where he might. And if you actually look up the passage in Hebrews, one is not clearly driven to Ehrman’s conclusions:

“I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon. Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings. Grace be with all of you.”

Pauline language? Yes. Author’s attempt at deceiving you? No – at least not “objectively” as Ehrman claims. It could well be a common way of communities writing back and forth. And, as Ehrman implies (he likes the word “intimate,” which basically means “imply”) in Misquoting, for all we know it could have been a later scribe thinking it was a Pauline letter and therefore added in something that would suggest it as so. It does not decisively mean the author of Hebrews was intending to mislead his audience. Not even close.

What really gets under my skin from this book is his self-contradiction at the end of chapter one. Presenting his case as seemingly-objective as possible, he then ends the chapter with this: “We simply can’t peer into their hearts and minds to see what they were thinking, deep down, when they decided to hide their own identity and to claim, deceitfully, that they were someone else,” (42). But wait a minute, if “[w]e simply can’t peer into their hearts and minds,” then how do we know they were deliberately being deceptive? How do we know that they intended to deceive their readers?

What Ehrman fails to acknowledge to the “layperson” is that the arguments and debates are much bigger than how he presents it. In discussing Ehrman two days ago, Dr. Falk (my favorite professor) said, “He’s still a fundamentalist – just from the other side. And he doesn’t seem to acknowledge it.”

Erhman’s error simply is making a strongly-subjective claim in the name of objectivity. As he says, we can never know what the New Testament authors intended with their writing. For all we know, they could be the names written on the cover. And even if they happen not to be, there isn’t conclusive, objective evidence to show they deliberately intended to deceive their readers for their own agendas. Ehrman cheats the “layperson” by not presenting the full argument; there are many more elements that go into textual criticism than what he has presented thus far. I may pull back my words a little as I read, but right now, I doubt it. Bart Ehrman has gone against what is true to authentic scholarship – even his own scholarship. His literary goggles have begun to blind him.

Rebuking My Self-Righteous Nature…

We never discussed this at length in class, but there have been several lectures with Dr. Falk wherein the Book of Jonah has come into the discussion. I’ve read the book only a handful of times, but I’m familiar with the basic storyline: Jonah is called to preach to the rebellious city of Nineveh, doesn’t want to, gets swallowed by a fish, pops out three days later, and then preaches to Nineveh and sees them repent at his message. Of course there probably some details I’m leaving out, but what caught my attention today was a mixture of things: Luke 11:29-32 and Dr. Falk’s interpretation of Jonah.

It was during my freshman year, taking his Intro to the Bible class, that I first heard an alternative outlook to Jonah. Up until that point my understanding of the text had been very surface level; Jonah’s three days spent in the belly of a fish was to foreshadow Jesus’ three days spent in the tomb. Nineveh’s repentance was to likewise foreshadow the repentance of the Gentiles (at least, as far as I understood it anyway). What Dr. Falk suggested in one lecture was quite surprising to my surface-level understanding of the text. What he suggested was that Jonah’s book may have functioned more rhetorically than literally. It’s central message? It was telling the people of Israel that if God so chose to forgive such a nation as the Ninevites, then Israel had no option but to be okay with that.

Honestly, Falk’s perspective isn’t necessarily a contrary opinion of Jonah; all of these elements could be there in the text at the same time (i.e. foreshadowing of the 3-days in the grave, repentance of the Gentiles, and – what I got from Falk – rebuke of religious self-righteousness). It just came as a significant difference, though, when the only interpretation I had been exposed to was the foreshadowing of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection (the 3-days thing). When I was reading through Luke 11 earlier today, I tried to think of Jesus’ reference to the “sign” not in terms of the 3-days’ thing, but in terms of the rebuke of religious self-righteousness.

Last night I watched a small video clip from one of Mark Driscoll’s latest sermons about heaven and hell. Yes, he and Mars Hill are currently working through the Gospel of Luke verse by verse and it just so happened that the topic became heaven and hell. But clearly – at least indicated from the video clip – this was in response to the Rob Bell drama. In the wake of watching this video clip, I wrote out a blog post. I read a lot of Scripture (specifically dealing with heaven and hell language) and was ready to argumentatively dismantle certain comments on the video. And then I read through Luke 11 in light of Falk’s view. I deleted the 1,500-word post.

Perhaps Jesus isn’t just referring to His death, resurrection, and the repentance of the Gentiles. Perhaps He’s also saying, “Take a lesson from Jonah; his self-righteousness hindered him from having the heart of God.” Whether we’re right about hell being an eternal place of conscious punishment or not is irrelevant; what is relevant is whether or not we’re willing to subject ourselves to God’s sovereignty. If He decides that certain people are righteous even though we don’t think they are, who are we to really say anything different?

Like the ancient Jews reading through the book of Jonah, perhaps we need to be reminded that – especially with the often heated discussion of heaven and hell – it’s God who has sovereignty; not our doctrines, dogmas, and systematic theologies. Christ didn’t die so that we could be Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes all over again; He died to liberate us from that pathetically-religious mindset. He came so that we could truly have abundant life.

God bless.

Baptism Part 2: Introduction to the Dead Sea Scrolls…

For those who have never even heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls, they’re pretty fascinating manuscripts. Discovered near the Qumran ruins in 1947 (roughly), these ancient scrolls have stirred much conversation amongst scholars and a little controversy amongst the lay readers. They’ve changed the way one views Second Temple Judaism and even early Christianity. Some of the manuscripts found in the 11 caves surrounding Qumran are the oldest Biblical manuscripts that we have today – they’ve even been used to correct some of the modern-day manuscripts used as sources in modern-day Bibles (compare 1 Samuel 10:27b-11:1 of the Harper-Collins NRSV Study Bible with any other Bible and you’ll see what I mean. Right after “But he held his peace,” there isn’t anything in the ESV. But thanks to a manuscript from Qumran, there’s been a paragraph added in).

How these manuscripts came to be discovered exactly is uncertain, but the story goes as a Bedouin shepherd named Muhammed edh-Dhib was out tending his flock with two of his friends. One of them started throwing rocks at cave openings in the cliffs near Qumran for entertainment (apparently there wasn’t much to do in Israel in 1947), when they heard something shatter inside. None of them went to check it out until sometime later when Muhammed separated from his friends, found the cave, and went inside. What he found were ten jars roughly two-feet high each; but only two of which had manuscripts in them. These first few were determined to be a copy of Isaiah, the Community Rule, and a commentary on the prophecy of Habakkuk. Four other scrolls were found a little later; the Hodayot (Thanksgiving Hymns), a partial copy of Isaiah, the War Scroll and the Genesis Apocryphon (which are, as James VanderKam notes, “stories based on some narratives in Genesis”). Since there is a ton of information on each of these texts, I’ll only briefly discuss the main manuscripts we covered in my class with Dr. Falk.

Damascus Document

Unlike the Community Rule or the War Scroll, this manuscript is not unique to Qumran; a copy of this was discovered much earlier than the Dead Sea Scrolls in Cairo, Egypt. Comparing the two copies, scholars have noticed that the Qumran copy has introductory material before the first column and that both copies have their columns arranged differently. In the early studies of the first copy at Cairo, scholars did not conclude that the community described in the text was a sectarian group, necessarily. They were separate from the other groups, but there is no indication in the text that the community had exiled themselves to the desert (at such a location like Qumran). VanderKam notes that passages such as “the assembly of the camps,” (12:23) indicates that whoever this group was, they had various settlements throughout ancient Judea (here is where many believe this is the Essene group – separate from the Sadducees and Pharisees. This suggestion has much in support of it, but isn’t concretely proven).

Community Rule

This is the primary text we studied from or referred to throughout the term. We studied this one more closely than the others simply because it’s very similar to the Damascus Document, but contains a lot of unique material to the Qumran sectarian group; there aren’t any other manuscripts outside the Qumran caves with this kind of material. There are also indications within the text itself that the Community was a group separated off from anyone else (i.e. Jerusalem). As I mentioned in the introductory post, this group took “into the wilderness” part of Isaiah 40:3 very literally. Some of the major components to this manuscript that I found are as follows: timing, purity, and knowledge.

a.      Timing

Part of my research for the ritual purification ceremonies at Qumran required learning about the initiation ceremony. And while I had focused on the immersion ritual involved, there is also a strong motif of proper timing. In order to become a member within the community, there was a very arduous procedure requiring much diligence and patience. One would apply for admittance to the “Guardian” or the “Overseer” (6:14), who would then examine his conduct and understanding of the Torah.

It isn’t clear how long he took to decide if an applicant was worthy, but once he did, there was another undetermined length of time before the initiate would be examined again, but this time by the whole council of the Community. The text does not say if this would be at the annual renewal ceremony (which is also a major part of my research for the ritual immersions practiced there); it simply says the initiate would be brought before the council again. If he was admitted into the Community, it was still a limited access. He would be allowed to partake in the sacred meal, but not the sacred drink. This whole process was the first year of probation.

His second year would be a deeper instruction into the ways of the Torah, but additionally the ways of their specific community (which had added many other teachings beyond the Torah – even two more sources of impurity. But I’ll discuss those in another post). After this probation was up (whenever this was), he would once again be brought before the council and they would discern whether or not if it was “his destiny” to be admitted. All throughout the Community’s discernment process was the motif of timing; if it was the right time to admit him into the next stage of discipline, etc. If the council decided it was not the right time at any stage, the initiate would be cast out or his probation period would be extended for however long the Community decided. In total, it could take as few as three years, but as long as 6 or 7 years, usually.

b.      Purity

This is at the heart of my research, so I’ll save most of the material for later posts. But just to set the tone for what’s to come, I’ll simply quote Hannah K. Harrington in saying that, “The biblical prescriptions for purity are often increased and impurity is regarded as a more potent force [in this Community] than it is by any other ancient Jewish group in antiquity,” (Purity Texts, 12). A couple noteworthy features to this increasing of the biblical purity prescriptions specifically within the Community rule are the two major ceremonies: Initiation and Communal Renewal. As already discussed, the initiation ceremony was a long and arduous process and once one was fully admitted, he was baptized for the sake of purity. One of the two additional sources of impurity (as Harrington notes) was contact with outsiders. Any new member would be considered as an outsider of sorts until he was fully admitted into the Community and immersed in water.

The annual renewal ceremony took place near the end of the third month in the Jewish calendar. It was a ceremony unlike any other for the entire Community would be immersed into the water nearly at the same time. The miqva’ot (immersion baths) had two sets a stairs with a partition down the middle separating the impure from the newly purified. On one side (lower stairs) each member would file into the pool and then come up the other side (higher stairs). It’s as if your entire congregation got into one big line and simply filed through the pool like a human conveyor belt. Beyond all that, though, was a major emphasis on repentance. There’s even a strong probability that certain purity hymns were recited during the whole ritual. It wasn’t just a mundane practice that you would go through; it was an act in worship, honor, and repentance to God all in one.

c.       Knowledge

As was already suggested above, learning and remembering the Torah as well as the specific teachings and principles of the Community was a major part of life at Qumran. One of their teachings regards the conduct of the Community during a gathering. First and foremost, you were brought into the gathering place according to your rank. Secondly, you were required to speak during the meetings, but not out of turn. If you did so out of turn, you would be cast out of the Community for a certain probationary period and only readmitted if the council decided so. Here is a small resemblance to Paul’s teachings in 1 Corinthians 14 about members speaking in tongues and prophesying. Speech requirements and yet regulations were a major practice in early Christianity, but I would argue much more so at Qumran.

Temple Scroll

Like the Damascus Document, this probably wasn’t a unique text to the Community at Qumran. Nevertheless there are still major themes within that do reflect similar sentiments found in the uniquely-Qumran texts. For one example, since it was a part of my research, the additional impurity source of excrement can be deduced when one combines the Temple Scroll’s limitation on how close the latrines could be from the Community (to Harrington’s estimation, roughly 4500 feet) with the limitations on far one could walk on a Sabbath (roughly 3500 feet). Basically, you couldn’t do your business on a Saturday because it was considered impure. Yeah, I wouldn’t join the group at Qumran either.

After it’s all said and done, I must re-emphasize that this is a brief introduction to the material from Qumran. If you want to learn more, we studied from James C. VanderKam’s The Dead Sea Scrolls Today in class as well as Carol Newsom’s The Self as Symbolic Space: Constructing Identity and Community at Qumran. Newsom’s is a much more in-depth look at the scrolls and requires a slow read to really understand what she’s saying. But nonetheless it’s a great read. VanderKam’s covers most of the major points of the scrolls’ history – including some of the controversial moments in the publication of the Scrolls. If you love religious literature, the Scrolls themselves are very interesting reads. We used Geza Vermes’ (pronounced “Ver-mesh”) translation in the Penguin Classic edition (2004); it includes most of the important texts, but some of the minor fragments aren’t included.

Hopefully one thing was clear throughout this introduction: the sectarian group at Qumran were extremely pious Jews. Their beliefs about how God would enter the world to renew and resurrect everyone of “the light” influenced their conduct within their own Community and their involvement with the surrounding cultures (Gentiles and non-sectarian Jews). Imbedded within this is their beliefs in and practices with purity rituals; the subject of my papers this last term.