The Holocaust Historiography Project


Differing Views of the Dead Sea Scrolls

To the Editor:

As editor of Christian News, I have often recommended The Journal of Historical Review and the IHR Newsletter to our readers. I wish that every clergyman, teacher and professor would read your publications. At the same time, though, I regret that the IHR continues to defend the position taken by IHR editorial advisor Dr. Martin Larson on the Dead Sea Scrolls.

In his 1981 essay, “Whatever Happened to the Dead Sea Scrolls?” (Journal, Summer 1982), Larson sought to show that Christianity is a man-made religion that was heavily influenced by the Essenes, an anti-establishment Jewish sect, and that John the Baptist and Jesus were very likely followers of this cult. Larson went on to suggest that Christian and Jewish interests have conspired to suppress the Scrolls because of what they supposedly reveal about the non-divine origins of Christianity, and because they depict the Jewish leaders of the time in highly unflattering terms.

In the February 13, 1989, issue of Christian News, we reprinted Larson’s essay, along with a thoughtful and detailed refutation by Raymond Surburg, Ph.D., Th.D, of Concordia Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana. Dr. Surburg showed that, however well-informed he may be about other matters, Larson is out of his field when he writes about the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Bible and Christianity.

Surburg also noted:

As far as Larson’s charge is concerned that both Israel and Christians have much to gain from the non-publication of the remaining finds, this writer would contend that Christianity as reflected in the New Testament is sui generis and differs from the theology of the Pharisees, Sadduccees, Essenes, the Qumran sectaries, the Zealots, or whatever religious views might be found at Qumran in the future.

In my own presentation at the 1989 IHR Conference, I said that Larson did not have the facts and evidence to back up his speculations. (Christian News, Feb. 20, p. 9)

An item in the January 1991 IHR Newsletter, “The Scrolls: The Plot Thickens,” commends Larson’s 1981 essay, and suggests that the removal of Dr. John Strugnell of the Harvard Divinity School as chief editor of the Scrolls committee, as well as the controversy surrounding his removal, support Larson’s view of the Scrolls. In fact, the Strugnell affair does not validate Larson’s main point in any way.

Even some of those who have been complaining most loudly about the great delay in publishing the Scrolls, including the Biblical Archaeology Review, acknowledge that this delay has nothing to do with their contents.

Nothing has been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls to support Larson’s contention that Christianity is a man-made religion. Instead, the Scrolls confirm the accuracy of the Hebrew text that Christians have been using for centuries.

The Christian is not a bigot. He does not fear the truth, but carefully evaluates all the relevant evidence in all areas. There is far more compelling evidence for Christianity than for any other religion. Christianity alone is divinely revealed. It is based on historic fact.

Herman Otten, Editor — Publisher Christian News

Editor’s Response:

It deserves to be repeated, and emphasized, that the position of the Institute for Historical Review on the matter of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the basis for its support of Dr. Larson’s articles, regarded the withholding of the Scrolls by a small coterie of scholars, backed by the state of Israel. The recent release of copies of the Scrolls by the Huntington Library in San Marino, California to the larger community of competent scholars will eventually furnish much more evidence bearing on Dr. Larson's, and the Reverend Otten's, differing theories on the origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Essenes, and Christianity. Needless to say, the Institute for Historical Review takes no position on theological matters.

— Theodore J. O’Keefe, Editor

Source: Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 11, no. 3, pp. 375-379.