Question: In your discussion of The da Vinci Code you said that the Dead Sea Scrolls did not contain the New Testament. I just read that they included Matthew’s Gospel and the Epistle to Timothy. Couldn’t there have been other New Testament books there as well?
Answer:What you read (or should have read) was that at one of the caves at the northwest coast of the Dead Sea in the area referred to as Qumran, there are a number of small scroll fragments written in Greek rather than in the Semitic languages used on most of the scrolls. All of the Qumran scrolls are thought to date to about the time of Christ or before. None of them are particularly easy to read. The fragments in question are among those written on papyrus-others were written on parchment, and there are two copper scrolls. All were hand written in primitive ink (hand stamped, in the case of the copper), and all have been attacked by pests or the environment over the past twenty centuries.
Fragment 7Q5 (the fifth fragment from the seventh cave in the Qumran area-shown above) is generally regarded as indecipherable, but in 1972, a Spanish Jesuit scholar, Fr. José O’Callaghan claimed that it was a part of Mark vi: 52-53. Other scholars, a bit derisively, suggested that it could be made to fit virtually any Greek manuscript, religious or secular. The only word more or less clearly seen is “KAI,” meaning “and.”
O’Callaghan’s thesis was revived again in 1986 by the German, Carsten Peter Thiede, and others who relied on computerized graphical analysis.1 Thiede’s work has been challenged by others, and his books seem to have developed something of a “pop culture” following among those who think it is startling news to find that Jesus was actually Jewish and that Christianity developed out of Judaism!2
Archeological evidence suggests that Qumran Cave 7 was uninhabited from about 68 AD until modern times. If (and that is clearly a big “if”) O’Callaghan and Thiede correctly place Saint Mark’s Gospel in the cave before 68, it is a significant blow to rationalist scholars who want to place the writing of the synoptic Gospels after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The rationalists claim that Jesus’ prediction of the City’s destruction was not a prophecy, written down before it happened, but an historical account, written down by others after it happened- for the rationalist there are no miracles, and consequently there can be no prophecy.
Thus, paradoxically, if da Vinci was correct in placing Mark’s Gospel among the Dead Sea Scrolls, it strikes a blow against its own rationalist “scholarship” by furnishing evidence of Jesus’ prophetic abilities! (Da Vinci fails as a scholarly work on many other counts anyway.)
The mere possession at Qumran of Saint Mark’s Gospel-even in its entirety-would prove very little. It would not prove that the monks of Qumran had anything more than an intellectual interest in Christianity-certainly not that Christianity originated at Qumran.
Perhaps more to the point, 7Q5 and the other-even less legible-fragments contain absolutely nothing to challenge the traditional understanding of the New Testament. Indeed the one standard with which they have been compared, and the standard with which they must agree if they are to be considered genuine, is the traditional Greek text of the New Testament.