Jesus, and the Dead Sea Scrolls by Vermes


A Jewish scholar looks at Jesus. Although not in total agreement with Christianity, the view is more favorable than traditionally held by Jews.

Article recommended by Elle.


Searching for the Real Jesus: Jesus, the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Religious Themes by Geza Vermes/The Story of the Scrolls: The Miraculous Discovery and True Significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls by Geza Vermes

From The Sunday Times

April 18, 2010

The Sunday Times review by Christopher Hart

Geza Vermes, arguably the greatest “Jesus” scholar of the 20th century, was born into an assimilated Hungarian Jewish family in 1924.

At the age of seven he was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church. He lost both his parents in the Holocaust, joined the order of Notre Dame de Sion, and for six years was a Catholic priest.

But in middle age, “without a spiritual storm”, he left the Church and found himself “back at my Jewish roots”, though not a practicing Jew.

The author’s biography is relevant, in this case, since it has been Vermes’s bifocal vision, Christian and Jewish, which has given us such a startlingly vivid image of the historical Jesus.

Searching for the Real Jesus is a welcome collection of 29 essays, lectures and newspaper articles, in which he offers portraits of Jesus the Jew from a number of angles, although all are derived from a method of extraordinary simplicity: reading the New Testament closely and without prejudice.

As well as bringing Jesus powerfully to life, this also throws up some rather overlooked details, such as that Simon Peter (the first Pope, traditionally) was married.


His View of Jesus

There is little doubt that Jesus lived in 1st-century Palestine and was crucified by the Romans, as recorded by even non-Christian writers such as Tacitus.

But our best sources are the three “synoptic gospels”, Matthew, Mark and Luke.

The gospel of John is a book of theology, not a record of Jesus’s life. For John, as Vermes puts it, Jesus was “a heavenly being who in time became incarnate and briefly took up residence among men before returning to heaven”.

** It is amazing Vermes would not refute this, which indicates a divine nature for Jesus.

The synoptic gospels describe instead a carpenter or possibly builder from Nazareth, called ­Yeshua, son of Joseph and Mary (really Miriam).

He wasn’t born in Bethlehem, and our picture of the nativity, with its “angels, dreams, virginal conception, miraculous star, etc”, is, Vermes says, a “­colourful prologue”. It has no factual basis, but as Vermes humanely understands, colourful prologues and stories are just what human beings enjoy, often live their lives by — and sometimes die for.

*** his opinion above about Bethlehem is contrary to scripture. He said he was reading the New Testament closely and without prejudice. So this is his belief.

We are told that Jesus had four brothers, James, Joseph, Judas and Simon, and several sisters. (The Catholic Church teaches that they were all children of Joseph from a previous marriage.)

At about 30 he became a wandering rural rabbi, and remained always a countryman. He left the green hills of Galilee only once in his life to go to Jerusalem — and it killed him. (Geographically, Galilee is to Jerusalem something like Yorkshire is to London.)

Jesus’s main concern was healing the sick, comforting the poor and preaching about the coming of the Kingdom of God.

He had no interest in politics, revolution or theology, or in preaching to non-Jews, “although occasionally he showed compassion to Gentiles and healed the daughter of a Greek woman from southern Lebanon”.

Vermes might have emphasized how radical these healings were: some Orthodox Jews would barely speak to Gentiles.

We know only three words that he actually spoke in his native Aramaic: Abba (“father”, meaning God); and Talitha cumi (“little girl, arise”), calling the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue back to life.

This miracle is followed by a moment of sublime pragmatism, when Jesus points out to the child’s parents that, having just come back from the dead, she might want something to eat.

The gospel portraits of Jesus continually remind us that his teaching was about empathy and practicality, rather than abstract intellectual principles.

As to whether such startling miracles are supposed to be taken literally, Vermes leaves that up to the individual believer. He prefers to emphasize that “the religion of Jesus was one of urgency, enthusiasm, compassion and love”.

This Jesus would have been pleased, presumably, that two billion humans now follow his core teachings — or try to, at least.

But he would have been astonished, indeed horrified, that he is now worshipped as God. He said pretty plainly: “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.” (Mark 10.18)

Although this challenges traditional Christian belief, it’s also true that Christianity has an amazing capacity to reinvent itself.

Today’s Christians, preoccupied with gay relationships and the environment rather more than with the true nature of the Trinity, would be virtually unrecognizable to many of the 4th century AD, for instance.

Then again, their theological worries would have been a mystery to Jesus the Jew, says Vermes: “I doubt that he would have understood a word of the debates about his nature and person.”


Vermes’s other passion is the study of the Dead Sea scrolls.

Popular rumour often claims they are full of earth-shattering revelations about Jesus and early Christianity.

They’re not.

The story of their discovery by a Bedouin boy in 1947 remains one of the greatest in archeology.

The scrolls are the writings of a Jewish sect who lived near the Dead Sea around the time of Jesus, owned all things in common and were so holy that they didn’t believe in defecating on the Sabbath.

Their world and that of early Christianity do share a “spiritual atmosphere”, allows Vermes, and shed some light on certain passages of the Old Testament.

But they have nothing to say about the carpenter from Nazareth and his teachings.

If you want to know the historical truth about Jesus, then Matthew, Mark and Luke remain your best bet.

Searching for the Real Jesus by Geza Vermes


Marianne’s Note:

I think it is encouraging to see that a Jewish scholar found value in the life of Jesus.

I hope he continues to distinguish fact from personal belief.

As a scholar, for example, he should be able to verify that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

That would be a wonderful discovery, if the birth records could be found.

Christianity has, for centuries, made itself a threat to Jews, through threats, persecution, and misrepresenting Jesus to them.

I hope that Christians can equally show an interest in the Judaism that brought forth Jesus as well.

The more the 2 faiths can see that they share the same scriptures, promises of God, and Messianic hope, the more healing can occur between them.

Someday, God will unite these two branches under one Messiah.

28 Responses to “Jesus, and the Dead Sea Scrolls by Vermes”

  1. Woo woo first comment!

    This is a great read, and it is encouraging for the most part what he found.
    Too bad he can’t see the hundreds of fulfillment Jesus brought in context of Vermes’s own Tanakh! And why does he not believe Jesus was born in Bethlehem as the synoptic Gospels say?
    Check out my “356 Messianic Prophesies” post for a short list.

  2. Marianne, Thanks for posting the article. I completely agree with your comments!..Amen! elle

  3. Marianne I recommend that you read his works instead of an article by a newspaper about his works. Plus there are two Bethlehems, and it is more likely that he was born in Bethlehem of the Galilee that is a few miles West of Nazareth. Apparently, that is where his mother’s sister lived. As such it makes sense that they rode to her sisters not Jerusalem. There are excavations there and they have found the ramparts of a city.

  4. PS why would the gospel writers say otherwise? To be sure to keep his place of birth sacred and untainted by bloodshed IMHV.

  5. Eliakim, although the article may not interest all it may interest others who may want to have some insight of the man behind the words/interpretations. It is important to some to have that kind of perspective along with reading all that has been interpreted by Vermes. One’s ilfe, experiences, can shed light on the way one may perceive…Where is it said there are two Bethlehems? And, which one would be Bethleham, the birthplace of Jesus?

  6. Eliakim, There were two Bethlehems, but only one claims to be the birthplace of Jesus, I don’t understand your point?? In the Dead Sea Scrolls, the birthplace of Jesus was not recorded, other than to say (It is my understanding) that his birthplace was in the Quram (sp?) area…not more specific than that…

  7. There were two Bethlehem. NT says Yeshua was born one Bethlehem which was the hometown of David. Either people believe the Bible or don’t believe. Don’t let anyone blurt out Yeshua was not born Bethlehem. That would simply tell people they are non-believers and puffed up a little knowledge in their left brain – which IS dangerous.

    • Correct Ounbbl and the birthplace of David was in the Jezreel Valley where his Father Jesse owned lands. You will also notice that David did his courting in that area as well. From Mount Carmel to the Sea of Galilee. When I was sent on the mission to Israel in 2006 I was sent to the what is now called the Secret Birthplace of Jesus. The remains of the ancient city overlook the Alonei Abba woods where we were sent to call the gathering on his holy hill. It is a most sacred and blessed place, woods filled with oak trees and as we know Abraham is connected to the Oak. David was from Northern Israel the same area that Jesus was from.

      Secret Birthplace

      • Why is it called ‘secret’? No, it’s just another conjecture. (Remember ‘Secret Mark’?)

        Show me scholarly work for Hebrew history to prove that David was born in Southern Galilee. It would be a revolutionary claim, same as a claim that King David was a fictional one (cf. minimalist). Someone’s web page is to be treated as a scholary work?

  8. Heresy. “Before Abraham – I Was” – in hebrew – “Lifnei Avraham – Ani YHWH” … in other words – “I Am YHWH, He Who revealed Himself to Abraham” – therefore, Jesus is God of Israel!

  9. If he is consequent then the creation story is also a colorful prologue of the bible? He has a strange concept of truth.

  10. No one here is saying Jesus was not born in Bethlehem. What is said is that the Dead Sea Scrolls don’t record that….If you ever read them you may be surprised at how beautiful are the writings, history, Jesus’ life and teachings. And, there are many of the same scriptures in our bible. Especially regarding christians identifying Jesus as the Davidic Messiah, as promised in 2 Sam. 7, which is in full accordance with the Jewish messianic expectations. Also, in the DSS 2 Sam 7:14, God promises to be the father of this Davidic descendant and he will be regarded as the Son of God…The ancient manuscripts were a precious find!

    • You know nothing. Jews hide numerless hidden scrolls and writings, including from old and new testaments and outside writings, many of them proving that Jesus is Lord of Israel.

  11. I think I am lost. What is the argument here about the dead sea scrolls and Jesus?

  12. Hi Marianne;

    There are more than four gospels. The Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary are kicking around too, but the powers that be decided they weren’t good enough. 🙂

    For modern man to discern what was said and happened 2,000 years ago from works that were written well after his death is an exercise in futility.

    Today we can’t get it right and we have video.

    However the theme to Jesus is one of love, compassion and peace.

    He also taught that a person could know God one on one. No intermediary is required. This in and of itself does not sit well with those who try and show another way.

    “the Kingdom of God is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living Father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty, and it is you who are that poverty.”…Jesus Christ, Gospel of Thomas

  13. Marianne, I am lost too…What is written in the DSS is a recorded history of the people there as they lived and understood things to be. Who or why there is an argument is beyond me…

  14. Gavriel, To whom is your comment, begining with, “you know nothing” addressed to?

  15. (Though it is not related to Dead Sea Scroll)To all sincerely Truth seeking friends I would recommend to read the Books by Eminent Scientist, Archaeologis & Theologian Dr E.K.Victor Pearce
    1.Evidence for Truth: Science – Vol.I,
    2.Evidence for Truth: Archaeology -Vol.II,
    3.Evidence for Truth: Prophesy – Vol.III,
    4.Evidence for Truth: Angels & Miracle Vol.IV,
    5.Evidence for Truth: Origin & Destiny of Life Vol.V)
    (Note: Omega Publications)

    His work is highly Scientific, Logical and full of his first hand personal reasrch done in the actual Biblical sites. His work is really going to enrich your understanding of the Scripture and definitely going to change the way look at the Bible and the Future hope that comes from the word of God.

  16. The big problem between Jews and Christians is that Christians of many sects believe Jews are going to Hell if they have not accepted Jesus
    as Christ. I came across one example of this while reading Grace Thru
    Faith, which is written by a Baptist scholar, Jack Kelley. I have generally agreed with Jack on lots of things, but this was impossible for me. And I did tell him, but not likely to change his mind.

    The Bible says that when Jesus comes the Second Time, “All Israel will be saved.” They say that means all of the Jews alive when Jesus comes the second time. I say it is all Jews who believed in the covenant with Abraham, over the centuries, those who looked forward to the Messiah. Some still look avidly for the Messiah. But if they
    die before the Second Coming, these pastors say they go to hell, even
    if they died in the holocaust (the example in a question to Pastor Kelley by someone else).

    Any Jews I have ever talked to about this–and I have known many Jews–finds this THE great problem.

    I prefer it like this: when Jesus’ feet set down on the Mount of Olives, the Mayor of Jerusalem will hear that a great rabbi has come from Heaven. The Mayor will send to ask the Rabbi, “Sir, is this your first or your second trip to the Holy Land?”

    But I tried that joke my my step-daughter, who is a convert to Judaism. She was not amused. Her daughter, when 14, called my
    husband and me “Jew hating Christians”.

    I don’t really like Pastor John Hagee on other grounds, but I prefer his view that Jews are saved under the old covenant. For this opinion
    he is called an apostate by many, although many agree.

    I felt so bad about all this I asked God “how on earth can I be a
    Christian and believe these people are going to hell? Or indeed that
    many other decent but not Christian people are going to hell?”

    My faith, too, is thin on this; but with Peter I say “Lord, to whom else can we turn for the words of life?”

    I think permanent grieving is the only possible response to the
    Christian philosophy of most denominations.

    • hi mariel

      I tend to agree with you. Jesus is returning just to assure that Israel is saved. God’s covenant with Israel is an everlasting covenant. He said it would only cancel when the sun and moon ceased to give their light. There is an old covenant and a new one. the old one is hard to keep,, and the new one is easier. But if Jews do keep faithful to the old one, I cannot see how God can violate his own covenant, and reject them. I think only God can judge the Jews.

    • this is one of the many reasons why I gave up on finding any good churches. The preachers want to teach you “their” way or NO WAY theology. They take one verse and preach for weeks on that verse and it is “their” version of what the scripture means rather than what it actually says most of the time. I personally feel the same way that you do.
      I think the answers are in Romans 3 and 4

  17. I am one of Jesus followers praise be to God

  18. Marianne, the sun and moon did cease to give their light. The sun is symbolic of Christianity and the Moon is symbolic of Judaism/Islam. The cosmos is within YOU! As the Christ taught you all seek within. Now as far as the dead sea scrolls are concerned, it talks about the teacher of righteousness -v- the wicked priest, prophecy fulfilled. It also talks about the coming of MELCHIZEDEK in the last days of the ends times. Melchizedek is also the ancient of days, and the anointed one was led into his presence exactly as the prophecies predicted that I would be.

  19. Jesus was the closesst “Messiah” to the real messiah for the jews. Are there still descendents from David? that is what the old testement says no? The jews do not realize that because ONE jew who was born in their land (what an honor) they are famous in the whole world? That one solitary, humble man made their land what is otherwise it will be just another country? Because they found the true God, He gave them such a present! Jews for Jesus are changing the pride of the jews. If they read about Him the will open their eyes and heart but they are prohibited to even read about Jesus whose only sin was to love everybody and to put the name of Israel where is now.

  20. I wonder if the dead sea is where sodom and gmorrah happened?

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