Teacher of Righteousness

The Dead Sea Scrolls pose many mysteries to scholars and interested lay-people alike. A persistent puzzle is the identity of the Teacher of Righteousness (ToR) who has been identified with a huge array of people, most (in)famously John-the-Baptist and Jacob/James, brother of Jesus. Contra those last theories most scholars have thrown up their hands and settle for ToR to remain nameless, mainly because there is no one in the 2nd Century BCE who fits the bill, and retains a name, in the scant records we have from that time.

But the Scrolls themselves present us with quite a few names, most notably Zadok and Judah, as possible names for the ToR – albeit indirectly named via titles like “sons of Zadok” and “sons of Judah” for their followers. A case has been made for Zadok as the ToR and Judah as “the Priest”, a singualr term for the Scroll Community’s leader after the ToR. In that scenario both Zadok and Boethus (mentioned in Talmudic oral histories of the period) were disciples of a certain Antigonus of Socho (the Righteous “Shoot” before the ToR?) and split over religious differences – a pious way of putting the lust for power.

Alternatively the ToR could be Judah, and “Zadok” his precursor. Michael Wise’s controversial book The First Messiah takes this view, though I fear the rest of his case (Judah self-identified as a Messiah) has clouded the merits of the basic identification. Stephen Goranson is another Dead Sea Scrolls scholar who makes the same identification, which he argues in this essay (in pdf format), which argues a few points contra Wise on the identities of other players in the Scrolls drama.

A good lay-person’s review of Wise’s book can be found here, albeit from an religious sceptic point-of-view.

Prof. James Tabor – one of the experts consulted for “The Jesus Family Tomb” documentary – examines Wise’s case in some detail, plus drawing parallels with Jesus’s disciples and the disciples of David Koresh… here.

A transcript of Wise discussing his ideas can be found online here.

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