by Steven A. Fisdel
Book Review by Sister Cecelia
I took this book, published in 1998, to my room at least five years ago, but this August I was determined to read it. I was very interested in what the scrolls contained, and this book looked like one that would explain what had been translated by the experts.
For several reasons I found it interesting in the extreme. The author, a rabbi, used the first few chapters to put the writings into the context of the theological views of the Hebrews at the time the scrolls came into being. Because Jesus came into a people with these religious views, many of his sayings in our scriptures are a reflection of these same views. He also contradicted some other views and tried to point out a better way of understanding what God the Father and Creator was pleased with. The leaders of the people were generally appalled, as what he said went against their understanding of what the Torah indicated was the will of God. Their texts also contained warnings that people should not be deceived by using their own reason and heart, but rather that they should trust only the teachings of the high priests, kings, and prophets.
Early in life I had heard that Christianity came through the Jews. I had not realized how many attitudes are direct lines to what had been accepted for centuries, like the strong emphasis on men, in the persons of the priests, as the only safe interpreters of the Law, the only ones who could know God’s will for any of us. Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies once a year. The temples were constructed to show the “worthiness” of the worshipers. First was the high priest, then the other priests, then the men. Then last, without their own section, the women were put with the foreigners—the aliens.
Human beings were expected to honor their fundamental relationship to the Creator through the exercise of moral behavior and the continual pursuit of justice. Moral development and spiritual evolution, rather than physical survival and material attachments, were the central focus of existence for the Hebrews of the time. The law, the interpretation of the law, was of the highest importance. The laws were so difficult to keep that a yearly atonement must always be made.
It is understandable that St. Paul was so adamant that Jesus’ teaching would bring salvation, rather than obedience to the law. For instance, it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles, but what comes out of the mouth.
The last chapters are thought-provoking in their explanation of the struggle we humans have with good and evil. Since Eden and the eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge we each have within ourselves good and evil, and we have this struggle. It is up to us with help from God’s Spirit to choose the good and ultimately be saved (enjoy God’s presence) or to chose evil and be damned (nonexistence, no God). When the End of Days comes, it will not be the termination of humankind but the end of evil winning over good. Evil will no longer be. The Kingdom of God will be what is.
The fervor of both the author and of the peoples the author describes, as well as the perseverance in pursuing God’s will, I found truly inspiring and certainly worth reading.