THE ANGEL SCROLL

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Does the Angel Scroll Reveal that Jesus was Member of the Dead Sea Sect?

 A November 7, 1999 article in the Sunday-Times (London - MIDDLE EAST section) by Matthew Kalman (Jerusalem) continues to increase the speculation and mystery surrounding the so-called "Angel Scroll." The Angel Scroll is said to belong to the famous Dead Sea Scrolls family. The most recent tidbit thrown to the media reveals that the scroll names Jesus as sect member.

Since their discovery almost half a century ago, the Dead Sea scrolls have fascinated biblical scholars. The mystery surrounding them has deepened, however, with claims that a hitherto unknown scroll, which threatens to challenge the originality of Christian theology, was spirited out of the Holy Land and ended up in the hands of Benedictine monks, who tried to suppress its contents. According to a bizarre tale that has unfolded over the past few weeks in Israel, the so-called Angel scroll was found by a Bedouin tribesman in Jordan in the late 1960s on the eastern shore opposite the Qumran caves, where the Dead Sea scrolls made famous by the late Professor Yigael Yadin were discovered in ancient pottery jars several years earlier. The Bedouin is then said to have sold it to an antiquities dealer in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

As news of the find circulated, scholars began frantic talks to buy the scroll through an intermediary, an international arms dealer identified only as Ziyad H. It was then that a German Benedictine monk - named as Matheus Gunther, which is believed to be a pseudonym - became involved. Armed with huge sums of Benedictine money, he allegedly negotiated for a year and was finally allowed a 3mm fragment of the scroll. Finally, in 1981, the deal was completed and the scroll, bearing 1,000 lines of mixed text, was smuggled out of Jordan to a Benedictine monastery somewhere near the German-Austrian border, to be studied by a team of monks who had taken a vow of silence.

Gunther died in 1996, but is said to have bequeathed his notes and a copy of the text to an Israeli friend known as Steve Daniels. For the past three years, Daniels has been allegedly preparing it for publication, together with two other Israelis who knew the monk. According to the two Israelis - one of whom spoke to The Sunday Times on condition of anonymity - the text contradicts the official origins of Christianity and is so explosive that church authorities decided to suppress it. Gunther could not bear to see it left mouldering in the vaults, they claimed, and he decided that his vow of silence should be broken after his death.

"I saw in this scroll the crowning achievement of my scholarly work and of my religious mission," the monk wrote in his notes, some of which were shown to the Jerusalem Report, a leading Israeli news magazine. "I promised that I would not carry to my grave the secrets of this remarkable scroll." The text, said to have been carbon-dated to the 1st century, supposedly describes a religious vision experienced at Ein Elgatain, a desert encampment on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, by Yeshua ben Padiah, who was taken by an angel, Panameia, through the gates of a palace and into the heavens. Yeshua is Hebrew for Jesus.

It is said to mirror the teachings of Jesus to such an extent that it calls their originality into question. Many of the ideas described in the scroll imply that Jesus was heavily influenced by, or even a member of, the Essenes sect widely credited with writing the Dead Sea Scrolls. Scholars who have studied excerpts from a computerised transcript are divided over the text's authenticity, however, to give a definitive answer, they say they must first see the original - or at least a photograph.

"If it is the real thing, we'll be talking about something phenomenally important to understanding the background of Christianity and Jewish mysticism," said Professor Stephen Pfann of the University of the Holy Land, an expert on the scrolls. "I haven't yet seen anything that discredits it in such a way that I would put it outside the realms of possibility." Pfann, who has translated some of the text into English, said that Yeshua's vision contained many concepts similar to the other Dead Sea scrolls. It is dated some 100 years later, however, indicating it was written during, or shortly after, Jesus's lifetime.

Many scholars are still unconvinced. "The text itself is very queer. There is Hebrew with Aramaic words," said Magen Broshi, former curator of the Jerusalem museum that holds the Dead Sea scrolls. "The whole thing is so strange and I think, if I were about to commit a forgery, this is what I would have done."

Another problem authenticating the story has been tracing Gunther's origins. Father Bargil Pixner, a Benedictine monk and scholar in Israel, said he never knew of any such monk and was "very sceptical" about the story.

In favour of the monk's account, however, is the supposed content of the Angel Scroll. The text is said to contain embalming recipes for resurrection and the use of herbs and stones for healing, practices attributed to the Essenes by the Jewish historian Josephus. Other phrases often associated with the mystic sect recur in the scroll, such as the "children of light", a term used by the Essenes for those endowed with the power of God, and the contrasting "children of darkness".

It also uses the word "EL" for God, and Pfann has said grammar and spellings throughout the text are similar to those in the acknowledged Dead Sea scrolls. He said he had even found a complete phrase in the Angel scroll that he had been trying to reconstruct for years from other documents. "This new discovery may well prove to be an important witness or missing link to the connection between Qumran, early Christianity and early Judaism during the 1st century," Pfann concluded.

Keep your eyes and ears open for more information about the Angel Scroll. Get ready to make another monumental BS adjustment if it turns out to be authentic. It would demand that both Christian and Jewish history be rewritten once again - even though the ink on the current version is still wet.               DTB

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