The Pokey Finger of God

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Jesus the Wicked Priest

June 1st, 2008 · No Comments · christianity, history, media

Marvin Vining, Jesus the Wicked Priest. (C) 2008. Published by Bear and Company, Rochester, VT.

This work is a fascinating reading that combines sources from Dead Sea Scroll materials and Biblical exegesis to produce a surprisingly personal story of conflict between characters in the gospel stories. Vining brings to life a vital, aggressive Jesus, along with some emotionally complex contemporaries, revealing a minor miracle to be the most extraordinary socio-political commentary that could have been made in that time and place. If you’ve had your fill of timid, makepeace Christs, this book is for you.

Even if you discard any or all of of Vining’s conclusions, you will not be disappointed by the depth of material as he presents his various arguments. He has stayed on top of recent, primary research on DSS materials — related results have been the foundation of much of this work — and so this work is chock full of up-to-date, topical references. This glimpse at the current state of the DSS research was, for me, worth the price of admission.

Vining is also unafraid to take risks. He makes leaps, he surmises, he paints with broad strokes: the result is more Pollock than Picasso. Like any work heavily dependent upon speculation, gaps suitable for long-range naval vessels frequently appear. A healthy stamina for withholding judgment is required to complete the entire book.

One issue I had from the beginning was Vining’s identification of the Essenes as the dominant group within 1st century Palestine. While he makes a number of compelling connections to bridge this assumption, one the whole, they don’t hold up. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem that Essene political dominance is particularly relevant to the final story. What his argument does do is to demonstrate that the Essenes provided significant theological and political contributions to Judaean society as well as to the .

Vining’s titular identification of Jesus as the Wicked Priest is a reference to some commentaries found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Primarily these pesharim were commentaries on Habakkuk, Nahum, and Psalms that “translated” ancient verses into advice applicable for contemporary events. These commentaries describe a conflict between the “Teacher of Righteousness” and the “Wicked Priest”. Most scholars look for these roles to be played by people early in the Maccabeean era. In common reconstructions, the “Teacher of Righteousness” is the leader of the Essene group that goes off to write the DSS, while the “Wicked Priest” was one of the Maccabees.

Vining feels that the scrolls are misdated by over a hundred years, and fills the roll of “Wicked Priest” with a highly disobedient and obstinate Jesus and the “Teacher of Righteousness” with Simeon, the High Priest of the Temple mentioned in the Gospels. No small part of this identification is justified through Vining’s interpretation of Essene reincarnation beliefs. No doubt some academic types could come up with a dozen reasons why this particular reconstruction is unlikely, that is if the reincarnation issue doesn’t eliminate his book from serious consideration.

At the end, we are left with a touching and sincere expression of personal faith. He takes his time bringing the reader along something that appears to mirror his own path of discovery for this question. He makes no excuses for his leaps of faith, but instead documents them as the insights they are. While this is hardly the first or last word on any of these topics, Vining’s unique reconstruction is a valuable contribution to the field.

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