In support of Islam, some Muslims have recommended "James the Brother of Jesus The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls" by Robert Eisenman, Publisher: Vicking, and brought this blurp:

An evaluation of Eisenman's theories collected by Glenn Miller (Do check this out!)

And in the following a response by Rob Adams:

[Since I am not an expert in this area, I will mostly quote the opinions of other scholars on Eisenman's theories.]

First, before anyone says that other authors are biased in their views on Eisenman, here is Eisenman on his own interpretations of the Dead Sea Scrolls:

So I guess it is not too surprising that I see his name popping up on the Islamic newsgroups in spite of the fact that scholarly consensus is against him.

Commenting then on Eisenman's work in the same book, L.H. Schiffman (professor at NYU and DSS expert) says of Eisenman:

In his 1994 book titled "Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls", Schiffman goes on to say:

Commenting on the dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls accomplished by two independent Carbon-14 tests and paleographic techniques (all of which confirmed one another), Professor H. Stegemann said of Eisenman's hypothesis regarding the scrolls:

DSS expert J.T. Barrera has added:

The thesis that Qumran manuscripts reflect Judaeo-Christian origins rests on incorrect dating of those manuscripts. (ibid, p. 25).

The certain fact is that the New Testament texts show many parallels and points of contact with the texts from Qumran. As the Essene writings are more ancient than the Christian writings it is logical to assume that the former could influence the latter. Undoubtedly, just as two parallel lines never actually meet, a Qumran text and a gospel text can run parallel without it meaning that the first has influenced the second directly. Study of comparative literature and comparative religion has often fallen into "parallelomania" (Sandmel), which confuses parallel with tangents and similarities of form or content with direct contacts or influences. (ibid, p. 203)

If only the points of contact between the New Testament texts and those from Qumran are noticed, a distorted view of them both results. It is important not to forget the points of disagreement, which we have not considered here but turn out to be more numerous and, in general, more significant. (ibid, p. 220)

In his latest book Eisenman has qualified his previous language somewhat and said that it really isn't *necessary* that the DSSs actually be early Christian documents for his theory to be correct!

If this is the case, one then wonders why he disputed first the results of paleographic dating, then the results of the two independent C-14 test on the DSS (which *he recommended in the first place*; see "The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered", Eisenman & Wise, 1994, p.13). In this 1994 book, Eisenman and Wise say that it is better to trust the results of "literary criticism, textual analysis, and a sure historical grasp" than the results of paleographic and C-14 dating (both of which agree)! This is a very strange position when it is widely recognized that these `softer' techniques tend to produce biased results (cf. the widely divergent `lives of Jesus' arrived at by very talented scholars using these same techniques). I wonder if Eisenman's views would be slightly different if the results of paleography and C-14 dating agreed with his theories?

With the DSS thus disconnected from Christianity, in his most recent book Eisenman launches into a long (and long-winded!) reconstruction of the `real significance' of James in the early church. The problem with this is that once he has lost the support of the DSS for his position, he has no new light to bring to the data which has been previously examined by *many* scholars. So, if one still wishes to subscribe to an idiosyncratic reconstruction, then why choose his over, e.g., J.A.T. Robinson's work in "Redating the New Testament" (1977) which puts virtually all of the New Testament well before 70 AD ? (Incidentally, Robinson and Eisenman share the distinction of disagreeing with the much of modern scholarship in their dating of the New Testament -- Robinson says it should be much earlier, Eisenman much later than the majority dates).

Finally, I have a few questions for Muslims who still maintain that Eisenman is on the mark with his idiosyncratic theory despite scholarly consensus to the contrary:

As a necessary part of his thesis, Eisenman maintains that Jesus and the early Christians believed that the Old Testament writings THEY HAD were the Word of God. Thanks to Qumran, we have THE SAME writings (not copied, etc, but the actual documents). Now do you disagree with Eisenman here and think that Jesus really didn't see this as the "Word of God"? Or that Jesus somehow knew what parts were "corrupt" and didn't bother to tell his followers? Or will you side with Eisenman on this issue also, even though it is hard to reconcile with Qur'an?

Another very important part of Eisenman's reconstruction is that James was the high priest after the death of Jesus. Two things here. First, Eisenman holds that, if Jesus was even historical (which he is not at all sure about), the earliest Christians believed that he died a normal death (i.e., no ideas about Jesus not being crucified but only made to look that way).

Second, Eisenman says that the way to get to Jesus (if he ever existed) is to reconstruct James -- whatever James was, so was Jesus (nevermind the New Testament evidence to the contrary which is considered by most NT critics to have strong grounds for historicity -- in fact, one NT scholar (I forget which right now, but send me mail if you are interested and I can look it up) says that one of the strongest pieces of evidence for the historicity of the resurrection appearances is the conversion of James!). Thus, if James was the leader of the Temple and believed in the priesthood, the sacrificial system, the high priest's intercession on behalf of the nation's sins, etc., so did Jesus. Is this consistent with Islam?

Finally, since Eisenman sees the New Testament as a result of Paul's rewrite of nascent `Christianity', he also does not believe in the miracles associated with the life of Jesus. For example, in his new book he says that the virgin birth is a legend. So if you want to believe that somehow the Gospellers got this bit of data correct in spite of what Eisenman says (e.g., that, because of Paul, the Gospel communities grafted pagan myths onto the original Jewish memories), what (other than Qur'an) keeps you from thinking that they may also have gotten this piece right?

Along the same lines, do you think that Eisenman will conclude that the apocryphal stories about the miracles of Jesus' childhood (e.g., live birds from clay, etc.) are true stories, or that they are legends? I wager that he concludes they are just the culmination of the process of legendizing about the life of Jesus which resulted from the work of Paul. In this case, a Muslim must again conclude that somehow these stories made it safely to the second century without corruption, in spite of what Eisenman says, while also agreeing with Eisenman that everything else was rewritten by Paul. It seems to me that this type of reasoning is very inconsistent.

By Rob Adams,

Further helpful pages:

  • The Horrid Christian Plot
  • Dead Sea Scrolls: Threat to Christianity?
  • Book Review: The Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls
  • Book Review: James the Brother of Jesus
  • James, the Brother of Jesus

  • Literature and critique
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