Covenants in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Book of Mormon
Covenants and the Dead Sea Scrolls
Mormons are a covenant-making people. Covenants are emphasized more in the LDS Church than in any other Christian Church. These covenants are usually presented in the ordinances, which include: baptism, holy supper/sacrament, and promises of righteous living made in the temple.
One of the early criticisms of the Book of Mormon was the teaching of baptism as a necessary ordinance prior to the times of John the Baptist. The Book of Mormon speaks of baptism going back as early as 600 BC, and the Pearl of Great Price mentions the baptism of Adam.
If baptism is a Christian ordinance, then how can the Mormons claim that the Nephites in the Book of Mormon and Adam were baptized?
With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 (over 100 years after Joseph Smith's death), came a new understanding of the ancient Near East. The people of Qumran practiced a form of baptism and a communion/holy supper/sacrament.
In the Community Rule, one of the most important of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we learn about their practice of baptism and the sacrament:
(CR) "And this is the Rule for the men of the Community who have freely pledged themselves to be converted from all evil and to cling to all His commandments according to His will.
(author's original italics)
"They shall separate from the congregation of the men of falsehood and shall unite, with respect to the Law and possessions, under the authority of the sons of Zadok, the Priests who keep the Covenant, and of the multitude of the men of the Community who hold fast to the Covenant. Every decision concerning doctrine, property, and justice shall be determined by them."
>First note, the importance of authority for anyone to join the Congregation. Whereas many christian and jewish churches today do not see a need for proper authority, it was extremely important and necessary to establish themselves as the men of the Community, and not as the "men of falsehood." This authority was necessary to receive the covenants. These are things Joseph Smith taught since the early formations of the LDS Church.
(CR)"They shall practise truth and humility in common, and justice and uprightness and charity and modesty in all their ways. No man shall walk in the stubborness of his heart so that he strays after his heart and eyes and evil inclination, but he shall circumcise inthe Community the foreskin of evil inclination and of stiffness of neck that they may lay a foundation of truth for Israel, for the Community of the everlasting Covenant....
"On joining the Community, this shall be their code of behaviour with respect to all these precepts."
"Whoever approaches the Council of the Community shall enter the Covenant of God in the presence of all who have freely pledged themselves. He shall undertake by a binding oath to return with all his heart and soul to every commandment of the Law of Moses in accordance with all that has been revealed of it to the sons of Zadok, the Keepers of the Covenant and Seekers of His will, and to the multitude of the men of their Covenant who together have freely pledged themselves to His truth and to walking in the way of His delight. And he shall undertake by the Covenant to separate from all the men of falsehood who walk in the way of wickedness.
"For they are not reckoned in His Covenant. They have neither inquired nor sought after Him concerning His laws that they might know the hidden things in which they have sinfully erred; and matters recealed they have treated with insolence. Therefore Wrath shall rise up to condemn, and Vengeance shall be executed by the curses of the Covenant, and great chastisements of eternal destruction shall be visited on them, leaving no remnant. They shall not enter the water to partake of the pure Meal of the saints , for they shall not be cleansed unless they turn from their wickedness; for all who transgress His word are unclean....
>>Here we have the sons of Zadok, the true priests, establishing the entrance requirements for the Congregation. It includes casting off wickedness, covenanting to live righteously, obedience to the Laws of God/Moses,
Alma sets the stage for his people to be baptized by telling them this: And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another's burdens, that they may be light;
9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life--
10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you? (Mosiah 18:8-10)
Both the Community Rule and Alma are describing similar entrance requirements into their respective Communities of righteous believers. Repentance, witnessing/covenanting of one's obedience, and humility are necessary prerequisites to enter either group.
(CR) "Every man, born of Israel, who freely pledges himself to join the Council of the Community shall be examined by the Guardian at the head of the Congregation concerning his understanding and his deeds. If he is fitted to the discipline, he shall admit him into the Covenant that he may be converted to the truth and depart from all falsehood; and he shall instruct him in all the rules of the Community.... after he has entered the Council of the Community he shall not touch the pure Meal of the Congregation until one full year is completed, and until he has been examined concerning his spirit and deeds; nor shall he have any share of the property of the Congregation....He shall not touch the Drink of the Congregation until he has completed a second year among the men of the Community. But when the second year has passed, he shall be examined, and if it be his destiny, according to the judgement of the Congregation, to enter the Community, then he shall be inscribed among his brethren the order of his rank for the Law, and for justice, and for the pure Meal; his property shall be merged and he shall offer his counsel and judgement to the Community." (The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, Geza Vermes, Penguin Books, 1987, pp 67-70)
>>Three covenants are mentioned in the above: entering the water as a symbol of entering the Community, partaking of the Meal/ Drink of the Congregation, and the merging of properties. These covenants are so important to the Community, that it takes years to become a 'full-fledged' member. Interesting in light of the fact that it takes a year of obedience, preparation and learning after baptism for a Latter-day Saint to be allowed to go to the temple and receive the covenants there.
The tie with the Christian's holy supper/sacrament is very evident. It brings tomind the Apostle Paul's warning of not partaking of the holy supper unworthily: For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come.
Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink [this] cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of [that] bread, and drink of [that] cup.
For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. (1 Cor. 11:26-29).
Another interesting tie which helps to authenticate the Book of Mormon is the teaching in the Dead Sea Scrolls about the sons of Zadok, those who held the true authority, having been forced out of the temple and the right of religious rule by the Wicked Priest. They were forced to establish themselves in the wilderness, where they adapted their religion accordingly to a religion without a temple to serve in. Alma was also cast out and had to establish his people in the wilderness, as a true Community of Saints. It is in the wilderness that baptism seemingly becomes highly important to both this ancient sect of Jews, and the Nephites. It becomes their entrance requirement prior to receiving more covenants, such as the holy supper.
Finally, in the best of days, the Nephites were known to have all in common among them. Both the Qumran Community and the people of the Book of Mormon sought to establish a great community where there was no poor nor wicked among them. The Nephites observed a 200 year period in which all things were held in common, as they established a long-lived Christian Utopia/Zion that the people could peacably live within. The sons of Zadok had the same desire: to build a people of God that freely gave of all they had to the betterment of their Utopia/Zion.