Review of Joseph, Jesus, Q, and the Dead Sea Scrolls

This review first appeared in Bulletin for Biblical Research 24.4 (2014): 603–605.

Simon J. Joseph. Jesus, Q, and the Dead Sea Scrolls: A Judaic Approach to Q. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2/333. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2012.  Pp. XI + 267. ISBN 978-3-16-152120-1. € 69.00 paper.


This monograph is a thorough revision of the author’s doctoral dissertation which was submitted to the School of Religion at Claremont Graduate University under the direction of James Robinson.

In chapter 1 Joseph introduces the task and methodology of his study. He seeks to do a comparative study between Q and the Qumran scrolls. He notes that numerous scholars have tried to identify the relationship between the Qumran scrolls and the NT, but no consensus has emerged and the guild is somewhat at an impasse. Joseph believes that the most reliable approach would be to identify “the earliest Palestinian Jewish texts and traditions associated with the early Jesus movement” and compare them to the Qumran scrolls (p. 21). Joseph identifies Q as this earliest stratum of the Jesus movement. His study “seeks to explore a new perspective on Q and new models for the complex historical, literary, and theological relationships within which the historical Jesus and the Jesus tradition can be located in first-century Judaism” (p. 27). Joseph delineates numerous similarities between Q and the Dead Sea Scrolls, which provide the justification for his study.

In chapter 2 Joseph engages in “reconstructing Q.” He discusses in turn Q’s existence, history of research, ethnicity, Aramaic substratum, composition, community, provenance, and social structure(s). Joseph interacts with an impressive array of scholarly literature as he evaluates competing views about the nature of Q. This chapter provides an excellent overview of Q research. He concludes that “Q is a mid-first century Palestinian Jewish Greek text of the early Jesus movement” (p. 93). Q contains mixed genres including sapiental, prophetic, eschatological, and apocalyptic materials. While its provenance cannot be determined, Joseph thinks that it is reasonable to conclude that it “emerged within a Palestinian/Jewish network of village communities dedicated to the message and teachings of Jesus” (p. 93).

Chapter 3 is dedicated to the description of the Qumran community. While there are some differences between the description of the Essenes in the classical sources (Josephus, Philo, Pliny, Hippolytus) and the Qumran literature, Joseph concludes that the archaeological, paleographical, geographical, and internal evidence best supports the hypothesis that the residents of Qumran were members of the Essene sect. The Qumran Essenes were only a part of a larger Essene movement that was spread throughout Palestine. Joseph also notes the influence of the Enochic literature on the Qumran community and that the community had strong messianic expectations.

In chapter 4 Joseph discusses the portrait of John the Baptist in Q, his relationship to Jesus, and his possible connection with the Essene community. In Q John is depicted as a prophet who predicts imminent judgment, calls Israel to repentance, and announces the imminent arrival of “the Coming One.” John is depicted in Q as a figure who is an equal to Jesus, but the gospel writers subordinate John’s role to Jesus. Joseph notes that the numerous parallels between John’s ministry and the Qumran writings suggest a possible connection between John and the Qumran community or the larger Essene movement. John is also depicted as a priestly figure who plays a mediatorial role of administering baptism. In light of the Qumran expectation of two messiahs—a Davidic royal messiah and a priestly messiah—Joseph surmises that some Essenes may have considered John to be a priestly messianic figure.

In chapter 5 Joseph notes that Q and the Qumran writings share similarities in that they both show familiarity with the wisdom tradition and have applied it to an eschatological context. In particular, Joseph singles out the beatitudes of Q and the Community Rule (1QS), 4QInstruction, and 4QBeatitudes (4Q525). The similarities between 4Q525 and the beatitudes of Q suggest to Joseph possible Essenic influences upon Q.

In chapter 6 Joseph argues for a literary dependence between Q 7:22 and 4Q521. Q 7:22 functions as a confirmation that Jesus was the fulfillment of John the Baptist’s anticipation of “The One Who Is To Come.” 4Q521 contains an explicit reference to a messianic figure whom Joseph regards to be a royal messianic figure. Both texts connect Isa 61:1 with the raising of the dead and both give similar descriptions of eschatological blessings which accompany the messiah. Joseph concludes that 4Q521 exerted a “non-literary, exegetical influence” upon the author of Q.

The chapters in this book read more like a series of essays rather than as a sustained argument. Joseph spends about two-thirds of the book (chapters 1–3) on what seems to me to be preliminary issues, while it is only in the last third (chapters 4–6) of the book that Joseph engages in the heart of his project of showing the potential influence of the Qumran literature upon the early Jesus tradition. One of the strengths of the study is Joseph’s broad familiarity with the scholarship on Q studies. Joseph also raises a number of provocative questions regarding the relationship between the Qumran literature and the early Jesus tradition. Naturally, the persuasiveness of his study is in part dependent upon the possibility of reconstructing Q. The confidence that some scholars have in reconstructing Q, in distinguishing redactional layers in Q, and in describing the community that lies behind it, is simply astonishing. While I believe that something like Q is still the best explanation for accounting for the similarities between Matthew and Luke that are not found in Mark, I am more skeptical about the possibility of reconstructing Q. While Joseph does acknowledge that these issues are contested, he nevertheless proceeds with a great deal of certainty as evidenced by the fact that he repeatedly cites chapters and verses of Q as if we already had an established text. Joseph’s study will certainly prove to be of interest to those who are engaged in studies of Q and/or the early Jesus movement.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s