John Allegro and the Christian Myth (2023)

John Allegro noted how the story of Jesus reflected events and ideas in Gnostic literature, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Old Testament, and identified the doctrine of divine light as the unifying theme. This is expressed in myth and imagery and is key to understanding a number of
Mythologies, including Christianity.

Von Judith Anne Brown
May 2005

John Marco Allegro was the first British representative of the international team of scholars that met in Jerusalem in 1953 to assemble thousands of Dead Sea Scrolls fragments from Cave 4. He was also the only agnostic on the team and the one most willing to ask what the Dead Sea Scrolls might tell us about the origins of Christianity from a non-religious perspective.

Sectarian roles such as the Rule of Fellowship and the Hymns of Thanksgiving share many similarities with portions of the Gospels and Acts. The reference to the similarities in the 1950s angered some theologians, who felt that the uniqueness of Christian history might be threatened. But there are also obvious differences between the religious perspective described in the scrolls and that of the New Testament. Allegro found the similarities attractive and the differences puzzling. He asked: what went on, what changed and why?

His studies on these subjects culminated inThe Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Myth(Westbridge Books, 1979; Prometheus Books, 1985). Nobody paid much attention to the book. The roar of outrage his controversial book evokedThe Sacred Mushroom and the CrossIn 1970 they were still resonating in academia and he was struggling to make himself heard. As I have arguedJohn Marco Allegro, the Maverick from the Dead Sea Scrolls(pb. Wm B Eerdmans, 2005), it is time to give Allegro a fair hearing.

starting points

Allegro began by studying the beliefs and practices of the Qumran community as described in the scrolls. Like the rest of the international publishing team and its head Roland de Vaux, he called the community Essener. Some scholars disagree with this designation, but it seems consistent with the references of the first-century writers Josephus and Pliny the Elder, and the name corresponds to the sect's work as'Asayya, "healer" in Aramaic.

The apparent connections between the practices of Qumran and those of Jesus' disciples are well known. These include the Council of Twelve; the common meal; healing and exorcism; share wealth; Baptism; antagonism with the main Jewish sects; facing the end of the world and the coming of a Messiah. Similar images are repeated: the foundation stone, the fountain of living water, the many; the children of light; the poor; The chosen ones; the meek; The Son of God.

The most obvious difference is that the scrolls were written in Hebrew and Aramaic before AD 68, the New Testament later and in Greek; Therefore, some distortion of the oral tradition is possible. Second, the leaders are very different characters. As Allegro put it, "Nothing in Essene literature anticipates a Messiah who would be an open drinker of wine and companion of scoundrels and whores, and someone so apparently well-intentioned towards the hated imperialist enemies of his own people." And fundamentally, the Essenes expected their Messiah to lead them to victory on earth; The Christian Messiah was more concerned with saving individual souls from the devil within than with achieving political triumph.

The hopes of the Essenes were dashed with the fall of the Temple in AD 70. But according to biblical and apocryphal writings, the threads of their religion remained intact; In Allegro's eyes there was a much greater continuity than some of the New Testament writers and all the early Church Fathers would have us believe.

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What has changed? How did the ardent messianic teachings of an exclusive Jewish sect transform into a universal religion that spread like wildfire? Was it all the fault of a man who ended three years of unlikely adventures with a shameful death on the cross? Or were the themes fueling the scrolls' messianism strong and flexible enough to adapt to circumstances and survive in a gentile world under Roman law? To what extent was Christianity a flowering from much deeper and older roots?

There seems to be a gap in the contemporary evidence, since the scrolls are believed to have been written before the dawn of Christianity, while the New Testament makes no mention of the Essenes or the Qumran community. Allegro attempted to close the gap in two ways. First, he tried to see what was known about first-century Palestine through the eyes of the people who were there. Second, he looked at first- and second-century Gnostic texts discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1947 and here found a missing link: insight into myth-making.

Gnostic documents included the writings of Valentine, one of their leaders, and apocryphal texts such as the Apocalypse of Peter, the Acts of John, and the Gospels of Thomas, Philip, and Mary Magdalene, which seem to offer alternatives to the Jesus stories. in the New Testament. . Gnostic beliefs and practices were also often reported disapprovingly in the writings of early church fathers such as Justin Martyr, Augustine, Clement, Epiphanius and Irenaeus.By comparing scrolls, biblical and gnostic texts, Allegro brought to light common themes and approaches. He found a continuum of thought stretching from the Old Testament to what the Church called Gnostic "heresies" and taking many forms, Essenism and Christianity being but two. This approach offered a key to understanding the connection between the people of the Scrolls and the early Christians.

This is the simple scheme of comparison:

Worldview of the Essenes:cyclical history based on Scripture and revealed through exegesis, including puns; theme of divine light; Wisdom; the word; redemption through suffering.

Gnostic world view:divine light; Wisdom; the word; redeeming myths.

Early church world view:divine light; the Word (equivalent to the lamb through puns); a savior

We must first try to see things as the Essenes saw them and then compare their worldview with that of their successors: the Gnostics and the early Church.

What interested people in the Dead Sea Scrolls?

One way to understand what happened in first-century Palestine is to try to see through the eyes of the people who were there, and the evidence for this can be found in their writings. Finding it is not easy: apart from the difficulty of deciphering faded fragments of parchment, the parchment writers were not social diaries. They can allude to events or historical figures that were important to them, but indirectly and only in relation to what was really important to them: Scripture.

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Because above all, the people of Essen were people of the book. Everything that happened, happened, or was about to happen fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. His exegetical interpretation of the texts, finding hidden meanings through puns and allusions, was a way to strengthen the message, deepen his understanding, find meaning in everything that was happening and connect it to Scripture. For example in the commentary on Nahum (4Q169):“Where the lion went, the lioness went, there is the lion cub (2:11).Interpreted, this refers to Demetrius, the king of Greece, who sought Jerusalem through the advice of the hunters of soft things. [But God would not allow the city to be handed over] into the hands of the kings of Greece from the time of Antiochus to the appearance of the rulers of Kittim. But then it is trampled [...]” (quoted in Allegro, J.M.The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Myth1979,P. 36).

To understand this reliance on Scripture, we must put aside our linear view of cause-event history and view it as a continuous cycle: that the chosen people survived wave after wave of apostasy and redemption: election by God's grace. Punishment, repentance and redemption. It was a pattern that began with Adam and was exemplified by Moses and later by Joshua son of Nun. Like Moses and Joshua, the Master of Justice of the Essenes seems to seek purification by wandering the wilderness seeking atonement through his own suffering. The scrolls show that he believed that he and his followers were "chosen by grace to atone for the land" (Communion Rule VIII.67). He saw himself following in the footsteps of Joshua son of Nun, who had led the Israelites into the Promised Land in the same manner as Moses had done. The way that Joshua and the Master in turn established for their followers was an interpretation of the Mosaic Law—the divine law revealed to Moses.

The teacher of righteousness believed that God had chosen him and that through suffering he was filled with the ability to know God and lead his followers to grace:

"For you have known me from the time of my father [and chose me] from my mother's womb... and from my youth you have enlightened me with the understanding of your judgment" (Hymns XVII, 30-32).

divine light

Central to the Master's message is the concept of divine light that appears here - "You have enlightened me" - and shines through the sectarian scrolls: "From your wondrous mysteries is the light of my heart" (Communion Rule (XI, 6); "the laws of the great light of heaven" (Hymns XII, 5), etc. The dualism of light and darkness is the basis of the sect's thinking: "He created man to rule the world and assigned to him two spirits, in whom they shall walk until the time of his visitation: the spirits of truth and unrighteousness. Those born of truth spring from a fountain of light, but those born of unrighteousness spring from a fountain of darkness" (Rule of the Community, III, 18 -19) There is light and darkness, good and evil, in varying degrees in the soul of every human being, and the ultimate goal of humanity is to overcome the forces of darkness and to return to the full light of god stars to inherit more of the light, divine than other people and po Therefore I lead the children of light against the children of darkness in the final battle that is yet to come.

The imagery of light in the scrolls comes from the Old and New Testaments. Pillars of light, luminous chariots, angels robed in white, the morning star are all facets of divine light. For example, there is the burning bush of Moses in Exodus 3:2; the voice of God in the fire of the mountain in Exodus 19 and Deuteronomy 4:11-12; the transfiguration of Moses after speaking with God in Exodus 34:29 and that of Jesus in Matthew 17:2; The seven lamps of Zechariah (Zac 4:2) echo in the "seven golden candlesticks" of Revelation 1:12-16. God's wisdom is equated with light in Revelation 22:5: In the New Jerusalem "they need neither lamplight nor light from the sun, for the Lord God shall be their light."

Divine Light in Gnosticism

The teaching of light was fundamental to the Gnostic faith. For the Gnostics, the three great vessels of light were the sun, the moon, and Venus, the morning star. Augustine writes to us in the fourth century that certain Gnostic sects, such as the Manichaeans, worshiped the sun and moon not as deities but as conduits for the divine substance, the light in their soul, to return to God (Augustine,of heresies46.2). His contemporary Epiphanius mentions another Jewish sect, the Oseans (Essenes) fleeing the Romans to Transjordan and the name Sampseans, people of the sun (from Aramaicstocking-sha,"Sun"). These sects believed that through a life of prayer and ritual renunciation of the world they should seek to cleanse the flame of divinity from their souls of the corrupted flesh that held them captive and reunite them with the pleroma where she came from. Some believed that the essence of divine power, the supreme source of life, was physically contained in the seed, and it was the rituals that employed it that surprised Augustine.

The Morning Star is titled "Pillar of the Dawn" in Hebrew. Jesus is the "dawn from on high" in Luke 1:78; “the bright morning star” at Revelation 22:16; and at 2 Peter 1:19 it is to be remembered as "a lamp that shines in a dark place until the morning comes and the morning star rises in their hearts."

The morning star brought not only light but also dew. In ancient times, dew was known as nature's most powerful conceptual fluid. Pliny says of the morning star: “Its influence is the cause of the birth of all things on earth; in his two outpourings he spreads the genital dew with which he not only fills the conceptual organs of the earth, but also stimulates everything.” . Animals" (natural historyII.38). Pliny also speaks of the healing powers of the dew (XI.37), which is described in Exodus 16, 13ff as the bringer of manna, the bread from heaven, and in Psalm 110 is associated with the conception of the Son of God: "from the womb of the dawn, in the dew I have begotten you.

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The implication is that behind the image of light as God-knowledge is a deeper, older principle of divine light that brings fertility to the earth. Jesus, the dawn from on high, can be seen as the embodiment or channel of that light.


In Gnostic mythology, the divine light is transmitted to mankind through a series of saviors disguised as mortals. By taking on human form, God's messenger was able to share in people's afflictions and sufferings, but also show them how to overcome their tribulations. He could experience all sorts of adventures. One of these saviors is called Dositheus, another Simon Magus and a third Jesus. As John Allegro said, "The idea of ​​a God-ordained Redeemer who came to earth to show man the way of salvation and endure the extremes of human torment has lent itself to many mythologies" (The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian MythP. 107).

Simon Magus is the hero of many Gnostic stories and the villain of many stories told in Patristic sources, such as Justin Martyr in the 2nd century (apol.years 26 56;To mark.120) and Eusebio in the bedroom (church historyII 13 14). He is titled "the Standing One" or "the Pillar", and the third-century bishop Irenaeus says that he is represented by the Jews as the Son, by the Samaritans as the Father, and by the Gentiles as the Holy Spirit (against heresies, I.23.1). Another 3rd-century writer, Origen, gives him the epithet "Power of God" as it actually appears in Acts 8:10 - "this man is the power of God called Great" - where he has a confrontation with Peter, because he wants to buy the secrets. Holy Spirit. In Gnostic stories Simon is often shown flying, reflecting the idea of ​​escaping the body which Josephus says was important to the Essenes when in death they are "as if released from long bondage, rejoicing and on high." to be carried” (GuerraII. VIII 11, 154-55).

Helena: Light, Wisdom and Word

Simon's wife is Helen of Tyre. In Gnostic mythology, the figure of Helen connects in various ways the concept of light - in the form of a flaming torch or a pillar of fire - with fertility and also with wisdom or the word of God. Her Greek name means 'brightness' and her nickname is reminiscent of Helen of Troy, who lit a torch above her bedroom to light her lover's way back from the sea. The name Tire may also resemble the Semitic wordtsurÖTsurah, "form" or "image", as in EzekielTsurahc Idealer Temple (Hesekiel 40-43).

The Gnostic stories may well have come from Old Testament references to Tire, for example Ezekiel 26-28, Isaiah 23 and Psalm 45. Ezekiel in turn is based on ancient Canaanite mythology where Tire is associated with the fallen angel who was expelled from Eden. A local goddess of Tire was Astarte, equivalent to Biblical Ashtoreth, Mesopotamian Ishtar, Sumerian Inanna, Egyptian Isis, and Greek Persephone. Whatever its name, the story of the girl in the underworld and her rescue by the fertility lord each spring is one of the oldest and most recurring myths in the world. Like Isis, this figure is the mother and archetypal patron of the Therapeutae, an Egyptian Gnostic sect that Philo describes as celebrating the dawn as a symbol of inner enlightenment.

In Gnostic accounts, Helena appears at various times as Wisdom, the Holy Spirit, or the Great Mother. Where Simon is shown as a god, Helen is the first thought that comes to mind. Therefore, it participates in the creation of matter and participates in its corrupting works. Forced to assume a mortal form, she goes through several incarnations (including Helen of Troy in some stories) until ending up as a prostitute in Tyre. God saves her by descending into mortal form as Simon, a rescue from prostitution reminiscent of the story of Mary Magdalene and a descent through earthly trials and tribulations that reflects the ancient myth of the goddess of fertility in the underworld.

The concept of First Thought or Wisdom, a projection of the Word of God, underlies the view of the thanksgiving hymns in the scrolls: “By your wisdom all things [were of] eternity, and before He created them you knew all things. his works forever and ever” (Hymns IX, 2).

Likewise, the incarnation represents the creative principle in the ApocryphaSolomon's Wisdom9.1: "O God, who made all things by your word and formed man by your wisdom"; and in the fourth gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1-16).

In the New Testament the Word also becomes a lamb, a sacrificial animal. In a Semitic context, as Allegro has pointed out, the whole idea revolves around a simple play on words: the correspondence between the Hebrew'imerah,Word and Aramaic'stark,Lamb. It combines the image of Christ as the Easter lamb sacrificed for the sins of man with his being as a creative principle,Logos, the word. The Lamb is sacrificed as atonement for sins, and so the Word becomes the Redeemer of the world: "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:2;The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Myth, P. 174).

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Allegro had previously suggested that in philological terms the word might be identified with the seed of the ancient storm god who gave fertility to the earth (The Holy Mushroom and the Cross,Hodder und Stoughton 1970,P. twenty). If he was right and the evangelist was aware of the connotations, the punimerait brought the weight of a three thousand year old principle of divine posterity into the concept of atonement through sacrifice, a concept that was the cornerstone of Pauline Christianity.

choose Jesus

Thus Allegro saw a common source of inspiration behind the myths and imagery of the scrolls, parts of the New Testament and Gnostic literature. This source is the concept of divine light, the flame that fights the power of evil in every human soul and that we must strive towards in order to return to oneness with God. The writers of the scrolls awaited the apocalypse on earth, when their divine purity would show the way to salvation; After their community had dispersed, their Gnostic followers kept alive the hope of individual salvation. The stories they told about Jesus, Simon and other figures humanized this struggle for light. "Simon and Elena appeared in many different forms and were called by a variety of names. The message of hope they proclaimed to mankind was the same, but the medium and diction were adapted to the audiences of the time" (The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian MythP. 161).

To the Gnostics, the stories were myths and understood as such. It was the Church Fathers, most notably Bishop Irenaeus, who took up the cycle of stories about Jesus, placed them in an unlikely time and unusual place in Roman-occupied Palestine, and called them history.

How did the New Testament gospels achieve such apparent solidity? John Allegro saw them as a sophisticated literary tapestry. In his opinion, the New Testament represented the restatement of Essenism in Christianity, with fragments of true life history, names, and events embedded in the stories: “In the Gospels we are dealing with highly complex creations that have multiple layers of them made out of them woven many strands of tradition, as we have seen, contained in the Gnostic stories, and often involved the sort of rampant exegesis of biblical texts evidenced in the Essene Scrolls" (The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian MythP. 193).

By a similar kind of exegesis, it is possible that parts of the Jesus story are based on that of the teacher of righteousness. Reading the Allegro scrolls, the master's fate might well have been crucifixion. (The evidence for the crucifixion is not explicit, but is built up through various allusions to the gallows and the trees, leading Allegro to suggest that they held special significance for the Master's followers.) Jesus' death likes that of the Master resemble a century earlier. , as his words are reminiscent of many of the words of the Master. The chronology of Jesus' history can be worked out according to the dictates of the scrolls and defined by the destruction of the temple in AD 70 because the Damascus document (B II, 14, which in turn recalls Deuteronomy II, 14) says so Forty years must elapse between the death of the Lord of the Commonwealth and the end of the men of war, so if the end of time is to be seen as the fall of the temple, the crucifixion must be around AD 30. and birth some thirty years earlier. , community leaders must be at least 30 years old before they can take office.

the sunlight

A step Allegro noted but did not fully exploreThe Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Mythit would show more clearly how far the doctrine of divine light reflected and actually formed a part of the even older theme of sun worship. Thus the myth of Christianity as an expression of divine light would fit into the syntax of older beliefs, so to speak, but would gain its own identity as an institutional church.

The sun gave life to the earth every year and every day. The sun gods of different religions have the same characteristics. For example, Persian Miter and Egyptian Horus are born on December 25, three days after the winter solstice; they have twelve companions; they work wonders; they are killed and after three days rise from their graves; His epithets include the Way, the Truth, the Redeemer, and in the case of Horus KRST, the Anointed One. The Gnostic sect that danced at dawn, the eastern orientation of all churches, celebrated the life-giving power of the sun. So, in AD 324, it did not take a major religious revolution for Emperor Constantine, who had been a follower of the sun god Mithras, to name his god Jesus and decree that all his subjects should do the same. The myths and images of the sun cult, whose main concern is the fertility of the earth and all its creatures, were easily assimilated with the corresponding myths and images of the Christian Redeemer.

Constantine had converted twelve years earlier and, whether out of religious conviction or political expediency, would have appreciated the potential for control offered by the orthodox, ie institutional side of the "new" religion, rather than the individualism of Gnosticism. . the gnosticApocalypse of PeterHe called the church's hierarchy of bishops and deacons "waterless channels," but the Gnostic focus on reaching the inner light, individually, could never have the same unifying force in society. The church's flesh-and-blood stories of martyrs and miraculous healings could draw people from far and wide, and its hierarchy of bishops and priests provided a reasonably efficient way of controlling them. For consistency, this involved the adoption and propagation of a consistent version of the Redeemer story. As John Allegro put it: "Though the myth was absurd in its historical and religious claims, and sadly misleading in its portrayal of contemporary Judaism, its stories contained such elements of truth and reflections of deep religious sentiments, combined with a fluid style and a their protagonists." , the Great Church, were ultimately victorious, and their hierarchy secured the canonical New Testament Scriptures supreme and unquestionable authority as sources of doctrine and history for the future" (The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian MythP. 192).

In summary, John Allegro analyzed the way in which the story of Jesus reflected events and ideas in Gnostic literature, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Old Testament, and identified the doctrine of divine light as the unifying theme. This is expressed in myth and imagery and is key to understanding a number of mythologies, including Christianity.

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If we compare the Christian story to other contemporary writings, and also to recurring themes in the mythology of other cultures, we see it in the context of a much older and deeper stream of religious thought. And if we observe this as students of human thought and not as followers of a particular religion, this is not to belittle Christianity as a historical phenomenon, but to strengthen it as an expression of human understanding.


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