Creative Commons License D. CATHERINE | 2017
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The name of the biblical village “Bethany”—specifically the “Bethany beyond the Jordan (River)” associated with John the Baptizer (John 1:28)—likely originates in the Hebrew בֵּית עָנִי Beyith ʿAny ‘House of the Meek/Afflicted’. In context, the Hebrew ʿany (Aramaic ʿanya) is likely a doctrinal complement of the Hebrew ebion ‘poor’—as we will come to see in the Dead Sea Scrolls—and as such was likely referring to a proto-Ebionite community (akin to the Notsrim = “Nazarenes”). This interpretation is seemingly attested in Jerome’s Onomasticon where—by way of Syro-Palestinian sources (Judeo-Aramaic beyt ʿanya)—he translates Bethany as domus adflictionis ‘House of the Afflicted’.

It also accords with the ideological and doctrinal context of the time and place, given that it is John who is associated with “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight’.” (Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4, John 1:23). The Trans-Jordan wilderness, all the way from the Dead Sea district, through Petra and to the city of Damascus in Syria, was known as “the Land of Damascus” (see numerous references in the Qumran Damascus Document). Moreover, the approximate timeline of the John the Baptizer passage in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews (18.5.2) coincides with the time that the community of Notsrim (i.e. Notsrei Brito ‘Keepers of His Covenant’ as per the Qumran Community Rule: 1QS v.2ff), were “separating from the midst of the habitation of the men of unrighteousness to go into the wilderness to prepare the Way of the Lord, as it is written [Isaiah 40:3]: “In the wilderness prepare the Way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a Pathway for our God.” (1QS viii.13-14).

This was an emigration across the Jordan, out “from the Land of Judah to dwell in the Land of Damascus” (CD vi.5), where “the New Covenant in the Land of Damascus” (CD vi.19)—to “set up the Holy Things according to their precise specifications” (CD vi.20)—was to be established in order to “strengthen the hand of the Meek [ʿAny] and the Poor [Ebion]…” (CD vi.21). Note also that this particular section of the Damascus Document, as do many of the Dead Sea Scrolls in general, contains multiple Hebrew references to i.) נָזַר nazar (to separate, consecrate) and ii.) נָצַר natsar (to keep, observe, guard, watch), which are the respective etymological roots of i.) the consecrated Nazirites and ii.) the Notsrim as Notsrei Brito “Keepers of His (YHWH’s) Covenant” (compare Psalm 25:10 and 1QS v.2ff).

The Qumran Damascus Document (CD) climaxes and closes with the following: “And God will make atonement for them [those who “listen to the voice of the Teacher of Righteousness and not desert the Laws of Righteousness”], and they will see His Salvation [Yeshuʿato, i.e. YHWH’s Salvation], because they took refuge in His Holy Name [i.e. HaShem].”[1] Keep in mind that these Notsrim were expecting “salvation” (yeshʿa/yeshuʿah, deriving from yashʿa ‘to save’) in the sense that they were striving to be “saved” from the servitude of Herodian rule and Roman occupation, as well as from the corruption of the Herodian-installed ‘Sadducee’ priesthood. More specifically, they were railing against the “Three Nets of Belial”: “fornication”, “riches” and “pollution of the Temple” (CD iv.14–21), and this is the underlying reason why they eventually “separated” themselves from “the Land of Judah, to dwell in the Land of Damascus”.

It was around this time that Saul-Paul set out to disrupt and derail these “Nazarene” communities. Not only was he actively persecuting, pursuing and arresting the Notsrim (Acts 9:1–2), it could be argued that he also intended to subvert and obfuscate their ideology and doctrines. Professor Robert Eisenman offers a convincing argument that the Notsrim’s messianic expectation to “see Yeshuʿato” (i.e. to see YHWH’s Salvation) in “the Land of Damascus” is the underlying motif for Saul-Paul’s vision of Yeshuʿa (“He is Salvation”) “as he [Saul-Paul] neared Damascus” (Acts 9:3), the subsequent proclamation by the canonical Jesus “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4), as well as the underlying motive for Saul-Paul’s Covenant-breaking counter-Messiah—all of which forms the basis for “The New Testament” (in contradistinction to “The New Covenant in the Land of Damascus”).[2]

These first-century messianic Jews residing at Qumran and in the Trans-Jordan wilderness and who were expecting the imminent “coming” of the Lord “upon clouds from heaven” (i.e. the raining down of eschatological judgement)—compare the Letter of James 5:8–9: “Fix firmly your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draws near. Behold, the judge stands before the door”—forms the historical and philological background to the Damascene “End of Days” traditions that are common to some Christian and Islamic traditions.


[1] CD viii.55(32)–57(34).
[2] On the subject of yeshaʿ, Yeshuʿato and Yeshuʿa, see Robert Eisenman, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the First Christians: Essays and Translations, New Jersey: Castle books, 2004, p.xviii and 314–315. Eisenman also explores these Damascene themes and doctrinal reversals/inversions throughout his works James the Brother of Jesus (published by Watkins) and The New Testament Code (published by Konecky & Konecky).

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