I thank you, O Lord. You illumined my face by your covenant. I seek You, As sure as the dawn you appear as perfect light.
Teachers of lies have comforted your people and now they stumble, foolishly.
They abhor themselves and do not esteem me through whom your wonders and powers are manifest.
They have banished me from my land like a bird from its nest, and my friends and neighbors are driven from me.
They think me a broken pot. They preach lies. They are dissembling prophets.
They devise baseness against me, exchanging your teaching, written in my heart, for smooth words.
They deny knowledge to the thirsty and force them to drink vinegar to cover up the error.
They stumble through mad feasts, but you, God, spurn the schemes of Belial.
Your wisdom prevails. Your hearts meditation prevails, established forever.
This is a section of The Thanksgiving Psalms and one of the most interesting pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It lead me to identify the Teacher of Righteousness as a historical precursor for my argument against the Socratic account of knowledge and values. There are reasons to give credit to the people of Athens for also opposing the views of Socrates. They were in a position to see the deep down corrosive nature of Socratic thinking, and tried to put a stop to it. Unfortunately, their efforts were unsuccessful. The problem was they tried to punish the messenger. That is, the problem with Socrates was not something that could have been dealt with by prosecuting the person. The problem was in the ideas he articulated.
A more definitive opposition was put together by a sect of Jews (See here, here, and here about Jewish sects) who met the claims of Socrates with arguments of their own. The Thanksgiving scroll is a document of that struggle. Let me quote a little bit of James H. Charlesworth on the context of these scrolls.
"Almost every well-read individual today knows that the Dead Sea Scrolls were first discovered in a desert cave west of the Dead Sea by an Arab shepard boy in 1947 in Palestine just before the establishment of the state of Israel. Since then scrolls and related objects (realia) have been found in eleven caves near ruins, called Khirbet Qumran, just west of the Dead Sea. ...Scholars now recognize that the ruins are the remains of a center for Jewish priests who were forced to live in the desert because they were exiled from Jerusalem and the Temple. The leader of this exiled community of priests, the Righteous Teacher, who may have once served as high priest in the Temple, was apparently persecuted by "The Wicked Priest" on the Day of Atonement at his desert retreat." (James Charlesworth, "The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Historical Jesus," in Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls, The Controversy Resolved, ed. by J. Charlesworth. pages1-2)
My reading of these scrolls is based on consideration of philosophy and its problems of skepticism and nihilism. I began by wondering about what people made of Socrates's or any other philosopher's ideas. This question lead me to suspect that a true account of his position was more complicated and sinister than I had been lead to suppose. As I developed my own account of Socrates, it was important for me to see that he had developed an argument in opposition to someone. And so, whereas I understood Socrates to claim knowledge and values are a matter of either rhetorical or logical argument, where he comes down on the side of logic, his strongest opponent should take the position that knowledge and value are a matter of both rhetorical and logical argument. Once I understood the basic position of his opponent, I looked around for some thinker during Socrates's time who might have engaged him in this debate. For many reasons, I'm persuaded the most compelling candidate is the Teacher of Righteousness.
The scrolls have been more popularly understood as precursors of early Christian thinking. (See here, here, and here for discussion of relationship between Essenes and Christianity.) So, Charlesworth goes on about how there are perceived similarities between Essenic thinking and practices and early Christianity. There were so many such similarities that scholars when confronted with the scrolls thought to make Jesus into an Essene. Some tried even to identify Jesus with the Teacher of Righteousness. So Charlesworth continues,
"In the first decade or so after the preliminary publications of some of the Dead Sea Scrolls, self-styled critics, often masquerading as scholars, made sensational claims. These brought them momentary fame. They announced that Jesus was an Essene. Some even claimed that he had lived and worked in the buildings now called Khirbet Qumran. Others went on to proclaim that Jesus was to be identified as the Righteous Teacher.
...Those who concluded that Jesus was an Essene, or the Righteous Teacher, thought they were able to expose the essential claims of the Christian religion as fraudulent. Thus they claimed Jesus was not the Son of God but the son of man." (Charlesworth, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Historical Jesus. pages 3-4)
Charlesworth himself discusses these claims and concludes, "Jesus was certainly not an Essene," "Jesus was probably influenced in minor ways by the Essenes," "the Dead Sea Scrolls are an invaluable source for helping us understand the life and teaching of Jesus," "Jesus was influenced by many groups within Judaism," and "Christianity is not a form of Essenism." (Charlesworth pages 37-39) (See here, here, and here for discussions of Charlesworth.)
The interpretations of the Dead Sea Scrolls heretofore have assumed a certain understanding of Jesus as something more than just one of the guys. The question arises about just how we are to think about him. So, Charlesworth thinks that we can go very wrong if we follow "Docetism" and suppose that he was "only a heavenly being." Such a view denies the warnings given in the early Christian text John, where the writer says, "...And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." (John 1:14) The importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls, for Charlesworth, is that it gives us ways of understanding how Jesus was a part of a culture. Charlesworth says, "As we comprehend Jesus within his culture we are learning to confront a real person in a specific time and place." (page 40)
Charlesworth insists that critics who have read the Dead Sea Scrolls were mistaken to conclude from them the idea that the "essential claims of the Christian religion" were fraudulent. The argument that Jesus was nothing more than an Essene was supposed to prove that Christian claims that he was something more than a man, something called a Son of God, could not be true. This argument, according to Charlesworth, failed because when we look at the evidence closely we find Jesus was not an Essene.
Debate about the importance of the Scrolls has been impoverished by a neglect of any consideration of the philosophical issues involved. This neglect is understandable because philosophers themselves often underestimate the importance or relevance of their concerns. So, when writers have wondered "what has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" the presumption has been that Athens has been about philosophy and Jerusalem about religion and the two never mix well.
The Thanksgiving Scroll, in particular, is important, not because it reveals concerns exclusively about God and nothing about philosophy, but because it shows how the distinction between Athens and Jerusalem, between philosophy and religion, is bogus from the get-go.
I look at the section,
"They preach lies. They are dissembling prophets.
They devise baseness against me, exchanging your teaching, written in my heart, for smooth words.
They deny knowledge to the thirsty and force them to drink vinegar to cover up the error."
All the complexities of this debate aside, the issue facing any thinker of the period and the writer of the Thanksgiving Scroll, in particular, because of his dispute with the rulers of the Temple, was whether one could be faithful to God and also a Hellene. The issue that turned it for this writer was the fact that God's teaching would give people knowledge whereas the teachings of his enemies would take knowledge away. And, interestingly for the view as I see it, words are a central issue. The meaningful words about God's teachings are exchanged by these false prophets for meaningless stones, or "smooth stones." In other words, where language is understood as marks or sounds pregnant with meaning, as when stones have words written on them, they are exchanged for pieces of parchment or stones without marks and smooth.
The nature of Jesus should be informed by an understanding of Jewish life. And a discussion of that life, I think, will raise the question just how Jewish thinkers would understand a guy who's half man and half God. An understandable account of Jesus must consider the fact that Socratic writers presented a compelling account of just how such a question should be answered. It would have been just such an account as theirs that would be a "bone of contention" between Socratics and defenders of God, such as the Teacher.
These questions fueled the wars between Jews and non-Jews and what divided Judaism into sects before the destruction of the second Temple.
The significance of the fact that there was this kind of debate amongst Jews during the period has made little impression on writers like Charlesworth. It is avoidance of this dispute that allows Charlesworth and others to confuse a Messiah, conceived as one who with words would save us from suffering, resolve conflicts, and bring about the Kingdom of God on this earth, with a Socratic Hero, conceived as one who saves us because words are meaningless, argument futile, and life not worth living.
I have claimed the distinction between philosophy and religion is bogus. I mean by this that though the discussion on the surface is about different issues, the thinking deep down is one big argument. The central issue has to do with a debate about the meaning of life, - What are we here for? I want to say there are two positions on this question relevant to philosophy and religions such as Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity. One position is claimed by Socrates and argues that life is about survival and the freedom from suffering. When pushed, the Socratic position comes down to personal survival. The opposition is claimed by the Teacher of Righteousness who argues that life is about conflict resolution and bringing about the Kingdom of God on this earth. When pushed, the Teacher will come back from the wilderness and say our most important concern should be love.
A central issue between Socrates and the Teacher is about how we are to understand knowledge and values. These are what we base our decisions for action on and must represent our best thinking on the issues we face. The importance of this dispute comes from the fact that there are lives and our suffering at stake. If we base our decisions on rumors or lies what we do can easily and needlessly harm both ourselves and others. This is why knowledge and values are important in both philosophical and religious thinking and literature.
The problem of survival which is so important for Socrates makes it important for him to consider what would be the most effective ways to assure survival and to avoid suffering. It also makes one consider who might be assured of survival. The answer to this question is that when faced with a dangerous world, where people attack you and take from you what you love the most, you have to develop strategies which will most reliably protect you and allow you to prosper. Whereas the Teacher relies on words in this situation, Socrates chooses the sword. More specifically, in order to survive and avoid harm, he depends on violence, stealth, and deceit.
One of the tasks Socrates accomplishes in the Republic was to establish that knowledge and values are determined by the powerful, as Thrasymachus and Glaucon maintained. Be it understood, however, whereas Thrasymachus argues that knowledge and values are based on rhetorical argument, Socrates rejects that foundation in favor of logic. The trick for Socrates was to make Thrasymachus take all the heat for justifying the privilege of tyrants, while Socrates got all the glory.
We should understand why Socrates advocates the view that knowledge and values are a matter of logical argument. Whereas the Teacher advocates the view that knowledge and values are a matter of both rhetorical and logical argument, which allows for knowledge and values, Socrates advocates a view that makes knowledge and values impossible, the language we speak meaningless, argument futile, the terms of logical argument which we force ourselves to rely on subject to the manipulation by the powerful, and life so described not worth living. Basically, Socrates makes it intellectually impossible to dissent.
Socrates chooses his account involving logic alone so that the means whereby the Teacher would resolve conflict and bring about his goals would be destroyed. The debate between Socrates's argument and the Teacher go way back. So, for example, in the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham raises the issue of whether God too should be just, and establishes a point that Socrates challenges in The Republic. Whereas Judaism is committed to the idea that justice is a matter of contesting points of view, where even God's position can be challenged with a good argument, the Socratic position is that whatever we allow is knowledge and value must be determined by a logical argument. Criticism based on a difference in assessment, or supportive argument, becomes irrational or irrelevant.
So, where for Abrahamic Jews it's reasonable to argue with God, such a thing for Socratics would be impertinent.
According to the Teacher, then, the Socratic view, and the basic ideas of Hellene culture, were designed to make Judaism, as he understood it, impossible. It made it impossible because it made the Jewish ideals of justice, for example, impossible.
The tragedy of Judaism is the relative simplicity of warning us how worshiping "graven images" violates God's commandment to not place other Gods before him, when compared to the complexity of applying that commandment to putting ones self before God. People are attracted to Socratic principles because it panders to their selfishness. They can't see how such commitments violate other commitments they've made to God, community, family, justice, words, and so on.
Judaic sectarian differences of the period have been understood in terms of dietary or ritualistic practices. So the pharisees acknowledged oral teaching in addition to the written Torah, whereas the Sadducees did not. The Essenes were more strict. The Fanatics were willing to be more violent. All of these distinctions fail to acknowledge that the war that produced them was about more basic disagreements.
On the Teacher's account, he faced false prophets who were harming both himself and others. The harm involved surreptitiously exchanging meaningless words for the true words from God. The interpreters of religious texts rarely consider the implications of the Teacher's concern.
We might wonder how this exchange could be done? The exchange is done in the same way anybody comes to adopt the Socratic view of knowledge and value as being a matter of logical argument. It would seem to be easy. Threaten a person, for example. Or, threaten their loved ones. Make them think about nothing else but suffering and death. Then suggest that it's possible that death isn't their end. Give them the thought that suffering in all its pain and feelings of terror and loss could be avoided. Bring up the suggestion that there may be a powerful being who could give you and those you love another life, a much better one, after this one. This being, by the way, may also be able to intervene on your behalf, in this life. If these suggestions interest the terrified victim of this line of questioning, the Socratics sell an argument that explains how such salvation is possible. They give us hope. (See here, here, here, here, and here, for discussion of this issue.) Such a temptation would be even more difficult to resist while living in a whole society buying this argument.
One view brings with it another, and another, and so on until one adopts the entire Socratic argument hook, line, and sinker.
Socrates has to address some strong objections to his argument. It would seem that a view that said knowledge and value was impossible, argument futile, language meaningless, and life not worth living would fly in the face of our lives where we do talk about what we know, our values, what we love, and what we would fight to defend. It would seem that we should reject the Socratic view, despite the appeal of its messenger, because it tells us something that isn't true to our lives.
The Socratic response to this complaint is to reassure us that his claims about knowledge and values are indeed correct, and where you naturally think that it denies things that your life tells you, there is really no conflict. There is no conflict because you only seem to have a life.
This is the work done by Socrates's Allegory of the Cave. It tries to reconcile commitment to Socrates's account of knowledge and value, a view that makes dissent or love impossible, with the experience of our lives. It does this by showing how our lives are fakes.
We remember the Allegory as Socrates's attempt to explain the difference between opinion and knowledge, prejudice and real values. In it we are like theater-goers velcroed into our seats, who can only experience the images on the screen, the smell of the popcorn and other commodities carried down the isles, or hear the digital sound from the newly installed dolby speakers. Such a life, on Socrates's view, would be the hell of relativism degenerating into skepticism and nihilism.
Socrates tells us this is how we must understand our lives. The purpose of this story is to give an account of the evidence we in Socrates's audience might pose to him if we should try to object to his account of knowledge and values. Well, he tells us, you may think that you have knowledge and values, because you talk about them, or you have experiences which seem so vivid. However, what you take to be knowledge and values is based on falsities. Your claims are based on your own peculiar experience which counts for nothing.
On his view, however, knowledge and values are available to those who are not confined to the movie screens and accompanying special effects. Salvation for Socrates comes by tearing through the velcro in order to see the bogus way one's life has been created for us. The film-goers suffering ends only when someone frees them from their restraints and forces them to see what their lives have been about, in contrast to what reality has to offer.
Whereas Socrates thought of the person who discovers what's really going on as a philosopher. His Republic is an account of how men can be freed from the restraints limiting them to their own experiences, of shadows or cinema. I call the figure of one who enters the theater or the cave to free the imprisoned from their suffering a "Socratic Hero." The Christian calls the same person who comes to live among the prisoners or velcroed film goers "Jesus."
We may object to Socrates's account because it says things that aren't true about our lives, i.e., that knowledge and values are impossible, because our lives are filled with considerations of knowledge and values. This objection may have been commonly made by Athenian children. The adults may have objected that Socrates's view would make dissent or resistance to the tyrants impossible. The victims of Socratic imperialism may have objected that his view makes conflict resolution impossible because it eliminates any basis for agreement.
The distinction between the Messiah and a Socratic Hero, therefore, is important to make.
Suppose we consider Conan Doyle's stories about "Sherlock Holmes" wherein his hero solves crimes and otherwise protects people from the criminal element. We might think that Doyle's accounts of Holmes cases were so true that we're tempted to find a Holmes to protect us. The problem we have with a hero like detective Holmes or the Socratic Hero is they only provide services in the world their creators make for them. The characters themselves cannot help us in the real world.
Someone might claim that Doyle or Socrates weren't just spinning yarns. Their descriptions of life were so accurate, involving cops and robbers, or investigative techniques, that we can see how detective work could actually be done. And as for Socrates, his allegory is true enough to establish the existence of Forms and explain how a God could relate to us.
The best response to Socrates, in terms of an argument, is to reject the claim that his Allegory accurately enough describes our lives so it shows how knowledge and values can be possible despite the roadblocks in our path. The problem is not that life is illusory, or our claims about knowledge and values are based on conjecture, prejudice, habit, or opinion. The problem is we have committed ourselves to Socrates's account of knowledge and values as being a matter of logical argument.
The Teacher saw that the Socratic view was about selfishness. (See here, here, and here for more on issue of selfishness) The obsession about survival and freedom from suffering drove his converts to depend on violence, stealth, and deceit in order to achieve their goals. In order to justify these evils they claimed that the world itself made them and everyone else do these things. Then, needing salvation from the consequences of their decisions, they imagined God was going to intervene in their lives on their behalf. They imagined a life after death would be made available. They imagined whatever they did to assure their goals justified their means. They said to themselves they could commit these crimes against themselves and others as they were assured they had a God-given right to survive and themselves be free from suffering.
It was against this corruption that the distinction between the "sons of light" and the "sons of darkness" arose. Those committed to the Socratic view, those who dissemble, are blind, and so in darkness, dead to the world, as they are self-obsessed, and dangerous, both to themselves and others.
A "Socratic Hero" could not be in a position to save us from suffering as the suffering we are concerned about is a consequence of commitment to self. Such a "Hero" is just a part of a story Socratics tell themselves to justify their selfishness.
The salvation that the Teacher offers, as a point of argument, is that one should not hope for salvation from the consequences of one's selfishness, but one should instead choose not to be selfish in the first place.
Finally, I like the 23rd Psalm possibly also written by the Teacher. It suggests how a commitment to the right account of knowledge and values brought him around, and how there are ways to bring even Socratics back from the dark side.
Your holy spirit illuminates the dark places of the heart of your servant, with light like the sun.
I look to the covenants made by men, worthless.
Only your truth shines, and those who love it are wise and walk in the glow of your light.
From darkness you raise hearts.
Let light shine on your servant.
Your light is everlasting.