the first volume of a two-volume work, Luke-Acts, which narrates the career of Jesus of Nazareth as the founder of Christianity.

The Gospel.

The third gospel opens with a literary preface that identifies the programmatic concerns of the text (Lk. 1.1–4). The preface compares unnamed earlier works (verses 1–2) with the present work (verses 3–4). We can identify two of the predecessors: Q, the sayings gospel, and Mark. It is quite likely that the author knew others. In contrast to these, the author claims to present a fuller and more reliable version of the apostolic tradition about Jesus. The testimonia of the early church tell us that the author was Luke, a second-generation Christian and the sometime traveling companion of Paul (e.g., the Muratorian Canon 2–8, 34–39; Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.1, 3.14.1; and the Old Independent Prologue or Anti-Marcionite Prologue). However, the preface suggests that the author was a third-generation Christian. Most place the author in the last twenty years of the first century CE. The geographical locale of the author and readers is impossible to pinpoint since the text was probably addressed to more than one community. The literary nature of the prologue is important for understanding the work and its relationship to the finds in the Judean Desert: it is the only text in the New Testament that self-consciously situates itself in the Greco-Roman world by means of a literary preface.

At the same time, the narrative is unabashedly Jewish. It begins with an infancy narrative (Lk. 1.5–2.52) that has an unmistakable Semitic ambience. A sketch of the career of John the Baptist and Jesus' appointment as the kingdom-proclaimer (Lk. 3.1–4.13) serves as an introduction to Jesus' Galilean ministry (Lk. 4.14–9.50). The most distinctive structural feature of the gospel is the long travelogue in which the author places Jesus' teaching in thematic groupings (Lk. 9.51–19.27). The Jerusalem ministry (Lk. 19.28–21.38) sets up the passion narrative that emphasizes the political charges against Jesus (Lk. 22.1–23.58). Unlike Mark, who championed the death of Jesus, this gospel accentuates Jesus' entrance into glory by narrating a series of resurrection appearances and an ascension (Lk. 23.50–24.52).

Luke and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The third gospel thus has a paradoxical relationship to the world of Qumran: it wants to claim continuity with Judaism and, at the same time, it opens up Christianity to the larger world by engaging it on its own terms. The paradox is complicated by the creation of the apostolic tradition. Christianity was not simply a variation of Greek-speaking Judaism, but a movement in the process of acquiring its own identity.

The similarities with the Dead Sea Scrolls belong to the effort to anchor Christianity within Judaism. Yet the author clearly knew Judaism in several different forms, including the Septuagint, Greek-speaking Judaism, and Jewish Christianity. The echoes of the Dead Sea Scrolls must therefore be heard as one tradition among several. For the sake of convenience, I will cluster these reverberations into three groups.

The first is the general atmosphere of the earliest sections. As previously noted, the infancy narrative creates a Jewish milieu. While this world depends heavily on the Septuagint, the canticles of Mary and Zechariah (1.46b–55, 68–79) remind the reader of the hymns among the scrolls (1QHa and the hymns in 1QM; e.g., Lk. 1.52 and 1QM xiv.10–11; Lk. 1.71 and 1QM xviii.11–12). The heavy Semitic cast of the hymns suggests that they were taken over from earlier Jewish Christians who composed them in much the same spirit as the Covenanters at Qumran did their hymns. The scrolls have even helped to clarify a line in another canticle. Scholars were divided over whether “goodwill” in “people of goodwill” (Lk. 2.14) referred to humans or to the deity. The discovery of the same phrase at Qumran where it means “people whom God favors” (1QHa iv.32–33 [xvii.20–21], xi.9 [iii.8]) has settled the debate. Another section of the narrative that is redolent of Qumran is the presentation of John the Baptist (e.g., 3.1–20; cf. Lk. 3.4 and 1QS viii.12–16; Lk. 3.16 and 1QS iv.20–21). However, we must not overdraw this portrait since Luke, like the Jewish Antiquities of Josephus (18.116–19), presents John more as a Hellenistic moral reformer (cf. 3.10–14) than as an apocalyptic prophet.

A second area is the interpretation of scripture. Like the author of Luke (24.44), the Essenes know a threefold division of sacred texts (4QMMT 95). Both understand the scriptures eschatologically although the specific vantage point is different: The Christian author can look back to Jesus as the interpreter, whereas the Essenes understood the Teacher of Righteousness to be the interpreter and still anticipated the Messiah(s) (1QpHab vii.4–5). Their hermeneutics are quite similar as the introductory formulas for citations demonstrate (e.g., Lk. 3.4 and 4QFlor 1.15; Lk. 4.10 and CD xi.20; Lk. 7.27 and 4QFlor 1.16). At times they even cite the same texts (Is. 40.3 in Lk. 3.4 and 1QS viii.14; Is. 61.1–2 in Lk. 4.18; 7.22 and 1QHa xviii.14 [x.12]; 11QMelch ii.18–19; cf. 4Q521 2).

The third area comprises the speculations about eschatological figures. The most impressive is Luke 1.32 and 35 and the Aramaic Apocalypse (4Q246) ii.1–8, which share four phrases, three virtually identical. Each claims the figure “will be great,” “will be called son of most high,” “will be called son of God,” and will have an everlasting reign. While Luke clearly refers to the Messiah, the Aramaic Apocalypse could refer to a number of different figures: a historical figure such as Alexander Balas, the Messiah, the anti-Christ, an angelic figure such as Melchizedek, or Israel, collectively. At a minimum, the two texts demonstrate that early Christians applied known eschatological formulas to Christ. Another example is the common use of Isaiah 61.1–2 in the eschatological speculations of both groups: Luke 4.18 and 7.22 use it to refer to Jesus; one of the Hodayot (1QHa xviii.14 [x.12]) alludes to it as the revelation of God's truth to the speaker (the Teacher of Righteousness?); Melchizedek (11QMelch) applies it to the “messenger” of Isaiah 52.7, who appears to be Melchizedek; the Messianic Apocalypse (4Q521) ii.12 associates Isaiah 61.1 with God's activities in the messianic era. While there are variations, they all point to the association of Isaiah 61.1–2 with the announcement of eschatological salvation.

These similarities should not lead us to think that the Covenanters who produced the Judean Desert documents represent the primary source for Judaism in Luke. We have one text that may record a polemic against the Essenes. Luke insists that Christians include “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (Lk. 14.13, 21) and warns against preferential seating arrangements (Lk. 14.7–11, 22.24–26). The Essenes, as described in the Qumran texts, explicitly exclude three of the former (1QSa ii.5–9; 1QM vii.4–6) and have rigid rules for seating arrangements (1QSa ii.11–22). Whether or not these statements were addressed against the Essenes at an earlier stage of the tradition, they represent the values of Jesus and his tradition, which stand at the heart of Luke.

Perhaps it is appropriate that a fragment of Luke has been found at Khirbet Mird (Lk. 13.1, 3–4) in the Judean wilderness. It represents a full circle for Luke, which used the traditions from Judea to create a portrait of a branch of Judaism that became Christianity in the larger world and then returned to the homeland.


  • Braun, Herbert. Qumran und das Neue Testament. 2 vols. Tübingen, 1966.
    Volume 1 works through the parallels systematically in the order of the text of Luke; volume 2 deals with the material thematically
  • Brown, Raymond E. The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Anchor Bible Reference Library. New York, 1993.
    Indispensable discussion of Luke 1–2, especially the canticles
  • Collins, John J. The Scepter and the Star: The Messiah of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature. New York, 1995.
    Important treatment of messianic texts
  • Fitzmyer, Joseph A. The Gospel according to Luke. 2 vols. The Anchor Bible 28–28A. Garden City, N. Y., 1981–1985.
    The best critical commentary on Luke by an expert on the New Testament and Dead Sea Scrolls

Gregory E. Sterling