Biblical Archaeology Review 18:6, November/December 1992
Dead Sea Scrolls Research Council: Fragments

A Pierced or Piercing Messiah?—The Verdict Is Still Out

By James D. Tabor

Despite the unanimous and confident conclusion of Geza Vermes’ Oxford Forum that the so-called Pierced Messiah text (4Q285) actually celebrates the triumph of a piercing Messiah who slays his enemies,a things are not so clear. Vermes’ bald conclusion, “The fragment does not speak of a slain messiah,” surely goes beyond the evidence. It also ignores other perfectly plausible possibilities and gives the nonspecialist reader the impression that Vermes’ view is the only “scholarly” option. Given the fragmented nature of the text in its present state, all interpretations are necessarily preliminary. I offer here a number of points that might be included in this discussion.

First, Robert Eisenman and Michael Wise should be commended for immediately releasing their preliminary translation of such a fascinating text. After all, J. T. Milik had the text for decades, and none of us even knew it existed until November 8, 1991, when the Associated Press story came out. Here we have a highly legible fragment that mentions within five lines a Davidic messiah figure, someone being judged and killed, and the notion of woundings or piercing. Whatever it means, it is undeniably of intense interest to scholars and the public. Thanks to Eisenman and Wise, who located this fascinating fragment among hundreds of photos, we have all now had a chance to discuss its meaning The original AP wire story expressed the normal caveats: “if the translation is correct,” etc.

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