The Dead Sea Scrolls: Fate ‎

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			Fate is a subject that has probably intrigued human beings since they first began thinking ‎about the significance of life. We have an odd relationship with fate. On the one hand, we ‎want things to be in the hands of some god/deity/power that can do anything and can make ‎things right. On the other hand, we want to be in control of our own lives, and not leave ‎things in the hands of something other than ourselves. In general, there are three views ‎concerning fate. The extreme fatalistic view says that everything is under the sway of the ‎force called fate, whatever its cause may be. At the other extreme is the completely random ‎view, which says that things just happen for no reason or cause whatsoever. Lying in the ‎middle is what is generally understood as the Biblical view, which sees fate controlling ‎everything other than the choices of those beings that possess freedom of the will. ‎
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None of these views have anything remotely resembling empirical support other than the ‎intuitive sense that they are correct. Free will appears to be clearly stated in the Torah, and is ‎widely attested to in almost all Jewish and Christians sources and many Moslem sources. The ‎random view is largely supported by the contentions of modern science, specifically the ‎conclusions of quantum mechanics. Ironically, the modern scientific view is almost identical ‎to the ancient fatalistic view with the difference being whether there is a supernatural force ‎guiding the fate of everything or no guiding force at all other than the laws of physics. ‎
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Most modern Jews would be surprised to learn that predestination was a Jewish belief at one ‎time. But there are so many sources in Scripture that back this view up that it is impossible to ‎disregard. These views may have reached their crescendo in late second temple times with the ‎communities that wrote the sectarian documents of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Among them is the ‎Thanksgiving Scroll, a series of Psalm-like hymns that reveals a great deal about the sect’s ‎theology. ‎
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Included in this scroll are passages that express an extremely strong belief in predestination. ‎‎‘And I am dust and ashes, what can I plan without Your desire, and what can I consider ‎without Your will? How can I become strong without You establishing me, and how can I ‎understand without Your forming me? How can I speak without You opening my mouth, and ‎how can I answer without You instructing me. Behold You are the minister of the mighty and ‎the king of the honored and the Lord of all spirit and the guide of all action. Without You ‎nothing will be done, and nothing is known without Your will’ (10: 5-9). ‎
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Another of these hymns takes a similar position on predestination: ‘You alone created the ‎righteous, and from the womb you prepared him for the time of desire to keep your covenant ‎and to walk in all (paths), and to have mercy upon him with Your great mercies, and to open ‎up all the anguish of his soul to everlasting salvation and peace that lacks nothing. And You ‎raise his glory from the flesh; but the evil You created from the extremes of Your wrath and ‎from the womb you sanctified them for the day of killing’ (15:15-18). ‎
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Analysis ‎
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These are not isolated thoughts in obscure scrolls. If anything, they expressed the views of the ‎community that wrote them, which may very well have been a prevalent outlook at the time. ‎But the modern outlook is puzzled when it hears statements like these. Why would anybody ‎want to believe that their personal choices are not really their own? Why would a person want ‎to think that they have no power to act independently and to make their own ethical ‎decisions? Does a righteous person feel better about their deeds if they know that their ‎righteousness was all part of God’s plan and not their own doing? How is creating the wicked ‎for the purpose of punishing them really fair? Shouldn’t they get a chance to not be wicked? ‎Doesn’t creating the righteous ‘from the womb’, make them inherently not really righteous? ‎These are difficult questions to answer. How are we to approach this crucial issue with an ‎open mind? ‎
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It is more than a little ironic that the modern scientific view is really a revival of the old ‎outlook of predestination. Instead of God controlling human choice there are genes in the ‎cells and chemicals in the brain. A moral choice is not a choice at all. It is a predetermined ‎genetic disposition expressed through chemical neurotransmitters that comes out in the form ‎of what looks like a choice. Free will, that mysterious product of Biblical religion and ‎philosophical speculation, is nothing more than an evolutionary veneer that makes ‎us believe we possess something that we really don’t. Modern secularists may not tolerate a ‎non-existent God messing with their thoughts, but they have no problem with chromosomes ‎and chemicals doing exactly the same thing. ‎
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However, there is a crucial difference between the predestination found in second temple ‎Judaism and the mechanistic chemical reaction-brain of today. The motivation of today’s ‎version is to demote human beings to a status that is no greater than that of a rock. We are ‎just glorified rocks, strutting around like we own the place, but in reality just as subject to the ‎laws of physics as a rock is bound to remain a rock. The ancients were not trying to make us ‎into rocks with feelings. They were trying to exalt God. ‎
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When the author of that Thanksgiving hymn declared that ‘I am dust and ashes’, asking ‘how ‎I can plan or speak or understand or act without Your enabling it to happen’, it was not a ‎statement of human worthlessness as much as an affirmation of God’s greatness. God’s ‎dominion over human choice elevates human choice to the domain of the divine. We are the ‎instruments of God’s will. When we make what we believe to be free will choices, we are ‎really carrying out a vital link in the divine plan. Every decision we make has been destined ‎for us eons ago in the timeless vaults of God’s mind. This may take the ultimate responsibility ‎out of human choice, but by the same token it elevates those choices into revelations of the ‎divine will. ‎
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These scrolls had the righteous and the wicked and their rewards and punishments, but still ‎left everything in the hand of God. How did they accomplish this? A moral decision was not ‎seen as a personal quest of the person who made it. It was one more revelation of God’s will. ‎God and God alone revealed the ways of God. Creating righteous people and wicked people ‎was one more way of revealing the ways of God. It wasn’t about the individual receiving ‎reward or punishment. It was about revealing the ways of God. Among those ways was the ‎primacy of good and the abhorrence of evil. These are components of God’s plan no less than ‎the laws of nature and the oneness of all things. Revealing them is an essential part of the ‎great plan. That is how we fit into the great scheme of things. ‎
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So do we have free will in the end? Do the righteous have any merit in being righteous? Are ‎the wicked guilty for being evil? Yes, and no. Yes, because they did make those choices and ‎bear the consequences of being the revealer of what happens to one who makes such a choice. ‎No, because ultimately, according to this line of reasoning, the choice was thrust upon them ‎by factors beyond their control. There is free will from the limited vantage point of a human ‎being, who cannot see beyond the limited horizon of the mind. But free will is an illusion ‎when seen from the higher vantage point of the Creator and Shaper of all. ‎
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Judaism, by and large, rejected this perspective, seeing the fatalistic attitude as one that ‎would discourage human initiative and self worth. Free will was elevated to a supreme ‎position in Judaism – an essential factor in human greatness and human failure. But it came at ‎a price. By elevating free will to god-like potential, it had to diminish the role of God ‎accordingly. God had to suffer a drop in status if human beings were to gain. The result is a ‎God who must await our choices and decide the fate of things only after we have cast our ‎vote. Slowly and subtly, this outlook pushed God to the outside. It was almost an act of fate ‎that things would reach the point of God having no power to act, only to observe things with ‎His non-existent eyes from a non-existent perch in the non-existent heavens. ‎
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Perceiving the Image ‎
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There is an obvious reason why these people favored the image of a God who controls all ‎things, including human destiny and will, rather than the alternative image of a God who ‎works in conjunction with our free choices. The first image leaves God at the helm; the ‎second slowly takes it away from Him. Those backwards scroll writers may have been onto ‎something in their monastic enclaves near the Dead Sea or wherever these things were ‎composed. They knew that perceiving God was an all-or-nothing conflict. Either God was ‎everything or God was nothing. The God-is-everything view includes fate and predestination. ‎It relegates us to the role of the performer in a play directed by something other than us. But ‎it does enable us to perceive that Director and to gain a little understanding about the show ‎being directed. They knew that perceiving God was everything, and that everything else was ‎a sideshow, a very complex distraction. If surrendering human free will to the power of ‎fate was the price that had to be paid to truly perceive God, it was well worth the sacrifice. ‎
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To see the world through the prism of fate is to see everything through the eyes of God. The ‎reason we reject this perception is that we want to see things through our own eyes and not ‎through the eyes of God. But this image of God, the image of a God who directs fate to such ‎a degree that even our personal choices are manipulated to reveal the divine plan, is just as ‎valid a perspective. We are not the only thing in the universe. Why should our perspective ‎count for more than the perspective of God, who created it all, including us? God is fate; ‎acknowledging fate is to look through God’s eyes at the world. It is an unusual image, one ‎that goes contrary to our personal experience. But personal experience is not the only ‎experience. God also experiences the world. ‎
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Reflections ‎
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Fate is one of those archaic beliefs that can never really go away.  Why is fate so ‎objectionable but also so innate to our reality? Is it really a reflection of the same feeling ‎concerning God – objectionable but innate? ‎
		


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