The ‘New Covenant’ Debate Revisited

Jonathan Klawans’ 2019 volume, Heresy, Forgery, Novelty: Condemning, Denying, and Asserting Innovation in Ancient Judaism, has inspired a review of the debate concerning interpretation of the term ‘new covenant’ in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament, and whether or how it relates to Jeremiah 31:31-34.

Although Klawans does not himself discern Essenic influence on the historical Jesus, this study builds on my previous research, which concluded that the Last Supper took place in southwest Jerusalem on 1 April 33 C.E. in an Essenic household of which Jesus’ brother James was the mebaqqer. Following Klawans, it will be argued that reference in the Dead Sea Scrolls to ‘new covenant’ is best understood as relating to renewal or restoration rather than innovation. Likewise, Klawans’ insights are followed for the exploration of the Gospels and Acts as to whether Jesus regarded himself as instituting a new covenant, and in assessment of the various versions of the cup saying, particularly 1 Cor. 11:25 and Luke 22:20.

Following Klawans, it will be argued that reference in the Dead Sea Scrolls to ‘new covenant’ is best understood as relating to renewal or restoration rather than innovation

In light of traditional Jewish condemnation of religious novelty, the embrace of innovation in Christian literature is a surprising development. This phenomenon is discussed, with attention drawn to the marked shift that occurs in the Epistle to the Hebrews and later works, toward undisguised derogation of Judaism, and to supersessionism. These trends are explicated on the basis of Bibliowicz’s perception that the ‘parting of the ways’ resulted originally not from Jewish–Christian tensions, but rather from disputes between the Jewish founders of the Jesus movement, and Gentile Christians.

In conclusion, it will be asserted that the findings are consistent with my depictions of Jesus and James, and that the eucharistic cup saying refers to the covenant renewal — not replacement — that was anticipated at the eschatological banquet.