Barbara Thiering's Jesus & the Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls is a fascinating study, but it is also a very uneven read. The book runs almost 450 pages, but the "main part" (before the various appendixes) is only 160 pages This first third is well done, interesting, and quite eye-opening in the things that Thiering claims that a "technical" reading of the Qumran scroll materials, in conjunction with Biblical sources and other apocrypha, says about the events and realities of Jesus' life.
However, the first appendix, on "Chronology" (almost another third of the book) is like hitting a brick wall. This section covers the various sorts of calendars used by competing pre-Christian cults in the area, how they cycled in relation to each other, how they were adjusted so things stayed where they were supposed to be, a breakdown on "code words" relating to calendrical concepts which appear in the Bible, scrolls, etc., and a sometimes day-by-day walk-through of the events running from 9 BC to 64 AD. This section was painful to plow through!
Slightly less onerous is the "Locations" appendix which fleshes out the theory that most of the events of the Gospels happened in and around Qumran, and not actually in the places a "Biblical Literalist" would assume. Although I was approaching this with a lot of "yeah, yeah, whatever", it does present a coherent structure where a lot of the "how could that happen?" stuff in the Bible sounds implausible. Also interesting is the "Hierarchy" appendix which discusses who was in what group and how these various cults/roles functioned.
The "cut to the chase" version of Jesus & the Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls is that Jesus was one of many players in a "Jewish Millennialist" movement that had been started by Herod, with plans to expand out a Jewish theocratic Empire to eventually challenge Rome. There were various sects, some that were open to Gentiles, some that wanted to forcibly confront the Romans, and all of these were tied into various cults (such as the Essenes) whose Millennialism dated back at least to the Maccabees. Two main camps existed, with a fluid mix of groups between them, those being the "Eastern" (being more strict about Jewish law and asceticism), and the "Western" which eventually welcomed non-Jews and women even into the priestly (Levite) functions. Generally speaking the "Western" groups eventually morphed into Christianity, and the "Eastern" groups left behind the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The method that Thiering uses to arrive at this rather non-traditional read of the New Testament milieu is called the "pesher" technique, a word that in the Old Testament is used to denote such things as dream interpretation, but in this case (as it is set out in certain of the Scrolls), it means a systematic way of extracting a deliberately-encoded subtext from a document. As the New Testament books and the Dead Sea Scrolls came out from the same set of mystical groups, the reading methods outlined for the latter work for the former, with rather surprising results. According to the strict ascetic traditions of the "Eastern" groups, Jesus was illegitimate, having been conceived at the wrong time in the calendar (according to a very strict rule that "The Davids" such as Joseph were under), so was unable to hold any of the higher offices (which they claimed to legitimately fall to James), the "Western" groups held that since Jesus was conceived within the ritual process of betrothal and weddings, he was legitimate ... neither group even suggested "divinity" for Jesus beyond that of being a hereditary "David" (the "spirit" that came to Mary was Joseph in a ritual appellation!).
Anyway, it's an interesting read, and, frankly, it's the MOST PLAUSIBLE READING OF CHRISTIANITY that I've ever encountered. As many readers of this space know, I have no use for Christianity in general, and this is the only thing I've ever read that makes sense of the source materials behind all the fairy tails and priestcraft (well, except perhaps for Baigent, Leigh, and Lincoln's The Messianic Legacy). Like the B/L/L books, Jesus doesn't actually die on the cross, but survives, and with political changes ends up a major player in the growth of "Christianity" in Rome, which he escapes from in the days of Nero (Paul, according to the pesher even writes of Jesus's escape in his final letters before he and Peter are executed), and moves with Mary M. and the kids (several) to a Herodian estate in the south of France (ah ... perhaps the "Sion" secret is the burial place of Jesus?).
Obviously, this is another of those books that I really wish all Christians would read. I hate seeing so many otherwise functional human beings throw away their lives believing in fairy tales intended for the intellectually challenged. Unlike a lot of the books I've reviewed here, this one, while not available new, is pretty pricey on the used listings ... with a "like new" copy setting you back at least $8 before shipping ... but it's definitely worth it if you want to rip off the veils of 2,000 years of lies and take a non-delusional look at what produced Christianity!