A Commentary on the Koresh Manuscript


Dr. James D. Tabor and Dr. J. Phillip Arnold



David Koresh asked that his completed manuscript be given to us through his lawyer, Dick DeGuerin. Evidently he expected that we would read it with sensitivity and offer some reaction and evaluation based on our academic study of Biblical texts and our knowledge of the history of the interpretation of the Book of Revelation. The following preliminary comments will help the reader who is not technically trained in these esoteric texts to follow Koresh's rather involved thinking and interpretation.

The key to understanding David Koresh and his perception of his identity and mission clearly centers on one question taken from the book of Revelation--"Who is worthy to open the scroll and to loose its seals?" (Revelation 5:2). The text identifies a figure known as the Lamb, or "Root [Branch] of David" who alone is able to open this mysterious book sealed with Seven Seals (5:5). Traditional Christianity has, of course, always understood this one to be none other than Jesus Christ. Hence the endless confusion as to whether or not David Koresh actually claimed to be "Jesus," or even God himself, for that matter. This manuscript makes it clear that he claimed to be neither, despite all the confused and misleading reports about his self-understanding. However, he certainly did claim to be this Lamb who opens the sealed scroll, as well as the figure who rides the White Horse when the First Seal is opened, and appears at the end of the book, still mounted on the same White Horse, when the "marriage of the Lamb" takes place (Rev 6:1-2; 19:7-19).

Part of the confusion has to do with the use of the term "Christ." This Greek word is not a proper name, but a title. It means "an anointed one" or to use the original Hebrew word, a "messiah." All the ancient high priests and kings of Israel were "anointed," and in that sense can be called "christ" or "messiah." This is standard Biblical usage. However, the Prophets began to focus on a specific and ideal Christ or Messiah who is to come. This one was to be a "Branch of David," that is, a descendant of King David, and would rule as a King in Jerusalem, bringing peace to Israel and all nations (Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5). This Christ, like David of old, is also called the "Son of God" (Psalm 2:6; 2 Samuel 7:14). David Koresh clearly believed that Jesus of Nazareth was this Christ. However, he also maintained that the prophets foretold of another "Christ," a Branch of David, who would appear at the end of time and open the Seven Seals.

Psalm 45 is the key to the First Seal, according to Koresh's interpretation. Here the King is anointed, that is made "Christ," and rides his horse triumphantly (verses 1-7). This is parallel to Revelation 6:1-2 and 19:7-19--so this figure is none other than the Lamb. After conquering his enemies, the marriage feast takes place. This Lamb marries virgin "daughters" and has many children who are destined to rule with him over the earth (Psalm 45:10-17). Jesus of Nazareth, though anointed as Christ, never fulfilled this role 2000 years ago. Accordingly, Koresh believed that Psalm 45, along with several other key Messianic texts, could not apply to this appearance of Jesus Christ of the first century. Jesus never married and had children, as this text requires. Psalm 40 also speaks of the same figure: "Then said I, Lo, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God, yea thy law is within my heart" (verses 6-7). The text goes on to speak of this one as having "iniquities more than the hairs of mine head" (verse 12). This so-called "sinful messiah" is none the less the one written of in the scroll--which Koresh connected, obviously, to the Seven Sealed Scroll of Revelation 6. The same figure is mentioned in Isaiah 45:1 and called by name: "Thus says the LORD, to his anointed (christ), to Cyrus (Koresh in Hebrew), whose right hand I have held, to subdue nations before him ..." This Cyrus, or Koresh, is called Christ. His mission is to destroy Babylon. Historians have understood the reference to be to the ancient Persian King Cyrus, who literally destroyed ancient Babylon. But there is a deeper spiritual and prophetic meaning according to Koresh, and for that matter, the book of Revelation. The whole religious-political system is called "mystery Babylon the Great." As the text says, "Babylon is fallen, is fallen," hinting at a double meaning and fulfillment (Rev 18:2). The last Babylon is defeated by the last Christ/King/Koresh, the "Branch of David."

Koresh found his role described in great detail in Isaiah 40-66. Some these texts in Isaiah are quite personal and Koresh found them encouraging, as if the Scriptures had been written just for him. For example, "Assemble yourselves and hear, which among them has declared these things, Yahweh has loved him: he will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall be on the Chaldeans" (Isa 48:14). This text was of particular importance to Koresh as a succinct statement of his mission: that God loved him, and as the arm of Yahweh he would bring down Babylon. The text goes on, with God speaking in the first person about this figure: "I, even I, have spoken, yes I have called him, I have brought him, and he shall make his way prosperous. Come near to me, and hear this: I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord Yahweh and his Spirit has sent me" (Isa 48:15-16). This verse was instrumental in Koresh's understanding of the notion of Christ, which we explained above. Here Yahweh sends one with his Spirit, that same Christ Spirit, that was with him from the beginning. It is as if that Spirit, speaking through Isaiah, takes up the first person, but then switches to the third person--in other words the prophetic "I" who is with Yahweh in the beginning, embodies the "him" who is sent. The text goes on to say: "Go forth from Babylon, flee from the Chaldeans..." (v. 20), which the Davidians understood as yet another reference to their upcoming flight to Israel.

There are dozens of references to a mysterious "servant" of Yahweh in Isaiah 40-55. Most often, biblical scholars are agreed, these references are to the nation of Israel, who is called, metaphorically, God's servant (e.g., Isaiah 42:21). However,a there are five sections of Isaiah which are called the "Servant Songs" in biblical scholarship and these appear to address a single individual (Isa 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12). This individual is, in fact, contrasted with the servant nations, that is said to be deaf and blind (Isa 42:19). The New Testament applies each of these "Songs" to Jesus. David Koresh, as one might expect, tried to demonstrate that they were all talking about a subsequent or final Christ figure, namely "Cyrus," conqueror of Babylon, who was to appear before the end of history. This teaching was of enormous influence upon his students, who became convinced that these texts did not and could not apply to Jesus. Given their unfaltering faith in the inspiriation of the Bible, they found it easy to believe that David Koresh was indeed the one he claimed to be, a final Christ or "Servant" of Yahweh. Koresh argued, for example, that the servant mentioned in Isaiah 49:1-4 is actually introduced in the previous chapter as the one who will lead God's people out of Babylon and eventually even destroy the Babylonians (48:14-20). The text also says this one will "raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the preserved of Israel" (Isa 49:6). This Jesus never did and Koresh connected such a task with Revelation 7, where the "messenger from the east," the very one he claimed to be, gather his 144,000 from the twelve tribes of Israel.

Koresh found every detail of the origin and mission of this figure meticulously described in Scripture. For example, this one is to come from the north and the east (Isa 41:1-2, 25; 46:11). The one who comes from the "north" is the one who comes from God's throne, which is said to be in the north part of the heavens (Psalm 48:2; Isa 14:13; Job 26:7). When John has his vision in Revelation 4 he is told to "come up hither," to heaven, which would be to ascend to the north. Koresh believed that he too had been before the throne of God in the north, and had now returned with the sealed book in his hand. Koresh claimed that the reference to the "east" refered to his own revelation in Israel in 1985, a far country to the east of the United States. Since the United States, in his view, was the very "seat of modern Babylon," this figure comes from Israel to the United States to deliver his message. Koresh connected these references in Isaiah to Revelation 7:2: "And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God ...." This one from the east was to come to "Babylon," and call out the faithful ones, first spiritually and later literally. Koresh expected that his followers, who would eventually number 144,000, would someday move to Israel, and actually participate in the final events of the end described in Daniel 11:40-45, which he often called the most important prophecy in the Bible. It describes a wicked "king of the north," who would come into Palestine, shortly before the final events of the age, but would ultimately be overthrown by God. All of these events, described in such detail in the prophets, the Davidians understood in the most literal way and constantly discussed in great detail. They often referred to Isaiah 2 and Micah 4, and the actual kingdom or government which God was to set up in Jerusalem, in the Land of Israel, following the events of Daniel 11.

Koresh found reference to this second "Christ" figure, who is called a "ravenous bird from the east" in Isaiah 46:11, in other biblical texts which appear to have nothing to do with prophetic apocalypticism. For example, Ecclesiastes 12 contains a number of poetic images such as the sun being darkened, the "keepers of the house" trembling, the "strong men" being bent, and the "grinders" being few (12:2-3). These have traditionally been understood as references to old age: dimming eyes, trembling hands, stooped legs, and loss of teeth. However, in verse 4 there is a reference to one "rising up at the voice of the bird," which Koresh equated to the "bird from the east" in Isaiah. On this basis Koresh saw the entire chapter as an apocalyptic poem about the end of the age. The "evil days" of verse 1 he took to be the tribulations of the end of history, rather than old age. The heavenly signs, with sun darkened and stars falling, mentioned in verse 2, he paralleled to the Sixth Seal and to Jesus' Olivet prophecy in which he predicted these very things (Rev 6:13; Matthew 24:29). The "keepers of the house trembling" would then refer to the kings and rulers who will tremble with fear when the great Day of Judgment is manifested as described in Revelation 6:15-17:

And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men ... hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb.

The text in Ecclesiastes goes on to say that "they will be afraid of that which is high," which Koresh saw as an apt description of this very passage in Revelation.

Koresh further expanded this concept, pulling in what he felt were parallel images throughout the Bible. For example, this "bird" or messenger from the east, mentioned in Isaiah 46:12, is also called the "arm of Yahweh" in related passages such as Isaiah 52:10-12 and Isaiah 40:10-11. In other words, he is the instrument who gathers this final remnant people from Babylon and takes them to the Land of Israel (Isa 52:10-12). To establish that this metaphor of the "arm of Yahweh" refers to a specific individual, Koresh would incorporate other texts, particularly from the Psalms. Psalm 80:17 says: "Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand, upon the son of man whom you made strong for yourself." Psalm 89:13,27 directly speaks of this Davidic ruler or messiah: "You have a mighty arm, strong is your hand, and high is your right hand...also I will make him my first born, higher than the kings of the earth." Accordingly, this "man of the right hand" is none other than the son of David, the messiah, or Koresh, conqueror of Babylon.

This figure is also called the Branch, or sprout of David. Isaiah 11 gives a sketch of his career (vv. 1-2). This "Branch" figure is also mentioned in Isaiah 4:2, Jeremiah 23:5, and Zechariah 3:8. In each of these contexts Koresh would attempt to show that the accomplishments of the figure were not those of Jesus, but would be those of the final Christ. To connect this "Branch" figure with the "arm of Yahweh" mentioned in other texts, Koresh used Psalm 80:15, which speaks of the "Branch that you have made strong for yourself," and in the following verses speaks of this one as the "man of your right hand." The name Branch Davidian, of course, is connected to these ideas; that one from the line of king David would reign literally in Jerusalem. Ben Roden, as we have seen, applied some of these very texts to himself in taking on the name of the "Branch" in 1970. However, Koresh took his essential idea and developed it beyond anything Roden could have imagined. It was unnecessary for David Koresh to claim literal, biological, lineage from king David, which is the historical meaning of this language about the Branch figure. In Isaiah 11:1 the "Branch" comes from the line of Jesse, the father of King David of Israel. This is why the New Testament writers go to such pains to demonstrate that Jesus of Nazareth is of this lineage (Matthew 1; Luke 3). Koresh argued, for example, that the servant of Isaiah 49:1-4, is actually introduced in the previous chapter, which we just quoted above. He is the one who leads God's people out of Babylon, and actually destroys the Babylonians (48:14-20). The text also says he will "raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the preserved of Israel" (49:6). This Koresh connected with Revelation 7, where the "messenger from the east" gathers his 144,000 from each of the tribes of Israel and preserves them from the forthcoming wrath of God's judgment. He maintained that Jesus never did any of these things, yet they would be accomplished by this final messenger.

In his manuscript Koresh barely begins to get into the many texts of the Prophets who speak of this "Davidian" figure (Jeremiah 23:5-8; 19-20; 33:14-16; Ezekiel 37:24-25; Hosea 3:5). He makes the point repeatedly that this Christ comes in the latter times, and perceives that Jesus of Nazareth, who came 2000 years ago, never fulfilled these texts. The Lamb who opens the Seals comes right before the End, is humiliated and maligned, and like Jesus 2000 years ago, offers the world God's truth. In other words, Koresh believed he was the actual, final manifestation of the Lamb, who will fulfill these prophecies regarding the Messiah.

According to this perspective, the Waco standoff and "waiting period" was a test for all humanity. It did not have to end as it did. Koresh believed that the world was being offered a chance to listen to this last Christ/Koresh, who could open the Seals, and thus show the way of repentance to our society. There was even an opportunity given for the actual decoding of the Seven Seals in written form, to be openly shared with all who wanted to hear. As the Branch Davidians now view things, this was all cut short, since the rejection and death of Koresh, at age 33, around Passover time, became in their view a strange repetition of the past. They assert that the Fifth Seal, which allowed for a time of repentance while the message went forth, ended with the "rest killed" as predicted (Rev 6:11). The Branch Davidians now believe that the probation period is up, and the Sixth Seal of the Judgment of God is pending.

The manuscript indicates that who respond to the message of repentance, who turn to God and begin following the Law of God, through accepting the Lamb/Koresh/Christ/King, will be invited to the "Marriage" feast. They are those "elect" ones who make up the Bride of the Lamb. As Koresh ends his discourse on the First Seal, this is mainly on his mind. Those who are truly part of the "Bride" are to come out of the "closet" and be revealed for who they are.

The manuscript also carefully maintains the distinction between the God the Father and His Lamb or Messiah. In that sense David Koresh never claimed to be God. However, like the Hebrew Prophets of old, and like Jesus of Nazareth, he did claim to speak the words of Yahweh God (the Father) directly, and in that sense could use, as they did, the first person mode of discourse.

The Poem titled "Eden to Eden," is quite indicative of Koresh's more mystical teachings. Like the apostle Paul, Koresh implies that the "marriage of the Lamb" is a mystery which somehow rectifies what happened at Eden in the Fall (Ephesians 5:31-32). The physical sexual union ("the two shall become one flesh") has a deeper meaning, and involves the perfect bonding of "Adam and his spirit Eve" in the "new Man" to come. Koresh taught the importance of the feminine side of the Divine and implies that Adam was created to express this dual image. However, through sin, Adam and his descendants were separated from the spiritual, feminine side, and remain in need of restoration. Through the revelation of Christ in the person of the Lamb, people are being reunited with their fragmented selves and gathered as lovers of God for the ultimate marriage union which will restore Eden.

The manuscript on the Seven Seals also appears to contain some indication of Koresh's state of mine the night before he died. We know that the first chapter of this work was completed on Sunday evening, the night before the fire, and was typed onto a computer disk by Ruth Riddle. This disk survived the fire, carried out by Ruth Riddle in her jacket pocket.

The existence of the manuscript itself, as well as internal evidence within the text, appears to confirm that Koresh was keeping his promise to produce an interpretive document. Such evidence also supports the view that Koresh intended to lead his group out peacefully. The form and structure of the manuscript indicate that Koresh did intend to produce a substantive piece of work. After conceptualizing the project over that last week-end, Koresh dictated to his typist, Ruth Riddle, on Sunday evening, April 18, in one long sitting of approximately four hours. The text consists of about twenty-five double-spaced pages. The work begins with a preface consisting of a poem, written by Koresh, titled EDEN TO EDEN that contains fifty-two lines divided into thirteen stanzas of four lines of metered and rhyming verses. Koresh titles his next section the "Introduction." It sets forth the interpretive principles and general themes which follow in the main body of the work. Following this Introduction the author begins "Chapter One," in which he turns his attention to the meaning of Seal One. This chapter ends with two biblical quotations, offering a sense of closure in regards to the First Seal and expectancy regarding Chapter Two on the Second Seal, which would have been dictated at the next sitting--probably on the very day of the fire.

Throughout the work Koresh appears to direct his words to those outside of Mt. Carmel, assuming an audience who would not know the meaning of the Seven Seals. The vocabulary of the writer, and his style and approach, show that he expects his words will be read by non-believers. This indicates that Koresh hoped to persuade his hearers. Ironically, the very last words we have from him in this manuscript read: "Should we not eagerly ourselves be ready to accept this truth and come out of our closet and be revealed to the world as those who love Christ in truth and in righteousness?" Koresh not only expects some readers to accept his teaching, but he also prepares his followers inside Mt. Carmel to "come out" of the center. This is seen further in his reference to Joel 2:15,16, which is quoted immediately before the sentence above. This passage orders those in Zion (read: Mt. Carmel) to "gather the people ... assemble the elders ... gather the children" and infants and follow the bridegroom (read: Koresh), "from his chamber and the bride out of her closet." The Davidians understood other passages from Isaiah to refer to their refuge at Mt. Carmel as a "chamber" where they could wait for God's intervention. This use of the term "come out," drawn from Scripture, used in Koresh's April 14th letter, and now appearing in the manuscript, seem to offer the best evidence of what he had on his mind the evening before the FBI CS gas assault.

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