Evan, in a comment over at James McGrath’s blog, brought this article to my attention. I have always felt that the position taken by Ben Zion Wacholder is the correct one; it is good to see it put to words. It’s a shame that such a great article was published in BAR rather than a journal or series. Here are some snippets:
The Dead Sea Scrolls frequently refer to a mysterious figure called the “Teacher of Righteousness” (Moreh ha-Tsedek in Hebrew). According to the most widely held view, the Teacher of Righteousness founded the Dead Sea Scroll sect (the sect is usually identified with the Essenes). In this common view, the Teacher of Righteousness organized the Community (the Yahad) and composed many of its most important works.
The nemesis of the Teacher of Righteousness is another shadowy figure called the Wicked Priest (ha-Kohen ha-Rasha). He is also known by a number of other epithets, including the Lion of Wrath, the Liar, the Spreader of Lies and the Man of Scoffing.
Still following the standard interpretation, the Wicked Priest and the Teacher of Righteousness are thought to be historical figures. But that is where the consensus ends. There is no agreement over who they were.
Both the Damascus Document as a whole and the biblical commentaries from Qumran are eschatological documents, not historical treatises. There are many other passages in the Dead Sea Scrolls that could, and probably will, be cited and argued about. The question will be, Are they historical or eschatological?
Despite the absence of any consensus over these identifications, all scholars seem to agree that the Teacher of Righteousness and the Wicked Priest were historical figures.5 I believe they are wrong. I believe the Teacher of Righteousness and the Wicked Priest are eschatological figures who were expected to appear at the End of Days, not historical figures who lived in the past.
The arguments get complicated and technical, as well as philosophical. In each instance, however, I believe a strong case can be made that the context is eschatological and futuristic. The authors of these works understood them as presaging what they believed to be imminent—the coming struggle between the Teacher of Righteousness and his nemesis, the Wicked Priest, a struggle that would initiate the messianic age.