The Novelty of the Sectarian Scrolls

In the Qumran library, next to the Bible, the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha, we find another impressive pile of manuscripts in which members of a particular Jewish group record their special customs, laws, scriptural interpretation and beliefs. Since they considered themselves distinct from the rest of their Jewish contemporaries and refused to mix with them, they can be correctly designated as the initiates of a sect. From the moment of the discovery of the first Dead Sea Scrolls, scholars hastened to put a name to this separatist community and identified them as the Essenes, a religious group known from classical Jewish and Roman sources written in Greek and Latin. This allowed the interpreters of the newly discovered scrolls to take into account the rich additional information regarding the Essene sect, handed down by Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 BCE–c. 50 CE), Flavius Josephus (37–c. 100 CE) and Pliny the Elder (23/24–79 CE). In dealing with the scrolls, I will resist the temptation to employ straightaway evidence extraneous to Qumran, and try instead to understand the Community of the Scrolls with the help of its own writings and leave to chapter VIII the presentation of the ongoing debate between the proponents and the opponents of the Essene theory.

The sectarian documents found in the Qumran caves fall into four main categories. To begin with, we have various rules of the Community and the exposition of Jewish religious law as practised by its members. These rules are followed by compositions describing the worship and prayers characteristic of the sectaries, performed in conformity with their distinctive calendar, and by collections of hymns and psalms which, together with the rules, reveal their religious ideas and demonstrate their piety. The third literary class contains the material that may be used for the reconstruction of the history of the Dead Sea community. These can be found in the Exhortation section of the Damascus Document and in works belonging to the peculiar kind of Bible interpretation known as pesher (plural, pesharim) produced by the sectaries. To these we may add the exposition of scriptural citations included in the rules. Sapiential literature is the fourth main category dispensing information with regard to the wisdom seekers’ attitude towards God and man. Various otherwise unrelated Qumran miscellanea will be listed in the Appendix to this chapter.


The rules themselves are neither transparent nor uniform and require some legal, social and historical elucidation. They have enough in common to show that the groups that used them were interlinked, yet the differences are such that one is obliged to inquire into the nature of the connection between them, namely, whether they represented legal development in distinct branches of the same single movement or in separate institutions which in some way were related to one another.

In addition to the discrete fragmentary texts found in Cave 4 relative to Sabbath observance, compensation for injuries, forbidden marriages and ritual uncleanness (4Q181, 251, 264A, 274–7, 284A), the Qumran library has yielded six major documents dealing fully or partly with the essentials pertaining to the organization of a community, and to the way of life and moral principles followed by its members. One of the six, the Temple Scroll from Cave 11, dating to the first half of the second century BCE, may have been produced before the birth of the Qumran sect. If so, its original version was later adopted by the sect and in part adapted to its particular requirements in the final decades of the second or at the beginning of the first century BCE. Some of the legal practices listed in the Temple Scroll, e.g. the ban on royal polygamy (57:16–18), on marriage between uncle and niece (66:15–17), and on married sectaries having sexual intercourse in ‘the city of the sanctuary’ in Jerusalem (45:11–12), are closely paralleled in another Qumran rule, the Damascus Document (4:20–25:11; 12:1–2).

1. The Statutes of the Damascus Document (CD (Cairo Damascus Document), 4Q265, 5Q12, 6Q15)

The Damascus Document, the rule first found in the Cairo Genizah at the end of the nineteenth century and later on at Qumran, is unquestionably a sectarian composition. It was originally revealed by the two medieval Cairo manuscripts dating to the tenth and the twelfth centuries (see chapter I, pp. 15–16), and from eleven fragmentary texts from Qumran Caves 4, 5 and 6, which also contain additional regulations about skin disease, sexual conduct within marriage and the community’s Feast of the Renewal of the Covenant. The Damascus Document consists of an Exhortation with sectarian historical, doctrinal and exegetical content, and a list of Statutes referring to the structure and discipline of a separatist religious society. The historical and social context of the Exhortation places the Damascus Document before the other rules, except possibly MMT Miqsat Ma’ase ha-Torah or Some Observances of the Law (see pp. 140–41). It definitely envisages a married community of Jews that presumably preceded and produced the unmarried sect depicted in the Community Rule. Also the historical framework of the Damascus Document belongs to the Hellenistic age where Seleucid rulers (kings of Yavan or Greece) are the foreign enemies of the Jews, whereas other rules, the War Scroll, the Book of War (4Q285) and the commentaries on Habakkuk and Nahum identify the final foe as the Kittim (Romans), whose conquest of Judaea in 63 BCE marked the end of the Hellenistic age in Palestine. Their dominion culminated in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Consequently, the date of composition of the Damascus Document can safely be placed to the final decades of the Hellenistic age in Palestine, probably somewhere close to 100 BCE.

The Exhortation of the Damascus Document (CD A 1–8, B 1–2, supplemented by fragments from Caves 4, 5 and 6), comprises a sermon addressed by a teacher of the Community to his ‘sons’. It sketches the origins and early years of the movement, which will be discussed in the context of the history of the sect (see pp. 203–6), and also contains moral admonitions. The title ‘Damascus’ derives from the phrase ‘the new covenant (made) in the land of Damascus’ which appears seven times in the Cairo manuscript and once in a Cave 4 fragment. Like many similar phrases employed in the biblical commentaries from Qumran to designate persons, places and events associated with sectarian history, the land of Damascus is not to be taken literally. In the opinion of many scholars it probably alludes to Qumran.

The legal material relating to the ‘Damascus’ Community is included in the Statutes (CD 9–16 and numerous Cave 4 fragments). These Statutes legislate for the premessianic age, indicated by a passage which speaks of the future coming of two Messiahs, the Messiah of Aaron and the Messiah of Israel. They also hand out moral and ritual rules and define the governance of the ‘Damascus’ Community. The beginning and the end of the Statutes are missing from the Cairo manuscripts, but can partly be restored from the Cave 4 material. Pages 15 and 16 are misplaced in the Genizah text and in the light of the Qumran fragments should be brought forward before page 9.

The Community is envisaged in the Statutes as a miniature biblical Israel, divided into priests and laity, and more specifically into priests, Levites, Israelites and proselytes. The term ‘proselytes’ probably designates figuratively Jewish applicants for membership of the sect before their formal admission, and literally Gentile slaves after they had converted to Judaism. In further imitation of the biblical Jewish nation, the Community is symbolically subdivided into twelve tribes and into camps of thousands, hundreds and fifties, down to the minimum group of ten.

The ‘Damascus’ sect was led by priests, belonging to the tribe of Levi, and more specifically to the family of Aaron. They claimed association with the family of Zadok, the high priest under king Solomon, whose clan supplied the chief priests down to the early second century BCE. Even the smallest unit, a camp of ten men, was to be headed by a priestly Overseer or Guardian, a man aged between thirty and sixty years, who had to be an expert in the Book of Meditation (probably the Law of Moses) and learned in sectarian jurisprudence. ‘The Guardian of all the camps’ was the title of the superior general who must have been between thirty and fifty years of age, versed in ‘all the secrets’ and familiar with all the languages. The Guardian’s duties included the instruction, examination, rejection or acceptance, ranking and pastoral care of candidates and members. It is possible that in the selection of suitable candidates, he employed the arcane science of astronomical physiognomy, the study of the physical appearance of individuals. Three ‘horoscopes’, contained in 4Q186 and 561, which might have served such a purpose, have survived, each depicting a person made up of a mixture of nine parts of light and darkness. Shortness, fatness and irregular or ugly features were associated with wickedness, and tallness, a slim body and a pleasant appearance with virtue.

Admission of new candidates and dismissal, accompanied by a curse, of defaulting members took place in a yearly ceremony ‘in the third month’ (the month of Sivan) of the Jewish year, no doubt at the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost celebrated on the fifteenth day of the month. The priestly Guardian regulated the activities of the members of his unit, including business deals, and advised them in matters of marriage and divorce too. Another of his tasks was to disqualify priests with speech defects, those who could not express themselves clearly and distinctly, to determine the dues members had to pay to the priests, and to diagnose contagious skin diseases (‘leprosy’) which required the segregation of the sick and their eventual readmission after cure. As the latter right was a privilege explicitly reserved for priests in the Bible, a curious stratagem was devised for the case when only a simple-minded (i.e. mentally handicapped) priest was available. A learned Levite among the members of the camp had to guide him through the ritual and tell him what he had to do, but, as ordained by the Bible, only a priest was allowed to perform this ceremony.

Next to the Guardians, the sect had also ten Judges, elected for a specified time, four from among the priests and Levites, and six lay Israelites. In addition to administering justice, they also handled, together with ‘the Guardian’, no doubt ‘the Guardian of all the camps’, the communal funds destined for the support of the poor and the orphans as well as for the redemption of war prisoners.

The sectarian judicial system was run on the basis of biblical law adapted to the Community’s needs. The members were prohibited under pain of death from handing over a Jew to a Gentile court if he was charged with a capital case. The Statutes envisage death sentences pronounced by the Judges of the Community. Biblical law requires two or three witnesses in a case carrying a death penalty, but the Damascus Document foresees the possibility of judging a capital crime committed before a single witness. It obliges the witness to bring the culprit before the Guardian and to rebuke him in his presence. The matter was then recorded by the Guardian on a register. Should the crafty criminal commit the same offence twice more before a single witness, the repeated transgressions would be treated by the Guardian and the Community court as a single crime attested by three witnesses.

There were two kinds of new members awaiting initiation: the children of the sectaries who were born and brought up within the Community and adult Jewish outsiders. The former gained full membership at the age of twenty (assuming that the legislation laid down in the Messianic Rule applied also in historical times in the ‘Damascus’ Community). Grown-up Jews, who had notified the Guardian of their desire to join, were enrolled after one year of study, during which period all the secret teachings of the sect, including its particular solar calendar, modelled on the important pseudepigraphic Book of Jubilees, were revealed to them. No one mentally or bodily disabled could be admitted to full membership of the Community.

The ‘Damascus’ sect consisted of married Jewish couples and their offspring. Among the leaders, explicit reference is made to persons of both sexes, called ‘the Fathers’ and ‘the Mothers’, though democratic equality was not part of the system. According to a Cave 4 text (4Q270, fr. 7), murmuring against ‘the Fathers’ entailed irrevocable expulsion from the sect, but an offender against ‘the Mothers’ could get away with a punishment for a mere ten days! An interesting detail relating to marital sex is recorded in the same fragment. A husband sleeping with his wife ‘against the rules’ was declared a fornicator and dismissed from the community (see more on this in chapter VIII, p. 184). Three further restrictions relating to marriage legislation are mentioned in the Exhortation. Sectarian matrimony was to be monogamous, whereas biblical Judaism permitted polygamy. Marriage between an uncle and his niece was prohibited and sex between husband and wife was forbidden in Jerusalem (or at least in the area designated as ‘the city of the Sanctuary’ according to the wording of both the Damascus Document and the Temple Scroll), no doubt during the presence of sect members in the Holy City at the three pilgrim festivals of the year (Passover, Feast of Weeks and Feast of Tabernacles).

The Statutes’ version of biblical laws concerned with purification and Sabbath observance is generally more rigorous than the practice of the Jews of that age. For instance, on the Sabbath the sectaries were forbidden to assist a domestic animal in labour, nor were they allowed to pull it out from a cistern or a hole as ordinary Jewish farmers did according to the words attributed to Jesus in the New Testament (Matt. 12:11; Luke 14:5). No rope or ladder could be used in the rescue of a man who had fallen into water. Commerce with non-Jews was restricted, but not altogether prohibited (see chapter VIII, pp. 183–4).

In sum, the ‘Damascus’ Community was a free association of Jewish families, governed by the priests, Sons of Zadok, and embracing a more stringent version of the Mosaic law which, together with their sectarian practices, set them apart from the main body of Palestinian Jewry. Nevertheless the extra dose of asceticism that lasting celibacy implies appears nowhere explicitly in the Statutes, although it has been tentatively suggested that the group practising ‘perfect holiness’, distinct from those who ‘marry and beget children’, refers to a separate unmarried branch of the sect (see CD 7:4–8).

2. The Rule of the Congregation or Messianic Rule (1QSa)

Fifty-two fragments found in Cave 1 have been meticulously assembled by Dominique Barthélemy and Joseph Milik to form two almost complete columns of text. They once belonged to the manuscript of the Community Rule (Serekh ha-Yahad or 1QS) and came from the pen of the same scribe. The date of the document, known as the Rule of the Congregation or Messianic Rule (Serekh ha-‘Edah or 1QSa), falls most probably to the middle of the first century BCE. The text briefly sets out the purpose and the regulations of a community that is either the same as the one described in the Damascus Document or is very similar to it. The principal difference between them is that whereas the ‘Damascus’ Statutes relate to the pre-messianic age, in the Rule of the Congregation the two Messiahs – the Priest and the Messiah of Israel – are already present and the eschatological war is looming on the horizon. The Rule of the Congregation is linked to the Damascus Document on the one hand through its reference to the ‘Book of Meditation’ (probably the Pentateuch) and to the Sons of Zadok, the priests. On the other hand, it is related to the Community Rule in its description of the sectarian meal and to the War Scroll in its sketch of the military organization of the sect in the final eschatological age.

The epoch envisaged is described as ‘the last days’, when a large crowd of the congregation of Israel was expected to join the Community of the Sons of Zadok. They are all to participate in a ceremony of entry into the Covenant and hear the exposition of the sect’s laws and statutes. Like the Community of the Damascus Document, the Rule of the Congregation is also for a married group, as wives and children – as well as their education – are expressly mentioned in it.

The text offers an unparalleled insight into the life of the members. We learn that from early childhood they were instructed in the Book of Meditation and from the age of ten years in the communal statutes. On having reached the age of majority at twenty, they were enrolled in the Community, and the young men were allowed to marry and also to act as witnesses in court proceedings. At the age of twenty-five, they qualified for lower offices, and at thirty for higher offices in the Community and could become chiefs of units, judges and tribal officers under the supervision of the Zadokite priests and their intermediaries, the Levites, who acted as administrative officers. It was the Levites’ duty to summon the congregation, no doubt with their trumpets, as we learn from the War Scroll, for court sessions, communal council and when war was to break out.

The council of the Community, presided over by Zadokite priests, consisted of the sages, the judges, the chiefs of the tribes, and the chiefs of lower divisions (thousands, hundreds, etc.). Only unblemished and ritually clean persons could attend and play a role in the council because ‘the angels of holiness were with their assembly’, the Community being the terrestrial division of the heavenly army.

The council in the messianic age was to be led by the Priest Messiah, followed by his brethren, the priests. Next proceeded in a parallel procession the Messiah of Israel with his lay officials, each in the order of his rank. The council meeting is associated with a messianic meal which was to be blessed by the Priest Messiah. According to the Rule of the Congregation, the daily meal of the sect, depicted in the Community Rule (see p. 148), was an anticipation of the messianic ritual at the end of time.

3. The Community Rule or Serekh ha-Yahad (1QS, 4Q255–64, 280, 286–7, 502, 5Q11, 13)

The Community Rule, originally called the Manual of Discipline, is arguably the most important and interesting source of legislation concerning the organization of the sect. It is dated by its script and its content to circa 100 BCE. Its vantage point is pre-messianic as its Community, like the ‘Damascus’ sect, was still awaiting the arrival of an ultimate prophet and the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel (1QS 9:11). It has reached us in a complete scroll whose final column is left half empty, indicating the end of the document. Moreover, fragments, some of them substantial, of fourteen further manuscripts were yielded by Caves 4, 5 and 6, several of them representing a somewhat different version of the rule.

The complete scroll consists of three parts. The first section (columns 1–4) describes the ceremony of the entry into the Covenant, entailing a communal baptism ritual and an instruction on the two spirits of light and darkness whose impact on individuals determined the spiritual history of humanity. The second part (columns 5–9) includes the statutes relating to the life and governance of the Community and directives addressed to the Master or maskil, and the third (columns 9–11) consists of the hymn sung by the Master.

The Community Rule lays down a stricter and more detailed set of regulations than either the Damascus Document or the Rule of the Congregation. Compared to them, its principal peculiarity is the total absence of reference to women. From this is deduced that the members of the group were male celibates. In a mixed-gender association characterized by normal and lasting husband–wife relations, legislation relating to female uncleanness resulting from menstruation or childbirth, as well as to marriage, the education of children, and divorce, would have been a necessity. Silence here speaks loud and clear and indicates that these matters were not applicable to the Community described in this particular rule book which legislated for unmarried male members, pointing to the Essenes (see chapter VIII, pp. 191–202) and anticipated Christian monasticism launched a few hundred years later.

Just like the ‘Damascus’ sect (see p. 122), that of the Community Rule is envisaged as a miniature Israel, divided into priests, Levites and laity, and the latter subdivided into twelve tribes, and smaller units down to tens, but no proselytes are mentioned. The supreme council is made up of three priests and twelve men, referred to also as ‘fifteen men’ (4Q265, fr. 7 ii), no doubt corresponding to the leaders of the three Levitical clans and the twelve tribal chiefs of Israel. The representatives of the priestly directorate are designated either as Sons of Aaron or, more restrictively, as Sons of Zadok (see pp. 122–3). In one of the Cave 4 manuscripts (4Q258), which may reflect the original form of the Community Rule, we encounter a democratic social structure with the congregation, literally ‘the many’, being the supreme authority in matters of doctrine, justice and property. The complete final document (1QS) identifies the main governing body with the high-priestly Sons of Zadok, suggesting an oligarchic Zadokite takeover of the original body at an early stage of the history of the sect.

On the individual level, as in the Damascus Document (see p. 122), the government of the whole congregation and its constitutive parts was in the hands of a priest, called the Guardian, who was assisted by a Bursar. The former presided over the meetings, instructed the members and accepted, rejected and trained new candidates. The Bursar administered the funds and the property of the sect and provided for the needs of the individual members, who lived in religious communism.

The initiation of newcomers was much more complex than in the married ‘Damascus’ sect. The Jewish male volunteers (‘every man, born of Israel, who freely pledges himself’) were scrutinized by the Guardian and were made to swear, in the course of a ceremony, to return to the Law of Moses and observe every single precept of it according to the interpretation of the Sons of Zadok, the priestly leaders of the sect. An indeterminate period of instruction ensued, followed by a public examination in the presence of the whole Community. The successful candidates underwent further training during which they were forbidden to touch the pure (solid) food of the community for one year. They had to hand over their property to the Bursar, who administered it without, however, merging it with communal property for another twelve months. In the course of this second year of training, the ‘novices’, a convenient term borrowed from Christian monastic terminology, could come into contact with the pure food, but were still kept away from the pure drink of the Community as liquids were considered more susceptible to ritual impurity than solid food. After the third and final examination at the end of the second year of the ‘noviciate’, those who successfully passed the test became full members and renounced all right to control their belongings, agreeing to their absorption into communal property. Moreover, the freshly initiated were ranked according to their spiritual achievement, a ranking reviewed annually during the Feast of the Renewal of the Covenant, no doubt identical with the ceremony occurring ‘in the third month’ (the Feast of Weeks) mentioned in a Cave 4 manuscript of the Damascus Document.

The new members embraced the Community’s strict discipline regarding the Mosaic Law and the sectarian regulations. Apart from celibacy and obedience to superiors, they had to keep away from the outside world, both Jewish and Gentile, as it was considered irreligious and unclean. They were in particular forbidden to mix the pure property of the community with the ‘wealth of wickedness’. To prove that they were separated from outsiders, the members had to abstain from making donations to them. Any exchange of goods had to be accompanied by payment of money. They were also forbidden to communicate the secret teachings of the sect to non-members.

A severe penal code controlled the conduct of the sectaries. In addition to the deliberate breach of any precept of the biblical law, four specific transgressions carried the penalty of permanent expulsion from the community: the utterance, even an inadvertent utterance, of the divine name (the tetragram YHWH); the slandering of the Community; the murmuring against communal authority (this is identical with the murmuring against ‘the Fathers’ in the Damascus Document, see p. 125); and deserting the community after ten years of membership. The latter misconduct carried with it a prohibition for members to maintain any contact with the traitor on pain of expulsion. Other serious transgressions included withdrawal from the sect due to discouragement over the severity of the rules (a repentant member was punished by exclusion for two years during which he had to undergo a complete retraining), lying about property (punished by exclusion from touching the pure meal for one year and by the reduction of his food to one quarter of the full ration), angry words addressed to a priest or disrespect towards a senior member (exclusion for one year) and slandering a companion (prohibition for one year of touching the pure meal). Other offences were punished for six months, three months, two months, one month, down to the minimum penalty of ten days (for interrupting a senior colleague during a meeting or gesticulating with the left hand).

The Rule of the Community contains no precise directives concerning the members’ work. All we know is that they had to hand over their salaries to the Bursar, who would spend the money on the Community. As for their occupations, the sectaries may have been employed by outsiders and from the archaeological data we may surmise that at Qumran they practised agriculture and various industries (pottery, tannery) and some of them were also professional scribes manufacturing books, not only for the Community, but also possibly in part for sale.

The daily routine included at least one communal meal, presided over and blessed by the leading priest. There was also a vigil of prayer, study and discussion occupying one third (four hours) of each night. One member, no doubt the priestly leader, was to be continuously engaged in the study of the Torah. Moreover, the Community imagined itself in the pre-messianic age as the spiritual replacement of the Jewish Temple. Qumran was their sanctuary and prayer and holy life were the substitutes for the sacrifices and free-will offerings performed by the priests in Jerusalem.

Three further documents have a less direct significance for the description of the Qumran sect or sects: the War Scroll is an eschatological legislation for the final battle between good and evil; the Temple Scroll is a rewritten Torah, apparently addressed to all Israel, but appropriated and revised by the Qumranites; and Some Observances of the Law (MMT) conveys an appeal of the early leaders of the Qumran sect to the priestly head of the Jerusalem Temple to adopt the Community’s interpretation of a selection of biblical laws. They will all be presented in turn.

4. The War Scroll (1QM, 1Q33, 4Q471, 491–7)

The rules of the War Scroll concern not the present but the future age, laying down in advance the scenario and the imaginary regulations concerning eschatological behaviour for the members of the community during the final stages of the conflict between the sons of light and the sons of darkness. The War Scroll has been preserved in a large, but damaged manuscript of nineteen columns from Cave 1, and in further fragmentary manuscripts from Cave 4. On the basis of palaeography and contents the writing is dated to the last decades of the first century BCE or the beginning of the Christian era. Since the Kittim, the final enemy, are led by a king, they must apply to the Romans after 27 BCE when Augustus became Princeps or Emperor.

The War Scroll is a composite work. Columns 1 and 15 to 19 offer an imaginary historical sketch of the reconquest of Jerusalem and the Holy Land by the host of the Sons of Light from the Sons of Darkness (Jewish and Gentile), and the defeat of the armies of the ultimate foe, the Kittim. Between columns 1 and 15 is inserted a series of equally fictive regulations relating to the reorganization of the worship in the Temple of Jerusalem by the priests of the Community, the schedule of the forty-year-long war against the non-Jewish world, the sequence and precise length of the battle against each nation being determined in advance. This single feature suffices to prove that we are faced with an imaginary warfare. There also follow regulations concerning the trumpets, standards, weapons, and the strategy and tactics of the infantry and cavalry. The details of the descriptions remind the reader of the Roman army and its style of strategy and tactics. The age of the combatants and the duties of the priests and Levites, who were to direct the battle with their trumpet signals, the addresses delivered by the chief priest to the soldiers, the battle liturgy and the ceremony of thanksgiving after the final victory over the Kittim complete the document. While some of the accounts and prayers are outstandingly beautiful, the composition as such reflects only the ideas of the sect about the end of time and cannot be used for the reconstruction of the organization and way of life of the Community. To consider the document as a handbook for actual warfare is childishly naive.

Akin to the War Scroll is the set of fragments known as The Book of War (4Q285) which, without setting out battle rules, foresees the fight culminating in the defeat of the king of the Kittim by the sea. It was wrongly made notorious by Robert Eisenman and Michael Wise for its supposed reference to a murdered Jesus-like messianic figure. Accurately understood and translated, the text speaks of a ‘slaying’ or bellicose, and not a ‘slain’, Messiah.

5. The Temple Scroll (11Q 19–21, 4Q365a, 4Q524)

The Temple Scroll is the longest of all the Qumran manuscripts. It stretches to over twenty-eight feet when unrolled and contains sixty-seven columns of text. Beginning with the Covenant between God and Israel, it is presented as a record of divine legislation relative to the Temple and its sacrifices, together with the purity requirements for Jerusalem and the cities of Israel (columns 2–51). The last quarter of the manuscript is made up of miscellaneous laws concerning judges, idolatry, oaths, apostasy, priests, Levites, the Jewish king who must have only one wife, witnesses, war, crimes against the state punishable by crucifixion, and incest (columns 51–66). The top few lines of column 67 are missing but the rest of the column is blank, indicating that the document ended there.

While the Bible formulates the Torah as a revelation given by God, which the mediator Moses was to receive and transmit to the Jews, the Temple Scroll appears as a direct divine communication to Israel. Consequently it is believed to possess greater holiness and authority because of its direct divine origin, as can be seen in the following parallel quotations in the first of which the speaker is Moses and in the second, God himself.

And the priests, the sons of Levi shall come forward, for YHWH your God has chosen them to minister to Him and to bless Him in the name of YHWH.

(Deut. 21:5)

And the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come forward, for I have chosen them to minister to Me and to bless My name.

(11QTemple 63:3)

Some of the laws of the Temple Scroll differ from their biblical sources by combining two or more scriptural precepts and generally rendering the rules more severe. Take the case of the seducer of a non-engaged virgin. Exodus 22:16 obliges him to marry her after paying her father an unspecified sum of bride money. On the other hand, the rapist of a non-engaged virgin must give her father fifty shekels of silver, marry her without retaining the right to any subsequent divorce according to the biblical law of Deuteronomy 22:28–9. In the Temple Scroll, where the two scriptural commandments are conflated, the seducer’s treatment is made more severe, but applies only if no legal impediment prevents him from marrying the girl:

When a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed, but is suitable for him according to the rule, and lies with her, he who has lain with her shall give the girl’s father fifty pieces of silver and she shall be his wife. Because he has dishonoured her, he may not divorce her all his days.

(11QTemple 66:8–11)

Similarly, Deuteronomy 21:10–14, the case of a woman captured in war, is given a facelift in the Temple Scroll. According to the Bible, her captor must grant the woman a month’s respite before getting her into his bed and thus making her his wife. He is forbidden thereafter to sell her as a slave. The Qumran document adds a ritual proviso, however: the woman continues to be held ritually unclean for a long period (seven years) and is not permitted to cook for her husband or partake in sacrificial meals.

When you go to war against your enemies… and you capture some of them, if you see among the captives a pretty woman and desire her, you may take her to be your wife. You shall bring her to your house, you shall shave her head, and cut her nails. You shall discard the clothes of her captivity and she shall dwell in your house, and bewail her father and mother for a full month. Afterwards you may go to her, consummate the marriage with her and she will be your wife. But she shall not touch whatever is pure for you for seven years, neither shall she eat of the sacrifice of peace offering until seven years have elapsed.

(11QTemple 63:10–15)

As has been remarked, several laws of the Temple Scroll are paralleled in other Qumran writings. The liturgical calendar of feasts, dealt with in columns 43–4, is based on the solar year of 364 days adopted by the Dead Sea sect, as well as the Book of Jubilees and the first Book of Enoch. More specifically, the feast of oil mentioned in the Temple Scroll (21:12) also figures in the sectarian liturgical calendar prefixed to Some Observances of the Law or MMT (4Q394 5:5).

The law which, contrary to the Bible, forbids the Israelite king to have several wives simultaneously (Temple Scroll 57:16–18), is used in the Damascus Document (CD 5:1–2) as an argument for the monogamous marriage of any Jew. Deuteronomy 18:18 is understood by the compiler of the Temple Scroll to declare that not even the king is permitted to ‘multiply wives to himself’. The Damascus Document’s descriptive condemnation of marriage between an uncle and his niece (CD 5:7–11) is given in a legal formulation in the Temple Scroll:

A man shall not take the daughter of his brother or the daughter of his sister for this is abominable.

(11QTemple 66:15–17)

Furthermore, the ruling of the Temple Scroll (45:11– 12), which prohibits a man to enter any part of the city of the Sanctuary for three days after he has had sexual intercourse with his wife, underlies a statute set out in the Damascus Document:

No man shall lie with a woman in the city of the Sanctuary to defile the city of the Sanctuary with their uncleanness.

(CD 12:1–2)

Finally the crucifixion by a Jewish ruler of his captured Jewish opponents, guilty of allying themselves to an invading Greek king, referred to in the Nahum Commentary (4Q169; see pp. 163–4), seems to be in line with the law recorded in the Temple Scroll:

If a man slanders his people and delivers his people to a foreign nation and does evil to his people, you shall hang him on a tree and he shall die.

(11QTemple 64:7–8)

If the Temple Scroll predates the sect, these correspondences indicate that the Qumran community was influenced by it. If, on the other hand, the Temple Scroll is a Qumran composition, the quoted sectarian practices may be understood as directly dictated by the Temple Scroll. In the latter hypothesis, the Temple Scroll partly reflects sectarian legal practice, but as far as the Temple and the cult performed in it are concerned, the legislation is for future use when the Sanctuary will be administered by the Qumran priests, as appears in column 2 of the Scroll of the War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness.

6. Some Observances of the Law (4Q394–99)

Six badly preserved manuscripts from Cave 4, bearing the title of ‘Some Observances of the Law’ (Miqsat Ma‘ase ha-Torah, abbreviated as MMT) reveal elements of a legal controversy. Addressed to the leader of the Jewish nation – no doubt the high priest of the Temple of Jerusalem – it seeks to persuade him to accept the Qumran understanding of some twenty biblically based laws whose mistaken interpretation, championed by a third religious party, has been adopted by the high priest. It is assumed that the recommended explanation of these precepts corresponds to the teaching of the founding fathers of the Qumran sect, and its rejection by the Temple authorities was the reason for their breakaway from the Jerusalem priesthood. If this general exegesis of the document, proposed by its editors, John Strugnell and Elisha Qimron, is correct, MMT would represent the original kernel of distinctive sectarian law. To be precise, the editors think that MMT is a letter sent by the Teacher of Righteousness, founder of the Qumran sect, to the ruling high priest, who later acquired the title of Wicked Priest. However, the epistolary character of the writing is questionable, because it lacks the standard introductory and concluding formulae of a letter. It is safer to call it a polemical legal tractate.

The main points of the controversy relate to the solar calendar, prefixed to one of the manuscripts, and to matters pertaining to ritual purity: prohibition from accepting Temple offerings from non-Jews, rules governing the slaughter of sacrificial animals, performance of the ritual of the ‘red heifer’ (Numbers 19:2–10), exclusion of the physically handicapped (deaf, blind and lepers), purity of liquids, simultaneous slaughtering of a mother animal with her young, a ban on dogs in Jerusalem (to prevent the desecration of remains of sacrificial meat attached to bones), rules governing marriage and intermarriage (e.g. no priest was allowed to marry a woman born in a non-priestly family), etc. Some of the laws recall the practice attributed to Sadducees in rabbinic literature, but since Sadducee means Zadokite, the title given to the sectarian priesthood, this should not be surprising. The original Community was firmly bound to ritual observance and was definitely a non-celibate institution.

If this judgement is correct, MMT reveals the interpretation of parts of the traditional priestly legislation inherited by the sect’s founders rather than a legislation freshly devised for the newly established Community. The document will be significant for the study of the historical origins of the Qumran sect as set out in biblical commentaries (see chapter VIII, p. 209).

To conclude this section, the various Qumran regulations indicate that the Community Rule dealt with a male celibate association that followed a regime of common ownership of goods under the leadership of the Sons of Zadok, the priests. The ‘Damascus’ sectaries, by contrast, were property-owning married Jews, also governed by Zadokite priests. They both expected in the not too distant future the coming of the kingdom of God at the end of an eschatological war, ushered in by two promised Messiahs and, according to the Community Rule, by an eschatological Prophet.

Were the two organizations – the married Community of the Damascus Document and of the Rule of the Congregation and the unmarried male ascetics of the Community Rule – separate institutions or two distinct branches of a single sect?

The strong organizational similarities, the entry of the new members at the Feast of the Renewal of the Covenant and the role of the chief Guardian seem to favour the view that we are facing a sole movement with two divisions whose members jointly celebrated the great Feast of the Renewal of the Covenant. In this case, the most likely hypothesis is that at some stage the married branch of the sect produced and nurtured the ascetics of the Community Rule rather than the converse development which envisages the creation by the more severe group of a looser, married and property-owning sister branch – a ‘third order’ to borrow the terminology of the later Christian religious organizations.


The second category of manuscripts, disclosing essential aspects of sectarian religious life, deal with the formal and personal piety and belief of the members. The official liturgical worship entails ceremonies and the recitation of prescribed blessings at fixed dates and times for the understanding of which the compulsory calendar, recorded in various manuscripts (4Q317–30, 334, 337, 394), plays an important part. Most of the psalms and hymns of the sect are formulated in the first person singular; hence they are meant for individual use and express personal beliefs and piety. Whereas the rules have been preserved in easily distinguishable legal documents, the evidence relating to sectarian liturgy and prayers may be found either in distinct scrolls like the Hodayot or Thanksgiving hymns (1QH, 4Q427–32), the Songs of the Holocaust of the Sabbath (4Q400–407, etc.), the Blessings (1QSb=1Q28b), the Benedictions (4Q280, 286–90) and other fragmentary manuscripts such as the Lamentations (4Q179, 501), the Words of the Heavenly Lights (4Q504–6), Daily Prayers (4Q503), and Prayers for festivals (4Q507–9) etc., or incorporated into various parts – particularly in the concluding hymn – of the Community Rule. Therefore it will be simpler and clearer to deal with the issues according to their subject matter rather than through discussing the individual literary sources.

Since worship and prayer are strictly arranged in a temporal framework, we must first learn something about the sect’s calendar. The Community Rule emphasizes the necessity that the sectaries must abide strictly by their God-given religious timetable:

They shall not depart from any command of God concerning their times; they shall be neither early nor late from any of their appointed times.

(1QS 1:14–15)

This calendar essentially differed from that of the priests of the Jerusalem Temple and played a significant role in creating the rift between the latter and the members of the Qumran Community. The peculiar sectarian definition of the year constitutes the foundation of the Qumran liturgy. Contrary to the generally adopted time reckoning system of biblical and post-biblical Judaism, with a lunar year of 354 days approximately reconciled with the solar year by means of adding an extra month (called the second Adar) in every third year, the Dead Sea Community opted for a solar calendar of twelve months, each comprising thirty days. They then prefixed an extra day to each of the four seasons. In counting 364 days in a year, they followed the Book of Jubilees, as is implied in the Damascus Document:

As for the exact determination of their times to which Israel turns a blind eye, behold it is strictly defined in the Book of the Division of the Times into their Jubilees and Weeks.

(CD 16:2–4)

This computation, which is still short of one and a quarter days of the astronomical year, had in the eyes of the sectaries the advantage of absolute regularity. Not only did their year consist precisely of fifty-two weeks, but also each of the four seasons – of thirteen weeks’ duration – started on the same day of the week. This day was Wednesday according to the sectarian calendar since the time of the creation. Genesis tells us that the sun and the moon, the two great heavenly bodies ruling over the day and the night, were set on their course by God on the fourth day (Wednesday) of the first week (Genesis 1:14–19). To put it bluntly, in conformity with the divine law, time began on a Wednesday. As a consequence, the vernal or spring New Year (1 Nisan), the first day of the first month in the religious calendar of Israel, was always a Wednesday, and so was Passover, two weeks later, on the fifteenth day of the first month. In this system of perfect regularity, the Feast of Weeks (15 Sivan in the third month), coinciding with the renewal of the Covenant, always fell on a Sunday and the day of Atonement (10 Tishri, in the seventh month) on a Friday. This absolute uniformity, so different from the continuously changing mobile feasts of the calendar used in the Temple, was the proof in the eyes of the sectaries of the heavenly nature of their way of reckoning, mirroring ‘the certain law from the mouth of God’ (1QH 20:9). The Temple Scroll mentions further festivals of agricultural character at seven weeks’ intervals: the Feast of the First Wheat on Sunday, the fifteenth day of the third month, the Feast of the First Wine on Sunday, the third day of the fifth month, and the Feast of the First Oil on Sunday, the twenty-second day of the sixth month. On the following day began the Feast of Wood Offering, supplying fuel to the Sanctuary for burnt sacrifices. The appended table will allow a quick grasp of this chronological harmony.

The days and months of the year


    I,   IV,   VII, X

 II, V,   VIII,    XI

   III,   VI,   IX,   XII

















































































































Anyone familiar with the mentality of closed religious groups will realize that a clash on the calendar, resulting in a feast day for one group being an ordinary day for another, can deeply affect the relationship between opposing factions. At the end of the first century CE, the Jewish Patriarch Rabban Gamaliel II, disagreeing with the renowned Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah on the date of the day of Atonement, publicly humiliated his opponent by ordering him to perform various acts (such as carrying a staff or a purse) forbidden on that day:

I charge you that you come to me with your staff and your money on the Day of Atonement according to your reckoning.

(Mishnah Rosh ha-Shanah 2:9)

Moving to the Qumran domain, the Wicked Priest, the Jewish high priest hostile to the founder of the Community, visited with his followers the Teacher of Righteousness and his company on their day of Atonement, which differed from his, to surprise and confuse them and put pressure on them (1QHabakkuk Commentary 11:4–8). In a Christian context, Pope Victor (189–198 CE) threatened to excommunicate the whole eastern half of the Church for celebrating Easter on the day of the Jewish Passover (15 Nisan) rather than on the following Sunday as the western Church did. Closer to our time, the calendar reform introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 was resisted by the English Church until 1752 and by the Eastern Orthodox Churches until as late as 1924.

The daily, weekly, monthly, seasonal and annual prayer times of the Community as well as the celebration of the seven-year (sabbatical cycle) and fifty-year (jubilee cycle) periods had to be observed with the greatest accuracy because if earthly worship did not coincide exactly with the heavenly cult of the angels, cacophony was expected to ensue in celestial-terrestrial liturgy. These prayer times are specified in a hymn attached to the Community Rule:

He shall bless Him [with the offering] of the lips

At the times ordained by Him.

At the beginning of the dominion of light,

And at its end when it retires to its appointed place;

At the beginning of the watches of darkness,

When He unlocks their storehouse and spreads them out

And also at their end, when they retire before the light…

At the beginning of the months of the (yearly) seasons

And on the holy day appointed for remembrance…

At the beginning of the years and at the end of their seasons,

When their appointed time is fulfilled, on the day decreed by Him

That they should pass from one to the other:

The season of early harvest to summer time,

The season of sowing to the season of grass,

The seasons of years to their weeks (of years)

And at the beginning of their weeks for the season of Jubilee.

(1QS 9:26–10:8)

A large number of individual and communal prayers and priestly blessings, listed at the beginning of this section, have survived more or less well preserved. Before turning to two ritual ceremonies, one performed daily and the other annually, an extract from the heavenly liturgy of the Songs of the Holocaust of the Sabbath, inspired by the vision of the heavenly chariot or Merkabah (Ezekiel chapter 1), deserves to be cited as an example of high-quality cultic poetry. (The ‘gods’ mentioned are heavenly beings attached to the throne-chariot.)

[Song of the holocaust of ] the twelfth [S]abbath [on the twenty-first day of the third month]….

The [cheru]bim prostrate themselves before Him and bless. As they rise, a whispered divine voice [is heard], and there is a roar of praise. When they drop their wings there is a [whispere]d divine voice. The cherubim bless the image of the divine throne-chariot above the firmament, [and] they praise the [majes]ty of the luminous firmament beneath His seat of glory. When the wheels advance, angels of holiness come and go. From between his glorious wheels, there is as it were a fiery vision of most holy spirits. About them, the appearance of rivulets of fire in the likeness of gleaming brass, and a work of… radiance in many-coloured glory, marvellous pigments, clearly mingled. The spirits of the living ‘gods’ move perpetually with the glory of the marvellous chariot. The whispered voice of blessing accompanies the roar of their advance, And they praise the Holy One on their way of return. When they ascend, they ascend marvellously and when they settle, they stand still. The sound of joyful praise is silenced and there is a whispered praise of the ‘gods’ in all the camps of God.

(4Q405 20–22)

Two particular ceremonies remain to be described to complete the sketch of the liturgical life of the Qumran sect. The daily common meal was probably taken in the evening, and the yearly ceremony of entry into, and renewal of, the Covenant was celebrated in the third month on the Feast of Weeks (Sunday, 15 Sivan), when all the Jews remembered God’s granting of the Law (the mattan Torah) through Moses on Mount Sinai.

In regard to the meals, whether members of the married sect regularly ate in common is nowhere attested and is a priori doubtful, but they probably did so on solemn occasions such as the Renewal of the Covenant. By contrast, the units of the celibate groups of the sect, portrayed in the Community Rule, regularly shared a common table. The meal itself is outlined in 1QS and 1QSa and in both it follows a council meeting. In the council and at the meal everything is formal and organized hierarchically. The Community Rule first deals with the assembly of ten.

Wherever there are ten men of the council of the community, there shall not lack a priest among them. And they shall all sit before him according to their rank and shall be asked their counsel in all things in that order.

(1QS 6:3–4)

Next comes the rubric relative to the common table:

And when the table has been prepared for eating and the wine (tirosh) for drinking, the priest shall be the first to stretch out his hand to bless the firstfruits of the bread and wine.

(1QS 6:4–6)

Jewish custom conferred on the priests the privilege to recite grace before a meal. The mention of bread and wine does not necessarily mean that nothing else was served: bread can stand for solid food and wine for drink. The word used for the latter is not the ordinary term for wine (yayin), but a less common one (tirosh), which in rabbinic Hebrew also designates any kind of unfermented fruit juice, including grape juice. It is conceivable therefore, though by no means certain, that the sectaries abstained from alcoholic drink. From the regulation dealing with the training of candidates, we know that ‘novices’ were not allowed to partake in the solemn sectarian meals. These were reserved only for the fully initiated members who had not been temporarily excluded from the common table.

The Rule of the Congregation sets out a similar directive for the council meeting and the formal supper in the messianic age, foreseeing the participation of ‘the Priest’ (Messiah) and the royal Messiah of Israel.

[This shall be the ass]embly of the men of renown [called] to the meeting of the council of the community.

When God engenders (the Priest) Messiah, he shall come with them at the head of the whole congregation of Israel with all [his brethren, the sons of ] Aaron the priests, [those called] to the assembly, the men of renown; and they shall sit [before him, each man] in the order of his dignity. And then [the Messiah of Israel] shall [come], and the chiefs of the [clans of Israel] shall sit before him, [each] in the order of his dignity, according to [his place] in their camps and marches. And before them shall sit the heads of [family of the congreg]ation, and the wise men of [the holy congregation,] each in the order of his dignity.

And when they shall gather for the common table to eat and [to drink] wine, and when the common table shall be set for eating and the wine [poured] for drinking, let no man extend his hand over the firstfruits of the bread and wine before the Priest, for [it is he] who shall bless the firstfruits of bread and wine, and shall be the first [to extend] his hand over the bread. Thereafter the Messiah of Israel shall extend his hand over the bread, and all the congregation of the community [shall utter a] blessing, [each man in order] of his dignity.

It is according to this statute that they shall proceed at every meal at which at least ten men are gathered together.

(1QSa 2:11–22)

The precedence of the Priest Messiah is asserted at the messianic gathering and meal, too. He is to pronounce the blessing and help himself first, before the King Messiah. The mention of a series of blessings pronounced by each participant is missing from the ritual of the ordinary common meal given in the Community Rule. This absence contradicts to some extent the rule at the end of 1QSa, according to which the daily meal should follow the directives regulating the messianic banquet. The ordinary daily meal is conceived as inversely parallel to the Christian Eucharist. The Eucharist is believed to commemorate Jesus’ Last Supper, whereas the Qumran community meal prefigures the common table rite of the messianic age.

In parenthesis, it is worth noting that the Rule of the Congregation is also attested by hundreds of tiny scraps of papyrus from Cave 4, written in a cryptic script. As the Cave 1 copy is not treated as especially secret, the production of this encrypted specimen in an arcane code has no rational justification. Was it the work of a mentally disturbed scribe?

Reference to the messianic banquet provides an opening for a mention of another appendix to the complete manuscript of the Community Rule, known as the Blessings (1QSb). As it ends with a benediction of the final Prince of the Congregation (the royal Messiah), it logically follows that all the other benedictions also refer to the messianic age and that the high priest is in fact the priestly Messiah. The words of blessing pronounced on him run:

May the Lord lift His countenance towards you; [May He delight in the] sweet odour [of your sacrifices]!

May He place upon your head [a diadem]… in [everlasting] glory; may He sanctify your seed in glory without end!

May He grant you everlasting [peace]…

(1QSb 3:1–6)

The Prince of the Congregation is blessed by the Master in the following terms:

May the Lord raise you up to everlasting heights, and as a fortified tower upon a high wall!

[May you smite the peoples] with the might of your hand and ravage the earth with your sceptre; may you bring death to the ungodly with the breath of your lips…

May He make your horns of iron and your hooves of bronze; may you toss like a young bull… like the mire of the streets…

He shall strengthen you with His holy Name and you shall be as a [lion]…

(1QSb 5:23–9)

Among the annual festivals of the Community the most important was that of the Renewal of the Covenant celebrated on the Feast of Weeks. On that day, the ‘novices’ who had passed muster and the children born into the married branch of the Community who had reached the age of twenty years were enrolled into the sect by swearing an oath to return to the Law of Moses and observe it as interpreted by the Zadokite priests. Together with the newly professed, the existing members reiterated their commitment in the course of a solemn ceremony which entailed a ‘baptism’ or ritual purificatory immersion. The same festival witnessed the annual re-ranking of the sectaries in conformity with their spiritual performance during the preceding twelve months. The sad event of the occasion was the expulsion of members who had seriously failed to live up to the onerous moral and ritual demands of the Community.

The first section of the Cave 1 version of the Community Rule (1QS 1:1–3:12) focuses on this ritual. It begins by setting out the aim of the sect:

that they may seek God with a whole heart and soul, and do what is good and right before Him as He has commanded by the hand of Moses and all His servants the prophets.

(1QS 1:1–3)

The newcomers and those who reiterated their previous commitment are portrayed as men freely devoting themselves to the observance of the divine precepts by refraining from following ‘a sinful heart and lustful eyes’ and accepting all the revelations concerning the sect’s ‘appointed times’. Entry into the Covenant began with the recitation by the priests and Levites of a benediction of God, which was concluded by a double amen uttered by all. Next, the priests recounted God’s loving kindness towards the biblical Israel and the Levites detailed the sins committed by the people in the past, leading to a public confession by all the participants:

We have strayed! We have [disobeyed!] We and our fathers before us have sinned and acted wickedly… But He has bestowed His bountiful mercy on us from everlasting to everlasting.

(1QS 1:24–2:1)

The confession is followed by a priestly blessing of the lot of God in the form of a paraphrase of Numbers 6:24–5:

May He bless you with all good and preserve you from all evil!

May He lighten your heart with life-giving wisdom and grant you eternal knowledge!

May He raise His merciful face towards you for everlasting bliss!

(1QS 2:2–4)

It was then the turn of the choir of the Levites to curse the lot of Satan, or Belial as he was called at Qumran, and those who entered the Covenant confirmed the blessings and the curses by saying ‘Amen, amen’. The priests and the Levites went on jointly to pronounce a malediction on any dishonest member of the Community whose repentance did not come from the heart. They were told they would be cut off from among the sons of light. ‘Amen, amen’, approved the sectaries. This cursing seems to amount to a formal expulsion of members who had transgressed the rules in serious matters or broken any single commandment of the Law of Moses. A parallel passage in one of the Cave 4 manuscripts of the Damascus Document lays down: ‘And all the inhabitants of the camps shall assemble in the third month and curse him who turns aside, to the right [or to the left, from the] law’ (4Q266, fr. 11).

After the curses and the eventual banishments, all those remaining formed themselves into a procession to enter into, or to renew, the Covenant, first the priests, second the Levites and third the people, each one in the place allotted to him according to his spiritual progress, a place they would keep until the reclassification due twelve months later.

All the old and new members were to descend into purifying waters and undergo a baptism, which was believed to wash away all uncleanness through the spirit of holiness, uprightness and humility from those who were motivated by a humble submission of their soul to all the laws of God.

The ceremonial baptism was accompanied by a doctrinal instruction by the Master (maskil), who delivered a sermon on the works of the two spirits, the spirit of light and the spirit of darkness. This is the oldest theological tractate that has survived in Jewish literature (1QS 3:13–4:26). This was followed by the reading out of all the sectarian regulations (1QS 5:1–9:25). The account recalls the renewal of the Covenant and the reading of the Law by the priest Ezra in early post-exilic times (458 or 398 BC), as recorded in the Book of Nehemiah 8:1–8. Ezra’s ritual seems to be the prototype of the Qumran festival. The Community Rule ends with a splendid and uplifting long poem from which the following extract is taken:

As for me, my justification is with God.

In His hand are the perfection of my way

And the uprightness of my heart.

He will wipe out my transgression through his righteousness.

For my light has sprung from the source of His knowledge,

My eyes have beheld His marvellous deeds,

and the light of my heart the mystery to come.

He that is everlasting is the support of my hand;

The way of my steps is over stout rock which nothing can shake.

For the rock of my steps is the truth of God

And His might is the support of my right hand.

From the source of His righteousness is my justification,

And from His marvellous mysteries is the light of my heart.

My eyes have gazed on that which is eternal,

On wisdom concealed from men,

On knowledge and wise design (hidden) from the sons of men;

On a fountain of righteousness and a storehouse of power,

On a spring of glory (hidden) from the assembly of flesh.

God has given them to His chosen ones as an everlasting possession,

And has caused them to inherit the lot of the Holy Ones.

He has joined their assembly to the Sons of Heaven

To be a council of the community,

a foundation of the building of holiness,

an eternal plantation throughout the ages to come.

(1QS 11:2–9)

Besides communal liturgies, the Qumran library has also yielded prayers written for individual use. The best preserved of these are the Thanksgiving Hymns contained in a scroll from Cave 1 and supplemented by fragments from Cave 4 (1QH, 1Q36, 4Q427–32). They are all more or less well-inspired imitations of the biblical Psalter. The poet almost always speaks in the first person singular, the I-form rather than the we-form. Some of the psalms appear to voice the life and sentiments of a controversial Community leader. Hence their not altogether convincing attribution to the Teacher of Righteousness, recounting his conflict with ungrateful members of his Community and a hostile high priest, who forced him into exile (1QH 4, 10–11; Habakkuk Commentary 11:4–8). However, most of the poems may be applied to anyone. Profound humility and limitless gratitude towards a benevolent God characterize them. Two leading ideas run through the corpus: election and knowledge. A frail human being, a ‘creature of clay’, is chosen by the Almighty and graciously elevated to the company of the angels to sing God’s praises in unison with the heavenly choirs.

Clay and dust that I am, what can I devise unless You wish it, and what can I contrive unless You desire it?

What strength shall I have unless You keep me upright

And how shall I understand unless by (the spirit) You have shaped for me?

What can I say unless You open my mouth

And how can I answer unless You enlighten me?

Behold, You are the Prince of gods and the King of majesties,

Lord of the spirits and Ruler of creatures;

Nothing is done without You, and nothing is known without Your will.

Beside You, there is nothing, nothing can compare with You in strength.

In the presence of Your glory there is nothing, Your might is priceless.

Who among Your great and marvellous creatures can stand before Your glory?

How can then he who returns to dust?

For Your glory’s sake alone have you made all these things.

(1QH 18:5–10)

As for the second theme, heavenly knowledge, the sectary, using the words of the poet, constantly seeks to express his thanks for being the beneficiary of the divine mysteries revealed to the Teacher of Righteousness and the spiritual masters of his community.

I [thank You, O Lord],

for You have enlightened me through Your truth.

In Your marvellous mysteries and loving-kindness to a man [of vanity

And] in the greatness of Your mercy to a perverse heart

You have granted me knowledge.

(1QH 15:26–7)


No historical document in the strict sense has emerged from the Qumran caves. A very fragmentary calendar (4Q331–3), mentioning known personalities like the Priest John (probably John Hyrcanus I, 135–103 BCE) and Shelamzion or Queen Salome Alexandra (76–67 BCE), widow of the high priest Alexander Jannaeus (102–76 BCE), and a poem alluding to ‘king Jonathan’ (4Q448) of disputed identity (the same Jannaeus or Jonathan Maccabaeus, 153/2–143/2 BCE) usefully set the historical framework. Our best sources for the reconstruction of the origins of the Qumran Community are the Exhortation at the beginning of the Damascus Document (CD 1–8), a kind of sermon sketching the appearance of the Teacher of Righteousness and the early history of the sect, and commentaries or pesharim attached to the biblical books of Habakkuk, Nahum and the Psalter (Psalm 37), in which the interpreters assert that ancient predictions point at persons and events in the history of the Qumran sect and that these persons and events, divinely chosen and arranged, constitute the fulfilment and supply the meaning of scriptural prophecies.

1. The Exhortation of the Damascus Document

To start with the Damascus Document, the initial scene refers to the ‘age of wrath’, a period of political and religious turmoil, occurring 390 years after the conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, in 586 BCE, according to our chronological reckoning. The preacher of the Exhortation, relying on the scriptural concept of the ‘righteous remnant’, that is to say, a small group of God-fearing people providentially saved from the cataclysm, speaks of the root of a new plant springing to life out of Jewry, literally out of Aaron and Israel, to form a little society, full of good intention, but not knowing where to go and what to do. They ‘groped for the way’ in darkness like blind men for a time. After twenty years God took pity on them and sent for them a leader, the Teacher of Righteousness, to guide them towards the light. The career of the Teacher did not proceed smoothly. Opposition arose within the community, motivated by doctrinal and legal disagreements. The mischief-maker is variously nicknamed the ‘Scoffer’, the ‘Liar’ or the ‘Spouter of lies’. He and his followers contrived to force the Teacher and his faithful followers into exile to the ‘land of Damascus’, probably a sobriquet for Qumran (CD 1:4–21; 8:21; 20:12). There the Teacher launched a new Covenant based on the correct interpretation of divine revelation. The details of his career are unknown and all we are told about his end is that he was ‘gathered in’, that is, he died, presumably in exile. His opponents were to reap their just deserts when God’s revenge was meted out to them by the hand of ‘the chief of the kings of Greece’. Another chronological detail alludes to a final forty-year period separating the death of the Teacher from the violent destruction of his enemies, depicted as ‘the men of war who had deserted to the Liar’ (CD B2:13–14), the leader who rose against the Teacher from within the ranks of the community. The historical and chronological analysis and identification of these and other allusions will be presented in chapter VIII.

2. Bible Interpretation and the Historically Linked Pesher

The Qumran caves have preserved documents containing various works of scriptural exegesis. The simplest of these figure in specimens of straight Bible translation: a small fragment of Leviticus (4Q156) and a mutilated scroll of Job (11Q10; 4Q157) have survived in Aramaic, and remains of Exodus (7Q1), Leviticus (4Q119–20), Numbers (4Q121), Deuteronomy (4Q122) and the Epistle of Jeremiah (7Q2) in Greek. Some further tiny Greek papyrus fragments from Cave 7, mistakenly identified first by José O’Callaghan and later by Carsten Peter Thiede as representing New Testament extracts, are more likely relics of the Greek version of the Book of Enoch.

The examples, not of translation, but of the actual exposition of Scripture oscillate between occasional paraphrases inserted into a biblical book, as in the Reworked Pentateuch (4Q158; 4Q364–7), and continuous and substantial interpretative passages cleverly woven into the text of the books of the Bible, prefiguring Josephus’ reformulation of the Scripture narrative in his Jewish Antiquities and the midrashic enlargements built into the Palestinian paraphrastic Targums (Fragmentary Targum, Pseudo-Jonathan and Neophyti). The Genesis Apocryphon from Cave 1 offers excellent illustrations. For instance, instead of the prosaic statement that on Sarah’s arrival in Egypt, Pharaoh’s princes reported her prettiness to their master (Genesis 12:14–15), the writer of the Apocryphon inserts a poem in which they enthusiastically sing the praises of the lady’s stunning beauty:

… and how beautiful her face?

How… fine is the hair of her head and how lovely are her eyes!

How desirable is her nose and all the radiance of her countenance!

How fair are her breasts and how beautiful all their whiteness!

How pleasing are her arms and how perfect her hands

And how[desirable] the appearance of her hands!

How fair are her palms and how long and slender are her fingers!

How comely are her feet and how perfect her thighs!

No virginal bride led into the marriage chamber is prettier than she,

She is fairer than all other women; truly her beauty is greater than theirs!

Yet together with all this grace goes abundant wisdom

So that whatever she does is perfect!

(1Qap Gen 20:2–8)

In another type of commentary on Genesis, the interpreter seeks to adjust the biblical chronology of the flood of Noah to the solar calendar of the Qumran sect and expressly associates the ‘men of the Community’ with the future ‘Messiah of Righteousness, Branch of David’ (4Q252).

The most important among the exegetical works attached to a distinct biblical book are the so-called pesharim (singular, pesher). The term simply means ‘interpretation’, but is used for a special kind of exegesis in which a biblical prophecy is explained through its realization in an event or in a person within the history of the Qumran Community. This type of exposition of the Bible, though characteristic of the Dead Sea Scrolls, is attested also in the numerous New Testament examples where biblical prophecies are claimed to have been realized in Jesus and, less frequently, in the midrashic literature of rabbinic Judaism where, for instance, the leader of the second Jewish rebellion against Rome, nicknamed Bar Kokhba or Son of the Star is seen as the fulfilment of the scriptural prediction, ‘A star shall come out of Jacob’ (Num. 24:17). It is not impossible and is even likely that this interpretative technique was borrowed from the Qumran Community by the evangelists, Paul and the later rabbis.

In the Scrolls the continuous pesher accompanied some of the prophetic books as well as the Psalms, the latter also being considered by the sect as ‘uttered through prophecy’ (11QPsalms 27:11). Pesher-type exegesis is attached to the biblical books of Isaiah (4Q162–5), Hosea (4Q166–7), Micah (1Q14), Nahum (4Q169), Habakkuk (1QpHab), Zephaniah (1Q15; 4Q170), Malachi (4Q253a) and Psalms (1Q16; 4Q171, 173). The Habakkuk Commentary, covering the first two chapters of the prophet, has been preserved in a nearly complete form covering thirteen columns. The Nahum pesher survives in several largish fragments as do those commenting on Isaiah and Psalm 37. The others are more scrappy.

As far as the history of the Dead Sea Community is concerned, the pesharim tell the story which has already been anticipated in lesser detail in the Exhortation of the Damascus Document. The synopsis is primarily based on the Habakkuk Commentary which offers the fullest picture. In it, we are faced on the one hand with the ‘Teacher of Righteousness’, a priestly leader having enjoyed special divine revelations. He was surrounded by disciples who formed his community. Within the group arose a rebellious leader who disagreed with the Teacher on various points of doctrine, and from outside came the ‘Wicked Priest’, a high priest endowed with political power (‘he ruled over Israel’), who was at first well-meaning, but subsequently went astray, corrupted by might and money. The Teacher and his party were forced into exile, where they proclaimed themselves the spiritual replacement of the Jerusalem Temple. The fate of the Teacher of Righteousness is not disclosed – he probably died in exile – but that of the Wicked Priest is clearly stated: he was captured by unspecified enemies called ‘the violent of the nations’ (Commentary on Psalms 37, 4Q171, 4:9–10), and his later successors were removed from power by the new world conquerors, the Kittim, who acted as God’s chosen instrument in executing vengeance on ‘the last priests of Jerusalem’. The historical perspective of the Habakkuk Commentary ends with the arrival of a ruler of the Kittim (Romans) in the capital of Judaea, no doubt Pompey the Great in 63 BCE.

The Commentaries on Hosea, Nahum and the Psalms mention two further political-religious parties distinct from and in conflict with the Qumran Community and metaphorically designate them as ‘Ephraim’ and ‘Manasseh’, the two symbolical ancestors of the northern tribes of the biblical Israel who separated from the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The Nahum and Hosea Commentaries further refer to a bloodthirsty priest, nicknamed the ‘furious young lion’, who struck Ephraim (Commentary on Hosea) and ‘hanged alive’ (crucified) some of them (Commentary on Nahum), applying the penalty prescribed in the Temple Scroll for traitors of the Jewish nation (11QTemple 64:7–8). If the story is inspired by the crucifixion of 800 Pharisees by the Hasmonean priest-king Alexander Jannaeus (Josephus, Jewish War I:97), one would have reason to deduce that Ephraim stands for the Pharisees, Alexander’s enemies, and consequently Manasseh would refer to the Sadducees, his supporters.

One of the Commentaries on Isaiah (4Q161) takes us to the final age by which time the Kittim, not yet inimical to the community in the Habakkuk Commentary, become – as in the War Scroll and the Book of War – the ultimate foe of the sons of light and are destined for annihilation by their royal Messiah, referred to as the Branch of David. The deliberately obscure historical allusions of the Damascus Document and the Qumran pesharim will be subjected to a detailed interpretation in the light of the data furnished by archaeology and the writings of Flavius Josephus in the final section of chapter IX.

Beside pesharim, the Qumran Bible exegetes also produced thematic interpretative works based on selected scriptural extracts such as the so-called Florilegium (4Q174) which mentions the coming of two messianic figures, the ‘Interpreter of the Law’ (priestly Messiah) and the ‘Branch of David’ (the messianic king) and the Testimonia or Messianic Anthology (4Q175) which ends with an historical interpretation of Joshua 6:26 (see also 4Q379), announcing the coming of two brothers who would be ‘instruments of violence’. Other thematic exegetical compositions reinterpret biblical law (4Q159, 513–14), weave together citations relating to the Heavenly Prince, Melchizedek, identified with the archangel Michael, and mentioning his counterpart, Melkiresha or Belial/Satan (11Q13). To these should be added excerpts concerning divine consolation (Tanhumim, 4Q176) from which, unfortunately, most of the original sectarian interpretation has disappeared, and a collection (Catena/Chain) of biblical quotes referring to the last days (4Q177, 182).


Only a restricted amount of sapiential composition have been found at Qumran. Of these, eight manuscripts of a Wisdom work entitled Instructions form the bulk, but apart from fairly rare verbal similarities, like a reference to the ‘mystery to come’, they contain hardly anything that can be qualified as strictly sectarian. Their message concerns common piety and correct behaviour towards one’s wife, children and neighbours. If they have any sectarian connection, it would be with the married community members of the ‘Damascus’ Covenant. It is best to assume that the Sapiential Works or Instructions (4Q415–18), Bless, my soul (4Q434–8) as well as The Seductress (4Q184), The Songs of the Sage (4Q510–11) and The Beatitudes (4Q525) existed before the foundation of the Dead Sea Community and were inherited by its members. Much of the counsel the sage hands out in the Instructions is sensible everyday practical wisdom.

Do not strike him who is without your strength

lest you stumble and your shame increase greatly.

[Do not s]ell yourself for wealth

it is better for you to be a slave in spirit.

And serve your master freely

And do not sell your glory for a price.

Do not give money in pledge for your inheritance

lest it impoverish your body.

Do not satiate yourself with bread while there is no clothing.

Do not drink wine while there is no food.

Do not seek luxury when you lack bread.

Do not glorify yourself in your need if you are poor

lest you degrade your life.

Also do not treat with contempt the vessel of your bosom (wife)…

(4Q416 2:16–21)

Gospel parallels have secured some notoriety for the Beatitudes, as New Testament scholars sought to discover in it pointers to account for the differences between the Beatitudes of Luke 6:20–26 and Matthew 5:3–12. Yet whereas partial similarities between Matthew and 4Q525 are undeniable, the discrepancies in form and inspiration are considerable. The eschatological intensity of Matthew is greater and the units are structured differently: in Matthew each virtue is accompanied by its reward (‘Blessed is the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God’), while the Qumran Beatitudes append an antithetic parallelism to the blessing (blessed is he who does this and abstains from doing that). In a way the negative aspect of the Qumran Beatitudes recalls the Woes which follow Jesus’ blessings as described by Luke: ‘Blessed are you poor, for yours is the Kingdom’ – ‘Woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation’ (Luke 6:20; 6:24).

[Blessed is]… with a pure heart

and does not slander with his tongue.

Blessed are those who hold to her (Wisdom’s) precepts

and do not hold to the ways of iniquity.

Blessed are those who rejoice in her,

and do not burst forth in ways of folly.

Blessed are those who seek her with pure hands,

and do not pursue her with a treacherous heart.

Blessed is the man who has attained Wisdom,

and walks in the Law of the Most High.

(4Q525 fr. 2, 2:1–4)


A document found by Roland de Vaux’s team in Qumran Cave 3 and two inscribed potsherds accidentally discovered forty years later by an American archaeologist in the perimeter wall dividing the Qumran ruins from the cemetery do not fit into any of the previous pigeonholes. The first of these is the Copper Scroll (3Q15), preserved in two parts. It was first published independently by J. M. Allegro in 1960 as The Treasure of the Copper Scroll, and officially by J. T. Milik in 1962 in DJD, III. (Seemingly still hankering after the long defunct ‘closed shop’ era, Émile Puech refers – more than forty years after its publication – to Allegro’s book as a ‘pirated edition’.)

In 2006, the Copper Scroll was given a lavish new facelift, subsidized by the Foundation of Électricité de France. Scientifically reexamined by Daniel Brizemeure and Noël Lacoudre and retranslated by Émile Puech, it was reissued under the title, Le Rouleau de cuivre de la grotte 3 de Qumrân (3Q15): Expertise – Restauration – Épigraphie I–II (Leiden, Brill, 2006).

The Copper Scroll has always been an enigma. It consists of twelve columns of Hebrew text embossed on copper and listing sixty-four hiding places in Jerusalem, its neighbourhood and other locations in the Holy Land where a colossal quantity of silver, gold and Temple offerings were concealed. Cryptic instructions are given for the discovery of the treasures, but in hiding place no. 64 the lucky treasure hunter is promised ‘a copy of this writing and its explanation and the measurements and the details of each item’. Allegro tried his hand in 1960 at uncovering the treasures, but with no luck.

No agreed view exists on the nature of the Copper Scroll. Those who argue in favour of real deposits of gold and silver surmise that the source of the coins and precious metals is either the Temple or the treasury of the Qumran sect. Neither opinion is without serious difficulties. No doubt, the Jerusalem sanctuary was extremely rich and could conceivably account for the enormous sums to which the deposits add up. But how can one account for a record (indeed, two records) of the Temple treasure being hidden, together with their other writings, by people from Qumran who were on hostile terms with the Temple authorities? Also, according to Josephus, who wrote his Jewish War only a few years after the destruction of Jerusalem probably between 75 and 79 CE, the ‘vast sums of money’ belonging to the Temple were still in the treasure chambers when the sanctuary was set on fire in 70 CE (Jewish War VI:282).

According to Puech’s latest count, the various deposits amounted to 1,672 talents of silver, 362 talents of gold and 1,504 talents of unspecified precious material, plus a large unmeasured quantity of gold and silver. There are also 165 ingots of gold, 19 bars of silver, etc. Could this gigantic wealth have belonged, as Puech, Dupont-Sommer and others suggest, to an ascetic sect which called itself the Community of the Poor? Are the figures exaggerated or was the talent of the Scroll smaller than the Jewish kikkar, estimated to weigh 35 kilograms? Those who argue that the Copper Scroll speaks of real treasure are confronted with an apparently insoluble problem.

On the other hand, the theory, first advanced by J. T. Milik, the official editor of the Copper Scroll, that the document recounts a story about a legendary hidden treasure, runs into equally serious difficulties. Only an unbalanced mind would laboriously engrave on copper in language of utmost seriousness and realism, a twelve-column-long complicated list of sixty-four purely fictional caches. In short, with the Copper Scroll we are still at square one.

The two ostraca found by Professor James F. Strange from the University of South Florida in 1996 on the Qumran site itself are also a puzzle. The text on the second sherd is badly damaged and is without significance. The first is very difficult to decipher and two completely different interpretations have been offered. According to the ‘official’ editors, Frank Moore Cross and Esther Eshel, the potsherd contains the draft of a deed of gift in which a certain Honi, in fulfilment of his oath to the Qumran Community, handed over to Eleazar, son of Nahmani (the Bursar of the sect?) a slave called Hisday of Holon, as well as a house and an orchard. If this reading and interpretation are correct, we have the first external documentary evidence, discovered on the Qumran site itself, regarding a sectarian practice, that of a ‘novice’ handing over his property to an official of the sect (DJD, XXXVI, pp. 497–508).

However, another renowned palaeographer, Dr Ada Yardeni of the Hebrew University, arrived at an entirely different decipherment and explanation. Instead of the name, Hisday of Holon, she reads ‘these sackcloths’, and ‘when he fulfilled his oath to the community’ becomes ‘and every other tree’. Here, with no allusion to the sect, we have a pathetically prosaic donation by Honi to Eleazar of sackcloths, a house, fig trees and olive trees (Israel Exploration Journal, 47 (1997), pp. 233–7).

Both interpretations are problematic. One needs a substantial amount of good will or creative imagination to recognize with Cross and Eshel the crucial term ‘Community’ (yahad) on the ostracon. On the other hand, one would hardly expect a list of valuable gifts, a house and fruit trees to open with the unexciting item of sackcloths. I am afraid we have not yet heard the last word about this humble potsherd, which may or may not hold the key to the identity of the Qumran sect.

This is the summary account of the non-biblical sectarian Dead Sea Scrolls. The three main questions it still leaves open regarding the archaeological evidence, the identity and the history of the Qumran Community will be rein-vestigated in the next chapter.

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