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The Dead Sea Scrolls

by Msgr. Patrick W. Shekan, S.T.D.

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    Document Information

  • Description:
    The Dead Sea Scrolls are still brought up from time to time as a sort of proof that there is nothing original about Christianity. This lecture, given in 1959 before the New York Archdiocesan Institute of Ecclesiastical Studies, puts the Scrolls in perspective. Topics include: The Scrolls and the Old Testament Text, Non-biblical Scrolls and the Community by the Dead Sea, Messianic Hopes and the 'Teacher of Righteousness', The Scrolls and Some Sidelights on the New Testament.
  • Larger Work:
    Conference Bulletin Of The Archdiocese Of New York, Volume XXXVI, No. 1
  • Pages: 18-39
  • Publisher & Date:
    St. Joseph's Seminary and College, February 1959

Archaeological work in the Holy Land was roughly one hundred years old in 1947. It had by then yielded astonishingly little in the way of inscriptions on hard material, a very few clay tablets, and no texts at all on perishable materials from ancient times. The only thing from Palestine comparable to the enormous hoards of material on papyrus preserved from antiquity under the sands of the Egyptian desert were a group of Greek and Arabic papyrus texts from the eighth-century ruins of the Byzantine town of Nessana, on the desert route between Aqaba and Gaza, found in 1937. In and since 1947, there have been extraordinary discoveries in three distinct localities in the desert country overlooking the Dead Sea from the west, each from a distinct historical period. Though the country in question is truly desert, it is not without a pittance of rainfall in the winter season, and the manuscripts it has yielded owe their preservation mainly to the added shelter furnished by caves.

Of the three groups of texts, only the latest in point of time did not come from caves: these are a quantity of Greek, Arabic and Christian Palestinian Aramaic texts, dating from the sixth to the eighth centuries A. D., found in the ruins of the abandoned monastery of Castellion (Khirbet Mird), northeast of the famous and still occupied monastery of Mar Saba. The site is deep in the desert of Juda, and overlooks the upland valley of the Buqei'a as well as the rugged descent to the Dead Sea beyond. Its documents were found by the Bedouin in 1952; a Belgian expedition in 1953 studied the site archaeologically, but secured textual materials mainly by purchase. These texts have not yet been published.

A second complex of finds, older than the Khirbet Mird texts, but still later than the publicized "Dead Sea Scrolls," comes from a series of caves in the neighborhood of the Wady Murabba'at. Where this wady and adjoining ones cut ever-steeper gorges through the limestone rock as they approach their terminus in the Dead Sea itself, we are dealing with the most remote, forbidding and uncontrolled portions of the Biblical "Wilderness of Juda." This desolate wasteland was a last refuge for the broken remnants of the Second Jewish Revolt against the Romans (A.D. 132-135), and it is primarily documents of the second century A.D., which have been found here. Archaeologists have probed and sifted these caves with great profit to our understanding of them; but once again, much of the actual text was obtained by purchase from the Bedouin in (Arab) Jerusalem since 1951. Languages represented are Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic (some in the special Nabatean script). A sprinkling of them are dated documents; two contain the correct name (Shimeon ben Koseba) and the autograph signature of the revolutionary leader "Bar Kokba." They include also a variety of Hebrew Old Testament texts (Pentateuch, Psalms, Isaias, Minor Prophets), which show already complete standardization according to the continuing Jewish tradition that gives us the consonants of our textus receptus. There is also an interesting Palestinian recension of the Septuagint for the Minor Prophets, which helps to account for the otherwise puzzling form of citations in Justin Martyr. Only preliminary reports of these materials have been published in scholarly journals, with, however, some texts and photographs of the most important materials.

The earliest body of texts, the most extensive, and the ones most widely discussed are those which have come since 1947 from (thus far) eleven separate caves associated with an Essene settlement overlooking the northwest corner of the Dead Sea. The community center was at Khirbet Qumran, a low shelf of marly rock jutting out from the bottom level of the cliffs that wall in this corner of the sea and its beach. Archaeological study of the settlement in five campaigns since 1952 has established that it took its rise about 100 B.C., and was occupied from that time till 31 B.C.— when an earthquake disturbed it and seems to have occasioned a thirty years' abandonment. It was resettled about the turn of the era, by the same community or sect, who remained at the site until about June of A.D. 68, when the settlement and the whole area were overrun by the armies of Vespasian.

The first cave found, in 1947, by the Bedouin, is about a mile north of the settlement itself. Its discovery by accident, and the clearing of it by clandestine diggers and serious archaeologists, is an oft-told story. In two large jars it contained seven ancient scrolls in varying states of preservation, with linen wrappings. Many other broken jars, and fragments of a large variety of Biblical and nonbiblical texts, were later recovered from this cave. Three Hebrew manuscripts of the original find were: a complete text of Isaias (all 66 chapters), a commentary on the prophet Habacuc from the latter part of the first century B.C., And a "manual of discipline" of the Essene community. With one other document not unrolled and read until 1956, these passed into the hands of the Metropolitan of the Syrian (Jacobite) monastery of St. Mark, in the Old City of Jerusalem. The three described were published by the Metropolitan's permission, from New Haven, Dead Sea Scrolls of St. Mark's Monastery, I. and II., i., 1950-51, ed. M. Burrows et al., through the American Schools of Oriental Research. The unopened document, along with the three described, was brought from Palestine to the United States by the same prelate, and this group of texts was sold in America to a buyer for the State of Israel. In 1956, the Hebrew University in (Israeli) Jerusalem published the fourth document under the title, A Genesis Apocryphon; it contains, in Aramaic, stories of the patriarchal period down to Abraham. This text had earlier been identified as a "Book of Lamech," from a fragment, which was found to contain the name of that patriarch. The three scrolls of the original seven not yet accounted for were, a second, damaged scroll of Isaias, much closer to the received text than the complete one already mentioned; a jejune and fanciful apocalyptic "War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness"; and a fairly ample collection of "Thanksgiving Hymns," bearing the impress of a devout but rather self-centered and brooding personality who may have been the "teacher of righteousness" of the sect (see below). This group of three documents came from the beginning into the possession of Prof. E. L. Sukenik of the Hebrew University, before the borders at Jerusalem were closed in 1948. All three texts were published in Israel in 1955, and later reissued with an English title, "The Dead Sea Scrolls of the Hebrew University." Data on the clearing of this first cave by the archaeologists, and on the many fragmentary texts it contained, were published (Oxford, 1955) by D. Barthelemy, C.P., And J. T. Milik, in Discoveries in the Judean Desert, I.—the first volume of a series that will contain also the Murabba'at finds, the archaeological report on the Qumran settlement and its surroundings, and the abundance of manuscript materials from the additional caves near Qumran located since early 1952.

These ten later Qumran caves (2-11) have yielded, with the exception of the last, rather fragmentary texts than texts approaching completeness. From several points of view, many a student of antiquity would prefer such a cross-section of numerous documents as these fragments provide, to a limited number of intact sources; there is more to be inferred from a wide variety of even fragmentary texts. There are, however, in the entire find, enough materials to satisfy everyone, and the last cave found, in February, 1956, yielded at least five substantial documents, as yet neither unrolled nor studied, pending their final acquisition by responsible agencies.

One effect of these discoveries has been to lead scholars back through older literature to earlier instances of manuscript finds in Palestine—not, as has been said, in modern times, but once anciently and once in the Middle Ages. We are told in a manuscript colophon that one of the Greek texts of the Psalter employed by Origen for his early third-century "hexaplaric" edition was a text "found in a jar near Jericho in the days of the emperor Antoninus, the son of Severus." And from a medley of ninth-century and later sources, Islamic, Jewish and (Nestorian) Christian, we have evidence of the finding in caves in the same area, some time about A. D. 800, of a number of Hebrew documents of an earlier period, belonging to a Jewish sect which our sources correctly associate with the times of the early Pharisees and Sadducees.

This medieval find has also modern repercussions. In the one-time Melkite Church of St. Michael, in Old Cairo, abandoned and sold to Jewish purchasers in A.D. 869, and subsequently used through the centuries as a synagogue, a "geniza," or repository for outworn documents containing the Hebrew sacred name of God, was early set up; and in the late nineteenth century this became known to European scholars. Of the enormous quantity of materials it yielded to western libraries (chiefly Oxford and Cambridge) a small proportion were medieval copies of unknown ancient documents (including parts of the Hebrew original of Ecclesiasticus). Among these were specific sectarian texts of the Qumran-Essene group; so that today it is easy to conclude that the discovery of about A.D. 800 led to a further circulation of such literature in medieval Jewish (especially Karaite) circles. Also the Qumran finds provide the final justification for the body of scholarly opinion that maintained consistently the ancient origin of these sectarian materials, against a vocal minority that held them to be of the medieval period of the copies themselves.

The discussion to follow will be concerned mainly with the manuscript contents of the Qumran caves; one curiosity must be mentioned separately because of its unique nature and the confused impression retained by many who try to assimilate it in some way to the bulk of the finds. Only one document on copper was found in the Qumran area, in "cave 3," the most northerly of the caves, in 1952. It was rolled in two; one single sheet of copper, and two others still riveted together. The two (or three) parts make up one continuous text, in large letters incised rather crudely, in columns like those of a leather scroll, on a surface a foot high and nearly eight feet in overall width. The language is Mishnaic Hebrew, and the copy itself is of about the middle of the first century A.D. Its text enumerates and localizes sixty separate treasures of gold, silver, and incense, to the fantastic total of 200 tons or more of precious metal supposedly buried in certain designated places all over the Holy Land. It is pure folklore, and has nothing to do with Essene beliefs or practices, and no relation to the literature of the Qumran community. Its chief interest is the unique (thus far) first century witness to a colloquial Hebrew standardized only later as the language of the rabbinic code. The technical process of backing the corroded metal with a transparent plastic to reinforce and preserve it, and of cutting it into strips, since it could not be unrolled, were accomplished with entire success and no damage to the text it contained, at the Manchester (England) College of Technology. Father J. T. Milik is to publish the full text. At one other point, it may be added, modern scientific methodology has given us significant data regarding these finds: some of the linen materials from the first cave were subjected to the carbon-dating process developed by physicists only lately; and the date offered for the manufacture of the linens by Prof. W. B. Libby of the University of Chicago is A.D. 33, with a margin of error either way of some 200 years.

Some Books On The Scrolls

Allegro, J. The Dead Sea Scrolls (1956). Best background and illustrative material to date; well written. A.'s comparisons of the sect and its leader (s) with early Christianity and its Founder are unreliable and cannot be recommended; but he has sound knowledge of many fascinating human aspects of the story.

Burrows, M. The Dead Sea Scrolls (1955). A thoughtful, broad, early treatment, of which a second edition is forthcoming, A substantial book; most are slighter volumes.

Davies, A. P. The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1956). Not recommended.

Gaster, T. H. The Dead Sea Scriptures (1956). The introduction is exceptionally well balanced, the summaries and indices very useful, and the core of the book—a translation of most of the published materials—is an excellent introduction to this literature. G. tends to minimize our opportunity for cogent inferences, historical and religious, from the materials.

Graystone, C. The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Originality of Christ (1956). From a Catholic standpoint; reacts against current exaggerations so far as sometimes not to acknowledge the illustrative value the ancient texts actually have.

Murphy, R., O.Carm. The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible (1956). Excellent Catholic summary.

Rowley, H. H. The Zadokite Fragments and the Dead Sea Scrolls (1952). In this and other writings R. pleads for an (almost certainly too early) Maccabean dating for the sect. One of the better critics on the subject, but sometimes (Journ. Bibl. Lit. 75, 1956, 188-93) overly negative.

Scott, R. B. Y. Treasures from Judean Caves (1955). The author's personal knowledge of the materials is better than most writers'.

Wilson, E. The Scrolls from the Dead Sea (1955). The New Yorker article of May 14, 1955. Good reporting, with interpretation of texts based mainly on witnesses whom W. (alone) thinks impartial. W. and these witnesses (Dupont-Sommer, Flusser) spread themselves on the supposed over-all religious implications of the scrolls for Judaism and Christianity as such: nonsense that will die hard.

Zeitlin, S. The Dead Sea Scrolls and Modern Scholarship (1956). Compiles the author's running indictments of all who credit the genuine antiquity of the documents; it becomes increasingly difficult to comprehend the position maintained.

In a better position to judge these materials, Fr. J. T. Milik published his Dix Ans de Decouvertes dans les Deserts de Juda in 1957, and F. M. Cross, Jr., his Ancient Library of Qumran in 1958.

The Scrolls And The Old Testament Text

It has been said that two manuscripts of Isaias and a commentary on the prophet Habacuc were among the 1947 discoveries. The complete Isaias manuscript is datable to about the beginning of the first century B.C.; it is nevertheless already a reworked text, with all the glosses and peculiarities of the received text either directly represented or substituted for by easier readings, faulty copying, or exegetical variants. A harmonizing tendency introduces phrases from other canonical books or from different parts of Isaias to expand individual passages. Cases in which this manuscript alone would enable us to recover a reading not already known from the received text or from the Septuagint rendering are extremely rare; and it is in fact a witness, despite extraordinary spelling, Aramaic influences, and a debased standard of Hebrew grammatical usage, to a very great stability of the consonantal text of this prophetic book, as far back as we are enabled to go. The fragmentary Isaias manuscript, of a somewhat later date, is often praised by those for whom the more bizarre aspects of the full scroll are unsettling with the allegation that this second witness is in nearly all respects in conformity with the Masoretic text. Such a judgment makes the document shine only by comparison: it has its own share of defects and peculiarities, which are rarely alluded to by its protagonists. The Habacuc text (ch. 1-2) and its interpretation present us with the oldest known example of that recurrent fact of Biblical study—a document which cites the text in one form, and then interprets it according to a markedly variant reading of the same passage; in general, once again, the text is that which we know.

Study of Biblical text-transmission from before 100 B.C. And on into the second Christian century is now being immeasurably advanced by the wealth of materials provided in the fragmentary texts from the scattered Qumran caves, and in the Murabba'at materials previously mentioned. Clearly the consonantal text was fixed in its wording, in its spelling, and in the rules for its transmission, before the Second Jewish Revolt (A.D. 132-135). Just as clearly, there were a number of quite variable texts in current use in the period before A.D. 68. From the fourth cave alone, found in 1952, the Qumran community has furnished us with an unparalleled bulk of nearly 400 fragmentary manuscripts, and of these, more than 100 are Old Testament texts in the original Hebrew or Aramaic. Six copies of Genesis offer no surprises; but for the subsequent Mosaic books, recensions with the Samaritan text, with texts related to the Septuagint, and mixed types, are equally in evidence with the traditional form of Hebrew text. These manuscripts are not yielding a multiplicity of unknown readings; but readings conformed to recensions other than the Masoretic are common enough. Often their relative value has long ago been weighed; and the fact that they now occur in manuscripts of an age that had already been postulated for these recensions lends them new interest but hardly a new authority for the practical textual critic. Some texts of the Mosaic books (and one, even, of Job) offer the special interest that they were written in an old Hebrew script which is otherwise known to us in Judaism after the exile only from coins, from a specialized use for the writing of the divine name (even in Greek manuscripts), and from later Samaritan usage.

For most of the historical books other than the Pentateuch, limited quantities of text preclude far-reaching conclusions. It is the sixth Qumran cave, not the fourth, which has given Father M. Baillet a text of 3-4 Kings notably at variance with the Masoretic text. In the cave four materials, Prof. F. M. Cross, Jr., has established that the text of Josue inclines toward the form known through the Greek rendering. The same scholar has been studying three fragmentary manuscripts of Samuel, all of real interest. One is extremely old (before 200 B.C., on paleographical grounds); another is by a copyist whose handiwork, here found in cave four, adjoining the main settlement, was found also among the manuscripts in the first cave, a mile away. The text of both these Samuel manuscripts is noteworthy; in certain respects, an advance on anything we have had up to now for the parts of Samuel they contain. The third copy is preserved to a degree extraordinary among the cave four remnants, through the accident that its leather was anciently backed with papyrus to reinforce it. Much of the columnar structure of the two Books of Samuel in this copy is recoverable; and the affiliations of the text with the Septuagint form of the books are most striking. Even this result is not unexpected, since the standard Hebrew text of the Books of Samuel has well-known lacunae, inversions and difficulties for which the Septuagint furnishes useful indications and some definite improvements.

For the Psalms, the wisdom books, and the Prophets, there are no extraordinary immediate gains to be made for textual criticism from the texts we have; the only areas where further study may turn up something of the kind are the Minor Prophets and Jeremias. This for the books of the Hebrew canon—of which cave four alone gives evidence for all except Esther (not yet found in an ancient copy). For the "deuterocanonical" Old Testament books, the same cave has yielded three copies of Tobias in Aramaic (doubtless the original language), and one in Hebrew: all four witness to a very full recension, which supports the general tendency of recent Catholic scholarship to value most highly the ample form of text found in Greek in the codex Sinaiticus, and in the Latin of the version prior to St. Jerome's. The Books of Maccabees (originating from circles in Judaism to which the Qumran community seems opposed), Baruch (except for chapter six), Judith, Wisdom (this last an exclusively Greek book), and the deuterocanonical parts of Daniel have not been found. As respects Daniel, its text at Qumran is more consistently faithful to the received tradition, including the change from Hebrew into Aramaic and back into Hebrew just as in modern editions, than would be true of almost any other Old Testament book. The Hebrew of Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), known previously from medieval copies in the Cairo geniza, as mentioned above, has been found again in the second cave (only) at Qumran, in two limited fragments which are yet enough to vouch (Ecclus. 6:20-31) for the stichometric arrangement and the basic authenticity of the medieval copies. This is of special interest, inasmuch as a rising chorus of unwillingness to credit the medieval copies (which do include retroversions from the Syriac) with any value has been making itself heard in recent years.

It remains to mention the Septuagint texts. Papyrus fragments of the sixth chapter of Baruch, known more properly in the Greek tradition as the "Letter of Jeremias," turned up at Qumran in cave seven. The fourth cave yielded (besides three very fragmentary non-biblical texts in Greek) a papyrus and a leather text of Leviticus, and a leather text of Numbers, all of rather limited extent. Exodus in Greek is known from cave seven, in a copy on papyrus. The Leviticus and Numbers fragments, described and partially published by P. Skehan in the proceedings of the 1956 International Congress for the Study of the Old Testament, at Strasbourg (publ. Leiden, Brill, 1957) indicate first that the "Septuagint" of our later codices is indeed the Greek text which was in general circulation at the beginning of Christian times (this, too, had recently been called into question), and secondly, that a good deal of critical retouching of this rendering took place well before the time of Origen. The exceptional character of the recension of the Minor Prophets in Greek among the Murabba'at finds, which is being published by Pere D. Barthelemy, C.P., has already been mentioned above.

Non-biblical Scrolls And The Community By The Dead Sea

One characteristic of the manuscripts recovered from the Qumran caves is that they are almost exclusively religious in character. The cave three copper scroll is perhaps exceptional, from this point of view; and there are, among the nearly 300 nonbiblical manuscripts of cave four, perhaps two lists of personal names, a few quasi-astrological items, and a limited number of other scattered fragments with no clear religious import.

For the rest, we have a large body of apocryphal and pseudoepigraphical materials, much of which now appears in the Semitic language of its original composition for the first time; then there are a scattering of similar apocryphal works with no extant counterparts in any language; there is a goodly variety of commentaries, in terms of the sect's own preoccupations, interests, and history, on the Prophets and the Psalms; there ' is the strictly sectarian literature of disciplinary texts and history of the movement itself; there are the thanksgiving hymns, presumably by the sect's early teacher, and another group of less personal and more traditional hymns; a variety of works having to do with calendrical computations (a religious issue for the Qumran sect), with the order of service of the various priestly families in the Jerusalem temple, and with apocalyptic visions against the forces of evil, or with the nature of the heavenly Jerusalem; and various series of prayer and blessing formulae) as well as florilegia and paraphrases of the Biblical text itself.

No little interest attaches to the recovered fragments of known apocryphal texts. The "Book of Jubilees" is a quite early Jewish document—about third century B.C.—Which retells the story of Genesis in a framework of ingenious cycles that lay a foundation for recurring liturgical observances on a fixed annual calendar of 364 days. This book was known to us completely only from an Ethiopic rendering; some Latin fragments, besides the Ethiopic, are based on an early Greek translation no longer extant. Of the original Hebrew of this work, the cave four collection of Qumran contained six copies; caves one and two had already yielded fragments of three other copies. The book itself antedates the founding of the Qumran group; but it is referred to in their specifically sectarian literature, as normative. The calendar it sets up calls for quarters of the year, each with two thirty-day months, followed by a thirty-one-day month. Every year begins on Wednesday (i.e., Tuesday evening at sunset, since the day is counted from the evening rather than from midnight: see Genesis ch. 1); the first-of-the-month and pilgrimage festivals of the Jewish calendar regularly fall on Wednesday, Friday, or Sunday, and no observance that would violate the Sabbath ever occurs on Saturday. Knowledge that this calendar was actually employed in practice has prompted its re-study in recent years, first by Pere Barthelemy, and then by Mlle. A. Jaubert, who has found evidence that the date-formulas, with numbered months and days, in the Books of Ezechiel and Paralipomenon, and in the "priestly" narratives in Genesis itself, suppose an understanding of this calendar. It gives every indication of having been the calendar for temple observance in the days before the Maccabees, and is suggestive as to the origin of Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday as the days of liturgical significance in Christianity later on. Still unknown is the system of intercalation (which would have to be by full weeks of seven days, to preserve the scheme) employed to bring this calendar into line with the slightly longer solar year; but such a system would have been far from difficult to devise and apply—much easier than the baffling 19-year Easter cycle which we have inherited from elsewhere.

A second apocryphon long known to us from a medieval Ethiopic rendering is the Book of Enoch. Of this, the original language was Aramaic: the fragments of ten manuscripts from Qumran cave four give us Aramaic material more or less closely related to the several sections of this book. The Enoch composition is basically pre-Christian also; scholars recognize a fivefold division of its content, and it is significant that the Qumran texts give us parallels to all but one of these divisions. The exception is the second part, or "Parables of Enoch," which contains references to the "Son of Man," the messianic import and possible pre-Christian origins of which have been a matter of dispute; what is now certain is that this section has an independent history from other parts of the book. The third part of Enoch, containing calendrical materials related to Jubilees, is represented at Qumran by a fuller and more intelligible text than that in the medieval version.

The number of copies in which the two books so far mentioned have turned up is suggestive of another point regarding the Qumran community and its literature: though it is theoretically possible, since this sect practiced community property which would certainly include property in books, that the texts in its possession could have been brought in from anywhere, and represent the random accumulations of various individual libraries during nearly two centuries, the fact is that the different groups of manuscripts found in the various caves offer a noteworthy degree of similarity, and that multiple copies often attest the serious interest of the group in one or another piece of non-biblical literature. Another encouragement to build with confidence a synthetic picture of the entire group from the admittedly somewhat random finds, is that underlying threads of community interest are discernible as between documents of quite different literary genres. For example, the only other well-known apocryphon of which the caves have yielded evidence (again in Aramaic) is the "Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs." Of a document related to the Testament of Nephthali (one of the Twelve) there is a single small fragment. The Testament of Levi, however, which is regarded by Father Milik as the prototype of the entire collection, is represented in both the first and the fourth caves, and also in the Cairo geniza materials; it is a different and longer recension than the Greek text current in the Middle Ages, and contains one entire section (a "prayer of Levi"), which is otherwise found in only a single tenth-century Greek manuscript. The document serves to underline the priestly interests of the community of Qumran, who called themselves, among other things, the "Sons of Sadoc" (the high priest under David). It accords with a series of blessing formulas among the discoveries, in which a priestly element is prominent; also with the leading place assigned to the priests in the apocalyptic "War" scroll; with the "Mishmarot" texts giving a rotating order of priestly families for temple service (cf. Luke 1:8); and with a "Testimony" document bearing on the messianic beliefs of the sect, to be described below. Future glories of the Levitical priesthood are seen also in other apocalyptic texts.

The category of texts from which we obtain fullest information about the sect itself are the commentaries on Old Testament prophecies, the "manual of discipline" of the sect—a twelve-column document from the first cave, for which two addition columns were published in the 1955 volume from Oxford—and a text edited long ago from the Cairo geniza materials, known as the "Damascus Document," because Damascus is mentioned in it as a (real or allegorical) place of exile of the sect. For the "Manual," there are eleven unpublished fragmentary manuscripts from the fourth cave at Qumran alone; for the "Damascus Document" there are seven, and another copy was among the fragmentary texts of cave six. Biblical commentaries, on the other hand, have appeared only in single copies so far, and much of what we have may have been composed by the actual scribes from whom we have it.

Though there are many details obscure, the resultant picture is of an ascetical group with priestly leadership. This leadership is typified by a "teacher of righteousness," who, within twenty years of the founding of the sect, came into bitter opposition with a "wicked priest"—one of the earlier members of the Hasmonean dynasty—on a point of religious law which may well have had to do with the liturgical calendar. The teacher of righteousness was again in conflict with his "wicked priest" counterpart. The "place of his exile" was almost certainly Khirbet Qumran. Here the group lived a life of joint prayer and study, of community enterprise and community property, under strict discipline, and with the conviction of being a true Israel of the new covenant, separated for a time from the temple of Jerusalem and the people of Juda because of the corruption to be found in both, and living through a "period of wickedness" in the shadow of the "last days," awaiting a definitive redemption by God in which the (messianic) kingdom would be restored to them and all wickedness would be destroyed. They had a period of probation for those to be admitted to their company, followed by a year's "novitiate" during which all the community's discipline was to be observed, but full voting and consultive membership was not yet granted, and then, for the last stage, an elaborate, all-inclusive initiation oath. No other oaths were permitted for any purpose. Their communal meals were religious in character, and the privilege of voting membership in the community and that of participation in these communal meals went hand in hand; punishment of a delinquent member, when less drastic than expulsion, involved reduced rations and separation from the communal board. Their attitude toward the Old Testament is clear from its place in their library, from a copious use and application of it in their writings, and from the fact that the Book of Proverbs (hardly the most obvious choice) is cited as authoritative in the Damascus Document. Above all they endeavored to fulfill the prescriptions of the Law of Moses. Ritual purifications by washing hold a significant place in their scheme of things. They fit nearly all that we know, from classical descriptions, of the Essenes. Their norms regarding sexual morality were very firm, calling for chastity of speech and demeanor, and strict monogamy. Were there celibates among them, as Josephus affirms? This is beyond demonstration, but the regimented nature of the burials in the community cemetery, in the main section of which none but men were buried, implies some sort of detachment from the normal patterns of family life. Their community regulations allow for life in a town atmosphere, with conventicles of their own, or in desert camps of which Qumran is the type. The most convincing historical framework yet found for them is a reference in a commentary on Nahum (published in the Journal of Biblical Lit. for June, 1956, by J. M. Allegro) to an interval "from Antiochus till the rise of the rulers of the Kittiim"—the span from Antiochus IV, Epiphanes, the desecrator of the Jerusalem temple in 167 B.C., till the beginnings of Roman rule in Palestine, under Pompey, in 63 B.C. Against this background and the archaeological data) the scattered allusions to their further history on the part of the sect's authors have yet to be worked out into a continuous story, if one is possible. The most puzzling fact thus far known about the group is that on certain occasions, as yet unidentified, they quite certainly buried with care (using pottery above and beneath) the bones of the ritually clean animals which were consumed at their communal meals. This practice, ascertained archaeologically and not explained by the documents, has nothing to do with animal sacrifice, which would be associated with the Jerusalem temple (from this they were in fact cut off); and it is counter to the prescription for burning, for example, the remains of the paschal lamb.

Among samplings of their literature not thus far instanced, we may add that these Qumran Essenes had a certain amount of moralizing "wisdom" literature; that their most extensive pseudoprophetical texts seem to center on the person of Jeremias, though they are unrelated to any of the multiple sources connected with that prophet or with Baruch in previously known literature; and that they kept record of judicial sentences imposed by the community on members whose faults are not made clear in the extant fragments, A variety of prayers attributed to various famous names in sacred history includes a "Prayer of Manasses" which is not the one used sometimes in our liturgy; a collection of "Psalms of Josue," and an Aramaic "Prayer of Nabonidus, king of Babylon and Assyria." This last is of some significance for the literary history of the Book of Daniel, in that it coincides with Babylonian sources in ascribing to the last king of Babylon before Cyrus the long exile at Tema in Arabia which apparently unrelies the story told in Daniel 3:98—4:34 of the earlier and better known Nabuchodonosor. The seven-years' illness, the exile, prayer, dream, forgiveness of sins, and the intervention of a Jewish seer, all connected in the new-found text with Nabonidus, coincide strikingly with the circumstances of Daniel's intervention for Nabuchodonosor in the Biblical text; and it is perhaps possible that the sacred writer made free use of a popular story of the kind in building up his series of episodes in the inspired book.

Messianic Hopes And The "Teacher Of Righteousness"

One aspect of the religious life of the Qumran community, which has been variously estimated, and has occasioned widely circulated claims and counterclaims, is the matter of their messianic expectations. Perhaps the best way into this topic would be to refer to a so-called "Testimony" document from cave four, published by J. M. Allegro in the Journ. of Biblical Lit., 75, 1956, 182-186, with photograph (Document IV). This consists of a single sheet of leather, with one column of a text apparently integral, except where the lower right-hand corner of the piece is broken away, with a loss of the beginning of the lowest lines in the column. There is no reason to believe it was ever part of a longer document; it is evidently complete in itself (the verso is, of course, blank). It contains a series of four citations, with appropriate paragraph divisions and markings between them. The first such text combines Deut. 5:28-29 with Deut. 18:18-19; more accurately, it is the expanded text of Exod. 20, 21 in the Samaritan recension of the Pentateuch, in which these Deuteronomy passages are already combined: they refer to the "prophet like Moses" whom God will raise up among his people. The second text, Numb. 24:15-17, is the prophecy of Balaam about the "Star" which shall arise from Jacob; the third, Deut. 33:8-11, is the blessings of the tribe of Levi pronounced by Moses. The fourth text combines Biblical material about Josue with an excerpt drawn from the "Psalms of Josue"—a previously unknown apocryphon, already mentioned as occurring in cave four. This fourth paragraph very likely conceals an allusion to something in the history of the sect itself; to us, however, its application remains completely obscure. The first three, on the other hand, are readily understood as referring to a prophet like Moses who will either be a messianic figure himself, or a forerunner of the Messias; to a "star," whom much of Jewish tradition would identify with the messias, son of David; and to a priestly messias of Levitical descent. This would be consonant with the writings of the sect, which elsewhere allow for more than one messianic figure. However, our interpretation can be simplified and made more pointed, by noting that both in the Testament of Levi and in the Damascus Document the "star" occurs, and both times as a priestly figure (the Messias, son of Levi, or an interpreter of the Law of Moses); in the Damascus Document it is the "sceptre" spoken of by Balaam in the same verse of Numbers, who is identified as the Davidic messias. Hence for the writer of the "Testimonies" document it is highly probable that a prophet as a forerunner, and then only one, priestly, messias, are alluded to in his first three paragraphs.

Of the sect's "Manual of Discipline," two supplementary columns never reached the hands of the Syrian archbishop, but were ultimately secured for the Palestine Archaeological Museum and published by Pere D. Barthelemy. These contain, among other things, the order of precedence at a community banquet, "when God causes the messias to be born among them." This clause requires some reconstruction in the damaged text; but the word "messias" is quite certain and the whole may be understood in the light of Isa. 66:9. The order of precedence calls for the priest, the head of all the congregation of Israel, and all of his fellow priests to take their seats; then comes the "messias of Israel" with his chief officers. The presiding priest, who is not designated as a messias, first pronounces a blessing and takes of the bread and the wine; after which the "messias of Israel" partakes of them in his turn, The clear implication of this is that the sect was expecting two messianic figures, whom indeed they describe elsewhere as "the messiahs of Aaron and of Israel"—that is to say, a priestly and a Davidic messias, of whom the former, as high priest of Israel, would take precedence. That the "messias of Israel" was to be the son of David who was the center of most Jewish messianic hopes is made very clear by a variety of commentaries on Gen. 49:10, on 2 Sam. 7:11-12, and on Isa. 11:1-5, from among the cave four fragments, published by Mr. Allegro in the same article with the "Testimonies" document.

In exactly what terms the Qumran group thought of the functions of either messias, it is hard for us, and might have been hard for them, to say. Salvation, however understood (and there is more than an allegorical cloak of militarism, it would seem, in all their allusions to it), would in any case climax the "last days," in which the sect was already living; all the wicked would be destroyed, and the true Israel would come into its own. Nowhere is there a suggestion that the work of the messias has already been accomplished, or that the "era of wickedness" and time of expectation is in any sense at an end.

This is of some importance when we come to the historical figure of the "teacher of righteousness" of the sect. As good a scholar as T. H. Gaster has denied that by this name a single figure is meant; but the death of the "teacher" marks an era for dating, his disciplinary norms are insisted upon for a later stage of the community's existence (this is "faith in the teacher of righteousness"), and the various places in which he figures in the Biblical commentaries of the sect are consistent with a single period of crisis in the community's affairs. He is therefore almost certainly one person (with, very likely, a counterpart in the full messianic end-time); he is most likely the author of the cave one "Thanksgiving Psalms"—of which, again, we have six added, fragmentary copies from the fourth cave. The title by which he is known, presumably self chosen, and intended to press his claim to be one who understood by divine guidance the words of the Law and the Prophets, has been recognized as a messianic title by no less an authority than St. Jerome. Our Vulgate gives doctorem justitiae in Joel 2:23 as a personal reference, and deals similarly with the related passages Osee 10:12 and Isa. 30:20, from which combination of biblical allusions the title is drawn; it is foreign to the Septuagint text and the Greek Fathers, while in Judaism we hear of it only from the Karaites, who could, as we have seen, have got it from Qumran sources.

The question which has been raised about this obscure, but important, figure in the Qumran sect, is whether we can see any relationship between what we know of him, and the person and work of Jesus Christ. One point has already been made: even after his recorded death, the members of the Qumran sect were not claiming for this "Teacher" that he had in his own person accomplished a messianic work. A passion and resurrection of the "Teacher" have been construed, notably by A. Dupont-Sommer and J. M. Allegro, out of certain references in the Habacuc commentary, in a commentary of Psalm 37, and then in scattered messianic allusions of the type we have been examining above. The Habacuc commentary, while it clearly indicates a "persecution" of the teacher and his followers at the hands of the "wicked priest," first in a confrontation presumably in Jerusalem, and secondly in the "place of his exile," presumably Qumran, cannot legitimately be further construed to indicate that the persecution was by physical violence, or that it was in fact successful. The subject of (divine) visitation and punishment in the Habacuc texts is the wicked priest himself, as most scholars have readily understood. The application (presumably) to this same crisis in the teacher's life, of Psalm 36 (37): 32, "The wicked man spies on the just, and seeks to slay him," connects with the situation the following words also of the Psalm, "but God will not leave him in his power," and the comment goes on to speak of the wicked priest being "given into the hands of gentile tyrants, to do to him…." In addition, we know explicitly that the death of the teacher of righteousness was a natural death: he is twice said to have been "gathered in," with an undoubtedly deliberate choice of the same phrase applied in the Book of Genesis to the natural deaths of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Ishmael. In view of the fact that in all our materials so far there is no clear case for the belief in resurrection of the dead on the Part of the Qumran sectaries, one wonders why, apart from a blind conviction that some tie with Christian origins is bound to be present in the group's history, so wild a hypothesis should ever have been constructed. The final twist to it, whereby the death of the "Teacher of Righteousness" was alleged (against the evidence, as above) to have been by crucifixion at the hands of gentile mercenaries of the Jewish high priest, was spun out of a commentary on the prophet Nahum which nowhere mentions the teacher, but which seemingly does recall the crucifixion of his political enemies by Alexander Jannaeus, king and high priest from 103 to 76 B.C. Jannaeus is one of the more plausible candidates for the "wicked priest," and the act of barbarity referred to is already well known to us from the historian Josephus; but any relation of it to the teacher of righteousness, in the circumstances given, is totally lack-in, and quite incredible.

A very good summary of these and related topics is available in the article of Father Raymond Brown, S.S., in Cath. Biblical Quart., 19, 1957, 53-82, on "The Messianism of Qumran."

The Scrolls And Some Sidelights On The New Testament

There is reason to hope that, as the extrabiblical materials especially continue to be published, the principal value of the Dead Sea Scrolls will prove to be their illustrative value for the background of the New Testament and early Christianity. We are even now faced with a paradoxical situation. The time is hardly past, when New Testament criticism in rationalist circles was engaged in an attempted demonstration of the supposed fact that the Gospels were lacking in an authentic portrayal of first century Palestine, and must be regarded as foreign both in time and place to the Jewish society of before AD 70. yet now there is a tremendous willingness on the part of some, to abandon that position for what is actually an opposite extreme, and to attempt an explanation of the Gospel narrative and of all of Christianity on the basis of these first century and earlier Palestinian finds. That kind of grasping at straws need not deter us from recognizing with satisfaction that some of the preoccupations, hopes, ideas and practices of people who come to Our Lord or to John the Baptist in the pages of the Gospels, and similar points regarding the first Christians themselves, can be discerned in these texts.

In evaluating such things, it is necessary to keep a sense of proportion. Some points of contact between the Qumran community and the first Christians can be explained quite simply by their common sharing of the inspired books of the Old Testament; it is easy to exaggerate the significance of such resemblances, but only those whose knowledge of the Old Testament is less than it should be will be at a loss, or be impressed. For the remaining resemblances, it will hardly do to make matters overly simple by seeing Essenes everywhere. For example, when John the Baptist is asked successively whether he is the Christ, or Elias, or "the Prophet," it has always been proper to assume that there were currents of messianic expectation in the Judaism of the time. The fact that we now find the Qumran community looking to the "Prophets" coming, in a messianic context, and to both a priestly and a kingly messias, gives us no right to insist that St. John's interviewers must have been Essenes—indeed, we are told differently.

Nevertheless, there are distinct values to be gained from comparative study of the kind: with respect to the diction of our^ New Testament sources, the manner of using and drawing conclusions from Old Testament texts, the external organization of a religious body such as that at Qumran or the Church in Jerusalem under the Apostles, possibly even popular religious aspirations which Our Lord deliberately chose to fulfill by the manner in which He instituted His sacraments. Much illustrative material is offered in Father Roland Murphy's Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible, still more, in highly compressed form, in the same writer's index to points of contact between the two literatures, in Cath. Biblical Quart. 18, 1956, 263-272 (this would have to be used with both the N. T. and, for the Scrolls, a tool like Caster's translation at hand). For the writings of St. John in particular, where notable parallels exist, there are two studies by Father R. Brown, SS, in the C. B. Q. volume for 1955.

The "Damascus Document" bases it’s teaching of strict monogamous marriage on the same context in Genesis, which Our Lord in the Gospels appealed to in forbidding divorce. In view of the round-about way in which this document has come to us, one might be concerned whether this particular section of it might not be a medieval Karaite insertion, after all; but Father M. Baillet has just published a fragment from cave two at Qumran which contains precisely this portion of the text.

In the organization of the Qumran community we find a community council of twelve members who are laymen, plus an additional three priests. It is too facile to compare the twelve with the Apostles (there were twelve tribes, twelve sons of Jacob . . .), or the three with "James and Cephas and John . . . the pillars" (Gal. 2, 9); but the fact of any external organization for religious purposes apart from the temple and the Sanhedrin is still of significance. The presiding officer is known as an "Inspector," a term which many relate to the title of the Christian bishop: though Old Testament language gives us actually a closer parallel to the name of bishop in an "Overseer" from the Septuagint of which our term for bishop derives directly. When Our Lord tells the Apostles that His Blood is being shed "for many," the term takes on clearer meaning for us on being compared with the rabbim, the "many," who in the Qumran literature are the full assembly of the entire community, the equivalent of the Greek plethos or public assembly of all citizens. The communal purse shared by the Apostles on their journeys with Jesus, and the community of goods in the early Church, are seen to be a practice not unknown in contemporary Judaism. The order of fraternal correction recommended by Our Lord—first privately, then before witnesses, then if need be before the whole Church—is exactly paralleled in the Qumran discipline. The prototype for earliest Christian monasticism, ordinarily sought in Egypt, exists ready to hand in the community life of this Essene group. Even the "testing of spirits" spoken of several times in the New Testament (cf. 1 John 4:1-3) is given as an established part of the duties of office of the priestly members of the Qumran council.

At the very points at which these Jewish ascetics differ most from Christianity, their teachings serve to illustrate the Gospel text. "You have heard that it was said… 'Hate thine enemy' " (Matt. 5: 43); and the Qumran "children of light" are told to "hate with an eternal hatred" all sons of darkness, which comes to mean nearly everybody but themselves. When the banquet for the messias comes, since it is a public function for the dignitaries of the community, all who have physical defects or mental handicaps are by law excluded, in the Qumran system; "Go out into the highways and the byways," says Our Lord, "and bring in here the crippled, and the blind, and the lame."

In this rapidly expanding field, perhaps a limited number of examples of the various kinds of resemblance will serve our purpose best. With regard to New Testament diction, we still need to know a great deal about the Aramaic spoken by Our Lord and His Apostles; and there are some Aramaic documents among the Qumran finds. In view, however, of the fact that Hebrew constitutes ninety per cent of the materials from Qumran, and Aramaic about nine per cent we must now also ask ourselves to what extent Hebrew may have been a spoken language during Our Lord's public life. For a single phrase, let us take the "men of good will" (Luke 2: 14) of the angels' Christmas message: the Hebrew bene resono of the Thanksgiving hymns at Qumran is clearly the same idea. It strengthens the argument for our traditional reading of the phrase, as against the alternative "good will to men." It also makes the interpretation certain. In both the Gospel and the Qumran contexts, the men, or sons, of God's good pleasure, are those for whom He has freely and providentially prepared a way of life, which they, in turn, continue to please Him by fulfilling.

The imagery of St. John's Gospel, with its contrasts of light and darkness, truth and falsehood, the Spirit of truth and the prince of this world, is often discussed in terms of gnosticism, Persian dualistic influences, and the like. In view of the fact that the Book of Wisdom already gives us most of these contrasts in a genuinely Jewish setting, we need hardly be surprised that the Qumran texts again vouch for the extent to which they were current in Jewish religious thought in Palestine in the time of Our Lord. When St. John the Baptist anticipates a baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire, this too is matched by a divine sprinkling upon men of the spirit of truth to cleanse them from all trace of corruption, in the Qumran texts. The conflict within man is represented in the Qumran texts as the result of opposing spirits within him, which owe their origin to personal spirits of light and darkness that hold sway over his conduct. One difference between this and similar currents in Christian thought is that in the Essene scheme of things, very little is said about the individual's free choice, and the governing spirits seem to work in a deterministic pattern; we have also some indications that the distracting and distorting influence of astrology made itself felt at Qumran.

John the Baptist shares with the Essenes the time and place (especially the "desert") of his activities, the practice of ascetism, the use of water as a symbol of purification. For the rest, there is contrast: John's baptism is not repeated to maintain a state of ritual cleanliness, but is a unique symbol of repentance; and he is so far from making a communal withdrawal from the world the exclusive vehicle for fulfilling the will of God, that he can offer content with his pay and avoidance of injustice to those whom he meets in his police work as the path for the soldier to follow.

Two final points may help to illumine the background even to the Passion of Our Lord and the Institution of the Holy Eucharist. For the first, Mlle. Jaubert has noted that on the perpetual calendar described above, the Essenes would always celebrate the Passover on a Tuesday evening. If we assume that this calendar, which antedates the Essenes and had significance even apart from them, was followed by Our Lord and the Apostles, that would place the Last Supper on Tuesday night (for which there is a little early evidence, mainly from Syrian sources). The events of the Passion would then have until the Friday of the official Jewish high-priestly Passover of the same week to run their course—the numerous interviews and trials fit more readily, and the difference between the account of St. John and that of the Synoptics regarding the time of observance of the Jewish feast clears up of itself. In view of St. Paul's node qua tradebatur it is strange that the immediate difficulty with this explanation should be not the New Testament, but the tradition seemingly incorporated in the pridie quam pateretur of the Latin Mass. For the second point, the "messianic banquet" of the Qumran sect has been described above. Their own description of it closes with a rubric that says the same order is to be followed every time ten men are gathered together. The Sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ has, of course, no parallel at Qumran. But when Our Savior said, "I have greatly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you that I will eat of it no more until it has been fulfilled in the kingdom of God" (Luke 22: 15-16), is not this a deliberate anticipation of the banquet to which "many will come from the east and the west, and will feast with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven?" If it is, we now know that a similar anticipation of it was observed in their own limited way by the people of Qumran; and the Lord then chose to fulfill a type of religious aspiration among His people in first century Palestine which is secondary, to be sure, to the other things for which the Eucharistic Banquet stands; but it carries its own lesson, and that would be why He chose it.

Very Rev. Msgr. Patrick W. Shekan, S.T.D.
The Catholic University of America
Washington, D.C.

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