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A. The caves near the Qumran settlement contained a fascinating array of texts. If you were to sort the numerous scrolls and scroll fragments, what are the possible groups (and even sub-groups) into which you could place them, and what are the relevant criteria for such a division? Briefly discuss one text from each (larger) group, and how it exemplifies that particular category. (Issues of "canon" and "scripture" should prove relevant to your overall discussion.)
The organization of the Dead Sea scrolls into types is obviously an issue of debate. The factors involved in organizing any religious texts are further obscured because all that we can know of the community of the new covenant is from these various texts themselves and as in the case of the fragment “In Praise of King Jonathan” theories for its inclusion in the DSS range from accidental or purposefully misleading to a polemic1 change in the group’s attitude towards a historical figure. The passage of time has made identifying the group from any outside data tenuous (so we have no independent template) and the group itself did not hand down to us an account of how they themselves organized the scrolls in their possession. They did however leave us some clues as to how they thought of certain texts, but these clues for the most part leave any modern day categorizing in the eye (and the familiar vocabulary) of the beholder. Acknowledging this, if I were to “sort the numerous scrolls and scroll fragments”, that I have yet encountered, I would have three main divisions and a sort of “junk drawer”2. The first is authoritative (either because it is being maintained that God directly said it or instructed that it be written) history of God’s Chosen throughout the
Polemic if we have properly decoded pseudonyms and allusions to events elsewhere found in the texts. “Junk” is not meant to be qualitatively of lesser importance – rarely are the contents of a “junk drawer” of little value for instance the almighty spare keys and essential scissors and profoundly helpful bottle opener. The “in praise of king Jonathan” could perhaps be likened though to the lone marble (mislaid and forgotten? for appearances? a good luck charm?)
generations. It’s safe to say that these texts3 were thought of as having eternal truth-value in the way that they were referenced and revered in midrash, pesher and such. This sort of authority lends itself well to our ideas about cannon and scripture, though what we have today of the same title may not be the same. Nonetheless these texts were to be studied as the word of God - even if they were “rewritten” versions of what we have or is otherwise lacking in our library entirely. Tales of the Patriarchs typifies the group; it is generally the story we know from our bible but with some very interesting and significant alterations. These alterations are in the majority of cases to clarify ambiguous passages with the intent of “making them right” so that nothing improper may be deduced. An example of this is the affliction of the pharaoh (and all his men) to banish any thought of Sarah being defiled while in captivity for two years, similarly the accounts of who of Noah’s grandchildren married whom to repopulate the earth and preserve the chosen seed4.
The second group is what would have been for the new covenants present-age midrash-pesher the scrolls I would place here are the Damascus Document5, and the commentaries on Nahum, Habakkuk, and Micah. These texts have the claim to authority that they are speaking from truth by truth, from what God has given to prophets by divine revelation interpreted as present-age prophecy. These texts present a level of sectarian thought not found even in the “rewritten bible” texts of the first group. They are pregnant with what could be called delusions of grandeur and persecution complexes, also they
The texts I’m referring to (in no particular order): the Book of Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, Tales of the Patriarchs and An Annotated Law of Moses 4 This incidentally “happened” in such a way as to support other claims made in authoritative and Midrash – sectarian scrolls. 5 Though this is a special case because of its dual nature as pesher and exhortation, it was apparently meant to convince others to return to the path of righteousness before it was too late – a warning and how to get back on track.
present our best evidence for how the community thought of themselves and although highly encrypted and veiled why they removed themselves and organized themselves as separate. The commentary on Habakkuk directly addresses how the pesher were meant to be viewed. God told Habakkuk to write down a prophetic vision that someone else might interpret it at the proper time, the proper time (as the covenants saw it) came and God revealed to the “Teacher of Righteousness” its meaning (for his time). This meaning is shown to be that various figures (like the “Wicked Priest” and the “Flattery Seekers”) have led the people astray and that conflict between the “sons of light” and the “sons of darkness” will ensue and end ultimately with the “Kittim” (gentile nations) becoming the scourge of God to punish and bring the “sons of darkness” around to the righteousness of the “sons of light”. My third group would be New Covenant hallaka and would include 4QMMT, the temple scroll, ashes of the red heifer, rule of initiation and all the texts we read on ritual purity6. These texts are rewritten, altered, and amended torah (as it pertains to what God commands of us and how to go about properly executing what he commands). It is the differences in practices found here from what the rest of Israel (particularly those running the holiest of holies – the temple) that are cited in general by the pesher of the previous category as being so grievous that there was need for a new covenant and its adherents to continue the way of righteousness and ultimately in the end of days save Israel from her stumbling. Differences of belief on purity are ever present and are of the type that I will discuss more specifically in my second essay. The last group I’m calling the “junk drawer” because while these scrolls may have great significance they don’t share the same characteristics that the other scrolls and
Liturgy of Ritual Washing, Ritual Purity Laws, and Ritual Purity Laws Concerning Menstruation.
groupings do. These are the Copper Scroll, which if we knew for sure there ever was or was not the treasures it indexes would be quite informative. If there was such a horde the economics of how it came to be and the question of where it went or is would be historically important especially as it could give us some much needed information about who the keepers of the Dead Sea Scrolls were. On the other hand if no such treasure ever existed it would be quite interesting why someone would create a highly detailed catalogue of nonexistence things. The other scroll presently in this group is the In Praise of King Jonathan whose problems I have already discussed in brief. Part 2
B. What is the role/significance of "purity" in the Dead Sea Scrolls, especially the Temple Scroll and 4QMMT, and at the settlement at Khirbet Qumran? What might this attention to purity tell us about the nature of the Qumran community?
The concern over purity especially ritual purity is presented as the focal point of the problem that caused there to be a need for a new covenant and for the community to form and eventually to separate itself. It is not surprising that the impetus given for the formation of the sect was something having to do with the correct practice of commandments the sacredness of which was linked with perfect purity, especially if the sect formed as a reaction to the new administration of the Temple. It is apparent that disputes over the presence and conveyance of purity and impurity even at what time purity is reinstated were the points at which the community found such fault with other Jewish groups in particular those regulating Temple practices that they came to see themselves as “sons of light” and the others as “sons of darkness”. It is likely that the true cause of the dispute was not so much whether impurity flowed upstream when liquid was being poured and the other highly stressed points of malpractice but over the general
way things were being done and the legitimacy of those doing the most holy rituals at the Temple. Purity is paramount to the survival of Israel, God cannot be appeased by half measures and shoddy attention to detail and the consequences are nothing less than the fall of Israel at the hands of the kitim/gentiles (who are god’s chosen instrument of punishment). Since purity is regarded as that state which makes things sacred, in a time of lax concern over purity, impurity takes on the characteristics of sin and immorality and imperfect purity in Temple ritual (in the very touchstone of the Almighty and his creation which has been entrusted to his chosen people) is viewed as nothing less than an abomination. At first the priest(s) are just poorly understanding of ritual purity but in taking a stand on the minutia of what is and what is not pure out of line with that of the community/ “the Teacher of Righteousness” then they are incurring moral guilt which they spread throughout the people, spreading wickedness like a disease. Well, in any event that is how the New Covenants felt (as expressed in the scrolls) and so as they were the “new covenant” between God and man they set down the correct practice of His commandments and the correct way to worship Him (all of which is written in language heavily concerned with ritual purity). The temple scroll is a grand plan for a new “holier” more perfect Temple7 until God comes and makes his own (presumably during or after the Last Days). The temple scroll towards the end also reiterates the beliefs that the covenants hold on the calendar, proper observance of feasts and festivals, and of course ritual purity. The scroll 4QMMT deals with much the same material only focuses more on practice outside or not having to do with the temple.
Structurally as well as administratively better than the current Temple
Is this intense concern with purity shown by those who kept and wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls reflected in such a way that we can more solidly identify them with the Qumran community? Unfortunately it is hard to prove or disprove this possibility from what archeological evidence we have. There are structures which could have been a mikveh and such but little more. It is unlikely that most of what is talked about in the scrolls as being the proper way of performing rituals (purely) were ever practiced, certainly the sacrifice and changes to purity rites in the Temple would not have been. The community seems to have secluded itself that it one day might practice as it knew to be right rather than to build Jerusalem anew in the desert.
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