9 - The Scrolls

It is not feasible or relevant in this book to list all the texts known to have been found at Qumran, or even to have been translated and published. Many of them are of interest solely to specialists. Many of them consist of nothing more than small fragments, whose context and significance cannot now be reconstructed.

 

A substantial number of them are commentaries on various books of the Old Testament, as well as on other Judaic works known as apocrypha and pseudepigrapha.

 

But it is worth at this point noting a few of the Qumran documents which contain material of special relevance - and two in particular which will prove not only most illuminating, but most controversial indeed.

 

 

 

The 'Copper Scroll'
 

Found in the Qumran cave designated number 3, the 'Copper Scroll' simply lists, in the dry fashion of an inventory, sixty-four sites where a treasure of gold, silver and precious religious vessels is alleged to have been hidden. Many of the sites are in Jerusalem proper, some of them under or adjacent to the Temple. Others are in the surrounding countryside, perhaps as far afield as Qumran itself.

 

If the figures in the scroll are accurate, the total weight of the various scattered caches amounts to sixty-five tons of silver and twenty-six tons of gold, which would be worth some 30 million at today's prices. It is not a particularly staggering sum as such things go - a sunken Spanish treasure galleon, for example, would fetch far more but not many people would turn their noses up at it; and the religious and symbolic import of such a treasure would place it, of course, beyond all monetary value.

 

Although this was not publicized when the contents of the scroll were originally revealed, the text clearly establishes that the treasure derived from the Temple - whence it was removed and secreted, presumably to protect it from the invading Romans. One can therefore conclude that the 'Copper Scroll' dates from the time of the Roman invasion in AD 68. As we have noted, certain members of the international team, such as Professor Cross and the former Father Milik, deemed the treasure to be wholly fictitious.

 

Most independent scholars now concur, however, that it did exist. Nevertheless, the depositories have proved impossible to find. The directions, sites and landmarks involved are indicated by local names long since lost; and the general configuration and layout of the area has, in the course of two thousand years and endless wars, changed beyond all recognition.

In 1988, however, a discovery was made just to the north of the cave in which the 'Copper Scroll' was found. Here, in another cave, three feet or so below the present surface, a small jug was exhumed, dating from the time of Herod and his immediate successors. The jug had clearly been regarded as very valuable, and had been concealed with extreme care, wrapped in a protective cover of palm fibers. It proved to contain a thick red oil which, according to chemical analysis, is unlike any oil known today.

 

This oil is generally believed to be balsam oil - a precious commodity reported to have been produced nearby, at Jericho, and traditionally used to anoint Israel's rightful kings.1 The matter cannot be definitively established, however, because the balsam tree has been extinct for some fifteen hundred years.

If the oil is indeed balsam oil, it may well be part of the treasure stipulated in the 'Copper Scroll'. In any case, it is an incongruously costly commodity to have been used by a community of supposedly isolated ascetics in the desert. As we have noted, however, one of the most important features of the 'Copper Scroll' is that it shows Qumran not to have been so isolated after all.

 

On the contrary, it would seem to establish links between the Qumran community and factions associated with the Temple in Jerusalem.



The 'Community Rule'

Found in Cave 1 at Qumran, the 'Community Rule', as we have seen, adumbrates the rituals and regulations governing life in the desert community. It establishes a hierarchy of authority for the community. It lays down instructions for the 'Master' of the community and for the various officers subordinate to him. It also specifies the principles of behavior and the punishment for violation of these principles.

 

Thus, for instance,

'Whoever has deliberately lied shall do penance for six months.'2

The text opens by enunciating the basis on which the community define and distinguish themselves. All members must enter into a 'Covenant before God to obey all His commandments';3 and he who practices such obedience will be 'cleansed from all his sins'.4 Adherence to the Law is accorded a paramount position. Among the various terms by which the community's members are designated, one finds 'Keepers of the Covenant'5 and those who have 'zeal for the Law'.6

Among the rituals stipulated, there is cleansing and purification by baptism - not just once, but, apparently, every day. Daily prayers are also specified, at dawn and at sunset, involving recitations of the Law. And there is a ritually purified 'Meal of the Congregation'7 -a meal very similar, as other scrolls attest, to the 'Last Supper' of the so-called 'early Church'.

The 'Community Rule' speaks, too, of the 'Council' of the Community, made up of twelve men and, possibly, a further three priests. We have already discussed the interesting echoes of the 'cornerstone' or 'keystone' image in relation to the Council of the Community. But the scroll also states that the Council 'shall preserve the faith in the Land with steadfastness and meekness and shall atone for sin by the practice of justice and by suffering the sorrows of affliction'.8

In their eagerness to distance the Qumran community from Jesus and his entourage, scholars promoting the consensus of the international team stress that the concept of atonement does not figure in Qumran teachings - that Jesus is to be distinguished from Qumran's 'Teacher of Righteousness' in large part by virtue of his doctrine of atonement. The 'Community Rule', however, demonstrates that atonement figured as prominently in Qumran as it did with Jesus and his followers in the so-called 'early Church'.

Finally, the 'Community Rule' introduces the Messiah - or perhaps Messiahs, in the plural. Members of the Community, 'walking in the way of perfection', are obliged to adhere zealously to the Law 'until there shall come the prophet and the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel'.9 This reference is usually interpreted as meaning two distinct Messiahs, two equally regal figures, one descended from the line of Aaron, one from the established line of Israel -i.e. the line of David and Solomon.

 

But the reference may also be to a dynasty of single Messiahs descended from, and uniting, both lines. In the context of the time, of course, 'Messiah' does not signify what it later comes to signify in Christian tradition.

 

It simply means 'the Anointed One', which denotes consecration by oil. In Israelite tradition, it would seem, both kings and priests - in fact, any claimant to high office - were anointed, and hence Messiahs.

 


The 'War Scroll'

Copies of the 'War Scroll' were found in Caves 1 and 4 at Qumran. On one level, the 'War Scroll' is a very specific manual of strategy and tactics, obviously intended for specific circumstances, at a specific place and time.

 

Thus, for example:

'Seven troops of horsemen shall also station themselves to right and to left of the formation; their troops shall stand on this side...'10

On another level, however, the text constitutes exhortation and prophetic propaganda, intended to galvanize morale against the invading foe, the 'Kittim', or Romans. The supreme leader of Israel against the 'Kittim' is called, quite unequivocally, the 'Messiah' - though certain commentators have sought to disguise or dissemble this nomenclature by referring to him as 'Thine anointed'.11

 

The advent of the 'Messiah' is stated as having been prophesied in Numbers 24:17, where it is said that 'a star from Jacob takes the leadership, a scepter arises from Israel'. The 'Star' thus becomes a sobriquet for the 'Messiah', the regal warrior priest-king who will lead the forces of Israel to triumph. As Robert Eisenman has stressed, this prophecy linking the Messiah figure with the image of the star occurs elsewhere in the Qumran literature, and is of crucial importance. It is also significant that the same prophecy is cited by sources quite independent of both Qumran and the New Testament - by historians and chroniclers of 1st-century Rome, for example, such as Josephus, Tacitus and Suetonius.

 

And Simeon bar Kochba, instigator of the second revolt against the Romans between AD 132 and 135, called himself the 'Son of the Star'.

The 'War Scroll' imparts a metaphysical and theological dimension to the struggle against the 'Kittim' by depicting it as a clash between the 'Sons of Light' and the 'Sons of Darkness'. More importantly still, however, the scroll contains a vital clue to its own dating and chronology. When speaking of the 'Kittim', the text refers quite explicitly to their 'king'.

 

The 'Kittim' concerned cannot, therefore, be the soldiers of republican Rome, who invaded Palestine in 63 BC and who had no monarch. On the contrary, they would have to be the soldiers of imperial Rome, who invaded in the wake of the revolt of AD 66 although, of course, occupying troops had been present in Palestine since the imposition of imperial Roman prefects or procurators in AD 6. It is thus clear that the 'War Scroll' must be seen in the context not of pre-Christian times, but of the 1st century.

 

As we shall see, this internal evidence of chronology -which advocates of the 'consensus' contrive to ignore - will be even more persuasively developed in one of the other, and most crucial, of the Qumran texts, the 'Commentary on Habakkuk'.



The 'Temple Scroll'

The 'Temple Scroll' is believed to have been found in Cave 11 at Qumran, though this has never been definitively established. As its name suggests, the scroll deals, at least in part, with the Temple of Jerusalem, with the design, furnishings, fixtures and fittings of the structure. It also outlines specific details of rituals practiced in the Temple. At the same time, however, the name conferred on the scroll, by Yigael Yadin, is somewhat misleading.

In effect, the 'Temple Scroll' is a species of Torah, or Book of the Law - a kind of alternative Torah used by the Qumran community and other factions elsewhere in Palestine. The 'official' Torah of Judaism comprises the first five books of the Old Testament - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These are deemed to be the books of laws which Moses received on Mount Sinai, and their authorship is traditionally ascribed to Moses himself. The 'Temple Scroll' constitutes, in a sense, a sixth Book of the Law.

The laws it contains are not confined to rites of worship and observance in the Temple. There are also laws pertaining to more general matters, such as ritual purification, marriage and sexual practices.

 

Most important and interesting of all, there are laws governing the institution of kingship in Israel - the character, comportment, behavior and obligations of the king. The king, for example, is strictly forbidden to be a foreigner. He is forbidden to have more than one wife. And like all other Jews, he is forbidden to marry his sister, his aunt, his brother's wife or his niece.12

There is nothing new or startling about most of these taboos. They can be found in Leviticus 18-20 in the Old Testament. But one of them - that forbidding the king's marriage to his niece -is new. It is found elsewhere in only one other place, another of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the 'Damascus Document'. As Eisenman has pointed out, this stricture provides an important clue to the dating of both the 'Temple Scroll' and the 'Damascus Document' - and, by extension, of course, to the other Dead Sea Scrolls as well.

 

As we have noted, the consensus of the international team regards the Dead Sea Scrolls as pre-Christian, dating from the era of Israel's Maccabean kings. But there is no evidence that the Maccabean kings or any Israelite kings before them - ever married their nieces or ever incurred criticism for doing so.13 The issue seems to have been utterly irrelevant.

 

Either marriage to one's niece was accepted, or it was never practiced at all. In either case, it was not forbidden.

The situation changed dramatically, however, with the accession of Herod and his descendants. In the first place, Herod was, by Judaic standards at the time, a foreigner, of Arabian stock from Idumaea - the region to the south of Judaea. In the second place, the Herodian kings made a regular practice of marrying their nieces. And Herodian princesses regularly married their uncles.

 

Bernice, sister of King Agrippa II (ad 4853), married her uncle, for example. Herodias, sister of Agrippa I (ad 37-44), went even further, marrying two uncles in succession. The strictures in the 'Temple Scroll' are thus of particular relevance to a very specific period, and constitute a direct criticism of the Herodian dynasty -a dynasty of foreign puppet kings, imposed on Israel forcibly and sustained in power by imperial Rome.

Taken in sum, the evidence of the 'Temple Scroll' runs counter to the consensus of the international team in three salient respects:

  1. According to the consensus, the Qumran community had no connection with, or interest in, either the Temple or the 'official' Judaism of the time. Like the 'Copper Scroll', however, the 'Temple Scroll' establishes that the Qumran community were indeed preoccupied with Temple affairs and with the governing theocracy.
     

  2. According to the consensus, the supposed 'Essenes' of Qumran were on cordial terms with Herod. The 'Temple Scroll', however, goes out of its way to include certain specific strictures strictures intended to damn Herod and his dynasty.14 These strictures would be meaningless in any other context. 3. According to the consensus, the 'Temple Scroll' itself, like all the other Qumran texts, dates from pre-Christian times. Yet the internal evidence of the scroll points to issues that would have become relevant only during the Herodian period - that is, during the 1st century of the Christian era.



The 'Damascus Document'

The 'Damascus Document' was known to the world long before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran. In the absence of a context, however, scholars were not sure what to make of it. Towards the end of the last century, the loft of an ancient synagogue in Cairo was found to contain a 'geniza' a depository for the disposal of worn-out or redundant religious texts' - dating from the 9th century ad.

 

In 1896, a few fragments from this 'geniza' were confided to one Solomon Schechter, a lecturer at Cambridge University who happened to be in Cairo at the time. One fragment proved to contain the original Hebrew version of a text which, for a thousand years, had been known only in secondary translations. This prompted Schechter to investigate further. In December 1896, he collected the entire contents of the 'geniza' - 164 boxes of manuscripts housing some 100,000 pieces - and brought them back to Cambridge.

 

From this welter of material, two Hebrew versions emerged of what came to be known as the 'Damascus Document'. The versions from the Cairo 'geniza' were obviously later copies of a much earlier work. The texts were incomplete, lacking endings and probably large sections in the middle; the order of the texts was scrambled and the logical development of their themes confused.

 

Even in this muddled form, however, the 'Damascus Document' was provocative, potentially explosive. Schechter published it for the first time in 1910. In 1913, R.H. Charles reprinted it in his compilation The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament.

When Eisenman was given, and passed on to Biblical Archaeology Review, the computer print-out which inventoried all the Qumran material in the hands of the international team, there were listed, among the items, additional versions and/or fragments of the 'Damascus Document'. Having been found at Qumran, they were obviously much earlier than those of the Cairo 'geniza', and probably more complete.

 

It was the Qumran parallels and the fragments of the 'Damascus Document' that Eisenman and Philip Davies of Sheffield requested to see in their formal letter to John Strugnell, thereby precipitating the bitter and vindictive controversy of 1989. Why should this document be such a bone of contention?

The 'Damascus Document' speaks firstly of a remnant of Jews who, unlike their co-religionists, remained true to the Law. A 'Teacher of Righteousness' appeared among them. Like Moses, he took them into the wilderness, to a place called 'Damascus', where they entered into a renewed 'Covenant' with God. Numerous textual references make it clear that this Covenant is the same as the one cited by the 'Community Rule' for Qumran. And it is obvious enough - no scholar disputes it - that the 'Damascus Document' is speaking of the same community as the other Qumran scrolls. Yet the location of the community is said to be 'Damascus'.

It is clear from the document's context that the place in the desert called 'Damascus' cannot possibly be the Romanized city in Syria. Could the site for 'Damascus' have been in fact Qumran? Why the name of the location should have been thus masked remains uncertain - though simple self-preservation, dictated by the turmoil following the revolt of AD 66, would seem to be explanation enough, and Qumran had no name of its own at the time.

 

In any case, it can hardly be coincidental that, according to the international team's computer print-out, no fewer than ten copies or fragments of the 'Damascus Document' were found in Qumran's caves.15

Like the 'Community Rule', the 'Damascus Document' includes a list of regulations. Some of these are identical to those in the 'Community Rule'. But there are some additional regulations as well, two of which are worth noting. One pertains to marriage and children - which establishes that the Qumran community were not, as Father de Vaux maintained, celibate 'Essenes'. A second refers - quite in passing, as if it were common knowledge - to affiliated communities scattered throughout Palestine. In other words, Qumran was not as isolated from the world of its time as de Vaux contended.

The 'Damascus Document' fulminates against three crimes in particular, crimes alleged to be rampant among the enemies of the 'Righteous', those who have embraced the 'New Covenant'.

 

These crimes are specified as wealth, profanation of the Temple (a charge leveled by the 'Temple Scroll' as well) and a fairly limited definition of fornication - taking more than one wife, or marrying one's niece. As Eisenman has shown, the 'Damascus Document' thus echoes the 'Temple Scroll' in referring to issues of unique relevance to the period of the Herodian dynasty.16 And it echoes, as we shall see, a dispute in the community which figures more prominently in another of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the 'Habakkuk Commentary'.

 

This dispute involves an individual designated as 'the Liar', who defects from the community and becomes its enemy. The 'Damascus Document' condemns those 'who enter the New Covenant in the land of Damascus, and who again betray it and depart'.17 Shortly thereafter, the document speaks of those 'who deserted to the Liar'.18

The 'Damascus Document' also echoes the 'Community Rule' and the 'War Scroll' by speaking of a Messianic figure (or perhaps two such figures) who will come to 'Damascus' - a prophet or 'Interpreter of the Law' called 'the Star' and a prince of the line of David called 'the Scepter'.19 On five subsequent occasions in the text, there is a focus on a single figure, 'the Messiah of Aaron and Israel'.20

The significance of this Messiah figure will be explored later. For the moment, it is worth considering the implications of 'Damascus' as a designation for Qumran. To most Christians, of course, 'Damascus' is familiar from Chapter 9 of the Acts of the Apostles, where it is taken to denote the Romanized city in Syria, that country's modern-day capital. It is on the road to Damascus that Saul of Tarsus, in one of the best-known and most crucial passages of the entire New Testament, undergoes his conversion into Paul.21

According to Acts 9, Saul is a kind of inquisitor-cum-'enforcer', dispatched by the high priest in the Temple of Jerusalem to suppress the community of heretical Jews - i.e. 'early Christians' - residing in Damascus. The priesthood are collaborators with the occupying Romans, and Saul is one of their instruments. In Jerusalem, he is already said to have participated actively in attacks on the 'early Church'. Indeed, if Acts is to be believed, he is personally involved in the events surrounding the stoning to death of the individual identified as Stephen, acclaimed by later tradition as the first Christian martyr. He himself freely admits that he has persecuted his victims 'to death'.

Prompted by his fanatical fervor, Saul then embarks for Damascus, to ferret out fugitive members of the 'early Church' established there. He is accompanied by a band of men, presumably armed; and he carries with him arrest warrants from the high priest in Jerusalem.

Syria, at the time, was not a part of Israel, but a separate Roman province, governed by a Roman legate, with neither an administrative nor a political connection with Palestine. How, then, could the high priest's writ conceivably run there? The Roman Empire would hardly have sanctioned self-appointed 'hit-squads' moving from one territory to another within its domains, serving arrests, perpetrating assassinations and threatening the precarious stability of civic order. According to official policy, every religion was to be tolerated, provided it posed no challenge to secular authority or the social structure.

 

A Jerusalem-based 'hit-squad' operating in Syria would have elicited some swift and fairly gruesome reprisals from the Roman administration - reprisals such as no high priest, whose position depended on Roman favor, would dare to incur. Given these circumstances, how could Saul of Tarsus, armed with warrants from the high priest, possibly have undertaken his punitive expedition to Damascus - if, that is, 'Damascus' is indeed taken to be the city in Syria?

If 'Damascus' is understood to be Qumran, however, Saul's expedition suddenly makes perfect historical sense. Unlike Syria, Qumran did lie in territory where the high priest's writ legitimately ran. It would have been entirely feasible for the high priest in Jerusalem to dispatch his 'enforcers' to extirpate heretical Jews at Qumran, a mere twenty miles away, near Jericho.

 

Such action would have thoroughly conformed to Roman policy, which made a point of not meddling in purely internal affairs. Jews, in other words, were quite free to hurry and persecute other Jews within their own domains, so long as such activities did not encroach on the Roman administration. And since the high priest was a Roman puppet, his efforts to extirpate rebellious co-religionists would have been all the more welcome.

This explanation, however, despite its historical plausibility, raises some extremely awkward questions. According to the consensus of the international team, the community at Qumran consisted of Judaic sectarians - the so-called 'Essenes', a pacifist ascetic sect having no connection either with early Christianity or with the 'mainstream' of Judaism at the time.

 

Yet Saul, according to Acts, embarks for Damascus to persecute members of the 'early Church'. Here, then, is a provocative challenge both to Christian tradition and to adherents of the consensus, who have studiously avoided looking at the matter altogether. Either members of the 'early Church' were sheltering with the Qumran community or the 'early Church' and the Qumran community were one and the same.

 

In either case, the 'Damascus Document' indicates that the Dead Sea Scrolls cannot be distanced from the origins of Christianity.



The 'Habakkuk Commentary'

Found in Cave 1 at Qumran, the 'Habakkuk Pesher', or 'Habakkuk Commentary', represents perhaps the closest approximation, in the entire corpus of known Dead Sea Scrolls, to a chronicle of the community - or, at any rate, of certain major developments in its history. It focuses in particular on the same dispute cited by the 'Damascus Document'.

 

This dispute, verging on incipient schism, seems to have been a traumatic event in the life of the Qumran community. It figures not just in the 'Damascus Document' and the 'Habakkuk Commentary', but in four other Qumran texts as well; and there seem to be references to it in four further texts.22

Like the 'Damascus Document', the 'Habakkuk Commentary' recounts how certain members of the community, under the iniquitous instigation of a figure identified as 'the Liar', secede, break the New Covenant and cease to adhere to the Law.

 

This precipitates a conflict between them and the community's leader, 'the Teacher of Righteousness'. There is mention, too, of a villainous adversary known as 'the Wicked Priest'. Adherents of the consensus have generally tended to regard 'the Liar' and 'the Wicked Priest' as two different sobriquets for the same individual. More recently, however, Eisenman has effectively demonstrated that 'the Liar' and 'the Wicked Priest' are two quite separate and distinct personages.23

 

He has made it clear that 'the Liar', unlike 'the Wicked Priest', emerges from within the Qumran community. Having been taken in by the community and accepted as a member in more or less good standing, he then defects. He is not just an adversary, therefore, but a traitor as well. In contrast, 'the Wicked Priest' is an outsider, a representative of the priestly establishment of the Temple.

 

Although an adversary, he is not therefore a traitor. What makes him important for our purposes is the clue he provides to the dating of the events recounted in the 'Habakkuk Commentary'. If 'the Wicked Priest' is a member of the Temple establishment, it means the Temple is still standing and the establishment intact. In other words, the activities of 'the Wicked Priest' pre-date the destruction of the Temple by Roman troops.

As in the 'War Scroll', but even more explicitly, there are references that can only be to imperial, not republican, Rome - to Rome, that is, in the 1st century AD. The 'Habakkuk Commentary', for example, alludes to a specific practice - victorious Roman troops making sacrificial offerings to their standards. Josephus provides written evidence for this practice at the time of the fall of the Temple in AD 70.24

 

And it is, in fact, a practice that would make no sense under the republic, when victorious troops would have offered sacrifices to their gods. Only with the creation of the empire, when the emperor himself was accorded the status of divinity, becoming the supreme god for his subjects, would his image, or token, or monogram, be emblazoned on the standards of his soldiers.

 

The 'Habakkuk Commentary', therefore, like the 'War Scroll', the Temple Scroll' and the 'Damascus Document', points specifically to the Herodian epoch.

 

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