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.
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.
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,
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
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.
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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 48—53), 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
Taken in sum, the evidence of the 'Temple Scroll' runs counter to
the consensus of the international team in three salient respects:
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.
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
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.
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
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'.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
'Habakkuk Commentary', therefore, like the 'War Scroll', the Temple
Scroll' and the 'Damascus Document', points specifically to the Herodian epoch.