Notes from Limmud 2005
The Importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls
Prof. Rachel Elior
The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in November 1947 by a Bedouin shepherd chasing
a goat, who threw a stone into a cave near Qumran and heard the sound of it
striking something. This turned out to be a collection of clay jars 60-80 cm
tall. He took one to a wise person in a shop, who took it to the Assyrian
archbishop, who took it to an archaeological professor—the father of Yigael
Yadin Sukenik thought the writing looked like Josephus. Whilst this was a
misidentification, it was not entirely wrong.
Josephus ben Matithyahu was a priest and soldier, who wrote in 70-90 CE in Rome, trying to convey to the Romans why the Jews revolted and why they failed. Writing under Roman control, he wrote a comprehensive, though not necessarily accurate, account of the background to the Jewish rebellion. He tried to identify the historical background going back to the second century BCE. Josephus was not well qualified to write on this paragraph, but wrote on it nevertheless, because he had to.
The Jews in this period, he wrote, were divided between the Pharisees, the Saduccees and the Essenes. The name Pharisee derives not, as often held, from לפרוש מן הציבור, those that separated themselves from the community, but לפרש לציבור, to interpret to the community.
The Saduccees (בני צדוק, the children of Zadok) considered themselves the holders of the true version of the Bible. (The Bible had not been edited at this time, though all the individual books had been written.) They are named after צדוק Ṣadoq (Zadok), the High Priest in the time of David and Solomon, from whom were descended every High Priest until 175 BCE. They were entrusted with the written tradition: Whilst every male Jew can participate in the process of studying and transmitting the Torah, according to the Torah, the only Jews obligated to do so are Levites, especially the Cohanim.
By contrast to "Pharisee" and "Sadducee", "Essene" is not a Hebrew or Aramaic word. So where does the name come from? The NT and Hebrew Sages don't know where the name comes from. [The Encyclopaedia Judaica puts forth a number of possibilities, including "pious", from Aramaic חסין ḥasin—here had been a movement called the חסידים (chasidim, pietists, not to be confused with either the mediaeval or the modern movements of the same name) a couple of centuries earlier. Unfortunately the flaw in this theory is that this form, חסין, only occurred in Syriac and eastern dialects of Aramaic, not Judaeo-Aramaic.]
Josephus writing in 70-90 CE tells us there was then a group called Essenes. Pliny informs us they were a small group living around the Dead Sea who chose the palm trees as their companions. It is not clear if this is primary testimony. Josephus writes about them as a group of people spread in various places; he doesn't know about the location. Philo just mentions their name. All of them say they are celibate, and monks. The Essenes are described as a peaceful people; a kind of ideal society committed to something, we don't know what.
None of this group is attested before the Common Era; there is no shred of testimony that such a group existed in the second century BCE, which is when the Dead Sea Scrolls were written. [This brief apologetic is Prof. Elior's point of departure from the consensus opinion, that the Qumran sect was the same as the Essenes. I don't know how universally this consensus is held, nor whether Prof. Elior's alternate thesis, expounded below, is the result of the new compendium of the Scrolls referred to in the introduction above, and therefore likely to displace the prior consensus.]
The scrolls consist of 950 documents—a huge library. By contrast, the Bible has only 24 books. The library was written in the course of the last few centuries BCE. Many of the scrolls leave a lot to be desired, because the Bedouins tore them up to sell the pieces individually.
The library was not all written by one hand. The one common denominator is that all the books are holy books: there are no financial transactions or divorce papers, or any other secular work. There is nothing relating to the Hasmoneans. The collection is not haphazard. It all relates to the Bible, and Biblical historiography. It relates to the Biblical world, not the rabbinical world. [The Encyclopaedia Judaica, further, informs me that the scrolls represent the last offshoot of Biblical Hebrew, at a time when the language had given way in popular speech to Mishnaic Hebrew.]
The Bible ended in 165 BCE, when the Book of Daniel was written. We know this because Daniel refers to the Hasmonean conflict, but not as far as 164 BCE when Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the baddy of the story, died. Whatever happened between 165 BCE and 220 CE when the Mishna was first committed to writing? Where we silent? Nah, can you imagine Jews being silent for three hundred years? :o)
To answer the question of who wrote the scrolls, we need to look into their contents. The scrolls are divided, in a general way, into four areas.
First are numerous copies of all the Biblical canon except for Esther. Prof. Elior held this was not included because it does not have the name of G-d in it. The testimony of these books is incredibly valuable; they constitute by far the most ancient recension of the Bible we have—before the scrolls were discovered, the most ancient recension known was כתר ארם סופר, from the ninth/tenth/eleventh century, a millennium later.
Some parts of the Biblical books amongst the Qumran scrolls match the Masoretic text word for word, other parts, however, do not. The differences tells what was the stage of Biblical recension at this period. [The Encyclopaedia Judaica informs me that in some respects, they are closer to the Septuagint, or to the Samaritan Pentateuch, than the Masoretic Text; and that the concept of a textus receptus—an accepted, immutable text—would not develop, until the time of R. Akiva three centuries later.]
The second category consists of para-Biblical texts: texts which retell the Bible freely: something we do not do nowadays. Since a couple of centuries later, we have been doing hermeneutic analysis to get meaning out of the Bible, rather than rewriting it! [Or, if we do rewrite it, we do so as Midrash, separately from the main text.]
What they were rewriting was Genesis and the start of Exodus, to make all the commandments relate to the Patriarchs rather than just given at Sinai. They felt it was impossible that the legal framework came out of nowhere; that the Patriarchs lived without it. They felt the revelation at Sinai was the summation of this.
They were interested in the mythologising of time; for example, explaining why the holiday of Shavuos (Pentecost) was in the middle of the third month. This was the month G-d had enacted the covenant with Noah, their explanation went, and also that of the Covenant Between the Pieces with Abraham, and the revelation at Sinai was the third thing to have happened on this date.
Similarly, Passover fell when it did not only because the Exodus took place then, because the Binding of Isaac had earlier taken place too. And so forth for all the seven holidays.
They do not dismiss anything from the Biblical texts; they only added information to them. In their view, everything was predetermined; there was nothing accidental. It was all calculated according to Jubilees—the sect's attitude corresponds with that in the Book of Jubilees. This book starts by saying it was the eve of the fiftieth ever Jubilee when Moses ascended Mount Sinai; and an angel then described to Moses what had happened until then in history. This rewrites the Bible as a historical narrative.
They are interested in the year, in ??? [sorry, too fast for me] and in the levitical priests [as priests are so described in Deuteronomy]. The number seven occurs a lot. Enoch, the seventh generation from Adam, was taken to Heaven for the purpose of being told how to calculate time. Time was holy, and the knowledge of it was brought down from heaven by Enoch.
The common denominator to all the differences between our recension of the text and their parabiblical texts is that they were interested in time divided by seven, and sevenfold things, and dynasties, and holy time, holy places and holy ritual.
The third area covered by the scrolls is mystical liturgy: holy poetry referring to the world of the ancients. The Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, which describe the heavenly worship in the seven heavenly temples. Angels called כהני קרב. [How would you translate this? Priests of drawing-near? (The Hebrew word for sacrifice, קרבן korban, literally means drawing-near (to G-d).) grumpyolddog suggests "heralds".]
All of these are structured around a calendar, which starts with the following: A year consists of 364 days divided into 52 Saturdays. There are four seasons of 91 days, each one of which is divided into 13 Saturdays. Each day of the month falls on the same day of the solar year each year; thus ראש חודש טבת, the first day of Tevet, always falls on the winter solstice.
[Unfortunately, I had to leave at this point, and missed the next ten minutes.]
The Encyclopaedia Judaica tells me their calendar is known from the apocryphal Book of Jubilees and the (likewise) Book of Enoch. It has no mention of leap years, so it's not clear how it managed to function without precessing, with only 364 days!
At some point whilst I was out Prof. Elior evidently talked about the introduction of an alternative, lunisolar, calendar (i.e. a calendar of lunar months corrected by leap months to keep it roughly in sync with the solar year) by the Seleucids.
When I came back into the talk, the subject had turned to the background to the Hasmonean revolt. In 176 BCE, Antiochus IV Epiphanes came to the throne of the Seleucid Empire [one of the breakup products of the Persian Empire after the death of Alexander the Great]. He pursued a vigorous policy of hellenisation to try and cement his empire together.
At that time, the High Priest in Jerusalem was one Onias III. His brother Jason - a hellenist himself, as can be seen from his rejection of his Hebrew name Joshua - hated him and wanted the position for himself. [This is where I came back in.]
In 175 Jason cut a deal with Antiochus to depose his hated brother. So Jason became High Priest - but in the eyes of traditionalists, this was illegitimate because the post was always chosen, never bought with money. Jason was the non-chosen brother, but he was only too happy to buy the High Priesthood from Antiochus... only he only managed serve two and a half years before someone else, Menelaus, came along and offered more money, and ousted him.
From this point onwards there were no more sacred High Priests.
Menelaus was then deposed by Alcimus. At this point the Hasmoneans—the marginal priesthood from the priestly tribe—started a revolution against the foolishness in Jerusalem: against Antiochus and the hellenised priests.
[The Judaica informs me in a little more detail what happened was that a rumour broke out, whilst Antiochus was trying to conquer Egypt, that Antiochus had died. Jason, who had fled to Ammon, returned and tried to reestablish his rule. Antiochus, convinced a rebellion had broken out against him, returned, extremely narked, from Egypt, put down the rebellion and instated severe measures against the Jews and against Judaism. It was this religious oppression which caused the Hasmoneans to rise up in revolt against the Seleucids.
Now, I've already had my preconceptions of the Hasmoneans revolt overturned once by livredor, who informed me that when we thank G-d for "delivered the leaders into the hand of the downtrodden, the many into the hand of the downtrodden, the impure into the hands of the pure, the evil into the hands of the righteous and the arrogant to the proclaimers of your Law", the evil (etc) people referred to here are not the Syrian-Greeks for oppressing the Jews, but the hellenised Jews—accultured Jews like herself and myself—who were slaughtered in their thousands by the Hasmoneans in their fundamentalist zeal.
However, this talk now went on to overturn my idea of the Hasmoneans a second time!]
Though Jewish tradition holds the Hasmonean success in driving out the Seleucids and reconsecrating the Temple to be a miracle, the war was actually won because Antiochus fell in a war in Persia, and his heirs were not very good, and came to an understanding with the Jews. The first Hasmonean High Priest, Jonathan, was actually appointed, in 155 BCE, by King Demetrius, the heir of Antiochus! They were not appointed by Biblical law! Moreover, the Hasmoneans did not belong to מִשְׁמֶרֶת יְדַעְיָה, from whom the High Priests had always been taken, but מִשְׁמֶרֶת יְהוֹיָרִיב.
Jonathan was assassinated by a relative ten years later, and his brother Shimon was nominated by King Alexander Balas. Shimon said, if I am a High Priest, I might as well be a king! And so he became king—despite the fact that Biblical law reserved the kingship for the House of David!
There was, however, a faction—a huge faction—who cast doubt on the Hasmoneans' legitimacy, and that was the Saduccees, the guardians of the priestly tradition. They held that the Hasmoneans, not the Seleucids, were the ones who defiled the Temple.
They called them sons of darkness because they had to serve under the Antiochian/Seleucian calendar; and they themselves did not comply to the lunar calendar.
The fourth group of writings amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls is the polemical writings.
The Scroll of the Wars describes the battles of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness: i.e. those who held to the solar calendar against those who held to the lunar calendar imposed by the Selucids and endorsed by the Hasmoneans.
From the second century BCE until the destruction ofthe Temple there was an inner, Jewish, war, between those who held to the ancient Biblical order, and the sycophants who followed the lunar calendar.
It was the holders of the old order who were the authors of these scrolls. They were fighting in any way to keep the sanctity of the solar calendar, which was only retained in their own writings.
This is why the Scrolls are so obsessed with time: it is the underpinnig of the Biblical order. Time is divine and cannot be changed, just as the מצות (the six hundred and thirteen commandments given in the Torah) cannot be changed.
The Hasmoneans changed the time and changed the Biblical order, from 152 BCE to 32 BCE when they were deposed. The Romans, who conquered the Land of Israel in 67/66 BCE, then imposed their own calendar, the Julian calendar.
Julius Caesar was a general, and a mathematician and a scholar, and commissioned scholars to devise a fixed calendar. This was imposed on the whole Empire from 55 BCE. This was at the time the rabbinic Sages - the Pharisees - were consolidating.
The Sages said enough with priestly, Roman and Seleucid calendars; they were going to fashion their own. For a start, they were never going to tell you how many days are in a year, because there is nowhere in the Bible that says so. Likewise they were never going to tell you how many days there are in a month, because it never says so explicitly in the Bible. Therefore, they would be the ones to declare time; they would were not going to let anyone dictate it to them.
According to the Torah, the year starts in Nisan, not Tishri. "This month shall be the first of months for you." (Gen 12:2). The sages said this referred to the priestly calendar; but they did not want to follow that. They wanted to follow the sages' calendar as there was no Temple any more. R. Akiva said you should declare time because now after the destruction of the Temple that there is no [Sorry; missed the end of this sentence. Prof. Elior was going really fast now, as time was running out.]
Hence they switched the start of the year to the start of the third quarter of the year, in Tishri.
The modern Hebrew word for time, זמן, is never attested independently in the Bible. It's always מועד. It says [somewhere in the Talmud I didn't have time to catch], <someone> said to R. Joshua, you should read Lev. 23:4 "אלה מועדי ה' אשר תקראו אתם" "These are the feasts-times of the Lord... which you should proclaim." (The text actually reads "אתם במועדם...", "...proclaim in their seasons".) This was where the Sages took over and declared time, even if they were wrong to do so!
Consequently, we should really consider the factions during the Hasmonean uprising to be not the Pharisees, Saducees and Essenes, but Pharisees, Saducees and Hasmoneans. The Saducees were the only ones who had the freedom to rewrite the Bible, because it was entrusted to them.
Ousted from the Temple in 175 BCE-152 BCE, the Saducean High Priesthood took the one thing which was its authority, its huge Biblical library, and committed it to scrolls under the control of the priests, and took them with them to the Judaean desert.
As a result, after 175 BCE, the Jerusalem Temple had no library.
In the polemical literature of the Dead Sea Scrolls, they were writing about how much evil had been done in Jerusalem. They called themselves Sons of Justice, Sons of Light.
They took the prophetic books and rewrote them asserting that the evil ones were the Hasmoneans.
Really in celebrating Chanukah we are celebrating the loss of the Biblical order, which was lost in three stages by the ?? in 175-152 BCE.
And these Hasmoneans ruled in an evil way from this point until the Romans helped Herod to depose them.
The fact that we survive and retain the basic ideas of the Biblical heritage, the holiness of time and the sabbatical years and Jubilees is a testimony to the profound heritage of the Bible, which was endorsed by the Sages with the sole exception of the Priestly calendar. From now on every minyyan of
[...My notes give out at that point. I'm not sure why; but it looks like she was wrapping up, so I haven't missed anything new at the end.]
As a afternote, I ought to add that as the Judaica pointed out, it's difficult to reconcile this idea that the Jewish calendar was originally solar with the importance given to new moons in the Torah. However, it certainly seems the case that the authors of the Books of Jubilees and Enoch and the Qumran writings believed that the ancient calendar was solar, and I suppose it's not impossible that that was mainstream opinion for a time.
Either way, it's certainly an interesting hypothesis, and a fascinating picture that Prof. Elior paints, doncha think? :o)