Qumran calendar written in code
Scholars Eshbal Ratson and Jonathan Ben-Dov of the Department of Bible Studies at the University of Haifa published, in 2017, one of the last two remaining Dead Sea Scrolls in their article “A Newly Reconstructed Calendrical Scroll from Qumran in Cryptic Script” in the Journal of Biblical Literature (Winter 2017). For more than a year, the scholars diligently pieced together 62 Dead Sea Scroll fragments, on which there was writing in code. Ratson and Ben-Dov deciphered the code on the reconstructed scroll, called Scroll 4Q324d, and revealed that the scroll describes a 364-day calendar used by the Qumran community that lived in the Judean Desert. This Qumran calendar gives us insight into how the community organized the seasons and religious festivals, and it sheds light on scribal customs.
The Dead Sea Scrolls—considered the greatest manuscript find of all time—were the writings of a small Jewish sect living at the site of Khirbet Qumran near the Dead Sea. Dating between 250 B.C.E. and 68 C.E., the scrolls contain both Hebrew Bible texts and texts that describe the particular beliefs and practices of this Qumran community, which called itself the Yahad (“together”).
In 1991, the Biblical Archaeology Society had a critical role in freeing the Dead Sea Scrolls from a publication logjam in which an exclusive group of scholars produced one volume on the scrolls after 20 years of study. Throughout the subsequent 20 years, a larger team of scholars published 33 additional volumes in the official Discoveries in the Judaean Desert series. In explaining what we have learned from the scrolls, Dead Sea Scroll expert Lawrence H. Schiffman wrote in BAR:
[W]e now understand much better the evolution of the authoritative Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible and its relation to the other textual traditions (including the Greek Septuagint) that existed in Second Temple times. In the Qumran community, differing Biblical text types or textual families coexisted, apparently without conflict. An official authoritative text had not yet been finalized.
We have also come to understand the varying modes of Biblical exegesis that would later influence the authoritative texts of both Judaism and Christianity.
Freeing the Dead Sea Scrolls by Hershel Shanks is fascinating account of an archaeology outsider and his scrapes with governments, nomads and scoundrels.
One issue that was contested among different ancient Jewish sects was which calendar to use. While members of the Jerusalem Temple and the Hasmonean dynasty used the lunar calendar, the Qumran community used a 364-day calendar, as exemplified by Scroll 4Q324d recently published by Ratson and Ben-Dov. The scholars elaborate on the difference between the lunar calendar and the Qumran calendar in a University of Haifa press release:
The lunar calendar, which Judaism follows to this day, requires a large number of human decisions. People must look at the stars and moon and report on their observations, and someone must be empowered to decide on the new month and the application of leap years. By contrast, the 364-day calendar was perfect. Because this number can be divided into four and seven, special occasions always fall on the same day. This avoids the need to decide, for example, what happens when a particular occasion falls on the Sabbath, as often happens in the lunar calendar. The Qumran calendar is unchanging, and it appears to have embodied the beliefs of the members of this community regarding perfection and holiness.
Scroll 4Q324d describes two festivals that aren’t in the Hebrew Bible, but are known from the Dead Sea Scroll known as the Temple Scroll: the festivals of New Wine and New Oil, which follow the festival of Shavuot celebrating the New Wheat. In addition, we learn from this scroll the name of the special day the Qumran community inserted between seasons to celebrate the transition: the name is Tekufah, which today means “period” in Hebrew.
The Qumran scribes used various codes in writing the Dead Sea Scrolls, but the main code they used, which was employed in Scroll 4Q324d, was Cryptic A (named by its decipherer, Biblical scholar J.T. Milik).
“Cryptic A is a simple replacement code, with each letter represented by a designated sign,” explain Ratson and Ben-Dov in their Journal of Biblical Literature article. “Some of these signs correspond to paleo-Hebrew or Greek letters, while others seem arbitrary. These signs played a part in the sectarian scribal practice, as some of them appear as scribal marks in various scrolls.”
“The limited circulation of the cryptic script in the Yahad is useful for the study of secrecy and esotericism in that community,” Ratson and Ben-Dov conclude in their article. “It is also valuable for enriching our knowledge about other cases of cryptology in writings from antiquity, a well-known and intriguing aspect of ongoing research.”
This post originally appeared in Bible History Daily in February, 2018
Visit the Dead Sea Scrolls study page in Bible History Daily for more on this priceless collection of ancient manuscripts.
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From the moment Adam chose to reject faith in the Creator’s warning judgment concerning the tree of death, the age of man began. The Creator had delegated much authority to man over the earth including language as exemplified by the naming of the animals. Man’s judgments were given greater weight by most men than the judgments of the Creator. Satan became the god of this age and has had far greater influence over man’s traditions than the Creator. The Creator wanted this world to have a visible example of the fruits of His judgments/way. He chose to do this by establishing a direct relationship with the children/family of Jacob/Israel. But the Creator, as in the garden, would not prohibit free will/choice and allowed the children of Israel to reject a direct relationship with the Creator and to demand that the man Moses be put between them and the Creator. Moses became the Creator’s proxy to Israel as he had been to Egypt. What Moses judged was as if the Creator had made the judgment. So Israel, like other nations, became mired in the judgments and traditions of men. The Creator judged that if a man alters anything in the creation, he has polluted it because it ceases to be a true witness of the Creator’s original creation. Man has not altered the time it takes for the earth to revolve around the sun which completes a whole year with its two or four seasons or the time it takes the moon to revolve around the earth which completes a whole month. Man has used the sun or the moon or both to devise his own calendar for marking out the past, present and future. The Creator’s idea of perfection is not the same as man’s. Man would probably prefer the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter be an integer not an “imperfect” fraction. Man seems to think that a “perfect” year should contain only whole months or weeks. The Creator does not. Originally the Creator set the end/start of the year, month and day cycles near the start of the dark period…..the fall equinox, the new moon and sunset. In Moses’ day the Creator moved the end/start marker for the year to the spring equinox when the day begins to rule the night. This may be because He was revealing the light of His way to humans. The Creator tied the annual holy days to the seasons and the seasons are a function of the year and independent of the months. The Creator tied the months to the year and seasons by declaring that the first month of the year would be in the spring when the year begins. No where does the Creator require that the first day of the year also be the first day of the first month of the year. He also does not require that the first day of the first week of the year be the first day of the year. It is man that has crippled the year by ignoring the Creator’s marker for one earth revolution around the sun and arbitrarily setting it on the first day of a chosen month. As I understand it the first month of the year should be the month whose full moon is closest to the spring equinox. It is man not the Creator who makes things complicated in order to have it his way. Nothing has changed in that respewct since Adam/Eve.
I like what you are suggesting but let us come to know the whole truth… our Creator YAHUAH tells us exactly how HE Created the Earth, separating the waters above from the waters below with the firmament, and that the Earth is fixed and it will not be moved, that the Earth is a circle, and that it hangs on nothing, and that it sits on pillars. He then created the greater light, “Sun” to rule the day, and the lessor light, “Moon” to rule the night and set them in motion within the firmament along with the constellations. This is were the traditions of men get in the way of the Whole Truth that comes from our Creator, mixing the Scientific Heliocentric theory into the True and Undivided Living Word that comes directly from the Creator of Heaven and Earth and of all things visible and invisible really misleads and confuses the nation’s as the one and only Most High Living Creator of Heaven and Earth and of all things visible and invisible tells us a half truth is still a lie and is exactly how Lucifer went about beguiling Eve unto Adam and they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil telling her, “surly, you will not die!” Many years went by after they both ate of the fruit of that tree but surely it is a fact that they both died a physical death.
The traditions of men trusting in Science instead of the only word on earth that changes lives, saves lives, and leads to life everlasting that comes directly from Alpha, Omega, First and Last, Beginning and the End who is Omnipotent, Omnipresent, knowing, hearing and seeing all things before any and all things even happen tries to tell humanity that the Earth is a sphere that is tilted and spinning but slightly off its axis rotating around the sun at 666,000 miles per hour while the sun is shooting through Galaxies at trillions of light years per hour, (a speed that was never able to be measured to begin with by Nicholas Cerpanicus) is in direct conflict with what the Creator says. For it was not until after HE Created the Earth, separating the waters above from the waters below that HE then created the Sun and the Moon and the stars placing them in motion within the firmament. The Sun had yet to be created making it impossible for a non existing spinning globe to be moving around the Sun. Also if the Earth were indeed a sphere spinning around the Sun while the Sun is blasting through Galaxies at trillions of light years per hour then the constellations would never be the same making it impossible to know the times and seasons that the Creator placed there for us all to begin with. I am only pointing out the facts, and is why I am responding to begin with. You are telling all of the traditions of men getting in the way of the Whole Truth that comes directly from the Creator, YAHUAH is HIS set apart name and HE tells all we are to live our lives according to every word that comes from HIM while at the same time giving all the priceless gift that so many take for granted of free will.
I share the truth with love from within my heart to the writer who I am responding to without prejudice or percicution and without accusation. For that is what our Creator tells us to do! We do not belittle or condem any one. We are commanded to love and pray equally with love for all people without showing favoritism. I respond out of love as commanded not to try and say “I’m right, and your wrong.” Let all men be liars! For only our Heavenly Creator YAHUAH is Good, and Just , and True and HE will never change, HIS word is forever, and will never change, and only HE can promise tomorrow. Peace be with you and yours and all people.
Sincerely, a follower of the WAY.
I wonder how the 7-day weekly cycle was observed the ancient Jews if there was no calender? Also, the Bible appears to show exact number of days of Noah’s flood. How were the days calculated to be exact?
The 1.25 day off may be pagan, but Dan is right, some system of intercalation is required to keep this supposedly solar calendar aligned with the actual sun. Either they found a way to keep the seasonal celebrations coordinated with the seasons or they were forced to abandon the calendar when they found it unworkable. All they had to do was add 35 days, or 5 weeks, every 28 years. They could, for example, add a week every sabbatical year, and then another week after the fourth sabbatical year. That would make for a harmonious system. Or they could just insert an extra week every time the year would start too soon in the spring,
No additional intercalation is required other than for the four “yomim” for the equinoxes and solstices (12 solar months x 30 yomim/solar month + 4 intercalary yomim = 364 yomim). A Biblical “yom” is approximately five minutes longer than a modern SI day. And, 1 Abib doesn’t commence on the modern concept of Wednesday; Yom Revi’i is the fourth “yom” of the week when the sun, moon, and stars were created “for signs and for seasons and for days and years.” Every three years, the lunar calendar is 30 yomim deficient, and the two realign marked by a full moon — a Heavenly sign or Heb. ‘ot — on 1 Abib. Abib is not quite equivalent to the Babylonian Nisan although both fall in the Spring. And, El Elyon certainly wouldn’t have a month named after the Babylonian deity Tammuz; that would be an abomination!
Still I’ve read the Qumran used a lunar calendar which equated the beginning of a new month with a full moon, not the dark moon that is in current use. Without the moon, how would have they started their year?
According to the Biblical Calendar (which Cryptic A follows), the beginning of the year begins at the greening of nature (Abib). If we count 364 days, it brings us right back to the same date every year, always a Shabat (Sabbath).
Baloney! 1 Abib falls on Yom Revi’i (not equal to Wednesday aka Woden’s/Odin’s day) every year since Creation. That roughly equates to March 19th year-over-year on the pagan Gregorian calendar.
Very interesting about the calendars and the long history can’t wait to read another story about it
If the Qumran collections is a library of teachings from many factions, as some believe, how do we know that the Qumran sectaries observed a 364 day-long calendar and not some other group?
I have heard it claimed that the community at Qumran followed the ‘Enochian Calendar’ – would this be the same as the 364 day one?
Finally, is there any evidence in the DSS that other calendar systems were in operation at this time?
I would love to see the spelling of Hebrew word for “FIRST-BORN” used in any or all of the scrolls about Exodus and the 10th Plague. Dr. I Velikovsky first raised this matter but I have never seen a rebuttal – or, better, proof, from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Can anyone help?
Since the solar year is 365.25 days in length, the 364-day calendar would be off by 1.25 days each year, and after 100 years it would have festivals occurring 125 days sooner than the actual seasonal requirement. In other words, after 100 years Passover and the festival denoting first harvest would fall in winter. Some kind of adjustment was needed. In the Jewish lunar calendar, a leap month was added about every three years (7 times in 19 years) to keep it aligned with the seasons. Do Ratson and Ben-Dov say how the 364-day Qumran calendar was adjusted to keep it aligned with the seasons?
Good question Dan.
Hope someone will respond. 🙂
That’s because a Biblical “yom” is not equivalent to a modern SI day; there’s about a five minute differential. The sun, moon, and stars were created on Yom Revi’i “for signs and for seasons and for days and years.” Under the modern SI day definition, the stars rise approximately five minutes earlier each night. Under the Biblical “yom,” they rise the same time every evening. The Enochian calendar and jubilees are still very much in effect; modern society follows paganistic timekeeping with Babylonian, Egyptian, Scandinavian, and Roman roots.
What you are speaking of is the sidereal day. There are 366.242 sidereal days in a year.
And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. (Gen 1:14-16)
I agree that the sun and moon and stars are the time clock created by God. The sun gives us the yom, while the moon and sun together give the year. The stars, as well, give us the seasons, in connexion with the sun and moon. A 364 day calendar cannot be aligned with the seasons. It is an ideal calendar created by the Essenes.