The Dead Sea Scrolls and why they matter
The “Book of Enoch” (1 Enoch) is a collection of texts composed between about 350 B.C.E. and the turn of the era. It is the earliest extant example of an apocalyptic blend of Israelite prophetic and wisdom theologies best known from the Book of Daniel, and it witnesses the variety within Israelite religion in the Greco-Roman period.
Two myths shape the Book of Enoch. The first, related to Genesis 6:1–4,* ascribes the origins of evil to the rebellion of certain angels who mated with women and begat a race of giants that devastated the earth and whose demonic spirits continue to produce sin and misery. According to the second myth, Enoch (as said in Genesis 5:21–24) was taken to heaven, where he learned the secrets of the universe and of the coming judgment.
The Enochic texts claim to be Enoch’s revelations transmitted through his son, Methuselah. The various parts of 1 Enoch were composed in Aramaic and translated into Greek, and from Greek into ancient Ethiopic, in which version alone the entire collection has survived.
Qumran Cave 4 yielded fragments of 11 Aramaic manuscripts of parts of 1 Enoch that cover perhaps one fifth of the Ethiopic text, as well as nine Aramaic manuscripts of “the Book of the Giants,” a text not included in 1 Enoch.1 The 1 Enoch manuscripts attest both to how closely the Ethiopic text corresponds to its Aramaic prototypes in some places and to where it differs in others. The Giants fragments indicate that the Enochic tradition was richer than 1 Enoch suggests. Missing at Qumran are fragments of the Book of Parables (1 Enoch 37–71), a Jewish text that provides a context for New Testament “Son of Man” christology. The absence of the Book of Parables from Qumran probably indicates that this expression of Enochic theology developed in circles different from those directly ancestral to the group that collected the texts at Qumran. The other Enochic writings were authoritative at Qumran, however, and were popular among early Christian writers as well. The Enochic texts remain a canonical part of the Bible of the Ethiopian Church.
—George W.E. Nickelsburg, The University of Iowa
1 For the Qumran fragments, see any comprehensive translation of the scrolls. For the whole of 1 Enoch, see George W.E. Nickelsburg and James C. VanderKam, 1 Enoch: A New Translation (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004). For a commentary, see George W.E. Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch 1: A Commentary on the Book of Enoch, Chapters 1–35, 81–108 (Hermeneia: Minneapolis, 2001).
The Temple Scroll is the longest Dead Sea Scroll (over 28 feet, preserved almost to its entire length) and one of the most important. It was excavated by Bedouin in Cave 11 in 1956 (since then no more scrolls have been discovered at Qumran).*
The Dead Sea Scrolls can be divided into three main categories: Biblical, sectarian and other. The Temple Scroll is sectarian, that is, it belongs to the Dead Sea sect, identified by most scholars with the Essenes. It was composed, most probably, in the second part of the second century B.C.E., approximately 200 years before the destruction of the Second Temple.
The scroll is a halakhic (legal) composition, a rewriting of Pentateuchal passages, dealing with the laws as they were interpreted by the sect (mostly laws that differ from the laws of normative, Pharisaic Judaism).
In the Pentateuch the Lord speaks to Moses and Moses speaks to the people. Here the Lord speaks directly to the people in the first person singular, and the style tries to imitate the language of the Book of Deuteronomy, but numerous slips betray its late origin.
Five major subjects are dealt with in the scroll: the Temple, the king’s statutes, the feasts, the festival sacrifices, and laws of purity. More than half of the scroll, however, is devoted to the Temple and the Temple City, hence its name. The members of the sect did not participate in the cult of the Temple that existed in their period because they regarded it as unclean. The temple described in the Temple Scroll is an ideal edifice that was never built.**
According to the scroll, the sect had a calendar of its own that was different from the calendar of the rest of the Jewish people. In addition to the regular Jewish feasts, the sect celebrated festivals of the first fruits such as the Festival of the First Wine and the Festival of the First Oil.
The law code of the sect is characterized by its harsh and ultra-conservative laws. For instance, they prohibited sexual relations in Jerusalem, and they prescribed that lavatories were to be built at a distance of about a mile away from the Holy City.
—Magen Broshi, former curator of the Shrine of the Book, The Israel Museum in Jerusalem
**See Magen Broshi, “The Gigantic Dimensions of the Visionary Temple in the Temple Scroll,” BAR, November/December 1987.
The Scroll of the War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness (or in short, the War Scroll) is one of the first seven Dead Sea Scrolls to have been discovered. Its genre is unique, describing an eschatological war that is to put an end to evil in the world. It is a kind of military manual, intended for priests, describing their role in providing ceremonial, cultic, and even tactical leadership to the army of the Sons of Light.
The introduction (Columns 1–2) gives the historical background to the war and the sequence of its development. It will begin with a “War against the Kittim,” a short but intense battle against Israel’s eschatological enemy (Numbers 24:24). After six rounds during which the Sons of Light will alternate between gaining and losing the upper hand, God will intervene with his mighty hand to miraculously bring victory.
This battle will introduce a second stage in the eschatological war, the “War of Divisions,” one that will be launched after six years of war preparations during which Israel’s exiles will be able to return to Jerusalem. The fighting itself will be spread out over 35 years, with breaks every sabbatical year, until the entire world is conquered.
Columns 3–9 are a series of rules (called serakhim in Hebrew), describing the trumpets and banners to be used, the different infantry and cavalry units, various purity rules, as well as tactical matters. These rules, originally intended for the War of Divisions, were eventually adapted to fit the War against the Kittim, as in Columns 15–19. Columns 10–14 are a series of prayers, imported from other sources, to be recited on the battlefield.
From Cave 4, seven additional scrolls related to the eschatological war were found (4Q491–7), being either copies of the War Scroll or compositions closely related to it, or perhaps its sources. They further support the impression gathered from the War Scroll that it had at least two stages in its composition, a first dating to the Maccabean period (Columns 1–9), and a second (Columns 10–19) intended to adapt the composition to a new reality resulting from the Roman conquest of Judea in 63 B.C.E.
—Brian Schultz, Bar-Ilan University
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