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Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing
Religion in the Dead Sea Scrolls

Religion in the Dead Sea Scrolls

by John Joseph Collins, Robert A. Kugler


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802847430
Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing
Publication date: 11/12/2003
Series: Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Literature Series
Pages: 180
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.41(d)

About the Author

John J. Collins is Holmes Professor of Old Testament Criticism and Interpretation at Yale Divinity School. His many other books include The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature, Early Judaism: A Comprehensive Overview, and The Oxford Handbook of Apocalyptic Literature.

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Introduction JOHN J. COLLINS (from pages 1-8)

Helmer Ringgren's book, The Faith of Qumran: Theology of the Dead Sea Scrolls, first appeared in English in 1963. (The Swedish original appeared in 1961.) Like Józef T. Milik's Ten Years of Discovery in the Wilderness of Judaea, and Frank Moore Cross's The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Biblical Studies, it represented a synthesis of the first phase of the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It differed from these other books insofar as it concentrated entirely on issues of religion and theology. All these books assumed that the Scrolls represented the writings of a community that had resided at Qumran, and that they gave expression to a coherent set of religious and theological ideas. These ideas were found above all in the Rule of the Community, the Damascus Document, the Hodayot, the Pesharim, and the War Scroll, although the Genesis Apocryphon and "miscellaneous fragments" were also acknowledged. These core documents, with the exception of the Damascus Document, had been found in Cave 1, were relatively well preserved, and were the first published and best-known texts from Qumran.

Thirty years later, Ringgren felt justified in reissuing the book unchanged. He granted that texts published since 1963 "would obviously enable me to add interesting details," but he felt that they would not change his basic ideas substantially. Insofar as Ringgren's book is a synthesis of the texts available in 1963, it has in fact held up quite well, but no scholar engaged in the study of the Scrolls in the 1990s would agree with his assessment of the significance (or relative insignificance) of the texts that have become available since that time.

The view that Qumran was a sectarian settlement, and that the Scrolls constituted its library, remains standard, despite the vociferous advocacy of alternative interpretations in recent years. It also remains highly probable that the settlement pertained to the Essene sect. Two factors, however, have altered the landscape of Scrolls scholarship since the early 1960s. The first pertains to the number of scrolls, and the second to the content of some of the texts that were published after Ringgren wrote.

Only when the full corpus became available in the early 1990s did scholars generally become aware of the sheer number of texts that were hidden in the caves near Qumran. Hartmut Stegemann estimates that approximately 1,000 scrolls were hidden; fragments of 900 were preserved, and it is possible to determine the content of some 660. It is now generally admitted that this collection included many texts that were not products of the Qumran community. This point has long been granted with regard to biblical texts, and to the books of Enoch and Jubilees, which were known before the discovery of the Scrolls and are generally agreed to have been written before the establishment of the settlement at Qumran. In recent years, it is recognized that even previously unknown works are not necessarily peculiar to the Qumran sect. Neither can we assume that all nonsectarian works were "pre-Qumran," in the sense that they were composed before the emergence of the Qumran sect. Moreover, the Essene sect was not confined to Qumran, and the Damascus Document envisages "camps" scattered throughout the land. The relation of the scrolls found at Qumran to the other sectarian settlements is uncertain. It is possible that sectarians from several settlements hid their scrolls in the wilderness, in proximity to the Qumran community. We cannot assume a unified theological vision in all this literature. There remains, however, a core corpus of texts that is recognized as sectarian because of references to the Teacher, or to the community, or to some distinctive themes and motifs. This corpus corresponds essentially to the texts on which Ringgren based his book, but with some significant additions from later publications.

In his introduction to the reprint of Ringgren's book, James H. Charlesworth asserts that "numerous theologies were found at Qumran." This remark referred not only to the differences between sectarian texts and those composed elsewhere, but also to the corpus of texts that were presumably composed at Qumran. We should indeed expect that beliefs and practices changed over a period of some two hundred years. As yet, however, no satisfactory way has been found to trace chronological development within the sectarian scrolls. Hartmut Stegemann has claimed that the sectarian scrolls were composed within a short time frame and that no distinctively sectarian (Essene) text can be dated later than the middle of the first century BCE. Differences can certainly be detected within the sectarian scrolls. Whether these constitute different "theologies" is debatable. Even Charlesworth goes on to describe common trends that cut across the supposed "theologies" of Qumran. In any case, the more urgent question in the study of the religion of the Scrolls concerns the degree to which the sectarians shared beliefs and practices with other Jews of the time. It is now clear that the Qumran community was not as isolated as has often been assumed. The question arises whether works and traditions that were not peculiar to the sect were nevertheless influential factors in their religious thinking. The religion of the Qumran sect was constituted not only by their distinctive ideas and beliefs, but also by those that they shared with other Jews.

The second factor that has changed the landscape of Qumran studies also concerns relations with other strands of Judaism, especially with those strands later represented by the rabbinic literature. The first phase of scholarship on the Dead Sea Scrolls, reflected in the books of Milik, Cross, and Ringgren, was predominantly the work of Christian scholars, who quite naturally viewed the texts through the filter of their own interests and expectations. The use of the words "Faith" and "Theology" in the title of Ringgren's book speaks volumes for its Christian perspective. There is little in his book to suggest to the reader that halakah, the life of obedience to divine commandments, was a significant factor in the spirituality of the Scrolls. This is not to suggest that Ringgren, or other Scrolls scholars of his generation, wanted to subordinate the Scrolls to Christian interests. Ringgren very explicitly insisted that the Jewish literature must be understood in its own right before it can be compared or contrasted with the New Testament. However, the questions and categories he brought to the text were distinctly Christian. They were not necessarily invalid for that reason, but their perspective was partial and incomplete and suffered from the lack of dialogue with Jewish scholars.

Ringgren's perspective was also limited by lack of access to some important legal texts. This situation began to change after 1967, when Qumran and the Scrolls came under Israeli control. A major watershed was reached with the acquisition of the Temple Scroll. The publication of this scroll by Yigael Yadin drew attention to the central importance of legal, halakic issues for the people of the Scrolls. There is still dispute as to whether the Temple Scroll should be considered a sectarian composition, but it enabled scholars to see the prominence of halakic issues in an indisputably sectarian text, the Damascus Document. Then in 1984 John Strugnell and Elisha Qimron presented a paper in Jerusalem on "An Unpublished Halakhic Letter from Qumran." This text, dubbed by Strugnell "a letter from the Teacher of Righteousness to the Wicked Priest" and now known as 4QMMT, appeared to give the reasons for the separation of the Dead Sea sect from the rest of Judaism. These reasons were halakic in nature and were largely concerned with issues of purity. A section of the text, perhaps an addition to the original composition, was devoted to the cultic calendar. These reasons were similar in kind to the concerns discussed in connection with the origin of the sect in the Damascus Document. Earlier scholarship on the Scrolls had argued that the separation of the sect was due to disputes over the high priesthood. It now appeared to be due primarily to disagreement over the correct calendar and over several technical points of Jewish law. The eyes of scholars had been opened to the importance of halakic considerations in the Scrolls, and these interests have been highlighted in more recent studies. The change in perspective is perhaps most clearly evident in Lawrence Schiffman's book, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, where the section "To Live as a Jew" deals with issues of law, prayer, and ritual. It is ironic that 4QMMT had been known to the editors since the 1950s as a "proto-Mishnaic" text, but its importance had not been recognized.

It is now readily granted that scholarship on the Dead Sea Scrolls in Helmer Ringgren's generation failed to perceive a very important aspect of the religion of the Scrolls, the continuity of the Scrolls with rabbinic Judaism. Even though the rabbis often adopt positions contrary to those of Qumran, they are frequently concerned with similar issues. We should not, however, jump to the conclusion that all that was written on the Scrolls and the New Testament, or the Scrolls and Christian origins, was invalid. The "faith of Qumran" described by Ringgren is generally well founded in the texts, even though "faith" may not be the best rubric to categorize it. Issues such as messianic expectation and judgment after death, which became central in Christianity but less prominent in rabbinic Judaism, are also important in the Scrolls. The Qumran community, like early Christianity, was informed by a lively belief that the "end of days" was at hand. We know of no comparable community in Judaism in the rabbinic period. At the same time, the religious ideals and ethical values of the Scrolls are in sharp contrast to the New Testament and closer to the world of the rabbis. In fact, the Scrolls are older than, and independent of, both Christianity and rabbinic Judaism. The catastrophic Jewish revolt against Rome, which incidentally brought about the destruction of Qumran, was to some degree the ashes from which both rabbinic Judaism and Christianity (as a predominantly Gentile religion) emerged. The Dead Sea sect was a product of the Hellenistic age and bears the imprint of that age in many ways. To appreciate it, we must do justice both to its continuity with Jewish tradition and to its distinctive innovations; both to the centrality of halakah and to the importance of eschatology; to its affinities both with early Christianity and with rabbinic Judaism.

Now that the project of editing the entire corpus of Dead Sea Scrolls is nearing completion, the time is perhaps ripe to undertake a new synthetic treatment of the religion of Qumran. We do not pretend, however, to provide such a treatment in this volume. All but one of the articles in this book originated in a conference at Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C., on April 24, 1999. Since the target audience of the conference required that it be held on a Saturday, it was not possible to include Jewish speakers. Hannah Harrington's article, which was not presented at the conference, compensates partially for this omission, but Jewish perspectives are admittedly underrepresented. Moreover, a collection of conference papers is not a systematic treatment, but rather a series of probes that uncover aspects of the religion of Qumran rather than the whole structure. This volume, then, has the character of a prolegomenon to the study of the religion of the Scrolls. We hope, however, that it will be of service in the uncertain interval until a more systematic treatment is available. In contrast to Ringgren, we speak of the religion of the Scrolls rather than of their theology. The subject includes not only the beliefs of the sect about God and the world, but also their religious practice.

The topics treated in this volume may be grouped in four clusters. The articles of John Collins and Eileen Schuller deal with the understanding of divinity—Collins with the issue of monotheism and the plurality of heavenly beings, Schuller with determinism and the efficacy of prayer. The articles of Rob Kugler and Hannah Harrington deal with halakic issues—Kugler with the interpretation of sacrifice in 4QMMT and Harrington with the continuity of halakic tendencies in the Scrolls. Martin Hengel and Timothy Lim address the question of Hellenistic influence in the Scrolls. Hengel deals with all aspects of this issue, while Lim focuses on the influence of the Greek language. Finally, James VanderKam and Craig Evans deal with apocalypticism and messianism. In all of these essays, issues of tradition and continuity figure prominently. Lim's essay addresses the novel way of interpreting the Bible that we find in the pesharim or biblical commentaries. Kugler discusses the interpretation of legal texts as a means of innovation. VanderKam approaches the subject of apocalypticism from the angle of the appropriation of apocalyptic traditions that had been formulated before the rise of the Dead Sea sect in the books of Enoch, Daniel, and Jubilees. The issue of continuity and innovation is at the heart of Hengel's discussion of Hellenistic influence in the Scrolls.

A comprehensive discussion of the religion of the Scrolls would need to encompass many other topics. These include:

  • the cultic practice of the community, whether they offered sacrifice or not, and their relation to the Jerusalem temple and its leadership;
  • the evidence for mysticism in the Scrolls, especially in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice;
  • the Bible at Qumran, both the form of the biblical text and the ways in which it was interpreted (a subject touched on here by Timothy Lim); also the question of the canon, or the extent of the writings regarded as authoritative, and the kind of authority attributed to them;
  • the nature of the community reflected in the Qumran rule books, and its relation to other forms of community organization in the Hellenistic world;
  • the wisdom teachings found at Qumran, and more generally the ethics of the Dead Sea sect;
  • the use of horoscopes and texts that fall under the category of magic, which reflect the popular practices current within the sect, rather than its formal theology; and
  • the calendar of the Qumran community.

Great advances have been made in scholarship on the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1990s, especially in the publication of the primary texts. The next phase of scholarship will need to integrate this material into the study of Judaism in the Second Temple period.

Table of Contents

"Introduction John J. Collins
Powers in Heaven: God, Gods, and Angels in the Dead Sea Scrolls John J. Collins
Petitionary Prayer and the Religion of Qumran Eileen Schuller
Qumran and Hellenism Martin Hengel
The Qumran Scrolls, Multilingualism, and Biblical Interpretation Timothy H. Lim
The Halakah and Religion of Qumran Hannah K. Harrington
Rewriting Rubrics: Sacrifice and the Religion of Qumran Robert A. Kugler
Apocalyptic Tradition in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Religion of Qumran James C. VanderKam
Qumran’s Messiah: How Important Is He? Craig A. Evans

Selected Bibliography of Recent Writings on the Religion of the Scrolls
Index of Ancient Literature
Index of Modern Authors

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