The Sect of the Qumran Texts and its Leading Role in the Temple in Jerusalem During Much of the First Century BCE: Toward a New Framework for Understanding (Part III).

Such schematized ways of viewing history are problematic however; real history is invariably more messy and complicated than frameworks derived from literary texts which may themselves have been invented or shaped for other purposes, and in real life there is realpolitik associated with changing rhetorical justifications to meet political necessities. Most importantly and to the point here, the Psalms of Solomon is not a Qumran text, and no text that is among the Qumran finds reveals criticism of Hasmonean rulers on anti-David-usurpation or anti-monarchist grounds.

See Also:

The Sect of the Qumran Texts and its Leading Role in the Temple in Jerusalem During Much of the First Century BCE (Part I).

The Sect of the Qumran Texts and its Leading Role in the Temple in Jerusalem During Much of the First Century BCE (Part II).

By Greg Doudna
July 2014

There is no evidence within the Qumran texts that Davidic messianism functioned with anti-Hasmonean intent as sometimes supposed. The pro-Hasmonean text 1 Maccabees cites and praises the biblical promise to David of everlasting royal rule for his descendants (1 Macc. 2:57), part of what William Horbury characterizes as a general “presentation in 1 Maccabees of Hasmonean achievements as Davidic” (2003: 49). The Qumran texts portray a Davidic warrior figure—called the “Prince of the Congregation” and the “Branch of David”—as a military commander, subordinate to the high priest who is the actual ruler of the nation (4Q285 5.1-5; 1QM 5.1; 1QSa 2.14-21; 1QSb 5.20-29). In these texts this Prince of the Congregation/Branch of David figure is not a king in the present age, although an eschatological military triumph and future kingship is envisioned—but that happens later, after this figure defeats Israel’s enemies (4Q161 8-10 iii 17-24; 4Q174 1.10-13; 4Q252 5 vi 1-4).

As brought out in a number of studies, priestly monarchism or supreme rule by the high priest was considered the traditional and legitimate form of Jewish government by the time of the Hasmonean era (Goodblatt 1994; van der Kooij 2007). David Goodblatt notes how belief in a restored Davidic kingship at the eschatological culmination could work very well within an ideology of high-priestly rule in the present age as long as the envisioned Davidic restoration remained future (Goodblatt 1994: 75-76). Compare the statement in I Macc. 14:40 that Simon Maccabaeus would serve as high priest temporarily until the rise of a True Prophet (“the Jews and priests are happy that Simon should, pending the advent of a genuine prophet, be their ethnarch and high priest for life”). An ideology of an eschatological Davidic restoration could solidify Hasmonean rule in the present age by delegitimizing other claimants. In this ideology, Davidic royal rule would be restored once a commander of Judah of demonstrable Davidic ancestry defeated opposing empires and attained world-power status for Israel. Once those modest requirements were met the Davidic restoration would happen. However even then the Davidic king would continue to be under the authority of the high priest. This is how Davidic restoration is dealt with within the Qumran texts. In this way traditional dreams of Judah clans could be both embraced and channeled under the Hasmoneans.

There is no sign within the Qumran texts of criticism of a Hasmonean ruler on grounds of being non-Davidic. Psalms of Solomon 17 condemns Hasmonean usurpation of Davidic rule (a reading that PssSol 17 is alluding to Roman crushing of traditional national hopes of Davidic rule seems refuted by “they set up a monarchy”, or as Ward 1996 argues, “they exchanged their priestly turbans for a crown”, of 17.6, which seems to confirm the anti-Hasmonean reading). The Psalms of Solomon, which allude to Pompey in PssSol 2, 8, and 17 and are believed to have been written or collected in their final form late in the 1st century BCE, are traditionally thought to have come from 1st century BCE Pharisees, though that is debated. Josephus identifies popular opposition to Hasmonean rule as coming from the Pharisees (Ant. 13.288 and 13.296 compared with 13.401-2). One stream of Pharisees seems to turn up at the end of the 1st century BCE in the form of what Josephus calls a Fourth Philosophy of the Jews. Josephus says this philosophy was like the Pharisees in every other way except that they refused to “call any man master”—possibly this was the traditional or conservative form of Pharisee ideology. But the Qumran texts for many good reasons are considered to be opposed to the Pharisees of the 1st century BCE of Josephus and the rabbis. In this schematic, one could see the Qumran texts as reflecting pro-Hasmonean, pro-monarchic Hasmonean ideology, in contrast to Pharisee anti-monarchist resistance to Hasmonean rule. Such schematized ways of viewing history are problematic however; real history is invariably more messy and complicated than frameworks derived from literary texts which may themselves have been invented or shaped for other purposes, and in real life there is realpolitik associated with changing rhetorical justifications to meet political necessities. Most importantly and to the point here, the Psalms of Solomon is not a Qumran text, and no text that is among the Qumran finds reveals criticism of Hasmonean rulers on anti-David-usurpation or anti-monarchist grounds.

There may indeed be a progression in which Qumran texts during the earlier part of the Hasmonean era have a Davidic warrior commander figure who is limited to being a military commander who wins battles and is subordinate to the high priest as brought out by Casey Elledge (2007), and then development of that figure into a full-blown militant Davidic messianism in the Roman period. But in the Qumran texts the Davidic figure in the present age is under the authority of the high priest and is not king. When the Davidic figure does become king in the eschatological restoration, the Qumran texts still have him subject to the high priest. There is no evidence this ideology of the Qumran texts is distinguishable from the ideology of Hasmonean high priests. The perception that the Davidic figures in the Qumran texts represent criticism of the Hasmoneans is something scholars have read into the Qumran texts.

~ ~ 10 ~ ~

The images in the texts of the Teacher in exile, and the images of a high-priestly usurper and adversary—the notorious figure whom the texts call the Wicked Priest and other names—indicate that even though the Teacher may have started out prominent in the temple, started out as the leading priest of the priests who exercised authority in the yachad groups, something went terribly awry. For he may have started out in a prominent position in the temple, as the leader of the priestly sect controlling the temple, as high priest … but he ended up in exile, out of power, with attempts on his life, having become the apparent inspiration for hymns of great pathos found in the Qumran Hymns or Hodayot texts (Douglas 1998, 1999; Wise 1999, 2010), and then he died, never having seen vindication or restoration to his former status. Something had happened—something had gone horribly wrong. What had happened was a usurpation, this usurpation being the occasion in the world of the texts when members of the sect loyal to the former high priest which had been in power lost power, lost control of the temple, and came to be out of power, the stance reflected in the Qumran texts at those texts’ late end.

The usurper is regarded by these texts as an illegitimate high priest (because he had overthrown the legitimate high priest by force, had tried to kill the legitimate high priest and had driven him into exile, had expropriated wealth not belonging to him and so on, to which charges concerning defiling the temple also were raised). The authors of these texts expressed their deep displeasure with this figure in a series of bitter puns in Hebrew. In a disparaging pun on this figure’s wrongful assumption of the high priestly office and claim to be the new legitimate “high priest”, they punned that as the “Wicked Priest”. Elsewhere they called him “the Last Priest” in a disparaging pun on this figure’s claim to be a “priest of Aaron”. Still again in another text they gave him the sobriquet “Manasseh”, a wordplay on the name “Hasmonean” while at the same time evoking all of the associations drawn from the famously wicked king Manasseh of old of the Bible, whom the biblical prophets blamed for Judah’s downfall and punishment by Yahweh at the hands of foreign conquerors. And they refer to this detested figure having been “called by the name of truth” at the time he took power, ironically using a technical term evoking the yachad sect. The authors of Pesher Habakkuk allude to this figure as having been acclaimed as a member of the same sect as the high priest just deposed. But the authors show by contrast how horrible this figure’s actions were in practice, how wrong the acclamation had been.

~ ~ 11 ~ ~

The “name of truth” said to have been applied to the Wicked Priest at 1QpHab 8.8-9, understood in its rich context of meaning in Qumran sectarian texts, is incongruous only if one holds the prior assumption that the sect is separate from the temple. If one does not assume that, then the allusion to the Wicked Priest having been “called by the name of truth” reads as familiar allusion to a world of traitors and backsliders, parallel to the traitorous council of 1QpHab 5.8-12, the ruthless ones of the covenant of 1QpHab 2.5-6 and 4QpPs A 1-10 ii 14, iii 12, the wicked yachad of 4Q181 1 i 1-2, and perhaps “the wicked one[s of the yacha]d, the house of Peleg, the ones joined to Manasseh” which I have newly proposed to restore at 4QpNah 3-4 iv 1 (Doudna 2011: 277).

Note that Pesher Habakkuk is not necessarily saying the authors themselves had believed this Wicked Priest deserved or merited the name of truth. The sense of “called by the name of truth” is that this was his reputation (among the sect, or the people at large), or possibly the expression is intended to represent a claim made by the Wicked Priest concerning himself. Isa. 44:5 seems to imply the expression “called by the name of—” means “one calls oneself X” or “one is reputed to be X”. It suggests this expression in Pesher Habakkuk is not necessarily alluding to a past endorsement of the authors of Pesher Habakkuk of this figure when he came to power which the authors now regret. Instead it is an allusion to a general acclamation or reputation accorded to this figure and/or this figure’s own claim, which it need not be assumed the authors of Pesher Habakkuk ever shared. Finally, in the expression šm h’mt, “the name of truth”, have the authors worked in another ironic pun or wordplay on the name hšmn, “Hasmonean”?

~ ~ 12 ~ ~

These authors not only portray this figure’s crimes, they allude to a horrible fate that comes to him. They portray this figure’s regime and ill-gotten wealth of the temple falling violently to the Kittim in a horrific invasion and massacre. They have him killed by the ruthless invaders, divine justice, divine payback for what he had done. In Pesher Habakkuk he is brought to divine judgment in a gentile court among the nations and killed (1QpHab 10.3-5). In Pesher Psalms A he is delivered “into the hand of the dreadful ones of the nations to execute [vengeance] upon him” (4QpPs A 1-10 iv 8-10). In Pesher Nahum he is “hanged up alive” (4QpNah 3-4 i 8-ii 1). All of this is in the context of an invasion of the Kittim, or Romans.

This last point, the detail about the invasion of the Kittim of Pesher Habakkuk and Pesher Nahum being Romans, is of the utmost significance for dating the world of these texts. As recognized by scholars today on the basis of details in the descriptions, the Kittim depicted so graphically in Pesher Habakkuk and appearing also in Pesher Nahum allude to Romans of the 1st century BCE—Romans of the era of the Republic and the civil wars with changes of rulers, in texts dated 1st century BCE in their time of composition. These are texts not later than the 1st century BCE, but at the same time the Romans also are not in Judea until the mid-1st century BCE. This is the context of Pesher Habakkuk and Pesher Nahum and related texts—Roman invasion of Judea in the 1st century BCE. This is the “present” of the figures depicted as contemporary in the world of the authors of these texts. The surrealistic figures and images in these texts emerge from and reflect the world of the 1st century BCE, the era of Roman impact on Judea at a time when Hasmonean high priests still ruled (Wise 2003). This is not, however, the view held by most scholars. Most scholars today think the sobriquet-bearing figures of these 1st century BCE pesharim allude to events and figures from a century or so earlier than the time of the authors, from the mid-2nd century BCE.

It may seem odd that the great majority of scholars today can simultaneously fully acknowledge that the Kittim of Pesher Habakkuk and Pesher Nahum are contemporary 1st century BCE Romans, in texts written by authors of the mid- or later part of the 1st century BCE, yet hold that these texts nevertheless depict figures set in the mid-2nd century BCE, except when the Kittim appear who are acknowledged to be 1st century BCE. If this seems odd, perhaps it is because it is a little odd, if we step back and think about it. The prevailing scholarly notion is that the authors of these texts mixed up their centuries, their figures, and their stories in the pesharim, with the past put into the present and unmarked shifts back and forth between centuries. But the only reason for the scholarly insistence on reading the texts in this manner is because of a prior assumption that these texts are alluding to figures and contexts set in the mid-2nd century BCE, instead of figures and contexts from the authors’ own time, as the texts themselves read. The texts themselves do not put their sobriquet-bearing figures a century or more earlier or in the 2nd century BCE. There is no evidence, textual or otherwise, that the sobriquet-bearing figures of the pesharim were long past, or traditional figures, or had a long history of development, or an extensive oral history, or anything of this kind at the time these texts were written. The ways the sobriquet-bearing figures are named evoke traditional language and ancient motifs (that is what gives nicknaming its power) but that is a distinct matter. The majority of Qumran scholars have read these 1st century BCE texts in terms of 2nd century BCE historical constructions without warrant from the texts themselves, for reasons extraneous to the texts.

It was not always so. Many in the first generation of Qumran text scholars—heavyweight names such as Dupont-Sommer, Burrows, van der Ploeg, Carmignac, Elliger, and others—thought the era of the sobriquet-bearing figures of the Qumran pesharim was the authors’ own time, the time when the authors composed those texts, which is to say the 1st century BCE, because that is how the texts read. But somehow that was lost in the history of scholarship, for reasons that are hard at this date for anyone even to remember.

~ ~ 13 ~ ~

One reason which has been argued for holding to a notion of a distantly-past Teacher of Righteousness from the perspective of the authors of the pesharim is that the Teacher’s depiction is so heavily stylized and motif-laden. If the Teacher is not a wholly invented figure set in the dim past, it is argued, accurate memory of this figure had certainly been lost and all that remained to these authors was an inherited or constructed tradition. In other words, it is argued, the motifs have overpowered any elements of historical details such that the figure has taken on a life of its own in the life of the community and in the world of texts. What such a figure might have been historically is either lost or irrelevant since the figure has become a literary figure, a figure drawn from composite stock types, whose function is to distinguish insiders from outsiders, friends from enemies, loyal from disloyal, truth from error and so on, in the authors’ rhetorical and social worlds. I am paraphrasing but this is the sense of the objection: the Teacher is unlikely to have been drawn from a contemporary real-world figure because the portrayal is so motif-laden, so literary, so stylized, so unreal—so different from the kind of accurate details that the authors would have known and written if the figure were contemporary. The assumption is that a significant passage of time is necessary to account for a figure to be presented in texts in such a manner.

And yet the premise of this objection could hardly be more mistaken. All we have to do is observe our own present world, in which contemporary figures and religious and political leaders take on surreal and mythic statuses in the worlds of rhetoric, political campaigns, hagiographies, and popular acclaim. In our own time we have seen a ruling Ayatollah proclaim America “the Great Satan”. We have seen the ruler of a Latin American nation address the United Nations, following an address by the American President, saying he could still “smell sulfur” at the podium left behind by “the devil”. The use of metaphors and images are attempts to speak more truth about reality than a dry-fact journalistic description is perceived capable of doing. It has nothing to do with the figure not being contemporary. Even in the Qumran texts at issue, those who suppose the Teacher must be a dimly-remembered or imaginary figure from the text’s past do not suppose by the same reasoning that the equally motif-laden Kittim must similarly be set in the text’s dim past. In fact the phenomenon of nicknaming and the romanticizing and demonizing rhetoric of political discourse ancient and modern provide a spectrum within which the images of the pesharim can be compared.

~ ~ 14 ~ ~

The violent downfall and destruction of the regime of the wicked ruler who opposes the Teacher is associated with the forty years attributed to the era of the Teacher in the Damascus Document schematic, in the world of the texts. The Teacher, who started out as a leading priest of the temple, at some point becomes separated from the temple and driven into exile in this schematic forty years. If the death of the Teacher occurs at the end of the schematic forty years of the Teacher’s era, and if the yachad groups started, say, in the era of Alexander Jannaeus twenty years before the rise of the Teacher, that would bring the Teacher’s death down some sixty years (twenty plus forty) after the yachad groups began in the schematic, with a death of the Teacher perhaps somewhere in the time of Herod the Great (37-4 BCE).

What happens to the yachad groups under these circumstances in the world of the texts? Some defect from the Teacher and follow the Teacher’s opponent, the figure the Qumran texts call the Wicked Priest and other names. (We see only one side’s version of this dispute remember. Texts representing the other side, the perspective of the Wicked priest and his supporters—obviously they would not call him the Wicked Priest—have so far not been identified.) But what would happen to the groups who remained loyal to the Teacher after the Teacher lost power and was exiled? What would happen if the Teacher then died and there was no successor? Many of these groups might be more or less orphaned, rudderless, without leadership. And that is exactly the way the Damascus Document Manuscript B closes, with a picture of the Teacher dead, no replacement Teacher or leader, everyone on their own (CD 20.13-20). The B text of the Damascus Document found in the medieval Cairo Genizah alludes to the recent death of the Teacher and the new situation of the righteous ones being without their Teacher and lawgiver, like the scattered sheep of Zechariah that the B text quotes.

~ ~ 15 ~ ~

The texts do not reveal the circumstances in which the Teacher died, only that the Teacher’s death was regarded as so pivotal that the authors of the Damascus Document updated their entire calculated end of the age chronology around the death of this figure.

In the schematic outlined, the death of the Teacher becomes situated perhaps sometime in the time of Herod, with the Damascus Document looking back on the Teacher’s recent death. It is not clear that any of the pesharim know of the Teacher’s death. Pesher Habakkuk can be read with the Teacher either living or not living in the text’s present so is ambiguous, but Pesher Psalms A unambiguously portrays the Teacher as living and contemporary in the world of that text and its implied authors (4QpPs A 1-10 ii 18-20; iv 9). The portrayal of the Teacher as alive in the present of Pesher Psalms A could suggest, by analogy, that the likely contemporary text Pesher Habakkuk should be read similarly. But the Damascus Document, or at least the B text of the Damascus Document, does allude to the Teacher’s death. That allusion in the Damascus Document is set in the very recent past, in the authors’ personally known recent past, in the picture implied in the world of the text. The authors’ “present” in the Damascus Document B text is probably about year 450 or 460 or so into the 490, not too long after the death of the Teacher, somewhere in the final forty.

(Strictly speaking, it is not known for sure that the exemplar underlying the “A” text of the Damascus Document of the medieval Cairo Genizah—the version in agreement with the copies found at Qumran—had the allusion to the death of the Teacher that the Cairo Genizah’s “B” text does, since that section in the “B” text is missing in the “A” text in the Cairo Genizah, and it has not turned up in any Qumran text either. But since the two medieval versions for the most part agree otherwise, the earlier copies of the Damascus Document found at Qumran presumably had the death of the Teacher. Nevertheless it remains curious that there is no clear allusion to the Teacher’s death in any text fragment actually found at Qumran.)

~ ~ 16 ~ ~

But what would happen to the orphaned S (Community Rule) and D (Damascus Document) groups in the world of the texts? With their leaders gone, a number of these S-groups may have come to terms at this time with living under Herod who agreed to let them practice their ways. These surviving groups, now existing independently, might then turn up as the idealized, glorified Essenes of the classical sources.

And so in this way there would be a direct 1QS-Essene connection or continuity, but without any notion that the 1QS or 4QS Serekh texts reflect opposition to the priests of the temple, for nothing in the Serekh texts calls for that notion. In the Damascus Document there is separation from the priests of the temple, an adversarial relationship, but that text postdates the Teacher and the Teacher’s expulsion from the temple. But none of those developments are alluded to or assumed in the world of 1QS, which is explained very simply if 1QS is in fact from earlier, before those events. The key insight here is that when 1QS 8.13 refers to separation from sinful men, or 1QSa 1.2-3 refers to a separation from the “path of the people”, or CD 8.16/19.29 refers to “the ones who departed from the path of the people”, or 11QMelch 2.24 refers to “those who establish the covenant, who avoid walking on the path of the people”, these all can be read as a sectarian orientation held by priests of the temple (and those who join with them). 1QS extends the ideology of priestly separateness to selected lay initiates, but nothing in 1QS requires reading that as meaning rejection of the priests or the temple.

(The above is excerpted from G. Doudna, “The Sect of the Qumran Texts and its Leading Role in the Temple in Jerusalem During Much of the First Century BCE: Toward a New Framework for Understanding”, in D. Stacey & G. Doudna, Qumran Revisited: A Reassessment of the Archaeology of the Site and its Texts (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2013), pp. 75-124, at 80-84.)


Doudna, G. (2011), “Allusions to the End of the Hasmonean Dynasty in Pesher Nahum (4Q169)”. Pp. 259-78 in G. Brooke & J. Høgenhaven (eds), The Mermaid and the Partridge. Essays from the Copenhagen Conference on Revising Texts from Cave Four. Leiden: Brill.

Douglas, M. (1998), Power and Praise in the Hodayot: A Literary Critical Study of 1QH 9:1-18:14. PhD dissertation, Divinity School, University of Chicago. Chicago.

_________ (1999), “The Teacher Hymn Hypothesis Revisited: New Data for an Old Crux”. Dead Sea Discoveries 6: 239-66.

Elledge, C.D. (2007), “The Prince of the Congregation: Qumran ‘Messianism’ in the Context of Milhāmâ”. Pp. 178-207 in M. Davis & B. Strawn (eds), Qumran Studies. New Approaches, New Questions. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.

Goodblatt, D. (1994), The Monarchic Principle. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

Horbury, W. (2003), Messianism Among Jews and Christians. Biblical and Historical Studies. London: Continuum.

Van der Kooij, A. (2007), “The Greek Bible and Jewish Concepts of Royal Priesthood and Priestly Monarchy”. Pp. 255-64 in T. Rajak et al. (eds), Hellenistic Culture and Society 50. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Ward, G. (1996), The Psalms of Solomon. A Philological Analysis of the Greek and Syriac Texts. PhD dissertation, Temple University. New York.

Wise, M.O. (1999), The First Messiah. Investigating the Savior Before Christ. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

_________ (2010), “The Origins and History of the Teacher’s Movement”. Pp. 92-122 in T. Lim & J. Collins (eds), The Oxford Handbook of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Comments (1)

Is there a plausible candidate for a great usurper prophesied to die at Roman hands?
Perhaps if a rank amateur asks a possibly silly question some others with professional knowledge will raise the tone of the discussion. The topic seems to be of some importance for the history of Judaism and Christianity.

#1 - Martin Hughes - 07/25/2014 - 16:40

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