Qumran Community

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Ascetic sect of Jews who lived in the Judean Desert near the Wadi Qumran, along the northwest shore of the Dead Sea roughly between 150 b.c. and a.d. 68.

Sources. The Qumran community is known principally from the excavation of Khirbet Qumran, Ain Feshkha, and 11 nearby caves, as well as from the sectarian Qumran Scrolls, especially the various pesharim, 4QTestimonia, the Community Rule (1QS and its copies 4QS, 5QS), 1QSa,. 1QSb, 1QH, 1QM, 4QMMT, and possibly 11QTemple. Data found in the Damascus Document (CD and its copies 4QD, 5QD) must be used with caution; although copies of it were produced at Qumran and found in the caves, it apparently governed the communal life of "camps" in the land of "Damascus" (a code word for related Jews dwelling elsewhere). Inhabitants of such camps apparently followed a mode of life that differed somewhat from that of the Judean Desert.

Origins. The beginnings of the community are obscure, and two explanations are used: (1) The first explanation relates the community to the ăsîdîm (Pious Ones: 1 Mc 2.42; see hasidaeans) of the Maccabean revolt (167165 b.c.). When the Maccabees developed political tendencies and the high priesthood was assumed by Jonathan (152 b.c.), this community broke off from the Jerusalem priesthood and withdrew to the Judean desert (see maccabees, history of the; high priest). It referred to itself as běnê Sādôq, "the sons of Zadok," revealing its connection with the old line of ousted but legitimate Zadokite priestly families. According to its strict interpretation of Levitical rules, it considered the Jerusalem priests to be unclean, for they had been hellenized, had abandoned the old solar calendar for a new one in celebrating the feasts, and were notorious for their worldly pursuit of wealth.

(2) The second explanation relates the community to the "returnees of Israel" (CD 4.2; 6.5), that is, descendants of Jews deported to Babylon in the sixth-century Babylonian Captivity who had remained there until they heard of the success of the Maccabean revolt and then returned to Judah, only to find the form of Jewish life there far from strict enough, and so they broke with the Jerusalem priesthood (as above). In either explanation the conduct of those priests was an abomination to the strict priestly elements of the Qumran community, who refused to share in Temple sacrifice offered by such men. After 20 years of an amorphous existence ("groping," CD1.12), the community was shaped by an energetic priest who came to be regarded as its founder and given the title of the "Righteous Teacher"; his identity is unknown. He and his community were persecuted by a "Wicked Priest" (1Qp Hab 8.812.10), who may have been the high priest Jonathan (or a succession of high priests). Later, when Alexander Jannaeus (10376 b.c.) persecuted the Pharisees, some of them seem to have joined the Qumran community. (see hasmonaeans.)

Identification. Attempts have been made to identify the Qumran community with the pharisees (C. Rabin), sadducees (L. H. Schiffman), ebionites (O. Cullmann), Jewish Christians (B. Thiering, R. H. Eisenman), or even the medieval Karaites, but none of these attempts are convincing. The best theory, proposed originally by E. L. Sukenik, A. Dupont-Sommer, and the majority of scholars, identifies it with the essenes. The main reason for identification is the notice in Pliny the Elder (Natural History 5.15.73) that locates the Essenes on the western shore of the Dead Sea south of Jericho and above En-Gedi and Masada. The only spot with Roman-period remains in this area that could be meant is Khirbet Qumran, the site of the community center. Even though some details of the community's mode of life known from the Scrolls do not always agree with the data of ancient writers who tell about the Essenes (Philo, Josephus, Pliny the Elder, Hippolytus), the bulk of them does coincide and suggests that the Qumran community was Essene.

Beliefs and Mode of Life. The Jews of Qumran were called simply yahad, "community" (1QS1.1,12,16), or harabbîm, "the Many" (1QS 6.1,8,11), or even "the Way" (1QS 9.1718, 21). Members who joined the community were said to "enter the covenant" (1QS 1.18, 20). Chosen by divine predilection, they were the remnant of Israel (CD 1.4), the new Temple (1QS8.5), the new plantation (1QS 11.8), the new people of God (1QM 1.5; 3.13), with whom He made a "new covenant" (CD 6.9; 20.12; cf. Jer 31.31). Their retreat to the desert was motivated by Is 40.3, "to prepare the way of the Lord" (1QS 8.1415). There they lived an ascetic life, nourished by common work, prayer, study and interpretation of the Torah and the Prophets, strict observance of levitical purity regulations, and a conviction that it was already the "end of days" (1Qp Hab 2.5; 9.6). For the day of God's visitation was imminent; soon He would descend with His angels to do battle on the side of the "sons of light" (i.e., the community) and wipe out all sons of darkness and sinful opposition to them (1QM 1.512). Living in the end time, they believed that many savings of the Old Testament Prophets were being verified in the events of their sect. Their Righteous Teacher had received special revelations from God making known to him "all the secrets of the words of His servants the Prophets" (1Qp Hab 7.5). These formed the community's esoteric interpretation of the Old Testament. They awaited the advent of a Prophet (like Moses, Dt 18.18), and of two Anointed Ones (a priestly messiah of Aaron and a royal Messiah of Israel: 1QS 9.11). A striking dualism colored their otherwise orthodox monotheism. God "created human beings to rule the world, and appointed for them two spirits by which they were to walk until the time of His visitation: the spirits of truth and of perversity" (1QS 3.1719). This ethical dualism is expressed sometimes in terms of light and darkness, the Prince of Light and the Angel of Darkness, or a conflict between God and Belial.

Community life was marked by communal ownership of property. Though one entered the community voluntarily and became a full member only after two-thirds years of probation (1QS 6.1318), one was expected to turn all property and earnings over to the community's overseer. Communal ownership was partly motivated by a contempt for worldly riches; these were to be left to the men of perdition, whereas the members formed the "community of the poor" (4Qp Ps 37 2.10).

The Community Rule (1QS) envisages a communal life without women; this agrees with the ancient notices about celibate Essenes in Pliny (Nat. Hist. 5.15.73) and Josephus (Bell. Jud. 2.8.2 No. 120). The Rule of the Congregation (1QSa 1.48), however, mentions women and children and gives instruction about the proper age for sexual intercourse. The Damascus Document (CD) also speaks of "taking wives according to the Law and begetting children" (7.6; 19.3). Since a few female skeletons were found in an annex to the main Qumran cemetery, the community apparently at some stage had both celibate and married members (see Josephus, Bell. Jud. 2.8.13 No. 160161).

Besides priests and Levites, there were also laymen in the community, divided into groups of 1,000s, 100s, 50s, and 10s (1QS 2.2122; cf. Ex 18.21, 25). A nucleus group was composed of 12 laymen and 3 priests, experts in the Law (1QS 8.1). The main affairs of the community were settled democratically in the "assembly of the Many," but the executive administration of various affairs was in the hands of "a [lay] man appointed at the head of the Many" (1QS 6.14) and an "overseer of the [work of the] Many" (1QS 6.11, 20). The former was a sort of superior, the latter a sort of bursar; they were responsible for the admission of candidates, administration of property, and so on.

Two rites formed the main cultic exercises of daily life: purificatory washings and a common religious meal. The purificatory washings were apparently immersion baths, like those prescribed by the Old Testament for priestly cleanliness; they symbolized a sorrow for sins (1QS 3.45, 9; 5.1314). Such purification was required before one partook of the common meal. The religious meal was presided over by a priest who was to bless the bread and the wine before anyone touched them. He took precedence even over the Messiah of Israel who was thought to be present (1QSa 2.1120; 1QS 6.2021).

In addition to these rites, there were also prayers at set hours, in the evening and at sunrise, and a liturgy of the Sabbath used by the community. The community's Psalter, containing the canonical Psalms in a different order and their own Thanksgiving Psalms (1QH) (hôdāyôt ), reveal the piety of the sect. The ancient solar calendar of 364 days regulated the community's celebration of feasts, and on the Feast of Weeks each year the Covenant was renewed (Jubilees 6.17) and new members were admitted.

Bibliography: p. r. davies, "Hasidim in the Maccabean Period," Journal of Jewish Studies 28 (1977) 12744. n. golb, Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls? (New YorkLondon 1995). m. goodman, "A Note on the Qumran Sectarians, the Essenes and Josephus," Journal of Jewish Studies 46 (1995) 161166. l. h. schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls (Philadelphia 1994). h. stegemann, The Library of Qumran: On the Essenes, John the Baptist and Jesus (Grand Rapids, Mich. 1998). e. ulrich and j. vanderkam, The Community of the Renewed Covenant (Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity 10; Notre Dame, Ind. 1994). m. a. knibb, The Qumran Community (Cambridge 1987). h. ringgren, The Faith of Qumran (Philadelphia 1963). For additional bibliog. see dead sea scrolls.

[j. a. fitzmyer]