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War Scroll


WAR SCROLL , manuscript comprising 18 columns found among the manuscripts in Qumran Cave 1 in 1947 and acquired by E.L. *Sukenik for the Hebrew University; it is now in the Shrine of the Book, Jerusalem. Two fragments of the scroll were discovered when the cave was officially inspected early in 1949; further fragments of a different recension of the same work were found in Cave 4.


The work contains prescriptions for the eschatological warfare, lasting 40 years, which will end with the extermination of wickedness (embodied in the "sons of darkness") and the triumph of righteousness (embodied in the "*sons of light"). It is in some degree a Midrash on Daniel 11:40ff., describing in detail how the last great enemy of the people of God, together with his supporters, "shall come to his end, and none shall help him" (Dan. 11:45), and how Michael will stand up to champion the cause of God (Dan. 12:1). The exiles will return from "the wilderness of the peoples" to encamp in "the wilderness of Jerusalem" and in the first instance they will give battle to the *Kittim and their allies, extirpating them first from Syria and then from Egypt. This phase of the war lasts six years. A pure sacrificial worship is established in Jerusalem, organized by a worthy priesthood. There remain 29 years for fighting (for every seventh year is free from war); during these remaining years the other enemies of Israel are attacked and wiped out in turn: those of the family of Shem in the first nine years, the family of Ham in the next decade, and the family of Japheth in the final decade.

The Holy War

The whole campaign is envisaged in terms of the ancient institution of the holy war; slogans emphasizing this are inscribed on the trumpets and on the standards of the sons of light. Some of these slogans have the character of "orders of the day," as when Judah Maccabee, before joining battle with Nicanor, gave the watchword "God's help" (ii Macc. 8:23). The "great standard at the head of all the people" was to bear the inscription "Peoples of God" (1qm 3:13), which may be compared with Simeon's official title sar am El (i Macc. 14:28). As Judah, before leading his troops into battle, reminded them how divine help had come to their ancestors in similar crises, in the destruction of Sennacherib's army (ii Macc. 8:19), so encouraging episodes from Israel's history are invoked in the War Scroll: "Goliath of Gath, a mighty man of valor, Thou didst deliver into the hand of David Thy servant, because he trusted in Thy great name" (1qm 11:1ff.). As Judah and his men, returning from victory, "sang hymns and praises to heaven" (i Macc. 14:24), so the War Scroll prescribes a hymn of thanksgiving to be sung after battle (1qm 14:4ff.) as well as blessings to be pronounced before and during the action itself by the high priest and the priests and levites (1qm 10:1ff.). As befits a holy war, the priesthood plays a leading part; special vestments are prescribed for its members to wear during battle, in which they accompany the fighting men to strengthen their hands and blow the trumpets for advance, engagement, and return. But when the rout of the sons of darkness begins, "the priests shall sound from afar when the slain fall, and they shall not come to the midst of the slaughter lest they be defiled by unclean blood, for they are holy and must not profane the oil of their priestly anointing with the blood of a nation of vanity" (1qm 9:7–9). Ceremonial purity is insisted upon throughout; not only are the men engaged in a holy war but the holy angels go with their armies. The soldiers must therefore abstain from sexual intercourse while on active service; latrines must be separated from the camp by 2,000 cubits; physical blemishes incapacitate a man from military service as rigorously as they do from ministry in the sanctuary (1qm 7:3–8).

Contemporary Models

While the fundamental principles of the action are those of the holy war, the detailed directions about battle formation, tactics, and weapons are fairly closely related to contemporary practice. It does not appear that the author of the work had ever seen a battle; as in Chronicles, the sons of darkness remain passive and allow the sons of light to carry out their plan of war against them without offering much resistance. Yet the author and his associates had made it their business to study contemporary military manuals, and the results of their study are incorporated in the War Scroll. It is debated whether their models were Hellenistic or Roman, but the battle formation has more in common with the Roman triplex acies than with the Hellenistic phalanx, and the arms for defense and attack resemble those which are attested for the Roman armies in the age of Caesar. That Jewish generals did adopt Roman models is evident from Josephus' account of his training and equipping the forces which he commanded in Galilee at the beginning of the war against Rome (Jos., Wars, 2:577ff.); a comparison between this account and the War Scroll shows some impressive points of resemblance, except that Josephus was more of a realist than the author of the War Scroll and tried to anticipate the probable action and reaction of the enemy. The detailed way in which the prescriptions are particularized makes it quite improbable that the conflict with which the War Scroll is concerned is an allegorical conflict against spiritual forces of wickedness (like John Bunyan's Holy War); fighting with material weapons against foes of flesh and blood is envisaged, even if the course of the action turned out differently from that anticipated in this blueprint when at last the sons of light declared war on the Kittim.


Y. Yadin, Scroll of the War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness (1962); J. Carmignac, La règle de la guerre (1958); J. van der Ploeg, Le rouleau de la guerre (1959); H.A. Brongers, De rol van de strijd (1960); Atkinson, in: bjrl, 40 (1957–58), 272ff.; G.R. Driver, Judaean Scrolls (1965), 168–225.

[Frederick Fyvie Bruce]

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