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The Damascus Document and the Community Rule

(Summary of a lecture by J. R. Davila on 15 February 2005)

Please note: this lecture assumes that you have already read the Damascus Document and Community Rule in translation as well as the assigned articles either from the EDSS or the ABD. Complete information on short references to other scholarly works in this lecture can be found in the annotated bibliography.

The so-called Damascus Document is unique in that it is the only Qumran sectarian work that was known before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It had been found many years before in the famous "Cairo Geniza." As mentioned last week, a "geniza" is a repository for worn documents that bear the name of God and therefore according to Jewish halakhah must be disposed of in a prescribed way. This particular geniza was a room adjoining a synagogue in Old Cairo, which was gradually stuffed full of papers over something like a millennium, until it was discovered by European scholars and emptied about a century ago. More than two hundred thousand fragments of manuscripts were recovered, including a few of documents of which copies would also later be discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. These include two large, early medieval fragments of the Damascus Document (CD A and CD B), with a possible third, small parchment fragment; fragments of Aramaic Levi; and fragments of the original Hebrew of Ben Sira or Ecclesiasticus. How did copies of these documents end up both in Qumran caves and in the Cairo Geniza and how were they transmitted in between? This is a very good question, to which we do not know the answer. Two possibilities commend themselves. It may be that they were copied in an unbroken manuscript tradition in Jewish circles into the Middle Ages. Or they may have been recovered during the early Middle Ages in caves in Palestine in discoveries like those mentioned by Origen and Timothy (perhaps even in the particular discovery Timothy describes) and then copied and passed along (perhaps in quasi-heretical "Karaite" circles) until they ended up in Egypt.

Fragments of eight manuscripts of the Damascus Document were found in Qumran Cave 4 (4Q266-273), with scripts dated paleographically from the first century BCE to the first century CE. In addition small bits of the work survive in a manuscript from Cave 5 (5Q12) and another from Cave 6 (6Q15). The two Geniza manuscripts vary significantly from one another in one column (on which more below) but otherwise there are no major variations among the Qumran and Geniza manuscripts wherever they overlap with one another. The Qumran copies are very fragmentary (4Q266 is the best preserved and perhaps the earliest) but nevertheless they help us a great deal in recovering the overall structure of the work. (It is generally agreed that the Damascus Document is composite - that is, it has been redacted together out of earlier material - but there is not a great deal of agreement on the details of the redaction.) We can conveniently (following Baumgarten in his EDSS article) break the Damascus Document down into three sections:

(1) The Admonition. The Geniza manuscripts preserved this section in CD A cols. 1-8, with a parallel but significantly different text of col. 8 in the CD B manuscript, which, confusingly, is called cols. 19-20. Now 4Q266-268 preserve parts of the real beginning of the work, a first-person exhortation that came before col. 1 of CD A. The Admonition includes several accounts of the origins of the movement, each starting with a survey of some or all of biblical history. The content of CD B 20 (which extends beyond the parallel in CD A 8) fits better with the content of the Laws and it has been suggested that this passage is a secondary addition to the Admonition. The reasons for the variations in the parallel material in CD A and CD B are open to debate, and the Qumran manuscripts do not clarify the problem definitively.

(2) The Laws (CD A cols. 9-12.20a + cols. 15-16 + much 4Q material that came between cols. 11 and 12). Cols. 15-16 were placed incorrectly by the original editor (Solomon Schechter), but the Qumran manuscripts show the correct order. This is a large collection of halakhic material with some general similarities in layout and organization to the Mishnah but completely different in content and sometimes giving legal solutions contrary to those found in the Mishnah.

(3) Communal Rules (CD A 12.20b-14.22 + 4Q material). This is the last part of the work and includes rules for the Overseer/Inspector" (Hebrew Mebaqqer) of the sectarian group; rules for the punishment and expulsion of erring members; provisions for an annual meeting of Levites and "men of the camps" in the third month of the year (during the festival of Shavuot/Weeks?); and a conclusion.

Some Specific Issues Regarding the Damascus Document

(1) The Origins of the Community. Due to space limitations, my focus here will be on a single pericope near the beginning of the Admonition, CD A 1.1-2.1, which appears to give a brief summary of the origins of the sect. We are told that preexilic unfaithfulness was punished by God and was followed by the "period of wrath," dated to 390 years after the conquest by Nebuchadnezzar (the Babylonian exile, presumably 587/6 BCE). Then there came twenty years in which the people knew their own guilt and groped for the path, until God raised up a "Teacher of Righteousness" who revealed God's will. He was opposed by the "man of scoffing" who initiated the persecution of the sect. This outline appears to date the period of wrath to c. 196-97 BCE and the rise of the Teacher of Righteousness to c. 177-76 BCE. But there are two problems. First, the number 390 is suspicious. It looks to be based on the number of years decreed for the punishment of Israel in an oracle in Ezekiel 4.5. In addition the twenty years could be taken as half of the forty years of punishment for Judah decreed in the same passage. Therefore it could be a very schematic estimate that is attempting to fit the sect's history into the eschatological ten-Jubilee cycle alluded to in Daniel 9 and 11QMelchizedek (11Q13). Second, it is widely agreed that this pericope of the Damascus Document is a piece of poetry, since it can be divided very easily into couplets of parallel lines characteristic of Hebrew poetry. However, the numbers and the reference to Nebuchadnezzar do not fit the poetic structure of the passage. They are clearly secondary additions to it by a later editor. We have no idea what the basis for the numbers was or how much they are historical vs. an ideological construct. So the chronological outline of the Admonition is highly suspect.

(2) The Teacher of Righteousness. This mysterious leader is mentioned in the same passage as a figure in the past, and also in CD B 20.32 as a figure who could be taken to be in the past or in the present. There is also reference to the "unique teacher" (possibly to be emended to read "the teacher of the Yah9ad") in 20.1, who "was gathered in" according to 20.14. This phrase has been taken to mean either that he died or he gathered a group of followers. A "teacher" is mentioned again in 20.28 and there is an obscure and probably textually corrupt reference to the "gathering in" of "one who teaches" or a "teacher" in CD B 19.35. And in CD A 6.11 we are told of "one who teaches righteousness" who is to come in the future. The Teacher of Righteousness is mentioned again several times in the Pesharim and we will come back to him in the third week of this course, but for now let us just note that the evidence of the Damascus Document leaves us unsure how many teachers are in view; whether he or they come in the past, present or future; and whether the or a Teacher of Righteousness was still living at the time the work was written.

(3) "Damascus" in the Damascus Document. Our title for the work comes from some seven references in it to the activities of the group in "Damascus" or the "land of Damascus." Three broad understandings of this term have been proposed, with some combined permutations. It could be a literal reference to the city in Syria; it could refer obliquely to Babylonia; or it could be a secret code word for a completely unrelated location, generally thought to be the site of Qumran itself. The literal meaning is implied in 6.4-5, which refers to "the converts (or "returnees") of Israel who went out of the land of Judah and sojourned in the land of Damascus." But the word Damascus is explicitly derived from the prophetic oracle in Amos 5:26-27, which threatens the apostate Judeans with exile "beyond Damascus" (according to the Masoretic Text, the traditional Hebrew text used most of the time in English translations) or, according to the text quoted in CD A 7.14-15, "from (or "beyond") the tents of Damascus." This phrase in Amos is interpreted to mean "Babylon" in Acts 7:43 (reasonably, in that the foretold exile in reality turned out to be to Babylon), and one could potentially take it to have this meaning in the Damascus Document as well. Indeed, Jerome Murphy O'Connor has argued that the Qumran sect originated in the Babylonian diaspora, partly on the basis of this interpretation of the Damascus Document. The third interpretation rests on the fact that secret code names, usually based on scriptural allusions, abound in the sectarian Scrolls (e.g., the Teacher of Righteousness, the Kittim, and the Wicked Priest) and the most widely accepted view is that Damascus is a code name for the sect's headquarters now represented by the ruins at Qumran.

"The Community Rule" (Serekh Ha Yah9ad) is this work's title for itself in the best-preserved manuscript, 1QS. Early on, scholars also called it the "Manual of Discipline." It appears, at least at first glance - and even at second or third glance - to be a constitution for some sort of dissident Jewish group in the Second Temple period which called itself the " Yah9ad," literally the "together," but here used as a technical term meaning "Community." Frank Moore Cross dated the script of 1QS to c. 100-75 BCE on paleographic grounds. Another manuscript, this one written on papyrus rather than leather, has been dated paleographically to be somewhat older, copied c. 125-100 BCE. The manuscript 1QS is one of the original seven scrolls found in Cave 1. Columns 1-11 contain the Community Rule. When the cave was excavated, two more works from the same scroll were recovered: 1QSa (the Rule of the Congregation or the Messianic Rule) and 1QSb (the Rule of the Blessings). Our concern today is only with the Community Rule, of which ten more fragmentary copies were recovered from Cave 4 (4Q255-64) and one from Cave 5 (5Q11; cf. the related text 5Q13).

If we focus first on the manuscript 1QS, we find clear traces of the redaction of earlier documents into the work. For example, there are various doublets in it such as the three general statements of the aims of the community (1.1-15; 5.1-7a; 8.1-4a). It was recognized early on as a composite work but the first complete theory of redactional development was published in an article by Murphy-O'Connor in 1969, which argued for four literary strata. This theory was developed by J. Pouilly in a book in 1976 and Murphy-O'Connor now accepts Pouilly's analysis (see his article in the ABD for details and bibliography). His reconstruction is more detailed than most scholars would be willing to commit to but it is useful as a heuristic tool. Briefly, he argues that 1QS (1) contains an original core, a manifesto involving a group of twelve men and three priests who separated themselves from the ruling social structure around the Temple and went out into the desert (parts of cols. 8-10). (2) After some time, additional rules for daily life were added to the manifesto (the rest of cols. 8-9). (3) As time passed, the community increased in size and developed quasi-democratic institutions, detailed rules for entrance, and an expanded penal code (col. 7 + parts of cols. 5-6). (4) Finally, two major units were added: cols. 1-4 (an introduction, directions for a covenant renewal ceremony, and the dualistic theological statement known as the "Treatise on the Two Spirits," and the rest of cols. 10-11 (a hymn). More entrance and community regulations were also added to cols. 5-6.

The manuscripts of the Community Rule from Cave 4 confirm that the work existed in different versions but the relationship of the versions and how the work developed continue to be debated. Only three of the Cave 4 manuscripts preserve enough text to be useful from a redaction-critical perspective.

4Q256 (4QSb) has the same overall structure as 1QS (i.e., it includes cols. 1QS cols. 1-4, 10-11) but significant differences in detail, differences that seem to correspond in the middle part of the work to the recension found in 4Q258.

4Q258 (4QSd) omits 1QS cols. 1-4 but otherwise seems to be the same recension as 4Q256. The following variants from 1QS 5:1-9 are noteworthy. The rubric in 1QS 5.1, "This is the rule (Serek) for the men of the Yah9ad," takes the form "Midrash for the Sage (Maskil) concerning the men of the Torah" in 4Q258. The phrase "to become a Yah9ad" in 1QS 5.2 reads slightly differently as "to come together" in 4Q258. The phrase "Sons of Zadok" is found twice in this passage in 1QS but appears instead as, respectively "the Many" and "the council of the men of the Yah9ad" in 4Q258.

The fragments of 4Q259 (4QSe) commence with material corresponding to 1QS 7 but the opening column of the manuscript is lost and it is unclear if it contained the equivalent of 1QS cols. 1-4. It is missing 1QS 8.15b-9.11 (which consists of community precepts to be followed until the coming of the "prophet" and the "Messiahs of Israel and Aaron") and the hymn in 10.9 ff. It ended with a calendrical text (4QOtot/4Q319) rather than the two texts found at the end of 1QS.

The Cave 4 manuscripts show beyond a doubt that there is some value to the redaction-critical approach. They demonstrate, for example, that 1QS 1-4 and the final hymn in 1QS 10-11 are separable units that were not part of the work during its whole history. We find multiple recensions of the work in these manuscripts, one (1QS) which gives the priests authority where another (4Q256 and 4Q258) gives it to the Yah9ad as a democratic body. It is debatable whether the priestly recension is the more original, as argued by Philip Alexander, or the democratic recension, as argues by Sarianna Metso. The paleographic evidence would support the former position in that 1QS is an earlier copy than either 4Q256 or 4Q258.

Any number of theories has been advanced to explain the origins of the group presented in the Community Rule and it would take far more space than I have here to survey them all. I summarize the following three as representative of the wide range of possibilities and the degree to which the old consensus (the Essene hypothesis) has been challenged.

First, it has been argued that the Community Rule describes an organization more or less equivalent to the Essenes described by the classical writers. This has been the standard interpretation of the Community Rule and most of the other sectarian texts since it was proposed by Eliezer Sukenik in the late 1940s and it still has much merit. It was applied to the original seven Scrolls, and by implication to all the Scrolls, although it is fully recognized now that not all of them are sectarian or Essene. The theory is based on the description of the Essenes by their contemporaries Philo, Josephus, and Pliny the Elder. Like the Essenes, the Community Rule teaches strict determinism rather than free will and mandates communal ownership of property. It gives similar (but not identical) rules for joining the community; prescribes an oath to be taken by new members and a common meal to be shared by ceremonially pure members; and, at least according to one interpretation, it describes a celibate group of men only. It is also argued that the location of Qumran seems to correspond to where Pliny located the Essenes on the coast of the Dead Sea.

Second, Norman Golb (especially in his book Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?) argues that the Dead Sea Scrolls are really literary archives from Jerusalem and thus have nothing to do with any putative Essene community living at Qumran. He finds among the Scrolls a mixture of documents that include a "sectarian" set (to which, apparently, the Community Rule does not belong) but also many other things. In particular, he offers a detailed critique of the view that the Community Rule describes the Essenes. He emphasizes the unfulfilled, "visionary nature" of the Community Rule and notes that avoidance and spiritualization of animal sacrifice was characteristic of Hellenistic religion in general, such as Hermetic literature. The reference to going into the desert in 8.14 (he does not discuss 9.19-20) gives a spiritual interpretation to Isa 40:3, applying it to the study of Torah, not a literal move to the desert as in John the Baptist's interpretation. It is problematic to interpret the group behind the Community Rule as celibate in that one of the blessings promised to members is "fruitfulness of seed" (4.7), and col. 9 appears to expect that the whole Israelite society will eventually follow the teachings of the Yah9ad. He notes also that the Community Rule never says that the members sleep in the same quarters or live together.

Golb proposes an alternative reading of the Community Rule: it describes an early example (the Essenes are another) of a group of "purity-loving brethren" such as the Havurah/Friendship groups described in the Mishnah. The Havurot (plural) were concerned with ritual purity and proper tithing; they had periods of probation before members were allowed to consume the pure food and drink; and they recognized different categories of membership. But they still lived in their own homes and had wives and children. Golb argues that scholars without rabbinic training seized on the classical descriptions of the Essenes for parallels to the Community Rule when it was first discovered, without realizing that the rabbinic Havurot provided significant parallels as well.

Third, basing his research on earlier work by Moshe Weinfeld, Matthias Klinghardt has argued that the Community Rule is the code for a Jewish Palestinian association centered around a synagogue community. He maintains that 1QS (and the sectarian Scrolls in general) are best paralleled by pagan Hellenistic associations, which had similar codes and structures, rather than by cenobitic or monastic associations that appear only in Egypt and in the fourth century CE. The Hellenistic associations and the Community Rule have similar procedures for admission which include a probationary period, the examination of the candidate, an initiation oath, etc. The disciplinary regulations are similar, involving such things as rules for assembly and the order of speaking. They have similar concerns with ethical teachings and with regulations for internal jurisdiction (penalties for infractions, witnesses, reconciliation of apostates, etc.).

An enormous amount could be said here and I must limit myself to a few general observations. The Community Rule and Damascus Document share a good bit of technical terminology and some overlapping legal traditions. For example, both apply the title "sons of light" to members, and they share versions of a penal code, which is found in 1QS 7 and 4Q266 10 ii-11//4Q267 9 vi//4Q269 11 i-ii//4Q270 7 i (Baumgarten's column numbers - numbered somewhat differently in DSST). But the two works also differ significantly in both areas. The "Teacher of Righteousness" figures prominently in the Damascus Document but never appears at all in the Community Rule. And the penal codes, although evidently based on the same template, differ in many ways. Some of the laws appear in one code but not the other, and sometimes the penalty for a given infraction is different in the two codes. To complicate matters further, another manuscript, 4Q265, is a large fragment of another rule. It preserves, among other things, a version of the same penal code with parallels to both the Damascus Document and the Community Rule but one evidently redacted independently of either.

The overall feel of the groups portrayed in the two works is rather different as well. The Community Rule describes a close-knit "Community" or " Yah9ad" that holds possessions in common; it advances a harshly dualistic world view that is hostile to outsiders; it generally deals with men only; and it views the group members as a spiritual Temple and seems to reject literal sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple. But the Damascus Document assigns its group members to "camps"; covers numerous issues pertaining to family and business; and assumes the members participate in the Temple cult.

Many explanations of the relationship between the two works are possible. I summarize four here, again, as illustrative examples rather than a comprehensive survey.

One view is that the Community Rule is a constitution for a celibate, quasi-monastic core group living at Qumran itself (a site that, on archaeological grounds, could not support more than a couple of hundred residents, if that). The Damascus Document is a constitution for a contemporary, larger group of followers with less rigorous requirements for membership: they married, had families, and conducted business with the outside world. Josephus mentions one group of celibate Essenes and another that married and had children. It is possible that the first corresponds to the group of the Community Rule and the second to the group of the Damascus Document. This interpretation requires a methodologically problematic (as per last week's lecture) harmonistic reading of the evidence and it fails to explain some of the most puzzling differences between the Community Rule and the Damascus Document (why, for example, does the Teacher of Righteousness appear in the latter but not the former?).

A second view, which I give in the form recently defended by Charlotte Hempel in The Laws of the Damascus Document, is that the Damascus Document is the constitution of a parent group that evolved over time into the group that produced the Community Rule. The Damascus Document contains a corpus of legal traditions widely accepted over the whole spectrum of Second Temple Judaism (the "halakhah stratum"), which has been adopted and incorporated into a "communal legislation stratum" by this parent group. The Community Rule is the constitution of a group that descended from the parent group and composed and redacted the Damascus Document. This theory raises the questions of why we have no variant versions of the Damascus Document if it went through a complex redaction, and how the variant versions of the Community Rule and 4Q265 can be fitted into the proposed evolutionary schema.

Third, Philip R. Davies, like Hempel, believes that a real community lies behind the Damascus Document. There may also have been a real group that called itself the Yah9ad, but the manuscripts of the Community Rule are private or library copies of a utopian document, one that reflects not a real community but an invented society inspired by antiquarian interests. Such utopian speculation is common in ancient Jewish literature. Consider, for example, Ezekiel's Temple, the Temple Scroll, the War Rule, and the Mishnah. If Davies's suggestion is true, it would require a radical rethinking of the whole field of Qumran studies.

Fourth, and with this I close this lecture, Maxine Grossman in her book Reading for History in the Damascus Document, presents a thoroughly postmodern challenge to past readings of the Damascus Document and, by implication, all the Qumran texts. She discusses the relationship between the Damascus Document and the Community Rule only tangentially, but her approach has important implications for the question. Her basic insight is that a text - any text - is open to many different readings depending on who is reading it and when. She sets out to avoid both "atomistic" and "harmonistic" scholarly readings. The former mine a literary work for nuggets of historical fact without proper attention to the place of these details in the context of the work as a whole and the work's assimilation into a specific context of particular readers and particular texts. The latter combine atomistic readings of a group of literary works (such as the Qumran sectarian texts) and harmonize the historical details to produce a "master framework" historical narrative which does not give adequate attention to contradictions and differences between the texts and the potential range of contexts in which the individual texts could be understood.

Her approach is to read the Damascus Document and other Qumran texts as would a reader in various social and chronological contexts so as to uncover variant possible original meanings and later interpretations. In her terminology, a text is "mobilized" by various audiences, who "foreground" and "background" different elements of the text to extract meaning from it. In a word, since we don't know much about the audiences - the actual people - who were reading the Dead Sea Scrolls in antiquity, we have to be satisfied with a frustratingly large range of viable reconstructions of original-audience interpretations of them. Grossman's book is a must-read for anyone doing serious work on the Dead Sea Scrolls. We are very fortunate that she has agreed to give us an online lecture on her work during the spring break.

(c) 2005
Reproduction beyond fair use only on permission of the author.

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