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The Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice


by Ruth Tyldesley

(Ruth Tyldesley is third-year undergraduate in the joint M.A. honours programme in Hebrew and Greek at the University of St. Andrews.--JRD)

The Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice are a group of liturgical songs to be used on each of the first thirteen Sabbaths of the year (dating by the solar calendar). They focus upon the angels and their worship and service of God in the heavenly Temple/palace (Hebrew _hekhal_). They begin with God's establishing the angelic priesthood in the week Jews dedicated to the initiation of new priests and climax on the seventh week with the whole heavenly temple itself erupting in praise, and on the twelfth when, close on Shavuot, God's chariot-throne is described (a scene reminiscent of Ezekiel 1, the Scripture reading for that feast).

There are similarities of style, diction and ideas to some "sectarian" Qumran texts, especially the Berakhot and the Songs of the Sage. However although the author(s) also shared a calendar and some concerns with purity and spirituality with the "Yahad", the lack of dualistic or predeterministic theology or any mention of such a group has led scholars such as Carol Newsom and J.R.Davila to doubt that it was written by them. If they collected the scrolls, they had adopted the Sabbath Shirot, judging by their nine copies and the influence it seems to have had on their own writings. For those such as are described in the Community Rule, separated from the Jerusalem Temple sacrificial rites (the Sabbath Shirot do seem to have a special concern with priests), it may have been a needed source of self-confidence and spiritual authority as they joined in the "Angelic liturgy". For any pious audience it would be effective through vividly sensual description, in raising minds to the heavens, but its one admonitory first-person passage would prevent inspirational worship from becoming bombastic.

The Sabbath Shirot are a rich pool of early Jewish exegetical thinking, especially using Ezekiel, Daniel 7 and 1 Enoch to create their celestial vision. They provide a link between Biblical and Rabbinic writing, linguisitically and in the development of exegetical philosophy. My essay mentions specifically Old Testament books, Hekhalot literature and the book of Revelation, although there are links with Gnosticism and other writings too.

I am interested in some of the descriptions and concepts connected with the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, especially concerning the nature of angels and the Temple, and have attempted, far from comprehensively, to discuss some thoughts

(c) 2001
Reproduction beyond fair use only on permission of the author.

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