Dead Sea Scrolls

Ancient documents give a glimpse into Second Temple life.

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Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha

A number of Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha documents were also discovered at Qumran. Although not preserved by later Jewish communities, these texts were sustained by different branches of Christianity. The two most prevalent in the Qumran library were the books of Jubilees and Enoch, which both have been preserved in the Ethiopian Orthodox canon.

Jubilees is a text that deals mainly with adjusting the calendar to biblical events from the beginning of Creation. Its prominence among the Dead Sea Scrolls suggests the meticulous nature of the Qumran sect Enoch predicts an assortment of apocalypses. Its prominence is consistent with the messianic mentality of the community. 

Two texts preserved from the Apocrypha are the books of Tobitand Sirach, also known as the Deuterocanonical books, preserved in the Roman Catholic canon. Their discovery among the Dead Seas Scrolls is evidence of the Jewish origin of these texts.

Legislative Documents

Perhaps the most interesting content found in the Dead Sea Scrolls are texts unique to the Qumran community. These fall into three categories: legislative documents, hymns, and biblical embellishments.

The legislative documents from Qumran indicate the community was strict and particular in its performance of biblical laws, and also implemented its own, non-biblical regulations. The Manual of Discipline identifies distinct practices of the group, while the Damascus Document condemns the ritual practices of the sect's opponents in Jerusalem.

The apocalyptic nature of the community comes out in the War Scroll, which discusses a battle between the Qumran sect, "the Sons of Light," and "the Sons of Darkness" and presents instructions for an expected 40-year war.

The Temple Scroll adds to and revises the laws of Deuteronomy and the description of the Temple in Jerusalem. Another document, named by scholars 4QDeuteronomy, combines passages of Deuteronomy and Exodus to explain observance of the Sabbath. Other issues in these legislative documents include membership in the community and punishments for offenses committed at Qumran.

Hymns and Biblical Additions

The hymns found in the Dead Sea Scrolls feature psalms and blessings probably recited by the community on special days. The Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice describes classes of angels and their heavenly worship service on 13 consecutive Sabbaths, covering one quarter of the year. This document highlights the solar calendar used by the Qumran community. As seen with Jubilees and Enoch, calendar and time were fundamental issues for the sect. A text identical to Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice was also discovered at Masada in 1965, suggesting the hymn traveled with those who took refuge at Masada when fleeing from the Roman invasion in the first century CE.

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Hannah Wortzman

Hannah Wortzman is a PhD candidate in the Department of Jewish Thought at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Scholion Interdisciplinary Research Center for Jewish Studies. She is also a research assistant at the Orion Centre for the Dead Sea Scrolls and Related Literature.