Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Concept of Exile during the Second Temple Period: Part 4 Qumran

The evidence for a continuing exile from the texts of Qumran.

Probably the least controversial group of texts that speak of the potency and power of exilic ideas and restoration are those texts discovered in the Dead Sea.[1] While the concepts of exile and restoration are prevalent at Qumran, they oscillate between the restoration of the land of Israel, the restoration of Jewish people, the restoration of the temple, and the restoration of sacrificial worship, and restoration to a ritual purity and perfection.[2] Furthermore it is often hard to distinguish from the concept of restoration and the overlapping concepts of remnant, eschatology, and messianism. Such fluidity found within these texts ensure that any evidence given for continuing exilic thought must admit to only being a partial picture of the texts and certainly nothing like a theology. [3]

That being said the texts found at Qumran do show that the community[4] itself may have been modeled after the exodus traditions.[5] With this insight it can be readily appreciated just how central the theme of exile was to the authors of the Qumran manuscripts. Martin Abegg, Jr. states that:

While the sojourn in Egypt and exile of the northern tribes was still reflected in the writings, it was the Babylonian exile which had captured the corporate imagination. In a very real sense it had become a new paradigm which spoke of how god dealt with his people Israel. The new going down to Egypt was the deportation to Babylon in fulfillment of God’s warning of Judgment (CD 7.9b-15). The return was followed by an important albeit unknown event which led to a lengthy wilderness wandering (1QS 8.12b-14)—the new Sinai—so as to prepare for the coming of God. The New Moses was the Teacher of Righteousness. The Faithful then waited for God to bring them into the land of promise—the iniquity of the Amorites not yet being full—and establish them in their rightful place (4Q171 1-10 ii 26-iii 2).[6]

It is possible that the Qumran community believed that it was already living in the eschaton (cf. CD 1.12), and that the eschatological salvation was, already present and able to be found by following the Teacher of Righteousness whom God had raised for this purpose.[7] The Damascus document gives the impression of a community which thought of itself as the continuing faithful remnant of returnees from the Babylonian exile (CD 7.20-8.2). By framing the eschatological beliefs in the ‘historical’ return from exile it could be argued that the community themselves thought that they were indeed the first-generation of the 'new Israel' to return from exile.[8] In fact when the Damascus document speaks of the returnees (CD 3.21-4.4) it ignores the historical return of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zerubabbel, since in the sect’s eyes the exilic period would continue until the sectarians took control of the Temple’s ritual at the end of days. In other words the restoration is not an event that had already taken place in the Persian period, but rather a part of the eschatological future being played out already in his own day.[9] Although the texts make reference to the restoration as in the process of happening, this was still only a kind of prototypical return in which they modeled their vision of the future.[10] In this sense there was still a future element that had not yet taken place.[11] And at least for this segment of Judaism(s), as far as these texts represent a community, the matrix of exile and return was not only very powerful, but central to their own self-understanding.

Another interesting set of texts found at Qumran that speak of restoration in terms of the past exodus are the liturgical and hymnic texts. It has long been realized that because these texts do not betray sectarian terminology they may in fact have already been in use before the sect came into existence and may have been used by much wider circles of Jews in the Second Temple period.[12] One of the most interesting aspects then of these texts is that they include prayers for the restoration of Jerusalem and the ingathering of the exiles at a time when Jerusalem and its Temple actually stood and when the bulk of the Jewish people remained in the Holy Land. Clearly, this is an example of how the restoration does not necessitate purely physical conditions, but restoration also rests on religious and political dissatisfaction with the state of the nation and its religious life.[13]

In The Words of the Heavenly Lights (4Q504), which are a collection of prayers for each day of the week, we find a particularly strong recollection of Israel’s past, in an effort to stir up hope in a future restoration. The prayer itself reads as if it could be found in Isaiah 40-55 asking God to “Remember Thy marvels which Thou didst for the poor of the nations,” asking God to heal them from the sin which caused the exodus, calling for the restoration of Israel so that the nations might see God’s glory. This text looks to a time that is yet future, where there will be “neither adversary nor misfortune” but “peace and blessing.” In Zion God’s holy city, they call for God to remember his Covenant, asking him not to forsake Israel whilst in captivity, seeking God to save them from all the nations of their exile, near or far, as has been promised in Scripture. Likewise, in frag. 6 6-8, in a clear reference to Isaiah 40, God is asked to bring His people back on the wings of eagles. [14] These strong allusions to the Isaianic second exodus in 4Q504, and fragments, surely betray a strong longing for a future restoration that speaks of a still future restoration from sin and exile even at a time when the Temple stood and many Jews resided in the land.


[1] When discussing exilic thought in the texts found at Qumran it is important to recognize that despite the fact that most scholars identify these texts with the Essenes, the texts themselves betray a wide diversity of thought on a number of areas, especially that of exile and restoration. See Lawrence H. Schiffman, "The Concept of Restoration in the Dead Sea Scrolls," in Restoration: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Perspectives, ed. James M. Scott (JSJSup 72; Leiden: Brill, 2001), 205.

[2] Schiffman, "Concept of Restoration," 203. Furthermore once we begin to examine specific features of the sectarian ideology of restoration in the Qumran documents it is not clear whether only the sectarians will share in the ultimate eschatological restoration, or whether all the people of Israel as a unity will be restored. Cf. The Pesher Psalms’ (4Q171) 3: 10-13 with 4Q385 (Pseudo-Ezekiel) frag. 2, 4Q386 (Pseudo-Ezekielb) frag. 1, and 4QMMT.

[3] Schiffman, "Concept of Restoration," 205.

[4] I hesitate to speak of a Qumran community here because the exact nature these texts played within the community is open to debate. Thus I speak of community knowing that any conclusions cannot definitively speak of the views held by one group, especially the Essenes, but rather may only be evidence of minority views within these texts.

[5] Frank Moore Cross, The Ancient Library of Qumran (New York: Doubleday, 1961), 56 n. 36a, notes that the camp of the sons of light is ordered according to the prescriptions of the mosaic camp in Num 2.1-5.4; 10.17-28; (1QM 3.12-4.11). The Law of the camp (Num 5.1-4) is kept (1QM 7.3-7). The victory of God in the final war is compared with the first exodus (1QM 11.8). The typology of the Mosaic camp lies close to the surface in CD, 1QS and 1QSa.

[6] Martin G. Abegg Jr., "Exile and the Dead Sea Scrolls," in Exile: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Conceptions, ed. James M. Scott (JSJSup 56; Leiden: Brill, 1997), 125.

[7] On the variety of eschatological views at Qumran see, e.g., Philip R. Davies, "Eschatology at Qumran," Journal of Biblical Literature 104 (1985): 39-55; John J. Collins, "The Expectation of the End in the Dead Sea Scrolls," in Eschatology, Messianism, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. Craig A. Evans and Peter W. Flint (SDSSRL; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 86-88. On the problems of interpreting the ‘age of wrath’ see, Philip R. Davies, The Damascus Covenant (JSOTSup 25: Sheffield Academic Press, 1983), 61-69.

[8] Mark Adam Elliott, The Survivors of Israel: A Reconsideration of the Theology of Pre-Christian Judaism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 542-43, states that, ‘This could mean that the sect considered themselves later returnees, to be distinguished from those who returned at the time of Zerubbabel, Ezra, Nehemiah, or that they discounted this earlier return as entirely ineffective or incomplete, or at best conditional on the faithfulness of the returnees.’ See also Shemaryahu Talmon, "Between the Bible and the Mishna," in The World of Qumran from Within: Collected Studies (Leiden: Brill, 1989), 48.

[9] Schiffman, "Concept of Restoration," 208. See also CD 6.11-14; 20:20-21, 32-33.

[10] Shemaryaha Talmon, King, Cult and Calendar in Ancient Judaism: Collected Studies (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1986), 214-15.

[11] Davies, "Eschatology at Qumran," 52; Collins, "The Expectation of the End in the Dead Sea Scrolls," 90.

[12] Schiffman, "Concept of Restoration," 219.

[13] Schiffman, "Concept of Restoration," 217-18.

[14] Schiffman, "Concept of Restoration," 218. The ingathering of the exiles also features in the Festival Prayers (4Q509 frag. 3 3-5) and also appears to be mentioned in 4Q528 (Hymnic or Sapiential Work B) 3.

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