The Damascus Community (via CD) on Sacrifice and Atonement

The picture painted in Josephus, specifically with regard to the Essenes being excluded from the temple because of their distinctive sacrificial practices, comes into sharper focus when the Damascus Document (CD hereafter) is brought into the conversation. Although CD does not explicitly state that it is of Essene origin, there is affinity enough to suggest relevance to our discussion. While we learned in Josephus that the Jerusalem cult viewed the Essene sacrificial practices negatively enough to exclude them from the temple, here we learn, implicitly, that the Essenes likely viewed the Jerusalem cult negatively on account of their sacrificial practices. In CD 6.11–19, we read,

11 יורה הצדק באחרית הימים . 〚 〛 וכל אשר הובאו בברית

 12 לבלתי בוא אל המקדש להאיר מזבחוֹ חנם . ויהיו מסגירי

 13 הדלת אשר אמר אל מי בכם יסגור דלתיֹ 〚 〛 ולא תאירו מזבחי

 14 חנם. אם לא ישמרו לעשות כפרוש התורה לקץ הרשע ולהבדל

 15 מבני השחת ולהנזר מהון הרשעה הטמא בנדר ובחרם

 16 ובהון המקדש . ולגזול את עניי עמו להיות אלמנ֗]ו[ת שללם

 17 ואת יתומים ירצחו ולהבדיל בין הטמא לטהור ולהודיע בין

 18 הקודש לחול ולשמור את֗ יום השבת כפרושה ואת המועדות

 19 ואת יום התענית כמצאת֗ באי הברית החדשה בארץ דמשק

But all those who have been brought into the covenant shall not enter the temple to kindle its altar in vain. They will be the ones who close the door, as God said: “Whoever amongst you will close my door so that you do not kindle my altar in vain!” They should take care to act in accordance with the exact interpretation of the law for the age of wickedness: to keep apart from the sons of the pit; to abstain from wicked wealth which defiles, either by promise or by vow, and from the wealth of the temple and from stealing from the poor of his people, making widows their spoils and murdering orphans; to separate unclean from clean and differentiate between the holy and the common; to keep the sabbath day according to its exact interpretation, and the festivals and the day of fasting, according to what was discovered by those who entered the new covenant in the land of Damascus.

  Similarly, in CD 4:15–18, we read,

15 שלושת מצודות בליעל אשר אמר עליהם לוי בן יעקב

 16 אשר הוא תפש בהם בישראל ויתנם פניהם לשלושת מיני

 17 הצדק. הראשונה היא הזנות השנית ההון השלישית

 18 טמא המקדש. העולה מזה יתפש בזה והניצל מזה יתפש

They are Belial’s three nets about which Levi, son of Jacob spoke, by which he catches Israel and makes them appear before them like three types of justice. The first is fornication; the second, wealth; the third, defilement of the temple.

One cannot know for certain from these texts whether the Damascus community thought that those in charge of the Jerusalem temple were defiling it, since the aforementioned texts do not explicitly make that claim. Yet, why would a community living away from the temple emphasize the importance of not defiling the temple? The culpability of the Jerusalem cult seems implicit enough. This appears to be confirmed later in CD, where the author of CD applauds living life away from the Jerusalem temple. In 20.20b–25 the author of CD commends the house of Peleg “who went out of the holy city” (בית פ֗לג אשר יצאו מעיֹר הקדש) by stating that through this action they “relied upon God” (וישענו על אל). The reason for why it was proper to leave Jerusalem is unclear. One may deduce from CD 20.23 that the grounds for the house of Peleg rightly abandoning Jerusalem is because the temple was defiled, if one follows the translation of Charlesworth: “But (although) they considered the sanctuary impure, they returned to the way of the people . . .” (ויטמאו את המקדש ושבו ע֗וד אל ד֗ר֗ך העם). Caution, however, should be taken here, since the syntax of the Hebrew is not clear: ostensibly, the Hebrew may actually suggest that it was the house of Peleg who defiled the temple. That is, there is little justification for rendering טמא as “they considered impure the sanctuary.” Therefore, the house of Peleg may not have left the temple on account of its defilement, but they may have been the cause of its defilement. This may explain how “they returned to the way of people”, ושבו ע֗וד אל ד֗ר֗ך העם? Yet, how could they defile the temple like the rest of the people, if they had earlier “gone out of the holy city”? The logic of the passage is equivocal.  Thus, given the murkiness of the passage, all that can be said is that, by implication of the author’s rhetoric ("they relied upon God" [20.23]), the house of Peleg’s leaving Jerusalem was commended and their actions were viewed as the right response by the author of CD for reasons unclear.

Further grounds that the Damascus community may have found the temple to be defiled comes from implicit evidence that CD observed a calendar distinct from the Jerusalem (lunar) calendar, since CD appears to recognize the 364 day solar calendar prescribed in the book of Jubilees as normative (CD 16.3–4).  This is important for understanding CD 6.18–19, “keep the sabbath day according to its exact interpretation, and the festivals and the day of fasting, according to what was discovered by those who entered the new covenant in the land of Damascus.” The festivals, including Yom Kippur (“the day of fasting”), were observed at times distinct from the Jerusalem cult. Yet, nowhere within CD is it said that rituals performed on the wrong day defiles the temple. Moreover, laws for the temple within CD (11.10–12.2; 16.13ff) suggest “that the Temple is pure, shows a concern to maintain its purity, and reflects participation in its cult.” Granted, such prescriptions “could be meant for better times.”Nevertheless, even if the Damascus community thought the temple was pure, these texts (CD 4:15–18; 6:11–19)  at least inform us to the likelihood that the Damascus community thought that improper temple procedures would result in the defilement of the temple, and that following the right procedures was a matter of extreme importance.

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  1. [...] Thus far we have explored the attitude towards sacrifice and atonement according to the Essenes via Josephus and Philo, and according to the Damascus Community via CD. [...]

  2. [...] Kashow: Josephus on the Sacrifice and Atonement of the Essenes; The Damascus Community (via CD) on Sacrifice and Atonement; The Qumran Community (via the DSS) on Sacrifice and [...]

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