The Qumran Community (via the DSS) on Sacrifice and Atonement

Qumran and The Dead Sea Scrolls

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.

Turning specifically to those Dead Sea Scrolls which are generally agreed to be composed at Qumran (i.e., excluding analysis of document not composed at Qumran), one finds a much more explicit polemic against the Jerusalem cult and clearer explication of their view towards sacrifice and atonement. Beginning with the Habbakkuk Pesher, there are three passages of relevance. In 1QpHab 8.8–13, we read,

 8פשרו על הכוהן הרשע אשר

 9נקרא על שם האמת בתחלת עומדו וכאשר משל

 10 בישראל רם לבו ויעזוב את אל ו]י[בגוד בחוקים בעבור

 11 הון  ויגזול ויקבוץ הון אנשי חמס אשר מרדו באל

 12 והון עמים לקח לוסיף עליו עון אשמה ודרכי

 13 ת]וע[בות פעל בכול נדת טמאה  הלוא פתא֗אום ויקומו

Its interpretation concerns the Wicked Priest, who was called loyal at the start of his office. However, when he ruled over Israel his heart became proud, he deserted God and betrayed the laws for the sake of riches. And he robbed and hoarded wealth from the violent men who had rebelled against God. And he seized public money, incurring additional serious sin. And he performed re[pul]sive acts by every type of defiling impurity.

Similarly, 1QpHab 12.7–9 states,

 7פשרו הקריה היא ירושלם

 8אשר פעל בה הכוהן ה֑רשע֑ מעשי תועבות ויטמא את

 9מקדש אל

Its interpretation: the city is Jerusalem in which the Wicked Priest performed repulsive acts and defiled the Sanctuary of God.

Treating 1QpHab 12.7–9 first, the author of the Pesher states that the “wicked priest,” presumably the high priest from Jerusalem, “performed repulsive acts” and “defiled the sanctuary of God.” Thus, while it is unknown if this was the reason for CD commending life away from Jerusalem (and presumably the temple), such abominable acts on the part of the Jerusalem’s high priest (and likely his priestly cohort) were probably the reason for the Qumran community’s life lived apart from the temple. (One should assume CD was instructive for the Qumran community given that portion of it was found at Qumran). Even more is learned from 1QpHab 8.8–13 where the author of the Pesher explains that although the Wicked Priest began his administration in a righteous manner, he not only performed abominable acts but also (presumably) hoarded money from the temple. Thus, according to the author of the Habakkuk Pesher, the priestly order in Jerusalem was sinning in an egregious manner and had fallen into, at least, two of Belial’s nets (CD 4.15–18).

As in the Damascus Document, the issue of the calendar also emerges in the Habakkuk Pesher, as 1QpHab 11.4–8 implies that the Qumran community followed a distinct festival calendar:

4 פשרו על הכוהן הרשע אשר

 5רדף אחר מורה הצדק לבלעו בכעס

 6 חמתו אבית גלותו  ובקץ מועד מנוחת

 7 יום הכפורים הופע אליהם לבלעם

 8 ולכשילם ביום צום שבת מנוחתם

Its interpretation concerns the Wicked Priest who pursued the Teacher of Righteousness to consume him with the heat of his anger in the place of his banishment. In festival time, during the rest of the day of Atonement, he appeared to them, to consume them and make them fall on the day of fasting, the Sabbath of their rest.

Here it can be deduced from the Wicked Priest attacking the Teacher of Righteousness on the Yom Kippur that the Wicked Priest was not himself observing Yom Kippur on that day, and thus the Qumran community was observing Yom Kippur on a distinct day. One can also deduce that the focal point and means of atonement on the Yom Kippur was not animal sacrifice. Rather, the focal point and means for atonement was fasting and refraining from any type of work.

More specifics on Qumran’s form of atonement are found within the Rule of the Community (1QS). 1QS 9.3–5 reads,

  3 〚 〛 בהיות אלה בישראל ככול התכונים האלה ליסוד רוח קודש לאמת

 4 עולם לכפר על אשמת פשע ומעל חטאת ולרצון לארץ מבשר עולות ומחלבי זבח  ותרומת

 5 שפתים למשפט כניחוח צדק ותמים דרך כנדבת מנחת רצון

When these exist in Israel in accordance with these rules in order to establish the spirit of holiness in truth eternal, in order to atone for the guilt of iniquity and for the unfaithfulness of sin, and for approval for the earth, without the flesh of burnt offerings and without the fats of sacrifice – the offering of the lips in compliance with the decree will be like the pleasant aroma of justice and the perfectness of behavior will be acceptable like a freewill offering.

Here there is an explicit statement made that atonement is accomplished “apart from” animal sacrifice (מבשר עולות ומחלבי זבח), and is attained by “the offering of the lips” (תרומת שפתים) and “perfectness of behavior” (תמים דרך). The meaning of the phrase תרומת שפתים is illumined by its use later in 1QS, where it likely refers to prayer, if not more specifically to prayers of praise to God (1QS 9.26; 10.26). The meaning of the phrase תמים דרך is clear enough from the beginning of column 9 of 1QS. There a member of the community who has sinned inadvertently (see 8.24–27) can once again possess full community rights after he has kept תמים דרכו. Since this is contrasted with his previous action of sin, תמים דרך would refer here to sinless living. Such a translation is furthered bolstered by its use in 9.9, where תמים דרך is used along side of “separation from deceit,” to describe by what blameless living is characterized. Thus, it is fairly conclusively that the Qumran community believed they could receive atonement apart from literal animal sacrifice. This does not necessarily preclude that literal animal sacrifice occurred altogether, but when this passage is taken in consideration with the archeological evidence mined from Qumran—no altar was found—the probability is that that Qumran did not participate in any literal form of cultic sacrifice.

The qualms which the Qumran community had against the Jerusalem cult do not necessarily have to be the same qualms the Damascus community and the Essene movement had against the Jerusalem cult. Yet, there is enough commonality and implicit data in the texts surveyed above with regard to the attitude towards sacrifice and atonement—in addition to numerous other affinities (albeit there still are contrasting ideas)—to suggest that these different communities were likely of one mind, not actively participating in the Jerusalem cult because they thought the cultic system was compromised. To be sure, the level of animosity may have varied at different times and at different places. For instance, although the Essenes in Josephus’ description preferred their own form of worship, they still sent tribute to the Jerusalem temple. Yet for the Qumran community, the sending of such a tribute was not likely, especially after being attacked presumably from the High Priest of Jerusalem. Nevertheless, any community not centered on the Jerusalem temple inevitably had to formulate a new way of thinking about sacrifice and atonement. This could be done either by continuing sacrifice, but interpolating biblical prescriptions in light of the fact that they did not have access to the temple, or by interpreting the biblical prescriptions in a more figurative manner, viz. mental renewal, prayer, fasting, abstaining from work, and perfectly obeying Torah.

One will note that I have not addressed what can be gleaned from an assessment of the Temple Scroll, but I have intentionally it omitted since this was the heart of my project which I do not wish to reveal at this time until I have further thought through what I am trying to do. Yet what was revealed in this series is what I think the common matrix in antiquity was with regard to attitude towards sacrifice and atonement among those not actively participating in the temple cult.

For even further discussion on the topic of sacrifice and atonement, specifically related to the Yom Kippur festival, see the recent work edited by Hieke and Niklas. My review of this work can be read here

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One comment

  1. [...] Robert 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 Atonement [...]

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