Jewish Law

Temple Scroll

Temple Scroll

Let us begin with my favorite area, Jewish law.  In studying the general legal system followed by the sect it is clear that sectarian law was characterized by a clear distinction between what was termed the “revealed law,” that is, the written Torah, and the “hidden law,” derived by sectarian exegesis and known only by the sectarians.  This concept is clearly different from the rabbinic concept of a dual Torah, including a written law and an oral law.  Further, the sectarian view makes no attempt to trace its second Torah to divine revelation at Sinai, seeing it, rather, as something that emerged from the life of the sect and its leadership.  At the same time, it is hard to avoid the fact that the sectarian system and the Pharisaic-rabbinic dual Torah approach both provide for a supplement to the fundamental written Torah, solving in slightly different ways the difficult problem of applying the written Torah to the life of the community.

Further, both groups share the notion that the second Torah was divinely inspired.  It is true that the Temple Scroll seems to be based on a very different approach, assuming instead that only one Torah was revealed at Sinai, containing the author’s interpretations and enshrining them in his law.  Yes, this one-Torah system is at serious variance with that of the rabbis, but what we might call the usual revealed/hidden approach of Qumran texts seems to share some of their fundamental concepts.

It is well-known that tannaitic literature provides two kinds of texts: those that essentially are collections of apodictic laws arranged by subject matter, a form we term mishnah, and those that are essentially biblically based, in which the work is organized according to Scripture, termed midrash.  We argued at length that the form of Qumran legal materials displays both of these options in what we might term proto-rabbinic mode.  Laws, such as the Sabbath laws or laws of courts and testimony, or laws of forbidden sexual unions often appear as a series of apodictic laws organized by subject and titled accordingly.  These parallel in form the mishnaic tractates and even have similar titles.  Further, texts like the Temple Scroll and some of the legal fragments that survive indicate that some authors chose to express their legal views in the order of Scripture.

There is one essential difference.  Whereas in rabbinic literature, midrash exegesis must maintain a strict distinction between the words of the Bible and the words of the rabbinic explanations, the Temple Scroll felt free to rewrite the text in accord with sectarian assumptions about the Bible and its text.  Such an approach would of course have been an anathema to the rabbis.  A further difference involves the very apodictic statements preserved in Qumran texts.  Whereas in rabbinic literature such statements are composed in mishnaic Hebrew, and therefore are linguistically distanced from the biblical texts upon which they might depend, many Qumran apodictic laws make use of the language of the Bible and even allow us to determine from their phraseology their biblical midrashic basis.

When we come to the actual subject matter of the laws, the situation is also complex.  Some laws seem to be virtually the same, as, for example, the statement that the Sabbath begins on Friday at sunset and its derivation from Scripture.  While some of the laws are very similar, such as the requirements to wear clean clothes on the Sabbath,  some however, differ more extensively, such as the establishment of two separate Sabbath limits or the setting up of courts of ten for judging issues of Jewish civil law.  In looking at such examples of legal difference, it is usually the case that they almost always derive from differing interpretation of Scripture from that which is found in the rabbinic corpus.  This is certainly the case with the Temple Scroll, where large numbers of differences can be seen from rabbinic law and interpretation.

However, most interestingly, these differences often constitute a link between the second Temple texts and the rabbinic corpus.  In many cases only the opportunity to see the alternative interpretations in the Dead Sea Scrolls allows us to understand the religious/intellectual world within which the Talmudic views were being put forth.  Much research remains to be done in this area.  I will mention just one topic that I hope to study in detail at some point.  It is clear that rabbinic laws pertaining to ritual purity and prayer are closely linked to Temple purity laws preserved in the Temple Scroll and other Qumran documents.  There is simply no other way to understand these laws, even as presented in the Babylonian Talmud.

It seems now to be fairly well accepted that ancient Judaism knew two separate approaches to Jewish law, that of the Sadducees/Zadokites and that of the Pharisaic-rabbinic tradition.  The former priestly approach, as has been repeatedly shown, typified the codes of the Qumran sect and such works as Jubilees and the Aramaic Levi Document.  These trends were opposed by the Pharisaic-rabbinic that is preserved for us in Talmudic literature.  Due to the strictures of the Pharisees against writing down their traditions or other vicissitudes of preservation we do not have earlier exemplars of Pharisaic-rabbinic material except as represented in the later corpus of the Talmudic rabbis.

Nonetheless, careful research methodology allows us to reconstruct the early layers of that material and in so doing often to reconstruct the Pharisaic views which were opposed, explicitly or implicitly, by the scrolls authors.  Essentially, therefore, scrolls research has allowed us to uncover an earlier layer of history in which the approach later ensconced in rabbinic works competed with the priestly approach for dominance of the halakhic market.  The importance of this perspective in understanding rabbinic literature cannot be underestimated.

This is especially the case when rabbinic literature itself preserves the evidence for the content of the priestly, Sadducean tradition.  After the removal of those references to Sadducees (êeduqim) that actually constitutes scribal alterations, we can collect a series of passages that seem to describe this alternative halakhic tradition and which seem to be in general agreement with the information available to us from the scrolls and other second Temple texts about this approach.  In this manner, some sense of the general authenticity of rabbinic materials that report on the second Temple period has been gained and scholars have begun to discard more skeptical approaches of the last generation.  This is exemplified, perhaps exceptionally, by the collection of Pharisee-Sadducee disputes in Mishnah Yadayim and the parallel collection in MMT.  What is astounding here is the presence of a group of traditions in both places, of course stated from the opposite perspective.

In general terms, what becomes clear here is that rabbinic literature and second Temple texts may often represent opposite sides of the same coin, that is, two separate approaches to the same set of problems.  Without the use of second Temple materials we would never have known this.

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