Ancient Jewish Community Rule and the Dead Sea Scroll About It

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Temple Scroll

Originally known as The Manual of Discipline, the Community Rule contains a set of regulations ordering the life of the members of the "yahad," the group within the Judean Desert sect who chose to live communally and whose members accepted strict rules of conduct. This fragment cites the admonitions and punishments to be imposed on violators of the rules, the method of joining the group, the relations between the members, their way of life, and their beliefs. The sect divided humanity between the righteous and the wicked and asserted that human nature and everything that happens in the world are irrevocably predestined. The scroll ends with songs of praise to God. [Source:

The Community Rule (Serekh ha-Yahad) is 8.8 centimeters (3 7/16 in.) high and 21.5 centimeters (8 7/16 in.) wide. Written on parchment, it was copied in late first century B.C. or A.D. first century and is now kept by the Israel Antiquities Authority. A complete copy of the scroll, eleven columns in length, was found in Cave 1. Ten fragmentary copies were recovered in Cave 4, and a small section was found in Cave 5. The large number of manuscript copies attests to the importance of this text for the sect. This particular fragment is the longest of the versions of this text found in Cave 4.

Shaye I.D. Cohen of Brown University wrote: “The Manual of Discipline is a text that envisions a community living in almost total isolation, a community that is self-contained, that is governed very strictly by a Board of Governors, or a series of overlapping authorities, governing community in which everybody owes obedience to their superiors. There's an oath of entry; it is a very much monastic community, for want of the better word, a community with little or no private property. That point is debated in the text but it seems at least that you surrendered if not all, then at least some of your property to the kind of community pot; in turn, then, the community would look out for you and look after you. So, it is very much a community where the individual has somehow been merged into a communal group.... Like a monastic community, there is no private property and, most striking of all, there are no women, and as a result, there are few children. It is a group almost exclusively consisting of adult males, who are to spend their life following the rules of the group and acting out the theological principles and beliefs of the group.... [Source: Shaye I.D. Cohen, Samuel Ungerleider Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of Religious Studies Brown University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

Importance of the Dead Sea Scroll Community Rule

Michael Wise told PBS: “It was among the first seven scrolls found and has been central to discussions about the Dead Sea Scrolls ever since. But this work's centrality has depended less on the accident that it was among the first scrolls discovered (though that has been a factor) than on its character and on the fact that the Cave 1 copy was virtually intact. Also, the sheer number of copies of this work discovered in the caves — thirteen, almost as many as copies of Genesis and Exodus, and more than almost any of the other books of the Bible — dictates this work's centrality in any attempt to understand the phenomenon of the scrolls. Clearly sectarian, this writing uses striking language and imagery to express the mind-set of outsiders. [Source: Michael Wise, Frontline, PBS, April 1998. Book; “Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation” by Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr. And Edward Cook (Harper, 1996) ]

“Scholars commonly refer to this work as the"Community Rule.'' This work is supposed to have governed a community living at Qumran. But that idea is at least partly wrong; the work itself refers to various groups or chapters scattered throughout Palestine. Therefore it did not attach specifically to the site of Qumran (whatever the connection of the Dead Sea Scrolls to the site may be, and whatever the nature of that site may be). This text does not merely reflect a small community living there. Since "community" usually implies a definite and restricted geographical location and thereby calls this mistaken notion to mind, it seems better to find a different word for the text's users. To avoid the misleading connotations of various possible English semi-equivalents we have decided to use one of the association's most common self-designations, Yahad, "unity."

“The present text is essentially a constitution or charter for the Yahad. That it is a charter becomes clear by comparison with charters from elsewhere in the contemporary Greco-Roman world. Research by Moshe Weinfeld and Matthias Klinghardt among others has shown that virtually every structural element of this ancient Jewish writing has analogs in the charters of guilds and religious associations from Egypt, Greece, and Asia Minor. Yet it seems that something more is going on in this writing than simply chartering a club...

“Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, described the major Jewish groups as philosophical schools, not clubs. His portrayal is usually dismissed by scholars as a misleading adaptation of the true Jewish situation, done for the sake of his Greek-reading audience. If, however, we give the historian's characterization a bit more credence, we note that in some ways the group described by our text was indeed more like a philosophic academy than a club.

“As the work describes it, the association is made up of priests, Levites (a secondary priestly order),"Israel," and Gentile proselytes. In this context "Israel" means not the generality of Jews, but only those who accept the teachings of the group. Other Jews, along with the surrounding Gentile nations, are considered "Men of Perversity" who "walk in the wicked way." Entry into the group is through conversion. Following repentance from sin, the initiate begins a two year process leading to full membership. During this period he (women are not specifically mentioned) receives instruction in the group's secret knowledge and passes through progressively higher stages of purity; Some of the convert's wealth (according to 7:6-8 he retained an unspecified portion of his funds) is merged with that of the group, a practice markedly similar to that of early Christians described in the New Testament book of Acts. Eventually the association assigns him a rank based upon his obedience to the Law of Moses as they understand it. Rank and advancement in group life depends in large measure upon doing "works of the Law" (Hebrew maase ha-torah), a phrase significant also in writings of the apostle Paul.

Theological issues Raised in Community Rule

Dead Sea Scroll jars

Michael Wise told PBS: ““Each chapter of the association has a leader known as the Instructor, probably the foremost priest, who guides deliberations about rules for the group's government, association funds, and biblical interpretation. Indeed, the heading of the text from Cave 1 states that this copy belonged to an Instructor, who may well have referred to the work when instructing new converts. Decisions are by majority rule. The local chapters comprise at least ten men who meet for meals and Bible study. Each year they conduct a full review of the membership. At that time a man's rank can change, for better or worse, according to his behavior and biblical understanding. The use of military terminology is notable. Members are described "volunteers" and are organized into groups of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. The method of organization is that used in the holy war conducted under Moses and Joshua when Israel first attacked the Canaanites and took possession of the land of Israel. This choice of terminology was, of course, deliberate. The group thought of itself as warriors awaiting God's signal to begin the final war against the nations and the wicked among the Jews. Meanwhile they sought to live in a heightened state of purity as the Bible required for holy warriors... [Source: Michael Wise, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ] “Many of this work's theological ideas are familiar to us from other Jewish writings and early Christianity (which was, of course, itself a Jewish movement when it began). As with Christianity, members of the association envision themselves as entering a new covenant with God, truly fulfilling the old Mosaic covenant. The charter calls this new covenant variously the Covenant of Mercy, the Covenant of the Eternal Yahad, the Eternal Covenant, and the Covenant of Justice. Believers are presently living in an era when Satan (here called Belial) rules the world. The New Testament terms Satan "the Prince of this world." Ultimately, that fact explains why believers, who know and live by the truth, have such difficulties in this world. Believers are Children of Light, nonbelievers Children of Darkness — terminology also used in the New Testament. Among the names, the association calls itself "The Way" (e.g., 9:18), a self-designation that some of the first Christians also used (Acts 9:2).

“In the future the charter anticipates a "gracious visitation" of God. Then adherents will enter into the Day of Vengeance, and this world's power structures will be overturned: the last shall be first and the first, last. Those who enter the Yahad of God can anticipate long life, bountiful peace, multiple progeny, and eventually life everlasting. One passage of the text may speak of the hope of resurrection (11:16-17). Believers will one day receive a "crown of glory" and a "robe of honor." On the other hand, everyone not belonging to the group is fated to everlasting damnation, an eternity of torture by the evil "angels of perdition," all the while burning in utter darkness. The charter's long descriptive passages on hell and the fate of unbelievers are chilling, their detail doubtless a reflection of the almost palpable hatred of outsiders.

“Perhaps the most striking conceptual — even verbal — similarity between early Christian thought and that of this charter is the notion of community as temple. Paul speaks of the believers being "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God" (Eph. 2:20-22). Our text describes the believers as a "temple for Israel and . . . Holy of Holies . . . the tested wall, the precious cornerstone whose foundations shall neither be shaken nor swayed . . . a blameless and true house in [srael" (8:5-9). Thus both early Christians and members of this association conceived of themselves al strictly as the true temple. They had replaced the physical structure in Jerusalem This was an idea with a transcendent implication, since the Bible could be read saying that God lived in the Jerusalem Temple. For both of these groups, God did not dwell in that mere hollow edifice built by human hands. He lived in them.

“The work begins by characterizing the covenant to which members are to commit themselves. The author further describes the ideal community in general terms and explains the role to be taken by an Instructor as a teacher for the community.

Josephus' on Community Rule

Flavius Josephus (c. AD 37 – c. 100) was a Roman–Jewish historian and military leader best known for writing “The Jewish War”. He was born in Jerusalem when it was of the Roman province of Judea to a father of priestly descent and a mother who claimed royal ancestry.

In the Jewish Wars 2, Josephus wrote that among among one group in what is now Israel Community rule prevailed : “Whenever there are ten men of the Council of the an Assembly of the Congregation no man shall speak without the consent of the Congregation. Should any man wish to speak to the Congregation, yet not be in a position to question the Council of the Community, let him rise to his feet and say: I have something to say to the Congregation." If they command him to speak, he shall speak....nor discover any of their doctrines to others, no, not though anyone should compel him so to do at the hazard of his life.He shall conceal the teaching of the Law from men of falsehood...

They also avoid spitting in the midst of them, or on the right side. Whoever has spat in an Assembly of the Congregation shall do penance for thirty days. But for those that are caught in any heinous sins, they cast them out of their society; and he who is thus separated from them does often die after a miserable manner... Moreover, they are stricter than any other of the Jews in resting from their labors on the seventh day; for they not only get their food ready the day before, that they may not be obliged to kindle a fire on that day, but they will not remove any vessel out of its place, nor go to stool thereon.

Should a man return whose spirit has so trembled before the authority of the Community that he has betrayed the truth and walked in the stubbornness of his heart, he shall not touch the pure Meal of the Congregation, and during the second year he shall not touch the Drink of the Congregation...Then when his two years are completed the Congregation shall consider his case...If, after being in the Council of the Community for ten years, the spirit of any man has failed so that he has betrayed the Community and departed from the Congregation to walk in the stubbornness of his heart, he shall return no more to the Council of the Community. Moreover, if any member of the Community has shared his food or property which...of the congregation, his sentence shall be the same; he shall be expelled.

Community Rule Scroll

Josephus' on Initiation Into Community Rule

Josephus wrote: When the second year has passed, he shall be examined, and if it be his enter the Community, then he shall be inscribed among his brethren in the order of his rank for the Law, and for justice, and for the pure Meal; his property shall be merged and he shall offer his counsel and judgment to the Community. And before he is allowed to touch their common food, he is obliged to take tremendous oaths, that, in the first place, he will exercise piety towards God... Whoever approaches the Council of the Community shall enter the Covenant of God... He shall undertake by a binding oath to return with all his heart and soul to every commandment of the Law of Moses... ...that he will always hate the wicked, and be assistant to the righteous... to separate from all the men of falsehood who walk in the way of wickedness....that he will be perpetually a lover of truth, and propose to himself to reprove those that tell lies. They shall rebuke one another in truth, humility, and charity.

Let him not hate him...but let him rebuke him on the very same day... ...that he will keep his hands clear from theft, and his soul from unlawful gains; and that he will neither conceal any thing from those of his own sect... If one of them has lied deliberately in matters of property... Accordingly, if ten of them be sitting together, no one of them will speak while the other nine are against it.

Josephus' on the Community Divisions and Ranking

Josephus wrote: Now after the time of their preparatory trial is over, they are parted into four classes; and so far are the juniors inferior to the seniors, that if the seniors should be touched by the juniors, they must wash themselves, as if they had intermixed themselves with the company of a foreigner.

The Priests shall enter first, ranked one after another according to the perfection of their spirit; then the Levites; and thirdly, all the people one after another, in their Thousands, Hundreds, Fifties, and Tens, that every Israelite may know his place in the Community of God according to the everlasting design. No man shall move down from his place nor move up from his allotted position... The man of lesser rank shall obey the greater...And they shall all sit before him according to their rank and shall be asked their counsel in all things in that order. Each man shall sit in his place: the Priests shall sit first, and the elders second, and all the rest of the people according to their rank.

But when the second year has passed, he shall be examined, and if it be his enter the Community, then he shall be inscribed among his brethren in the order of his rank for the Law, and for justice, and for the pure Meal. They contemn the miseries of life, and are above pain, by the generosity of their mind.

Josephus' on the Zealous Adherence to Community Rule

Josephus wrote: And as for death, if it will be for their glory, they esteem it better than living always; and indeed our war with the Romans gave abundant evidence what great souls they had in their trials, wherein, although they were tortured and distorted, burnt and torn to pieces, and went through all kinds of instruments of torment, that they might be forced either to blaspheme their legislator, or to eat what was forbidden them, yet could they not be made to do either of them, no, nor once to flatter their tormentors, or to shed a tear; but they smiled in their very pains, and laughed those to scorn who inflicted the torments upon them, and resigned up their souls with great alacrity, as expecting to receive them again. that they may not abandon Him during the dominion of Satan because of terror or affliction. ...while they allot to bad souls a dark and tempestuous den, full of never-ceasing punishments.

May He deliver you up for torture at the hands of the vengeful Avengers! May He visit you with destruction by the hand of all the Wreakers of Revenge!...Be damned in the shadowy place of everlasting fire!. May God not heed you when you call on Him...

And the visitation of all who walk in this spirit shall be a multitude of plagues by the hand of all the destroying angels, everlasting damnation by the avenging wrath of the fury of God, eternal torment and endless disgrace together with shameful extinction in the fire of the dark regions. The times of all their generations shall be spent in sorrowful mourning and in bitter misery and in calamities of darkness until they are destroyed without remnant or survivor. The doctrine of the Essenes is this: That all things are best ascribed to God. Before ever they existed He established their whole design, and when, as ordained for them, they came into being, it is in accord with His glorious design that they accomplish their task without change. The laws of all things are in His hands...

He has created man...and has appointed for him two spirits in which to walk until the time of His visitation: the sprits of truth and falsehoods... But the God of Israel and His Angel of Truth will succour all the sons of light. For it is He who created the spirits of Light and Darkness and founded every action upon them... For God has established the sprits in equal measure until the final age, and has set everlasting hatred between their divisions. ...And he knows the reward of their deeds from all eternity.

Community Rule Scroll

Contents of Community Rule Dead Sea Scroll

An English translation of The Community Rule reads: “And according to his insight he shall admit him. In this way both his love and his hatred. No man shall argue or quarrel with the men of perdition. He shall keep his council in secrecy in the midst of the men of deceit and admonish with knowledge, truth and righteous commandment those of chosen conduct, each according to his spiritual quality and according to the norm of time. He shall guide them with knowledge and instruct them in the mysteries of wonder and truth in the midst of the members of the community, so that they shall behave decently with one another in all that has been revealed to them. That is the time for studying the Torah (lit. clearing the way) in the wilderness. He shall instruct them to do all that is required at that time, and to separate from all those who have not turned aside from all deceit. [Source: Qimron, E. "A Preliminary Publication of 4QSd Columns VII-VIII" (in Hebrew). Tarbiz 60 (1991):435-37]

“These are the norms of conduct for the Master in those times with respect to his loving and to his everlasting hating of the men of perdition in a spirit of secrecy. He shall leave to them property and wealth and earnings like a slave to his lord, (showing) humility before the one who rules over him. He shall be zealous concerning the Law and be prepared for the Day of Revenge.... He shall perform the will [of God] in all his deeds and in all strength as He has commanded. He shall freely delight in all that befalls him, and shall desire nothing except God's will...”

Contents of Community Rule Col 1

Col 1 of Community Rule reads: “A text belonging to [the Instructor, who is to teach the Ho]ly Ones how to live according to the book of the Yahad's Rule. He is to teach them to seek God with all their heart and with all their soul, to do that which is good and upright before Him, just as He commanded through Moses and all His servants the prophets. [Source: “Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation” by Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr. And Edward Cook (Harper, 1996)]

“He is to teach them to love everything He chose and to hate everything He rejected, to distance themselves from all evil and to hold fast to all good deeds; to practice truth, justice, and righteousness in the land, and to walk no longer in a guilty, willful heart and lustful desires, wherein they did every evil thing. He is to induct all who volunteer to live by the laws of God into the Covenant of Mercy, so as to be joined to God's society and walk faultless before Him, according to all that has been revealed for the times appointed them. He is to teach them both to love all the Children of Light — each commensurate with his rightful place in the council of God — and to hate all the Children of Darkness, each commensurate with his guilt stand the vengeance due him from God.

“All who volunteer for His truth are to bring the full measure of their knowledge. strength, and wealth into the Yahad of God. Thus will they purify their knowledge in the verity of God's laws, properly excercise their strength according to the perfection of His ways, and likewise their wealth by the canon of His righteous counsel. They are not to deviate in the smallest detail from any of God's words as these apply to their own nme. They are neither to advance their holy times nor to postpone any of their prescribed festivals. They shall turn aside from His unerring laws neither to the right nor the left.”

Col. 5 of Community Rule

Col 5 of Community Rule reads: “This is the rule for the men of the Yahad who volunteer to repent from all evil and to hold test to all that He, by His good will, has commanded. They are to separate from the congregation of perverse men. They are to come together as one with respect to Law and wealth. Their discussions shall be under the oversight of the Sons of Zadok — priests and preservers of the Covenant — and according to the majority rule of the men of the Yahad, who hold fast to the Covenant. These men shall guide all decisions on matters of Law, money, and judgment. [Source: “Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation” by Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr. And Edward Cook (Harper, 1996)]

They are to practice truth together with humility, charity, justice, loving-kindness, and modesty in all their ways. Accordingly, none will continue in a willful heart and thus be seduced, not by his heart, neither by his eyes nor yet by his lower nature. Together they shall circumcise the foreskin of this nature, this stiff neck, and so establish a foundation of truth for Israel — that is to say, for the Yahad of the Eternal Covenant. They are to atone for all those in Aaron who volunteer for holiness, and for those in Israel who belong to truth, and for Gentile proselytes who join them in community. Both by trial and by verdict they are to condemn any who transgress a regulation.

“General principles of organization intended to govern the various local chapters of the Community in their joint meals and study of the Bible. By these rules they are to govern themselves wherever they dwell, in acccordance with each legal finding that bears upon communal life. Inferiors must obey their ranking superiors as regards work and wealth. They shall eat, pray, and deliberate communally.Wherever ten men belonging to the society of the Yahad are gathered, a priest must always be present. The men shall sit before the priest by rank, and in that manner their opinions will be sought on any matter.When the table has been set for eating or the new wine readied for drinking, it is the priest who shall stretch out his hand first, blessing the first portion of the bread or the new wine. In any place where is gathered the ten-man quorum, someone must always be engaged in study of the Law, day and night, continually, each one taking his turn. The general membership will be diligent together for the first third of every night of the year, reading aloud from the Book, interpreting Scripture, and praying together.

“The purpose of tlie community, its manfesto, is reiterated. This statement ends by looking forward to the arrival of a prophet — perhaps the "prophet like Moses" predicted by the book of Dueteronomy, or perhaps a herald such as John the Baptist became for early Christians — and two messiahs, one priestly and one presumably in the royal line of David. When, united by all these precepts, such men as these come to be a community in Israel, they shall establish eternal truth guided by the instruction of His holy spirit. They shall atone for the guilt of transgression and the rebellion of sin, becoming an acceptable sacrifice for the land through the flesh of burnt offerings. the fat of sacrificial portions, and prayer, becoming — as it were — justice itself, a sweet savor of righteousness and blameless behavior, a pleasing freewill offering. At that time the men of the Yahad shall withdraw, the holy house of Aaron uniting as a Holy of Holies, and the synagogue of Israel as those who walk blamelessly. The sons of Aaron alone shall have authority in judicial and financial matters. They shall decide on governing precepts tor the men of theYahad and on money matters for the holy men who walk blamelessly. Their wealth is not to be admired with that of rebellious men, who have failed to cleanse their path by separating from perversity and walking blamelessly. They shall deviate trom none of the teachings of the Law, whereby they would walk in their willful heart completely. They shall govern themselves using the original precepts by which the men of the Yahad began to be instructed, doing so until there come the Prophet and the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Wikipedia, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, and various books and other publications.

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