Comparing Portions of Qumran Literature with Pharasaic Characteristics

In search of the nature of the community through examination of its approach to Sabbath laws and angels.


No archaeological find has produced a greater abundance of writings (both scholarly popular) than the discovery at the eleven caves at Khirbet Qumran, Israel, just northwest of the Dead Sea. This “Geniza in the Desert” has inspired books, articles, and journals in quantities that require libraries to expand shelving space. It is a cottage industry to which some scholars have devoted their entire academic lives. Ever since the find, scholars have been captivated by questions regarding the authorship of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Previously, based upon the Zadokite Fragments discovered in the Cairo Geniza, scholars had speculated that there was a sect not yet identified, whose writings were of a priestly sentiment.1 Today, the controversy continues with competing positions regarding the identity of those who occupied Qumran for a period of approximately 250 years (ending c. 68 C.E.),2 with the Qumran-Essene hypothesis being the most traditional. Other theories abound, including a disgruntled priestly-minded class; a successor of the Essenes; a Pharisaic-influenced alternative; a proto-Pharisaic3 group; Zealots; a proto-Christian group, an Enochian offshoot,4 and a separate distinctive group, unrelated to the known sects.5 There is even a theo

1 Philip Davies, “Halakha in Qumran Scrolls,” in Rashi 1040-1990, ed., Gabrielle SED-RAJNA (Paris: Patrimones, 1993), 97.

2 Norman Golb, Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls? The Search for the Secret of Qumran (New York: Scribner, 1985).

3 Helmer Ringgren, The Faith of Qumran: Theology of the Dead Sea Scrolls (New York: Crosswood Publishing, 1995), 233.

4 Gabriele Boccaccini, Beyond the Essene Hypothesis: Parting of the Ways Between Qumran and Enochic Judaism (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998).

5 Shemaryahu Talmon, “The Community of the Renewed Covenant: Between Judaism and Christianity” in The Community of the Renewed Covenant: The Notre Dame Symposium on the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed., Eugene Ulrich & James Vanderkam (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994), 3-24.

ry that Qumran was a Jewish military fortress, not inhabited by sectarians;6 and another that it was nothing more than a location where the priests fleeing from Jerusalem stashed a portion of their library to protect it from the oncoming Roman slaughter during the siege of Jerusalem.

This article accepts the validity of the Qumran-Essene hypothesis (or one akin to it). The Qumran community meets almost every description of Josephus’ criteria for the Essenes. Two major contentions against this position are that Josephus says that the Essenes do not marry,7 and that they possess weapons.8 This raises doubts as to their Essene identity because graves of women and children have been located at the Qumran site; and they cloistered themselves in an ascetic way, exuding a peaceful disposition.9 As to the state of celibacy, however, Josephus does speak of an Essene order whose adherents do actually marry.10 Additionally, weapons have been found at the Qumran site, apparently used to defend the fortress against the invading Romans. The few other minor deviations from Josephus’—and other historians’—account, including the sect’s proximity to the Dead Sea, may be explained by a satellite community, two distinct communities at different locations, the same “Qumran community” in different locations separated by a temporal interlude, or historian error. For these reasons, it is reasonable to assume that the Qumran caves uncovered a community which was Essene-in-nature, whose adherents were “enrolled” in this “University of the Essenes at the Dead Sea.” These contentions, even if factual, however, are not determinative of their beliefs and practices. For that we must turn to their writings.

The caves yielded both sectarian and non-sectarian writings, and the sectarian writings do reflect a priestly-centered community, that was living out an ascetic existence in the desert, as if the

6 Golb, 3-41.7 The New Complete Works of Josephus, trans., William Whiston (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1999), Antiquities 18.1.5; War 2.8.2. Josephus says, “They do not absolutely deny the fitness of marriage, and the succession of mankind thereby continued . . . .” Ibid. 8 War 2.8.4. 9 Josephus described the Essenes as ministers of peace. Ibid., 2.8.6. 10 Ibid., 2.8.13.

Temple had already been destroyed. This sect, dating back to Hasmonean times, was undoubtedly reacting against a corrupt priesthood. Nonetheless, the Torah was still paramount in their belief system. This conflict—living out Torah without recognizing the Temple in Jerusalem—affected the sect’s whole approach to their way of life.

Most recently, there has been an interest in the underlying exegetical and hermeneutical approaches to Torah crafted by the Dead Sea sectarians. The hope is that a thorough study of the methodologies will pin down the origin and identity of the sect, and tell us something more about the influence of the Second Temple period sects on each other.

Many of the sectarian laws are not clearly rooted in biblical law, but are rules of the community that circumscribe the nature of its walk. They include rules about entry into the community, meals, washings, discipline and rituals. Other writings are more clearly scripturally based. Some of these interact with Torah and pseudepigraphical writings that “read the sect into the passages,” in a type of eisegetical way, giving rise to an understanding that this group perceived itself as being central in the approaching eschaton, and as the protagonists of the purity of the faith of the people of Israel. The pesharim and the War Scroll are examples of this genre.11

Because of the sect’s predisposition to the priestly, and its self-denial to access the Temple in Jerusalem, it was quite natural that its interpretations of the biblical laws tied to the Temple were based on a creative biblically-derived halakhah that in effect substituted the community for the Temple.12 The sect began to develop a way of appropriating Temple service requirements outside the Temple precinct prior to the Yavneh rabbis. Had the Qumranites survived the war with Rome, they would have been a

11The Temple Scroll may be still another example. Lawrence Schiffman argues that the “sources of the Temple Scroll stem from forerunners of the sect who shared Sadducean rulings on many matters.” Lawrence Schiffman, “The Temple Scroll and the Nature of its Law,” in The Community of the Renewed Covenant: The Notre Dame Symposium on the Dead Sea Scrolls, 55.

12This, in fact, was a pre-shadowing of the approach embraced by the Tannaim in the post-Temple destruction period.

post-destruction sect competing with the rabbis for the successorship of the faith, and adoption of an approach to Torah. But that was not to be.

Finally, there are those writings which involve biblical passages that are essentially untied to the Temple. One such law is that of the Sabbath.13 This commandment, found throughout the Torah, as well as the rest of the Hebrew Bible, did not completely depend on the existence of the Temple; the element of “no work” could literally be observed by those in the Diaspora. This paper draws heavily on the Qumran sect’s law of the Sabbath.


It is widely accepted by a number of scholars that the Dead Sea sect’s approach to Scripture and hermeneutics resembles the Sadducee/ Zadokite approach. This article does not deny that. However, it does attempt to determine whether there was another sectarian influence that penetrated the group. In order to investigate this possibility, this article selects three characteristics of the Pharisees as gleaned from Josephus, the New Testament and the Mishnah.14 These three characteristics are: tradition, fencing the Torah, and a belief in angels. These three Pharisaic characteristics stand in stark contrast to the Sadducean sect, which rejected tradition, employed strict biblical construction, and did not believe in angels.

This article then compares the Qumran community’s approach to each of these three Pharisaical positions, and does so generally within the confines of examining the Sabbath laws of the sect. This article posits that the Dead Sea sect’s approach is consonant with these three Pharisaical characteristics. Hence, the Dead Sea sect, in some respects, more closely resembled the Pharisees-Rabbis than the Sadducees (in these three areas), as determined by analyzing a selection of the sect’s law of the Sabbath and doctrine of angelology. This finding does suggest that the Qumran sect was not wholly of the Sadducean/Zadokite persuasion, but actually adopted

13 It is true that the Hebrew Bible prescribes sacrifices on the Sabbath. See, e.g., Num 28:9-10. 14 As concerning the Mishnah, this author is aware that this is somewhat of an anachronism;

however, many of the laws redacted in the Mishnah, originated pre-70 C.E.

an amalgam of the Sadducean/Zadokite, their own, and the Pharisaic-rabbinic approaches. But first, let us remove Josephus’ philosophic distinctions from the “the table of consideration.” Then we can examine three sectarian approaches to scriptural exegesis, before turning to the characteristic comparisons. The article concludes with an observation contrasting the Pharisees and the Dead Sea sect with the Nazarenes-Messianics.


Josephus was writing to a primarily Greek audience, in an attempt to palatably explain Judaism. He communicated in Greek, and used Greek metaphors and analogies when appropriate. For this reason he compared the philosophies of the three main Jewish sects of the day. The Sadducees, according to Josephus, did not embrace fate, but believed in human reason solely. The Pharisees adopted an admixture of fate and human reason. The Essenes ascribed to fate only.15 These compartments are contrived. Nothing so neat applies to the relationship among these three sects regarding fate. These Jewish sects certainly did not refer to themselves in these terms. They were much more seamless regarding their belief system. To better determine their affinities with one another it is necessary to penetrate more deeply into their practices. Regarding the Pharisees, Josephus gives the following account:

…[T]hey follow the conduct of reason; and what that prescribes to them as good for them they do; and they think they ought earnestly to strive to observe reason’s dictates for practice… .[A]nd when they determine that all things are done by fate, they do not take away the freedom from men as acting as they think fit; since their notion is, that it has pleased God to make a temperament, whereby what he wills is done, but so that the will of man can act virtuously or viciously.16

It is hard to imagine that this description would not equally apply to the Dead Sea community. We are not speaking here of a community that lived out “Calvinistic doctrine.”17 Rather, Josephus

15Antiquities 13.5.9.

16 Ibid., 18.1.3.

17 The acronym, TULIP, describing the tenets of Calvinism, includes the “I” for “irresistible grace,” which would appear to mean “absolute predestination,” such that one’s actions do not matter for purposes of salvation.

infuses the Dead Sea sect with a will that needs to be exercised for good. For example:

And truly, as for other things, they do nothing but according to the injunction of their leaders; only these two things are done among them at everyone’s own free will, which are to assist those that want it, and to show mercy; for they are permitted of their own accord to afford help to such as deserve it, when they stand in need of it, and to bestow food on those that are in distress; but they cannot give anything to their family without the curators.18

This decision as to whom to help certainly involves the utmost in human reason and decision-making. What is most interesting here is that the Pharisees had a practice of avoiding giving to their family (parents), thus circumventing the law of honoring parents, by declaring a gift korban.19 Through the fiction of dedicating a gift to the Temple, they exempted it from needy parents. In this respect the two sects were similar in invoking reason to accomplish an objective, rather than totally trusting in the fate of God.

What Josephus is referring to when delineating the differences in the sects according to fate, is really not fate at all. Instead, he is looking on the “outer cup” and distinguishing among the groups according to a classification of piety. Categorizing the Dead Sea sect on a pietistic continuum, the sect was more akin to the Pharisees than the Sadducees.


Josephus has something to say about the Pharisees—one of which he claims to be—concerning their approach to Scriptures. He says: “…[T]he Pharisees have delivered to the people a great many observances by succession from their fathers, which are not written in the laws of Moses.”20 According to Josephus, the Pharisees have the “multitude on their side” when it comes to this approach to Torah.21 Apparently, they were prone to expand the written Torah by accept

18 War Matt 15: 3-6; Mark 7: 10-13.20 Antiquities Ibid.22 See, for example, Matt 15:1-9; Mark 7: 1-13.


ing the traditions of the elders. In fact, the New Testament confirms this understanding.22 Hence, it is but a small leap to the post-Temple rabbis’ understanding of an oral law given by God to Moses at Mt Sinai. They claimed unbroken authority through the transmission of the tradition through “Joshua, to the elders, to the prophets, to the men of the Great Assembly,” and down to the rabbis.23 This fuels the theory of a progressive connection between the Pharisees of the Second Temple period and the rabbis of the post-destruction period, bridged by the first generation Tannaim, beginning with Yochanan ben Zakkai.

The Mishnah (redacted c. 200 C.E.) presumably is the oral law that was not previously written down, but was preserved through oral transmission. The Mishnah contains a whole tractate on the Sabbath, and in it designates 39 activities that are considered work, and thus forbidden on the Sabbath.24 The Mishnaic rabbis, and their successors to this day, believe that these prohibitions originated from Sinai. Hence, the approach by the Pharisees-rabbis was one of biblical exegesis plus tradition, leading to the two-Torah (Written and Oral) dogma.

The 39 Sabbath injunctions further illustrate the Phaisaic-Rabbinic principle of building a fence around the Torah25 as a protection against violating it. For example, the Written Torah proscribes boiling a calf in its mother’s milk.26 The Oral Torah enlarges this by forbidding eating milk with meat,27 presumably protecting against violation of the Written Torah on this matter. Hence, the Oral Torah is a hedge around the Written Torah. Finally, from the New

23The Mishnah, trans., Herbert Danby (Oxford, Eng.: Oxford University Press, 1933), Avot, 446-461.

24They are: sowing, ploughing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, cleansing crops, grinding, sifting, kneading, baking, shearing wool, washing or beating or dying it, spinning, weaving, making two loops, weaving two threads, separating two threads, tying a knot, loosening a knot, sewing two stiches, tearing in order to sew two stiches, hunting a gazelle, slaughtering or flaying or salting it or curing its skin, scraping it or cutting it up, writing two letters, erasing in order to write two letters, building, pulling down, putting out a fire, lighting a fire, striking with a hammer and carrying an object from one domain into another. Sabbath 7: 2

25 26 27 Avot 1:1. Exod 23:19; 34:26; Deut 14:21. Hullin 8:1.

Testament and from Josephus we learn that the Pharisees believed in the angelic world.28

In contrast to the Pharisaic approach of written Scripture plus tradition, the Sadducees were more literal in their interpretation of Scripture. According to Josephus, the Sadducees “esteem[ed] those observances to be obligatory which are in the written word, but are not to observe what are derived from the tradition of our forefathers.”29 Nonetheless, they still had to interpret the Scriptures and, although less is known about Sadducean hermeneutics than Pharisaic, there is good evidence that the Sadducees, while deviating from the Pharisees’ tradition, adopted their own traditions.30 They, in fact, look a lot like the later Karaite sect, which also eschewed rabbinic tradition and instead sought to be governed by their own version of solo scriptura.31 Thus, the Pharisees and the Sadducees were at odds with one another, which is also confirmed in the New Testament. They did not believe in resurrection or angels as did the Pharisees.32

According to Lawrence Schiffman, the Qumran community approached the exegesis of biblical law through the concepts of niglah (revealed) and nistar (hidden). Niglah comprised the clearly revealed portions of Scripture, i.e., the literal, or peshat. In this respect they were allegedly like the Sadducees. All Jews were aware of the interpretation of these biblical laws. The nistar was the hidden component of Scripture to whom only the sect-members were privy. Further, according to Schiffman, tradition was disregarded,

28 Acts 23:8.29 Antiquities Lawrence Schiffman, “The Dead Sea Scrolls and Rabbinic Halakha,” in The Dead Sea Scrolls as

Background to Postbiblical Judaism and Early Christianity, ed., James Davila (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2003), 19, 22. Compare 4QMMT where the Dead Sea sect held that when liquids are poured from a clean vessel into an unclean vessel, the source is contaminated by the connecting stream. This was in accord with the Sadducees and against the Pharisaical ruling. Joseph Baumgarten, “Sadducean Elements in Qumran Law,” in The Community of the Renewed Covenant: The Notre Dame Symposium on the Dead Sea Scrolls, 29-30.

31For suggested connections between the Karaites and other sects including the Dead Sea sect see Lawrence Schiffman, The Halakha at Qumran (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1975), 18, 126, 134-35.

32Matt 22:23; Mark 12: 18; Acts 23:8. Then there are the Nazarenes who were the followers of Yeshua. When it came to interpreting scripture, this sect followed the teachings and actions of Yeshua, their Master-Teacher. He rejected the strict traditions of the Pharisees, and the peshat of the Sadducees, instead opting for a creative-expansive exegesis. For example, when it came to the legal prohibitions, he broke down the fence and invoked the following formula: “You have heard it has been said…But I say to you… .” Hence, stealing occurred when there was covetousness, and adultery occurred, in the heart, before the act. His exegesis was unique inasmuch as it did not draw on the traditional interpretations of Torah, but spiritualized the concreteness of Torah, without breaking it. His teaching on Torah was in a sense the Torah of the kingdom to come.

because Israel had gone astray and could not be trusted with the subtleties and mysteries of Torah. Hence, it was only through a divinely-derived biblical exegesis, initiated by the “Teacher of Righteousness,” and continuing through the members of the sect, that this hidden essence could be understood.33 And, according to Schiffman, even the sectarian rules that were seemingly unrelated to the Scriptures were biblically-derived through inspiration. This article challenges Schiffman’s categorical conclusions.


The contention that there was no tradition at the Dead Sea is overly simplistic and not sufficiently nuanced to grasp the complexity of the interplay in the late Second Temple period among the various sects that shaped each sect’s understanding of the law. Schiffman does admit “that the rabbinic oral law concept was actually the fruition of a long debate during Second Temple times.” Nonetheless, he categorically states that “[t]he oral transmission doctrine and oral law concept are entirely absent from Qumran.”34 This article overrides that observation by arguing that the proto-oral law concept was not only embraced by the Pharisaic sect, but also was a hermeneutic of the Dead Sea sect as they passed the legal conclusions down through their 250-year existence, and as they grappled with guarding the law. It may be that the sect thought that they were selecting laws by divine inspiration, and exegetically derived from Scripture; however, some of the laws they embraced were similar to the tradition of the Pharisees: some were their own tradition, and some undoubtedly went back to the time of Ezra.

Tradition is the handing down of beliefs, opinions, and customs by word of mouth or practice. It is inconceivable that a sect who had a history of one quarter of a millennium could exist without any

It was the eschatological ideal. See, for example, Matt 5: 21-48.

33 Lawrence Schiffman, “The Dead Sea Scrolls and Rabbinic Halakha,” 12.

34Schiffman, The Halakha at Qumran, 20. Jacob Neusner maintains that there was no oral transmission before Yavneh, “except the legendary account regarding Hillel.” Ibid. This includes the “Aleph/Bet” story. How many exceptions does one need to prove a “hand-me-down tradition?”

traditions. That defies both our experiences and others as well. The Karaites are an example of a solo scriptura movement, who after a generation or so were found to have been infected with tradition.35 Other “back to the Bible movements,” such as Luther-inspired Reform movements, which overthrew the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church, were also eventually inundated with their own tradition after a fairly short period of time. With respect to the Pharisees, their tradition was apparently oral in large part, and was ultimately written down in the Mishnah, with certainly a share of contrivances and nunc pro tunc fillings of interstitial voids.

What we have with the Dead Sea sect are writings that obviously were pre-dated by oral transmission. We can never see the orality of the law, only evidence of it through an eventual codification. There is no reason to believe that the model of the Pharisaic-rabbinic tradition in this respect was not duplicated by a pre-Qumran-Qumran succession.36 Tradition does not mean being devoid of biblical exegesis. Even the form of exegesis may be traditional. In the Mishnah we find relatively few references to the Hebrew Scriptures. But in the amoraic period, there are post-hoc scriptural insertions in the Gemara to justify the legal conclusions in the Mishnah. With respect to the Dead Sea sect’s traditions, Lawrence Schiffman often, in like manner and akin to the Amoraim, supplies the “missing scripture.” In that respect, Schiffman provides the Dead Sea’s Gemara, on the “backs of their tradition.”

The Sabbath37 is the fourth “commandment” that was given to Moses on Mt. Sinai after the exodus from Egypt.38 Simply, work on

35Kohler, Kaufmann & Abraham de Harkavy, “Karaites and Karaism,” in JewishEncyclopedia. com. 2002.

36The Dead Sea Scrolls in their Historical Context. ed., Timothy Lim (Edinburgh: T & T Clark,

2000), 164-78, discussing pre-Qumran sources and observing that that Qumran produced

and continued traditions. Ibid., 178.

37 Philip Birnbaum, A Book of Jewish Concepts (New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1975), 579-80. 38 The Decalogue is found in two places in the Torah. In the Exodus discourse, 20:8-11, the uni

versal reason given for remembering the Sabbath day and keeping it holy is because on the sev

enth day God ceased creating and rested. It is a celebration of the creation of the world. In

Deuteronomy, 5:12-15, the reason that is given is particularistic: liberation from enslavement

39 40 in Egypt. Lev 23:3. Num 15: 32-36.

the Sabbath was prohibited.39 Curiously, Scripture does not precisely define work. Although the injunction against work on the Sabbath is replete throughout the Hebrew Bible, it only provides a few examples of what constitutes work. Two offenses are gathering wood40 and kindling a fire.41 Additionally, buying or selling was forbidden42 as well as treading wine presses, and loading produce on animals.43 Aside from these references there was not a clearly defined position on what was prohibited work for purposes of observing the Sabbath. It was left to interpretation. This is where the sectarians often differed. These differences, especially when the Scriptures were silent, were often rooted in tradition.

The Qumran community had an elaborate system of law concerning the Sabbath, including what was considered to be prohibited work. Two examples are instructive. First, in the Damascus Document it is written: “And if [an animal] fall into a cistern or pit, he shall not lift it out on the Sabbath.”44 In the New Testament, Yeshua confronted the Pharisees who objected to his healing on the Sabbath. He responded: “What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the Sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out.”45 Here, the implication may mean that the Pharisees actually followed Yeshua’s legal ruling: that the Pharisaic tradition was to extricate the sheep. However, another possibility is that Yeshua was saying in essence: “Even though your tradition says that you cannot pull out a sheep to save its life on the Sabbath, nonetheless, who among you would not be compassionate on the sheep and lift it out of the pit?” In other words, the accusation is that the tradition had fallen into disrepute and was only academic since in practice the Pharisees did extricate. Interestingly, a Talmudic reference agrees with the Qumran position,46 “not to extricate.”

Moreover, one of the 39 prohibitions on the Sabbath was taking

41 Exod 35:3.42 Neh 10:32.43 Neh 13: 15.44 Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, CD XI. 16.13 (New York: The Penguin

Press, 1997), 140.

45 Matt 12: 11.

46 Schiffman, The Halakha at Qumran, 122. “Only after the Sabbath was it to be removed from the

out something from one place to another,47 and the extrication would obviously be a violation of this injunction. We do not know the Sadducean position on the matter. However, here, the sect concurs with the Pharisaic-rabbinic tradition. Since the Hebrew Bible is silent on this case, the position would have to be derivative. This left room for dispute, resulting in the same or different traditional forms of derivations. The tradition on this point was apparently not so fixed in the Second Temple period,48 and only became more concretized in the Mishnaic and the Amoraic periods.

A second example is the Sabbath journey. The Hebrew Bible is expressly silent on how far a person could travel on the Sabbath before it was considered work. During the Second Temple times there was a traditional prescription. In the New Testament, Yeshua warns of an impending tribulation. He instructs his disciples to flee Jerusalem when this takes place. He enjoins them to pray that their flight not be on the Sabbath.49 It was prohibited to go beyond the Sabbath’s journey, and apparently the distance for the flight out of the city would necessarily require a greater distance than what was permitted. Moreover, Yeshua’s disciples seemed to believe that a Sabbath journey was no greater than 2,000 cubits.50 The 2,000-cubit distance was one that the rabbis adopted as laid down in the Mishnah51 and apparently this tradition was in effect during the Second Temple period. It was perhaps indirectly derived from scripture, but nonetheless a “hand-me-down tradition.” The Dead Sea sect had its own rendition of a Sabbath’s journey. It was bifurcated. There was a 1,000-cubit distance limit for ordinary travel and an extension of 1,000 cubits for pasturing animals.52 Although this may have been derivative from Scripture, it was no more derivative than the 2,000-cubit limit imposed by the

pit.” Ibid. [citing bT., Sabbath 14 (15):3]. 47 Sabbath 7:2. 48 Samuel Tobias Lachs, A Rabbinic Commentary of the New Testament: The Gospels of Matthew,

Mark and Luke (Hoboken, N.J.: KTAV, 1987), 200; Michael Hilton, The Gospels & Rabbinic

Judaism: A Study Guide (Hoboken, N.J.: KTAV, 1988), 111-112. 49 Matt 24: 20. 50 Acts 1: 12. From the Mount of Olives to the nearest Jerusalem gate is a Sabbath’s journey, and that

would be about 1,000 yards (2,000 cubits). 51 Sotah 5:3. 52 “One may not travel outside his city more than a thousand cubits.” CDC 10: 21, “A man may walk

behind an animal to graze it outside his city up to two thousand cubits.” CDC 11: 5-6. But see

Mishnaic rabbis who were presumably codifying a Pharisaic tradition.


In Pirke Avot it is recorded that the men of the Great Assembly said three things: “Be deliberate in judgment, raise up many disciples, and make a fence around the law.53 The men of the Great Assembly were the body of 120 elders who came up from the exile with Ezra. Recognizing that prophecy had ceased, they sought to implement restrictive laws that would promote safer Torah observance.54 Apparently, this approach was adopted by the Pharisees, who constructed a fence around the law in order to protect it from being violated. This is evident in the laws of the Mishnah, many of which were undoubtedly part of the oral tradition during the Second Temple period. For example, the Sabbath begins on sundown on Friday. In order to guard the Sabbath in accordance with Deut 5:12, and thus protect against offending it, the rabbis accounted the Sabbath as starting well before sundown.55 The Qumran community utilized this same prophylactic approach.56 Here, both the Pharisees and the Qumran sect may have been influenced by a tradition of law originating in the early Second Temple period, instituted by the “men of the Great Assembly.”

According to Josephus, the Essenes took a strict approach and would not carry anything on the Sabbath.57 This is confirmed in the Damascus Document where it is recorded that not an infant, stone or even a piece of dust could be carried on the Sabbath.58 Nothing in the Torah rings quite so strict, and even the later Rabbis had a

Schiffman, “Sectarian Law in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” 74; Schiffman, The Halakha at Qumran, 91-8.

53Avot 1:1.

54The Mishnah, trans., Herbert Danby, 446, n. 5.

55bT., Yoma 81b.

56CDC 10:15; Hannah Harrington, “Biblical Law at Qumran,” in The Dead Sea Scrolls after Fifty Years, eds., Peter Flint and James Vanderkam (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1998), 167.

57War 2:147.

58CDC 11:7-9.

59Schiffman, The Halakha at Qumran, 132-33, suggests that the eruv is a later development in

more lenient view. Here, it seems like the Qumran community’s fence around the Torah was tighter than even the Pharisees’-rabbis’ fence, who constructed the doctrine of the eruv to expand the limits of carrying on the Sabbath.59 In fact, the members of the Qumran sect did not even relieve themselves on the Sabbath,60 and they prepared their food the day before, so as not to light a fire on the Sabbath. Josephus confirms that the Essenes are “stricter than any other of the Jews in resting from their labors on the seventh day.”61 Stricter observance here means a more expansive protective fence.

Another example should suffice. According to the sect, members were prohibited from passing the Sabbath in the company of Gentiles.62 Apparently, there would always be the risk of becoming impure, or of being tempted to violate the Sabbath when there was contact with gentiles. This is simply “fencing,” rather than a biblically derived halakhah.

It seems likely that in some respects, especially in Sabbath observance, this “hedge around the law” was of a Pharisaical mindset and influence, or originated from some common tradition. It also seems likely that the Qumranites contributed their share of influence, as well, to other sects.63


When it came to angelology, the Pharisees,64 the Nazarenes,65 and

rabbinic Judaism. 60 This may be because they would have to carry a type of hatchet to bury the refuse and/or it might

be because the latrines were located outside the camp, beyond a Sabbath’s journey. War II.8.9 61 Ibid. 62 CDC 11:14ff. 63 Schiffman has posed the possibility that they influenced the Karaites. Schiffman, The Halakha at

Qumran, 17-18. It is not so far-fetched that they influenced the Tannaim and the Amoraim, but this is beyond the present study. 64 Acts 23:8. 65 The New Testament is full of references to angels and their interaction with the believers.

66See, for example, John J. Collins, “Powers in Heaven: God, Gods, and Angels,” in The Dead Sea Scrolls in Religion in the Dead Sea Scrolls, eds., John Collins and Robert Kugler (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. M. Eerdmans, 2000), 9-28; See also War 2.8.7.

67 Acts 23:8.

the Dead Sea sect,66 all believed in angels while the Sadducees did not.67 It is interesting that the Sadducees discounted angels when they were the alleged literalists of exegetical rendering, and “angel,” or its plural form, appears no fewer than 20 times in the Torah alone. Although some of the references could readily be translated “messengers,” some unmistakenly refer to angelic beings of the heavenly variety.68 And, there are scores more references in the Prophets and the Writings, which were certainly accessible.

Angels are replete throughout the sect’s writings.69 Angels recited on each of the first thirteen Sabbaths of the year.70 The Angelic Liturgy (Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice) contains a description of the Sabbath worship of the angelic priesthood in the heavenly temple,71 and their presence is also included in the portions of the Dead Sea Scrolls titled, Songs of the Masters and the Thanksgiving Hymns.72 They praise God,73 even in unison with humans,74 reveal heavenly mysteries, teach the priestly Torah,75 and have a role in the eschatological war76 that the sect anticipated. On the issue of angels, the sect resembles the Pharisees more so than the Sadducees, the sect’s priestly counterpart.77


This study sampled a substantive area of law in pursuit of determining the nature of the Dead Sea sect. It was crafted intentionally to refute the idea that the sect was clearly Sadducean in nature. In many respects they were. However, when it came to some

68 See, for example, Gen 22:11 (angel of the Lord called from heaven); Genesis 28:12 (Jacob’s ladder with angels going up and down it); and Exodus 14:19 (angel of God who had been going ahead of the Israelite army).

69 Ringgren, 81-93.

70The Dead Sea Scrolls: Hebrew Aramaic and Greek Texts with English Translations: Angelic Liturgy’s Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, Vol. 4B, eds., James Charlesworth & Carol Newman

(Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1999), 6.

71 Ibid.

72 Ibid., 9.

73Daniel K. Falk, Daily, Sabbath, and Festival Prayers in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Leiden: E.J. Brill,

1998), 49, 59, 89, 98, 129, 139, 140, 147- 48.

74 Falk, 44-5, 51-2, 54, 56, 57, 93, 130, 138, 145-6, 148-51, 246.

75 Ibid., 6.

76See The War Scroll.

77 They are also aligned with the Nazarenes in their belief in angels, who are functional throughout

the New Testament. They, in fact, illuminate the meaning of 1 Cor 11:10, that “because of the

Sabbath-related doctrine and praxis, and angelology, they certainly resembled the Pharisees.

Contrary to Lawrence Schiffman’s contentions, this article has made a case that tradition, and even oral transmission, is part of the sect’s persona. Additionally, the “fencing” of Torah is not absent from the sect’s hermeneutical approach. Finally, certain of the sectarian doctrines line up with the Pharisees, rather than the Sadducees, for example the doctrine of angels.

When the Second Temple was destroyed, the spiritual center of the Jewish people departed from Jerusalem. The Sadducees were out of a job. The Dead Sea community was desecrated. The remaining Essene community was too small to survive. The Herodian party was dethroned. The militants were either dead, led away captive to Rome, or rendered incapacitated. Only two major Jerusalem-centered sects survived the destruction of the Temple and the devastation of Jerusalem: the Pharisees-Rabbis and the Nazarenes-Messianics. Contrastingly, unlike the Dead Sea sect, the Nazarenes did not separate themselves from the mainline Jewish community, nor from the Temple and Judaic orientation and praxis prior to the Great Revolt.78 Yet, after the destruction of the Temple, those Jews who embraced Yeshua spread their teachings about fulfillment in his “shed blood.” The question of “how we must now live” absent a Temple confronted both the Pharisees and the Nazarenes. The messianic exegetical understanding was scripturally derived, in stark contrast to the Pharisaic-rabbinic teaching, which adapted by an appeal to tradition. In this respect the messianic community that formed, although adopting some of the Pharisaic traditions, in large measure found the answers to their questions in the Mosaic covenant as fulfilled in the New Covenant Scriptures, while the rabbinic precursors found their answers in the traditions that were ultimately codified in Mishnah, and later, Gemara. For the Messianics, the New Covenant provided the interpretation of the Mosaic covenant as it illumined the events surrounding

angels” a woman ought to have authority over her head. Since the angels are continuously present, it is essential that a woman cover the nakedness of her head with the authority of her husband,

the destruction of the Temple. Hence, in the first centuries after the destruction, messianic doctrine stood in opposition to proto-rabbinic “theology.” Dominant within Messianic Judaism was Scripture; whereas, dominant within rabbinic Judaism was Tradition.

Interrupted by Gentile Christian dominance by the third and fourth centuries, Messianic Judaism went dormant and did not re-emerge until the twentieth century. Perhaps, had it continued unadulterated and without interruption, instead, messianic doctrinal praxis would have centralized through an adoption of “orality,” and “fencing.”79 Yet, this was not to happen. Consequently, modern Messianic Judaism is in an infancy stage in these developments. Hence, when it comes to “keeping the Sabbath” there is no uniformity on interpretation and praxis. Unlike the Dead Sea community, and the Rabbis, time and circumstances interrupted the natural progression of “halakhic” process. What is needed here is time to solidify a uniformity on how Messianic Jews must live, on a daily basis, in relation to the law, until Messiah returns.


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Elliot Klayman, B.S.B.A., J.D., University of Cincinnati; L.L.M, Harvard Law School, is a UMJC past president, articles editor of Kesher, and editor, The Messianic Outreach. He is associate professor of Law in the Fisher College of Business, The Ohio State University; associate congregational leader, Beth Messiah Congregation, Columbus, Ohio; chairman of the Board of Messianic Jewish Theological Institute and is a graduate student in Jewish History, The Ohio State University.