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Moore, George Foot / The Covenanters of Damascus; A Hitherto Unknown Jewish Sect
The Covenanters of Damascus;

A Hitherto Unknown Jewish Sect

George Foot Moore

Harvard University

Harvard Theological Review

Vol. 4, No. 3

July, 1911


The Covenanters Of Damascus; A Hitherto Unknown Jewish Sect


Among the Hebrew manuscripts recovered in 1896 from the Genizah of an old
synagogue at Fostat, near Cairo, and now in the Cambridge University
Library, England, were found eight leaves of a Hebrew manuscript which
proved to be fragments of a book containing the teaching of a peculiar
Jewish sect; a single leaf of a second manuscript, in part parallel to the
first, in part supplementing it, was also discovered. These texts
Professor Schechter has now published, with a translation and commentary,
in the first volume of his _Documents of Jewish Sectaries_.(1) The longer
and older of the manuscripts (A) is, in the opinion of the editor,
probably of the tenth century; the other (B), of the eleventh or twelfth.

What remains of the book may be divided into two parts. Pages 1-8 of A,
and the single leaf of B, contain exhortations and warnings addressed to
members of the sect, for which a ground and motive are often sought in the
history of the Jewish people or of the sect itself, together with severe
strictures upon such as have lapsed from the sound teaching, and polemics
against the doctrine and practice of other bodies of Jews. The second
part, pages 9-16, sets forth the constitution and government of the
community, and its distinctive interpretation and application of the
law,—what may be called sectarian _halakah_.

Neither part is complete; the manuscript is mutilated and defective at the
end, there is apparently a gap between the first and second parts, and it
may be questioned whether the original beginning of the work is preserved.
The lack of methodical arrangement in the contents leads Dr. Schechter to
surmise that what we have in our hands is only a compilation of extracts
from a larger work, put together with little regard for completeness or
order. An orderly disposition, according to our notions of order, is not,
however, so constant a characteristic of Jewish literature as to make this
inference very convincing.

Manuscript A was evidently written by a negligent scribe, perhaps after a
poor or badly preserved copy; B, which represents a somewhat different
recension of the work, exhibits, so far as it goes, a superior text. When
it is added that both manuscripts are in many places defaced or torn, it
may be imagined that the decipherment and interpretation present serious
difficulties, and that, after all the pains which Dr. Schechter has spent
upon the task, many uncertainties remain. Facsimiles of a page of each
manuscript are given; but in view of the condition of the text a
photographic reproduction of the whole is indispensable.

The legal part of the book, so far as the text is fairly well preserved,
is not exceptionally difficult; the rules are in general clearly defined,
and if in the peculiar institutions of the sect there are many things we
do not fully understand, this is due more to the brevity with which its
organization is described and to the mutilation of the text than to lack
of clearness in the description itself. The attempt to make out something
of the history and relations of the sect from the first part of the book
is, on the other hand, beset by many difficulties. What history is found
there is not told for the sake of history, but used to point admonitions
or emphasize warnings; and, after the manner of the apocalyptic
literature, historical persons and events are referred to in roundabout
phrases which envelop them in an affected mystery. Even when such
references are to chapters of the national history with which we are
moderately well acquainted, as in the Assumption of Moses, c. 5, ff., for
example, they may be to us baffling enigmas; much more when they have to
do, as is in large part the case in our texts, with the wholly unknown
internal or external history of a sect. The obscurity is increased by the
fact that the allusions are often a tissue of fragmentary quotations or
reminiscences out of the Old Testament, chosen and combined, it seems, by
purely verbal association, or taken in an occult allegorical sense.(2) The
allegories of which an interpretation is given, as when Amos 5 26 f. is
applied to the emigration to Damascus and the institutions and laws of the
sect, and Ezekiel 44 15 to the classes of the community, do not encourage
us to think that we should be able to divine the meaning by our unaided
intelligence. It is a fortunate circumstance that the writer comes back
more than once to the salient events in the sect’s history, for these
repetitions of the same thing in different forms afford considerable help
to the interpreter, so that the main facts may be made out with at least a
considerable degree of probability.

The principal seat of the sect was in the region of Damascus, where its
adherents formed numerous communities. It was composed of Israelites who
had migrated thither from Judaea; thither also had come “the interpreter
of the law,” the founder of the sect; there it had been organized by a
covenant repeatedly referred to as “the new covenant in the land of
Damascus.” Many who entered into this new covenant at the beginning did
not long remain true to it; the writer inveighs vehemently against those
who fell away, accusing them not only of grave error, but of gross
violations of the law; but this crisis had been passed, and when the book
was written the community was apparently flourishing.

The most coherent account of the origin of the sect is found on pages

At the end of the devastation of the land arose men who removed
the boundary and led Israel astray; and the land was laid waste
because they spoke rebelliously against the commandments of God by
Moses and also against his holy Anointed,(4) and prophesied
falsehood to turn Israel back from following God. But God
remembered the covenant with the forefathers, and he raised up
from Aaron discerning men and from Israel wise men, and he heard
them, and they dug the well. “The well, princes dug it, nobles of
the people delved it, with the legislator” (Numbers 21 18). The
well is the law, and they who dug it are the captivity of
Israel(5) who went forth from the land of Judah and sojourned in
the land of Damascus, all of whom God called princes because they
sought him.(6)... The legislator is the interpreter of the law, as
Isaiah said, “Bringing forth a tool for his work” (Isa. 54 16),
and the nobles of the people are those who came to delve the well
with the statutes which the legislator decreed that men should
walk in them in the complete end of wickedness; and besides these
they shall not obtain any (statutes) until the teacher of
righteousness shall arise in the last times.

The migration is referred to in several other places: “The captivity of
Israel, who migrated from the land of Judah” (4 2 f.);(7) “those who held
firm made their escape to the northern land,” by which the region of
Damascus is meant (7 13 f.; cf. 7 15, 18 f.). The time of the migration is
plainly indicated in the passage quoted above (5 20 ff.). The men who,
after the end of the devastation of the land, “removed the boundary,” and
led Israel astray, speaking rebelliously against the commandments of God
by Moses and against his holy Anointed, prophesying falsely to turn Israel
away from following God, in consequence of which the land was laid waste,
are most naturally taken for the hellenizing leaders of the Seleucid time.
In this period, it seems that a number of Jews, including priests and
levites, withdrew to the region of Damascus,(8) and there they
subsequently bound themselves by covenant to live strictly in accordance
with the law as defined by their legislator.

With this the other allusions agree. Thus in A, p. 8 (= B, p. 19), at the
end of a violent invective against the sinners, of whom it is said, “The
princes of Judah are like those who remove the boundary,” we read that
“they separated not from the people [and their sins, B], but
presumptuously broke through all restraints, walking in the way of the
wicked (heathen), of whom God said, ‘The venom of dragons is their wine,
and the head of asps is cruel’(9) (Deut. 32 33). The dragons are the kings
of the nations, and their wine means their ways, and the head of asps is
the head of the Greek kings who came to inflict vengeance upon them.” This
again is most naturally understood of Antiochus Epiphanes; the calamities
he brought on the Jews were a direct consequence of the course of the
hellenizing party.(10)

A definite date for these occurrences is given in 1 5 ff.: “When God’s
wrath was over, three hundred and ninety years after he gave them into the
power of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, he visited them, and caused to
spring up from Israel and Aaron a root of his planting to inherit his land
and to thrive on the good things of his earth. And they recognized their
wickedness and knew that they were guilty men, and they were like blind
men and like men groping their way for twenty years. And God took note of
their deeds, that with perfect heart they sought him, and he raised up for
them a teacher of righteousness to guide them in the way of his heart.”

The “root” which God, mindful of his covenant, caused to spring up from
Aaron and Israel is the men with whom the religious revival, or
reformation, began, the forefathers of the sect (see 6 2 f., and below, p.
375);(11) the “teacher of righteousness” is the “interpreter of the law
who came to Damascus” (6 7 f., 7 18 f.). The dates refer therefore to the
origin of the sect. Three hundred and ninety years from the taking of
Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (597 or 586 B.C.) would bring us, by our
chronology, to 207 or 196 B.C. The Jewish chronology of the Persian period
is, however, always too long by from forty to seventy years,(12) and
assuming, as it is fair to do, that our author made the same error, the
three hundred ninety years would run out in the middle of the third
century. Dr. Schechter suspects, with much probability, that the original
reading was “_four_ hundred and ninety years,” the common apocalyptic
cycle (Dan. 9 2, 24; Enoch 89-90; 93, etc.). Making the same allowance for
error, we should be brought again to a time not far removed from the
punishment inflicted on the people by Antiochus Epiphanes (see above, p.
333 f.).(13)

There is nothing in the texts which demands a later date for the origin of
the sect. The last event in the national history to which reference is
made is the vengeance inflicted on the heathenizing rulers of the people
by “the head of the Greek kings.” To the misfortunes of the people in the
following centuries, such as the taking of Jerusalem by Pompey or its
destruction by Titus, there is no allusion. It may perhaps be inferred not
only that the schism antedated these calamities, but that the book was
written before them. In the author’s frame of mind toward the religious
leaders of Palestinian Jewry, he would have been likely to record such
conspicuous judgments upon them. A comparison with the Assumption of Moses
is instructive on this point. There the sweeping denunciation of the
priesthood and the scribes, “their teachers in those times,” and of the
godless Asmonaean priest-kings, is followed by the well-deserved judgment
inflicted on them by Herod, and after him comes Varus, burning part of the
temple, crucifying, and carrying off into slavery. The second of the
Psalms of Solomon may also be compared.

The schismatic character of the sect would also be explained if it arose
in an age when the character of the political and religious heads of the
Jewish people was such as to move God-fearing and law-abiding men to
repudiate them with all their ways and works. For it is not merely with a
sect, differing from the mass of their fellows in certain opinions and
practices, that we have to do, but with a schism. The Covenanters of
Damascus are radical come-outers, seceders not only from the land of
Judaea, but from established Judaism, on which they look much as the
Puritan Separatists in the seventeenth century looked on the English
Church; they might have taken to themselves the prophetic word so often in
the mouth of the Puritan, “Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence,
touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, ye
that bear the vessels of the Lord” (Isa. 52 11), as they do apply to the
religious teachers of the Jewish church the most violent invectives of the
same prophet (50 11, 59 4 ff.; see below, p. 344 f.). They will not even
call themselves Jews, they are Israelites who went forth from the land of
Judaea; their Messiah is to spring from Aaron and Israel, not from Judah;
when the final judgment comes in its appointed time, it will no longer be
permitted to make compact with the house of Judah, but every man must
stand in his own stronghold;(14) when the glory of God shines out on
Israel, all the wicked of Judah shall be cut off, in the day of its trial
by fire. They reject the temple in Jerusalem, and will not offer on its
altar. If we consider that the Essenes, notwithstanding their wider
divergence from the common type of Judaism, seem to have regarded
themselves as within the pale of the church, and to have been so regarded
by others—enjoying, indeed, with the people the reputation of peculiar
sanctity—the schismatic character of our sect appears in a still stronger

The language of the book is not inconsistent with the age to which the
contents would seem to assign it. The vocabulary is in the main Biblical,
but there are a number of words which otherwise occur only in the writings
of the Mishnic age or later. Some of these belong to the technical
terminology of the law schools, some of them appear to be peculiar to the
sect. A few of the Biblical words also are used in later senses and
applications. It is proper to bear in mind, however, that the Hebrew
originals of the works with which it would be most natural to compare our
text, such as Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, the Testaments of the Twelve
Patriarchs, the Gospel, are not preserved; in fact, between the last books
of the Old Testament and the rabbinical literature of the second Christian
century there is a hiatus in the history of the Hebrew language, so that
words which appear for the first time in the Mishna and kindred works may
have been, and in many cases probably were, in use much earlier. It is
unnecessary therefore to suppose that such words were introduced into our
texts by later scribes, though the possibility of such changes must of
course be admitted. The particular instances in which Dr. Schechter thinks
that late and foreign influences are most clearly to be recognized—the
title of the “censor” and the peculiar name for a house of worship—are
discussed elsewhere.(15) More remarkable than the vocabulary of the book
is its syntax. The consecutive constructions of the perfect and the
imperfect are regularly employed, not only in imitation of Biblical models
in narrative and prophetic passages, but in the legal part of the book;
and in spite of some irregularities, which may in part at least be laid to
the charge of scribes, the use of these tenses is generally correct. In
this respect the Hebrew of the book differs entirely from that of the
Mishna and the contemporary and later Midrashim, in which the
characteristic features of classical tense-syntax have entirely
disappeared, under the influence, it is generally supposed, of the Aramaic
vernacular. In comparison with these writings the vocabulary also is
notably free from foreign admixture. There are no words borrowed from
Greek and Latin, and only one or two instances where an Aramaic term seems
to have been adopted. The orthography also, in its more sparing use of the
semivowels to indicate the vowels _u_ and _i_, resembles that of the


The founder of the sect is called the “teacher of righteousness” (1
11),(16) “the only, or beloved, teacher” (20 14);(17) “the only one” (20
32); he is “the legislator,” that is, “the interpreter of the law” (6 7);
and this interpreter of the law, who came to Damascus, is the star who,
according to Balaam’s prophecy, was to issue from Jacob (7 18 f.).(18) He
showed them how to walk in the way of God’s heart (1 11); as interpreter
of the law he ordained them statutes to walk in till the end of
wickedness—statutes which shall not be superseded by any others “until
there arise the teacher of righteousness in the last days” (6 11 f.). To
him, therefore, are attributed the distinctive principles and observances
of the sect as they are set forth in this book. “His anointed,” through
whom God made known to men his holy spirit, and who is true (2 12 f.), is
in all probability the same person with the teacher, the star, just as the
anointed from Aaron and Israel who is to arise in the future (20 1) is the
same as the teacher of righteousness to whose voice they will then listen
(20 32; see below, p. 343).

Those of the emigrants who accepted the guidance of the teacher of
righteousness, the interpreter of the law, entered into the “new covenant
in the land of Damascus” (6 19, 8 21, 19 33 f., 20 12). The idea of the
“new covenant” was doubtless suggested by Jer. 31 31 ff. (cf. 32 36 ff.;
Ezek. 37 26, etc.), where the establishment of the new covenant, in the
stead of the old covenant which their fathers broke, marks the restoration
of God’s favor, the beginning of a new and better time. The same use of
the passage in Jeremiah is made at length by the author of the Epistle to
the Hebrews (8 6 ff.), The substance of the covenant may be gathered from
6 11-7 5:

All who were brought into the covenant are not to enter into the
sanctuary to light its altar, but became closers of the door, as
God said, “Who among you will close its door?” and “Thou shalt not
light my altar in vain” (Mal. 1 10);(19) but shall observe to do
according to the interpretation of the law for the end of
wickedness, and to separate from the children of perdition, and to
keep aloof from unrighteous gain, which is unclean by vow and
ban,(20) and from the property of the sanctuary, and from robbing
the poor of the people and making widows their spoil and murdering
orphans; and to separate between the unclean and the clean, and to
show the difference between the holy and the common; and to
observe the Sabbath day as it is defined, and the season feasts,
and the fast-day, in accordance with the commandments of those who
entered into the new covenant in the land of Damascus; to set
apart the sacred dues as they are defined; and that a man should
love his neighbor as himself, and sustain the poor and needy and
the proselyte, and to seek each the welfare of the other; and that
no man transgress the prohibited degrees, but guard against
fornication according to the rule; and that a man should reprove
his brother according to the commandment, and not bear a grudge
from day to day; and to separate from all forms of uncleanness
according to their several prescriptions; and that a man should
not defile his holy spirit, even as God separated for them (sc.
unclean from clean). All who walk in these precepts in perfection
of holiness, according to all the foundations of the covenant of
God,(21) have the assurance that they shall live a thousand

Early in the history of the sect a serious defection occurred. Men who
entered among the first into the covenant incurred guilt, like their
forefathers, by following their sinful inclinations; they forsook the
covenant of God and preferred their own will, and went about after the
stubbornness of their heart, every man doing as he pleased (3 10 ff.); the
men who entered into the new covenant in the land of Damascus went back
and proved false, and turned aside from the well of living waters (19 33
f.). Their names were struck out of the registers of the sect, as were
those of such as fell away in later times.

We can readily imagine that many found the rule of the sect too strict and
the discipline by which it was enforced too severe. Our texts, however,
speak not of such occasional and individual lapses, but of the repudiation
of the covenant by numbers at one time. It seems that another leader had
arisen, of very different temper from the founder, who drew away many
after him. In the eyes of those who remained steadfast in the faith, the
new teacher was naturally a false prophet, a kind of antichrist. He is
called the liar (“the man of lies,” 20 15), the scoffer (1 14); his
adherents are scoffers,(22) who uttered error about the righteous
statutes, and spurned the covenant and plighted faith which they
established in the land of Damascus, that is to say, the new covenant.
They and their families shall have no portion in the house of the law (20
10 ff.). For their unfaithfulness they were delivered to the sword (3 10
ff.), until of all the men of war who went with the liar none was left (20
14 ff.).(23) This came to pass about forty years after the death of the
unique teacher (_l.c._). If the emigration to Damascus occurred under
Antiochus Epiphanes,(24) the end of the episode of the false prophet would
fall about the beginning of the first century B.C., and we should have at
least an upper limit for the writing of the book. The passion which every
mention of this defection arouses suggests that it was fresh in memory,
and would incline us to date the writing not very long after the time
indicated. It should be observed, however, that the sentence which counts
forty years from the death of the unrivalled teacher to the end of the
liar’s army sits loose in the context, and may be a gloss, in which case
the book might be some decades older.

With the remnant who remained faithful through the great defection “God
confirmed his covenant with Israel forever, revealing to them the secret
of things in which all Israel was in error, his holy Sabbaths and his
glorious festivals and his righteous testimonies and his true ways and the
pleasure of his will, things which if a man do he shall live by them. He
opened a way before them, and they dug a well for copious waters.” “In the
abundance of his wonderful grace he atoned for their guilt and forgave
their transgression, and built for them a sure house in Israel, the like
of which did not arise in times past nor until now” (3 12-20). The
prediction of the sure house (1 Sam. 2 35) seems to be fulfilled in the
stability of the sect itself, or perhaps, with closer adherence to the
prophecy, in that of its faithful priesthood.

So much may be gathered from the book about the origin and history of the
sect. We turn now to its expectation. As a teacher of righteousness, an
anointed one (priest), was the founder of the sect, so in the last times a
teacher of righteousness, an anointed one, shall appear (6 10 f.). Those
who proved faithless to the covenant are cut off from the community, “from
the time when the unique teacher was taken away until the anointed one
from Aaron and Israel shall arise” (19 35-20 1), that is, during the whole
of the present dispensation. Dr. Schechter regards the anointed one who is
to appear in the future as the founder of the sect _redivivus:_ the
present dispensation “seems to be the period intervening between the
_first_ appearance of the Teacher of Righteousness (p. 1, l. 11) (the
founder of the Sect), who was gathered in or died,(25) and the second
appearance of the Teacher of Righteousness who is to rise in ‘the end of
the days’ (p. 6, l. 11). Moreover, the Only Teacher, or Teacher of
Righteousness, is identical with the Messiah, or the Anointed one from
Aaron and Israel, whose advent is expected by the Sect.”(26) The texts,
however, say nothing of the disappearance, or a second appearance, or
reappearance, or return of the founder; nor do the words “until the
teacher of righteousness shall arise in the last days,” “until the
anointed shall arise from Aaron and Israel,” mean that he shall rise from
the dead, as Dr. Schechter interprets them.(27) The Messiah whose advent
the sect expects at the end of the present period of history is, as in the
older parts of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, a priest; and the
function of the priest-messiah is not, as in the Epistle to the Hebrews,
to mediate between man and God, but to instruct men in righteousness, to
guide them in the way of God’s heart. That the founder of the sect also
was both priest and teacher is by no means sufficient to establish the
identity of the two figures. It was the office of the priest to teach
Israel the law, “all the statutes which the Lord hath spoken unto them
through Moses” (Lev. 10 11; cf. Deut. 33 10); “the priest’s lips should
keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth, for he is the
messenger of the Lord of Hosts” (Mal. 2 7). Ezra is the type of a priest
who had not only prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord and to do
it, but to teach in Israel statutes and judgments (Ezra 7 10); he was,
according to the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, the restorer of Judaism. It
was a departure from the ideal of the law itself that, when the priesthood
showed itself unworthy of its calling, the teaching function was assumed
by lay scribes, and even in later times there were many priestly teachers
among the Scribes and among the Doctors. That our sect looks back to one
such as its founder, and forward to another as the great teacher of the
Messianic age, is in no way surprising. If the author had meant what Dr.
Schechter thinks, it is fair to assume that he would have said it
unmistakably; for the identity of the expected Messiah with the dead
founder, if it was part of the belief of the sect, would of necessity be a
singular and significant part of it.(28)

The coming judgment of God is represented rather as a judgment on the
faithless members of the sect, including those who have seceded from it or
been expelled, than in its more general aspects. The long eschatological
passage in B (20 15 to the end) is illegible in spots near the beginning,
but the general tenor is clear:

In that consummation the anger of God will be inflamed against
Israel, as he said, “There is no king and no prince, and no judge
and none that reproves in righteousness” (cf. Hos. 3 4). Those who
turn from the transgression [of Jacob](29) and keep the covenant
of God will then confer with one another; their footsteps will be
firm in the way of God (and the prophecy will be fulfilled which
says), “And God hearkened to their words and heard, and a book of
remembrance was written before him for those that fear God and
think on his name” (Mal. 3 16), until deliverance and
righteousness emerge for those that fear God, “and ye shall return
and see the difference between righteous and wicked, and between a
servant of God and one who serves him not” (Mal. 3 18). And he
shows favor to those that love him and keep his commandments, for
a thousand generations....(30)

Each man according to his spirit, shall they be judged by his holy
counsel, and all who have broken through the bounds of the law, of
those who entered into the covenant, when the glory of God shines
out on Israel, shall be cut off from the midst of the camp, and
with them all the evil-doers of Judah, in the days when it is
tried in the fire. But all who held firmly by these precepts,
going out and coming in in conformity with the law, and listened
to the voice of the teacher, will confess(31) before God.... “We
have done evil, we, and our fathers also, when they went contrary
to the statutes of the covenant, and faithful are thy judgments
upon us.” And they will not act presumptuously against his holy
statutes and his righteous judgment and his faithful testimonies.
They will be instructed in the ancient judgments by which the
followers of the unique one were judged, and will hearken to the
words of the teacher of righteousness. And they will not
controvert the righteous statutes when they hear them; they will
rejoice and be glad, and their heart will be strong, and they will
show themselves mighty against all the people of the world.(32)
And God will atone for them, and they will see his salvation with
joy, because they trusted in his holy name.

Here the fragment ends. The destruction of those who fall away from the
sect is threatened in other places; it will suffice to quote the most
important (19 5 ff.):

Upon all those who reject the commandments and the statutes, the
deserts of the wicked shall be requited when God visits the earth,
when the word comes to pass which was written by Zechariah the
prophet, “Sword, awake against my shepherd and against the man
that is my fellow, saith God; smite the shepherd, and let the
sheep be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little
ones” (Zech. 13 7). But those who observe it (sc. the obligations
of the covenant) are “the poor of the flock” (Zech. 11 7). These
shall escape at the end of the visitation, but the former (sc.
those who reject the commandments) shall be given over to the
sword when the Anointed of Aaron and Israel comes, as it was at
the end of the first visitation, of which God said by Ezekiel that
a mark should be made on the foreheads of them that sigh and cry,
and the rest were delivered to the sword that executes the
judgment of the covenant. And so shall the judgment be of all who
enter into his covenant and do not hold firmly by these statutes,
they shall be visited even with extermination by the hand of
Belial. This is the day in which God will visit, as he spoke, “The
princes of Judah are become like men who remove the boundary; on
them will I pour out my fury like water” (Hos. 5 10). For they
entered into the covenant of repentance, but did not turn aside
from the way of faithless men, and wallowed in ways of fornication
and in unrighteous gain, and avenging themselves and bearing a
grudge against one another.

It is possible, of course, that the judgment of the heathen world, which
looms so large in most of the apocalypses, may have had a place in parts
of the book now lost, but if it had been a very important feature in the
expectation of the sect we should hardly fail to find at least allusions
to it in the pages in our hands. The author is almost exclusively
interested in the sect itself, in the division which had rent it, and in
polemics against laxer interpretations of the law. This limitation of the
horizon is characteristically sectarian, and may suggest, moreover, as has
been said above, that the writer is not far removed in time from the split
in the new organization.

The polemic is especially pointed against certain opponents who are
described as “those who build a wall and plaster it with stucco” (4 19; 8
12).(33) They follow a commandment (_ṣau_); probably connoting, as in
Hosea 5 11, from which the phrase is taken, an arbitrary rule of their
own, a commandment of men.(34) God hates them, his anger is kindled
against them (8 18). These “builders” are false teachers; Biblical
denunciations of the false prophets are applied to them. (See especially 8
12 f.) Points in which their teaching is particularly assailed are that
they allow polygamy and the remarriage of divorced persons during the life
of the other party, and hold it lawful for a man to marry his niece; that
they defile the sanctuary by the laxity of some of their rules and
practice about sexual uncleanness; they presume blasphemously to impugn
the “statutes of the covenant of God” (the legislation of the sect),
declaring that they are not right, and saying abominable things about them
(4 20-5 14). The positions so hotly denounced, especially in the matter of
marriage and divorce, are those of the Palestinian rabbis as we know them
in the Mishna and kindred works, and in so far as the Pharisees had a
dominating influence in the schools of the law they may be regarded as in
a peculiar sense the object of this invective, which is, however, sweeping
enough to include all rabbinical Judaism. Such verses as Isaiah 50 11 and
59 4 ff. are hurled at them; they are compared to Johanneh and his
brother, whom Belial raised up against Moses (5 17 ff.).(35)

The sect prohibited polygamy, which they stigmatized as fornication,
arguing from the creation—“a male and a female created he them” (cf. Matt.
19 4), and from the story of the flood—“by pairs they went into the ark,”
and from the law which forbade the prince to multiply wives unto himself
(Deut. 17 17), that is, as they understood it, to take more than one wife.
To forestall an objection, it is added: “But David had not read in the
sealed book of the law which was in the ark, for it was not opened in
Israel from the time of the death of Eleazar and Joshua and the elders who
worshipped the Astartes, but was hidden and not brought to light until
Zadok arose” (5 2-5; see below, p. 359).

Marriage with another woman while a man had a divorced wife living was
apparently put in the same category with having two wives at the same time
(4 20 f.; cf. Matt. 5 31 f.). Marriage with a niece (brother’s or sister’s
daughter) they treated as incest, reasoning that marriage between a woman
and her uncle stood on all fours with marriage between a man and his aunt,
which was expressly forbidden as within the prohibited degrees of
kinship.(36) The three snares of Belial by which he ensnared Israel are
fornication (that is, plural or incestuous unions), wealth (that is,
unrighteous gain), and the pollution of the sanctuary (4 15 f.; cf. 5 6

The same rigorous tendency which appears in the attitude of the sect in
regard to marriage pervades the whole legal part of the work before us.
The rules for the observance of the Sabbath (10 14-11 21) will make this

Concerning the Sabbath, to keep it as it is prescribed.

1. On the sixth day no man shall do any work from the time when
the disk of the sun is distant from the western portal(38) by its
diameter (?); for this is what he said: Observe the Sabbath day to
hallow it.

2. On the Sabbath a man shall not engage in any foolish
conversation; and he shall not exact repayment from his neighbor;
nor shall he give judgment in matters of property; he shall not
talk about matters of work and labor to be done on the next day.

3. A man shall not walk in the country to do the work of his
business on the Sabbath. He shall not walk outside of his town
above one thousand(39) cubits.

4. No man shall eat on the Sabbath anything except what was
previously prepared or what is spoiling in the field. He shall not
eat or drink anything but what was in the camp. If he be on the
way and descend to bathe, he may drink as he stands, but must not
draw water in any vessel.(40)

5. He must not send a foreigner to do his business on the Sabbath

6. A man must not put on soiled garments or such as are brought by
a gentile, without washing them in water or rubbing them with

7. A man shall not exchange pledges(42) of his own accord on the

8. A man shall not follow his cattle, to pasture them outside his
town, except within 2000 cubits. He shall not lift his arm to
strike them with his fist; if the animal is breachy, let him not
take her out of the house.

9. A man shall not take anything out of a house into the street,
nor bring anything from the street into the house; and if he be in
the entry, he shall not pass anything out of it or bring anything
into it.

10. He shall not open on the Sabbath a vessel the cover of which
has been luted on.

11. A man shall not carry on his person spices, going out or
coming in on the Sabbath.

12. Within a house he shall not lift stone nor earth on the
Sabbath day.

13. The nurse shall not carry an infant in arms, going out or
coming in with it on the Sabbath.

14. A man shall not deal harshly with his slave or his maid or his
hired servant on the Sabbath.

15. A man shall not deliver cattle of their young on the Sabbath

16. If a beast fall into a cistern or trap, a man shall not lift
it out on the Sabbath.

17. A man shall not pass the Sabbath in a place near the gentiles.

18. A man shall not profane the Sabbath for the sake of gain.

19. If a human being fall into a tank of water or into a place of
... no man shall fetch him up by means of a ladder or a rope or
any implement.

20. No man shall bring upon the altar on the Sabbath anything
except the Sabbath burnt-offerings, for so it is written, “aside
from your Sabbaths.”

The dietary laws afford other examples of the strict rules of the
sect.(43) Fish may be eaten only if, while still alive, they have been
split open and drained of their blood; grasshoppers and locusts must be
put alive into the water or the fire (in which they are to be cooked);
honey in the comb is apparently prohibited. So, again, in a house in which
a death has occurred, fixtures, such as nails and pegs in the walls, are
unclean; and wood, stone, and dust are capable of contracting and
communicating various kinds of uncleanness (12 15-18). The sect sees in
these stricter distinctions between clean and unclean the superiority of
its ordinances over those of other Jews, whom they regard as sinfully lax.
The Pharisees are to them gross latitudinarians!

Oaths are to be taken only by the covenant and the curses of the covenant,
that is, the vows by which the members of the sect bind themselves, on
their admission to it, to live in conformity with its rule and submit to
the authority of those set over them, and the curses invoked on such as
violate these obligations.(44) Oaths by God, whether under the name _Aleph
Lamed_ (_El_ or _Elohim_) or _Aleph Daleth (Adonai)_ are prohibited;(45)
nor is it permissible to mention in the oath the law of Moses; the formula
of the oath is strictly sectarian (15 1 ff.).(46) But, though the name of
God is not used, “if a man swear and transgress the oath, he profanes the
name” (15 3). Obligations voluntarily assumed under oath (vows) are to be
fulfilled to the letter; neither redemption nor annulment seems to be
allowed, unless to carry out the vow would be a transgression of the

Another point in which the sect is at variance with the great body of the
Jews is the calendar. They represent the faithful remnant to whom God
revealed the mysteries about which all Israel went astray, his holy
sabbaths and his glorious festivals, and his righteous testimonies, and
his true ways (3 12 ff.). The point of this appears when it is compared
with Jubilees 1 14: “They will forget my law and all my commandments and
all my judgments, and will go astray as to new moons and sabbaths and
festivals and jubilees and ordinances” (cf. 6 34 ff., 23 19). The texts
before us do not explain what the peculiarities of the sectarian calendar
were, but inasmuch as the Book of Jubilees, under the title “The Book of
the Division of the Times by their Jubilees and their Sabbatical Years,”
is cited as an authority for the exact determination of “their ends” (the
coming crisis of history), it may be inferred with much probability that
our sect had a calendar constructed on principles similar to that of the
Jubilees,(47) in which the seasons and festivals were not determined by
lunar observations or astronomical tables, as among the Jews generally,
but had a fixed place in a solar year.

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Library mainpage -> Moore, George Foot -> The Covenanters of Damascus; A Hitherto Unknown Jewish Sect