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from jesus to christ - the first christians

The Community Rule

Here is a view into the community of the separatist Jewish sect, the Essenes, who are generally recognized as the authors of the the Dead Sea Scrolls. 'The Community Rule' details the rules and regulations of this community and offers a glimpse into the diversity of Judaism at the time of Jesus.

The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation
by: Michael Wise Martin Abegg, Jr. Edward Cook


1QS, 4Q255-264a, 5Q11

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.

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.

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...

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.

Col. 1

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. 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.

Rules for the conduct of the community. In the first section the rules are general and abstract.

Col. 5

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.

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.

The Dead Sea Scrolls a new translation. (c) 1996 by Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., and Edward Cook. Reprinted by arrangement with Harper San Francisco, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, Inc.

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published april 1998

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