THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS: PART TWO
Our understanding of the Qumran sect is best framed within the context of other Jewish sects that had developed during the time of the Hasmonean rule. There are three such sects with one of them having theological perspectives so similar to the Qumran sect that some scholars believe the two groups are the same. That group would be the Essenes. Before we discuss the Essenes and how their perspectives parallel that of the Qumran sect, lets first discuss two groups that are very familiar to readers of the New Testament, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Let’s begin with the Sadducees.
The religious group called Sadducees was connected with the priesthood and was largely associated with maintaining the temple worship. They were supported by the Jewish nobility and aristocracy. They were strong advocates of the sacrificial system established under Moses and tied their worship of God to strict adherence to that system. They believed one can only worship God through the offering of sacrifices. They did not believe in the existence of angels or the immortality of the soul, both of which the Pharisees and Essenes did believe in. They rejected the viability of the Oral Law, a concept strongly believed in by the Pharisees. The Sadducees did not believe in resurrection of the dead. They believed all human activity resulted from the exercise of free will and did not believe in divine predetermination.
By contrast with the Sadducees, the Pharisees did believe in angels, the immortality of the soul and resurrection. While they too believed in free will, they also appear to have believed in predestination. A distinguishing characteristic of the Pharisees was their belief in Oral Law. Oral law was a collection of orally generated religious practices beginning during the time of Moses and continuing on down through the centuries. The Pharisees believed such additions to the written law had equal weight with the written law as to how one was to conduct oneself. The Pharisees also extended the worship of God beyond the sacrificial system. They believed communal prayer and the study of the Torah were equally valid ways of worshiping God in addition to the presentation of sacrifices.
The Pharisees expanded many of the temple practices to the home. For example, the priests had to go through various purification rites before they could facilitate animal sacrifices at the temple. Among other things this involved the washing of ones hands. The Pharisees transferred this requirement to the home in demanding that before eating a meal you had to wash your hands. They placed eating a meal in a religious context. In the NT it is recorded that the Pharisees accused the disciples of Jesus with eating with unwashed hands. This shows how they were adding to the written law, something Jesus identified as a following of the traditions of men.
A third religious group of this period was the Essenes. While this group is not mentioned in the NT Scriptures, the first century Jewish historian Josephus writes extensively about them and they are also mentioned in the writings of the first century philosopher and historian Philo and the Roman historian Pliny the Elder.
The Essenes were a separatist group that did not associate with mainstream Judaism which means they did not interact with the Pharisees and Sadducees. Josephus describes them as living communally where they shared their belongings with each other and had no private ownership. They had a number of initiation rites one had to go through before being allowed to become an Essene. They were extremely strict about adherence to the Mosaic Law, more so than the Sadducees or the Pharisees. For example, Josephus reports they would not defecate on the Sabbath. OT law required the digging of a hole to bury your stuff and since this would involve work, they couldn’t do it on the Sabbath. The Essene’s did not believe in free will but believed all human activity is predetermined by God and nothing we humans can do can change that.
Like the Pharisees and unlike the Sadducees, the Essenes believed in angels and the immortality of the soul. Belief by these groups in the immortality of the soul is interesting because nowhere do the Hebrew Scriptures teach this belief. The Hebrew Scriptures teach just the opposite. However, because of extensive Greek influence during this overall period of time, concepts of Greek philosophy crept into Judaism as it did into other religious systems extant at the time. One of those concepts was Plato’s teaching that souls are created immortal and cannot die.
Pliny the Elder, in his compendium called the “Natural History,” published in A.D. 77, mentions that the Essenes lived without women near the Dead Sea. This would indicate at least some level of celibacy. Both Josephus and Philo mention that some of the Essenes were celibate. Pliny’s observation that the Essenes lived near the Dead Sea is very instructive. Pliny was writing in Latin and in Latin the phrase he uses relative to the location of the Essenes means “below Ein Gedi.” Ein Gedi is located just to the north of Qumran. There is Qumran at the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, Ein Gedi about in the middle of the western shore of the Sea and then Masada at the southwestern shore of the Sea. Nearly all scholars who have studied this passage believe when Pliny writes of the Essenes living down from Ein Gedi, he is saying they were living north of Ein Gedi which would locate them at Qumran.
The writing of Pliny and the identification by Josephus of the beliefs held by the Essenes provide a pretty good overview of this group and what they believed and where they lived. When compared with what we know about the Qumran Sect from a reading of their scrolls, there is an uncanny similarity between the Essenes and the Qumran sect. Both groups separated themselves from mainstream Judaism. Both groups practiced communal living. Both groups required going through rites of initiation to join the group. Both groups were extremely strict as to the observance of the Mosaic Law. Both groups believed God predetermines everything in advance and humans can do nothing to change that. Both groups believed in angels and the immortality of the soul. Therefore, a number of scholars have concluded the Essenes and the Qumran sect are one and the same.
One other group I already mentioned, but one that needs to be discussed a little more, are the Samaritans. As already discussed, the Samaritans were a hybrid group of people made up of the descendants of Israelites taken into captivity by the Assyrians and other nationalities the Assyrians brought into northern Israel after their conquering of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. Remember, the monarchy that was Israel had split into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah shortly after the death of Solomon.
Over the centuries, this hybrid group occupying northern Israel had developed their own form of Judaism which included having their own temple which was located on Mount Gerizim above the city of Schehem to the north of Jerusalem. Both Mount Gerizim and neighboring Mount Ebal are mentioned in the Torah (first five books of the Old Testament) whereas Mount Zion is not. Mount Zion and Jerusalem first receive identification in the books that follow the Torah in the OT.
In view of this, the Samaritans canonized only the Torah and used only the Torah as the basis for their belief system. In doing this, they rejected the rest of the OT and did not give credence to anything that related to Jerusalem or to mount Zion being the focal point of the Jewish religious system. Therefore, they were very much of a separatist group from mainstream Judaism and the two groups would have nothing to do with each other. This is why the story of the Good Samaritan is so poignant. Here you have a Samaritan helping a Jew which in the real world of first century Israel just wouldn’t happen.
It is apparent from the Dead Sea scrolls that the Qumran community, while separating themselves from mainstream Judaism, also, as did mainstream Judaism, separate themselves from the Samaritans. While the scrolls indicate the Qumran community was not at all happy with the way things were being done at the temple in Jerusalem, they still recognized the temple at Jerusalem as the focal place of religious worship and were hoping that a cleansing would take place to bring the temple worship back to what they believed it was suppose to be.
Jewish sects after A.D. 70:
What happened to these various religious sects? The Roman destruction of the Temple and much of the city of Jerusalem between A.D. 68 and A.D. 73 pretty much did away with the Zealots, Sadducees, Essenes and the Qumran sect. The religious/political group known as the Zealots was largely killed off as they are the ones who precipitated the war with Rome and paid dearly for their efforts. It is largely believed that the Jews who escaped to Masada were the Zealots who choose suicide at Masada rather than be taken by the Romans. In retrospect it is interesting that a group such as the Zealots would think they could be successful against a juggernaut such as first century Rome. On the other hand, the Zealots were convinced God was on their side and that He would send the promised Messiah to lead the charge against Rome and restore the Davidic Kingdom. What they didn’t realize is that Israel was being judged because they failed to accept Jesus as the Messiah which is clearly revealed in what Christ said in the following Scriptural passage.
Luke 19:41-44: As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace--but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you."
The Sadducees, Essenes and the Qumran sect all looked to the temple as their focal point of worshiping God. It must have been devastating to these groups when the Romans totally destroyed the temple. The Sadducees saw the sacrificial system as the only proper way to worship God. With the destruction of the temple, the sacrificial system ended and so did the party of the Sadducees. Since both the Essenes and the Qumran sect were also intimately tied to observance of the Mosaic Covenant, these two groups also disappeared when the means to facilitate the Covenant was removed. The Roman destruction resulted in not only the temple being destroyed but in the priesthood being killed and the leadership of the Jewish religious system dismantled.
One party continued to function after the Roman destruction and that was the party of the Pharisees. While we don’t have writings produced by the Pharisees from the period of the Dead Sea Scrolls or the time of the NT era, it is apparent the Pharisees morphed into what is know as Rabbinic Judaism. The term “rabbi” is first found in the NT narrative and simply means “master” or literally, “my master.” Peter calls Jesus rabbi in Mark 9:5. The disciples of John the Baptist call John rabbi as recorded in John 3:26. It was a term used by the Pharisees for their teachers, especially those who were well trained in teaching the law.
Beginning with around A.D. 200, we have a voluminous amount of writings being produced by the Jewish Rabbi’s. After the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and after a second failed Jewish revolt in A.D. 132 to 135, the center of Jewish life moved north of Jerusalem to the area of Galilee, especially to the city in Galilee named Sepphoris. Sepphoris was a major city of Galilee even during the time of Christ. Some scholars have wondered why this city is not mentioned in the NT since Jesus grew up in the Galilean city of Nazareth which was close to Sepphoris. The earliest rabbinic texts come to us from the Jewish community located at Sepphoris. The most notable of these texts is called the Mishnah which is a codification of both written and oral Jewish law. What the Mishnah does is provide great detail as to how to keep the laws set down in the Torah, the first five books of the OT also known as the Pentateuch.
For example, we know the Torah prohibits work on the Sabbath. Except for prohibiting the building of a fire on the Sabbath, the Torah does not define what is all included under the term work. This is where the Mishnah comes in. It provides 39 different activities that are to be considered work and thus prohibited on the Sabbath. The Mishnah provides detailed rules as to how to keep all the various laws found in the Torah.
The Mishnah was compiled by a rabbi know as Judah Ha-Nasi. Ha-Nasi in Hebrew means “the patriarch.” It must be understood that rabbi Judah did not, himself, create the hundreds of rules for keeping the Torah that are found in the Mishnah. He simply complied in written form the many rules that had been passed down for centuries and which became known as the oral law. Remember, the Pharisees were strong advocates of the oral law believing it to be equal in authority with the written law of the Torah. With the advent of the Mishnah the oral law had become the written law as well.
As time went on, the Mishnah began to be studied in great depth in an effort to identify the legal principles behind the rules enumerated in the Mishnah. This led to the development of the Talmud, an encyclopedic volume of discussions as to the whys and wherefores of the rules contained in the Mishnah. Academes sprang up in both Tiberius Israel and in Babylon where Jewish Rabbi’s debated the rules of the Mishnah and developed an Israeli and Babylonian Talmud. These two Talmud’s were compiled between 400 and 500 A.D. with the Babylonian Talmud being the larger of the two. The Hebrew Scriptures, the Mishnah and the Talmud are the primary documents used by the Jewish religious community to this very day.
THE DAMASCUS DOCUMENT:
Among the 930 documents and fragments of documents found in the caves at Qumran are copies of four fragmented documents found in cave four that became known as the Damascus Document. Fragments of this document were also found in caves five and six. This document is of interest because it identifies the approximate period in history when the Qumran sect had its beginnings. Before we discuss the Damascus document, we need to go back around fifty years before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. During the 1890’s around 200,000 Jewish manuscripts were discovered in a storeroom of the medieval Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo Egypt. The medieval period is a time frame of around 1000 years running from the fifth to the fifteenth centuries, a time known as the Middle Ages.
Among the manuscripts found at the Cairo site were early copies of the Mishnah, the two Talmud’s and texts of the Targum which are Aramaic renderings of the Hebrew Scriptures. Also found were two copies of a previously unknown composition called the Damascus Document. While the copies were determined to be from the tenth and twelfth centuries respectively, it was believed the original document was much older. This belief was confirmed with the finding of fragmented copies of this document among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The copies of this document found at Qumran were fragments from which not a whole lot of information could be extracted. However, the fact that these fragmented copies were found at Qumran shows the Qumran sect had this document and as has been determined, were the ones who generated this document. The copies of the Damascus Document found in the Cairo Synagogue were pretty much complete. Therefore, scholars were able to learn more about the Qumran community by studying the well preserved copies of the Damascus Document found in the Cairo Synagogue.
The Damascus Document is divided into two sections. The first section is called the “Exhortation.” This section reveals the founding of a religious community 390 years after the destruction of Solomon’s temple by the Babylonian’s around 586 B.C. If we add 390 years to 586 B.C. we come to 196 B.C. This is about the time the Seleucid’s defeated the Ptolemy’s and gained control over Judea. Twenty years later, Antiochusthe third came to the throne and the Maccabean revolt took place leading to the establishment of the Hasmonean rule in Judea. Since the archaeological and textual data all point to the Qumran sect coming into existence around this time, it is apparent the Damascus Document is a text generated by the Qumran sect and reading it provides insights into how this community functioned and what their religious views were.
Why is this document called the Damascus Document? It was named this by scholars because of the manner in which the Qumran sect renders a passage from the book of Amos.
Amos 5:27: Therefore I will send you into exile beyond Damascus, says the LORD, whose name is God Almighty.
The context of Amos 5 is God judging Israel for their many sins. Sending them beyond Damascus is telling them they will be removed from their land and sent into exile. In verse 26 is a reference to Israel rising up the star of a false God. The Qumran sect took the reference to a rising star to refer to one who comes to Damascus to interpret the Torah. They apparently reinterpreted this passage by applying it to themselves in such manner as to make it refer to them being removed from Jerusalem to the Qumran site. They reinterpreted “beyond Damascus” to mean escape to Qumran.
The first section of this document called the “exhortation,” mentions a leader of the Qumran sect named the Teacher of Righteousness. This individual is mentioned frequently in the Dead Sea Scrolls. However, no additional information is given as to the role of this individual in the Qumran community.
Also, in the first section of this document is an expansion of the Levitical laws dealing with sexual relations and marriage. For example, the sect comes down hard on polygamy and to support their position uses the flood account in Genesis where God told Noah to take two of ever kind into the ark, one male and one female. They go so far as to justify David for practicing polygamy by saying David was unaware of the law against polygamy because he did not have access to the Torah because it had been unopened for many years and only made available again when the first High Priest Zadok opened it when the temple was dedicated by Solomon.
A second section of the Damascus Document is called the Statutes. The most significant writing in this section pertains to the Sabbath where the Qumran sect is seen as being extremely strict regarding do’s and don’ts on the Sabbath. For example, the general rule established by the religious leaders in the first century was that you could not walk more than 2000 cubits from the boundary lines of the community you lived in. The Qumran leadership restricted this to 1000 cubits.
You may recall Acts 1:12 where the writer speaks of returning to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives which was a Sabbath day's journey. A Sabbath day’s journey was a distance of around 2000 cubits which equals around 1000 yards. Jewish rabbis used this term as the limit in distance a Jew could go from his or her home on the Sabbath. This tradition came from an expansion of a directive found in Joshua 3:4 where two thousand cubits was the distance Israelites were to stay from the ark that carried the covenant.
Some later rabbis invented a tradition that enabled them to get around this limitation. For example, since they were allowed to go 1,000 yards from their home, they defined their home as anywhere their personal possessions were. They would take a bag of worthless possessions, go 1,000 yards, put the bag down and say, "This is my Sabbath home. I can go another 1,000 yards." By this means, they could go anywhere they wanted. By simply moving their bag of stuff to a new location and calling it their home, they could travel another 1000 yards.
In reality, there is no established distance in Scripture as to travel on the Sabbath. The religious leaders took a directive pertaining to the Ark of the Covenant and turned it into a directive restricting travel distance on the Sabbath. The Qumran sect took this a step further and cut the distance in half as to how far you could travel on the Sabbath. These are probably the kind of traditions of men that Jesus spoke against during His ministry.
Further evidence of the extreme legalism of the Qumran sect can be seen in regard to the preparing of food on the Sabbath. While the rabbis understanding of Sabbath law prohibited cooking of food on the Sabbath, the rabbis did allow you to take food out of a jar to eat. You could remove the cover of a jar to take out figs, olives or any other kind of food kept in a container. The Qumran sect believed all food must be prepared in advance of the Sabbath. They believed that removing the cover off a jar constituted work on the Sabbath which was prohibited.
Another example of their extreme legalism pertains to non-Jews doing work for a Jew on the Sabbath. The rabbis allowed non-Jews to do work for a Jew on the Sabbath. Let’s look at a modern example of this. If you, as a Jew, took your suit to a dry cleaner who was a non-Jew and this non-Jew dry cleaned your suit on the Sabbath, this was acceptable. To the Qumran sect, this was not acceptable. The Qumran group would not allow a non-Jew to work for them in any way on the Sabbath.
A final example of Qumran legalism is in regard to sexual intercourse. According to Leviticus 15, sexually intercourse would make you temporally unclean. Since the Temple was considered a holy place, nothing unclean was allowed in the temple. You could not enter the temple until you were cleansed. Obviously, sexual intercourse was not allowed anywhere on the temple grounds. The Qumran sect took this to another level. They considered not only the temple holy but the entire city of Jerusalem was holy. So guess what? If you lived in the city of Jerusalem you couldn’t have sexual intercourse while in the city. No wonder the Jews who believed this moved to the Qumran location.
Among the seven scrolls found in cave one was a document called Pesher Habakkuk. Habakkuk is a book of the OT having three chapters and was authored around 610 B.C. This was a time near the end of the Kingdom of Judah and shortly before the destruction of the first temple. Therefore, it is apparent Habakkuk is prophesying about the captivity of Judah and the destruction of Solomon’s temple. Pesher Habakkuk is a commentary on Habakkuk. Pesher is a Hebrew word that virtually means interpretation or interpreter. But Pesher is a particular type of interpretation. Pesher takes a text out of its original historic context and applies the message of the text to the time in which the interpreter is living. We see this with Pesher Habakkuk.
Habakkuk 1:5: Look at the nations and watch-- and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.
The Pesher, or interpreter, places this statement in the context of his own time by saying that this passage refers to unfaithful people who together with a Lier, did not listen to the word received by the Teacher of Righteousness from the month of God. The Teacher of Righteousness is identified in the Scrolls as their leader and as one who receives communication from God as to how to interpret the Hebrew Scriptures.
Habakkuk 1:6: I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own.
The Pesher interpreters this phrase to refer to the Kittim. Kittim was a code name used by the Qumran community to refer to the Romans.
Habakkuk 2:2: Then the LORD replied: "Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it.
The Pesher sees his generation as the final generation and interprets this passage as applying to his generation. He sees the herald as the Teacher of Righteousness. He writes:
“And God told Habakkuk to write down that which would happen to the final generation, but He did not make known to him when time would come to an end” (1QpHab 7:1-3).
The phrase “herald may run with it” is interpreted by the Pesher as “concerns the Teacher of Righteousness, to whom God made known all the mysteries of the words of His servants the prophets” (1QpHab 7:4-5).
Habakkuk 2:15; Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbors, pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk, so that he can gaze on their naked bodies.
“This concerns the Wicked Priest who pursed the Teacher of Righteousness to the house of his exile that he might confuse him with his venomous fury. And at the appointed time for the rest, for the Day of Atonement, he appeared before them to confuse them, and to cause them to stumble on the Day of Fasting, their Sabbath of repose” (1QpHab 11:5-8)
As can be seen, the Qumran sect’s leadership interpreted passages of Hebrew Scripture in such manner as to apply what was written to their day and time. Whether they saw in these OT passages a greater fulfillment in their time of events that had already occurred in ancient times or saw them as only pertaining to their time is not clear. We know NT authors used Pesher interpretative methods in their writings. In the series on this website entitled The Reliability of the Biblical Scriptures, I discuss a number of OT prophecies that appear to have been already fulfilled in ancient times but are seen by NT writers as applying to NT events. Matthew in particular takes OT statements out of their original context and applies them to the birth and the crucifixion of Jesus.
In my discussion of Matthew’s use of OT prophecies as pertaining to NT events, I discussed whether these OT prophecies were actually prophetic of NT events or were they simply being used as parallels or greater fulfillments of past events that had been prophesied and had already been fulfilled. We saw that the Greek word for “fulfill” meant to “fill to the full.” When this word was used by NT authors in reference to OT prophecies being fulfilled in Christ, they could simply have been pointing to such prophecies having a greater fulfillment in the Christ event.
Interpreting Biblical Scripture in such manner as to make such Scripture apply to ones present day has been going on for thousands of years. In our day we see many interpreters applying both Old and New Testament prophecy to our day and beyond. Often such prophecy, when seen in its original context and compared to past historical events, appears to have been already fulfilled and appears to have nothing to do with our present or our future. Is the taking of what appears to be already fulfilled prophecy and applying it to our present and future a valid methodology? If it can be determined that God is directing such interpretation, yes it can be a valid methodology. However, since much inconsistency exists in the world of prophetic interpretation, I would have to say that much if not most such modern day application of Biblical prophecy to our present and immediate future is very problematic. Therefore, we must practice extreme caution in reading the works of modern day Pesher interpreters.
THE WAR SCROLL:
A nine and one-half foot long document found at Qumran is called the War Scroll. It was found in cave one with fragmentary copies also found in cave four. This Scroll is a virtual manual showing how to conduct a war between the sons of light and the sons of darkness. In reading through the various Dead Sea Scrolls, the sons of light are identified as the members of the Qumran sect and the sons of darkness are all their perceived enemies which appear to include all Jews who did not agree with the teachings of the Qumran sect.
In this scroll is a description of a forty-year war that was to take place between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness who were named as the wicked “Kittim of Assyria.” It appears the Qumran sect used the word Kittim as a code word for the Romans although some believe this word may have had application to the Seleucids who ruled over Judea at the time the Qumran community began to develop.
The War Scroll's author gives very precise instruction as to how the Sons of Light should prepare for war, including descriptions of the weapons to be used for fighting this war. The Scroll describes in great detail the size, weight, design, and the specific sayings to be engraved on the war weapons, including phrases like: “Shining javelin of the power of God" or "Flaming Blade to devour the wicked struck down by the judgment of God."
This scroll had many instructions on how the troops of God were to prepare for battle, including the exclusion of men with blemishes, open sores, the crippled, and the blind. The document also states that no women or boys should be allowed in camp before battle.
The directions in the War Scroll call for a priest to lead the troops into battle with an elaborate series of trumpet blasts. God’s armies were to be led by a king priest, perhaps the Prophet or the Messiah from the house of Aaron mentioned in the Damascus Document and the Community Rule Scroll. It is difficult to tell, because the scroll is not specific. The scroll describes the terrible carnage the Sons of Darkness will suffer from the God of Israel in the final battles.
The scroll foretells the fall of the Kittim who will enter into Egypt to battle the kings of the North and Israel. It further states that the confusion of the sons of Japheth shall be great and Assyria shall fall, thus ending the dominion of the Kittim. This battle begins the end of all “the seasons of darkness” and the beginning of the rule of the Sons of Righteousness over all the earth. This battle happens in the first seven years of the forty-year war.
The War Scroll has been studied in great detail, especially by renowned archeologist Yigael Yadin who, besides being a well known archeologist, was also a military general in Israel’s army and an expert on military history. Professor Yadin has concluded that the military tactics described in the War Scroll are based on how the Roman legions of the first century operated. Therefore, it is believed the authors of the War Scroll were intimately familiar with Roman warfare and it is this kind or warfare that is reflected in the War Scroll.
A reading of this Scroll provides insight into this group’s belief that a cataclysmic battle was soon to occur between the forces of good and evil. The War Scroll reflects the eschatology of the Qumran sect. Eschatology is a theological word that basically means “end time” events. As can be seen throughout history, many religious groups have believed they were living close to the end of the world or the end of a specific period of world history. The War Scroll reveals that the Qumran community had a strong belief that their generation was to bring an end to the rule of evil and establish in its place the rule of God.
The War Scroll is designated by Qumran scholars as 1QM. The 1 stands for cave one, the Q stands for Qumran and the M sands for the Hebrew word milhama which is the Hebrew word for war and is a word that is repeatedly used in the War Scroll. At the beginning of this Scroll we get a feel for what the authors of this document believe. Let’s take a look at an English translation of excerpts from the first column of this Scroll.
The first attack of the Sons of Light shall be undertaken against the forces of the Sons of Darkness, the army of Belial…. Then there shall be a time of salvation for the People of God, and a time of dominion for all the men of His forces, and eternal annihilation for all the forces of Belial…. There shall be no survivors of the Sons of Darkness.
Then the Sons of Righteousness shall shine to all ends of the world, continuing to shine forth until end of the appointed seasons of darkness. Then at the time appointed by God, His great excellence shall shine for all the times of eternity, for peace and blessing, glory and joy, and long life for all Sons of Light. On the day when the Kittim fall there shall be a battle and horrible carnage before the God of Israel, for it is a day appointed by Him from ancient times as a battle of annihilation for the Sons of Darkness.
On that day the congregation of the gods and the congregation of men shall engage one another, resulting in great carnage. The Sons of Light and the forces of Darkness shall fight together to show the strength of God with the roar of a great multitude and the shout of gods and men: a day of disaster. It is a time of distress for all the people who are redeemed by God. In all their afflictions none exists that is like it, hastening to its completion as an eternal redemption. On the day of their battle against the Kittim, they shall go forth for carnage in battle. In three lots the Sons of Light shall stand firm so as to strike a blow at wickedness, and in three the army of Belial shall strengthen themselves so as to force the retreat of the forces of Light. And when the banners of the infantry cause their hearts to melt, then the strength of God will strengthen the hearts of the Sons of Light. In the seventh lot the great hand of God shall overcome Belial and al1 the angels of his dominion and all the men of his forces shall be destroyed forever.
The phrase “son’s of light” appears to refer to those who live according to rules and regulations defined and established by the Qumran community as opposed to those who live contrary to such rules and regulations and are therefore considered the “sons of darkness.” Some scholars believe this shows a tie in to the Christian community because two NT passages allude to the “sons of light.”
John 12:35-36: Then Jesus told them, "You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light."
1 Thessalonians 5:1-5: Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, "Peace and safety," destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.
In the NT, the word “light” is used in a variety of ways to distinguish between good and evil and to identify those who represent good as opposed to evil. Jesus is referred to as the light and those who follow Him are seen as walking in the light and actually being a light. Paul identifies light as consisting of all goodness, righteousness and truth.
John 8:12: "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
John 3:19-20: This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."
Ephesians 5:9: For the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth.
For the Christian, walking in the light is defined as walking according to the will of God which Jesus came to reveal. For the Qumran community, walking in the light appears to mean walking according to the rules and regulations established by the leadership of that community. While the Scrolls do allude to a teacher of righteousness, the righteousness practiced by the Qumran sect reflected an extremely legalistic interpretation of the Mosaic regulations which is not found in the teachings of Jesus. My personal belief is that the sons of light identified in the NT Scriptures and the sons of light identified in the Dead Sea Scrolls are not referring to the same group of people.
There is nothing in the Dead Sea Scrolls to identify the teacher of righteousness with Christ Jesus. The English word Christ is associated with the Greek and Hebrew words for Messiah which means “anointed one.” The word Christ appears over 500 times in the NT. In the War Scroll the Hebrew word for Messiah appears only once and it appears in the plural thus indicating the Qumran sect saw several individuals as being anointed to lead them in their battle against the forces of evil.
1QM 11:7: “by the hand of your anointed ones (plural of the Hebrew for Messiah) those who discern testimonies, you have told us the end-times of the battles of your hands, to fight against our enemies, to bring down the troops of Belial.”
You will notice the name “Belial” is used in association with the sons of darkness and the forces of evil in general. It is found in both the War Scroll and the Community Rule Scroll which we already discussed. Belial is a word of Hebrew origin and has a basic meaning of worthlessness. It is found once in the Biblical Scriptures.
2 Corinthians 6:14-15: Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?
The word Belial came to be used as a synonym for Satan or evil spirits in general. It is unclear whether Paul or the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls used it as a reference to Satan, evil spirits in general, the evil behavior of the human enemies of righteousness or possibly in all three of these ways.
In Part Three of this series we will continue to look at various of the scrolls and discuss what impact the scrolls have had on our understanding the Biblical Scriptures