Spirit in the Qumran Texts: 1QH 4:21-37

1QHa 4, continued

(Unless otherwise indicated, the translations of 1QH are my own.)

Following a description of the attacks on human beings by various evil “spirits”, in lines 12-20 (cf. the previous note), the psalmist shifts his focus to the praise/blessing of God. The sections ll. 21-28 and 29-37 each begin with the phrase “Blessed (are) you, God of…”; however, this must be stated with some caution, as the beginning of lines 21 and 29 are broken, and the proposed reading is based on a (plausible) reconstruction of the text in these lacunae (marked by square brackets [] in critical editions and translations).

In the first of these sections (ll. 21-28, section 2 of the surviving portions of the hymn in column IV), the author praises God “from [i.e. for] the hidden (thing)s th[at…]”, apparently referring to things provided by God which have protected the author/protagonist and have allowed for the removal of sin (and its effects). The removal of sin is particularly emphasized in lines 23-24 and 27:

“…your servant from all his transgressions, through the [abundance of] your compassion
[…just as] you [sa]id through Moses [your] servant, [to remo]ve iniquity and sin, and to atone for [transgress]ion and unfaithfulness” (23b-24)
“[…] transgression and casting out all their iniquities and giving them an inheritance in all the glory of Adam for long life.” (27)
(Translation Schuller/Newsom)

The reference to Moses in line 24 would seem to be an allusion to the sacrificial ritual required by the Torah regulations. However, the Community of the Qumran texts, in their rejection of the current Jerusalem Temple (and its priesthood), saw the fulfillment of the ritual obligations as being realized in a different way, through the life and ritual of the Community. The sacrificial ritual was internalized and ‘spiritualized’ within the Community, representing the faithful/righteous ones of Israel. Prayer and communal worship tended to take the place of the Temple ritual, much as it did among early Christians.

As in the Scriptural Psalms, the psalmist/composer of the Hodayot represents the faithful/righteous ones of Israel—that is, he represents the Community itself, as a whole. This is clear by the way that he describes the “hidden things” of God’s compassion as being directed toward:

“…those who serve you loyally [so that] their posterity [may] be before you for all time. And [their] nam[es] you have raised up” (line 26, Schuller/Newsom)

That is, the Community represents God’s faithful servants, with the hymnist serving as a leading representative.

This personal aspect is emphasized in section 3 (ll. 29-37), as the hymnist speaks of the “spirits” (twjwr) which God has placed in him:

“[Blessed (are) you, God of compassio]n, from [i.e. because of] the spirits that you have given [i.e. placed] in me” (line 29a)

These “spirits” must be seen as parallel with the “hidden (things)” (twrtsn) mentioned in line 21 (cf. above). This may be a way of referring to the invisible, unseen nature of the spirits given to the psalmist by God. This giving of the spirits is described as something that has already taken place for the protagonist, and, we may assume, quite recently. It is the reason for the author’s praise and acts of worship (lines 29b-30f):

“…I will find an answer for (my) tongue, to recount your righteous (act)s and your length of face [i.e. patience/longsuffering] […] your […] and the deeds of (the) right hand of your strength, and to give out (confession) over (the) breaches of faith of (my) former (deed)s, and to fall down and ask for favor over […] my deeds and the crookedness of my heart—for I have rolled around in impurity.”

The psalmist’s actions are traditional acts of worship: recounting (in praise) the righteousness of God, confessing one’s prior sins, falling down and asking for mercy. He also confesses that he has “gone out”, away from the prior crooked ways of his heart (line 31). This inclination toward wickedness is intrinsic to the human nature, in its corrupt weakness and mortality, expressed here by the colorful expression “the council of wor[ms]”; the psalmist no longer “joins himself” to this evil inclination of his human nature.

How was this achieved? From the author’s words in lines 32-33ff, it is clear that he acknowledges that God Himself is responsible, drawing the person whom He has chosen to Him, then freeing the chosen one from the evil influence, and equipping him/her to remain faithful and to keep away from sin. Based on the context of line 29, we may fairly assume that this work is done by God through the “spirits” He gives to the chosen one. However, this association does not come into view until line 35:

“[…(to keep)] your servant from sinning against you, and from stumbling in all of (the) matters of your will. Strengthen [his] loins (so as) [to stan]d against (the) spirits”

The implication is that the spirits given to the psalmist by God enable him to “stand against” the evil/harmful spirits (mentioned in lines 12-20, cf. the previous note). This opposition between good and evil spirits is fundamental to the dualistic worldview and theological outlook of the Qumran Community, and we shall have occasion to discuss it further in these notes.

The result of this spirit-enabling is expressed in line 36:

“[…and that he may w]alk about in every(thing) that you love, and to despise every(thing) that you hate, [and (so) to do] th(at which is) good in your eyes”

The love/hate juxtaposition is another expression of the dualism that pervades the Qumran Community’s religious thought. The idiom of “walking (about)” (vb El^h*, Hitpael reflexive stem) is a traditional religious expression, referring to a habitual way of living and acting; however, the specific idea of walking under the guidance of the spirits can be compared, to some extent, with Paul’s famous reference to “walking about in/by the Spirit” in Galatians 5:16 (cp. Romans 8:4). The Greek verb peripate/w (“step/walk about”) is comparable in meaning to El^h* in the reflexive stem; indeed, Paul’s usage derives from the same line of Old Testament ethical-religious tradition as that used here in the Hodayot.

In the next note, we will examine line 37 in connection with the fourth section (ll. 38-40ff), of which only a small portion survives; however, the surviving three lines contain an important reference to “the spirit of holiness” (i.e., holy spirit), which needs to be looked at closely. In particular, we will consider the contrast between the expressions “spirit of flesh” and “spirit of (God’s) holiness”, which, in many ways, functions as a central theme of the hymn.

Schuller/Newsom = Eileen M. Schuller and Carol A. Newsom, The Hodayot (Thanksgiving Psalms): A Study Edition of 1QHa, Early Judaism and Its Literature Number 36 (Society of Biblical Literature: 2012)

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