Spirit in the Qumran Texts: 1QH 4:37-40

1QHa 4, continued

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

In the remaining lines (37-40) of what survives of the column IV hymn, there occur two key expressions which are most instructive for an understanding of the theology (and anthropology) of the Qumran Community, as expressed particularly in the Thanksgiving Hymns (Hodayot). These parallel, contrastive expressions are:

    • “spirit of flesh” (rc*b* j^Wr) [line 37]
    • “spirit of holiness” (vd#oq j^Wr) [line 38]

The first of these occurs at the end of the third surviving section (ll. 29-37, discussed in the previous note). The psalmist praises God for His mercy and help, recognizing the need for God Himself to act on his behalf, “…for your servant (is) a spirit of flesh”.

The noun rc*B* (“flesh”), in the Old Testament, serves as a designation for a human being, and for human nature in general. By using the term “flesh”, the emphasis is on the createdness of the human nature, in its weakness and limitation (particularly in its mortality). The term is often specifically used to contrast the human being with God. Indeed, “flesh” is that which distinguishes a created (physical/material) human being from God, who is identified with spirit (see esp. John 4:24). Admittedly, this specific distinction is not made precisely in the Qumran texts; but there can be no doubt of the important contrast between God (and the Divine nature) and human “flesh”.

In line 37, the author/protagonist is particularly emphasizing the weakness and limitation of his human nature, which requires God to act on his behalf, delivering and protecting him from sin and the attacks of harmful “spirits”. But, while the use of the word rc*B* (“flesh”) is fully in keeping with Old Testament usage and tradition, the specific expression “spirit of flesh” is peculiar. Indeed, for readers familiar with the spirit/flesh contrast in the New Testament (especially in Paul’s letters), the expression may seem quite contradictory. How, indeed, can there be a spirit of flesh?

I think that the expression can be understood on several levels. First, there is the basic idea of a person’s material body (“flesh”) being animated by a spirit (or “soul”). In other words, “spirit of flesh” can simply serve as a way of referring to a living human being. Secondly, the “spirit” also reflects an operating mindset (and will) that governs the flesh (i.e., body) of a person. The spirit directs and influences the life and action, thought, etc, of a human being. Thirdly, “flesh”, in the anthropological sense, can connote, not only human weakness and limitation, but can also be used in the more negative sense of a human nature corrupted by sin and evil. This last aspect of meaning comes close to the starkly negative meaning of “flesh” (sa/rc) in the letters of Paul.

Until recent decades, there were many attempts by scholars to ascertain the origin and background of Paul’s distinctive use of the term “flesh”. Parallels in contemporary Judaism were difficult to find—that is, until the discovery, reconstruction and publication of the Qumran scrolls. In a number of those texts, including here in the Hodayot, we find a negative anthropological use of the term “flesh” (Heb. rc*B*) that resembles Paul’s usage in a number of ways. This will be discussed further as we continue through these notes.

In the context of the 1QHa column IV hymn, the contrast to the expression “spirit of flesh” is found at the beginning of the next (fourth) section (lines 38-40f). As mentioned in the previous note, sections 2 and 3 (ll. 21-28, 29-37) each begin with a praise/blessing of God, praising Him for what He has given to the hymnist/protagonist. In line 29, specific mention is made of the “spirits” God has given to (i.e., placed “in”) him. These spirits are apparently the means by which God guides and protects the person. The wording in line 38 is parallel, both in form and meaning:

“[Blessed (are) you, God Most High, that] you have sprinkled (the) spirit of your holiness over your servant, [and have] purified (the) […] of his heart”

The verb form htwpynh can be derived either from [Wn I (“wave, shake”) or [Wn II (“sprinkle”); I have opted for the latter (cp. Schuller/Newsom, p. 19; DJD XL, p. 74). On possible restorations for the lacuna in line 38, cf. DJD XL, p. 72).

If various “spirits” have been placed within in the hymnist, as a representative of the faithful/righteous Community, then also the spirit of God’s holiness has also been “sprinkled” over him. The expression vd#q) j^Wr is sometimes translated “holy spirit”, but this can be misleading (particularly for Christian readers); a proper rendering is “spirit of holiness” (cf. Romans 1:4). This pattern of expression (“spirit of…”) occurs frequently in a number of the Qumran texts, as we shall see. The particular construct genitival pattern likely was influenced by Old Testament usage—particularly the sequence in Isaiah 11:2.

There are many such spirits that come from God (cf. above on line 29), however the spirit of holiness (vd#q)) is especially associated with God Himself, reflecting the important Divine attribute/characteristic of holiness (Lev 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7, 26; 2 Kings 19:22; Psalm 71:22; 77:13; 78:41; 99:3ff, 9; Isa 1:4; 6:3, etc). Even so, the specific expression “spirit of holiness” is quite rare in the Scriptures, occurring only in Psalm 51:13[11] (“spirit of your holiness”) and Isa 63:10-11 (“spirit of His holiness”); cf. also Daniel 4:8-9, 18; 5:11. The expression here in line 38 essentially matches that in Psalm 51:13: “(the) spirit of your holiness” (;v=d=oq j^Wr), i.e., “your holy spirit”.

The faithful/loyal Israelite (that is, member of the Community) is made holy by the spirit of God’s own holiness—the chief of the “spirits” that are given to the individual. This enables the human being, with his/her corrupted “spirit of flesh” (cf. above), to remain pure (i.e. holy) and faithful to the covenant (lines 39-40). The “spirit of flesh” is restored to purity, so that the human spirit is now able to receive knowledge and insight from God, and to follow the Instruction (Torah) without stumbling. The author of the hymn, as an exemplar for the Qumran Community, represents all the Community members. Just as he is made holy by God’s holy spirit, so are all those who join the Community. The spirit of holiness is given to the member—an event and dynamic that is symbolized in the ritual of the Community (to be discussed esp. in the upcoming notes on the Community Rule documents).

The column IV hymn apparently ended with line 41, since the remainder of the column (at the bottom of the page leaf) was left uninscribed (see the information given in DJD XL, pp. 77-8). A new hymn must have begun at the top of the next leaf (column V); however, lines 1-11 of column V are lost, with another hymn beginning at line 12. The short hymn at the beginning of column V presumably ended on line 10 or 11.

In the next note, we will begin looking at the hymn in column V, which may extend (partway) through column VI. There are important spirit-references in this hymn which will allow us to build upon our notes thus far. In particular, the expression “spirit of flesh” is repeated (cf. above), as is the idea of God giving a holy/righteous spirit to the author (protagonist) 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)
DJD XL = Discoveries in the Judean Desert, Vol. XL: 1QHodayota, with Incorporation of 1QHodayotb and 4QHodayota-f, by Hartmut Stegemann with Eileen Schuller, translations of texts by Carol Newsom (Clarendon Press: 2009).

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