Spirit in the Qumran Texts: 1QH 5:12-30

1QH 5

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

Column V of the Hodayot (Thanksgiving Hymns) manuscript 1QHa, beginning with line 12 (lines 1-11 are lost), contains a relatively lengthy hymn that may extend into column VI. It is clear that this hymn begins at line 12, which means that lines 1-11 likely contained a separate shorter hymn (now lost).

Lines 12-14 form the heading for the hymn, in the manner of the Biblical Psalms; however, this introduction is longer, providing a detailed explanation of the purpose of the hymn. It is intended for the lyk!c=m^ (maskîl), a verbal noun from the root lkc (I), denoting a use of the mind, or manner of thinking, which implies that a person possesses insight and understanding. As a verbal noun, lyk!c=m^ is a participle in the Hiphil (causative) stem, indicating something that makes a person wise, causes them to have knowledge or understanding, etc.

In the Biblical Psalms, lyk!c=m^ refers to a type of poem, which may be set to music (i.e. sung), with a didactic purpose—i.e., used for teaching and instruction. For more on this, cf. the Sunday Psalm study on Ps 32; the term also occurs in Pss 42, 44-45, 52-55, 74, 78, 88-89, and 142. However, here in the Hodayot, lyk!c=m^ clearly refers to a person—i.e., one acting in a teaching or instructing role, presumably within the religious and organizational structure of the Qumran Community. Translations typical render the word here as a title: “Instructor” or transliterated as “Maskil”.

This person, who will give instruction, first is to “fall down” (vb lp^n`, Hiphil stem) in an attitude of humility and worship before God (line 12). This same wording occurred in the column IV hymn (line 30, cf. the prior note), where it also reflects the attitude and intention of the hymn’s protagonist. This parallel suggests that the lacuna (gap) here in line 12 before the expression “deeds of God” could be a form of the verb rp^s* (“give account of, recount”), as in 4:29. I.e., in an attitude of humble devotion, the protagonist will tell others of God’s righteous and merciful acts; by so doing, he will help those with less learning and wisdom gain in understanding (lines 13-14). In particular, people will come to understand about—

“[…] flesh and (the) counsel of (the) spirits of […] they walk” (line 14b)

The gaps here are intriguing. For the first gap, one is tempted to read “spirit of flesh” (rc*b* j^Wr), as in lines 15, 30 (and earlier in 4:37, cf. the previous note); the DJD editors (XL, p. 78-9) mention the proposed restoration rcb rxy (“[vessel] formed of flesh”), as in 18:25. The second gap probably indicates a construct expression (“spirits of…”), such as we find frequently with the noun j^Wr in the Qumran texts (especially the Hodayot).

However, the pattern “spirit(s) of…” can be used in reference to both good and evil spirits. As a characteristic of human beings (and the human condition) generally, the phrase almost certainly should be understood in a negative context. In this regard, the restoration hlwu yjwr has been proposed (DJD XL, p. 79); the noun hl*w+u^ (“crookedness, perversity, injustice”) is used elsewhere in the Qumran texts in just such a context, viz., referring to the corrupting spirit(s), “spirit(s) of perversity/injustice”, that influence humankind.

The reference would thus be two-fold: (a) the corrupted human spirit (i.e. ‘spirit of flesh’), and (b) the evil/harmful spirits that influence and direct human beings on a regular basis—their daily life and habitual behavior being indicated by the verb El^h* (in the Hitpael reflexive stem), i.e., “walk about”, as a traditional ethical-religious idiom (cf. the prior note on 4:36).

The hymn proper begins in line 15, with a praise/blessing of God by the protagonist, according to the regular pattern of the Hodayot (cf. 4:21, 29, 38). The broken condition of the beginning of many lines means that this blessing formula often has to be restored (where plausible), as here in line 15. The emphasis in the blessing section is comparable to what we found in the column IV hymn: the protagonist recognizes that God is wholly responsible for giving wisdom and understanding to a chosen individual (here called a lyk!c=m^, cf. above), through His goodness and mercy. The protagonist refers to himself as a “spirit of flesh” (rc*b* j^Wr), used previously in 4:37 (cf. above); as I discussed in the previous note, the expression refers to the weakness and limitations of the human being’s created nature, but also to the corruption of that nature, so that a person is inclined toward sin and is unable to understand (or receive) the ways of God.

The understanding and insight that God provides to the holy/righteous ones, chosen by Him, is given entirely by His initiative. A strong predestinarian (foreordination) emphasis in this regard is clear from lines 17-18, in spite of their fragmentary condition:

“[…] all insight and in[struction] and the mysteries of the plan and the beginning[…]you established
[…] in holiness from a[ges] of old [and] to everlasting ages you yourself resolved […]holy ones”
(Translation Schuller/Newsom)

This understanding involves the mysteries or “secrets” of God, utilizing the Aramaic loanword zr* (found frequently in the book of Daniel, 2:18 et al). Thus, we are not dealing here with ordinary religious-ethical instruction, but a special kind of inspired teaching. The protagonist, as a maskîl of the Community, claims such special inspiration for himself:

“[…] and in your wonderful mysteries [you] have instructed [me for the s]ake of your glory, and in the depth [… source of] your insight not
[…] you yourself have revealed the ways of truth and the works of evil, wisdom and folly[…] righteousness” (lines 19-20, Schuller/Newsom)

It is important to emphasize again the theological-anthropological principle at work in the column IV and V hymns. The human being, as a limited and corrupted “spirit of flesh”, is unable to obtain the true wisdom and understanding, the knowledge of God; it has to come entirely from God Himself, through an act of mercy and loving-kindness on His part. This Divine wisdom is ancient, going back to the very beginning of creation, contained in mysteries (cf. above) established by God at the beginning of the Ages. The hymnist expresses this belief, grandly, in lines 24-30.

However, it seems that, implied within this song of praise, is the fundamental idea that the ancient/eternal wisdom is conveyed to the holy/chosen one through the spirits that God gives to the person. I suspect that it is these spirits that the author is specifically referring to in lines 24ff:

“And these (are) what [you] es[tablished from (times) before] (in the) distant (past), to judge by them all (the) works of you(r hands), before you created them (together) with (the) army of your spirits and (the) assembly of (the) [mighty (one)s (together) wi]th (the) hammered (sphere) [i.e. firmament] of your holiness and all its armies, (together) with the earth…”

As we shall see as we continue through the Qumran texts, there is a close connection between the principal “spirits” and the fundamental attributes/characteristics of God. Some of those attributes are listed in lines 20-23, and it seems likely that they continue to be primarily in view in the praise section of ll. 24-30. The reference to the “spirit of (God’s) holiness” was already discussed in the previous note (on 4:38).

These principal spirits of God play a central role in the eternal plans (the “mysteries”) of God, through which the creation was established, and all the other heavenly beings (the “army of spirits”) were created. They are then given to the holy ones, those human beings chosen by God, enabling such humans to understand the Divine mysteries. There can be no doubt that the Qumran Community saw itself as possessing a uniquely inspired teaching. It was given to its leaders (like the maskîl-protagonist of the hymn), who then were able to give it, in turn, to the other members.

In the next note, we will proceed to the next section of the column V hymn (lines 30-40), where the protagonist’s identification of himself as a “spirit of flesh” is developed in a different way.

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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