Spirit in the Qumran Texts: 1QH 6:34-41

(After a short hiatus, I am picking up again with my series of period notes on the subject of the spirit [specifically, the use of the word jwr] in the Qumran texts.)

1QH 6, continued

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

Lines 12-33 of column VI were discussed in the previous note. Most commentators recognize a new hymn beginning at line 34, and restore the initial word as i[dwa] (;d=oa), “I give you thanks/praise”, lit. “I throw you (thanks/praise)”, to reflect this. Even if this division is correct, it is still difficult to know if (or how far) the hymn extends beyond line 41. It may well have continued on into the missing lines (1-10f) of column VII; the DJD editors (p. 99) suggest that the hymn concludes with VII.20.

As for the certain portion we have (VI.34-41), it begins with lines of thanksgiving and praise to YHWH:

“[I throw] you (praise), my Lord,
according to (the) great(ness) of your strength
and (the) abundance of your wonders,
from (the) distant (past) even to (the) distan[t (future)—
abundant in (act)s of lov]e and great in [(deed)s of kind]ness,
granting forgiveness to (those) turning back (from) a breach (of trust),
yet dealing with (the) crookedness of (the) wicked
[…]
in (the) willingness of their [heart].
But you hate crookedness unto (the) end!” (ll. 34-36a)

In the next portion, the hymnist reflects on how YHWH has dealt with him personally, identifying himself as a faithful servant (dbu) of God, much in the manner that we have seen in the prior hymns:

“And I [i.e. as for me], your servant, you have favored me with the spirit of knowledge, (so as) to [choose fir]mness [and right]ness, and to abhor every way of crookedness [i.e. crooked way]” (ll. 36b-37a)

This repeats a typical theme of the Hymns—namely, a recognition (by the author/protagonist) that one’s ability to remain faithful to YHWH is due to a favor (root /nj) granted to the individual by God Himself. This favor comes in the form of a spirit (j^Wr) given by God. It is thus a Divine spirit, in that it comes from God and reflects His own nature and character. We have seen this use of the noun j^Wr in the previous hymns we have examined.

Also, according to the prior usage, j^Wr occurs in a construct expression (i.e., “spirit of…”), where the qualifying term (noun or adjectival substantive) defines the particular Divine attribute or characteristic in focus. Here the term is tu^D^, “knowledge”, emphasizing that it is Divine knowledge that the spirit brings to the protagonist. This was stated earlier in 5:36:

“And I, your servant, know by the spirit that you have given me…”

It is Divine knowledge, which allows the individual to discern the will and purpose of YHWH, and so to choose (vb rh^B*) the right path and to reject (lit. “abhor,” vb bu^T*) the wrong. The right path fundamentally means faithfulness to YHWH. This is expressed by a traditional pair of terms—tm#a# and qd#x#.

The noun tm#a#, which is often translated flatly as “truth”, actually has a much wider range of meaning. It derives from the root /ma, which denotes being firm; thus tm#a# fundamentally means “firmness”, often in the sense of being sound, secure, trustworthy. The parallel root qdx denotes what is “straight” or “right”. The derived noun qd#x# is typically translated “justice” in the social-ethical sphere, and “righteousness” in the religious-moral sphere; I tend to render it more fundamentally as “right(ness)”. The contrast with what is “firm” and “straight/right” is, naturally enough, lw#u*, meaning “crookedness” —i.e., bending or deviating from the right norm.

The use of the construct expression “spirit of knowledge” here may be inspired by its occurrence in Isa 11:2, along with the related constructs “spirit of wisdom” and “spirit of understanding”, which also appear in the Qumran texts. There is a strong noetic and sapiential emphasis to the use of j^Wr in the Qumran writings, as there is, indeed, in the New Testament Scriptures. As we proceed in these notes, certain more precise parallels will be mentioned. Other occurrences of the expression “spirit of knowledge” (tud jwr) are found throughout the texts (e.g., 1QS 4:4; 1QSb 5:25; 4Q161 8-10 12), and will be looked at in turn.

The idiom of God favoring someone with a spirit, using a collocation of the verb /n~j* (with suffix) with the noun j^Wr, also occurs in other texts—1QSb 2:24; 1QHa 8:27; 4Q504 4 5; 11Q5 19:14. The ability of the chosen individual, so favored by God, to hate crookedness, as a result of his portion in firmness (truth) and rightness, is emphasized (in comparable terms) in 1QS 4:24. Cf. Tigchelaar, p. 190.

In line 37b, the hymnist goes on to express his love for YHWH, recognizing (again) that his ability to remain faithful (and choose to follow the right path), is because of the way that the Creator God has shown him favor, in His gracious mercy and love. Another important theme that we have encountered in these hymns is an emphasis on the weakness and mortality of the created being, which requires a special gift from God in order to know and understand the truth. This is expressed in lines 38-39f, though the final two fragmentary lines (40-41) are a bit difficult to interpret.

As we turn to column VII, the first 11 lines are almost completely missing, so it is impossible to know for certain whether the hymn of 6:34-41 continues into the next column (or how far it might extend). A new hymn certainly begins at line 21, but the status of the prior lines 12-20 is less clear. Line 12 may begin a new section, and the DJD editors (cf. also Schuller/Newsom) interpret it this way, restoring the opening words of the line (according to my translation) as: “Blessed are you, Mighty (One) Most High who by…”.

Whether or not 7:12-20 belongs to the same hymn as 6:34-41, there is a continuation of theme, as the hymnist praises God again for the knowledge and understanding He has given. The specific term used here in line 12 lkc (vb lk^c*, Hiphil), denoting a practical kind of wisdom or understanding, often translated (in ethical terms) as “prudence”, or noetically as “insight”. The nouns lk#c# and tu^D^ are paired in line 15. The noun “spirit” does not occur here, but it may perhaps be inferred from the expression “spring/fountain of your strength”, water-imagery being traditionally applied to the Spirit of God in Old Testament and Jewish tradition.

People who have not been so chosen (and favored) by God, are not able to understand the wondrous things that He has done (lines 14ff). But the chosen ones, recognizing what God has given to them, are quite aware, and feel compelled to praise Him fully (thus these Hodayot hymns).

In lines 17-20, the protagonist positions himself as belonging to a community of the faithful. These elect/chosen ones are identified as those having knowledge (lit. “knowing [one]s,” <yudy), and who are instructed by God. Almost certainly, the Community of the Qumran texts is in view, with the hymnist/protagonist likely identifying himself as a lyk!c=m^ for the Community (cf. line 21)—viz., one who is specially gifted by God to instruct and guide the other members in the way of God’s wisdom. The reference in line 18, to the Community “recounting together the knowledge of God”, may allude to the communal worship setting of these very hymns.

Like the chosen individuals, the Community of such persons is to be distinguished from the rest of humankind. Only they are able to understand and to walk in the knowledge of God. This is expressed in line 19:

“…in the assembly of[…] and our offspring you have made to understand…in the midst of the sons of man”

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).
Tigchelaar = Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, “Historical Origins of the Early Christian Concept of the Holy Spirit: Perspectives from the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in The Holy Spirit, Inspiration, and the Cultures of Antiquity, Ekstasis series, eds. Jörg Frey and John R. Levison (De Gruyter: 2014)

Spirit in the Qumran Texts: 1QH 6:19-33

1QH 6

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

It is possible that the hymn beginning at line 12 of column V (cf. the previous notes) continues on into column VI. It has been suggested that the hymn extends through 6:18, or even through line 33 (cf. the discussion by the editors in DJD XL, pp. 77-8, 88-90); however, it may be better to treat 6:19-33 as a separate hymn. In any case, many of the themes in column V continue in column VI; the poems certainly share a number of features and aspects in common.

The difficulty in determining the division of the hymns stems, in large part, from the missing lines (1-11) at the beginning of column VI. Lines 12-18 emphasize once again that those righteous persons, who are able to obtain wisdom and understanding, do so through the mercy and favor of God. There is a strong predestinarian orientation to the Qumran Community, which is expressed here in the Hodayot, in a number of the hymns.

Those who receive the inspired revelation from God are described as “men of truth and the chosen (one)s of righteousness” (line 13); they are characterized by virtues that reflect the fundamental attributes of God Himself, being enabled to pursue wisdom and understanding by God’s spirits: “[(those) searching for insight and seeking understanding […] (the one)s loving compassion and (those) lowly [i.e. humble] of spirit…” (lines 13-14). Through God’s favor—His guidance and protection, given through His spirits—the chosen ones are able to remain faithful to the end, even in the face of affliction and persecution (lines 15-18).

The section (or separate hymn, cf. above) that begins at line 19, opens with a blessing (to God) which makes clear, again, that the ability possessed by the righteous/faithful ones is given to them by God:

“[Blessed are you,] my Lord, the (One) giving [i.e. placing] understanding in (the) heart of your servant, (for him) to gain insight in(to) all these (thing)s, and to have under[standing of…], and to hold himself (firm) against (wicked) deeds, and to bless with rightness all (those) choosing (what is) pleasing to you, [to choose all th]at you love and to abhor all that [you hate]…” (lines 19-21f)

As we have seen, elsewhere in these hymns the same wording from line 9 is used with a Divine spirit (j^Wr) as the object of God’s giving (4:29; 5:36) . The virtue or attribute (here “understanding”, hn`yB!), defined abstractly, can also be personified dynamically as an active spirit. The hymnist could just as well have used the expression “spirit of understanding” (cp. “spirit of knowledge” in line 36). It is thus a gift from God that enables the chosen one to have wisdom and understanding, and to resist the evil influences that lead humans to wickedness. Human begins must choose (vb rh^B*) between what is pleasing to God and what He despises/abhors, but only through the favor and guidance of God is one able to make the right choice (on a regular basis).

The deterministic emphasis, in this regard, is expressed quite clearly in line 22f:

“You have given your servant insight in(to) [… (the) lo]ts of humankind, for (according) to (the) mouth of (the) spirits you made (the lot) fall for them between good and evil, [and] you have established…”

In the expression “mouth of (the) spirits” (twjwr yp), the noun hP# (“mouth”) is presumably used in the abstract sense of “measure, portion”. The idea seems to be that the spirits have been measured/portioned out to different people (cp. the similar wording, applied to Jesus, in John 3:34), so that they will incline toward either the good or the evil. As we have seen, according to the thought-world of the Qumran hymns, there are both good and evil spirits that influence human beings, with people being trapped between the two forces. By nature, the spirit/nature of a human being (“spirit of flesh”) is corrupt, being ruled by a perverting spirit (“spirit of crookedness”). It requires a special gift/favor by God in order to enable a human being to be faithful and righteous. The protagonist of the hymn describes this very dynamic:

“And I (indeed) know, from your understanding, that through your favor to a m[a]n you make [abundant his inheritance] in (the) spirit of your holiness, and so you bring him near to your understanding…” (lines 23b-24)

Here, again, we find the expression “spirit of (God’s) holiness” (vd#oq j^Wr), as representing the principal spirit that God gives to His chosen one, reflecting the fundamental Divine attribute of holiness. God gives His holy spirit to all of His chosen ones, but gives to some a greater portion (i.e., a more abundant “inheritance” [hl*j&n~]). This spirit draws the person toward God’s understanding, bringing him/her near to it (vb vg~n`). Significantly, the protagonist states that it is from God’s own understanding, gifted to him by God’s spirit, that he has obtained his knowledge.

The possession of this spirit, and the inspired wisdom/understanding that it brings, enables a person to remain faithful and righteous in all things. This ethical-religious principle is developed in lines 25-33. It is according to the measure/portion of the person’s “nearness” (being near, brwq) to God’s understanding, that he/she will be faithful. The same expression as in line 22, with the noun hP# (“mouth”) in the abstract sense of “measure/portion”, is used. A person will act righteously, and remain faithful to God, to the extent that God’s holy spirit is present, drawing the person ever closer to God’s own wisdom and understanding.

The final line (32-33) makes clear that this faithfulness is defined in traditional terms, according to loyalty to the covenant (i.e., observance of the Torah precepts and regulations): “I will not bring into the council of [your] tr[uth any] (one) turning (away) [from] your [b]inding agreement [tyr!B=, i.e. covenant]”. It was expected that every member of the Community would be meticulously loyal and devoted to the Torah.

In the next note, we will at the remaining lines (34-41) of column VI.

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).

Spirit in the Qumran Texts: 1QH 5:30-40

1QH 5, continued

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

In lines 24-30 of the Column V hymn, discussed in the previous note, the author describes the role that the principal spirits of holiness, wisdom, etc, played in the Creation, having themselves been established by God before anything else in the universe had been created (cf. Proverbs 8:22-31). These spirits, reflecting the fundamental attributes of God, thus have knowledge of the deepest plans and “mysteries” of God. This is to be compared with the situation of human beings, who are unable to possess true wisdom or understanding unless God Himself, through His spirits, enables the person. Without this ‘special revelation’, human beings simply cannot obtain to the Divine wisdom. The author expresses this, quite clearly, with his rhetorical question in lines 30-31:

“[But how i]s a spirit of flesh (able) to gain understanding of all these (thing)s, and to have discernment of[…] great […]?”

As in 4:37 and 5:15 (possibly also in line 14), the distinctive expression “spirit of flesh” (rc*b* j^Wr) is used, in reference to the nature of a human being. It refers to the created/limited character of this nature, but also to the corruption of it, so that a person is, by nature, influenced and dominated by sin and by evil/harmful spirits. Here, the principal point of reference is to the human being as a created being, with the weaknesses and limitations that this implies:

“And what (is one) born of a woman among all your [gre]at (and) fearsome (work)s?” (line 31b)

The expression “born of a woman” is clearly parallel with “spirit of flesh”. Yet, as the following lines indicate, this created nature is also corrupt, having been perverted and dominated by sin:

“Indeed, he (is but) built of dust and kneaded (with) water. G[uilt and s]in (are) his foundation, (the) nakedness of shame and a so[urce of im]purity; and a spirit of crookedness rules over him.” (ll. 31-33)

The existence of a human being is established (lit. founded, vb ds^y`) on guilt (hm*v=a*) and sin (ha*F*j^), implying that a person is trapped in an existence dominated and influenced by sin from birth. The expression “nakedness of shame/disgrace” probably alludes to the tradition in Gen 2:25; 3:7, 10-11. This natural inclination to sin is further described as a “source of impurity”.

Beyond this, the author/protagonist recognizes that there is also a “spirit” that rules (vb lv^m*) over the human being. This is described specifically as “a spirit of crookedness” (hw@u&n~ j^Wr). The noun hw@u&n~ is verbal, being a participle from the root hwu (I), “bend, twist”; thus hw@u&n~ indicates the action of this spirit—twisting, bending, i.e., perverting, in a negative ethical-religious sense. As discussed in a prior note, lines 12-20 of the Column IV hymn refer to the harmful actions of various “spirits” on human beings. Humans are largely helpless against this influence, unless it is counteracted by other good spirits specifically given by to the individual by God (lines 29ff). Much the same idea is expressed here: the perverting spirit is counteracted by the holy/righteous spirit that God gives to His chosen ones (such as the hymnist/protagonist):

“Only by your goodness can a man be righteous, and by (the) abundance of [your] compas[sion…].
And I, your servant, have knowledge by (the) spirit that you gave [i.e. placed] in me […] and all of your works are righteous” (lines 33b-34a, 35b-36)

The emphasis on the action/effect of this God-given spirit is knowledge (i.e. wisdom and understanding). The protagonist is able to understand the nature of these spirits, and their dynamic (interaction with human beings, etc) in the context of the eternal plans and mysteries of God (see the fragmentary lines 37-40). He says nothing here directly about the cleansing/purifying effect of the spirit, though this is implied in lines 33-34ff. However, in column VI, there is at least one reference to the “spirit of (God’s) holiness” —the principal spirit given to the chosen ones. Indeed, there are parallel references in column VI to the “spirit of holiness” (line 24) and the “spirit of knowledge” (line 36), indicating the important relationship between righteousness/purity and wisdom. This will be discussed further in the next note.

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).

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).

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)

Spirit in the Qumran Texts: 1QH 4:12-20

In connection with this year’s celebration of Pentecost, as well as the study series “Spiritualism and the New Testament”, I am embarking on a series of regular notes dealing with the use of the word j^Wr (rûaµ, “spirit”) in the Qumran Scrolls. I treated this subject in an earlier two-part article, focusing specifically on the Holy Spirit. However, these notes will provide a more detailed word study, with exegesis on all the most relevant passages. The manuscript copies of the Old Testament Scripture-texts will not be referenced (nor the copies of the deutero-canonical books of Enoch and Jubilees), except in rare instances; attention will be focused entirely on the non-canonical or extra-canonical writings.

There have been a number of fine studies on the use of j^Wr in the Qumran texts. Among the most extensive (and useful) of these are the dissertation (published as a monograph) by Arthur Everett Sekki, The Meaning of Ruaµ at Qumran, SBL Dissertation Series 110 (Society of Biblical Literature: 1989), and the more recent article by Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, “Historical Origins of the Early Christian Concept of the Holy Spirit: Perspectives from the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in The Holy Spirit, Inspiration, and the Cultures of Antiquity, Ekstasis series, eds. Jörg Frey and John R. Levison (De Gruyter: 2014). I have, to some extent, used Tigchelaar’s selection and arrangement of texts as a guide for my presentation. Other works will be cited on occasion during the course of these notes.

j^Wr in the Thanksgiving Hymns (Hodayot)

It is customary to begin this kind of study by focusing on the Community Rule document (1QS/4QS), since that document is seen as one of the central, defining texts for the Qumran Community. However, I have chosen to start with the so-called Thanksgiving Hymns (Hodayot), 1QHa-b and 4QHa-f. In some ways, these hymns provide a better introduction to the range and diversity of the spirit-concept, represented by the word j^Wr, as we find it in the Qumran texts. The standard critical edition of the Hodayot is that of Hartmut Stegemann and Eileen Schuller in the Discoveries in the Judaean Desert (DJD) series—Volume XL: 1QHodayota, with Incorporation of 1QHodayotb and 4QHodayota-f (Clarendon Press: 2009). The translation of the texts in this volume was done by Carol A. Newsom, who has also produced (along with E. Schuller) a fine study edition, with translation, that is more readily accessible for students and non-specialists: The Hodayot (Thanksgiving Psalms): A Study Edition of 1QHa, Early Judaism and Its Literature, Number 36 (Society of Biblical Literature: 2012).

Before proceeding with the first text, a couple of points should be mentioned. The referencing of the Hodayot can be misleading. A citation such as 1QHa 4:19, for example (see below), suggests that the verses of individual hymns is being referenced, as in the Scriptural Psalms. However, the reference is actually to the column and line number for the manuscript leaf; a hymn may begin/end in the middle of a column, and there may be more than one hymn to a column—in other words, four columns does not necessarily demarcate four distinct hymns. Also, the column numbering used by scholars today, following that of the DJD critical edition, replaces the older numbering (by Sukenik); older reference works may still be using the Sukenik numbering, and this can create some confusion as to which hymn is actually being referenced. For a comparative list, see Schuller/Newsom, pp. 4-9.

Like virtually all Qumran manuscripts, those of the Hodayot are highly fragmentary, with significant portions missing, along with smaller gaps (lacunae) in the text. These gaps are typically indicated by square brackets ([ ]), a convention that I will be following. Sometimes scholars are able to reconstruct plausibly the missing text, presenting it within the brackets; when reconstruction is not possible (or is doubtful), the gap is marked by an ellipsis ([…]).

1QHa 4

Column 4 (IV) of 1QHa seems to represent the bulk of a single, relatively large hymn (or psalm). It probably began at or near the beginning of the column; however the first eleven lines are missing, so we cannot know for certain. The editors of the critical edition (DJD XL, pp. 64-5) identify four sections to the surviving portions of the hymn (lines 12-40).

The first section (12-20) is highly fragmentary, and it is difficult to discern the flow of the author’s thought. However, there are repeated occurrences of the expression “from a spirit (of)” (jwrm), in a context referring to the physical affliction of human beings; the expression occurs in lines 14 and 19, and has been restored/reconstructed within the lacunae in lines 16-18 as well. The idea seems to be that the affliction mentioned is caused by certain spirits, or by a ruling figure (spirit), grammatically feminine, who makes use of these spirits. Line 19 perhaps gives us the clearest sense of this dynamic:

“[…] (act)ing deceitfully with […] [with] n[o] command [i.e. unlawfully], from a spirit of kw[…] m

The action is deceitful (hm*r=t*) and unlawful (lit., with no command, i.e., not according to God’s Law), and proceeds from a “spirit of kw[…]” ([…]wk jwr). As we shall see, the construct expression “spirit of {}” occurs regularly in the Qumran texts, generally indicating an attributive characteristic of the spirit. Here, however, the specific characteristic is uncertain, since the word is only partially preserved. A number of reconstructions have been suggested (cf. DJD XL, p. 67), but none have been widely accepted. One proposal is l?wk, which could be vocalized as a verbal noun (active participle, lv@oK) of the root lvK, denoting “to stumble”; the reference then would be to a “spirit of stumbling” —i.e., causing people to stumble.

Despite the textual uncertainty and fragmentary condition of the section, we can discern a basic principle being expressed, which we will encounter in numerous other places in the Qumran texts. There was a belief that human beings are attacked/afflicted by various evil spirits, and that individual “spirits” were identified with specific attributes or characteristics. In line 19, the reference is to a “spirit of [stumbling?]”, while in the prior line (18) there is a verbal expression “a spirit seeking (out) […]” that may similarly convey a specific sort of action. Overall, the emphasis in lines 12-20 seems to be on the way that human beings are afflicted by these (evil) spirits.

In the next note, we will examine the second (ll. 21-28) and third (29-37) sections of this hymn, considering how the author shifts focus from the attack of evil spirits, to the deliverance provided by God, and the good spirits which are given to counteract the evil influence.

The Ancient Israelite Festivals: Passover (Part 2)

Passover—Part 2:
Old Testament and Jewish Tradition

The Earliest Festivals

The ancient historical tradition, associating the Passover festival with the Exodus (Exod 12-13), was discussed in Part 1. The same tradition clearly connects the Passover (js^P#) feast (on the 14th/15th of Abib-Nisan) with the festival of ‘Unleavened (Bread)’ (toXm^) on the 15th-21st of the same month. The two festivals are thus joined together from the earliest times, with the js^P# feast effectively marking the beginning of the seven days of toXm^.

Interestingly, in the Torah regulations found elsewhere in the book of Exodus, greater attention is given to the festival of toXm^. The main reason for this is that the annual cycle of Israelite festivals was, from the very beginning, closely tied to the agricultural cycle. The three great festivals, outlined in the early calendar-notices in the Torah (Exod 23:14-17; 34:18-23), were all harvest festivals. The festival of toXm^, in particular, was related to the barley harvest. It is the first of the three gj^-festivals mentioned in these passages. The etymology of the word gj^ remains uncertain, but it is used almost exclusively in reference to pilgrimage festivals—that is, occasions when the people would travel to a (central) sanctuary location, and there celebrate the festival. The related verb gg~j* (Exod 23:14, etc) denotes the celebration of the festival.

More expansive and comprehensive instructions on the festivals are given in Leviticus 23, Numbers 28, and Deuteronomy 16. In these sections, the Passover is included as a primary festival (Lev 23:4-8; Num 28:16-25; Deut 16:1-8), though always in connection with the seven-day toXm^ period. The notice in Lev 23:4-8 is relatively brief, but declares that the first day of the toXm^, the day of the Passover proper (Abib-Nisan 15), is a call (ar*q=m!) for the people to gather for a holy assembly, a day on which no regular work is to be done (v. 7). Sacrificial offerings are to be made to YHWH at the sanctuary on each of the seven days (v. 8); the seventh day is a day of holy assembly, just like the first. The requirements for the daily offerings are given in Num 28:19-24.

The instruction in Deut 16:1-7 shows signs of development, indicating that we are dealing with a well-established tradition. The reference to the historical tradition of the Exodus in v. 3 sounds very much like a fixed liturgical formula, by which the elements of the Passover feast are meant to remind the celebrants of the Exodus event in Egypt. The main Deuteronomic feature of the Passover instruction involves the centralization of cultic ritual and worship at the (Temple) sanctuary in Jerusalem:

“You are not able [i.e. allowed] to slaughter [i.e. sacrifice] the Pesaµ in any of your gates [i.e. of the towns/cities] which YHWH your Mighty (One) is giving to you, for (it is only) to (be done) at the place which YHWH your Mighty (One) shall choose for (the) dwelling of His name…” (vv. 5-6)

The implication is clear enough: the people must travel to the Jerusalem Temple-precincts, bringing the Passover lamb, to have it slaughtered there. This also means that ritual meal has to be eaten in Jerusalem as well (v. 7).

Old Testament References to Passover

The second celebration of Passover is recorded in Numbers 9:1-14, said to have taken place one year after the first Passover (v. 1), and held at the appointed time (v. 2) and according to the established instructions (vv. 3-5, 11-12, cf. above). This festival was held, at Sinai, following the construction and consecration of the Tent-shrine (Tabernacle), including a consecration/purification ceremonies for the Levites (8:5-22) in preparation of the performance of their duties in the Tent. This emphasis on (ritual) purity is also prominent in the instructions regarding Passover (9:6-13).

In Joshua 5:10-11, it is stated that the people of Israel celebrated the Passover while they camped at Gilgal, on the 14th day of the month (Abib-Nisan 14/15), according to the tradition. There is no indication that the festival was celebrated during the years of ‘wandering’, prior to the people’s entry into the Promised Land. This essentially confirms the connection between Passover (and the festival of Unleavened bread) and the agricultural cycle (cf. above)—which requires a presence on the land. From this point on, the Israelites will cultivate and farm the land, a change that is symbolized by the manna ceasing on the very day following the Passover (v. 12). This date corresponds with the beginning of the toXm^ festival, and, correspondingly, the people partook, in a very rudimentary way, of the produce of the land.

The notice in 1 Kings 9:25 (par 2 Chron 8:12-13), indicates that king Solomon presided over the festal sacrificial offerings at the altar of the newly constructed Temple in Jerusalem. This parallels the setting of the Sinai Passover, following the construction of the Tabernacle (cf. above).

According to the Chronicles, the first proper celebration of Passover, held (as intended by the Deuteronomic instruction) in Jerusalem, was arranged by king Hezekiah. According to the Chronicler’s narrative (2nd book, chap. 30), it was truly a grand affair. The call to assemble was sent, even into the northern territories, where it was clearly intended as a (symbolic) way of uniting the remnants of the northern Kingdom with the southern Judean Kingdom (centered at Jerusalem). The exhortation for the people to repent and to “return” to YHWH is expressed in traditional prophetic language. The celebration of Passover is described as part of a wider project of Hezekiah to ‘cleanse’ the Temple from the idolatrous influence and corruption that took place during the reign of his father Ahaz. Because of the work required to restore the proper functioning of the Temple, the celebration of Passover had to be delayed until the second month (vv. 2-3). The narrative also alludes to the fact that, up to that point, the Passover had not been observed as often as it should have been. Indeed, in the history of Israel, as recorded in the Old Testament Scriptures, the Passover organized by Hezekiah was the first since the initial celebration at Gilgal in the time of Joshua (cf. above).

The books of Kings do not mention the Passover during Hezekiah’s reign, indicating that the first proper Passover, held according to the Torah instructions (especially those in Deuteronomy 16:1-17 [cf. above]), took place during the reign of Josiah (2 Kings 23:21-23). It was part of the Josianic program of religious reform, tied explicitly to the regulations and instructions given in the “book of the covenant” (i.e., the book of Deuteronomy). This entailed, above all else, the centralization of worship at the Temple-sanctuary in Jerusalem, just as Deut 16 prescribes. A parallel account of Josiah’s Passover is given in 2 Chron 35:1-19, in much expanded form; the grandiose details mirror the earlier Passover held by Hezekiah.

There are only two other direct references to the Passover in the Old Testament. First, there is the notice in Ezekiel 45:21ff, part of the instruction regarding the ritual activities to be held in the new Temple of the (eschatological) New Age. The book of Ezekiel is a product of the exilic period, a period of generations when it was no longer possible to celebrate the Passover at Jerusalem. The first post-exilic celebration (in Jerusalem) by the returning exiles is described in Ezra 6:19-22; this apparently took place sometime prior to the beginning of Ezra’s mission in Jerusalem (c. 458 B.C.).

Jewish Tradition in the First Centuries B.C./A.D.

It is somewhat surprising how rarely Passover and the festival of Unleavened bread are mentioned in Jewish writings of the Second Temple period. For this study, I will focus on writings from the first centuries B.C./A.D., from c. 250 B.C. to the mid-second century A.D. These texts would pre-date the Mishnah tractate Pesaµim (c. 200 A.D.) which gives extensive information on the festival, along with instruction on how it is to be observed.

Prior to the first century A.D., the main surviving passage dealing with Passover is chapter 49 of the book of Jubilees, a work usually dated to the middle of the 2nd century B.C. The bulk of Jubilees is a reworking of the narratives in Genesis and Exodus (up to Exod 24:18), presented as an Angelic revelation to Moses. The thrust of this historical presentation is to affirm, for Israelites and Jews of the 2nd century (in face of the influence of Hellenism), the importance of adhering to the Torah regulations. The section on Passover (chap. 49) comes at the conclusion of the work. In light of the overall emphasis on maintaining ritual purity (vv. 9-11, cf. Num 9:13), the instructions regarding observance of Passover are reiterated (vv. 12-15, 19-21). There is an idealistic sectarian orientation to this instruction, with the focus on the participants being males twenty years and older (cf. Exod 30:14), who are instructed to eat the meal in the Temple sanctuary (vv. 16-17).

There would seem to be a number of points of contact between the book of Jubilees and the Community of the Qumran texts (cf. below). Indeed, Jubilees appears to have been quite popular with the Community, having the status of something like authoritative Scripture. There are at least 15 copies of the work among the surviving Qumran texts, more than for many books of the canonical Old Testament.

We find a similar interpretive reworking of the Old Testament Passover tradition in several other Jewish writings of the period. The author of the book of Wisdom makes extensive use of the Exodus traditions in the closing chapters 16-19, part of a longer treatment (chaps. 10-19) of the role of God’s Wisdom throughout Israelite history. Chapter 18 (vv. 5-19) gives a powerful and moving account of the Passover night, when the Israelites were saved from death (and delivered from their bondage), while the firstborn children of their Egyptian enemies were destroyed. The Passover sacrifice(s), alluded to in verse 9, reflect the faith and unity of all righteous Israelites, being in agreement to live according to God’s law. Wisdom is identified with “the imperishable light of the law” that is given to the world (v. 4).

The Biblical Antiquities of Pseudo-Philo (1st century A.D.) present a similarly imaginative retelling of Israelite history. The command to observe the festivals is introduced at 13:4-7 (paraphrasing Leviticus 23, cf. above). This work also evinces an interesting tendency to identify certain unspecified festal occasions mentioned in Scripture (Judg 21:17-19; 1 Sam 1:3-4ff) with Passover (48:3; 50:2). For another example of a creative retelling of the Exodus/Passover narrative, cf. the Exagoge of Ezekiel (the Tragedian), spec. lines 149-192.

The Qumran Texts

References and allusions to Passover in the surviving Qumran texts are rather slight. Based on the various liturgical and calendric texts, we can be fairly certain that the major festivals played an important role in the life of the Community (and/or those who copied and used the texts). Documents 4Q320-30 give evidence for the use of a (six-year) 364 day solar calendar, tied to performance of ritual priestly duties and used for establishing regular dates for the various festivals. Texts 4Q320-321 and 329a specifically mention Passover. The book of Jubilees (cf. above) followed a similar solar calendar (cf. also 2 Enoch 1:1). Aristobulus also discusses the issue of determining the date for Passover (section preserved in Eusebius’ Church History 7.32.16-18), an indication that such calendrical questions were pertinent among Jews in the 2nd century B.C.

Several surviving documents—1Q34 (and 1Q34bis), and 4Q505/507-509—contain prayers to be recited during the festivals. The specific context cannot always be determined from the fragmentary remains, but several of these prayers may be intended for Passover (e.g., 4Q505 125, 127, 131 [+ 132i]). For a convenient treatment of these texts, with translation and notes, cf. James R. Davila, Liturgical Works (2000) in the Eerdmans Commentaries on the Dead Sea Scrolls series, pp. 15-40.

The Temple Scroll (11Q19) also refers to the sacrificial offerings to be performed in connection with Passover and the seven day toXm^ festival (col. 17), as part of the overall Temple ritual (cp. Ezekiel’s vision of the New Temple in chaps. 40-48).

Philo and Josephus

Flavius Josephus and Philo of Alexandria are first-century Jewish contemporaries of the early Christians, writing in Greek, and their treatments of Scriptural tradition (and related matters of religion) are most relevant for a study of the New Testament. In his Antiquities, Josephus retells the Old Testament narratives, often adding imaginative details and other bits of Jewish tradition. The relevant portions of the Exodus narrative, where the Passover (pa/sxa) festival is mentioned, are given in 2.313 and 3.248-9 (cf. also 3.294). References corresponding to other Old Testament passages are: 5.20-21f [Josh 5:10-12]; 9.260-72 [2 Chron 30]; 10.70-71ff [2 Kings 23:21-23 par]. Notices of later celebrations of the Passover are given in 11.110; 14.21, 25ff; 17.213f; 18.29, 90; 20.106-108ff; and in Wars 2.10.

The most notable mention of the Passover by Josephus is in Wars 6.420-8, where he explains how a vast multitude of people, having come to Jerusalem for the festival, found themselves trapped in the city by the Roman siege.

It is typical of Philo that he gives an allegorical interpretation to the Passover tradition. He interprets the Pesaµ (Greek Fasek = Pa/sxa) in the ascetic-philosophical sense of “passing over” from the passions, using a bit of wordplay between pa/sxa and the verb pa/sxw (“suffer,” participle paqw/n), just we might between “passover” and “passion”. The main reference is in On the Special Laws 2.145-9:

“…the passover figuratively represents the purification of the soul; for they say that the lover of wisdom is never practising anything else except a passing over from the body and the passions. And each house is at that time invested with the character and dignity of a temple, the victim being sacrificed so as to make a suitable feast for the man who has provided it and of those who are collected to share in the feast, being all duly purified with holy ablutions. And those who are to share in the feast come together not as they do to other entertainments, to gratify their bellies with wine and meat, but to fulfil their hereditary custom with prayer and songs of praise. And this universal sacrifice of the whole people is celebrated on the fourteenth day of the month, which consists of two periods of seven, in order that nothing which is accounted worthy of honour may be separated from the number seven. But this number is the beginning of brilliancy and dignity to everything.” (Yonge translation)

Philo specifically explains the girding of the loins (Exod 12:11) in terms of restraining one’s appetites. By moving away from the passions, and offering the Passover sacrifice (12:4), one makes the ‘advance toward perfection’, with the unblemished lamb symbolizing a moderate spirit. The passage away from the passions should be done promptly and willingly, i.e., “in haste”. Cf. On Allegorical Interpretation 3.94, 154, 165; On the Sacrifices of Abel and Cain §63; On the Migration of Abraham §25; Who Is the Heir…? §192f, 255. On the Preliminary Studies §106. The Passover is also mentioned in On the Decalogue §159; and cf. his discussion in On the Life of Moses 2.221-7.

Perhaps the most direct and full exposition of the Passover by Philo is found in Questions and Answers on Exodus (1.4), which I quote here in full (from the LOEB translation by Ralph Marcus):

“They make the Passover sacrifice while changing their dwelling-place in accordance with the commands of the Logos, in return for three beneficent acts (of God), which are the beginning and the middle of the freedom to which they now attain. And the beginning was that they were able to conquer the harsh and insupportable masters of whom they had had experience and who had brought all kinds of evil upon them, and this (came about) in two ways, by having their force and their numbers increase. And the middle was that they saw the divinely sent punishments and disasters which overtook their enemies, (for) it was not the nations which fought against them but the regions of the world and the four elements which came against them with the harmfulness and violence of beasts. That is the literal meaning. But the deeper meaning is this. Not only do men make the Passover sacrifice when they change their places but so also and more properly do souls when they begin to give up the pursuits of youth and their terrible disorder and they change to a better and older state. And so our mind should change from ignorance and stupidity to education and wisdom, and from intemperance and dissoluteness to patience and moderation, and from fear and cowardice to courage and confidence, and from avarice and injustice to justice and equality. And there is still another Passover of the soul beside this, which is its making the sacrifice of passing over from the body; and there is one of the mind, (namely, its passing over) from the senses; and as for thoughts, (their passing over consists) in one’s not being taken with oneself but in willingly thinking further of desiring and emulating prophetic souls.”

Important in relation to the early Christian application of the Passover festival is Philo’s exposition (in On the Special Laws 2.150-61) of the seasonal symbolism, emphasizing the rebirth of new life in the springtime, and the dominance of light over darkness:

“The vernal equinox is an imitation and representation of that beginning in accordance with which this world was created. Accordingly, every year, God reminds men of the creation of the world, and with this view puts forward the spring, in which season all plants flourish and bloom…. For it is necessary that the most beautiful and desirable phenomena belong to those things which are first and have received the position of leadership, those phenomena through which the reproduction and growth of animals and fruit and crops take place, but not the ominous destructive forces. And this feast is begun on the fifteenth day of the month, in the middle of the month, on the day on which the moon is full of light, in consequence of the providence of God taking care that there shall be no darkness on that day.” (vv. 151-5, Yonge translation)

In Part 3, we will begin examining how the Israelite/Jewish Passover tradition influenced early Christian thought. Our initial focus will be on the Gospel of John.

Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 69 (Part 2)

Psalm 69, continued

In the previous study, I mentioned a number of variant reading in the Qumran manuscript 4QPsa. Typically, what survives of a particular Psalm in the Qumran MSS is too fragmentary to allow for any substantial textual comparison. The situation is rather different in the case of Psalm 69, where much of the first half of the Psalm (vv. 1-19) has been preserved in 4QPsa (frag. 19 col ii–frag. 20 col. iii). This includes more that a dozen points in the surviving text where the Qumran reading differs from the Masoretic Text [MT]. I thought it worth surveying these, before continuing on with an exegesis of the remainder of the Psalm. Many of the readings occur in vv. 2-13—that is, in the first part of the Psalm, discussed in the previous study. I did not address these in the prior exegesis.

Comparison of MT with 4QPsa

Verse 3 [2]

“I have sunk in mire of (the) deep (sea),
and there is no place to stand;
I have come in(to the) depths of (the) waters,
and (the) swirling (flood) engulfs me!”

The MT as I have translated it is presented above; the words in italics represent the points where the text differs from 4QPsa. The main difference is that, in line 1, the Qumran MS reads /yb (apparently the preposition /yB@, “between”), rather than /wyb, which the MT vocalizes as /w@yB!—the noun /y@y` (“mire”) with the prefixed preposition B= (“in”). At the beginning of the 2nd and 4th lines, the prefixed –w conjunction is not present in 4QPsa. Translating the Qumran text of this verse yields:

“I have sunk between (the) deep (sea),
there is no place to stand;
I have come in(to the) depths of (the) waters,
(the) swirling (flood) engulfs me!”

The MT is to be preferred, particularly with regard to the 4QPsa reading of /yb, which is most likely either a scribal error, or a ‘correction’ of a somewhat difficult construct expression (“in [the] mire of [the] deep [sea]”).

Verse 4 [3]

“I am exhausted by my crying,
my throat is (all) parched,
(and) my eyes are finished,
from waiting for my Mighty (One).”

In the third line, 4QPsa reads ynv (“my teeth”), rather than MT ynyu (“my eyes”). In the fourth line, instead of ljym (“from waiting”), the Qumran MS has lyjb (“in writhing,” i.e., in anguish). Also, 4QPsa apparently includes the word [lar]cy (“Israel”), the portion in square brackets representing a suggested restoration of the fragmentary text. If that Qumran reading is correct, then a word has dropped out of the MT, and yhlal would be vocalized as part of a construct expression— “for (the) Mighty (One) [i.e. God] of Israel” —rather than the noun with a possessive suffix (“my Mighty [One]”). The Qumran version of the verse would be translated:

“I am exhausted by my crying,
my throat is (all) parched,
(and) my teeth are finished
in writhing for (the) Mighty (One) of Yisrael.”

Verse 5 [4]

“Many (more) than (the) hairs of my head…”

Here the difference is one of gender. In the first line of v. 5, 4QPsa has a masculine plural construct form (yrucm), rather than the MT feminine form (twrucm). Both the masculine noun ru*c@ and the feminine hr*u&c^ are attested in Hebrew; both mean “hair”, though the feminine noun (in the plural) would specifically refer to the individual hairs (cf. GKC §122t), and thus would be more appropriate to the context of counting hairs.

Verse 6 [5]

“Mightiest, you (indeed) know of my foolishness,
and my faults, from you they are not concealed.”

Instead of the MT reading ytlWal, which essentially means “(belonging) to my foolishness,” i.e., what I have done in my foolishness, 4QPsa has ytywl awl, which appears to be a nonsense reading (“not my wreath[?]”), and is presumably reflects a scribal error.

Verse 7 [6]

“May they not be ashamed by me,
(those) looking to you, my Lord,
O YHWH of (the heavenly) armies!
May they not be disgraced by me,
(those) seeking you, Mighty (One)
of Yisrael!”

In the parallel lines 1 and 4, the Qumran MS omits the suffixed preposition yb (“by me”).

Verse 9 [8]

A stranger I have become to my brothers,
and (one) foreign to (the) sons of my mother.”

At the beginning of the first line, 4QPsa has rz ym instead of MT rzwm. In the MT, the expression is “I have become (one who is) estranged [rz*Wm]”; the Qumran reading (if it is not a nonsense reading from scribal error) presumably would mean something like “Who [ym!] made me to be a stranger [rz]…?”

As in v. 3 (cf. above), the Qumran MS omits the initial –w conjunction.

Verse 11 [10]

“When I poured out my soul with fasting,
it even came to be as scorn toward me.”

In the MT, the initial word of the first line is hkbaw, which I vocalize as hk*B)a#w`, from the verb Eb^n` (= Ep^n`), meaning “pour (forth)”. By contrast, 4QPsa has iaw, apparently reading the verb hk*n` (“strike”),  rather than Eb^n`—i.e., “when I struck my soul with fasting…”

Verse 12 [11]

“And I gave rough cloth for my garment,
and I became for them as a byword.”

In 4QPsa, the first word of the second line is yhtw (“and it [fem.] became”), rather than MT yhaw (“and I became”). If the feminine form is original, or was intended (as such) by the scribe of 4QPsa, then presumably the subject is still “my soul” from v. 11; more likely, it reflects a scribal error influenced by the second line of v. 11.

Verse 13 [12]

“About me they rehearse, (those) sitting (at the) gate,
even songs strummed (by those) feasting on drink.”

The text of the first line in 4QPsa is the same, but with a different word order. In the second line, the verb /g~n` (“strum,” i.e. play on stringed instrument) is used (wngny, “and they strummed”), rather than the related noun hn*yg]n+ in the MT, which refers to the song/music that is strummed.

Part 2: Verses 14-30 [13-29]

Verse 14 [13]

“And (as for) me, my prayer (is) to you, YHWH.
Now (may you show) favor, Mightiest,
in your abundant goodness, answer me,
in (the) firmness of your salvation!”

This verse marks the beginning of a new section of the Psalm, as the author moves from lamentation to delivering a prayer/petition (hL*p!T=) to YHWH, as stated clearly here in the first line. Dahood (II, p. 159) proposes that tu@ be read as hT*u^ (“now”), and, as it happens, that is the reading in 4QPsa, which I adopt here. The precise meaning of the syntax is uncertain, however; it could mean “now (there is) favor (from you)”, but I prefer to see an implicit imperative at work, i.e., “now (may you show) favor…”. Dahood would emend the text to read an imperative here: yn]x@r=, “show favor to me”.

For poetic concision, I have translated the third line “in your abundant goodness,” whereas the more literal rendering would be “in (the) abundance of your goodness”, which parallels the syntax of the fourth line. As I have pointed out numerous times, the noun ds#j# (“kindness, goodness”) often connotes faithfulness and loyalty, i.e., in a covenantal context, which is typically present in the Psalms.

Metrically, and syntactically, the verse is best understood as comprised of an initial 3-beat line, followed by a 3+2+2 tricolon.

Verse 15 [14]

“Snatch me out from (the) mud,
and do not let me sink (down);
let me be snatched from (those) hating me,
and from (the) depths of (the) waters!”

This verse echoes the thought and imagery from the opening (vv. 2-3) of the first part of the Psalm (cf. above, and in the previous study). The deep waters, and the mud/mire existing in them, threaten to engulf and pull down the Psalmist. As in the first part (cf. verses 5ff), the waters symbolize the danger posed by the Psalmist’s enemies, those wicked persons who threaten and attack the righteous. Here, as is frequently the case, the enemies are specifically designated by the verbal noun (participle) “(those) hating me”. The idea of YHWH rescuing the Psalmist is expressed by the verb lx^n`, which fundamentally means “snatch/tear away,” i.e., out of danger; it is used here emphatically, twice, in lines 1 and 3.

The Qumran MS 4QPsa contains an additional line that is absent from the MT, yielding a tricolon rather than a couplet:

“Snatch me out from (the) mud,
and do not let me sink (down),
(nor) let (the one) seizing me take me

The watery mire functions like a person seizing the helpless Psalmist, blending together the two motifs. There are two other small variants in 4QPsa: (1) instead of the passive verb form (“let me be snatched”) in line 3 of the MT, the same Hiphil active form (from line 1) is repeated; and (2) the –w suffix at the beginning of the final line in the MT is absent (cf. above for similar examples of this).

Verse 16 [15]

“Do not let (the) swirl of waters engulf me,
and do not let (the) deep swallow me,
and do not let close over me
(the) pit—her mouth!”

Metrically, I parse this verse as a 3-beat couplet followed by a short 2-beat couplet; the latter, however, could also be read syntactically as a long 4-beat line: “and do not let (the) pit close her mouth over me!” The imagery from v. 15 continues here, most vividly. The initial line essentially echoes the final line of v. 3 (cf. above), with its use of the noun tl#B)v! (denoting a swirling/whirling flood) and the verb [f^v* (“flow/rush over, engulf”).

The specific image in line 2, of a “deep place” swallowing (vb ul^B*) the Psalmist, draws upon ancient mythological tradition, depicting death (and the realm of the dead) as a being with a ravenous appetite—and possessing a giant mouth with which it devours all people. The deep waters frequently symbolize both death (and the danger of death) and the realm of the dead. For more on this line of tradition, cf. my earlier note on the Sheol motif. Here, specifically, the “Pit” (ra@B=) threatens to close up “her mouth” over the Psalmist. The Qumran MS (4QPsa) here reads “my mouth” (yp), which makes no sense whatsoever, and is certainly a copyist’s mistake.

Verse 17 [16]

“May you answer me, O YHWH,
for good (is) your faithful kindness;
according to (the) abundance of your love,
turn (your face) unto me!”

This verse is comprised a pair of short 2-beat couplets, which is difficult to capture in translation; the rhythm is better preserved by a looser rendering:

“Answer me, O YHWH,
for good (is) your kindness;
in your abundant love,
turn (your face) to me!”

If verses 14-16 comprise the substance of the Psalmist’s plea, he now calls on YHWH to answer (vb hn`u*) his prayer, and thus to rescue him out of the danger he faces from his enemies. Conceptually, lines 1 and 4 are parallel, as God “turning” (vb hn`P*) His face to the Psalmist means the same as answering the prayer. On the noun ds#j# connoting covenantal faithfulness and loyalty, cf. above. In this regard, the noun <j^r^ is comparable in meaning, essentially referring to a deep feeling of love and compassion toward another person. The suffixed plural form here may be rendered as “(depth)s of your love,” which would fit well with the earlier motif of the deep waters that threaten the Psalmist (cf. above).

Verse 18 [17]

“And do not hide your face from your servant,
for (there is) distress (now) for me—
(please) be quick and answer me!”

The opposite of God turning his face toward the Psalmist would be for Him to hide (vb rt^s*) His face, or to turn it away. Dahood (II, p. 160; cf. also I, p. 64) would parse rT@s=T^ as a form of the verb rWs (“turn [away]”); whether the verb is rt^s* or rWs, the basic sense of the line would be much the same. The Psalmist designates himself as a faithful “servant” of YHWH, meaning that he is loyal to the covenant bond.

Metrically, this verse is a 3+2+2 tricolon; the terse 2-beat lines capture the sense of the Psalmist’s desperation: “there is distress for me [i.e. I am in distress] / be quick [vb rh@m*] and answer me!”

Verse 19 [18]

“Come near to my soul (and) redeem it;
from (the) lair of my enemies, ransom me!”

By turning to the Psalmist, in response to his prayer, God acts to rescue him out of danger from his enemies. This is expressed here, poignantly and powerfully, with the idea of YHWH “coming near” (vb br^q*) to the soul of the Psalmist. God enters right into the midst of the danger, into the deep ‘waters’, coming right up next to the faithful/righteous one and so to snatch him out of the grasp of death. The verbs la^G` and hd*P* each refer, in different ways, to the idea of freeing someone from bondage by making payment on their behalf. In particular, la^G` typically signifies payment that is made by a near-relative or kinsman. Both terms, however, can also be used more generally, in the sense of freeing someone from danger, etc.

I tentatively follow Dahood (II, p. 161) in vocalizing /uml as /u)m=l!—that is, the noun /oum* (“dwelling-place”) with the prefixed preposition –l—rather than MT /u^m^=, with its general meaning “in response to, on account of, because of”. The noun /oum* can specifically refer to the lair/den of predatory animals, which would certainly fit the setting here—viz., of YHWH freeing the Psalmist from the power of his enemies, and from the domain of wickedness and death.

(The remainder of this Psalm will be examined in the next study.)

References marked “Dahood, I” and “Dahood, II” above are to, respectively, Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol. 16 (1965), and Psalms II: 51-100, vol. 17 (1968).

September 14: Deuteronomy 32:7-9

In the previous note, we looked at verses 4-6 of the “Song of Moses”; now we proceed to verses 7-9 and lines following (down through verse 18). Verses 4-18 actually form a major section of the poem, as indicated from the earlier outline I presented:

1-3: Opening (exordium)—Call to Creation (heaven and earth)

4-18: God’s covenant with His people Israel, and their violation of the covenant
—The Creator God (YHWH) as their Father (vv. 4-6)
—His choice of Israel as His people, becoming their God (vv. 7-9)
—His protection and guidance during the Exodus and wilderness travels (vv. 10-14)
—His people turned away from Him, worshiping foreign gods (vv. 15-18)

The lines of vv. 4-18 comprise a summary of Israelite history, the parameters of which raise interesting (and important) historical-critical and literary-critical questions, which shall be discussed.

Verses 7-9

From the opening theme of YHWH as the Creator and Father of Israel (and all humankind), the poem progresses to the choice of Israel as the unique people of YHWH. Here are the lines in translation:

7Remember the days of (the) distant (past),
consider the years age(s) and age(s past);
ask your father and he will put (it) before you,
your old men and they will show (it) to you.
8In the Highest’s giving property (to the) nations,
in his separating (out) the sons of man,
he set up (the) boundaries of the peoples,
according to the count of the sons of the Mightiest.
9Yet YHWH’s (own) portion is His people,
Ya’aqob His own property measured (out).

The verse numbering accurately reflects the division of this section:

    • A call to remember and repeat (through oral tradition) the account of Israel’s history (v. 7)
    • The dividing of humankind into the nations/peoples (v. 8)
    • Israel as YHWH’s own nation/people (v. 9)

Verse 7 functions as the trope that sets the poetic/rhythmic pattern (a pair of 3-beat [3+3] bicola) for the section, followed by the (narrative) trope in verse 8, and a single bicolon theological trope emphasizing the covenant with YHWH (v. 9). The exhortation in v. 7 is entirely in keeping with the traditional narrative setting in chapter 31 (discussed previously), with an emphasis on the need to transmit the (Mosaic) instruction, contained in the book of Deuteronomy, to the generations that follow. In particular, Israel is to preserve and transmit the poem of chap. 32.

There is a major text-critical issue in verse 8; the Masoretic Text (MT) of the lines reads:

<y]oG /oyl=u# lh@n+h^B=
<d*a* yn@B= odyr!p=h^B=
<yM!u^ týb%G+ bX@y~
la@r*c=y] yn@B= rP^s=m!l=
B®hanµ¢l ±Elyôn gôyim
b®ha¸rî¼ô b®nê °¹¼¹m
yaƒƒ¢» g®»¥lœ¾ ±ammîm
l®mispar b®nê Yi´r¹°¢l

“In the Most High’s giving posessions (to) the nations,
in His breaking apart [i.e. separating] the sons of man,
He set the boundaries of the peoples,
to the count [i.e. number] of the sons of Israel.”

The last line has always struck commentators as a bit peculiar. Since the context overall suggests the dispersal of the nations (following the traditions in Genesis 10-11), occurring long before Israel was a people, establishment of the traditional number of nations (seventy, according to Gen 10) in terms of the number of Israel’s descendants (Exod 1:1-5; Deut 10:22, etc) seems somewhat out of place. Many commentators were drawn to the alternate reading in the Greek version (Septuagint, LXX), which, instead of “according to the sons of Israel”, reads “according to the Messengers of God” (kata/ a)riqmo/n a)gge/lwn qeou=, katá arithmón angélœn Theoú). This version of the text finds confirmation in one of the Deuteronomy manuscripts from Qumran (4QDeutj):


<yh!ýa$ yn@B= rP^s=m!l=
l®mispar b®nê °E_lœhîm

“…(according) to the count [i.e. number] of the sons of God”

The expression “sons of God” is an ancient Semitic term for divine beings—”gods” generally, in Canaanite religion. Within the context of Israelite monotheism, this idea was modified so as to refer to heavenly beings, i.e. Angels (“Messengers”), who are not to be worshiped as gods. A traditional number of seventy such beings goes all the way back to ancient Canaanite religious lore, and was preserved in Israelite and Jewish writings. This variant reading would seem to be confirmed again by the context of verse 8 within the Song. An important theme throughout, as we shall see, is the need for Israel to serve and worship only Yahweh, and not to follow after the other nations, who worship other ‘deities’ (such as represented by the sun, moon, and other heavenly bodies). While the other nations may have been allotted to various heavenly beings, Israel is God’s own portion (v. 9).

Elsewhere in Deuteronomy (4:19-20) we find similar language to 32:8-9, which suggests again that the reading of 4QDeutj may be original. Indeed, a tradition reflecting this reading is preserved in Jewish writings, such as the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan and the “Sayings of Rabbi Eliezer” (chap. 24). The Targum makes reference to “the seventy angels, princes of the nations”, in the context of the the Tower of Babel episode and the dispersal of the nations. For a good discussion, see J. Tigay, Deuteronomy: JPS Torah Commentary (1996), pp. 514-5 (Excursus 31).

Based on this evidence, then, it would seem that the reading in the Qumran manuscript 4QDeutj, and reflected in the Septuagint (LXX) Greek, is more likely to be original. Along with many modern commentators, I would thus (with considerable confidence) emend the text from “sons of Israel” (la@r*c=y] yn@B=) to “sons of the Mightiest [i.e. God]” (<yh!ýa$ yn@B=). Even beyond the relative strength of this textual variant, there are internal factors—the context of both the poem and the book of Deuteronomy, as noted above—which provides decisive evidence in favor of this reading:

    1. A careful study of the poem reveals a contrast between YHWH (Israel’s God) and the foreign deities of the surrounding nations. This is a central theme that runs through the poem, especially in vv. 15ff. It is also a primary aspect of the Deuteronomic teaching and theology, both in the book itself, and as played out in the “Deuteronomistic History” of Samuel–Kings. Turning away from proper worship of YHWH, to the deities of the surrounding peoples, is the fundamental violation of the covenant which brings judgment to Israel.
    2. The closest parallel, in 4:19-20, indicates that the nations belong to other ‘deities’ (such as those powers seen as connected with the heavenly bodies), while Israel alone belongs to YHWH. The wording in the poem, assuming the LXX/Qumran reading to be correct, likely expresses this in a more general way. The expression “sons of God” is an ancient Semitic/Canaanite idiom, referring to gods/deity generally, but also specifically in relation to the Creator °El (the “Mighty One”). In the subsequent development of Israelite monotheism, there was no place for any other deities, and the concept shifted to heavenly beings simply as servants or “Messengers” (i.e. angels) of YHWH (the Creator, identified with °El).

Indeed, what we see in vv. 8-9 is this contrast played out as a key theological principle: (a) the nations and their ‘deities’ (distinct from the Creator YHWH), and (b) Israel who belongs to YHWH. Note the chiasm in verse 8 when the LXX/Qumran reading is adopted:

    • The Highest (±Elyôn)
      • the nations [70]
        • separating the sons of man (ethnicity)
        • setting boundaries for the people (territory)
      • the sons (of God) [trad. 70]
    • The Mightiest (°Elœhîm)

While this is the situation for the other peoples, for Israel it is different (v. 9)—they have a direct relationship with the Creator YHWH:

    • YHWH’s (own) portion [ql#j@]
      • Israel (“His people”) / Jacob
    • His (own) property measured out [hl*j&n~ lebej]

And it is this relationship that is expounded in verses 10ff, which we will examine in the next daily note.