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 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.

May 4: 1 Samuel 16:13-15 etc (continued)

1 Samuel 16:13-15

In the previous note, we considered the role of the spirit (j^Wr) of God in determining and guiding political leadership in ancient Israel. In the case of the Judges, this involved primarily military leadership in times of warfare and national crisis. Previously this was also true of Joshua, though the Scriptures also mention the wisdom he possessed due to the presence/activity of the divine spirit. With the Judges, as also Saul and David in the book of Samuel, the spirit of God is said to “rush” (vb jl^x*) upon them, indicating a rather violent sort of experience. This was fitting for the inspiration of prophetic ecstasy as well as for the strength and aggression needed for military action.

Overall, these traditions suggest a concept of charismatic leadership, understood as being the product of possession by a divine spirit. In the ancient world, gifted individuals were seen as possessing such a spirit; the word genius in English preserves a vestige of this original meaning. The signs of such giftedness could be superficial, drawing on certain aspects of personal appearance, as well as based on the obvious markers of natural ability and skill, physical strength, etc. For example, Saul possessed these natural signs (1 Sam 9:2), making him a clear candidate for leadership. David in his own way had these same attributes (of beauty, strength, skill, etc)—cf. 16:18; 17:1-18:8—though the narrative in Samuel also makes certain efforts to downplay this, as a way of emphasizing the unique choice of David by YHWH (16:6-7, etc). An important detail in the narrative is David’s musical ability, in addition to all the other factors (16:16-18, 23), which serves as a clear contrast to Saul’s deteriorating condition.

Once God’s spirit “rushes” to David (16:13), it is clear that Saul can no longer serve in this role as leader, according to the ancient principles of charismatic leadership. In the very next verse we read:

“And (the) spirit of YHWH turned (away) from (being) with Ša’ûl, and an evil [hu*r*] spirit from YHWH terrorized him.” (v. 14)

While God’s rejection of Saul is explained, to some extent, in chapter 15, according to the prophetic viewpoint of the author, it scarcely suffices as an explanation for the phenomenon narrated here. It is difficult for modern-day readers to understand the ancient worldview, with regard to the cause-and-effect of certain psychological and physiological conditions. To begin with, the idea of an “evil spirit” (hu*r* j^Wr) does not necessarily imply the kind of malevolent personal power we often associate with the term. Rather, it is “evil” (ur^) in the sense that it is the cause of something bad—such as illness, incapacity, or any manner of misfortune. In the ancient Near East, virtually any physical or mental illness was seen as caused by the activity/influence of a deity or spirit. This same worldview existed among the Israelites, and is clearly reflected in numerous passages throughout the Old Testament. However, from the standpoint of Israelite monotheism, all such divine activity was under YHWH’s control, and the spirits causing disease and death were sent by Him. That is why the text can state that the evil spirit comes from YHWH—just as He sends out a lying/deceitful spirit in 1 Kings 22:22-23. It is only much later that a more dualistic worldview developed, whereby the the spirits/powers causing evil were seen as operated separately from God (and opposed to him).

It is clear from the narrative that Saul is struck by a certain kind of illness—we would probably refer to it as a mental or psychological disorder (such as schizophrenia)—marked by paranoia, outbursts of anger and violence, etc. This serves as the basis for the conflict that arises between Saul and David. At first, the king is soothed and helped by David, through his musical ability (16:16, 23). This is described, from the ancient viewpoint, in terms of the evil spirit “turning away” (rWs, the same verb used in v. 14) and leaving Saul:

“And it was (that), in (the) (evil) spirit [j^Wr] of the Mightiest coming [i.e. when it came] to Ša’ûl, and Dawîd took the harp and made music (on it) with his hand, (then) there was spirit/breath [jw~r*] (again) for Ša’ûl, and (all was) good with him, and (the) evil spirit turned (away) from (being) upon him.” (v. 23)

The relationship between the noun j^Wr (“breath, spirit”) and the related verb jw~r* (“breathe”) here is hard to convey in English translation. It is a reminder that the fundamental meaning of the root jwr is not “spirit”, but “breath” or “wind” (i.e. something blowing).

1 Samuel 18:10-11; 19:9-10

This same scenario is described again in 19:9-10, but this time David’s playing, apparently, is not enough to ease Saul’s illness. Things had deteriorated for Saul, and the king lashes out at David with violence:

“And the evil spirit of YHWH came to be to [i.e. upon] Ša’ûl, and he was sitting in his house and his spear (was) in his hand, and Dawîd was making music (on the harp) with his hand. And Ša’ûl sought to strike at Dawîd with the spear [and in(to) the wall], but Dawîd got through (away) from (the) face [i.e. presence] of Ša’ûl, and the spear struck in(to) the wall, and Dawîd fled and made (his) escape on that night.”

There is a doublet (a second version) of this tradition in 18:10-11, part of the complex situation surrounding the composition of these narratives, and how the various historical traditions were preserved and included. There are several details which strongly indicate that 18:10-11 genuinely represents a second (separate) preserved version of the historical tradition:

    • When the evil spirit comes upon Saul, he “acts like a ayb!n`” (vb ab*n` in the reflexive hithpael stem), that is, like an ecstatic inspired prophet; the spirit also “rushes” (vb jl^x*) on Saul, as it does upon the prophets and charismatic leaders (cf. above). Here, this is probably meant to convey several things:
      • The violent character of the spirit’s influence, resulting in unusual and aggressive behavior
      • That Saul was “raving”, seemingly out of his mind, uttering strange words
      • That he was truly possessed by a divine spirit, as the ecstatic prophets were—only this time it was an evil spirit of God (i.e. sent by God), which results in more negative and destructive conduct.
    • Saul’s intent to harm David is expressed: “I will strike Dawîd…”
    • It is said that David evaded his attack twice (an allusion to the second version of the tradition in 19:9-10?)

It is interesting that, in the overall course of the narrative, after this episode Saul again is struck by the ecstatic prophetic spirit (19:18-24). This largely repeats his earlier experience narrated in 10:5-12; it contains the same elements—the role of Samuel, a group of ecstatic prophets gathered together, a sacred “high place” site, etc. However, this time Saul arrives with the evil intent of arresting David, and the onrush of the (prophetic) spirit serves to waylay these efforts, disabling Saul for a full day and night. These two parallel scenes frame the period of Saul’s role as divinely-inspired leader. The first precedes the coming of God’s spirit on him (11:6), and the second follows the departure of that spirit (16:14ff). It is a vivid reminder of how closely connected the prophetic spirit was to the tradition of charismatic leadership in the ancient world.

In light of this theme of God’s spirit departing from a person, it is worth considering the famous expression of this idea in Psalm 51; this we will do in the next daily note.