The Rhetorical Effect of the Dualistic Language in 1QM

From a Deconstructive Reading

Yoon Lee (Ewha Womans University)

I.                    Introduction

Qumran scholarship has long discussed whether Qumranic dualism is an acculturated phenomenon, of which origin would be found either in Persia or in Greece, or it is rather rooted in Hebraic tradition. Following this interest, scholarly efforts are devoted to categorizing Qumranic dualism based on its variety of features under a certain name such as cosmic dualism, psychological dualism, and ethical dualism, or under a hyphenated name of these different dualisms. In the midst of the overflowing discussions about the origin, categorization, and definition of dualism, the rhetorical power of Qumranic dualism is put aside or ignored totally, even if it would be the essential issue of its literary function. Here in this present study, I will try to examine the rhetorical effect of Qumranic dualism, by way of lifting up the socio-political dimension behind the seemingly neutral dualistic terms such as the “Sons of Light” and the “Sons of Darkness” in 1QM, the War Scroll. In order to explore the rhetorical effect or power of the dualistic language in 1QM, I will attempt to employ a deconstructive reading.


II.                 What is a Deconstructive Reading?

This question seems a roundabout question for a more direct question, “What is deconstruction?” As widely known, Derrida resists defining deconstruction in a certain fixed set of sentences. Respecting Derrida’s such resistance, here in this present study, I prefer to use “a deconstructive reading,” which tells that the present study is processed with the imports of the Derridean deconstruction. Deconstruction is principally to deconstruct the center, which is believed to control everything else around, down, and above it. Due to the presence of the center, everything else becomes marginalized. The disproportionate relationship between the center and margin is then configured in “a violent hierarchy.”[1] The center is superior to the margin in terms of everything. The center is good, ideal, truthful, essential, etc. The margin is the opposite in its nature.

Derrida casts doubt on the very presence of the center. Why is the center center? Why is the margin margin? What makes the center to be the center and the margin to be the margin? His deconstruction then moves on to the deconstructive reversal/inversion, through decentering the center. Yet, this is just a temporal process to overturn the hierarchical system. This process reveals that the center is nothing but the absence of the margin. This process of deconstruction shows that the center is no longer the center, so is the margin.

I will employ a deconstructive reading to divulge how the dualistic language in 1QM decenters the imperial logic of power. In so doing, this reading will show what kind of rhetorical effects the dualistic language of 1QM creates.  


III.               Socio-Political Dimension of the Dualistic Language in 1QM

Before proceeding to a deconstructive reading of the dualistic language in 1QM, I think we have to look back so as to see what kind of discussions have so far been made around the issue of dualism in 1QM. The most famous and important discussion about this issue is definitely the five-year long arguments between John J. Collins and Philip R. Davies.[2] This brief examination will not only sketch the traditional interpretation of the dualism in 1QM, but also show what we have long ignored in the discussions about Qumranic dualism.

Collins attempts to trace a (linear) development from nationalistic to universal mode in Jewish apocalyptic literature. Collins uses dualism as an indicator that a piece of literature comes closer to universal apocalypticism. Against this argument, Davies basically disagrees over the redactional reconstruction arranged by Collins. Therefore, Davies has a totally different order of redaction of 1QM.

The discussions between Collins and Davies can be defined as a variation of developmental theory. Because both of the two scholars begin their arguments without challenging the notion that Jewish apocalyptic literature developed from a nationalistic mode to a universal-dualistic one. Collins and Davies basically argue over whose redactional reconstruction would be much closer to truth. Both scholars have no doubt that dualism is nearly synonymous with, or a prominent feature of, universal apocalypticism.    

However, I suggest that the dualistic language in 1QM has nothing to do with nationalism or universalism. The dualistic thinking pattern is imbued with both nationalistic and universal modes of expressions. As a simple example, the Treatise of Two Spirits in 1QS, the best example of Qumranic dualism, reveals a nationalistic stance, as shown in the phrase, “God of Israel”(3.24). Above all, even with the predominant dualistic-apocalyptic mode of presentation, 1QM basically schemes an all-out attack on the Kittim, who are generally identified with a historical entity, either Greeks or Romans. Dualism does not eliminate nationalistic thinking or expression. Dualism rather serves as a vehicle to deliver the authorial community’s nationalistic scheme in a roundabout way. The issue of Qumranic dualism needs to be examined from a different angle than the binary structure of nationalism versus universalism.

Thus, here I propose that the dualistic terms, “light” and “darkness,” can be viewed from a socio-political perspective, not merely from a theological one. The dualistic terms are signifiers to refer to binary structure such as the visible and the invisible, and the represented and the underrepresented in both domestic and international society. The Qumran community was the invisible and underrepresented, when compared with the national center of Jerusalem and the imperial center of Rome (or Damascus). The dualistic language in 1QM serves as a literary device to present the community’s social status in an inverted way, as if they were the “Sons of Light” already in their present time. The dualistic terms, the “Sons of Light” and the “Sons of Darkness,” need to be understood against the community’s social-economic-political background. The strategy of inversion by means of the final war must have reflected the community’s dissatisfaction with the current order.


IV.              What is the Center to be Decentered in 1QM?

Deconstruction is not to deconstruct the structure itself, but to deconstruct the structure which fixes a certain thing central and essential, and as a result, marginalizes and non-essentializes everything else. This tendency leads us to perceive the structure in a binary system. This significant Derridean concept is derived from his critical reflection on the Western philosophical tradition, according to which divides the thing into two terms, for example, writing versus speech, body versus mind, and so forth. Derrida shows that the center cannot become center without the margin. Without the margin, the center remains the absence, not reaches its totality, wholeness, perfection, and presence.

1QM begins with the prelude to the war between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness. The Sons of Light are specified as the Sons of Levi, Judah, and Benjamin, and the exiles in the wilderness. The Sons of Darkness are identified with the Kittim; their head is Belial. Even with this seemingly apparent binary participants and the standard of such division, the next columns following col. 1 draw our attention. Cols. 2-9 constitute the military matters such as concrete battle arrangements, weaponry, and military organization. We have no other literary example to match this much concrete and practical military literature like 1QM in ancient Jewish literature.

The authorial community behind 1QM perceives the popular notion that military power makes a nation superpower. The Habakkuk Pesher makes sarcastic remarks how military power subjugates many territories and boundaries. With a slightly different angle, the Book of Maccabees reports that because of its military power, Rome becomes the master of the world (1Macc 8). This contextual notion that power is derived from, and inevitably related to military power, lies before the Qumran community. Military power is the center of the imperial ideology of power. Military power illuminates the center with radiant, bright light. This notion is what both Jerusalem and Rome had confided in. This is the time to deconstruct the center, militarism.



V.                 What is the Deconstructive Reversal?

Derrida attempts to disclose that speech favored as the central, natural, and essential is nothing but another form of writing at origin, and that writing perceived as perverted, secondary, and derivative can be central, not marginal. This is the deconstructive reversal to invert the hierarchy taken long for granted. Yet, Derrida defines his position by saying that this deconstructive reversal is a temporal process, not the end of the work of deconstruction. The end is just to disclose the possibility that the prejudiced center/margin division cannot be accepted as truth.

As said above, the dualistic language, light and darkness, can be viewed as signifiers for social status, not only for religious/theological/ethical value of virtue and vice. 1QM perceives its contemporary’s popular notion that the social status is defined by the social-economic-political power in an individual dimension. An individual’s social status is a miniature of the further extension of the political status of a nation. A nation’s status is defined by its military power. Against this logic of power, 1QM dares to flip over the very standard of the logic of power. 

The Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness are symmetric with respect to their respective covenantal relationship with God. The imperial center remains the absence of the colonial margin. Military power remains empty threat without the conquered territory and peoples. Imperial, military power is no longer the absolute center. If the standard of the center per se is not accepted, then the center is no longer able to stand as the center. The military center is flipped over by the different standard, set by the margin. That is, the covenant. The Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness stand symmetric with respect to the covenant.

VI.              What is “Under Erasure”?

Derrida clarifies that a strategy of inversion or reversal does not aim at simply reversing the position, but at displacing and further deconstructing the present system of hierarchical power. The present system of power and the present logic of power are “under erasure.” Derrida borrows this term from Heidegger. Here I simply quote Spivak, the English translator of Derrida’s book, Of Grammatology: “This is to write a word, cross it out, and then print both word and deletion” (Of Grammatology, xiv, e.g. Being). The crossed-out word tells that the word is inaccurate, yet it is still necessary. For Heidegger, the crossed-out Being shows that the familiar notion of the seemingly absolutely stable concept of Being reflects only a part of Being, i.e., an inarticulable presence. For this unstable and the on-going presence, Derrida uses a word, “trace,” for the “mark of the absence of presence, an always already absent present, of the lack at the origin” (Of Grammatology, xvii).

1QM perceives that military power is under erasure. Military power is inaccurate, but stands necessary to signify our familiar yet not proper notion of power. Military power is the trace for the mark of the absence of power. Even if 1QM borrows the military strategy, weaponry, and formations, the authorial community perceives that military power is paradoxically under erasure during the final war. The old prophetic teaching is repeated here. Foreign military power is a mere divine instrument to punish and then to restore the people of God.


VII.            What is “Dangerous Supplement”?[3]

Then, how can we understand the fact that 1QM employs the military tactics, even though it would be a temporal adoption? This strategy of adoption and adaptation can be understood as a strategy of “dangerous supplement.”

This term, “supplement,” originally comes from Jean Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau recognizes that even though writing is merely an artificial supplement to speech, which is natural, it is dangerous. The danger, Rousseau confesses in his Confession, is the temptation for embellishment and refinement the writing so as to make his writing come much closer to his speech. From this Rousseu’s perception, Derrida finds a double meaning of suppléer in French. That is, to add on to,” on the one hand, and “to substitute for, on the other hand.

If focusing on the practical contents of 1QM, the author seems to have simply mimicked foreign military tactics and organization, and have then supplemented them with slight modification in accordance with biblical regulations. The outlook of the military features of 1QM seems nothing but a simple addition to much greater schemes of foreign military power. The development of a military writing such as 1QM, particularly by the marginal community, seems to have been a trivial supplement to the imperial practice of military power in its contemporary society. Yet, it is a dangerous supplement, given that it aims at complementing, by way of adding on to something that seems already complete, and finally substituting for it. 1QM adds only to replace the imperial logic of power, which is founded upon militarism, as writing ends up replacing speech and remains perpetually instead of speech.


VIII.         What is “Différance” in the Dualistic Language?

One of the most important Derridean concepts is différance. This concept originally comes from Saussure. According to Saussure, language is a system of differences, recalling that words produce meanings based on their relation to other words. Put it simply, tree becomes tree, because tree is not a horse, and tree is different from horse. Based on this perception, Saussure claims that language is a system of differences without positive terms (e.g. X is not Y).[4]  Thus, according to Saussure, no word has its intrinsic meaning in and of itself. The meaning is made possible “by what exists outside it.”[5]

Derrida develops and articulates the Saussurean concept of differential system of language into the next level of linguistics. The newly-coined word, “différance,” is Derrida’s development of the Saussurean linguistics. That is, the meaning of a word, which lies in the system of difference, is deferred until it is differentiated from something else. In so doing, Derrida joins the temporal deferral and the spatial difference into one phenomenon, so that Derrida shakes the Western philosophical-theological foundation, according to which the Being is set in a certain point of space and its meaning is unchangeable, regardless of time.

The dualistic terms, the “Sons of Light” and the “Sons of Darkness,” can better be understood from the concept of différance. The meaning of the “Sons of Light” is only made by the presence of the “Sons of Darkness.” This tells that the two stand in a differential relationship. Yet, the presence/meaning of the “Sons of Light” is deferred until the end of the war. The wartime is the eschatologically appointed time in 1QM.  The wartime is considered as the “crucible”(@rcm) period in 1QM (e.g. 17.1, 9). The Qumran community is aware of the deferred temporal gap between the present and the future. The “crucible” period lies in between the present and the future. The real presence/meaning of the “Sons of Light” is deferred up to the end of the war. During the time of the “crucible,” the power/presence/meaning of Belial and his lot are under erasure; their trace remains for long. Yet the future in the wake of the war is the “absolute future” to come.[6]

      The responsibility for the Qumran community to take is to take hold onto to the covenantal relationship with God of Israel.  Here the Qumran community goes back to the old prophetic precept; military power is temporal, and foreign military power is another symbol to signify the divine love for Israel.


IX.              Summary

In this present study, I have challenged the predominant scholarly orientation in the study of Qumranic dualism. I have here made an effort to lift up the socio-political dimension behind the dualistic language in 1QM. The dualistic language in 1QM casts doubt why military power is the center of the logic of power discourse. The seemingly marginal power of the people of God can be central, essential, and superior with a deconstructive lens. Foreign military power is nothing but the absence of the power without the marginalized people and their presence. Yet, the deconstructive reading is effective to make the main purport of 1QM clear. That is, the meaning/presence of the Sons of Light is not only being differentiated from that of the Sons of Darkness, but also their presence/meaning is being deferred until the end of the final war. During the deferred temporal gap, the covenantal faith serves as the central holder of the Sons of Light.








[1] This phrase is originally from J. Derrida, Positions, trans. A. Bass (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 41-42.

[2] John J. Collins, “The Mythology of Holy War,” 596-612; Philip R. Davies, “Dualism and Eschatology in the Qumran War Scroll,” VT 28 (1978): 28-36; J. J. Collins, “Short Notes: Dualism and Eschatology in 1QM: A Reply to P. R. Davies,” VT 29 (1979): 212-15; P. R. Davies, “Dualism and Eschatology in 1QM: A Rejoinder,” VT 30 (1980): 93-6.

[3] J. Derrida, Of Grammatology (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), 141-64.

[4] F. de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics (La Salle, IL: Open Court Classics, 1972), 118.

[5] Saussure, Course, 114.

[6] Derrida, Specters of Marx: the Sate of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International, trans. P. Kamuf (NY: Routledge, 1994), 90.