The Use of Scripture in 1Q/4QMysteries

Torleif Elgvin


1Q/4QMysteries (1Q27/4Q299/4Q300, perhaps 4Q301) demonstrate an anthological use of texts from the Bible. Parts of biblical verses are alluded to or freely integrated in the running text without quotation formulas (a technique known from Qohelet and 4QInstruction). We encounter an implicit exegesis combined with a strong spiritual self-consciousness of the writer(s) in question. Biblical expressions belong to the thesaurus of this author, but he uses them according to his own likings, at times totally disregarding the original context. In some cases it is difficult to decide whether this reuse of biblical terms is deliberate or not.

I will first analyze the use of scriptures in two passages, and then survey the use of various biblical books in other passages.


Exegesis of Isaiah 47


1Q27 1 i 2-10 is the largest preserved passage in Mysteries, represented in also in 4Q299 and 4Q300


2 [that they should discern between good and evil, falsehood and t]ruth. 2 But only mysteries of evil did they heed [..3.. all ]their wisdom. They do not know the mystery that is coming, and do not consider deeds of ages past. They do not 4 know what will befall them, and do not save themselves from the mystery that is coming.

5 And this shall be to you the sign that it is going to happen: when the (astral) constellations of unrighteousness are closed, wickedness will be disappear before justice, as darkness disappears before 6 light - just as smoke vanishes and no longer exists - so shall wickedness vanish forever. And justice will be revealed like the sun which regulates 7 the world. And all those who support ’wonderful mysteries’ will be no more. Knowledge shall fill the world, and folly shall nevermore be there. 8 The thing is certain to come, and the oracle is true … 10 What people would wish to be oppressed by a more powerful one? …  (underline: 4Q300 3 2).


Line 2 (4Q300 3 2) ”that they should discern between g[ood and evil” refers to Genesis 2–3 (2:9, 17; 3:22). According to this line, the Creator gave these people the option of true discernment. They sought only evil mysteries – similar to man’s sin in Genesis 3 they sought other solutions. As ’evil mysteries’ follow closely after the reference to knowing good and evil from Genesis 2–3, this term probably refers to the Enochic tradition of the Watchers’ bringing evil to mankind (cf. the ’eternal mysteries’ of 1 Enoch 9:6), and is probably identical with the (doubtful reading) ’wonderful mysteries’ of line 7. Tigchelaar and Lange ascribe Mysteries to the priestly temple milieu (respectively in the pre-Maccabean period and around 150 BCE). Most scholars assert a distance between this Zadokite club and the Enochic counter-club. If Lange and Tigchelaar are right, we have here a Zadokite reference to the tradition of the fall of the angels. Alternatively, the ’mysteries of evil’ are Zadokite namecalling of the theology of the Enochic circle.

Kister has demonstrated that lines 3-4 closely follow a biblical text, Isa 47:9-14, a prophetic word of judgement on ignorant Babylon with its astrologers and soothsayers. One cannot exclude that the biblical text is reapplied on Israelite opponents. Cf. Isa. 47:11, 13, 14 ”a sudden catastrophe will befall you that you did not know … They predict…what is to befall you … and they will not save themselves from the burning fire.” Further, both texts talk about a wisdom in vain (Isa 47:10).

Mysteries use Isa 43:13 as supportive text: ”Do not remember the former things and do not consider the deeds of ages past.” The message is: the peoples did not consider God’s acts in history, as admonished by Isaiah.

Raz nihyeh, the ’mystery to come,’ is used in Mysteries only here (and it is used twice), where it is a code word for God’s coming judgement, that is unknown by a group that considered itself wise. This represents a different use of raz nihyeh than 4QInstruction, where the recurring raz nihyeh is a comprehensive term for God’s plan from creation to the end of times.

Line 6 refers to the hope of biblical psalms that God will put an end to the ungodly, cf. in particular Ps 104:35. Kister remarks that the ’wicked ones’ of the biblical texts are replaced by rishah ’wickedness’ in Mysteries, 4Q215a, and the early ’Ten Pacheka’-prayer.

Line 7 refers to Isa 11:9. ’erets of the biblical text recurs as tevel in Mysteries. Line 8 uses language from Dtn 13:15/17:4 ”if this (evil) thing really has happened among you.” If this is a conscious allusion, the dtn phrase is used in a radically different sense. Another parallel, which better fits the context in Mysteries, is Gen 41:32.

The ’word/thing’ and ’oracle’ that will be implemented (line 8), either refers to this passage in Mysteries, which is seen as a spirit-filled prophecy (so Kister), or it refers to the judgement on Babylon and its soothsayers in Isaiah 47. The same ch. 13 of Deuteronomy (v. 2) usesd ’ot on a sign promised by a false prophet, other passages refer to ’ot as an event confirming true prophecy (Exod 3:12; 2 Kgs 19:29; 20:9; Jer 44:29). In Mysteries the ’sign’ is the unfolding of the eschatological events. One wonders if the author ’found’ the word ’ot in his reading of Deuteronomy 13, but nevertheless chose to use it in a more positive prophetic sense?

This text from Mysteries is a sapiential reflection on the lack of true revelation in an ungodly ’they’-group, gentile or Israelite. The Eden story provides introductory language, one Isaianic passage is central, two others provide accompaning phrases. Dtn phrases are used in a radically different sense on fulfilment of prophetic words on the coming judgement. While the author in other cases uses biblical terms freely and out of context, recasting them for his own purposes, lines 3-4 represent an exegesis of Isaiah 47 (and a type of interpretation not found elsewhere in Mysteries). The oracle which truly will be fulfilled, is therefore most likely the prophetic word against Babylon in Isaiah 47, alternatively this text as it is reused in Mysteries. For the author, this biblical oracle has not been fulfilled – but will be implemented (cf. the postponement in 1QpHab VII 1-8). The writer may wait for the judgement on the Seleucid empire, the Babylon of his days. The coming judgement is characterized as raz nihyeh, while the antagonists claim access to wisdom and raze pele’. Since the Isaianic Book of Consolation is formative for this writer, he might have expected a renewed Exodus from Babylon to Zion, cf. 4Q299 frgs. 10 and 13, which talks about Israel in contrast to and exalted over the nations. Such expectations would be feasible both in the pre-Maccebean and Hasmonean periods.


4Q299 3a-b and possible use of Qohelet?


2 What shall one call the[ righteous with ]his[   ] and his deed[s     ,] 3 when every deed of the righteous has been defi[led? And what] shall one call a ma[n           who is] 4 wise and righteous? For [understandi]ng does not belong to man, [neither hidden wisdom to a woman, except] 5 the wisdom of evil cunning and de[vices of falsehood.           6 a deed which should not be done again, except[           (underline 4Q300 5)


ma’aseh asher lo’ je’asseh, line 6) is a biblical phrase, cf. Gen 20:9 (in plur) and Isa 19:15.

In a hymnic setting, line 12 of this fragment conflates phrases from Hab 1:12, Micah 5:1 (on the messianic prince), Exod 15:3, and Isa 42:8.

If my restoration of  ’ishah ’wom]an’ in line 4 is correct (he is preserved as the last letter of this word), this large fragment contains a sapiential reflection on the nature of man and woman (not particularly feministic). The reference to the evil cunning of the woman may be inspired both by Genesis 3 and Dame Folly in Proverbs 1–9 (cf. also Sir 25:13-26:12; 42:9-14). The following lines refer to man’s obedience to the commands of his creator, and God’s preordination of the ways of men, peoples and creatures. Lines 6-9 describe two different Israelite groups: those who hold fast to the true teaching, and those who violate the commands of the Creator and will be erased from the mouths of the righteous or angels. Such characteristics better fit Israelite opponents than gentile ones (pace Tigchelaar and Kister, who see Mysteries as a rhetoric piece only against gentile astrologers).

The DJD notes to line 3 refer to Qohelet 8:14; those to line 4 to Qoh 9:1. Lines 3-4 hardly allude to words from Qohelet, phrases such as hakam  and tsadiq are common also in Proverbs.  In 4Q299 64 3 DJD erroneously reads Qohelet’s key word hevel. The correct reading is tevel wekol. Lange has suggested that 1Q27 1 ii 3 ]mah hu hayoter le[ quotes from Qohelet 6:8, 11, which are unique in their use of the same expression mah yoter le, cf. also Qoh 7:11. In this case Mysteries may allude to Qohelet, but the evidence is not conclusive. If Mysteries is dated to c.200 BCE, there would be a time-gap of only fifty years between these two books, and they may share the same linguistic milieu.


Use of the Pentateuch


We now turn to a short review of the use of specific biblical books in various fragments. First the Pentateuch. We have already reviewed the use of Genesis 2–3 in 1Q27 1 i. In Gen 6:5; 8:21, man’s yetser lev is evil. In 4Q299 8 it is a positive factor:  ”discernment, the inclination of [ou]r heart. With great intelligence He opened our ear, so that we would h[ear”.  

4Q299 60 4 wekol malke ami[m is borrowed from Gen 17:16, on Sarah as ancestor of kings of peoples.

1Q27 6 2-3, yekapper al shegagah is a phrase borrowed from Lev 5:18. mishpatim tsadiqim ’right statutes’ (Deut 4:8 ) – recur in 4Q299 55, a passage on priestly service.

For 4Q299 60 3 am] segulah mikol [heamim, cf. Exod 19:5; Deut 7:6; 14:2.


Proverbs, Daniel, and Psalms


4Q301 1 may preserve the opening of this scroll, which, according to Tigchelaar, may represent another recension of Mysteries.

Line 1, ”Listen, sons, and I will sh]are out my spirit, and portion out my words to you according to your kinds” clearly alludes to Prov 1:23, a speech by Lady Wisdom. The author introduces himself in the same way as does Lady Wisdom. Such an opening of a composition testifies to a self-conscious sapiential teacher.


Schiffman (DJD) and Lange assert that Mysteries refer to Daniel 9:22-24, and perhaps to the vision of Nebukadnezzar in Daniel ch. 2 as  well. Lange therefore dates Mysteries to ca 150.

4Q300 1b 2 ”]your folly, for sealed from you is the [s]eal of the vision, and you have not gazed the eternal mysteries, and you have not come to understand knowledge,” may refer to Dan 9:24/9:22.

Cf. Dan 9:24 ”seventy weeks are decreed … to seal up vision and prophecy (welachtom chazon wenabi’) and to anoint the most holy”; Dan 9:22 ”I have now come to give you, Daniel, insight and understanding” (lehaskilka binah)

One cannot exclude that Mysteries play with Daniel 2 and 9, and borrowed the expression ’seal a vision’ from Daniel. Alternatively, the line of dependence could be the other way around, from Mysteries to Daniel. But the similarities are not close enough to talk about a clear-cut quotation or allusion. Mysteries discuss magicians who do not have access to true divine wisdom. Different from Daniel 2 and 9 there is no eschatological scenario described in the preserved text of this passage. Further, different from Mysteries, in Dan 9:20-27 there is no antagonistic group who lack understanding


Hymnic passages


Similar to 4QBarkiNafshi, biblical hymnic material is used to create new hymnic texts. But also terms from non-hymnic parts of the Scriptures are freely reused into an hymnic context, as in the text below.


4Q299 5 

1 the lighten]ing stars for the re[membrance of [His] name[ 

2 migh]thy mysteries of light and the ways of dark[ness

3 from the a]byss, the seasons of warmth and the period[s of ingathering

4 the coming in of day] and the going out of night[

5 ]and the Zodiac sign[

In line 3, restore me’a]badon. The third preserved letter is waw, not yod (DJD).


As noted by Schiffman in DJD,  line 1 leziqaron shemo conflates words from Mal 3:16 in a hymnic description of the heavenly lights and the changes of days and seasons. Line 2 uses darke choshek, an ethical term from Prov 2:13, in the description of the turning of day and night (we note that this dualistic author did not use darke choshek for the forces of evil, which would have been closer to the use in Proverbs 2). The order of the heavenly lights with the days and seasons (cf. Gen 1:14-18; 8:22) is praised as a remembrance of the Creator, similar to Ps 19:1-7 and later sectarian psalms.

1Q27 9- 10 3 shim’u malke amim  may allude to Ps 2, cf. Ps 110:5-6. For 4Q299 9 3 me]lek nikbad wehadar malkuto male’[ ’arets, cf. Ps 145:12; Isa 6:3. All three texts refer to God’s kingship and his glory, as do the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice.

In 4Q301 5 4 ’o]r gadol wenikba[d hua’, the phrase ’or gadol (Isa 9:1, from the messianic passage 9:1-6) is connected to God’s heavenly temple. This represents a dramatic and conscious reuse of the biblical phrase. The vision of God’s bright glory in the temple in Isaiah 6 may explain this reuse of Isaiah 9. We note that Mysteries twice reuse terms from texts deling with the messianic prince (Micah 5:1, Isa 9:1) in hymnic praise of God.

Ps 99:3 gadol wenora’ qadosh hu’ provides background for 4Q301 3, where all three epitets recur in lines 4-6: wenehada[r ]h[u’ah berov qo]dsho … wenora’ huah … wegado]l hua’h


Some concluding comments


In Mysteries we do not encounter a kabbalistic-like view of the hidden meanings of the biblical word, neither a pesher-like attitude (what the scriptures really talk about). In many passages we encounter a self-conscious writer (or writers) who deliberately plays with biblical phrases, reusing them in new contexts. A number of pentateuchal phrases are conflated into the text. Among the prophets Isaiah is the main source, but also Micha and Malachi are played upon. The author(s) further digs his wells both in Davidic and Solomonic soil; both Psalms and Proverbs are consciously used. Clear references to Qohelet or Sirach cannot be shown, but dependence on Qohelet is possible. Similar to the writings of the Yahad, Prophets and Psalms are not inferior to the Torah. The only text which is used as some sort of ’inspired text’, is a chapter from Isaiah. Allusions to a book does not necessarily mean that it seen as authoritative. But the same technique is used with texts from the Torah and the prophets as with texts from Psalms and Proverbs. So at least these two among the Ketubim are seen as authoritative works at this time, perhaps around 200BCE. The same passage that uses Isaiah knows the Enochic tradition of the fall of the angels, either accepting it or polemizing against Enochic circles.

Mysteries is a composite work, much more so than Qohelet or 4QInstruction: we find wisdom instructions and wisdom sayings, riddles, rhetorical dialogues, eschatological outlooks, hymnic and hekhalot-like passages, references to priestly service, reflections on creation and the ways of men. It is hard to imagine a unity of argument in the book as a whole. It is rather an edited collection of originally independent material. This fits well with Tigchelaar’s assertion that 4Q301 probably reflects another recension of the same book.

The polemic against hartumim suggest a contrast between gentile magicians and true Israelite sages. Kister suggests that Moses and Aaron are the fictious sages opposing Egyptian magicians, and sees both Mysteries and its ‘cousin’ 4QInstruction as sectarian compositions. In my view, it stands more to reason that the hartumim are used as types for Israelite opponents. Tigchelaar and I see the references to (tumult of ) gentile nations, oppressors, and to the people of Israel in opposition to the gentiles, as reflecting the pre-Maccabean period and Seleucid-Ptolemaic wars.

 Differences both in theology and terminology suggest that Mysteries is either earlier than 4QInstruction or independent of it: in Mysteries we encounter a different use of raz and raz nihyeh, more nationalistic tendencies, and no elect group within Israel. On the other hand there are a number of thematical and terminological parallels between these two writings. Similarities and differences are most easily explained if 4QInstruction is dependent either upon Mysteries or some of its sources.

The hekhalot-style praises included in Mysteries (especially in 4Q301) may point to the pre-Maccabean temple as the likely milieu of origin of this tradition together with the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice and hymns such as 11QPsaCreat. A location of Mysteries in the pre-Maccabean temple might explain how liturgical traditions with terminological and thematic parallels find their way both into the Yahad, synagogue liturgy and hekhalot meditation.




T. Elgvin, ” “Priestly Sages? The Milieus of Origin of 4QMysteries and 4QInstruction,” Sapiential Perspectives: Wisdom Literature in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls (STDJ 51; J.J. Collins, G.E. Sterling, R.A. Clements, eds.), Leiden 2004, 67-87.

––, “Qumran and the Roots of the Rosh Hashanah liturgy,” Liturgical Perspectives: Prayer and Poetry in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls (STDJ 48; E.G. Chazon, ed.), Leiden 2003, 49-67.

M. Kister, “Wisdom Literature and its Relation to Other Genres: From Ben Sira to Mysteries,” Sapiential Perspectives: Wisdom Literature in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls (STDJ 51; J.J. Collins, G.E. Sterling, R.A. Clements, eds.), Leiden 2004, 13-47.

A. Lange, “In Diskussion mit dem Tempel. Zur Auseinandersetzung zwischen Kohelet und Weisheitlichen Kreisen am Jerusalemer Tempel,” Qohelet in the Context of Wisdom (BETL 136), A. Schoors, ed.; Leuven 1998, 113-59.

E.J.C. Tigchelaar, “Your Wisdom and Your Folly: The Case of 1-4QMysteries,” Wisdom and Apocalypticism in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Biblical Tradition (BETL 168, F. García Martínez, ed.), Leuven 2003, 69-88.


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