The Case of the Day of Atonement Ritual

Lawrence H. Schiffman

New York University

That the Temple Scroll is fundamentally a work of biblical exegesis is not as widely recognized as it should be. Ever since its initial publication, most of those who have dealt with the scroll have treated it only as a sort of re-redaction of the parts of the Torah which discuss the subjects of the scroll - Temple, purity, sacrifices and the political order. Yet in actuality, as the detailed comments of Yigael Yadin1 and our own work2 have clearly shown, besides being the result of redactional and editorial activity, the scroll emerges from a tradition of biblical interpretation which has a clear prehistory. This is not to minimize the extent to which textual variations in the biblical substratum - the author's Vorlage - have contributed to the creation of the Temple Scroll.3 But reliance occasionally on divergent texts cannot explain the nature of this scroll. Indeed, it is certain that throughout, the author/redactor or the authors of the various sources which make up the scroll had recourse to what was already a fixed canonical Torah.4 It was this "preexistent" Torah which was being interpreted. Only a thorough analysis of the interpretive techniques of the Temple Scroll can lay bare its true character.

While such interpretations have been analyzed in many papers presented by us over the years, it is time to begin to place greater emphasis on the specific nature of the interpretations. In order to do so, we shall select the laws pertaining to the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) as a model for our discussion. Yet our purpose is to develop a model which can be applied to many Torah passages.

We need not start this project from scratch. Considerable attention has already been given to the role of the Bible in the Temple Scroll, especially by Yigael Yadin and Gershon Brin.5 Further, the work of Dwight Swanson6 has directly addressed the issue of the exegetical system of the scroll. At the outset it will be worthwhile to review his conclusions. Yet we must note that these conclusions remain primarily literary and not exegetical.

In Swanson's view, all passages dependent on the Bible are constructed on a base text, which must be Pentateuchal. Secondary texts are then woven in and serve to influence the base text, and these may also come from the Prophets. Supplementary texts are often introduced because of key words or other points of contact, and they function to bring the base text into conformity with the views of the author of the scroll (or its source). The manner in which these secondary texts are employed reveals the interpretations of the author. This process is not true harmonization,7 because the primary texts do not influence the secondary text, only the other way around. Only the base text is affected and so Swanson correctly denies that this constitutes homogenization. While he sees the non-biblical insertions as most important for understanding the view of the author, he concludes that the use of primary and secondary texts renders the Temple Scroll essentially a commentary on scripture of a type to be compared to Rabbinic midrash and the use and exegesis of the Hebrew Bible in the New Testament. He describes the "use by the Scroll of scripture to comment on scripture, so that even the commentary comes from the words of scripture, and not the exegete himself."8

While these observations are essentially correct, they do not really address the question of exegetical methods and assumptions. They rarely penetrate beyond the level of how the conclusions of the exegete are represented in the scroll, and do not go beyond what Yadin had termed "the composition and editing of the scroll."9 The same is the case with our study of the Deuteronomic Paraphrase which deals with the manner in which the scroll uses the Deuteronomic material.10 But in the study that follows, and in our larger project on the Temple Scroll, we seek to understand the interpretive process for which, so far, no consistent descriptive terminology or conceptual understanding has been developed.

As a test case, we shall take some examples from the laws pertaining to the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) in 11QT 25:10-27:10. We will not be able in the present paper to present even the majority of exegetical issues regarding this ritual, but a few examples will suffice to indicate the need to examine the exegesis of the scroll in this manner.

1. The Law of Self Affliction (11QT 25:10-12)

The very first law of this section, dealing with the command to "afflict" oneself, already provides us with an example of exegesis.

And on the tenth in this month it is a Day of Atonement and you shall afflict yourselves on it. For any person who does not afflict him (or her)self on it on this very day shall be cut off from his (or her) people.11

The text of the Festival Calendar of the Temple Scroll (11QT cols. 13-29) is for the most part based on Num. 28-29 in terms of its general structure. Yet here, the scroll begins by following Lev. 23:27. The initial adaptation of the biblical text hr#( for biblical rw#( and the omission of y(yb#h (as in LXX to Num. 29:7) are literary adaptations, designed to make the transition smooth from the previous material in the scroll.12 After omitting "you shall have a holy convocation" in Lev. 23, the passage follows the key word, the root hn(, and switches to dependence on Lev. 16:29, where the Torah has Mkyt#pn t) wn(t. Now the text of the scroll returns to Lev. 23:29, which it utilizes in its entirety.

Everything we have seen so far is a literary process in which the various texts of Lev. 23 and 16 have been melded together. Beyond the obvious fact that these texts refer to the same Day of Atonement, there is no exegesis here. It is interesting to note the omission of the prohibition of labor, but this may be either an error on the part of the author or, more likely, a result of the concern of the text here with the sacrificial elements of the holiday only.

But there is one minor variation from MT here which can be considered exegetical, the shift from the biblical hn(t (pu(al) to hn(tt (hitpa(el). The pi(el/pu(al of this root has, throughout the Bible, the general sense of "to afflict/to be afflicted." No specific information is indicated by these forms as to the nature of the affliction. By Second Temple times, as evident already in the later books of the Bible (Ezra 8:21, Dan. 10:12, cf. Ps. 107:17), the hitpa(el of this root has acquired the technical sense of fasting, that is, abstention from eating and drinking. So the author of the Festival Calendar modified the Torah's language to indicate that the correct interpretation of the command to afflict oneself on the Day of Atonement was to abstain from food and drink.

Now we are all aware of the many examples of linguistic updating in this scroll, that is, the substitution of later Hebrew forms or terms for the biblical elements now outdated. But our example, even if it does reflect the development of the Hebrew language, indicates the author's interpretation of the Torah, which he wishes to make clear to his readers.

We have argued here that the biblical forms used in connection with the commandments concerning the Day of Atonement led to ambiguity. That this is the case can be seen in the rabbinic debates over the interpretation of these same passages.13 Like our author, the Rabbis were of course well aware that fasting was a central observance on the Day of Atonement. But the Rabbis were unsure as to whether the other required afflictions abstention from anointing, bathing and sexual relations were Torah commandments or rabbinic enactments. The debate hinged on the meaning of the pi`el/pu`al of this root. Those rabbis who saw this as a general term for affliction included in it these additional prohibitions, whereas those who unknowingly agreed with the Temple Scroll saw only eating and drinking as Torah prohibitions.

Accordingly, this example has provided for us a simple form of interpretation, in which the text substitutes one word for another to indicate an interpretation. There are numerous other examples of this approach in the text.

2. The Number of Rams (11QT 25:15-16)

At the end of column 25, the scroll deals with the "sin offering" of the Day of Atonement.

And for the sin offering of atonement you shall offer two rams (each) as a burnt offering. One the high priest shall offer on his own behalf and on behalf of his father's house. . . .14

In the lacuna at the top of column 26, the text must have mentioned the second ram, that of the people.15 Both of these rams are mentioned in Lev. 16:3 and 5 although, curiously, they do not appear in the remainder of the description of the Day of Atonement ritual in Lev. 16.

Above, in lines 12-15, the author adapted Num. 29:8-11 which specifies the additional sacrifices for the Day of Atonement, that is, those offered in addition to the "sin offering of atonement." Accordingly, it is clear from our text that the author expected a total of three rams to be offered on the Day of Atonement, the one of the additional sacrifice of Numbers and the two of Lev. 16. But one could also have concluded that the ram of Num. 29 was identical to that of the people in Lev. 16.

This particular exegetical problem was debated by the Rabbis (baraita in B. Yoma 70b). Rabbi Judah the Prince, followed by the later halakhic tradition,16 understood the ram of Num. 29 to be the same as the ram of the people in Lev. 16 (v. 5). So in his view, a total of two rams was to be offered. According to Rabbi Eleazar son of Rabbi Shimon, who was actually following the same view as that of Philo17 and Josephus,18 the rams were distinct, so that a total of three rams was to be offered. It is clear that our scroll, like the other Second Temple sources, agrees that three rams were to be offered.19

Looking at this as an exegetical problem, it constitutes a simple question. Num. 29:8 lists the additional offerings of the Day of Atonement: a bull, a ram and seven lambs. In v. 11 it also mentions the sin offering of the goat required as part of every festival offering. But it says that all the above is to be offered "in addition to (dblm) the sin offering of Atonement." Since the scroll is here based on the Numbers passage, the problem was simply to define the meaning of "the sin offering of atonement." Our author defined this sacrifice to include the two rams mentioned in Lev. 16: 3 and 5.

Although the section we are discussing here involved considerable rewriting of the biblical text, it originated not in the literary harmonization of divergent sources, but in the interpretive problems posed by the divergent sources. Our author chose to follow the plain meaning of the biblical text and this conclusion was in turn reflected in his literary reworking of the material.

3. Slaughter of the Goat for the Lord (11QT 26:3-7)

After a lacuna at the top of column 26 (lines 1-3a), at the end of which E. Qimron reads (]m+y[, there appears essentially a quotation of Lev. 16:8 (11QT 26:3-4): "And the [high pr]iest [shall place lots on the two goats,] o[ne] lot [for the Lord and one lot for Azaz'el."20 In this passage the Bible's reference to Aaron has been replaced by mention of the high priest, designated here already as lwdgh Nhwkh, the term adapted from Lev. 21:10 which is usually used in rabbinic literature. What has happened in this text is that what might have been seen as a one-time command referring to the Jewish people in the desert has been understood to apply to all generations, as the Rabbis would describe it. Indeed, this is the direct instruction at the end of the passage in Lev. 16:34. Hence, Aaron has simply been taken as the high priest par excellence. We may compare the priestly ordination ceremony (11QT 15:3-17:4) where the Temple Scroll drew the same conclusion21, whereas the Rabbinic tradition saw it as a one-time ritual for the desert period.

The text then turns to the slaughter of the goat designated for the Lord (11QT 26:5-7):

[Then] they shall slaughter22 the goat [on which the lot f]ell [for the Lord, and the priest shall receive23] its blood in the golden basin which is in [his ha]nd, and d]o with [its] bl[ood as he di]d with the blood of his bull. And he shall make atonement with it on behalf of all the people of the congregation.24

Verses 9 and 15 have been combined here. Verse 9, byrqhw, has been replaced by w+j#w, based on verse 15 where +j# appears in the singular. Then the text continues through the remainder of 9a, until it comes to the words, "and he shall offer it as a sin-offering." These words are replaced by commands which are essentially an adaptation of the remainder of v. 15. For the biblical, "and he shall bring its blood within the curtain," the text of the scroll substitutes, "and the priest shall receive . . . in his hand."

This is essentially an exegesis of the biblical material. The Bible tells us that the priest has to bring the blood to where it will be sprinkled but does not explain how. Our text specifies that the priest is to collect the blood in a golden basin, and that this basin of blood is then to be brought. In this case, the scroll requires a procedure which is identical to that mentioned in the Mishnah,25 where the same expression occurs, if we are to accept Qimron's restoration of the Temple Scroll.

The remainder of the scroll passage adapts further the words of verses 15 and 16. Especially interesting is the fact that the shortening of this material led the author to omit the words of the Bible, "and he shall sprinkle it (the blood) on the (ark) cover and before the (ark) cover." This is because the author of our scroll views the meaning of the biblical root rpk in ritual context as a technical term for the sprinkling of the blood, in accord with usage later found in rabbinic literature; hence, it was enough to use this verb even without specifying the further details of the practice.

While the understanding of atonement as sprinkling the blood is essentially a lexical issue, the introduction of the golden basin and its use for gathering the blood is an interpretation which the author must have derived from somewhere else. It is most likely that the author knew this to be the unquestioned procedure in his own day, and that he interpolated this custom into his restatement of the biblical laws.


We have discussed here several examples of biblical interpretation. Without the recognition of their character as interpretation, they might have been seen merely as the result of the literary efforts of the author of the Festival Calendar source of the Temple Scroll.26 In one case, the interpretive problem was simply lexical, and the author substituted an unambiguous up-to-date word for one that was not clear. In another case, the interpretation of a legal term allowed the author to delete material which he saw as repetitive. The problem of duplicate commands in the Pentateuch was resolved by the scroll with a decision that the commands were, in fact, not overlapping. In another case, details known from ritual procedure were interpolated into the text in order to make clear how the ritual was to be followed.

Further investigation of the Day of Atonement ritual reveals other forms of interpretation as well, reaching the level of complexity of the detailed midrashic interpretations which we have studied in other parts of the scroll. There is no question that the Temple Scroll is first and foremost a work of biblical interpretation, and we must see the literary activity of the authors of the various sources and of the author/redactor of the complete scroll as aimed at interpreting God's holy scriptures for the Jews of the Second Temple period.


1 Y. Yadin, The Temple Scroll, 3 vols. (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1983).

2 See the listings in G. García Martínez, "Classified Bibliography," in E. Qimron, The Temple Scroll, A Critical Edition with Extensive Reconstructions (Beersheva-Jerusalem: Ben Gurion University of the Negev and Israel Exploration Society, 1996) 95-121 and F. García Martínez and D.W. Parry, A Bibliography of the Finds in the Desert of Judah, 1970-95 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996) 386-95.

3 See E. Tov, "The 'Temple Scroll' and Old Testament Textual Criticism," Eretz-Israel 16 (1981-82) 100-11 (Hebrew).

4 Contrast H. Stegemann, "The Origins of the Temple Scroll," VTSup 40 (1988) 235-56.

5 G. Brin, "The Bible as Reflected in the Temple Scroll," Shnaton 4 (1979-80) 182-225.

6 D.D. Swanson, The Temple Scroll and the Bible, The Methodology of 11QT (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1995) 228-32.

7 Contrast J. Milgrom, "The Scriptural Foundations and Deviations in the Laws of Purity of the Temple Scroll," Archaeology and History in the Dead Sea Scrolls, The New York University Conference in Memory of Yigael Yadin (Ed. L.H. Schiffman; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990) 89-96.

8 Swanson, Temple Scroll and the Bible, 235.

9 Yadin, Temple Scroll, 1.71.

10 L.H. Schiffman, "The Deuteronomic Paraphrase of the Temple Scroll," RevQ 15 (1992) 543-68.

11 All translations are mine. For the text, see Yadin, Temple Scroll, 2.111; Qimron, Temple Scroll, 39.

12 Note the omission by the scroll of the definite article from MT Myrpkh.

13 Sifra, Aharei Mot, chap. 7:1-5 (ed. I.H. Weiss; New York: OM Publishing, 1946) 82d-83a; b. Yoma 73b-74b; j. Yoma 8:1 (44c-d).

14 Yadin, Temple Scroll, 2.114; Qimron, Temple Scroll, 39.

15 Yadin, Temple Scroll, 2.115.

16 Maimonides, H. Yom Ha-Kippurim 1:1.

17 Special Laws 1.188.

18 Ant. 3.240.

19 Cf. Yadin, Temple Scroll, 1.132-34.

20 Yadin, Temple Scroll, 2.116; Qimron, Temple Scroll, 40.

21 Cf. L.H. Schiffman, "The Milluim Ceremony in the Temple Scroll," New Qumran Texts and Studies, Proceedings of the First Meeting of the International Organization for Qumran Studies (ed. G.J. Brooke; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1994) 255-72.

22 Reading with Qimron.

23 So Qimron, Yadin restores hl[hw.

24 Yadin, Temple Scroll, 2.116; Qimron, Temple Scroll, 40.

25 M. Yoma 5:4 (cf. 4:3) which does not, however, mention gold.

26 On this source, see M.O. Wise, A Critical Study of the Temple Scroll from Qumran Cave 11 (Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 1990) 129-33.

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