CD 12:15-17 and the Stone Vessels Found at Qumran*

Hanan Eshel

Bar Ilan University

The first man-made tools and vessels were of stone. These were later replaced by pottery and metal vessels and, from that time on, the use of stone vessels was limited to grinding and crushing, a practice which continues to the present. In the late Second Temple period, from the first century BCE to the second century CE, we find a stone vessel industry in the Jerusalem region whose products were used for storage and measurement.1 These stone vessels were made for observant Jews who observed the laws of purity strictly, since according to rabbinic halakha, stone vessels always stay pure.2

Stone vessels used for storage and measurement were found at Qumran and related sites: about two hundred pieces at Qumran; Seventy fragments at Ein Feshka; and a few pieces at Ein el-Guwehr.3 I found this archeological evidence puzzling. If, as some scholars claim, the sect held that stone vessels, like other vessels, are susceptible to impurity, how can we explain the presence of so many stone vessels at Qumran? This led me to re-examine two related sectarian halakhot.

11QTemple 49:11-16

The first halakha is found in the Temple Scroll. From it we learn that, according to the sectarian halakhic system, millstones (Myyxr) and mortars (hkwdm) can become impure:

lwkm tybh t) wdbky tmh t) wnmm w)ycwy r#) Mwybw
wdwrgy wytwtldw wytwrqw w(qrq
,Mym txlw Nyyw Nm# tlw)gt
.Mymb wsbky wypwq#mw wyps)w wytwzwzmw wylw(nmw
wylk lwk t)w tybh t) wrh+y wnmm tmh )cy r#) Mwyb
hmhl #y r#) Mylk lwkw ,t#wxnw lzrb C( ylk lwkw
wsbkty twrw(w Myq#w Mydgbw hrh+

And on the day on which they will take the dead body out of it, they shall sweep the house of any defiling smirch of oil and wine and moisture of water; they shall scrape its floor and its walls and its doors, and they shall wash with water its locks and its doorposts and its thresholds and its lintels. On the day on which the dead body will leave it, they shall purify the house and all its vessels, (including) mills and mortars, and all vessels made of wood, iron and bronze, and all vessels that may be purified. And (all) clothing and sacks and skins shall be washed (Col. 49:11-16).

The use of the phrase Mym txlw Nyyw Nm# tlw)gt - "defiling smirch of oil and wine and moisture of water" - evinces a resemblance between the halakha of the Temple Scroll and rabbinic halakha, according to which liquids make objects susceptible to impurity. Both systems are based on Lev. 11:34,38 which states that food becomes impure only after it touches liquid. Therefore if harvested crops which are no longer connected to the soil touch liquids, they are susceptible to impurity. These halakhot are discussed in m. Makshirin.

Yadin noted that the author of the Temple Scroll based himself here on Numbers 19, which he edited and expanded according to other laws in the book of Numbers.4 Concerning the uncleanness of vessels Num. 19:14-15 states:

lkw lh)h l) )bh lk lh)b twmy yk Md) hrwth t)z
dymc Ny) r#) xwtp ylk lkw
.Mymy t(b# )m+y lh)b r#)
)wh )m+ wyl( lytp

This is the procedure: When a person dies in a tent, whoever enters the tent and whoever is in the tent shall be unclean seven days; and every open vessel, with no lid fastened down, shall be unclean.

The law from the Temple Scroll mentioned above fails to distinguish between open vessels and those which are closed with a lid. This distinction is made in 4Q274 frg. 3 col. ii:

rtwy rwh+l [)m+y] Mtwx wl #y r#) lwkw

and any (vessel) which has a seal...[shall be unclean] for a more pure person.5

The author of the Temple Scroll integrated the description of the booty which fell into the hands of the Israelites as a result of the war with the Midianites (Num. 31:19-23) into the law of impure vessels which are in a dead person's house.

The description of the instructions to the Israelites follows:

llxb (gwn lkw #pn grh lk .Mymy t(b# hnxml Cwxm wnx Mt)w
dgb lkw
.Mkyb#w Mt) y(b#h Mwybw y#yl#h Mwyb ,w)+xtt
.w)+xtt C( ylk lkw Myz( h#(m lkw rw( ylk lkw
tqx t)z ,hmxlml My)bh )bch y#n) l) Nhkh rz(l)
t) Pskh t)w bhzh t) K)
:h#m t) 'h hwyc r#) hrwth
r#) rbd lk
,trp(h t)w lydbh t) lzrbh t) t#wxnh
r#) lkw
,)+xty hdyn ymb K) ,rh+w #)b wryb(t #)b )by
6 ...Mymb wryb(t #)b )by )l

You shall then stay outside the camp seven days; everyone among you or among your captives who has slain a person or touched a corpse shall cleanse himself on the third and seventh days. You shall also cleanse every cloth, every article of skin, everything made of goats' hair, and every object of wood. Eleazar the priest said to the troops who had taken part in the fighting, "This is the ritual law that the Lord has enjoined upon Moses: Gold and silver, copper, iron, tin, and lead - any article that can withstand fire - these you shall pass through fire and they shall be clean, except that they must be cleansed with water of lustration; and anything that cannot withstand fire you must pass through water..." (Num. 31:19-23).

In the Temple Scroll three types of liquids - oil, wine, and water - are mentioned as susceptible to defilement. Nevertheless, the phrase Nm# tlw)gt lwkm seems to imply that oil is more susceptible to defilement than wine and water. Accordingly, we may be more precise in our reading of the Temple Scroll: while the author of this halakha made global mention of "wood, iron, and copper vessels" (t#wcnw lzrb C( ylk), he did not include stone vessels among the other ones. Therefore it seems that the composition of the Temple Scroll antedated the development of Jewish stone vessel industry.

CD 12:15-17

The second law that concerns stone vessels is found in the Damascus Document:

ylw)gl Md)h t)m+b wl)wgy r#) rp(hw Mynb)h Myc(h lkw
Mb (g[w]nh )m+y Mt)m= ypk Mhb

And all the wood, stones, and dust which are defiled by human impurity while having oil stains on them, according to their impurity shall he who t[o]uches them become impure (12:15-17).

The readings of the early editions of this text were corrected in an important article J. Baumgarten devoted to this halakha.7 Based on his article, the readings Nm# (oil) rather then wm# (his name), as well as Mhb instead of Mhk were accepted. In the same article Baumgarten singled out the term Nm# ylw)g (while having oil stains on them), as the crucial phrase in this halakha. According to his interpretation, it should be emphasized that the presence of oil stains on wood, stone, and dust serves to transmit impurity.8 Louis Ginzberg has suggested that the halakha under consideration suffered from homoioteleuton, and originally read: rp(hw Mynb)hw <ylk> lkw "And all the wood, stones, and dust vessel," alternately, a yod was dropped, and the text should read <y>lkw ''And vessels of wood, stones, and dust."9

I find this proposal acceptable for three reasons; the first is technical:

1. This halakha is followed by another law which reads: ... rmsm, ylk lkw - "and any vessel, nail..." Therefore we may argue that the beginning of our halakha was formulated in the same manner.

2. In rabbinic halakha stone vessels and dust vessels are mentioned together as not being susceptible to impurity.10

3. Without the suggested reconstruction, according to the Damascus Document dust is susceptible to the corpse impurity. If so, then all the dust of the world is impure because of graves.

Therefore, in light of Ginzberg's rendering I explain this halakha as dealing with wood, stone, and dust vessels.11 Thus, it seems probable that the sectarian halakha was formulated in opposition to rabbinic halakha which held that stone vessels or unfired clay vessels remain pure.12 The author of the Damascus Document started with wood, most probably because Lev. 11:32 explicitly states that wooden vessels are susceptible to uncleanness: "And anything on which one of them falls when dead shall be unclean: be it any article of wood, or a cloth, or a skin, or a sack...."

As opposed to rabbinic halakha, the author of the Damascus Document believed that stone and unfired clay vessels can become impure after being exposed to oil. They are similar, in this respect, to wooden vessels, which according to Leviticus are susceptible to uncleanness.13 Therefore it seems that according to the halakhic system represented in the Damascus Document, oil makes stone vessels susceptible to uncleanness. This halakha might be based on the fact that, according to Genesis, Jacob twice poured oil on stones in order to make them holy:

wyt#)rm M# r#) Nb)h t) xqyw rqbb bq(y Mk#yw
h#)r l( Nm# qcyw hbcm htw) M#w

- "Early in the morning, Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on the top of it" (Gen. 28:18). And again in Gen. 35:14:

Ksyw Nb) tbcm wty) rbd r#) Mwqmb hbcm bq(y bchw
Nm# hyl( qcyw Ksn hyl(

"and Jacob set up a pillar at the site where He had spoken to him, a pillar of stone, and he offered a libation on it and poured oil upon it." We may assume that the Qumranites believed that oil had some effect on stone; perhaps that oil primed it to become a matsevah.

Support for this assumption comes from a halakha in 1QM, which reads14:

w)wby )wlw qwxrm My(yrm My[nhw]kh wyhy Myllxh lwpnbw
My#wq )yk Mt)m+ Mdb l)gthl Myllxh Kwt l)
lbh ywg Mdb Mtnwhk txy#m Nm# wlxy )
[wl] hmh

When the slain fall down, the pri[est]s shall keep blowing from afar. They shall not come to the midst of the slain (so as) to become defiled in their unclean blood, for they are holy. They shall [no]t profane the oil of their priestly anointing through the blood of nations of vanity (9: 7-9)

while 4QMc 5:4-5 reads15:

wllxy )lw ... hzm wdm(w Myllxh Nybm w)cy Mynhwkhw
Mtnwhk Nm#

The priest shall get away from the slain...they shall not profane the oil of their priesthood (4Q493).

The formulation of these halakhot is interesting for two reasons. First, it is clear that the priests have to keep their purity by avoiding any contact with the dead, which has nothing to do with oil; second, one can become impure even without touching liquids. If this is the case, we may ask why the author of the War Scroll linked the prohibition against priestly contact with the dead to "the oil of their priesthood." It is possible that his formulation of these laws was influenced by the sectarian halakhic concept that anointing an object with oil makes it more susceptible to uncleanness than other liquids.

The phrase Nm# ylw)g found in the Damascus Document, as well as the phrase mN# tlw)gt found in the Temple Scroll, imply that oil is more susceptible to defilement than other liquids.16 The term Nm#b Myl)wgm is also mentioned in a fragmentary context (4Q513 frg. 13), together with liquids and defilement.17

It remains to see how the author of the Damascus Document understood the Temple Scroll. As Yadin noted, the phrase hkwdmw Myxr found in the Temple Scroll is borrowed from Num. 11:7-818:

w+qlw M(h w+# .xldbh Ny(k wny(w )wh dg (rzk Nmhw
w#(w rwrpb wl#bw hkdmb wkd w) Myxrb wnx+w
Nm#h d#l M(+k wm(+ hyhw twg(u wt)

Now the manna was like coriander seed, and in color it was like bdellium. The people would go about and gather it, grind it between millstones or pound it in a mortar, boil it in a pot, and make it into cakes. It tasted like rich cream [lit. "cream of oil"].

In Yadin's opinion the millstone (Myyxr) and the mortar (hkwdm) were mentioned in the Temple Scroll because they are the most common stone vessels.19

If my understanding is correct, evidently when the Temple Scroll was composed, stone vessels were used only for grinding and crushing, and therefore stone vessels as such are not mentioned in the Temple Scroll. It seems that the author of the Damascus Document was aware that the millstone and the mortar mentioned in the Temple Scroll were regularly in contact with oil. That can be adduced from rabbinic literature where we find the phrase Mytyz l# Myyxr (millstones of olives- m. Zav. 4:2), and from m. Tevul-Yom which states:

...Mlwk t) lsp Ntcqmb Mwy lwb+ (gn# Nylwc l# Nm#hw Mw#h ...

)l) lsp )l Ntcqmb Mwy lwb+ (gn# hmwrt l# Nm#hw Mw#h
.w(gm Mwqm

... bwrh rx) Myklwh hbwrm Mw#h hyh M)w

wrwzypb hcwr )wh# ynpm rwh+ hkwdmb rzwpm hyh m) lb)

... the garlic and the oil of unconsecrated food part of which a Tebul Yom touched - he has rendered the whole unfit ... the garlic and the oil of heave-offering which a Tebul Yom touched - he has rendered unfit only the place which he touched.

But if the garlic was more, they follow the greater part ... But if it was chopped up in a mortar (hkwdm), it is clean, because he [the owner] wants to scatter it (2:3).

We may therefore conclude, that millstones were used in order to crush olives, and that garlic was crushed in a mortar together with oil.20 The author of the Damascus Document assumes that the millstones (Myyxr) and mortars (hkwdm) mentioned in the Temple Scroll were both regularly in contact with oil.

According to sectarian halakha, oil is more susceptible to defilement than other liquids. This concept can be compared with Josephus' statement concerning the Essenes:"Oil they consider defiling, and anyone who accidentally comes in contact with it scours his person; for they make a point of keeping a dry skin..." (J.W. 2.123).21 This statement may also reflect the view that oil is more susceptible to defilement than other liquids.22


Based on the halakhot from the Temple Scroll and the Damascus Document discussed above, other scholars maintain that stone vessels had no special status at Qumran, and were susceptible to defilement like any other vessel.23 I have tried to show that, according to sectarian law, stone vessels were not susceptible to defilement as long as they were not in contact with oil. Namely, according to this view, liquids other than oil do not make the stone vessel susceptible to defilement. Thus it seems that the Qumranites, like other Jews of the Second Temple period who strictly observed the laws of clean and unclean vessels, used stone vessels to store all kinds of dry and liquid foodstuffs - but not oil. The difference between sectarian and rabbinic law lies in the distinction that according to the Sages stone vessels are never susceptible to defilement, while according to the Damascus Document 12:15-17 they are susceptible to defilement after coming in contact with oil.


*Thanks are due to Professor M. Kister for his useful comments. [Back to text]

1. For the archeological data regarding stone vessels used for measurement and storage in the late Second Temple period, see I. Magen, The Stone Vessel Industry in Jerusalem during the Second Temple Period (Jerusalem: Society for the Preservation of Nature, 1988) (in Hebrew); J. M. Cahill, "The Chalk Assemblages of the Persian/Hellenistic and Early Roman Periods," Excavations at the City of David, 1978-1985 (ed. A. De-Groot and D. T. Ariel; Qedem 33; Jerusalem: Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1992) 3.190-274; R. Deines, Jüdische Steingefäße und pharisäische Frömmigkeit (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1993).[Back to text]

2. M. Kel. 10:1; m. Oh. 5:5, 6:1; m. Par. 5:5; m. Miq. 4:1; m. Yad. 1:2. [Back to text]

3. R. Donceel and P. Donceel-Voute, "The Archeology of Khirbet Qumran," Methods of Investigation of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Khirbet Qumran Site: Present Realities and Future Prospects (ed. M. O. Wise et al.; New York: New York Academy of Sciences, 1994); P. Bar-Adon, "Another Settlement of the Judean Desert Sect at ‘En el-Ghuweir on the Shores of the Dead Sea," BASOR 227 (1977) 15-18. [Back to text]

4. Y. Yadin, ed., The Temple Scroll (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, The Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and The Shrine of the Book, 1983) 2.212-16. See also M. O. Wise, A Critical Study of the Temple Scroll from Qumran Cave 11 (Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization 49; Chicago: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago) 225. [Back to text]

5. J. M. Baumgarten, "Liquids and Susceptibility to Defilement in New 4Q Texts," JQR 85 (1994) 96-100. [Back to text]

6. The author of the Temple Scroll probably identified "everything made of goats’ hair" (Num. 31:20) with the "sack" mentioned in Lev. 11:32. At Qumran, Masada, and other caves in the Judean desert, articles made of wool, cotton, and goats’ hair were discovered; the latter was usually used for sacks. See A. Sheffer and H. Granger-Taylor, "Textiles from Masada," Masada 4: The Yigael Yadin Excavations 1963-1965, Final Reports (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1994) 173. [Back to text]

7. J. M. Baumgarten, "The Essene Avoidance of Oil and the Laws of Purity," RevQ 6:22 (1967) 183-92. For an opposing view, see S. B. Hoenig, "Qumran Rules of Impurities," RevQ 6:24 (1969) 559-67. Nevertheless, the halakhot of the Temple Scroll discussed above as well as 4Q513 (to be discussed below) prove that Baumgarten was correct. The prohibition is based on purity laws and not on pagan defilement as Hoenig suggests elsewhere ("Oil and Pagan Defilement," JQR 61 [1970] 63-75). [Back to text]

8. See J. M. Baumgarten and D. R. Schwartz, "Damascus Document (CD)," The Dead Sea Scrolls: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek Texts with English Translations (ed. J. H. Charlesworth; Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1995) 2.53. [Back to text]

9. L. Ginzberg, An Unknown Jewish Sect (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 1976) 81-82, 115. [Back to text]

10. In all the halakhot cited in n. 2 above, dust vessels are mentioned together with stone vessels. [Back to text]

11. Baumgarten and Yadin do not accept Ginzberg’s rendering. See Baumgarten, "Essene Avoidance of Oil," 190-91; Yadin, Temple Scroll 1.329. Baumgarten accepts S. Schechter’s view that this halakha deals with raw materials (Fragments of a Zadokite Work [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1910; reprinted, New York: Ktav, 1970] li). In Baumgarten’s opinion, this halakha testifies to a dispute between the author of CD, who believed that raw materials are susceptible to impurity, and the rabbis, who held that unfinished vessels (Nymlwg) are not susceptible to impurity. Against that one might argue that, according to m. Kel. 12:8, unfinished wooden vessels are susceptible to uncleanness. Note also that the status of unfinished metal vessels was a disputed point between R. Gamliel and the rabbis (see m. ‘Ed. 3:9, m. Kel. 12:6). As metal vessels are not mentioned in CD’s halahkha, it is difficult to argue that this is the disputed point between its author and the rabbis. Yadin does not explain on what basis he rejects Ginzberg’s restoration. [Back to text]

12. M. Oh. 5:5. [Back to text]

13. It should be noted that both wood and stone mortars are mentioned in m. Beis. 1:7. We may therefore assume that the author of the Temple Scroll wanted to show that wood and stone are the same. [Back to text]

14. Y. Yadin, ed., The Scroll of the War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness (London: Oxford University Press, 1962) 300-301. [Back to text]

15. M. Baillet, ed., Qumrân Grotte 4: III (DJD 7; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982) 50. [Back to text]

16. On the meaning of Nm# ylw)g in CD, l)gthl in 1QM, and Nm# tlw)gt, see C. Rabin, The Zadokite Documents (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958) 62-63; Baumgarten, "Essene Avoidance of Oil," 184-186; Yadin, Temple Scroll 1.329. [Back to text]

17. J. M. Baumgarten, "Halakhic Polemics in New Fragments from Qumran Cave 4," Biblical Archaeology Today: Proceedings of the International Congress on Biblical Archaeology (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society and the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1985) 390-99. [Back to text]

18. Yadin, Temple Scroll 2.216. [Back to text]

19. Ibid., 1.330. [Back to text]

20. See H. Albeck’s exegesis of this mishna (Seder Tohoroth [Jerusalem and Tel Aviv: Mossad Bialik and Dvir, 1959] 462 [in Hebrew]). [Back to text]

21. See Baumgarten, "Essene Avoidance of Oil," 183-84. [Back to text]

22. Baumgarten (ibid., 191) argues that rabbinic dicta echo the view that oil is more susceptible to defilement than other liquids. M. Toh. 3:2 states in the name of R. Meir: hlyxt Nm#h Mlw(l; namely, if oil has congealed it is still regarded as a liquid and is susceptible to first-degree defilement. [Back to text]

23. Ginzberg, Unknown Jewish Sect, 81; Yadin, Temple Scroll 1.330, 2.216; E. Regev, "The Use of Stone Vessels at the End of the Second Temple Period," Judea and Samaria Research Studies: Proceedings of the Sixth Annual Meeting-1996 (ed. Y. Eshel; Kedumim-Ariel: The Research Institute, The College of Judea and Samaria, 1997) 79-95 (in Hebrew). [Back to text]

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