The Judaism of the Damascus Sect
Philip R. Davies (University of Sheffield)

Recent research in many quarters has identified various 'Judaisms' rather than a single "Judaism' at the end of the Second Temple period, and it is obviously tempting to suggest a "Judaism of Qumran'. However, it remains far from clear that the Qumran corpus offers a systematic account of a single 'Judaism'.

The paper tackles two questions simultaneously. 1. Is it possible to isolate the literature of the 'Damascus' community and indeed to distinguish that community from, e.g. the *'edah* of 1QSa and the *yahad* of 1QS? 2. Can a ;Judaism' of the Qumran D texts be articulated? I propose that by trying to articulate both the Juydaism of D and of S (the latter will not be developed in the paper) the distinctiveness of D's Judaism can be illustrated; this in turn strengthens the argument that D and S texts reflects different communities (though the possibility that they reflect identical communities at different times is not necessarily excluded). Recent research in many quarters has identified various 'Judaisms' rather than a single "Judaism' at the end of the Second Temple period, and it is obviously tempting to suggest a "Judaism of Qumran'. However, it remains far from clear that the Qumran corpus offers a systematic account of a single 'Judaism'.

The Damascus texts, however, comprise a coherent corpus of texts describing a single kind of Jewish organization, and offer significant clues as to its practices and the ideology that informs them. In defining the "Damascus' organization as a Jewish sect, I propose to explore it in terms of the categories of 'Israel' 'Torah and 'Temple', since I suggest these are central to any clarification of a 'Judaism' in the Second Temple period.

I am concerned here not with actual halakhic practices nor with putting a name to this 'Damascus' sect, nor indeed with reconstructing its history. I am trying only to test how far the D materials can be used to explicate a systematic Judaism. If the attempt fails, then a fortiori it will fail for Qumran texts as whole; if it succeeds, it can possibly be used as a basis for exploring other Q texts whether explicitly linked to organizational structures (such as the Yahad) and also to texts such as 1QSa and the M materials, where connections to a specific sectarian organization are more complicated or are disputed.

The definition of "Judaism" in D proceeds under three headings: Israel, Torah and Temple. The D community regards itself as the true Israel, maintaining boundaries especially with the 'historical' Israel; it alone possessed the true interpretation of Torah; and it believes that it alone can use the Temple without defiling it.

This Judaism can be compared, in fact, not only with other Q Judaisms, but with the Judaisms of the rabbis and of some early 'Christianities' and in this way the Damascus Document can make an important contribution to our understanding of the dynamics and the fundamental categories of 'Judaism' in the late Second Temple period.


Despite occasional attempts at defining the Judaism of Qumran, it is now generally recognized that the current uncertainty about the origin and relationship to each other of the Qumran scrolls makes it impossible to or unwise to collate them all into a single coherent statement. Nevertheless, it remains both possible and useful to embark on defining the Judaism(s) of certain manuscripts or groups of manuscripts, both as a way of clarifying the relationship of these texts to each other and to non-Qumran literature, but also as a means towards a deeper understanding of the essence of late Second Temple Judaism generically.

The publication of the Cave 4 fragments of the Damascus Document1 have largely confirmed the textual reliability of the Cairo manuscripts. It may be impossible to reconstruct an 'original' form of the work (indeed, it may be rash to assume that such a work ever existed in definitive form; the same question also pertains to the serekh ha-yahad ad the serekh ha-milhmah), but there is sufficient justification, I think, for accepting that CD represents the fullest extant edition of such a work, and the material it encompasses is extensive and varied enough to furnish the basis for an analysis of its Judaism. Obviously, any conclusions must be coherent with the material in the Qumran fragments.

The Cave 4 fragments confirm that the two parts of the Cairo work (though only attested together in ms. A) they do belong together. The Admonition includes a number of statements about the origin of the group or groups to which it testifies, while the Laws contain collections of rulings governing the conduct of the sect's 'cities' and 'camps'. It is also clear that the two belong together, for without the Laws the Admonition makes little sense, for its theme is true possession of the law; while the Laws do not offer any explicit rationale; for the hermeneutic and the presuppositions underlying them are made clear only in the Admonition. We can, indeed, understand the 'what' of D's halakhah with the aid of the laws alone, but to understand the 'why' it is necessary to address what I regard as the equally important material that precedes them.

The Judaism of the 'Damascus community'

Because of time, I shall analyse the Judaism of D under three basic headings: Israel, Torah and Temple. To these I hope to add in future 'God' and 'land'; for the present, my analysis is therefore incomplete.


The D group calls itself 'Israel,' but specifically in the sense of the true remnant of Israel, an Israel historically speaking within an Israel (1:4-5; 3:13; 4:4-5 etc.). This is one reason why I regard it as a sect; the other is that this Israel segregated itself spatially and socially from other Judaisms.2 D speaks of the historical 'Israel' that has gone astray in the past and continues to be in error (1:4; 3:14; 4:16; 5:21; 6:1 etc.). The review of that Israel's history (2:16-18) shows it to have come to grief through disobedience, as a result of which it was punished at the time of the exile under Nebuchadnezzar (1:6). The new Israel, described as a faithful remnant of the earlier, disobedient Israel, was reconstituted by a new covenant, a new law, and a new lawgiver (3:12-16; 6:2-1 1). The origins of the 'new Covenant' community therefore parallel other accounts that speak of a new start after the Babylonian exile and effectively write off the earlier period as disastrous (e.g. Daniel, Enoch) but also parallel the stories of Ezra and Nehemiah, the canonized narrative of rabbinic Judaism. The claim that D's Israel is the true successor of the scriptural Israel is underlined by extensive quotations and allusions to the books of Moses and the prophets, to an extent that one may at places describe CD's text as a tissue or mosaic. Certainly in parts its character can be described as homiletic midrash.

Accordingly, CD thus regulates its Israel's dealings not only with non-Jews, but also with the historical Israel of which it is the true remnant, that is still in serious error and bound for imminent divine destruction. This other, historical Israel is to be strenuously avoided (although converts are welcome and even perhaps canvassed), because the fate of the 'former ones,' the pre-exilic Israel, is to be repeated at the end of the present age of wrath. This period, which began with the destruction and exile under Nebuchadnezzar, continues to the present, and during this time historical Israel has been led astray by Belial and by its own leaders, while the true Israel has been preserved. Members of the historical Israel can thus be designated 'children of perdition' (beney hashahat, 13:14).

The relationship between historical Israel and the Israel of the 'Damascus Covenant' is also expressed in dualistic and predestinarian terms. In one passage (2:2-13) God is said to have chosen some and rejected others 'from eternity' and to foreknow their existence; in each generation a chosen remnant has been left. However, the role of Belial is confined to leading astray the historical Israel (4:12-13) and trying to lure away members of the New Covenant (12:2, where 'spirits of Belial' are mentioned). Nowhere is there an angelic counterpart to Belial: he is opposed only to God. There is thus no cosmic or psychological dualism, such as we find in parts of 1QS or 1QM, merely a dualism consisting of those elected and those rejected, with Belial active among both.3 The dualism of true and false Israel is also sometimes invoked, in terms of obedience ad disobedience to the divine will.

CD's Israel is divided into 'Israel' and 'Aaron' (1:7; 6:2; 19:10-11), and further (14:3-4) into priests, levites, Israelites and gerim . While gerim could of course indicate non-Jews, it seems more likely that the term has already acquired its later sense of 'proselyte'. Just as in Ezekiel4 a non-Israelite resident is to be reckoned among the tribes, so from the perspective of the Israel of CD, other Jews may be admitted to join it, perhaps first of all in this lowly state of gerim. Thus, the status of members of the historical Israel corresponds, in the eyes of CD, to that of non-Jews who may be adopted into the households of Israel. A very interesting phenomenon is that the slaves of the 'Damascus' sect have to belong to the 'covenant of Abraham', which suggests that while they are not members of the 'Damascus covenant' they must at least be members of historical Israel.

CD's Israel is organized according to the book of Numbers, dwelling in 'camps' and ordered into thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens (13:1-2). This structure may imply a recapitulation of the origins of historical Israel, with the wilderness period coming between the reception of the covenant and the entry into the promised land. The wilderness Israel also had the holy ark and tent in its midst; there was no Temple. That the D sect thought itself to be geographically as well as typologically living 'in the wilderness' is very probable; thus it believes itself to be the real Israel and models itself accordingly.


The Israel of CD is constituted by scrupulous obedience to the torah as revealed to it in its own covenant. This new torah is created by exegetical development of the scriptural torah rather than by a new text, though the new torah may be expressed in texts such as CD itself, or even in Jubilees (mentioned in 16:3-4). Thus the collections of laws in CD, which govern communal life, are in nearly every case clearly derived directly or by exegesis from the laws of Moses. They cover matters of holiness, discipline, sabbath observance and commerce. The members of the 'new covenant' swear to 'return to the torah of Moses,' the details of which must be learnt by every member before begin examined by the mebaqqer (15:10-11).

The laws governing the life of this group, then, are regarded as Mosaic torah, and a distinction is made between the written scriptural text which the New Covenanters share with historical Israel and its fuller explication in the laws of the group, which are called perush (6:14). The scriptural torah is also called nigleh ('revealed') while the torah of the D sect is nistar ('hidden').5 There are of course similarities here with rabbinic Judaism's written and oral torahs, especially in the presentation of the results of exegesis as if revealed law. But there are also interesting differences. CD legislates for a real but sectarian community, while the Mishnah for an idealized 'all Israel'; in CD the torah is not discussed by learned authorities (rabbis) and no opinions are cited; the distinction between 'written' and 'oral' is absent. Finally, the law is not regarded as 'dual'-the use of scriptural formulae in D's laws: we'ish .... lo'; 'al+ imperative; kol ha- etc.) reinforces the lack of any distinction between scripture and the sectarian derived law. Both are equally and fully torah. The sectarian torah is merely Mosaic torah explicated (perush).

The calendar (3:13) is undoubtedly a major concern of D's Judaism, and it is something to which historical Israel is 'blind'. Another major difference between D's Israel and historical Israel lies in respect of sexual relations (4:19-5:11), specifically intercourse during the menstrual period, divorce/polygamy, and marriage between uncle and niece. In all these cases CD invokes the scriptures common to it and other Judaisms, but interprets according to its own exegesis.

The logic of D's torah on sexual relations seems to be that they are purely for the purposes of procreation. Sexual activity apart from the legitimate bounds of a single lawful marriage is denounced as "lust" (zenut). Sexual intercourse is intrinsically unclean, and may not take place in the 'city of the sanctuary' (12:1-2). Its members may marry and raise children (7:6-8), but the implication is that some, perhaps the majority, do not. The hint of a celibate lifestyle among this group is the product, it seems of a concern for holiness, and it seems to follow that if a D settlement existed within Jerusalem, its members were necessarily celibate.

Another important feature of the torah of D is that its validity is associated with a specific period of time, between the exile and subsequent revelation of true law to the appearance of an eschatological teacher (6:10-11; 15:6-7). The clear implication is that the validity of this law will be affected by the arrival of this messianic (12:23-13:1) 'teacher'. There is some evidence of a calculation of this 'period of wickedness/wrath' and thus of the appearance of the messiah-teacher (4:8-9). Probably the 390 years of 1:5 also reflects such a calculation.


Several laws in CD reveal the extent of participation in the Temple cult by members of the 'Damascus community' (6:17-18; 9:14; 11:18-19; 12.:1-2; 16:13. From these it emerges that:

1. offerings were made at the altar, or could be sent, and several different kinds of offering are mentioned: burnt-offerings ('olot, minhot, incense, wood, sin-offering), while the performance of the daily tamid is assumed.

2. Participation in the major festivals may be included, if 12.1f. applies to visitors to Jerusalem,

3. Vows extend participation in the Temple cult to private and even voluntary acts.

4. The use of Prov. 15:8 in 11:18f. suggests that offerings on the altar can be adequately replaced by righteousness and prayer. But the text is cited to defend the sanctity of the altar, running in fact counter to both the spirit and the letter of the biblical text.

The key to the place of the Jerusalem temple in the Judaism of CD is in 6:11-14:

And all who have entered the covenant are not to enter the sanctuary 'to light my altar in vain' unless they follow the observances of the law prescribed for the period of wickedness

If this translation is correct (the passage reads awkwardly and may have been emended), there is a link between participation in the Temple cult and the "law for the period of wickedness." The Temple lies at the centre of the "wickedness," for 20:22-23 speaks of the time when 'Israel sinned and made the sanctuary unclean'. Historical Israel inevitably and habitually defiled the Temple. But those who possess the (true) law need not abandon it. Israel (specifically its priests) might "light the altar in vain", but it could still be lit in some way by those who observed the law exactly.

Now, D's Judaism partly (not totally) replaces the function of the temple by its own institutions. At 7:14-19, quoting and interpreting Amos 5:25-27 (which prophecies the exile beyond Damascus) it speaks of the exiling of the books of the Law and Prophets. Amos's 'tent' is the divine sanctuary, the Temple and the 'booth of the king' is 'the books of the law'; the 'king' is the 'assembly'. Hence, the sect's own places of worship are the sites to which the law has been "exiled"- from the previous place of worship, the Temple. The Temple is no longer the site of law, though it remains the site of whatever cultic observance is still permissible. The Temple thus remains central to D's Judaism, but must be coupled with observance of the true Torah cannot, of course, validly be used by those outside the sect.

The Judaism of the redacted Damascus Document

I argued in my The Damascus Covenant7 that both manuscripts A and B had been redacted by members of another related sect, for whom the 'Teacher of Righteousness' was a figure of the past. This suggestion can now be extended to all or most of the Qumran fragments, while others fragments (4Q251, 4Q265) suggest that D and S material has been combined by the writers.

Accordingly, it is necessary to include in a consideration of the Judaism of D the material which, in my view, has been added at a later stage and which modifies the Judaism of the rest of the contents. I regard this Judaism as being consistent with that of the Community Rule and so, with the aid of some reference to 1QS, I shall try and compare this yahad Judaism with that of the D sect.

It is significant that the additional S-type material has revised, and not replaced D. Indeed, the Judaism of S (=serekh ha-yahad) is a transformation of the Judaism of D, or, in its own terms, its proper fulfilment, its final maturity. Let me sketch these transformations with respect to the three categories of analysis.


In respect of the definition of 'Israel,' the strong dualism of S is notable; 1QS defines its members as 'children of light,' (1QS 1:8; 3:24) or 'children of truth,' (4:5), with (apparently) the remainder of the human race (whether Jew or non-Jew) as children of darkness or falsehood. This dualism, explicated in 1QS 3-4, nevertheless combines not only several sets of terminology (light/dark, truth/false; righteousness/ wickedness) but also offers simultaneously a cosmic and a psychological version of its dualism, in which the two 'spirits' appears now as subordinate deities to the 'god of knowledge,' and now as internalized dispositions similar to the rabbinic good and evil yetzer. Thus, the category 'Israel,' maintained in D as an important contrastive category, has much less of a role in the Judaism of S: historical Israel is not the focus of opposition, nor of an opposition of Israel and nations. Rather, the perspective is universalized both cosmically and psychologically into radical ethical categories. The predestination already present in CD occupies here a more central place; not only are the true and the wicked chosen from the beginning, but the dualistic categories were created at the very beginning, with their respective heavenly leaders. The history of wicked Israel, so prominent in CD, has no role at all here; it is irrelevant. The interim 'period of wrath' of CD, which is part of Israel's own history, falling between the punishment of Israel's 'former ones' and the imminent 'end of days' is now, in the Judaism of S, equivalent to the whole history of the created world, an epoch of the 'dominion of Belial' (lQS 1:23-24) spanning the time between the creation of two spirits at the very beginning and the final destruction of Belial and his heavenly and earthly followers.8 The dualism is one of past plus present (Belial) and future (God, prince of light).9 In short, Israel is an inert category.


S's Judaism transforms the Judaism of D because the eschatological teacher stands in the past. Accordingly, the 'end of days' has arrived and the 'law for the period of wickedness' is subject to his authority. Devotion to the law of Moses must therefore be accompanied by obedience to the 'voice of the Teacher' (20:27-28). Here, in fact, we may also wonder how far the Mosaic law is being conceptually distinguished from the 'former mishpatim'. Such a move would be strikingly similar to some of the ways in which Christians both accepted the 'ethical' laws of the Old Testament while rejecting the 'ceremonial' (a hermeneutic still very much alive and well among fundamentalist Christians who insist on the Ten Commandments and other laws against homosexuality and adultery, but reject dietary laws and circumcision). It seems clear that the laws of the D community were substantially endorsed (for the legitimacy of S's Judaism derives from the legitimacy of D's, as does that of Christianity upon that of Judaism); and this explains the preservation (but not unaltered) of copies of the Damascus Document.

In S's Judaism, however, less importance is attached to obedience to the covenant torah and more to possession of 'knowledge'. In D, 'torah' connotes a single body of revealed law as the basis for communal living. In S's Judaism, although the will of God and the law of Moses are invoked, the language is overwhelmingly of esoteric 'knowledge' (1:1-2 etc.;), 'insight' (2:3 etc.), 'counsel' (3:6 etc.) and 'truth' (1:5,1 1, etc.). Such 'wisdom' language and concepts are not absent from D, of course; the distinction is in the extent to which it informs the entire system. (The large number of wisdom texts now recovered from Cave 4 appear to strengthen the impression that the owners of these texts were attached to an eschatologized wisdom theology). But the wisdom of 1QS resembles a form of gnosticism-a term that needs to be used with caution, but which may be justified. The Judaism of S, to be sure, does not separate the god of creation from the god of salvation, but it does regard appear to regard esoteric knowledge as a sine qua non of salvation. This is a decisive movement beyond CD's notion of a specially revealed torah. This esoteric body of knowledge is imparted to each member by a maskil (not a mebaqqer, as in D)-the term itself has roots in wisdom terminology (and also in Daniel 12).


The hostile attitude of D towards the defiled temple cult, which was a product of high reverence for the sanctuary, is replaced in S by an apparent rejection of its efficacy: a group of men constituting a 'council of the community' are described in 1QS in terms that present them as a human sanctuary:

... the community council shall be built on truth, like an eternal plantation, a holy house for Israel and the foundation of the Holy of Holies for Aaron .... to atone for the world ... the tested rampart, the prized cornerstone .... the most holy dwelling for Aaron .... a house of perfection and truth (8:5-9)

Similarly, the temple cult will be superseded:

... in order to atone for guilt of rebellion and for sin of unfaithfulness so as to win [divine] favour for the land without the flesh of burnt offerings and the fat of sacrifices .... rightly-offered prayer shall be the fragrance of righteousness and perfection of way a delightful freewill offering .... the men of the yahad shall set apart a house of holiness for Aaron ... (9:4-6)

In an even more radical manner, the function of water as a cleansing agent is downplayed: "it is by the holy spirit of the yahad in [God's] truth that [a man] can be cleansed from all his iniquities" (3:7-8). Also, circumcision is downplayed, for "he shall rather circumcise in the yahad the foreskin of his yetzer...'"(5:5).

The conclusion to be drawn is not that these common institutions of all Judaisms were abandoned, but that their efficacy was confined to the yahad. Every Jewish symbol is thus strictly disciplined into a single ideological and social construction: the yahad. A much tighter grid is here evident than with the D groups, who do not even give a name to their communities, regarding themselves rather as members of the new, true covenant of Israel and of God.

It has long been taken for granted that the yahad was a celibate group, and this would be consistent with the general movement beyond D's Judaism. Conceived of more explicitly as a sanctuary itself (rather than, as in D, a place where the true law lives and right worship must be practiced), the yahad operated under the regime of priestly purity, in which women would have of necessity been excluded. But this orientation was not entirely unprecedented, for the attitude of D towards sex as intrinsically unholy and the evidence that some of its settlements consisted of celibate males mean that the custom was inherited, even though in the process it may have been reinterpreted (much as Paul's Christianity inherited bathing as a rite of entrance into Judaism but transformed its imagery into rebirth after Christ). Continuity of customs does not guarantee continuity of ideology.

Evidence that the yahad was a more rigorously regimented society is apparent in the emphasis on the allotted status of each member (2:20-23), repetition of the word "authority" (of Zadokites and others) as well and the practice of sharing goods in common (not found in CD). This is commensurate with a small group founded on the teachings of a charismatic leader and especially one threatened by a larger parent movement which was still regarded as hostile, having. in the view of the members of the yahad, 'rejected' the Teacher.

It is therefore possible, and proper, to conclude that while the Judaism of D and of S are not identical, they exhibit an organic relationship. This can be expressed historically, in that the yahad appears to have been formed as a splinter group from the D sect. But it can also be expressed through the transformation of key ideological components while nevertheless preserving the same infrastructure: holiness as obedience to divine law rather than as through temple cult; sexual relations as a purity issue; a dualistic universe in which an historic Israel stands outside and Belial rules.

An essential difference is that while the Judaism of D is self-sustaining, and replicates an Israel, the Judaism of S only partly does so, and defines itself very much in terms of opposition to what it is not (i.e. the continuing 'Damascus sect').


I have been concerned here to identify and explain systematically basic differences (and continuities) in the Judaisms of S and D. This explanation has taken for granted certain historical conclusions: that the yahad follows chronologically the Damascus sect (though the two will have been contemporary for a time at least).

It would be interesting, and indeed useful, for those committed to the view that S's Judaism (or, if you like, the yahad itself) represents a phenomenon historically earlier than the Judaism of the 'Damascus sect'. It would also be interesting to theorize on the history of these two sects and their Judaisms, as well as on the possibility that one or other (or both, in succession) might have occupied Qumran. But since these question involve a degree of speculation that the data hardly justify, I intend to go not further. I do nevertheless suggest that an approach which seeks to analyze and explicate Judaic systems within the Scrolls, in the few places where this is feasible, might contribute a great deal to historical questions, if only in an indirect way. Direct ways, after all, had not so far created a consensus, nor any prospect of one in the immediate future. Such an approach may also contribute to an understudying of the relationships between various Qumran texts. The dangers, of course, are those of circular reasoning and of failing to recognize the extent to which the Q texts are edited texts and in some cases compilations of material of different characteristics. How much further, then, an analysis of Qumran Judaisms can go remains to be seen. But in the case of D and S, I hope to have shown that the approach carries some promise.

1 Joseph M. Baumgarten, Qumran Cave 4 XIII: The Damascus Document (4Q266-273) (DJD XVIII), Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.

2 For a fuller argumentation, see my 'The "Damascus" Sect and Judaism' in J. Kampen (ed.), Pursuing the Text. Studies in Honor of Ben-Zion Wacholder (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1994), pp. 70-84.

3 It must be noted, though, that the expression 'children of light' and 'lot of light' probably occur in 4Q266; for the present, I regard this terminology as the result of later editing by the yahad, of whom it is characteristic.

4 See especially Ezek. 14:7, 47:32 (cp. 22:7, 29)

5 See L.H. Schiffman, The Halakhah at Qumran, Leiden: Brill, 1975.

6 This section is based on my 'The Ideology of the Temple in the Damascus Document', JJS 33 (1982), pp. 287-301.

7 The Damascus Covenant. An Interpretation of the 'Damascus Document', Sheffield, 1981.

8 In 9:9-11a messianic hope remains: a prophet and the two messiahs ones of Aaron and Israel are awaited; the members must still be ruled by the "former ordinances" (i.e. those of D). Such texts warn against assuming 1QS to be a homogenous text. It is clearly a repository of several stages in the transition from D to S Judaism in the yahad, whether these stages can be reconstructed in detail remains dubious.

9 A similar (but not identical) transformation from national-Israelite to dualistic-ethical categories can be seen in the book of Daniel: compare the first 11 chapters (and especially chs 2 and 7) with ch. 12.

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