The Laws of the Damascus Document - Between Bible and Mishnah

Joseph M. Baumgarten
Baltimore Hebrew College

In this Jubilee year, when there have been multiple events marking fifty years since the discovery of the DSS , the initiative of the Orion Center serves as a reminder that it is nearly a centennial since Solomon Schechter prepared his publication of the central foundational document of the DSS community, The Zadokite Fragments. It is true that for half a century the antiquity of the work in these Genizah manuscripts was still the subject of scholarly debate, but this fact only enhances the good judgment and courage of the editor, who held to his conviction that these were copies of a sectarian text stemming from the period of the Second Temple. Today this judgment is almost universally accepted, although with regard to the code of laws there has until recently been some reluctance among biblical scholare to recognise it as an integral part of what is now commonly called the Damascus Document. With the publication of the Cave 4 fragments this can be expected to change.

I concluded the introduction to the Cave 4 D fragments with a paragraph entitled 'The Relevance of Rabbinic Sources'. In it I took issue with those scholars who consider the late editing of the rabbinic texts as a sufficient justification for ignoring them in their portrayal of Second Temple religious history. Here at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem it hardly seems necessary to belabor this point. Since the publication of Megillat Ha-Miqdas} and Miqsat Ma'ase Ha-Torah it is well known that Qumran religious law included rulings which the Mishnah relates to the µyqwdx (whatever sectarian entities this name might designate) in their debates with the µyçwrp. Moreover, the polemics in Qumran writings against the Pharisees (twqlj yçrwd), have as their target practices considered normative in rabbinic sources. The Mishnah, as historians in Israel have recognised, is indispensable for understanding what the Qumran legists were teaching and with whom they were contending. Among the new laws of the Damascus Document there are further illustrations of rulings directed against practices sanctioned in tannaitic sources.

In the present paper I should like to to offer a few observations about the distinctive Qumarn approach to the laws of Shabbat and to appraise some nomenclature common to Qumran and early rabbinic halakha. Before I do so, however, it behooves me to justify the intentionally balanced description of this paper, 'between Bible and Mishnah'. I propose to do so by essaying to identify the biblical source of one of the more intriguing supplements to the Damascus Document extant only in 4Q270, the so-called Catalogue of Transgressors.

The Catalogue of Transgressors

The list of about fourteen transgressors, with the repeated formula rça wa and a verb in the imperfect, is not fully extant and its placement before the corpus of laws is not certain. At the end of the list the transgressors were collectively denounced for provoking divine wrath. In DJD XVIII I tentatively remarked that the genre of the list may be compared with the list of curses (rwra) directed against various sinners in Deuteronomy 27. However, the curse formula, reflected in 1QS II 11, is not found in the D catalogue, and the nature of the transgressions is entirely different.

More recently I considered the hypothesis that the rça wa formula with the imperfect verb may derive from the rça çya formulation with the imperfect which is used repeatedly to describe profanations of holiness in Leviticus 17-22. Closer examination of the contents of the Catalogue of Transgressors does indeed indicate a marked dependence upon sins listed in this biblical pericope, although a number of the transgressions in the D catalogue are clearly of a sectarian nature. The following tabulation may serve to provide an overview of the dependence::

4Q270 2 i-ii Lev 17-22

1. µynw[dybw bwab çwrdy wa µyry?[ç 17:7 (µyry[ç);19:31, 20:6,27 (bwa, ynw[dy)

2. µçh ta lljy rça wa 20:3, 21:6, 22:2, 22:15

3. hyba¿ tybb hylwtb?b [r µç 21:14 (hylwtbb hça)

4. hm[ rja bkçy ?rça hnmla

5. µwyb wtça la br?qy wa

6. ? µyçdwqh ta¿ µyrhl ajm?y rça 22:1-16 µyçdq offered (wmyry) to priests

7. wçdwq jwr ta amfl µtwmçb ? ¿

8. ha¿mf bwz wa t[rx [gnb [gwny wa 22:4 (bz wa [wrx awhw)

9. wm[ t¿a llqy wa µyawgl wm[ zr ta hlgy rça 19:16 ym[b lykr lt al

10. çdqh jwr yjyçm l[ hrs ?rbdy

11. h¿rb[ hyjw hmhb fjçy wa 22:28 dja µwyb wfjçt al wnb taw wta

12. µd yqm hrh hça ?µ[ bkçy rça

13. wyja¿ tb l?a brqy wa

14. hça ybkçm ?rkz µ[ bkçy wa 18:22 hça ybkçm bkçt al rkz taw


2. The fact that participants in the Moloch cult are said to profane the divine name (20:3) raises the possibility that this pagan abomination was mentioned in the fragmentary context, but this cannot be proven. 3-4. Lev 21:14 refers to the restricted marriages sanctioned for the high priest. The sinner alluded to here is apparently any layman who marries a maiden or widow of ill repute; cf. 4Q271 3 12 12-13. 5. The identification of the day on which marital relations were banned is missing. Jub. 50:8 suggests that it may have been the Sabbath. 6. The priestly emoluments listed here include a. the fruits of trees in the fourth year after their planting b. the tithe of cattle c. the redemption of the first-born of unclean animals and of humans d. the first shearing of sheep e. the assessment for the redemption of persons f. a guilt restitution which cannot be returned to its righful owner. The assignment to the priests of a.,b., e. and f. follows sectarian opinion (MMT B 62-64,11QT LX, CD IX 13-14). Terumah, the sacred portion of the harvest offered exclusively to the priests (Num 18) is not listed here. The requirement of ritual purity for its consumption is the major subject of Lev 22. 7. The extant text does not specify whose names, those of angels or perhaps those of communal authorities, are abused by the offender. 8. Lev 20:4-7 lists scale disease and gonorrhea among defilements which disqualify a priest from eating sacred food. The mention of these physical afflictions in this catalogue of transgressors may perhaps reflect the view that they were symptomatic of sin. 9. "One who reveals a secret of his people to the gentiles, or curses [his people]". 11QTemple LXIV likewise describes two kinds of treason : a. informing against one's people, wm[b lykr çya hyhy yk b. cursing one's people by one who goes over to the side of the gentiles, wm[ ta llqyw µyawgh wt la jrbyw. The terminolgy used there for informing is clearly that of Lev 19:16, ym[b lykr lt al, which was understood to refer to national betrayal rather than malicious gossip. The phraseology of our text is markedly close to that found in the En Gedi inscription, hymm[l htrqd hzr ylgd m. 11-12. The ban on slaughtering pregnant animals in 11QTemple LII 5-7 is juxtaposed with the biblical prohibition to kill the parent and young of oxen and sheep the same day (Lev 22:28). Qumran law regarded the fetus as an independent creature.1 It is possible that the following law forbidding intercourse during pregnancy may also involve the concern about harm to the fetus. 13-14. The laws of incest in Lev 20 are consistently formulated with the rça çya pattern, from which the rça wa formula of our text presumably derives. However, marriage with one's niece was not biblically prohibited; it was exegetically derived from the ban on marrying one's aunt (CD V 8-11).

The foregoing survey of biblical sources for the Catalogue of Transgressors shows that it was primarily based on the hçwdq laws found in Lev 17-22. To these were appended some offenses against sectarian 'halakha', which may also have been deemed to be profanations of holiness. The connection with the Leviticus pericope is further supported by the conclusion which follows the enumeration of sinners :

? t¿a yrbw[ vac ? ¿ 17 ? ¿ ó?qb wpa wr¿jb ryb[hl la qqj µb 18

In the editio princeps I followed the suggestion that 6Q15 was a parallel to this text. Hence, I adopted the reading found there, ry[bhl 'to kindle' as preferable to ryb[hl with wrj 'wrath':

17. [ ] vac Those who transgress [ ] 18. Against them God has ordained, to cause his w[rath] to be kindled during the peri[od of iniquity ]

I now believe that the original reading ryb[hl should not be modified. Lev 18:24 admonishes Israelites not to defile themselves by imitating the sexual practices of Canaan, "for by all these the nations I am casting out before you have defiled themselves." The transgressors of moral limits, designated by the word yrbw[ in line 17, are subject to a divine curse, as indicated in the expulsion ritual at the end of the Damascus Document : htwra µhyrbw[ ta rça wnl htlbgh twlwbgw 'You have set limits for us and cursed those who transgress them' (4Q266 11 12-13). Non-Israelite, too, were cursed when they transgressed these moral limits, µhyrbw[ ta htwra hta 11 14, as demonstrated by the fate of the nations who were 'vomited out' by the land (Lev 19:25-28). It is to this law of moral retribution that line 18 most likely alludes : wpa wr¿jb ryb[hl la qqj µb 'Them did God ordain to remove through the wrath of his anger', with an apparent word play between yrbw[ and ryb[hl.

Qumran Law and the Mishnah

Having given due recognition to the fundamental biblical roots of Qumran law, we may now turn our attention to those aspects which link it with early rabbinic halakha. These links were highlighted in the masterful study of Louis Ginzberg which, based only on the Damascus Document and lacking the wealth of other Qumran writings at our disposal, identified the unbekannte judische Sekte as Pharisaic. Although this conclusion is no longer tenable, there is great heuristic value in reevaluating the considerations which led to it.

Laws of Shabbat

The laws of Shabbat provide some of the closest approaches between Qumran exegesis and the Oral Law of the Rabbis. Lawrence Schiffman's dissertation contains a detailed discussion of these laws. Here we wish only to make some observations based on Cave 4 halakhic fragments, which will hopefully soon be published.2


The biblical injunction, y[ybçh µwyb wmqmm çya axy la "Let no man go out of his place on the seventh day" (Exod 16:29) was rendered in 4Q251 1 4 tbçh lk wmwqmm çya axwy la "Let no man bring forth from his place (during) the entire Sabbath". axwy is likewise employed in the rules, formulated on the basis of Exod 16:29, which prohibit carrying in and out on the Sabbath (CD XI 7 and 4Q265 6 4) . Thus, this biblical passage served at Qumran, much as it did in talmudic halakha (b. 'Erub 17b, 51a) and in Targum ps.Jon. to Exod 16:29, both as a source for the limit on walking and the prohibition of carrying in and out of dwellings.

Talmudic halakha, however, analyzed the act of carrying into two elements : a. the raising (hryq[) of an object from its place and b. its placement (hjnh) in another locus. Only a person who performed both elements was culpable (m. Shab, 1.1). The severe formulation in Jub 50:8 shows no awareness of such conceptualization. "And whoever lifts up anything that he will carry to take out of his tent or from his house, let him die." This implies that the very displacement of an object with the intent to carry it out constitutes a desecration.3 Such a view is akin to the practice cited by Josephus as an illustration of Essene stringency with regard to the Sabbath : "Not only do they prepare their food on the day before, to avoid kindling a fire on that one [the Sabbath], but they do not venture to remove (metakinhsai) any vessel" (J.W. 2.147). Moving a vessel, not prepared for the Sabbath, even without carrying it outside, would for the Essenes constitute a violation of Exod 16:5, which required that the manna for the Sabbath be prepared (wnykhw) on the sixth day.

hxqwm and çpn jwqp

Talmudic sources preserve a theory which deemed objects not 'prepared' for the Sabbath to be biblically restricted for use (hxqwm). The prevailing talmudic view, however, attributed the hxqwm restrictions to rabbinic enactments which underwent an evolution from strict application to virtually all vessels to the later circumscribed ban of only specific implements.4

Qumran law retains the ancient stringency in accordance with which any implement not designated for the Sabbath use could not be employed, even to save a human life. Thus, certain Jews who fled to the wilderness in the days of Mattathias did not defend themselves when attacked on the Sabbath. They did not hurl any stone against their attackers nor block up their hiding places (1 Mac 2:36). The handling of rocks or soil was clearly forbidden on the Sabbath (cf. CD XI 10-11), and no allowance was made for the peril to life (çpn jwqp). "Any human being who falls into a place of water ... let no man bring him up with a ladder, a rope, or an implement" (CD XI 16-17).5 4Q265 6 confirms the ban on using an implement (ylk), but permits one to cast a garment (dgb) to the drowning man; the latter, was permissible because, as an article of attire it was prepared for use on the Sabbath.6 It is interesting that this ruling is followed by a reference to a situation involving an army (abx), which unfortunately is incomplete. We also lack the context of the allusion to war on the Sabbath in 4Q264 1 ii 8 wm[ µjlhl.7

twbç and Priestly Activities

Of the two loci around the levitical cities in Numbers 35, the larger one, two thousand cubits, was fixed for the perambulation of shepherds, as in CD XI 5-6. Interestingly, 4Q264a apparently applies the same Sabbath limit to priests grazing sacrificial animals. Talmudic halakha operated with the principle that rabbinic Sabbath limitations (twbç) did not apply to the Temple. The question whether this principle could also be extended to allow the bringing of paschal offerings from beyond the Sabbath limit and other ancillary tasks performed outside the sanctuary was debated by the Tannaim (m. Pes. 6,1; b. 'Erub. 103a). CD XI 17-18 restricts Sabbath offerings to those designated for that day, and the coincidence of the Passover with Sabbath was, moreover, excluded by the structure of the Qumran calendar. However, the grazing of sacrificial animals on the Sabbath was permitted, provided the priestly shepherds kept within the two thousand cubit locus.

4Q265 7 3 forbids the priests to sprinkle the purification water for cleansing the impure on the Sabbath. This restriction on lustrations is likewise found in 4Q274 2 i and has its counterpart in rabbinic halakha. Moreover, the reading hdn aym in a fragmentary passage of 4Q251 1 may also pertain to the problem occasioned by the coincidence of the third or seventh day after defilement with the Sabbath..The extant text mentions the sixth day (Friday) as the appropriate day for preparatory bodily cleansing.

M. Hagigah 1,8 characterizes the laws of Shabbat as based on little scripture and much oral halakha, hr[çb ywlth µyrrhk 'like mountains suspended by a hair'. It is interesting that Qumran exegetes, who as far as we know had no concept of an authoritative Oral Law, nevertheless attached the observance of precautionary Sabbath restrictions to the scriptural command, wçdql tbçh µwy ta rwmç (CD X 16-17). This was, according to our restoration of the text of 4Q274 2 i the passage cited in support of the restriction on sprinkling water for purification on the Sabbath, just as it served in CD X 16-17 as the basis for requiring the cessation of work on Friday well before sunset. Thus, Qumran law in effect carried out one of the principles attributed to the Men of the Great Assembly, hrwtl gys wç[w 'And build a fence about the Torah' (m. Abot 1,1). I am therefore inclined to doubt that the sobriquet yjh ynwb which stems from Ezek 13:10 and was applied in the Damascus Document to some opponents of the sect (CD IV 19, VIII 12) was particularly directed at the proto-rabbinic 'fences' which served to protect the Law. 8

The Topical Nomenclature of Laws

The laws of Shabbat are set forth in the Damascus Document under the rubric tbçh l[ (X 14). This is one of several such rubrics employed to introduce topical groupings of laws : µymb rhfh l[ 'concerning one who purifies himself in water' (X 10), h[wbçh l[ 'concerning oaths' (IX 8), twbdnh fpçm l[ 'concerning the law of donations' (XVI 13).9 Note also the nomenclature for the class of prohibited sexual unions twyr[h fpçm (V 9), which is paralleled by the topical heading twyr[h l[ in 4Q251 12 1. Here we have the first post-biblical evidence for the identification of classes of laws by subject categories.

It is noteworthy that the afore-mentioned Mishnah Hagigah 1,8, which characterizes the laws of Shabbat as lacking scriptural support, lists twyr[w twamfhw twrhfh among categories of laws which by contrast have abundant scriptural support. twamfhw twrhfh, counted as one in the Tosephta, corresponds to the rubric rhfh l[ concerning purification from impurity. twyr[, the laws of prohibited marriages, are here designated in plural form just as at Qumran. The Tosephta has supplements to the mishnaic list of halakhot with good scriptural support, among which there appear ykr[h and twçdqhh. The former also appears at Qumran in plural form in the designation µykr[h ¼sk 'valuation money' (4Q159), while twçdqhh corresponds in content to the rules listed in the Damascus Document under the rubric of twbdnh (XVI 13), which employ the verb çdq for sanctified donations.

In his definitive study of early strata of tannaitic literature Yaakov Epstein demonstrated that Mishnah Hagigah 1,8, which describes the above-mentioned categories of halakhot, stems at the latest from the Herodian period. This is shown by the fact that Abba Yose b. Hanan, a contemporary of the late Temple period, already refers to the enumeration of the laws in the Mishnah as 'major bodies of halakha' (t.Hag. 1,9). Epstein's conclusion is, I believe, in harmony with the similarities in the topical terminology between Qumran and the Mishnah which we have noted. The rudimentary grouping of laws under subject headings at Qumran, although manifested here in a non-Pharisaic context, tends also to add cogency to Epsteins theory concerning the early formation of the nuclei of the tractates of the Mishnah.


Our identification of Leviticus 17-22 as the source of the Catalogue of transgressors can be taken as an illustration of the pentateuchal roots of Qumran law. As CD XVI 2 affirms, 'in it (the law of Moses) everything is specified (qdqwdm)'. However, this apparently limiting principle has to be appraised in the light of such pentateuchal supplements as the Book of Jubilees in which chronological things are qdqwdm (CD XVI 3) and the Temple Scroll which contains multiple pentateuchal elaborations. We have further to reckon with the genre of reworked Pentateuch found at Qumran in which, for example, the feasts of oil and wood were inserted into the sequence of festivals of Leviticus 23. Thus, the scriptural basis of Qumran law, which unlike talmudic halakha also included the Prophets, was to begin with less rigidly defined. Witness the sporadic use of the citation formula, rma rça, for things not found anywhere in Scripture, but in the sectarian interpretation thereof.10

One significant Qumran development in the direction of tannaitic methodology was the rudimentary collection of rules under subject rubrics introduced with the preposition l[. Another is the use of nomenclature to identify various areas of halakha similar to that found in the earliest strata of the Mishnah..

The laws of Shabbat in the Damascus Document, much like those in Jubilees offer parallels to rules which in talmudic halakha would be classified as twbç, or functionally as fences about the Torah. Yet, they are not distinguished from biblical prohibitions, nor treated with greater leniency, even when life may be threatened. Moreover, we do not yet find in the Qumran Shabbat laws the kind of conceptual analysis and generalized principles which are familiar from the Mishnah. The foregoing methodological observations seem by and large to be compatible with the chronological placement of the Qumran literature between Bible and Mishnah.

1 J. Baumgarten, "A Fragment on Fetal Life and Pregnancy in 4Q270", Pomegranates and Golden Bells : Studies in Honor of Jacob Milgrom, ed. D.P. Wright, D.N. Freedman, and A. Hurvitz, (Winona Lake : Eisenbrauns, 1995) 445-448.

2 After completing the following survey of the 4Q Sabbath fragments, I found that L. Doering has independently arrived at a number of similar results in his study, "New Aspects of Qumran Sabbath Law from Cave 4 Fragments", Legal Texts and Legal Issues, etc.

3 The theory that the restriction on the moving (lwflf) of objects was derivative from the prohibition to carry them out (haxwh) is found in b. Shab. 124b, as noted by Rabad in his stricture on Rambam, Yad, Laws of Shabbat 24.12. Rambam viewed the lwflf restrictions as independent rabbinic enactments to distinguish the Sabbath from the workaday routines of the week.

4 Cf. b. Pes. 47b and Bes> a 2b with the evolutionary relaxation of hxqwm restrictions depicted in t. Shab. 14.1

5 The restriction on saving human life is specific and applies strictly to the use of utensils which may not be handled on the Sabbath; cf. L.H. Schiffman, The Halakha at Qumran, p.126 and L. Doering's dissent in the above-mentioned paper.. In normative rabbinic halakha, the primacy of çpn jwqp would override all restrictions.

6 4Q265 6 4 has the prohibition ?l¿kamw ylk wlham ç?ya ax¿wy la "Let no man bring forth from his tent a vessel and food". It is possible that the vessel intended here was a food vessesl, taking ?l¿kamw ylk as hendiadys; otherwise its handling even within the tent would be restricted.

7 For a historical study of the halakha concerning war on the Sabbath, see M.D. Herr,"The Problem of the Laws of War on the Sabbath in the Second Temple and Mishnaic Periods" (Hebrew), Tarbiz 30 (1961) 242-256, 341-356.

8 Cf. L. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, 250.

9 We do not include instance where the l[ formulation introduces single laws , such as hçah t[wbç l[ (CD XVI 10) and the repeated use of this formula for particular legal assertions in MMT.

10 See Baumgarten, "A 'Scriptural' Citation."

Please send comments or inquiries to the Orion Center at

Orion Symposiums // Orion Home