Ida Fröhlich


Qumran texts are not rich in historical references. Most historical references are to be find in the texts of the commentaries called pesharim, written to prophetic books and psalms.

This body of texts shows common features which set them apart even within the group of other works that had most likely been created in the community[1]. They are based on Biblical texts and present their interpretations (called pesher) in a peculiar manner[2]. The method and form 'pesher' was present already in the early tradition of the Community: the Damascus Document (middle of the 2nd c B CE) contains several isolated pesher-s worked into the narrative. Distinct pesher-works are probably of later origin. Two groups have been differentiated within them: the so-called 'thematic pesharim' which interpret Biblical excerpts of diverse origin (usually from the texts of the "earlier prophets") with a messianistic meaning); texts which may be placed into this group are the so-called 'Florilegium' (4Q Florilegium) and the texts of 'Catena'[3] The second group is that of the continuous pesharim, verse by verse interpretations of longer texts. Texts known as 'continuous pesharim' are the commentaries to various prophetic books and to Ps.37.[4 ] These works interpret the text in such a way that they relate the events in them to the events of the age of the author of the pesher, to events touching upon the community. The time of the creation of the extant pesharim found at Qumran must have been during the second half of the 1st c. B.C.[5]

We can add to these texts some fragments from Caves 4 and 11, published or re-published relatively recently. They represent various forms: 4Q252 is a combination of a narrative and of a series of pesher-s on Jacob's blessing (Gen. 49); 11Q13 is thematic pesher with eschatological content[6]; 4Q180 and 4Q181 are interpretations of biblical historical tradition[7]; 4Q247 is an interpretation of an Enochic tradition, the Apocalypse of Weeks[8].

The continuous pesharim refer - as one can identify with help of external sources (Josephus) - to persons and events of the Hasmonean period (Hasmonean kings, socio-religious groups like Pharisees and Sadducees, and references are made to the history of t he Community). But they contain messages coded according to a sophisticated method, and are not easy to interpret. The key figure seems to be the Wicked Priest who can be identified in Pesher Nahum with a Hasmonean king, Alexandros Jannaios. In other cases (Pesher Habakkuk) opinions differ about the identification of the Wicked Priest with any Hasmonean ruler.

It seems that one cannot find a unique key to the text; and people and events mentioned in Pesher Habakkuk and other pesharim cannot be connected with the time of a unique ruler. If we can, on the basis of the context, identify in an interpretation one character - the Wicked Priest - with a historical person, this fact do not implicate that other occurrences of the name cover the same historical person. The pesharim seem to be homogeneous compositions; the texts do not show traces of interpolation or reworking.

Scholars tried to reconstruct a history of the Community with the help of the historical references of these texts. But it seems that our expectations are not consistent of the purposes of the authors of these ancient texts. The pesharim were written not for us, they do not answer to our questions. The authors recorded history in their own way, not in our; in order to get closer to the meaning of the text we need to try a contemporaneous reading, i.e. we must learn the main ideas of the authors concerning history, and understand their purposes.

The pesharim are not historiographies. They concern history, but they are not systematic registrations of historical events. What they represent is historicism, "an intellectual habit of finding the past interesting and significant"[9] - as 19th century thought found significant the idea of progress in the history, or the Communist Manifesto the class struggles. Historicism aims to find and display a connection between the events of the past, and to show a system manifesting in them[10]. It is not interested in events which do not establish the truth of the system or those who do not fit into it[11]. On the other side, facts and characters are often typified, even can be slightly changed, in order to fit them into the system. Models prevail over facts. Biblical historicism is outstanding with the sophisticated way in which material of historical and literary tradition are amalgamated in it.[12]

Peshers from Qumran - isolated peshers, thematic peshers, and the pesharim - are expressions of Qumran historicism, the Community's attitude to history. Pesher-method and historical perspective are closely related, since pesher is basically diachronic: it is an actualization of references of an earlier text for the age of the author of the interpretation.


Essential ideas of Qumran historicism are expressed in 4Q180 and 181. According to the first text history is divided into periods (____): 4Q180 is, according to its introduction, a "pesher concerning the periods (__ _____)". Human history is a series of periods (4Q180, line 3). 4Q181 mentions "seventy weeks", possibly a chain of periods as a frame for Israel's history (4Q181, line 3).

The periods are pre-determined by God and fixed: "before ever He created them, he set up their activities [according to the exact meaning of the periods,] one period after the other. And it was engraved in the heavenly tablets [according to the sons of ma n]." (4Q180, lines 2-3). Thus, not only historical periods are pre-determined, but also the events occurring in them are fixed. The same idea appears in a wisdom composition: "the years of all the generations as God has revealed" (4Q413 9-10).

History is ruled by two powers, represented by the prototypes of the wicked and the righteous. As 4Q180 formulates, Azazel and the offspring of the Angels are "to [love] iniquity, and to cause to inherit wickedness" (similarly 4Q181, line 4). They are opposed to the righteous, to those who keep the Law. The working of the two powers in the history is showed in 11QMelchizedek, too. Belial and his demons are working in history, until the judgment to be executed by Melkisedeq (11Q13 II.12-13). "Then Melchizedek will avenge the vengeance of the judgments of God ... and he will drag [them from the hand of Belial and from the hand of the spirits of his [lot]". As to the origins of Belial and the spirits of his lot (goral), 11QMelchizedek refers to the Enochic story of the 'fallen angels': "[who] rebelled by turning away from the precepts of God to [sin]" (l.cit.).

The periods of human history are characterized by one of the two groups (the wicked): "all their (the wicked) periods are [for destruction]" (4Q181, line 9) "in all their ends (______) (4Q181, line 9). In 4Q252 (I.1) "in the four hundred and eighty year o f the life of Noah came their end (__ _____ - probably that of the antediluvian mankind considered as wicked in Biblical and in Enochic tradition".

Retribution works in the history, strokes are the punishments for sins - but the righteous atone for their sins by the punishment: "and they (the truthful) atoned for their iniquity through [their] strokes (_____ ¿_ _____ ______]__[)" (4Q183 line 7).

The end of time is mentioned in 11Q13, II.13 as ____ ___¿_, with the motif of the judgment and retribution when reward and punishment will be given.

It seems that Qumran literature contributed even written lists, works where historical tradition was arranged according to these ideas. Even concrete systematizations have remained to us: 4Q180 lines 4-5 give a systematization of Biblical traditions concerning the Patriarchs: "this is the order of the so[ns of Noah from Shem to Abraham] until he begot Isaac, the Ten Generations" (similarly 4Q181, line 1). 4Q247, a Pesher on the Enochic Apocalypse of the Weeks sets fixed times for the ends for periods of biblical historical tradition calculated in year weeks. The author of 11Q13 expects 'The Day of Atonement' (Lev. 25:9, ___ _______) on the end of the tenth week, when all the Sons of [Light] and the men of the lot of Melchizedek will be atoned for ... for this is the moment of the Year of Grace for Melchizedek." (11Q13, lines 8-9). Perhaps lists and chronological works found among Qumran texts like 4Q339 (List of False Prophets) and 4Q559 (Biblical chronology) were written for similar reasons, to provide material for interpretation of historical tradition.


Periods (____) are mentioned in Pesher Hosea as "periods of the wrath (___ ____)" (4Q166, pHos I.12). According to Pesher Habakkuk, God "did not make known to him (Habakkuk) when time would come to an end (_¿_ ___ ___ __¿ _____)" (1QpHab VII.1-2) . Only the interpreter of the prophetic text is informed about the end of the period: "the final age shall be prolonged (_¿___ ___), and shall exceed all that the Prophets have said" (1QpHab VII.7-8) - it means, prolonged until the time when the interpretation had been written. Thus, pesher Habakkuk is the interpretation of a __ of Israel's history, from Habakkuk to the age of the pesher's author. The events referred to in the continuous pesharim are those of the Hellenistic age - and this real perspective is expressed in pNah (but without mention of the term 'period') when the text reads: "the kings of Yawan from Antiochus until the appearance of the rulers of the Kittim[13], and afterwards s he will be trodden down [...]" (4Q169 pNah fr. 3-4, I.3)

The periods are predetermined by God: "For all the ages of God reach their appointed end (__ ___ ____ ¿_ ____¿_ ______) as he determines for them in the mysteries of His wisdom" (1QpHab VII.12-13)

Two groups acting in history are mentioned in 4Q177 Catena fr. 10-11, lines 4-5 as "the men of Belial and all the rabble ... those who cause the Sons of Light to stumble". In the prophetic pesharim opposition is between the wicked and the righteous (a purely ethical opposition, there is no mention of Belial).

Periods are characterized by one of the groups, and retribution (punishment and reward) works in history: "The congregation of the Poor Ones who will accept the season of error (_____ ¿_ ____ _____)" (4Q171 pPs37 II.8). "The Ruthless ones of the covenant in the house of Judah who will plot to obliterate those in the Council of Community who carry out the Law. But God will not leave them in their power" (4Q171 pPs37 II.13-15). A special characteristic of the continuous pesharim is that the kittim are mentioned several times as a mean of retribution: "the Kittim who are ... to execute judgement against them and destroy them from the face of [the earth]" (4Q169pNah fr. 1-2, line 4); and "the Kittim who despise the fortresses of the peoples ... they destroy them because of the sins of their inhabitants (_____ _______ ___)" (1QpHab IV.8-9). Other means of retributive punishment are enemies and strokes: "the Wicked Priest whom God delivered into the hands of his enemies because of the iniquity committed against the Teacher of Righteousness (_____ ____ ____) and the men of his Council, that he might be humbled by means of a destroying scourge ... because he had done wickedly to His elect (¿__ _____ __ _____)" (1QpHab IX.9-12).

Analogously, retribution for wicked deeds (not rewarded?) shall be paid in the future: "the Wicked Priest shall be paid the reward which he himself tendered to the Poor, "As he himself plotted the destruction of the Poor (¿__ ___ __ ¿______), ... so will God condemn him to destruction (_______ ¿_ ____)" (1QpHab XII.2-6). Similarly in the pesher to Psalm 37: "The princes of wickedness (___ _____) who have oppressed his holy people, who will perish like the smoke of a firebrand in the wind - f or those who are blessed of him will inherit the earth, whilst those who are accursed of him will be cut off (_____ ___)" (4Q171 pPs37 III.7-12).

The end of the times (aharit hajjamim) - is closely connected with the idea of retribution, the idea of a judgement in the end of days: "in the end of days, in the time when he shall seek (___ ¿__ ____) [...] The interpretation of the passage is that there shall arise a man from [...]"; "epochs be fulfilled (___¿_ ____" (4Q177 (Catena) 5, 10-13.[14]

On the basis of the texts cited one can say that the historical horizon of the authors of these pesher-s encompassed a longer period - a whole qes or at least part of it (Hasmonean times).

Concrete lists or systematizations of these periods are referred to in 4Q177 Catena: "their fathers [...] clearly set out by name, man by man [...] their years and the epoch of their existence (_______ _____ _¿__ _¿__ ... _______ ___ _____) [.. .] their tongues [...] offsp[ring of ...] Now, behold, everything is written on the tablets which [and he taught him the number of [...] and caused [him] to inherit [...]" (4Q177, Catena, fr. 1-4, lines 11-13). As to the continuous pesharim, they are (wit h the above horizon) themselves systematizations of historical (not biblical) tradition. The systematisation is based on an interpretation of biblical texts.

The relation of the text interpreted and the interpretation is irregular. Sometimes a keyword is picked up from the text commented and interpreted in the pesher by a synonym ¿___ and ____ _____ in pNah frag.3-4 and phos 4q167 frg.2, lines 2-3). The top ic of the commentary is determined in most of the cases by the content of the prophetic text, the pesher is loosely linked with the text commented, on the basis of the content of the prophetic text. The interpretations use sobriquets, names originating not from the commented text. Some of these names can be find in other Qumran works[15]. A possible origin of most of the names are Isa 28-30, Hosea 5, 10. As to the identification of the references of the pesharim with concrete historical characters, the pesher of the Psalms presents the dichotomy of the Righteous and the Wicked. Persons and events referred to in pNahum are from Alexandros Jannaios to the fall of the Hasmonean kingdom (63 BCE) (the nickname ____ _____; references to the failures of the Wicked Priest, his cruelty toward the Pharisees). In pHab three main persons appear: the Teacher of Righteousness (spiritual leader of the Community), the Man of Lies (a former follower of the Teacher who broke away), and the Wicked Priest. He is the only character who can claim a historical interpretation based on external sources (Josephus Flavius). Pretenders for the identification are: Jonathan (161-142)[16], Simon (142-134)[17], Alexandros Jannaios (103-76)[18], and Hyrcanus[19]. References of the text are not clear enough to identify with certainty the Wicked Priest (Jonathan and Alexandros Jannaios[20] are the most reasonable candidates). The references of V III.16-IX.2 to "his chastisement", that his enemies "took vengeance upon his body of flesh" and IX.9-12 that "God delivered him into the hand of his enemies because of the sin he committed against the Righteous Teacher (__\¿___ ____ ____)" seems to suit better to Jonathan's biography than to Jannnaios' (IX.2), and Jonathan (IX.8)[21]. It seems that the 'Alexandrist' hypothesis fails at this point[22]. The dilemma can be resolved by two ways:

1/ the term Wicked Priest (and other sobriquets) are basically of collective meaning[23]. Let me quote just one sentence for the inner evidence of the pesharim for the possibility of the collective meaning of the nicknames in the pesharim: the interpretation of pHab II.1-10 relates the prophetical words to "those who were unfaithful together with the Liar ... and it concerns the unfaithful to the New Covenant .. and likewise, this saying is to be interpreted as concerning those who will be unfaithful at the end of days." In the Qumran pesharim there are quite certainly several other names which had been used in a collective sense: the term 'Kittim' usually denoting Romans cannot be identified with the army of Pompeius in the fragment of the Isaiah-pesher (4Q pIsa/a, b = 4Q 161, 8-10, 39), as here the context indicates that the term refers to Alexandros Jannaios.[24] The rule for the use of t he typological name Kittim --and most probably for other terms as well-- is that the name has a collective, general meaning (in the case of the Kittim: "strangers arriving from the sea, from the direction of Cyprus"). The actual meaning of the name in a given instance is always determined by the characteristics of the term, that is, those events which the text mentions as a reference in connection with the name (sometimes, as in the case of Acco in the aforementioned text, one key word is the determining factor).

2/ Characters presented in the interpretations are patterned according to ideal schemas (righteous and wicked; and the wicked must be chastened). The above cited interpretations in Pesher Habakkuk mention the humiliation of the Wicked Priest (_____), not his death. The picture - being humiliated by enemies - can be matched with the events of the second period (96-83 BCE) of Jannaios' career when he was defeated by the Nabatean king Obodas, and was forced to flee to Jerusalem. Following the defeat a civil war began, during which, in an unparalleled manner, external enemy (the Seleucid ruler Demetrios III) was called in against him by his people.

The kittim mentioned in pHab are to be identified with the Romans. Pesher Habakkuq IX.4-10 interprets the conquest of the kittim as divine punishment, in the course of which "the riches and booty of the last priests (_____ _¿______) of Jerusalem shall l be delivered into the hands of the army of the Kittim", "at the end of the days (_¿____ _____)". This reference most likely concerns the fight for the throne between the sons of Alexandros Jannaios, in the course of which both pretenders gave handsome sums and gifts to Aemilius Scaurus, the Roman general, and Pompeius, who was the arbiter in their dispute (cf. Jos. Ant. XIV.2-3; 3.1).

Pesher Habakkuk is the unique complete text among the continuous pesharim. When reviewing the circle of historical references in it one can determine that Pesher Habakkuk refer to two sets of historical events: to the events of the rule of Jonathan/Jannaios (mentions of the Wicked Priest), and to the time of the Roman conquest (mentions of _____ ¿______ and the kittim). The two sets of events are linked with the motif of the collective responsibility: the Pesher Habakkuk considers the conquest to be divine punishment for the sin committed against the Righteous Teacher. The punishment takes place during the rule of the sons, as a retribution for the ancestor's/father's sins against the Righteous Teacher. This punishment is followed by divine judgment (IX.3-5). This idea of Pesher Habakkuk is based again on the same principle as the ideas concerning retribution in history formulated in other peshers.