The Concept of the Covenant in Qumran Literature in the Historical Perspective of the Covenant between God and Israel

Bilhah Nitzan
Tel-Aviv University


The concept of the covenant in Qumran literature attracted great interest during the first decades of Dead Sea Scrolls research, specifically in relation to its affect upon the Christian theology of the"new covenant," due both to the explicit definiti on of the Qumran community as a"New Covenant" (CD vi 19; viii 21; xix 34; 1QpHab ii 3-4) and the wide range of the covenant vocabulary in the scrolls. This research, conducted between the 1950's and '80's, clarified that the Qumran concept of covenant was based upon the religious ideology and procedure inherent in the biblical idea of covenant between God and Israel.[1] But while taking a more intense standpoint in terms of the biblical ideology of the covenant as the basis theme of the religion of Israel, in Qumran this idea was encompassed in the socio-religious life of the community.

The justification for reconsidering the concept of the covenant in Qumran literature is raised by the availability in this decade of the entire corpus of Qumran scrolls. However, such a reexamination should be undertaken on the basis of the principal Qumran writings dealing with the concept of the covenant between God and Israel.

The religious concept of the covenant is characterized by a continual, ongoing relationship between God and Israel, a relationship which was a motivating factor in biblical and post-biblical historiography. Hence this subject may be examined from an historical perspective. Eichrodt's claim regarding the biblical concept of the covenant as a revolutionary factor in the relationship between human beings and their deity is noteworthy. Eichrodt claimed that the covenantal concept detached religious faith from the feelings of anxiety and lack of confidence which characterized the pagan religions, in which the human being was a plaything of various deities and of blind fate. The covenantal relationship regulated human life according to fixed laws of retalia tion given by one divine authority, thereby providing hope for peace and security to those who kept the laws of the covenant.[2] As demonstrated by Mendenhall, the concept of a covenantal relationship between God and human beings, realized in monotheistic religions, was derived from the Hittite treaties between a sovereign and his vassal (14th century BCE) by transforming their forensic character into a religious one.[3] This type of borrowing and adaptation was demonstrated in the Decalogue, as in biblical historiography, prophecy and liturgy;[4] its influence on Qumran theology and liturgical p ractice was demonstrated as well.[5]

The intensified use of the covenantal concept in Qumran theology may be understood in light of the continuity and renewal of the covenantal relationship, even following a violation of the original stipulations, as promised to Israel in the Deuteronomi c literature (Deut 4:29-31; 30:1-10; cf. also the expression of this idea in Lev 26:39-46) and in biblical prophecy, especially that of Jeremiah (31:30-36; 32:36-41) and Ezekiel (36:24-28; 37:21-28). The Qumran concept of the continuity and the renewal of the covenant between God and Israel is examined in this paper in terms of the following aspects:

The significance of the"new covenant" in light of biblical and apocryphal traditions of covenant renewal;

The continuity of the covenant as it refers to the history of Israel, on the one hand, and to that of the Qumran community, on the other;

The dilemma of simultaneously holding a concept of covenant based upon free will and the concept of predestination.

The following discussion of these topics, as presented here, is in the initial stage of examination. The short time available for preparation of this paper was inadequate to fully examine the phenomenon as expressed in all the genres of the Qumran lit erature; this will be completed later. Your responses to the suggestions presented here are helpful and welcome.

II. The Significance of the"New Covenant" in Light of Biblical and Apocryphal Traditions of Covenant Renewal

According to Mendenhall's survey of the types of covenant treaties found in the Bible, the concept of covenant between God and Israel was transformed during the course of history from a one-sided covenant made by God with the ancestors of humanity and of Israel into a mutual covenant.[6] The covenant made by God with Noah and with the Israelite ancestors, the priesthood, and the Davidic dynasty may be defined as of a promissory type. According to t his model, a person is chosen by God for a definite mission, but even when this mission involves a codex of laws, as in the case of Noah, or the law of circumcision given to Abraham, there is no requirement of any pledge procedure, such as an oath, on the part of the person committed to undertaking these laws.[7] The covenant between God and Israel became a mutual one of the suzerainty-vassal type no earlier than the Sinai covenant. While preserving th e motif of choice, the Sinai covenant stipulates its continuity by a pledge of the chosen one, Israel, to observe a codex of laws (Exod 19:8; 24:7). The Sinai covenant even includes sanctions, based on the retaliation principle, contingent upon the observ ation of the laws (Exod 20:5). The continuity of the covenant between God and Israel, even after its violation by Israel, as realized due to the grace of God (Exod 34), became a fixed ritual in the Deuteronomic literature. The book of Deuteronomy as a who le symbolizes the renewal of the covenant with the new generation after the Exodus, while the ceremony of renewal, as commanded in Deuteronomy 27, was performed by Joshua at Canaan (Jos 8:30-35). A public ceremonial of covenant renewal for all generations is commanded in Deut 31:10-13, to be executed during the Tabernacles festival of every seventh year.[8] Public ceremonies renewing the covenant between God and Israel were performed in other specific situations as well, such as the conclusion of Joshua's mission (Jos 24), the establishment of a human kingdom in Israel (1 Sam 12), and the establishment of Josiah's reform to realize the Deuteronomic laws (2 Kgs 23:1-3 [= 2 Chr 34:29-32]). The Deuteronom ic concept of covenant renewal became a model for a fixed ritual and for a specific situational ritual in Israel also during the Second Temple period. This is demonstrated by the ritual of Ezra as described in Nehemiah 8, and by the covenantal ceremony he ld by Nehemiah when some new ordinances were necessary for standardizing the Temple worship[9] and for reforming the public and social life of Israelite society (Neh 9-10) on the basis of social-righte ousness.[10] Both Josiah's and Nehemiah's ceremonies include a public pledge performed by oath (2 Kgs 23:3 Neh 10:30).[11]

The hope for the eschatological renewal of the covenant between God and Israel, as formulated by Jeremiah (31:30-33) and Ezekiel (36:24-28; 37:23-28), was based on the aforementioned principles of continuity and renewal. However, both prophets emphasi zed the eternity of the eschatological covenant, as opposed to the earlier covenants between God and Israel, which were repeatedly broken due to the transgressions of Israel (Jer 31:31). According to both prophets, this revolutionary act would have been a ttainable, not by a human action, but by a divine action--either by a psychological changing of the disobedient character of Israel (Jer 31:32; Ezek 36:25), or by a divine selection removing those who rebel and transgress from the multitude of Israel (Eze k 20:38). Thus, the significance of the eschatological"new covenant" seems to reflect the hope for the eternity of the covenant. However, according to the biblical context the realization of this hope depends on new situations, which seem to be utopian, a nd thus might have been considered by the readers of the Bible as merely a symbol for the necessary change which may assure the eternal existence of Israel as"the people of God" (see Ezek 36:20; cf. Dan 7:27).[12] Nevertheless, as the Qumran community adapted the term"New Covenant" for its codex of laws (CD vi 19; xx 11-12; cf. CD xix 32-34), it would seem that the hope for the eschatological renewal of the covenant between God and Israel was consider ed by the community not just as an utopian hope, but rather as a realistic change to assure the eternal existence of Israel as the chosen people of God (see Dan 7:27).

In order to understand the Qumran concept of covenant renewal, one needs to survey the realistic changes made by the"new covenanters of Qumran"(a term suggested by S. Talmon)[13] to assure the ete rnal existence of the covenant between God and Israel. However, before beginning to survey the concept of covenant renewal according to the Qumran corpus, it is worth studying the development of the biblical idea of the covenant between God and Israel as reflected in the apocalyptic literature of the Second Temple period which preceded the Qumran writings, whose influence on the latter is apparent in many aspects. To this purpose I shall use the Book of Jubilees.[14]

The Book of Jubilees reflects the development of the biblical concept of covenant between God and Israel with regard to two topics: (1) the change in the model of the covenant between God and the ancestors from a promissory covenant to a mutual one; ( 2) the promotion and emphasize upon the idea of the continuity of the mutual covenant between God and Israel along all the generations.

The transformation or adaptation of the promissory covenant into a mutual covenant is expressed in the Book of Jubilees by the undertaking of an oath to perform God's commandments. Thus"Noah and his sons swore that they would not eat any blood which w as in any flesh"; thus,"he made a covenant before the Lord God forever in all of the generations" (6:10).[15] Similarly, the angel of the presence instructed Moses that he"also might make a covenant w ith the children of Israel with an oath" on Mount Sinai (6:11). Isaac made his sons, Jacob and Esau, swear a great oath in the name of the Lord who created heaven and earth that they would fear Him and worship Him (36:7). This oath was undertaken in order to prevent any hatred between Jacob and Esau,[16] but also regarding the matter of the idols, which they were commanded to scorn and whose worship to prevent by breaking all constructions used in the ir worship (36:5). By imposing the undertaking of an oath regarding those commandments in which the author of Jubilees had a particular interest, such as the proscription against eating any blood, which characterized the customs of the Gentiles, or the av oidance of any constructions of pagan's worship, such as those of the Greeks, ancient commandments were adapted to a new situation. This adaptation could only have been realized by considering the covenant between God and the ancestors as a mutual covenan t based on laws which were to be undertaken by an oath, and not just as a type of a promissory covenant based on the motif of choice alone.

The principle of the continuation of the covenant as a mutual act is expressed in the Book of Jubilees by tying the generations to one another through the observance of the commandments of God. Hence, the commandment to avoid the eating of any blood w as observed after Noah only by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (6:19), until it was commanded to Israel on Mount Sinai (6:12-14). Another law which Noah was commanded according to the Book of Jubilees was the date of the renewal of the covenant with God on the t hird month (6:1, 4, 10-11), during the festival of the Pentecost (6:17), which according to its calendar was to be celebrated at the fifteenth of the third month (15:1; 16:13). This law, which according to Jubilees entailed a 364-day calendar, was observe d by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (6:19; 14:10, 20; 15:1-10),[17] and was to be commanded to Israel for all generations (6:20-22). The strategy of imposing the covenant of laws upon Israel was realized in the Book of Jubilees by its being inherited from generation to generation. The strategy of the inheritance of the covenant of laws and its blessings to those who observe the laws from generation to generation is apparent in Jubilees 20 (Abraham to Isaac and Ishmael); 21 (Abraham to Isaac); 22 (Abraham to Jacob); 36 (Isaac to his sons).[18] Thus the covenant with the ancestors of Israel became a mutual covenant rather than one of a promissory type. By this strategy, the laws of the Torah as given to Moses could have been considered as the continuation of the covenant made by God with the ancient ancestors.

Moreover, according to Jub. 16:18; 19:18, the purpose of the covenant between God and Israel--that they become"a special possession from all people" and"a kingdom of priests and holy people," as written in Exod 19:5-6--was already predestined at the p eriod of the ancestors of Israel. This idea of predestination is connected with the idea of choice, as shall be detailed later. The historical realization of this predestined covenant and its eschatological renewal after its violation by Israel (Jub. 1:4, 15-18, 22-29) is related to Moses in the Book of Jubilees, in the form of an apocalyptic revelation written by the Angel of the Presence on the tablets of the division of years (Jub 1:29), as a testimony for future generations.[19] The definition"new covenant" is not explicit in this revelation; however, the terminology mentioned in Jub. 1:21-24 is concerned with the idea of an eternal, eschatological new covenant, as mentioned in Jer 31:32; Ezek 36: 26; and Deut 4:29; 30:2, 6.

III The Continuity of the Covenant as it Refers to the History of Israel, on the One Hand, and to the History of the Qumran Community, on the Other

The eschatological"New Covenant," adapted by the Qumran community as the definition of its covenant with God, is considered in the historical survey given in the Damascus Covenant (CD ii 13 - iv 12) as the continuity of the historical covenant made be tween God and Israel for observing the commandments of God.[20] Following the Book of Jubilees, the only ones who kept the covenant throughout all the generations of Israel were Abraham, Isaac and Jac ob, who"were written up as friends of God and as members of the covenant for ever" (CD iii 2-4). According to this survey, the only ones deserving to be considered as the faithful successors of the ancestors with whom God has continued"to establish His co venant for ever" are those who are"steadfast in God's precepts," namely the members of the Qumran community. In this context, God's precepts are defined as the revelations of"the hidden matters in which all Israel had gone astray: His holy sabbaths and Hi s glorious feasts, His just stipulations and His truthful paths, and the wishes of His will which man must do in order to live by them" (CD iii 12-16; cf Lev 18:5). According to CD vi 17b-19, these are the stipulations which"those who entered the New Cove nant in the land of Damascus" were obliged to observe, to be undertaken by an oath (CD xv 5-10; 1QS v 8-9; 1QHa xiv 17).[21] As these stipulations are considered the commandments of Moses' Law, accord ing to their hidden interpretation as revealed to the members of the Qumran community (cf. 1QS v 8-12, etc.), the realization of the eschatological New Covenant, which may assure the eternal existence of Israel as"the people of God," depends on the correc t interpretation of the precepts of Moses' Laws. In other words, whereas the reference to the Sinai covenant in its biblical context applied to the biblical laws as written (e.g. Jer 7:9), according to the Qumran concept the covenant renewal was applied t o the laws of the Sinai covenant according to their correct interpretation. This concept reflects the halakhic activity that characterized Judaism of the Second Temple period from the return from the Babylonian exile at the times of Haggai and Zechariah ( Hag 2:11-14; Zech 7:2-3, 18-19), Ezra and Nehemiah (Neh 8; 10). Indeed, during the days of Ezra and Nehemiah this halakhic activity was considered as a covenant renewal (Ezra 10:2-5; Neh 9-10). However, the most extensive description of halakhic activity as covenant renewal seems to be that of the Qumran community, which may have been motivated by the halakhic controversy with other circles of the Second Temple Judaism. The concept of the covenant renewal in its encompassing nature as held by the Qumran c ommunity was used for internal purposes, to strengthen the adherence of the members of the Community to its halakhic homily system as the only one worthy of being considered as the eschatological New Covenant. As demonstrated above, this claim of renewal referred, not just to the liturgical procedure of the renewal, but to the elaboration of the content of the biblical covenants according to the aforementioned new perception appropriated to the new historical conditions.

Considered from a historical perspective, this renewal reflects the idea of renewal as it was known throughout the history of Israel, in which the establishment of each constitutional reform was formally constituted by a covenant renewal, expressing i ts continuity to the first covenant made by God and the former generations, on the one hand, while stressing the new stipulations adapted to the new situations, on the other hand. Such are, for example, the Deuteronomic covenant, which was considered as t he renewal of the Sinai covenant, although this was actually another covenant made by Moses in the wilderness of Moab, stressing cultic and monarchic reform; the covenant made by Joshua at Shechem (Jos 24),[22] which stressed the eradication of the idols held by the Israelites (vv. 14-40); the covenant made by Samuel for establishing the human kingdom (1 Sam 12); the covenant made by Josiah for establishing the Deuteronomic cultic reform (2 Kgs 23:1-3 = 2 Chr 34:30-33);[23] and the eschatological covenant renewal as prophesied by Jeremiah (31:33-36) and Ezekiel (36:24-28; 37:23-28), in order to ensure its eternity. The concept of presenting religi ous and social reforms as covenant renewal was accepted by the late biblical literature, as reflected in 2 Chr 15:14-15, regarding the cultic reform made by King Assa and the religious-social reform made by Nehemiah (Neh 9-10). In post-biblical literature , as in Jub.1:15-29 and the Qumran literature, the concept of covenant renewal applied to the eschatological covenant renewal regarding the revealed interpretations of the Law of Moses.[24] Such a typ e of renewal was adapted to Jeremiah's and Ezekiel's prophecy that the historical process of breaking and renewing of the covenant is to be changed by the eschatological eternal new covenant. Yet the only texts in which the eternity of the covenant is men tioned are the Book of Jubilees and the Qumran writings.

According to biblical and post-biblical literature, the historical renewals of the covenant were always necessary after the breaking of a former covenant. Thus, in light of the survey of the covenant renewal along the history of Israel, we may conclude that the history of Israel was considered in biblical and post-biblical literature as the history of the covenant between God and Israel, and its eschatological renewal was considered as an eternal changing of this process.

The history of the covenant renewal of the Qumran community itself may likewise be explained according to this perception of the eternity referring to the eschatological covenant renewal. The main parameter referred to seems to be the unacceptability of the breaking of the covenant as occurring in the reality of the Qumran community. This perception is apparent in the Qumran literature as following.

The history of the covenant between God and Israel, as depicted in the aforementioned survey of the Damascus Document (CD ii 14 - iv 12), reached not just to the first generation of the Qumran community, but also to those"who enter after them" (iv 7), namely, the"sons" (ii 14)[25] to whom this admonition is applied. These are obligated"to act according to the exact interpretation of the law in which the very first were instructed" (4:8; cf. 8:16-1 8a = 19:29-31a). The terminology concerning this significance of the "New Covenant" also applied to those who were unfaithful to the precepts of the Qumran community (CD xix 33-xx 1a). On the basis of the reference there to"all the men who entered the New Covenant in the land of Damascus and turned and betrayed... (who) shall not be counted in the assembly of the people and shall not be inscribed in their [lis]ts from the day the unique Teacher was gathered" (i.e., died),[26] Murphy O'Connor claimed that the crisis of unfaithfulness to the New Covenant in the community occurred after the death of the Teacher of Righteousness.[27] However, on the b asis of the reference to punishment for their betrayal of the New Covenant as compared to"the judgment of their companions who turned away with the men of mockery..." (20:10c-12)--possibly referring to those who betrayed the New Covenant during the lifetime of the Teacher of Righteousness[28]--it would seem that betrayal of the New Covenant of the Qumran community was not a single event, but occurred throughout its history. This assumption may be demo nstrated by the references to efforts made by elements within the Qumran community who attempted to cause its members to transgress the precepts of their covenant and stumble in their fulfillment such as the "house of Abshalom" (1QpHab v 8-11) or other tr aitors (1QpHab ii ; 1QM xiv:10; 1QHa ...). The main demonstration of this reality, however, is apparent in the liturgical curses of those who despise the covenant of the community, and their ceremonial expulsion from the community. See, for example, the curse of those who entered the covenant but afterwards rejected it willfully, as given in the annual covenantal ceremony of the Rule Scroll (1QS ii 11-18; cf. 4Q280 2; 4Q286 7 ii [= 4Q286 6]), [29] an d the ceremony involving the expulsion of those who betray the covenant in 1QS ii 25b-iii 12 and in 4Q266 (=4QDa) xi 5b-18a [= 4Q270 7 I:19c-7 ii 12a]). Possibly, this annual purgation of the community from those who betrayed its covenant was intended to avoid any disturbance to its expectations of everlasting salvation. Such a strategy may have been influenced by the strategy that appears in Ezekiel 20:37-38, according to which a selection throughout the"bond of the covenant" will be held at the"desert o f the people" in order to remove from the exiles of Israel those who rebel and transgress against the Lord. This typology of the wilderness plays a symbolic role in the eschatological ideology of the Qumran community, as the place and time of"preparing th e way in the wilderness" for gaining eternal salvation (1QS viii 13-16).[30] This seems to apply to the fulfillment of the covenantal regulations of the Qumran community on the one hand, and to the re moval of the rebels from the community on the other, as was the situation of the Exodus of the children of Israel. For this typological ideology, see the use of the terms"the desert of the people" in 1QM i 3 for the place where the"wilderness exile," name ly those who will be the fighters (1QM i 2), will gather before the eschatological war.

IV The Dilemma of Holding a Concept of Covenant Based Simultaneously on Free Will and the Concept of Predestination

The reality of a community that considered itself the chosen entity of Israel for realizing the deterministic concept of the eschatological New Covenant of God with Israel, but which simultaneously needed to annually expel from the community members w ho were unable to realize this ideal, brings us to a theological dilemma which should have bothered the community--namely, the contradiction between the concept of predestined fate regarding the life of each individual (see 1QS iii 15-iv 12; 1QHa...; etc. ), and that of entering the covenant, based on free will.[31] The question as to whether the members of the Qumran community were conscious of this dilemma has already been raised by Jacob Licht, who observed the tension between these two concepts. Licht suggested that the term "' in the sense of "volunteering, as appeared in the title '" for the members of the community, e.g. who set up His covenant, and who volunteer to return within the community to His coven ant (1QS v 21-22), may be considered as the solution of this dilemma, pointing as it does toward the willing acceptance of the predestined fate by each of its members.[32 ] The conscious solution to this dilemma is apparent in the phrase '' '' ' ' "' and (in) all that befalls him he shall delight willingly"[33] (1QS ix 24),[34] in which both concepts, that of predestination and of free will, are expressed simultaneously.[35]

Another solution for this dilemma may be based on the theology of"the choice" which characterizes the theology of the covenant in both biblical and post-biblical literature, as mentioned above. The theology of the choice of Israel for the people with whom God made His covenant is mentioned in the Qumran liturgical writings, such as the prayer of the Day of Atonement in 1Q34bis 3 ii 5-8 (= 4Q509 97-98:6b-10) and the weekly prayers of the Words of the Luminaries (4Q504 3 ii; 4). In such Qumran prayers f or the liturgy of fixed times, however, the idea of predestination is not specified;[36] hence, there is no place to refer there to this dilemma. In the explicitly sectarian writings from Qumran, the idea of choice is applied to the members of the Qumran community, e.g. ' ' ( ... 1QS 4:22). Note also the mutual idea of choice and of keeping the covenant in 1QSb 1:1-3:

" [']. ޻ ' [

' '] '' ' ޠ'''' 'ח[]' '"'

''' ' [' " [''.

' ' ' [ ']'" ".[37]

This idea is also applied to the sons of light in the prayers to be held at the eschatological war against the sons of darkness. See 1QM x 9-11;xiii 7-8; etc.[38] These writings should be seen as referring to the idea of Israel's choice to keep God's covenant and to be His treasured people (Exod 19:5). However, whereas the Bible suggests the option for being God's treasured people as the choice of the Israelites, no such option exists for the sons of light in the Qumran writings. Moreover, as specified above, according to Book of Jubilees 19:18; 22:10 (cf. CD iii 3-4) such a choice is also avoided from the sons of Jacob. The deterministic outlook concerning God's initiative to chose Israel for the nation of His covenant is, however, pointed out in the idea of retaliation as already formulated in the Decalogue, and along the biblical historiography of Israel. This concept is expressed in the survey of the Damascus Document regarding the history of the covenant between God and Israel by the use of the terminology of and ' only in connection with the phenomenon of rebellion against the covenant of God. Those who violate the covenant are defined as "having departed from God's covenant and chose n their own will (iii 11), whereas Abraham, who kept God's ordinances,"did not choose his own spirit desired" (iii 2-3),[39] and likewise those who followed him.

According to the deterministic concept of the Qumran community, the observance of the commandments of God's covenant according to the interpretation revealed to the members of the Qumran Community served as the parameter for testifying the chosen ones of the eschatological"New Covenant," on the one hand, and those who could not belong to this chosen entity, on the other hand.

In conclusion: The intensified implementation of the religious concept of the covenant relationship between God and Israel in the Qumran ideology and the practical lives of the community is connected with that community's eschatological outlook. In Qu mran, the utopian promised characteristic of the eschatological continuity and the renewal of the covenant between God and Israel as an eternal covenant became a practical renewal, adapting the biblical covenant to the new circumstantial practice of speci fic interpretation of the Law of Moses as revealed among the community. As the eschatological reform of the stipulations of the"New Covenant" was intended to"prepare the way in the wilderness" towards an eternal salvation, it lead the Qumran"new covenante rs" to adhere strictly to a meticulous system of keeping the commandments of the"New Covenant." This system was justified by adapting the biblical idea of the choice for the covenantal relationship with God to a predestined outlook of these types of relationship. The Concept of the Covenant in Qumran Literature in the Historical Perspective of the Covenant between God and Israel.