Qumran Laments and the Study of Lament Literature

Adele Berlin
University of Maryland

Among the Dead Sea scrolls are four copies of the biblical book of Lamentations (3Q3, 4Q111, 5Q6, 5Q7) and several compositions that draw on or bear a resemblance to Lamentations: 4Q179, 4Q282 (formerly 4Q241), 4Q439, 4Q445, 4Q453, and 4Q501. These Lamentations-like texts have received little attention, even in recent studies of Qumran poetry and prayer, and they merit consideration under both these topics. To date, only 4Q179 and 4Q501 have been published,1 and it is these two texts that I will examine in the hope of understanding more about their nature and their meaning. Are they indeed laments? What are their compositional techniques? What use do they make of scriptural references? What is their place in Qumran religious expression?


It is obvious that this composition has drawn heavily on the Book of Lamentations and on prophetic writings. Earlier commentators assumed that it is a poem, and I will too, although that is hard to prove because no line has been completely preserved. The impression that it is a poem stems largely from the biblical poetic texts from which it is constituted. M. Horgan (228) raised the possibility that it is actually several poems, on the model of the five chapters in the Book of Lamentations, and noted that it is uncertain which of the two large fragments comes first. It is true that the second fragment quotes Lam 1:1 and the first is based on later parts of Lamentations, but the composition invokes only selected parts of Lamentations, in an order of its own making. It seems reasonable to assume that we are dealing with one poem, but the text is so poorly preserved that we have little sense of its coherence.

The large 2-column fragment opens with a confession of guilt, but not in the typical formulaic language of penitential prayers: ". . . all our sins and it is not in the power of our hands for we did not heed." These sins presumably led to the catastrophe described immediately afterwards, the destruction of Jerusalem by fire and ravaging, which forms the bulk of the extant text. The description moves from inside to outside. It begins with lack of sacrificial odor on the altar and progresses to the holy courts (of the Temple), the squares (fit only for animals), the desolate citadels, and the absence of entering pilgrims. The culmination is "our ____" (referring to the Temple precinct, the city, or perhaps even the entire country), which has become a desert. The column ends with another reference to sins and transgressions, perhaps forming an inclusio with the beginning of the column.

The second column of the first fragment invokes Lamentations more often, especially Lamentations 4. Its themes are woe, defilement, and the dire straits of those who once lived in luxury.

The second large fragment develops the metaphor of the abandoned woman of Lamentations 1:1 by calling on similar images in Isa 54:6. It breaks off with a reworking of Lam 1:2 in which Jerusalem is weeping for her children.

The style is overtly biblicizing, as are many poems and prayers in Qumran and beyond. Despite the fact that the poem is laced with biblical allusions, to such an extent that it is composed largely of a pastiche of biblical phrases, no biblical verse is quoted in its entirety. Moreover, the biblical allusions are obvious but are not exact quotations. There is a distinct tendency to add words to biblical expressions or to combine biblical citations. The composition displays some interesting features in this regard, not unlike other Qumran texts but not exactly like them either. The ways in which scripture is used in the Bible itself, at Qumran, and in rabbinic exegesis has become the subject of much fruitful research, and I would like to relate my analysis to that enterprise.

In making additions to and combinations of biblical phrases, the author of 4Q179 employed the exegetical techniques of his period. But 4Q179 is not, I think, an exegetical piece per se, as that term is usually meant. To put it in reductionist terms, it is a prayer, not a pesher. It is an example of what Devorah Dimant has called "anthological style, which makes use of biblical allusions, reminiscences, and semi-citations as a literary feature." Dimant distinguishes this from "the anthological style with exegetical purpose" ("Qumran Sectarian Literature," 504). The distinction is useful but not absolute. For one thing, the allusions and citations may unintentionally reveal the interpretations of the poet's community, or may call upon those interpretations in a more conscious way. Secondly, the juxtaposition of verses from different parts of the Bible often creates a new interpretive effect, whether or not that was the author's purpose. An allusion makes the reader see the quoted verse in a new light, as well as in its original context. We cannot, therefore, easily decide whether a composition has an exegetical purpose. It may be better to put the question of exegetical purpose on a continuum, from texts that are formally exegetical, like the pesharim, to those that are overtly but not formally exegetical, like the rewriting of parts of the Bible, to those that employ biblical verses, and by definition the meaning that adheres to those verses, as a means rather than as an end. Prayers and hymns, it seems to me, are in this last category. They use scriptural citations for many purposes: to embellish their literary art, to invoke the authority of tradition, and, through subtle exegetical techniques, to drive home their message. Their use of scripture is somewhat comparable to that of later piyyutim and medieval Hebrew poetry, but it often goes far beyond them. It is difficult to ascertain the significance of the way a scriptural verse is cited, or the connection between it and another verse; but it is worth attempting because it may hold the key to the meaning of the poem.

In a recent paper,2 Paul Mandel drew some parallels between Qumran and rabbinic exegesis. Among the "styles of presentation" shared by both, he noted two that are of interest to my discussion. One is citation and interpretation of Scripture woven into non-exegetical contexts (his examples were CD and MMT). The second is Scripture cited (almost) verbatim, with the interpretation arising from juxtaposition of verses or through explicit (minor) changes (exemplified by 4QRP, Reworked Pentateuch = 4Q364-367). These two "styles of presentation," especially the second one, describe in a general way the main compositional techniques that I find in 4Q179. I was also taken by Mandel's recognition of the fact that the juxtaposition of verses creates an interpretive nexus, and I will develop in greater detail how this works. But Mandel's examples do not include poems or prayers, because, I suppose, the rabbinic material contains so few of them.

The use of the Bible in prayer is the subject of several recent studies. Rodney Werline, in Penitential Prayer in Second Temple Judaism. The Development of a Religious Institution, shows how penitential prayers incorporate and change biblical themes and phraseology. Judith Newman's Praying By the Book. The Scripturalization of Prayer in Second Temple Judaim identifies three modes of interpretation in prayers: the telling of history in Nehemiah 9, the use of typology in Judith 9, and the use of exempla in 3 Maccabees 2. Daniel Falk's article "Biblical Adaption in 4Q392 Works of God and 4Q393 Communal Confession" shows how a prayer can be composed of a biblical base text and modified by other biblical texts and/or by extrabiblical traditions. These studies build on their predecessors in further refining the study of scriptural influences on Second Temple writings, and they also contribute nuanced and insightful readings of their texts. They provide suggestive models of how modern readers may interpret ancient prayers, and how they may uncover traces of ancient exegesis or exegetical practices in prayers.

Let us look at some of the compositional techniques in 4Q179. I call them compositional techniques because they form the ways in which the poem is constructed. I do not think the poet set out to interpret verses from Lamentations. I think he wanted to write a poem, express an idea. He did so by quoting many biblical phrases. To the extent that the phrases get explained or reinterpreted in the poem, it is because the poet is working with known biblical themes and models that he uses creatively for his own ends. To echo my refrain, this is a poem, not a pesher. What I find interesting is that in the case of 4Q179 and 4Q501, the compositional techniques correspond to exegetical techniques.

My "control" for these techniques is not rabbinic exegesis, but what has come to be known as inner biblical exegesis, and I use Michael Fishbane's Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel as my guide. 4Q179 exemplifies three exegetical techniques identified by Fishbane.

(1) The addition of an annotation unmarked by any deictic element (Fishbane, 58-65). A biblical example is Deut 22:11, __ ____ _____ ___ ______ ____, where the words "wool and flax together" explain the meaning of _____. We find a similar explanation, without an indication that it is an explanation, in Frag. 2, line 4

[____ ____] ___ ____ [__]___[_ ____]___ , which is an expansion of Lam 1:1: ____ ____ ___ ____.

(2) The substitution of a more common term for a less common one (Fishbane, 56-57). An alternative analysis of my previous example is that ______ _______ replaces the more difficult ____ __ of Lam 1:1. A clearer case of substitution is in Frag. 2, l.5: ____ __ ____[__] in which the biblical term ______ was replaced by the more common ______.3 It is possible that _______ ____ ____ (I.II.9) replaces ____ ______ (Lam 4:5).

(3) Blending or conflation of biblical phrases (Fishbane, 135-137). The classic example is 2 Chr 35:13: ______ ____ ___ which conflates Exod 12:9: __ _____ ____ __ ____ ____ ____ __ __ ___ __ and Deut 16:7: _____ _____.

1. Frag. 1 Col 2, line 11 reads _______ [_]__ ____. This is a conflation of Lam 4:2: _______ ___ and Job 28:16:__ ____ ____ _____ .

2. Frag. 1 Col 2, line 14 is ____ ____ ______, a combination of Ezek 16:13: __ ____ _____ and Ezek 27:24:______ ____ _____ .

3. Frag. 1 Col. 1, line 5 has ___ _____ __ _____ which appears to combine Isa 64:10: ___ _____ __ and Isa 1:7: _____ _____ __ . . . _____ ______ ____ .

4. Frag. 2, line 6 reads [_]___ __[_]___ ______ _______ . . .. __ ________. The allusion to Isa 54:6 is clear, ____ _____ ______ ___, but there may also be an allusion to Isa 23:13: _____ ________. (The root ___/___ plays on the ideas of "childlessness, nakedness, and degradation.)

5. We can see this conflation in action from the physical evidence in Frag. 1, Col. 1, line 14 where the original text read _____ ________ , echoing Jer 30:15: ____ _____ . It was corrected by the insertion of __ and the deleting of ___ so that it now reads _____ ______ , conforming to Mic 1:9: _____ ______.

6. It is possible that ______ _______ , which I earlier suggested was an unmarked addition or a substitution, could be analyzed as a conflation of verses. Compare Jonah 1:1 _____ ____ ______ and Gen 10:12: ___ ____ ______, referring to Calah.

The type of conflation clearly at work in examples 1 and 2 can be formulated as AB and AC = ABC. That is, two biblical phrases that share a common term are joined into a hybrid phrase containing the shared term plus the distinctive terms from both original phrases. Conflation is often used to smoothe away differences in the conflated texts, as is the case in 2 Chr 35:13. A related type of harmonization is accomplished in the rabbinic tradition, in reference to the sabbath commandment, which opens with the word ____ in Exod 20:7 and ____ in Deut 5:11. The Mekhilta (_____ ______ 7) explains that these two phrases are one utterance, two words spoken and heard as one word (____ _____ _____ _____ ___ _____).4 This does not create a new text that is a conflation of two earlier texts; it is, rather, a conflation through interpretation. It literally makes one thing out of two things. Its effect is similar to 2 Chr 35: 13 in that it erases the dissonance between the two citations. This piece of interpretation finds its way into the ___ ____ prayer, ____ _____ _____ ___ , a nice example of an interpretation imported into a literary, non-exegetical context.

A modern example of a conflated text is NRSV's translation of Gen 1:1: "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth." As the note in NRSV indicates, this is a conflation of When God began to create and In the beginning God created. The first alternative is preferable, according to scholarly opinion, but English-speaking Christian Bible readers are so wedded to the KJV's "In the beginning" that it seemed too jarring to open the Bible with any other words. The conflation lets the translators have their cake and eat it, too.

The conflation of biblical verses is the most dominant and most important technique I have observed in 4Q179 and 4Q501, but harmonization is not the reason for its use. Rather, it seems to be doing the opposite: it sets up a dissonance between the common understanding of a verse and the new understanding that the poet is advocating.

Let us look more closely at one conflation, the phrase in Frag.I,II, 13-14,

____ ___ ____ _____{_} ____[_ . . .] ____ ____ ______ .

This follows a description of those reared in scarlet (Lam 4:5) and a passage with other terms from Lamentations 4. At first blush, the citation from Ezekiel 16:13 of jewelry and of silk, purple, and multicolored clothing merely enhances Lamentations's image of the luxury that has turned to poverty. But in fact the reference to Ezekiel is devastating, because it is a portrait of Jerusalem, the girl whom God dressed in finery and who then used her finery to attract lovers with whom she prostituted herself. The Ezekiel reference undercuts the Lamentations reference and turns sympathy into a critique of the Jerusalemites. Those fancy dressers had turned away from God while things were still good.

The word ____ does not occur in Ezek 16:13, but is found in Ezek 27:24 in association with ____. In fact, there is a tradition of interpreting ____ as "purple," the color of ____. But in our text I do not think that ____ is just an explanatory addition, for then I would expect it to follow _____, not precede it. I see here a conflation of Ezek 16:13 and 27:24 - the latter is a description of the haughty Tyre, with all her imported finery, whose imminent demise Ezekiel is lamenting. This adds yet another negative image to the picture.

I note in passing that Lamentations Rabbah also uses Ezekiel 16 in association with Lamentations, but in a different context. Commenting on the word ___ in Lam 1:1, Lamentations Rabbah says:5


It is like a king who had a son. Whenever he did as his father wished, he dressed him in fine wool and whenever he got angry at him he dressed him in rags. So, when Israel did as God wished, he dressed them in fine garments, as in "I dressed you in ____ (Ezek 16:10). R. Simai says [that ____ means] "purple" [_______] and Aquila translated "embroidered" [__________]. And since they angered him, he dressed them in garments of loneliness ______)).

There may be an underlying common exegetical tradition of explaining garments in Lamentations by referencing Ezekiel 16, but if so, it is applied quite differently in these two cases.

4Q179 is too fragmentary for a close reading of individual lines, but we can see that along with the verbal conflation there is a corresponding tendency to conflate the imagery. Whereas Lam 1:1 speaks of a widowed woman dwelling alone, and then goes on to portray a faithless woman, 4Q179, Fragment II, calling on descriptions of destroyed cities from Isa 54:1-6 and perhaps Zeph 2:4, speaks of a woman abandoned, barren, and bitter. Fragment I col.I introduces prophetic imagery of Jerusalem as a wasteland, a habitat for wild animals, a theme absent from Lamentations except for 5:18.

The dominant imagery is the absence of people and cultic ritual, desolation, and abandonment. There is a heavy emphasis on the image of the city's destruction and its aftermath but no mention of a foreign enemy or of the exile of the people (common themes in Lamentations and other biblical laments and in Second Temple penitential prayers). It is Jerusalem's suffering that is highlighted, and if it is a desert wasteland, that means that the city has been long abandoned. This is somewhat strange if the composition dates from a time when Jerusalem was a thriving city. It is one thing to claim, as many Second Temple penitential prayers do, that even though the Jews have returned to Judah they are still spiritually in exile. It is quite another to dwell on the image of Jerusalem in ruins. Added to this is the reference to the absence of the odor of sacrifice on the altar (______ ___ __ ___[__]) and the implied criticism of the city's elite who wore the clothing of Jerusalem the prostitute. All of this begins to add up to a peculiarly Qumranic view of Jerusalem. The poet may be conveying a picture of the condition of Jerusalem of his own time, which he couched in the language of the destruction of 586. To the Qumran community, the Temple was a place of impurity, unfit for sacrifice, and whatever sacrificing was done there would not be pleasing to God. It may not be going too far to say that for them the Temple was, in a cultic sense, still in ruins. The prophecy of Jeremiah 33:10-11 has not yet been fulfilled, for as our poem says [__]_ __[_]_ ___ ___{_}__ (I.I.13). It remains for the eschaton to usher in its rebuilding. Meanwhile, we have this poem, a depressing glimpse of the destroyed city; and an antidote in 4Q Tanhumim (4Q176), which invokes biblical passages of comfort and the hope of the future rebuilding of Jerusalem

My foregoing comments raise questions about what type of text 4Q179 is and where it was composed. I will address the issue of genre now, and defer the question of place of origin until after an analysis of 4Q501.

4Q179 is known by titles like "4Q Apocryphal Lament" (its official listing), "a fragment from a "Klage-Dichtungen" (Maier), "A Lament over Jerusalem" (Horgan), but these titles really tell us little except that the piece draws heavily on the Book of

memorate a contemporary historical occasion - the attacks on Jerusalem by Antiochus Epiphanes IV in 169/8 and 168/7 BCE which are mentioned in I Mac 1:16-40 (and where there is a comparable lament), an opinion that is echoed by Wise, et al (p. 237). Horgan prefers this to seeing it as a lament over the destruction of the First Temple at a time when the Second Temple was standing. However, in light of the fact that the theme of the exile is so prevalent in prayers of the Second Temple period,6 and that a text like ours can easily be related to the theme of exile, there is no need to seek a post-586 threat to Jerusalem to account for a Jerusalem lament. We know from Zech 7:5 and 8:19 that Jews commemorated the destruction of Jerusalem with fasts and lamenting (____). L. Schiffman, following this line of thought, notes that the Jews in the Second Temple period continued to mourn over the destruction of the First Temple, and suggests that 4Q179 "is such a text, adapting the biblical Lamentations with exegetical expansions." He suggests that it "may represent the general sorrow of the Jewish people for the loss of the ancient glories of First Temple times" ("Jerusalem," 74).

This may be so, but there are very few remnants of Jerusalem laments from the Second Temple period outside of the Bible. We do not know what the lamenting mentioned in Zech 7:5 consisted of. Only one copy of our text has been found and to my knowledge there are no others at Qumran that resemble it. While there are many Second Temple penitential prayers with the theme of sin-exile-return, they do not include Jerusalem laments like this. The closest things to it are the few short passages in 1 Mac 1:25-28, 37-40; 2:7-13; 3:44-45, 50-53. These are associated with a new instance of a Temple destruction, not a commemoration of the First Temple. Moreover, they are not actually laments uttered by the people. The passages in chapters 1 are poetic descriptions in lament-like language. The passage in 2:7-13 is spoken by Mattathias and is accompanied by gestures of mourning; it is most like the individual and communal laments of the Bible in times of trouble, and it does not commemorate the First Temple. The passages in chapter 3 serve similar functions, as poetic descriptions and as the people's prayer for help and compassion in their trouble. The lament for Jerusalem, in and of itself, seems to have diminished in the postexilic period, having been absorbed into penitential prayer. The mourning over Jerusalem that continued after the return and after the rebuilding of the Temple is not mourning per se, but an aspect of penitential prayer. And the aspect that is stressed in penitential prayer is the state of exile that the Jews consider themselves to be in, not descriptions of the destroyed Temple.

Laments are generally associated with times of public mourning, ad hoc or fixed occasions which also entailed fasting. A lament for Jerusalem might have been recited on fast days like those mentioned in Zechariah 8:19. But despite the ascetic nature of the Qumran sect, there is no evidence that public fasting played a role in their religious observances. Fast days, as Noah Hacham has recently shown, are unknown there except for Yom Kippur.7 If there were no public fasts, that eliminates an obvious occasion for the recitation of a lament over Jerusalem. Of course, such a lament might have been recited at another time, either on a fixed or ad hoc occasion. What this time might be, though, is difficult to imagine. 4Q179 has not so far been identified with any of the formal daily, weekly, or festival liturgies, and the Qumran calendar does not offer any suggestive possibilities.

For these reasons, I am reluctant to conclude that 4Q179 is a poem written primarily to commemorate the historical destruction of Jerusalem. I prefer to see it as a hymn or penitential prayer (there is a clear admisison of sin), of which there are many examples from this period, rather than a Jerusalem lament, for which there are few examples. It joins a number of other such prayers whose Sitz im Leben at Qumran is not currently known.


This composition can be considered a companion piece to 4Q179 in that it, too, relies heavily on Lamentations and other biblical phraseology. But it is not a lament over Jerusalem. It makes no reference to the city or the Temple. The exile motif is much less explicit, although it can be read out of the allusions to Lamentations 5. The poem is, rather, a supplication or petition, similar in some ways to penitential prayers of the Second Temple period, but lacking a confession of sins and a reference to God's former acts of deliverance. It is close in tone and structure to the communal laments of the Bible. The speaker portrays his community as beleaguered by those who speak false words. The community feels itself to be wandering, broken, isolated, and dispossessed. God is bidden to avenge the community against its enemies.

Communal laments in the Bible have been well-studied by form critics. The structural elements that this poem shares with biblical communal laments are: invocation, appeal for deliverance, lament proper, appeal for cursing the enemy (Ferris, 92-103). The invocation is incomplete because God's name is not mentioned; but he is addressed in the second person. The appeal for deliverance is expressed through "don't give our inheritance to strangers." The lament proper typically speaks of both physical danger and mental anguish, and this is true in our case, too. The speaker describes wandering, bent and broken people, attacked by the false words of the enemy. This is followed by the wish that God take revenge on the enemy. These structural elements are the most common ones, according to P. Ferris (93), author of a recent monograph on communal laments. Of the 25 biblical laments that he diagrams, all but one contain an invocation, all have the lament proper, and 23 ask for deliverance and/or revenge on the enemy.

The theme of "lying words," or the enemy who uses his tongue to do harm, is known from the ancient near east in general and the Bible in particular.8 The language and imagery of the poem is general enough for us to conclude that it was not composed at Qumran, and its similarity to 4Q509, which is also not specifically Qumranic, seems to confirm that conclusion.9 But it is also true that the theme of attack by false words or a lying tongue (____ _____, ____ _______) fits well with the mentality of the Qumran community, who viewed their own interpretations as true and the interpretations of others as false. Similar sentiments about being saved from evil tongues and words are found in 1QH (Hodayot) XIII, 24 and XV, 11-13, XVI, 35-38. At the least, the composition may have had special meaning for the Qumran community, whether or not it originated there.

The chapter from Lamentations most evident in this text is Lamentations 5, itself a prayer of supplication, the hallmark of which is ____, the invocation to God to remember.10 Allusions to Lamentations 5 are _____ ______ . . . . ____ ___ (cf. 5:2), ____ and _____ ____ ____ (cf. 5:1), [____] _____ ________ ______ (5:10). In that last phrase I see another conflation, like those in 4Q179. Here the line combines Lam 5:10 _____ _____ _____ ____ ______ ___ , "our skin is burning like an oven from the heat of the famine" and Ps 119:53: _____ ______ ______ ____ _____ , "Heat (agitation) has seized me from the wicked, who have abandoned your Torah." This conflation, "our skin is burning and we are seized by heat by the tongue of the insolent," is a key to the meaning of the poem. It recontextualizes the Lamentations verse in terms of the Psalm 119 verse. "We are physically devastated," says the poem, "like the Jerusalemites in Lamentations, not by famine but by the wicked people who have abandoned the Torah." The poet clarifies the nature of their wickedness by adding the explanatory words _____ ____ _______, "from before their insolent tongue." Insolent words are the cause of the harm. The poet's problem comes not from famine but from Jewish opponents.

B. Nitzan (354) has noted the allusions to Ezek 34:4 and 16 in the words _____ ____ ____, ______ ____ ____ , but she did not comment on the context of these words. Ezekiel is prophesying against the "shepherds," the political leaders of Judah, who failed to provide proper protection for their "sheep" and whom God will call to account. Ezekiel is presenting a vision of restoration to the exiles, a vision in which the old leaders will be replaced either by God or by his duly appointed Davidic representative.11 It is not hard to see our poet equating his community with the sheep, awaiting restoration and the replacement of the "shepherds" of their own day. 4Q501 is not simply a moving dirge by mourners recalling a past exile, nor is it a poem about oppressed people in physical danger. It is not even the standard "we are still in exile" line of the penitential prayers. It is a vindictive attack against the group that the speaker's community sees as its opponents in the matter of "words" - that is, teachings and interpretations. The opponents are the "Babylonians" from whom the poet seeks to be rescued; they are also the "shepherds," the failed Judean kings against whom God will bring judgment.

I find additional support for this view in the influence from Psalm 109 on this poem, especially in the first line. Our text reads: __ ___ _____ ______ _______ ____ ___ , "Don't give our patrimony to strangers and our produce to foreigners." It sounds pretty close to Lam 5:2, which reads ______ _____ _____ _____ ______ but the last part of the line, _______ ____ ___ resembles Ps 109:11: _____ ____ _____ "May strangers plunder his produce." Once again a conflation, this time around the idea of strangers taking one's possessions. In Lamentations they are Babylonians taking the land of Judah; in Psalm 109:11 the strangers are those who will rightfully dispossess the person who speaks deceit and falsehood. Again, Lamentations has been recontextualized to make the enemy those who speak falsely. By quoting Psalm 109:11 our poet is saying "Don't let my produce be plundered" -- that is, "Don't let happen to me what will happen to those who speak falsely."

There is more of Psalm 109's influence in our poem. Line 4 of our text reads: ______ ______ ____ _____ _____ , echoing ____ ___ and ______ in Ps 109:2-3. In fact, the overall contents of Psalm 109, an individual lament by a person suffering from his opponent's false words, is reflected in our text. Lamentations 5 is here recontextualized in combination with Ezekiel 34 and Psalm 109, and thereby transformed from a supplicatory prayer to end the shame and loss of the Babylonian exiles into a prayer for the end of the current religious suffering felt by the speaker. Or conversely, we may say that a standard theme in communal laments about unspecified speakers of false words has been placed into the setting of the destruction of Jerusalem and loaded with Jeremian (Lamentations) and Ezekielian allusions to the exile and the future restoration. While this piece may not look particularly Qumranic on the surface, I can't think of a better place for it to have found a home.

My interpretations of 4Q179 and 4Q501 have found these texts to be in concert with the Qumran religious mentality in regard to the community's view of the contemporary Jerusalem establishment and the war of opposing words or interpretations. This raises the question of whether these texts were composed at Qumran, and of how one decides the locus of origin of a text. I will not rehearse all the criteria, which have been nicely summarized and critiqued by D. Falk (Daily, 9-16) and are also considered by J. Newman (234-240). The default position has been that if a text does not contain terminology or ideology distinctive to Qumran, it originated outside of Qumran. Thus 4Q179 and 4Q501, which on the surface do not manifest distictive traits, have both been declared "outsiders."12 E. Chazon has recently complicated the discussion, making it even harder to ascribe Qumranic origin, by noting that even some of the ideas found in the core Qumran documents, which were not mainstream Jewish ideas, may not have been unique to Qumran, but may have been shared by other Jewish sects (like those who produced Jubilees and Enoch). Qumran was not alone in some of its peculiar ideas, so even the presence of these ideas in a Qumran text is not absolute proof of Qumran origin. Conversely, the absence of such terms or ideas does not prove that the document originated outside, for Qumran, after all, shared many beliefs with other Jewish groups. As Newman (235-236) notes, some Qumran-composed prayers may have been "orthodox" in the sense that they lack references to the community's distinctive beliefs. "Prayers," says Newman, "need not be 'sectarian' to have originated in a 'sectarian' group." Conclusive proof of an outside origin, according to Chazon, would be the presence of ideas that are incompatible with those held by the Qumran community. But if such ideas were to be found in Qumran documents, one would then ask why those documents were preserved at Qumran.

I can't cut this Gordian knot, so I will reframe the question. Ask not where the text came from; ask why it was preserved at Qumran. My assumption is that these texts, wherever they originated, were not preserved by accident, but because they had some significance for the community. How might they have been understood at Qumran? Why did the community find them meaningful? That is what my interpretation tries to show. These texts, neutral on their surface, can be read in a way that reveals an "agenda" that suits the religious outlook of Qumran. While we may not know when or how these works were used, we can have a better sense of why they were used. Both texts are constructed on the scaffold of the Book of Lamentations, not because they are lamenting the destruction of 586, but because by so doing they equate their own condition with what had become the stock model of suffering and divine rejection. These are not poems of mourning, they are poems of alienation.

Let me end by recapping my own interpretive strategy, based largely on analyzing the effect of biblical allusions and conflations, which our poet employed as part of his formal structure, much as later poets use rhyme or alliteration. I have taken seriously which words are chosen and the biblical contexts from which they come. In poetry, as in Midrash, allusive words do not lose their contexts or their connotations. Like all poems, these Qumran texts speak in metaphors -- metaphors created through the transference that goes on in the allusions and conflations: "the words of the insolent burn me like the heat of the famine of the destruction"; "the Jerusalem elite were dressed in fine cloth like the whore that Jerusalem became." These allusions act something like a vehicle and a tenor, to use the literary terminology, pulling meaning from one context and inserting it into another. They do not create new interpretations; they create new meaning through the juxtaposition of old interpretations. It's not a pesher, it's poetry.



Beckwith, R. The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church and its Background in Early Judaism. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 1985.

Chazon, E. G. "Prayers from Qumran and their Historical Implications." Dead Sea Discoveries 1 (1994), 265-284.

Chazon, E. G. "Words of the Luminaries" (4QdibHam): A Liturgical Document from Qumran and Its Implications. Ph.D. dissert. Hebrew University, 1992.

Cross, F. M. "Studies in the Structure of Hebrew Verse: The Prosody of Lamentations 1:1-22." The Word of the Lord Shall Go Forth (eds. C. Meyers and M. O'Connor) Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns. 1983. Pp. 129-155.

Dimant, D. "Qumran Sectarian Literature" in Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period. M. Stone (ed.). Assen and Philadelphia: Van Gorcum and Fortress. 1984. Pp. 483-550.

Dobbs-Allsopp, F. W. Weep, O Daughter of Zion. A Study of the City-Lament Genre in the Hebrew Bible. Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute. 1993.

Elbogen, I. Jewish Liturgy. (trans. R. Scheindlin) Philadelphia: JPS. 1993.

Falk, D. Daily, Sabbath, and Festival Prayers in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Leiden: Brill. 1998.

Ferris, P. W. The Genre of Communal Lament in the Bible and the Ancient Near East. Atlanta: Scholars. 1992.

Fishbane, M. Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel. Oxford: Clarendon. 1985.

García Martínez, F. and Tigchelaar, E. The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition. Vol. I. Leiden: Brill. 1997; vols. I and II, 1999.

Hacham, N. "Public Fasts in the Judean Desert Scrolls and Associated Literature." The Orion center. Fourth International Symposium.


Hillers, D. Lamentations. Anchor Bible. New York: Doubleday. 1992.

Horgan, M. "A Lament over Jerusalem (4Q 179)." Journal of Semitic Studies 18 (1973), 222-234.

Kiley, M. et al. (eds.) Prayer from Alexander to Constantine. London and New York: Routledge. 1997,

Kister, M. "A Common Heritage: Biblical Interpretation at Qumran and Its Implications." In Biblical Perspectives: Early Use and Interpretation of the Bible in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls. (eds. M. Stone and E. Chazon) Leiden: Brill. 1998. Pp. 101-111.

Knibb, M. "Exile in the Damascus Document." JSOT 25 (1983): 99-117.

Knibb, M. "The Exile in the Literature of the Intertestamental Period." Heythrop Journal 17 (1976): 253-272.

Knohl, I. "Between Voice and Silence: The Relationship between Prayer and Cult." JBL 115 (1996): 17-30.

Maier, J. "Zu Kult und Liturgie der Qumrangemeinde." Revue de Qumran 14 (1990), 543-586.

Newman, J. Praying by the Book. The Scripturalization of Prayer in Second Temple Judaism. Atlanta: Scholars Press. 1999.

Nitzan, B. Qumran Prayer and Religious Poetry. Leiden: Brill. 1994.

Pabst, H. "Eine Sammlung von Klagen in den Qumranfunden (4Q 179)." In Qumrân: sa piété, sa théologie et son milieu. (ed. M. Delacor et al.) Paris and Louvain: Duculot. 1978. Pp. 137-149.

Schiffman, L. "The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Early History of Jewish Liturgy." In The Synagogue in Late Antiquity. (ed. L. Levine). Philadelphia: American Schools of Oriental Research. 1987. Pp. 33-48.

Schiffman, L. "Jerusalem in the Dead Sea Scrolls. In The Centrality of Jerusalem. (ed. M. Poorthuis and Ch. Safrai. Kampen: Kok Pharos. 1996. Pp. 73-88.

Schiffman, L. Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls. New York: Doubleday. 1995.

Schuller, E. "The Use of Biblical Terms as Designations for Non-Biblical Hymnic and Prayer Compositions." In Biblical Perspectives: Early Use and Interpretation of the Bible in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls. (eds. M. Stone and E. Chazon) Leiden: Brill. 1998. Pp. 207-222.

Schultz, R. The Search for Quotation. Verbal Parallels in the Prophets. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press. 1999.

Segert, S. "Observations on Poetic Structures in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice." Revue de Qumran 13 (1988), 215-224.

Strugnell, J. "Notes sur le No. 179 des 'Discoveries . . .' " Revue de Qumran 7 (1970), 250-252.

Tabory, J._____ _____ ______ _____ _______ . Jerusalem: Magnes. 5755 (=1995).

Tov, E. "Appendix III: A List of the Texts from the Judean Desert." In The Dead Sea Scrolls after Fifty Years. Vol. 2. Flint, P. and Vanderkam, J. (eds.). Leiden: Brill. 1999. Pp. 669-717.

Vanderkam, J. Calendars in the Dead Sea Scrolls. London and New York: Routledge. 1998.

Wacholder, B. and Abegg, M. A Preliminary Edition of the Unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls. The Hebrew and Aramaic Texts from Cave Four. Fascicle One. Washington DC: Biblical Archeology Society. 1991.

Weinfeld, M. "Prayer and Liturgical Practice in the Qumran Sect." In The Dead Sea Scrolls: Forty Years of Research. (eds. D. Dimant and U. Rappaport) Leiden and Jerusalem: Brill and Magnes. 1992. Pp. 241-258.

Werline, R. Penitential Prayer in Second Temple Judaism. Atlanta: Scholars Press. 1998.

Westermann, K. Lamentations. Issues and Interpretation. Minneapolis: Fortress. 1994.


Wise, M., Abegg, M. and Cook, E. The Dead Sea Scrolls. A New Translation. HarperSanFrancisco. 1996.