Esther G. Chazon
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Human and Angelic Prayer in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls

This paper will explore the intersection between human and angelic prayer, which takes place when human beings join the angels in praising God. The Dead Sea Scrolls now offer nearly a score of previously unknown texts and testimonies reflecting joint human-angelic praise. With the final publication of some of the major works in the last two years ­the Cave 4 Hodayot manuscripts in DJD 29 and 4QBerakhot and 4QShirot ŒOlat HaShabbat in DJD 11- the time is ripe to take stock of the Scrollsı contribution to understanding this interesting religious phenomenon and its varied manifestations in different cultural, social, and historical matrices.

With this goal in mind, I set out to discern the modes of joint human-angelic praise, and to pose the important question of a correlation between a particular mode and a particular religious outlook or social reality. The extant sources from the late biblical through the early medieval periods represent, in my estimation, three main patterns of joint prayer, corresponding to three distinct types of religious experience:

1st) Many voices harmonizing with the universe,
2nd) Two choirs praying like the angels,
3rd) One congregation joining the angels.

In isolating these categories, my principle criteria were liturgical function and the kind of religious experience engendered. Other aspects of phenomenology as well as content and literary form were factors in determining a textıs function and in identifying different facets or subcategories of each main type.

Before examining each of the three categories outlined above, we should note the typology proposed by Bilhah Nitzan in her seminal article on "Harmonic and Mystical Characteristics in Poetic and Liturgic Writings from Qumran " (JQR 85 [1994] 163-183). As the title of her article indicates, Nitzan distinguishes between two types of human and angelic praise, a "cosmologic approach" characterized by "an experience of harmony with the entire universe" and "a mystical approach" characterized by "an experience of mystic communion" between the human and angelic worshippers. While I basically accept this dichotomy, I perceive additional types, classify several texts differently, and usually refrain from applying the term Œmysticalı to these ancient Jewish texts.

A) Many Voices: Harmonizing with the Universe

In this pattern, all of Godıs creatures including the angels are invited by human worshippers to praise God. This category corresponds to the cosmological approach outlined by Nitzan. As Nitzan observes, "the praises invoked from all the cosmos express in harmony theŠmajesty of God, the creator of the whole universe" ("Harmonic and Mystical," p. 166). The religious experience engendered by this pattern of joint praise is, then, that of singing in harmony with all Godıs creatures and being at one with them; in short, harmonizing with the universe. The harmony achieved is of a particular kind - it is one of multiple voices, each sung by a separate and distinctive group of created entities, from the heavens above to those under the seas. In fact what distinguishes this pattern of joint praise from the others is the human worshippersı distance from the angels. Here they do not emulate angelic praise, nor elevate themselves to angelic status, nor otherwise lay claim to a special association with the angels or their praise.

The paradigmatic example of this pattern is Psalm 148, which invokes praise by all creatures, class by class, first in the heavens and then on earth, including creatures of the ocean depths. Psalm 148 may have served as a model for other hymns of this type such as "The Song of the Three Young Men" in Septuagint Daniel 3:51-88 and the Sabbath prayer in the weekly liturgy of Dibre Ha-meıorot (4QDibHama 1-2 vii 4-12). Like Psalm 148, these two songs are structured as a series of invocations to praise using 2nd person plural imperative verbs (____ in Psalm 148, ____ in LXX Dan, and ____ in 4QDibHam). As in Psalm 148, the list of invitees is divided into two main parts, those in heaven and those on earth, each part containing a general call to those in that particular realm followed by invitations to specific creatures residing therein. The universality of this cosmic praise is emphasized through repetition of the word Œallı (__). These three cosmological songs overlap considerably in their detailing of the specific invitees for instance, the waters above and below the firmament as well as the angels are found in all three. Yet, each text has elements not found in either of the other two. Thus, Psalm 148 and LXX Daniel each list different groups of human beings whereas Dibre Ha-meıorot emphasizes the depths of the earth, mentioning Abbadon and probably the Great Abyss (____] ___). To illustrate these generic similarities as well as the special bent of our example from Qumran, I quote below the beginning of the Sabbath prayer in Dibre Ha-meıorot and its closest parallels in LXX Danielıs Song of the Three Young Men:

Give thanks [to the Lord forever,
Praise] His name continually.
In the hea[vens]/ Pro[claimŠ]
All angels of the holy firmament,
And [all waters above] the heavens;
The earth and all its depths,
[All the fountains of the] great [deep]
and Abaddon,
and the waters and all that is [in them].

[Give thanks to the Lord]
all his created ones continually,
forever and ever.
(4QDibHama 1-2 vii 4-9) All the works of the Lord, bless the Lord; Laud and highly exalt him forever.
Angels of the Lord, bless the Lord,laudŠ
Heavens, bless the Lord; laudŠ
All the waters above the heaven, bless Š
Let the earth bless the Lord, Let it laudŠ
Rivers and springs, bless the Lord, laudŠ
Seas and rivers, bless the Lord; laudŠ
Sea monsters and all that move in the waters, bless the Lord; laudŠ.

(LXX Dan 3: 57-60, 74, 77-79)
Collins, Daniel, pp.196-197)

Finally, it is important to note that the title of the cosmological song in Dibre Ha-meıorot, "Thanksgiving Song on the Sabbath Day," clearly indicates its liturgical function as a prayer for recitation on the Sabbath. Like the prayers for the other days of the week in the same document, this Sabbath song would have been recited on a weekly basis. Furthermore, the plural language throughout this text ­that is, the "we" language in the weekday prayers and the 2nd person plural calls to praise God in the Sabbath song ­ strongly suggest this was a liturgy recited in a communal context. Similarly, a living liturgical or cultic setting has also been suggested as the original sitz im leben of the song incorporated into the Septuagint version of the Book of Daniel. Both texts apparently predate the foundation of the Qumran community.

B) Two Choirs: Praying Like the Angels

This pattern differs from the first in two respects: 1) human beings pray exclusively (or primarily) with the angels rather than with the whole universe, and

2) they offer praise which is similar to that of the angels in content or in form and language. The result is that the human worshippers not only pray with the angels but also come to pray like them. This type of joint praise would have engendered an experience of human-angelic liturgical communion and fostered a sense of a special association with the angels on high. Nevertheless, here the choirs remain separate, their voices are distinct, and despite their similarity, human and angelic praise are not identical. In this case, the human worshippers never quite reach the level of their angelic counterparts.

Our first example of "praying like the angels" is 4Q503 "Daily Prayers," a text often overlooked in treatments of angelic liturgy. These blessings for every evening and morning of the month praise God for sunrise and sunset as well as for the daily changes in lunar light as the moon waxes and wanes. A description of the worshippersı praise with the heavenly hosts is an essential feature of each blessing. The most complete reference to joint human-angelic praise is found in the morning prayer for the sixth day of the month (frgs. 8-9 ll. 1-5): "[We] the sons of your covenant shall praise [...] with all troops of [light]" (____ ]___ ______ ____[...]__ ___ ____ [___ ). The construction "troops of [light]" evidently serves here as an epithet for the angels associated with the heavenly lights. In other blessings, the heavenly beings engaged in joint praise are called "hosts of angels" (frg. 65), "those who testify with us" (frgs. 11, 15, 65), and "those praising with us" (frgs. 38, 64).

The content of the joint praise is discernable in frg. 30: "[We] praise your name, God of lights in that you have renewed [...] gates of light and with u[s] in praises of your glory" (___]___ ____ __ ___[_]_ ___ _____ ..____ ___ Š____[_] _____ ______). These words together with the astronomically charged epithet "troops of light" demonstrate that the joint praise, like the rest of the blessing, extols God for the regular renewal of the heavenly lights. In this daily liturgy, then, the human blessings and the angelic praise are alike in content.

In our next two examples, the earthly congregation imitates angelic praise, echoing some of the angelsı words. The sectarian covenant ceremony in 4QBerakhot opens with blessings which praise Godıs attributes and describe the heavenly Temple, the divine chariot-throne, and various classes of angels. The section concludes with a well preserved, liturgical rubric which indicates that "the council of the community" is the group instructed to recite these covenant blessings (___ ____ _____ _____ ____ ___ ___, 4QBera 7 ii 1).

Joint praise is not explicitly mention in 4QBerakhot, but it is implied by the juxtaposition of angelic praise with human praise. For instance, 4QBera 7 i 2-7 first describes praise by (human) "elect ones [Š] and all those who have [k]nowledge" and then immediately describes the praise by the "c]ouncil of angels of purification with all those who have eternal knowledge." These similar portrayals of the elite human and angelic worshippers reflect one important aspect of the joint praise in 4QBerakhot. It is the correspondence between human and angelic praise in form, language, and manner of recitation. The selections cited below illustrate that the praises offered in each realm were formulated similarly as blessings to be recited together (____) by all (_____) the worshippers belonging to that realm:

In the earthly realm:
____]____ ___ ______ ____ _____ ___ ___[__ (1)
And] all the creatures of flesh, all those [You] created, [will ble]ss You (4QBerb 3 2).
_____]___ ___[_] _____ .___ ___ (2 )
and] all of them [will bless] You togeth[er] Amen. Amen. (4QBer b 5 5)
In the heavenly realm:
_____ __]__ _____ __ __ ______ (3
all [will bless toge]ther Your holy name) 4QBer a 2 4
(4)____]_ __ __ ______ ____ [___ __][_[___
and to bles]s Your glorious name in all [ever]la[sting ages]) 4QBer a 7 i 7)

These parallel phrases reveal two additional aspects of this liturgyıs joint praise. They are: 1) the angelic praise has special elements, and 2) these elements, which are not recited by the earthly beings, are blessings of Godıs holy and glorious name (__ ______ and (__ ______ The latter may allude to the angelic words in Isa 6:3 (the trishagion) and Ezek 3:12 (the blessing of Godıs glory). Such allusions would imply that the angels indeed recite these verses, but the human congregation is refraining from repeating them verbatim. In any event, whether or not 4QBerakhot actually alludes to these two verses, it is clear that by referring indirectly to the angelic blessings of Godıs holy and glorious name, the human worshippers are echoing this heavenly speech, taking what may be called a point/counterpoint approach.

A similar approach is taken by the Shirot ŒOlat HaShabbat from Qumran and Masada. These songs for the first thirteen Sabbaths of the year are an earthly liturgy recited by human worshippers who invite the angels to praise God and describe angelic worship in the heavenly Temple. Not only do the invitations to the angels and the description of their praise imply that the human congregation is joining them in prayer, but such joint praise is mentioned explicitly in one passage (4Q400 2 1-6): "to praise Your glory wondrously with the gods of knowledge and the praiseworthiness of Your kingship with the holiest of he h[oly ones]Š how shall we be considered [among] them?...[What] is the offering of our tongues of dust (compared) with the knowledge of the g[ods?"

The self-effacing remarks by the human worshippers in this passage uncover a qualitative distinction between angelic praise and human praise, which may provide a clue to the Shirotıs puzzling omission of the angels' words in general, and of Isa 6:3 and Ezek 3:12 in particular. Scholars have noted that while these two verses are not actually quoted in this liturgy, some of the songs do allude to them. The beginnings of Songs 7 and 12 provide good examples. Song 7ıs invocation to the holy angels to praise God for His holiness repeatedly employs the root ____, Œholy,ı thereby calling to mind Isa 6:3ıs threefold angelic proclamation of Godıs holiness (____, ____, ____): "Let the holiest of the god-like beings magnify the King of glory who sanctifies by His holiness all His holy ones," (______ _____ ______ ____ _____ ______ ____(_)_ ____ _____, 4Q403 1 i 31).

Song 12ıs use of Ezek 3:12 becomes apparent once we recognize its underlying interpretation of that verse. This interpretation associates the blessing of Godıs glory with the sound produced by the hayyotıs wings (Ezek 3:13) perhaps by recourse to a double reading of baruk/barim (in Ezek 3:12). It also identifies the angels pronouncing the blessing as the cherubim (cf. Ezek 10:5), and specifies the place of Godıs glory (______ in Ezek 3:12) as "His glorious seat" (cf. Ezek 1:26-28):

____[_] _____ _[___]___ __[_]__ ______ _____ ___ ____ ______ ___[ ___]_ ______ _____ ___ _____ ______ ...[___]_ ____ ____ _____ ____ ____ _____
"the cheru[bim] fall before Him; and they bl[es]s as they lift themselves up. Šand there is a tumult of jubilation at the lifting up of their wings, a sound of divine [stillnes]s. The image of the chariot throne do they bless Š[And the splend]our of the luminous platform do they sing (which is) beneath His glorious seat" (4Q405 20ii21-22 7-10).

These invitations to angelic praise which allude to Isa 6:3 and Ezek 3:12 imply that the angels recite the trishagion and the blessing of Godıs glory recorded in these ŒQedushahı verses. The human worshippers who extend these invitations, however, merely describe and paraphrase the angelsı words, without quoting them precisely. Thus by echoing some but not all of the angelsı words, these human beings pray like the angels to a certain, but not a full, extent. They approximate angelic praise while maintaining the proper distinction between the two choirs, the one human and the other angelic.

One Congregation: Joining the Angels

This type of joint praise is characterized by the union with the angels attained by human worshippers. The distinction between human and angelic praise is dropped, the veil between the realms is removed, and the human worshippers conceive of themselves as actually present with the angels, apparently experiencing a sense of elevation to angelic heights. The meeting ground between the human worshippers and their angelic counterparts is, in some cases, the same congregation whereas in others it is the heavenly throne room. These two arenas are discussed separately below.

The "I" speaker in the Hodayot expresses the conviction that he personally as well as his entire community share a common lot and a common station with the holy ones in heaven. The activity of praising God together is singled out as the goal of the union with the angels, and it is the way this union is concretized. The word ____ ("together," "in union") is used repeatedly for both the joint praise and the shared station, ____ (compare. 1Chr 23:28, 35:15, where this term refers to the Levitesı duty and post in the Temple). One illustration from a Hymn of the Community shall suffice to demonstrate the Hodayotıs approach to this issue:

For the sake of your glory you have purified man from transgressionŠ
To become united [with] the sons of your truth
And in the lot with your holy onesŠ
So that he can take his stand in your presence
With the perpetual host and the spirits [Š]
To be renewed with everything that will exist
And with the knowledgeable in a union of jubilation.
______ _____ ______ __ ___ __ _____[_...] ______ __ ___ ____ ___ _____ ____ ___ (1QHa XIX=XI 11-14).

In his commentary on this passage and its parallel in another hymn (1QHa XI=III 19-23), Jacob Licht suggested that the comparable phrase, "to take (his) stand in a station with the host of holy ones" (______ _____ __ ___ ______ )refers to a position around the divine throne as in 1En 60:2 (The Thanksgiving Scroll, pp. 84, 163). This interpretation may gain some support from the so-called "Self-Glorification Hymn," which occurs in three Hodayot manuscripts, all representing the same recension of this hymn (1QH a XXVI 6-38, 4QH a 7 i-ii, and 4QHe I-II=4Q471b; for the second recension see 4Q491 11 i).

The ŒI" speaker in the "Self-Glorification" boldly asks, "Who is like me among the heavenly beings? __ _____ _____" (4QHa 7 I 8+4QHe I 4). He then declares that he is a beloved of the King (____ ____) and a companion to the angels ((__ _______, with whom he claims to be stationed, ___ __ ____ ____[_](4QHa 7 i 10-11+4QHe I 6). This station with the angels who praise God as well as the speakerıs gifted speech and his subsequent invocations to the beloved ones (______) to sing praise (4QHa 7 i 13-23) imply that he too praises God, and that he does so together with the angels and on a par with them. This text leaves little doubt as to the speakerıs elevation to angelic status. Moreover, as Eileen Schuller has pointed out, "in the recension of this psalm that is found in the Hodayot manuscripts, the ŒIı is to be understood in relationship to the ŒIı voice we hear speaking in the other psalms, particularly the other Hymns of the Community." (DJD 29, p. 102). This approach leads to the conclusion that the author(s) of some of the Hodayot claimed to be in the company of angels and reckoned as one of them.

Furthermore, if Schuller is correct that the Œbeloved onesı called upon to praise the King, evidently by the Œbeloved of the king,ı are human beings rather than angels, then the speaker would appear to be making a similar claim for all members of his community. Indeed, this section of the hymn depicts the Œbeloved onesı as praising together with the eternal heavenly hosts, placing them in the congregation of God and even in His holy abode according to Schullerıs reconstruction of the text, ____ _____ [____] (4QH a 7 i 14-15). In addition, like the angels alone in 4QBerakhot and the Shirot, these Œbeloved onesı apparently sanctify Godıs holy name (____]__ ___ ) and display eternal qualities (4QH a 7 i 16-18). It is not impossible that the speaker, whether the Teacher of Righteousness or a similarly exalted leader of the Yahad, projected his own spiritual, perhaps even mystical, experience onto all members of his community or conversely, that the Yahad projected onto itself the Teacherıs achievements and experiences.


This study has isolated three basic patterns of joint human-angelic prayer, corresponding to three types of religious experience and three different levels of association with the angels. They are: many voices harmonizing with the universe, two choirs praying like the angels, and one congregation joining the angels. We have seen that a single group, in this case the Qumran Community, would engage in various types and levels of joint praise on different occasions and for different purposes.

The full publication of Shirot ŒOlat HaShabbat fifteen years ago gave rise to an interesting theory linking the whole phenomenon of joint praise with a particular religious outlook and social context. Specifically, this textıs striking similarities with Hekhalot literature and their shared interests in such matters as the heavenly Temple and the angelic priesthood led Itamar Gruenwald, Rachel Elior, and other scholars to propose a common priestly origin and a historical axis from the Qumran community and its precursors to the merkabah mystics. This proposal has much to commend it. I would, however, suggest that the picture is more complex, involving other groups.

First, we should recall that not all of the texts of joint praise discovered at Qumran were produced by members of the Qumran Community or by its forerunners. Thus, a non-Qumranic origin has been proposed for Dibre Ha-meıorot, the Daily Prayers in 4Q503, and even for Shirot ŒOlat HaShabbat. Second, this religious phenomenon as a whole is broader both synchronically and diachronically than apocalyptic, Qumranic, and mystic circles. Its vitality among other segments of the population is attested by Septuagint Daniel, Dibre Ha-meıorot, the Apostolic Constitutions (Books VII-VIII), and the traditional Qedushah liturgy. Thus, in the arena of religious praxis, the theory of a historical axis from the Qumran Community to the merkabah mystics ultimately may apply only to the highest level of joint praise, the one which unites human beings to the angels most closely, elevating them to angelic heights. Other modes of joint praise may prove to be common religious practices shared by several groups living under different circumstances. In light of the new texts from Qumran, a more nuanced model appears to be emerging, one that more fully reflects the multi-faceted character of this special dimension of religious life ­ the phenomenon of praying with the angels.