The Second Temple Period, Qumran Research and Rabbinic Liturgy: Some Contextual and Linguistic Comparisons
It is widely recognized that most proponents of Wissenschaft des Judentums, at least in the first century of its existence, were at one time or another engaged in research on the history of Jewish liturgy. Although their interests in this connection ranged widely within the Rabbinic tradition from texts to theology, from prose to poetry, and from the mystical to the mundane, there was always also a preoccupation on the part of some scholars with the precise relationship between the earliest manifestations of Rabbinic liturgy and the broader history and literature of the Jews during the Second Temple period. Tending as they did to see the religious histories of Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism in diachronic terms, they combed the late books of the Hebrew Bible, the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, and the literary sources of Hellenistic Judaism, to identify the material that could most closely be related to the earliest Talmudic-Midrashic traditions. While the Christian scholars tended to see the New Testament and the early Church as the faithful transmitters of major Second Temple ideas and practice, their Jewish counterparts preferred to locate such a continuation in the extensive literature of the Talmudic-Midrashic sources.
This Jewish scholastic tendency in the field of liturgical research may be traced in the work of many scholars from Reform circles in mid-nineteenth-century Germany to modern Orthodox stalwarts in mid-twentieth-century Israel but is perhaps best exemplified in the work of an American liturgical specialist who ultimately headed the Rabbinical school of the Conservative movement. Louis Finkelstein devoted much of his early research to the history of the traditional Hebrew prayers and it is now some seventy years since he produced detailed studies of the amidah and the birkat ha-mazon, later supplemented by articles on the shema and the hallel. These studies, which appeared in the form of lengthy articles in scholarly periodicals, contained a mass of evidence from Talmudic, Geonic and Midrashic literature, from Genizah and other manuscript folios (some of them containing unique material), from medieval halakhic compositions and liturgical commentaries, and from early printed editions. Finkelsteins analysis, though containing important theological, literary and historical elements, and making comparisons with Christian and Karaite traditions, was primarily textual and he reached very precise conclusions about the origin and development of these central Jewish prayers. Having compared all the rites, versions and citations, and laying particular stress on what he had drawn from the Genizah source, he felt able to eliminate what he regarded as later accretions and to present, in tabulated format, a text that could be defined as a pristine version originating in Judea in the Second Temple period, probably as early as pre-Maccabean times. In his view, the role of Rabban Gamliel in the second century of the current era had been to establish the authentic and authoritative nature of such a version and through his powerful leadership to transmit its purity to future generations. In the wake of Finkelstein's definitions, it became fairly common for general studies of Second Temple Judaism to cite his reconstructed texts as examples of standard Jewish liturgy in that period.
The notion that there were single and standard manifestations of Jewish thought, religious practice, sacred literature, popular language and liturgical rite that existed in the Second Temple, and that may be traced in direct lines of evolution into the early Christian centuries, has been seriously challenged by numerous scholarly developments since the time of Finkelstein. The discovery, exploitation and publication of the Qumran corpus has undoubtedly made the most major impact and will shortly engage our closer attention. There have, however, also been other changes of outlook on the part of specialists in the period that have made their mark on the scientific understanding of its Jewish liturgical history. In a brief paper that I delivered at the World Congress of Jewish Studies held in Jerusalem in 1993 I argued the need for a change in the methodology required to reach such a scientific understanding. It seemed to me then, and it seems to me now, that the broader Near Eastern background and the more specific Hellenistic culture have to be taken into account; that social, economic and political factors are now to be given more recognition than they once were; that the role of archeological and inscriptional evidence is continuing to grow in significance; and that, above all, the definition of what constitutes history must be permitted to add a powerful voice to the discussion.
More specifically, the views of Joseph Heinemann and Ezra Fleischer, diametrically opposed and mutually contradictory in so many ways as they are, nevertheless have in common that they both force the liturgical historian to think again about what preceded the Tannaitic traditions in general and the achievements of Rabban Gamliel in particular. As far as Heinemann was concerned, there never was one original version and the Genizah texts, far from being distillable to one pure essence, should rather be analysed as testifying to a variety and complexity of content that characterized Jewish liturgy from its foundations during the Second Temple period. Such an inherent lack of textual consistency was more consonant with a proposed orality of transmission than with the notion of a standard formulation committed to writing. What the scholar could and should do was to employ the form-critical method to uncover the varied ritual, educational and individual contexts in which the different sets of prayers had their origins and to identify the common themes and factors that run through the varied formulations. For his part, Fleischer saw the variegated nature of liturgical texts from the Genizah as testimony to the revolutionary impact of the liturgical poets on the central Jewish prayers in the Geonic period. Their recitations and compositions encouraged a degree of innovation that spawned a host of novel versions for what had previously been the standard liturgy. That liturgy had been created virtually de novo by Rabban Gamliel in the second century, had existed in written form, and had throughout the Talmudic period enjoyed a more authoritative status than any of the varied formulations that are cited from time to time by the other Rabbis. What appears to be a central pillar in both historical reconstructions is the conviction that it is impossible to identify a standard amidah-type or similar liturgical text that was broadly used in Jewish religious communities to meet a religious obligation in the final two or three centuries of the Second Temple period.
In the course of the last decade or two, the liturgical texts available from Qumran have increased considerably in number and variety and consequently represent the latest phase of the challenge to which reference was earlier made. The question that needs to be answered is whether this new evidence and its close study and careful publication have reinforced the conviction that is common to the Heinemann and Fleischer views or have, even in a limited fashion, moved more in the direction of justifying that aspect of Finkelsteins approach that presupposed that scholars could uncover standard liturgical texts dating from the pre-Christian period that were the undisputed ancestors of later Jewish and Christian worship. When I was, some ten years ago, writing my general history of normative Hebrew prayer in the Jewish religious community, I decided not to give any more than brief attention to the Qumran evidence because I was unsure of the degree to which it could justifiably be regarded as directly mundane to the topic. Having looked at liturgical items such as the Hodayot, Benedictions, Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice and Words of the Luminaries, and the literature then available on these, I noted that they went beyond what was known from Biblical, apocryphal and pseudepigraphical literature and hinted that this might lend some credence to the connection originally made by Kaufmann Kohler a century ago between the liturgy of the Essenes and that of the early Rabbis. Such themes as the choice of Israel, the centrality of Zion, the elimination of evil and the survival of the saints occurred at Qumran and in the relevant Rabbinic texts and there were possible parallels with the later amidah, viddui and tahanun. At the same time, there were no clear indications about matters of recitation, participation and context and I therefore offered the following tentative conclusions:
Certainly, the Qumran scrolls provide the earliest testimony to liturgical formulations of a communal nature designated for particular occasions and conducted in a centre totally independent of Jerusalem and the Temple, making use of terminology and theological concepts that were later to become dominant in Jewish and, in some cases, Christian prayer... The question that has yet to asked, let alone answered, is whether that process is to be understood as a unique feature of the way of life represented at Qumran, which was later adopted and adapted by the Rabbinic inheritors of Jewish religious practice, or as an example of popular liturgical piety that was common to various Pharisaic and Essene groups and subsequently survived in the Tannaitic traditions.
Given that additional texts and more extensive studies of the subject are now available, the time has come to discuss the matter afresh and to offer a re-assessment of its current state.
The scholar who has been most prolific in comparing the liturgical texts from Qumran with those of Rabbinic literature is undoubtedly Moshe Weinfeld and his articles therefore represent a good starting point for this fresh analysis. Indeed, a mere glance at the titles of these scholarly papers and at their summaries and conclusions, some published before I completed the research for my volume and others at a later date, would seem to justify a conclusion that goes significantly beyond what I was then prepared to venture and therefore to call for a more definitive acknowledgement of the Qumran corpus as the source and precedent for Rabbinic liturgy. Weinfeld devotes considerable attention to such liturgical topics as the qedushah, amidah, birkat ha-mazon and morning benedictions, closely examining the relevant texts in both Qumranic and Rabbinic literature and dealing with terminology, content and overall context. He identifies many individual words, in both verbal and nominal forms, and numerous short phrases that the two literatures have in common. He also finds similar theological themes such as creation and calendar, the closeness of the supplicant to God, and the removal of satanic power. Parallel uses of verses and of sections of the Psalms are located and he points to a number of instances in which links are made between the same two or three topics. For example, qedushah, morning light and angels are found in close proximity in both sets of sources, as are repentance, knowledge of God and forgiveness, and there is a possible parallel between sets of texts both of which link the joy of a wedding and the comforting of a mourner.
From the point of view of subject matter, there can be no denying that there are similar theological themes, that one can point to parallel tendencies to deal with groups of topics in contexts that are not dissimilar, and that the language used has its common factors. There are, however, a number of criteria that combine to call into question whether these basic similarities are sufficient to indicate that Rabbinic liturgy is directly borrowed from Qumran. The precise word-order, the complete phraseology, and the structure of the syntax are by no means parallel and the liturgical use made of the language differs in the two corpora. The topics covered and the links made are among those that constituted the stuff of contemporary religious thinking and may therefore be theologically rather than liturgically meaningful. Many of the parallels have common precedents in the Biblical Hebrew books and this is not always clarified. In addition, Weinfeld permits himself to use Rabbinic material in a chronologically indiscriminate manner, citing sources that range over many centuries and numerous communities, rather than limiting himself to items that may with some confidence be dated to the early Christian centuries. While in the case of the other liturgical texts, limited linguistic and thematic similarities will be acceptable even to those who are more sceptical about their overall significance for making direct links between Qumran and the Rabbinic synagogue and academy, the instance of the claimed parallel between 4Q434, frag. 2, and the post-prandial grace recited at the home of the mourner in the Rabbinic tradition is somewhat speculative and far from convincing.
Weinfelds arguments in connection with that Qumran fragment, and indeed with regard to 4QDeutn and 4QDeutj, led me to consider whether the use of current computer-based searches might not establish linguistic similarities that could conceivably strengthen his position. I therefore began to make use of the software available from Oxford University Press and Brill in Leiden in their second CDRom in the series entitled The Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Reference Library, edited by Timothy Lim, to comb the available Qumran sources for direct parallels to Rabbinic texts, paying particular attention to the grace after meals. To date, I have searched only for the major vocabulary and content that are characteristic of limited sections of the birkat ha-mazon but the results nevertheless seem worthy of consideration in this context. Given the limited context here, I have in any case been able to include only a few illustrations. In 4Q504, for example, we encounter notions such as the divine love of Israel, the choice of Jerusalem, the special status of Zion, the uniqueness of the Davidic kingdom, Gods great name, and the removal of satanic and evil power. The roots kl, sv and brk coincide in 4Q370, references to the exodus from Egypt and the feeding (klkl) of the Jewish people in 4Q3934, and the notion of a shortage of food, by way of the use of the verb hsr and the noun lhm is to be found in 4Q416-7. The writer in 4Q504 takes pride in the fact that his group are called by Gods name and that same divine name is described as the great name in a number of 4Qumranic contexts. If we move beyond the vocabulary and content of the grace, we may note two other interesting examples. The Davidic occupation of the royal throne is described as eternal in 4Q252, echoing Deuteronomy 17:18, 1 Kings 2:45, as well as Daniel 2:44 and 7:14, and finding a parallel in the third post-haftarah benediction dealing with the messianic age.
The manner in which these and similar citations are reminiscent of Rabbinic texts is undoubtedly intriguing but we must be careful not to draw conclusions that go beyond the evidence before us. There are here concepts and linguistic usages that are similar but there is very little that is actually identical and the order of the phraseology and the syntactical structure are by no means parallel. The standardized formats and contexts of the Rabbinic formulations appear to have no clear-cut precedents at Qumran. Both sets of texts have Biblical precedents but they utilize them in different ways, each opting for the kind of adjustments that take account of its own predilections. With regard to Israel, Jerusalem and the Temple, the religious groups that lie behind the various textual constructions have a variety of theological motivations for their preferences. One may even tentatively suggest that divine attributes such tuv, hesed and rahamim are regarded at Qumran as the models for human piety while the stress in the Rabbinic texts is more on the blessings they convey on Israel.
At this point it is necessary to make reference to a comparative linguistic analysis of the texts from Qumran and from Rabbinic sources that was made by Chaim Rabin and to assess the degree to which it is relevant to the current discussion. Although the original English article appeared in 1965 and its Hebrew translation in 1972, Rabins reputation was such that it is still often cited and it has without question exercised a formative influence on subsequent approaches to the subject. Rabin argued for the existence in Palestine in the middle of the Second Temple period of a literary language in which BH and MH elements coexisted upon a mainly MH grammatical foundation. He suggested reasons why the authors of the texts found at Qumran consciously chose to move in the direction of a BH style while their later Rabbinic counterparts reacted to this and related developments by committing themselves even more enthusiastically to the MH flavour of their own linguistic usage. For our purposes here, it is important to deal not so much with his overall linguistic theory but what he has to say about the liturgical field. Adopting the view, particularly as earlier expressed by Talmon, that the Qumran sect was familiar with the benedictions of the shema and the amidah in a sequence not unlike that of the Rabbinic version, Rabin concluded that anything characteristic of the prayers is therefore common inheritance of the Qumran Sect and of Pharisaism.
At first glance, this appears to be at odds with our findings as described above and to require either a reconsideration of these or a challenge to the kind of view espoused by Rabin. A closer examination of his article does, however, reveal that he makes a number of additional points that make it clear that he was proposing a more refined assessment of the situation. He alludes to the fact that the common inheritance appears to have included a store of expressions and some similar vocabulary but is at the same time cautious enough to disclaim any possibility of recovering the original linguistic form of such prayers. The Qumran texts adapted whatever they inherited with a view to matching it to their own style and the Rabbis remained loyal to an idiom of MH that was exclusively used for their prayers but fixed the precise textual formulation of the latter only in the post-Talmudic period. It is therefore clear that Rabin, even from the limited texts available to him thirty years ago, is tending to the view that commonality of subjects and vocabulary is not to be confused with identity of liturgical context, order and formulation.
The findings of another, later article of his are also worthy of summary in the current context. There he argues that a better understanding of Jewish liturgical history is to be achieved by adopting aspects of the structuralist approach, by stressing the synchronic as well as the diachronic analysis, and by pointing to the legal and theological elements in the language of the prayers. What he presupposes is a long and complicated development from a format that may well have been originally oral, through a process of literary improvement and linguistic selection, towards the establishment of independent parameters, and a status that could even ultimately exercise a formative influence on the emergence of contemporary, spoken Hebrew. Such views are by no means at odds with the notion that what had been liturgically expressed in varieties of language, structure and context in Second Temple times came to be formulated and utilized in a generally more standardized fashion in what became the authorized Rabbinic traditions of subsequent periods.
No less relevant to this discussion are the views of another, more contemporary specialist in the history of the Hebrew language in the Second Temple period, Avi Hurvitz. In a helpful overview of developments, he has defined the language of the Qumran scrolls as a variety of late Biblical Hebrew and has drawn attention to the Biblical elements in the Hebrew of Rabbinic prayer. He has also contrasted the spontaneous and classical nature of the language used for prayer in the First Temple period with its later equivalent, as for instance, recorded in the book of Ezra, and noted linguistic moves in the direction of the compositions of the early Rabbinic authorities, as well as similarities and parallels between the Rabbinic and Qumranic usages. At the same time, however, he has pointed to the possibility that the commitment to Biblical Hebrew may have been the result of a conscious mimicry and, even more significantly for the topic here being considered, has stressed that it is the roots of Rabbinic liturgy that one can find in the Second Temple period and not the precise formulation of its actual prayers.
Recognizing the fact that my own perspective is one that is firmly fixed in the historical study of Rabbinic sources rather than in the literary analysis of the Judean scrolls, I am aware of the need to turn now to the recent work of a sample selection of Qumran specialists and to bring into the equation how they have recently come to view the overall liturgical history of the Second Temple period from their own particular outlook.
Bilhah Nitzan's study Qumran Prayer and Religious Poetry appeared in English translation in 1994 and was based on the Hebrew original that appeared in Tel Aviv in 1989. In that important and extensive treatment of the subject, Nitzan devoted some of the discussion to the relationship between Qumranic and Rabbinic prayer. Although both are dependent on the same Biblical sources, they each demonstrate unique characteristics. Blessings and prayers occur in both sets of texts but in each case with its own formulas. Although they do share some ideas, it appears to be fruitless to seek precise parallels of pattern. The priestly benediction has a much more central role in the arrangement of poetic and ceremonial compositions at Qumran while the structure and use of the qedushah is considerably less crystallized there than among the Rabbis. Other specific features of the Judean scrolls are that they supplement Biblical content with apocalyptic material and reformulate apocalyptic myths in the Biblical style, as well as expressing the sanctity of the sabbath by the use of ritual poetry. What emerges from all this data is that both groups may be said to have fixed liturgy but only the Rabbinic variety is of a fully uniform nature and that the Qumranic use of benedictions is not to be seen as a precedent for the later Rabbinic employment of this genre. More accurately, the liturgical developments at Qumran should be plotted at a point between the Biblical beginning and the Rabbinic progression that is close to the position occupied by the Apocryphal and Pseudepigraphical literature.
Some attention must also be given to the conclusions reached in studies recently penned by Eileen Schuller and Esther Chazon on the place of the Qumranic liturgical texts in the search for the origins of Rabbinic prayer. Schuller has made it clear that the non-canonical psalms enjoyed a provenance that was both earlier and broader than that of Qumran and that they were employed for liturgical purposes. She has demonstrated that although they make use of the more common Biblical precedents in the formulation of the terms with which they describe themselves, they also contribute innovative developments to this whole process. Her analysis of the Hodayot has revealed that they, more specifically, reflect the experiences and teachings of the Qumranic sect and that they exist in a variety of collections. Schuller has pointed to words and expressions in the non-canonical psalms that have their equivalents in other Hebrew texts of the late Second Temple and early post-Destruction periods and to elements of Aramaic influence. She has also provided clear evidence that formulations and concepts known in Tannaitic Judaism and early Christianity are already adumbrated in such psalms as that found in 4Q372 1 and has stressed the importance of the Qumranic scrolls for plotting the development of the use and formulation of the Jewish liturgical benediction.
Perhaps the most important of Esther Chazon's many findings and conclusions is her overall assessment that although there are some sectarian liturgical elements at Qumran, there is now a wealth of evidence to indicate that many of the hymns and prayers found there represent the religious activities of the common Judaism of the Second Temple period. Although more work has to be done on explaining such phenomena as the occurrence of different prayers for the same occasion, it can no longer be doubted (even if she and others had some earlier hesitations) that communal prayer at fixed times predated the Rabbis of the Mishnah and that the content, language, form and function of Rabbinic prayer cannot justifiably be regarded as totally innovative. As Chazon herself puts it, daily prayers such as those found in 4Q503 and 4Q408 were said by different Jewish groups in the late Second Temple period and were considered important enough to be incorporated into the liturgy that was institutionalized by the Rabbis in the aftermath of the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.
In his contribution to the third volume of the Cambridge History of Judaism, Daniel Falk has covered the topic of Prayer in the Qumran Texts and expressed some cautious views concerning its historical link with Rabbinic liturgy. He places the origins of Qumranic prayer texts in a variety of provenances, including the Temple, the priesthood, the levitical groups and the maamadot and describes how some are linked to the calendar, some to special events, and some to penitential themes. He accepts that there are parallels of subject and language with Rabbinic texts and identifies some particularly striking similarities between the Festival Prayers and the later synagogal liturgy. He is, however, convinced that we are dealing with independent exploitations of the Biblical models and not a direct link between Qumran and the Talmudic traditions. He consequently rejects Weinfelds view that the major Rabbinic prayers have their prototypes among the Judean scrolls, preferring to argue that the prayers found at Qumran belong to a broad stream of prayer tradition in which the Rabbis also stood.
Being in the happy position of having more texts and interpretations now available to him, Falk has been able to devote his Cambridge doctoral dissertation to a close study of many daily, sabbath, and festival prayers in the Dead Sea scrolls and to have a revised version of this published by Brill. He sets out to identify where lines of continuity may be established in the history of Jewish prayer and whether the traditions represented at Qumran are sectarian or of broader significance. The points made in his CHJ article are here discussed and exemplified at length and he stresses the importance of recognizing that prayer in the Dead Sea Scrolls is not a uniform phenomenon but has a variety of forms, functions and socio-liturgical settings that are perhaps being welded together at Qumran. The Temple appears to have stood at the centre of many of these liturgical traditions which is why they appear in many, variant types of Jewish literature emanating from the axial age. Jewish, and indeed Christian, institutionalized prayer had its origins in the attraction of prayer to the Temple cult, rather than the need to provide a replacement for the sacrificial system and not directly in the Qumranic context.
It remains only to offer a few brief conclusions for students of Rabbinic liturgy who are anxious to know what relevant lessons may be learned from recent Qumran studies for their own historical reconstructions:
1. There is, in the broad context of Second Temple Judaism, clear evidence for the existence, at least among some groups, of a practice to recite regular prayers at specific times but there is no obvious consistency of text and context for these.
2. There are written texts from Qumran that record such prayers and they have elements in common with the Rabbinic liturgy of the second Christian century. This by no means rules out the possibility that there were also oral liturgical traditions during that period, nor does it imply that early Rabbinic prayer moved totally from orality to wholly fixed texts.
3. In various religious spheres, the Jews at Qumran and the Rabbis sometimes express themselves uniquely while at others they follow well-established precedents. As far as liturgy is concerned, Rabbinic prayer incorporates material broadly known from Qumran but imposes upon it a fresh order, style and distinctive formulation. This innovative aspect reflects the traditions of Tannaitic Judaism and its own approach to the Hebrew language and to the Biblical canon. The later development of Rabbinic prayer also has dynamic characteristics and caution must be exercised in using post-Talmudic and Geonic texts for the reconstruction of earlier trends.
4. Given the breadth of the liturgical material found at Qumran, there was clearly more than one provenance for the development of hymns and prayers during the Second Temple period. It is therefore likely that the Rabbis borrowed, directly or indirectly, from various contexts, among them the Temple, the priesthood, communal gatherings such as the maamadot, pietistic and mystical circles, and popular practice.