Eileen M. Schuller
McMaster University, Hamilton

The Use and Function of Psalms from Qumran: Revisiting the Question

The paper that I am offering today is somewhat different than the more focused, textually-based work I have presented at past conferences here in Jerusalem, especially during the years when I was working on editing the Cave 4 Hodayot materials. For this conference I decided to take up a broader and more speculative question, certain aspects of which have been much discussed in the past, to try to see if anything further can be said or if there different avenues of approach that might point to new directions. At this stage, the paper is very much a work in process, open to revision and rethinking, and I will appreciate comments in the coming months as I continue to work on this.

In the twofold division "prayer and poetry" that makes up the title of the conference -- or as the division is expressed in the title of DJD volumes "poetical and liturgical texts" -- I am attending to that body of material that would be readily accepted as belonging to the category of "poetry." I am less concerned with precisely where to draw the boundary between prose and poetry (if indeed that is a helpful boundary to draw) and more concerned with issues of use and function. Specifically, I want to press the question: did poetic compositions -- the older, probably-pre-exilic psalms, more recent poetry composed in the Persian-Hellenistic period, works composed within this specific community -- were these used within communal worship? Or did such texts belong to a separate realm of private, devotional religious activity? To put the question another way: When we imagine (for our reconstructions are at one level a work of disciplined imagination) the worship-life of the particular type of Judaism that we associate with the Scrolls, do we include the singing of poetic texts (probably with musical accompaniment)? To put the question more specifically: when the community gathered daily, or on Sabbath, on feasts, at the time of the covenant renewal did they sing together the scriptural psalms, the Hymn to the Creator, the Barki Nafsi poems, the Hodayot?. Or do we reconstruct a simpler, more austere service comprised basically of the recitation of short prayers, formulated in prose, structured in the pattern of what became standard blessing formularies?

I set this question against the background of a consensus that has slowly emerged through the study of prayer and liturgical scrolls material over the last forty-some years. As Dr. Sarason set out last evening, most of us could agree that there was some public, communal, non-sacrifical religious activity, with a set content and form, linked to the rising and setting of the heavenly bodies, twice daily or three-times daily. Moreover we think that we can fill out the content of the terse statement of lQS 6:3 together they shall bless with texts that seem to fit at morning and evening (4Q503, 4Q504), the Sabbath (Songs of Sabbath sacrifice), festivals (4Q507-509), a liturgy for the entrance into the covenant (lQS 1-2), and words spoken when a member is expelled from the community (conclusion of the Damascus Document, 4Q266 11).

At this level of reconstruction there is relative certainty (I say relative because on almost every point there is still a host of unresolved questions), but at least there is a framework for the collections of prayers and liturgies, many of which themselves contain explicit rubrics specifying the times and occasions they are to be used. But there is no such framework for the poetical collections. In much of this material there are no rubrics, or if there are, we do not know exactly how to interpret notations such as in the Hodayot "For the maskil to fall down and to make supplication always"

(dymt ^njthw lpnthl ... lykçml lQHa 20:7 [12:4]). At the first Orion Symposium in 1995, I attempted to explore some of these same issues by focusing on the specific designations given to some of these texts: rwmzm, ryç, hlht twdwh. I tried to ask, for example, whether we learn anything about use and function from the observation that the "Composition containing part of Ps. 154" in 4Q448 is entitled ryç rwmzm, or that the same combination of terms is found in lQHa 7:21 (frg. 10 11), and rw¿mzm lykçml in lQHa 25:34. The results of that study were meagre because it seemed that many of these designations were simply reusing biblical terms whose precise sense and distinctions are largely lost to us and may have already been unknown by the Hellenistic period.

Certainly most of the past discussion about use and function has been specifically in terms of theHodayot, and much less attention has been paid to other poetic collections from this perspective. For example, in their recent publication of the Barkhi Naphsi psalms, Weinfeld and Seely point to similiarities of language and imagery between that collection and theHodayot and argue that "the hymns of Barkhi Napsh should also be considered of sectarian origin," but they do not attempt to set out a specific sitz-im-leben for these psalms. In her recent review of my edition of 4Q380/38l, a collection(s) of pseudepigraphic psalms attributed to kings and prophets of Israel, Chazon notes that "unfortunately" I did not explore "the question of the function of the function of the individual psalms and the collection as a whole." Basically, I did not know what to say. Much of the material designated poetic/hymnic material that has been published recently (particularly the texts in DJD XXIX; also 4Q411 Sapiential Hymn, 4Q426 Sapiential-Hymnic, 4Q527, 528, 579m Hymnic-Work ) is extremely fragmentary -- so much so that it is often very difficult to say whether we are dealing with prose prayers or poetry. As John Strugnell and I tried to show in the recent article in the Festscrift for Hartmut Stegemann, some of this material may actually be part of the Hodayot collection, but there is virtually nothing that can be recovered about how most of this was used -- except to say that there was a considerable corpus of poetic-hymnic type material.

For regards to the Hodayot, the question of how this collection might have been used has been discussed ever since the cave l copy was published by E. L. Sukenik in the 1950s. The balance of opinion in recent discussion has come down, I would judge, on the side of a non-cultic venue: the following statement of Schiffman from his book Reclaiming the DSS would be typical:

It is tempting to regard the Thanksgivng Scroll as a series of hymns for public worship. But we have no evidence that this material was in fact liturgical. These poems are individual plaints, perhaps composed by a leader of the sect --the TR himself -- concentrating on serious matters of theology and belief. The Thanksgiving Hymns were certainly not part of a regular order of prayers. Rather, they belong to a genre of devotional, introspective poetry.


Esther Chazon, in her paper at the 1997 Jerusalem Scrolls Conference, set up two fundamental categories: "regular communal prayer at fixed times of the day, week and year" and "private devotions as represented by some of the Hodayot and other hymns and psalms." In her book-length study, B. Nitzan marshals arguments based on formal characteristics, prosody and content, and sets up a dichotomy, a "confrontation" as she terms it, between prayer texts that fulfill a specific function versus the Hodayot . The most sustained arguments on the other side -- for a liturgical sitz-im-leben for the Hodayot -- still are those that were put forth many years ago by Holm-Nielsen; yet there is at best a vagueness to his conclusion that the Hodayot are "a collection of psalms which could be used at the cultlic ceremonies of the community ... examples of the community's liturgical prayers." H. W. Kuhn was more specific in showing how the key formal elements of the Hymns of the Community "the soteriological confession" and the "reflection on human conditiion" could fit into the ceremony of entrance into the community and/or the annual ceremony for renewal of the covenant. In the Hodayot materials recovered from the cave 4 manuscripts, there are some elements that seem to point to liturgical usage: the extended series of imperative calls to praise in 4QHa 7//the psalm that comes in col. 25-26 of lQHa ; there are more psalms in the plural than previously recognized; and there are a few more temporal indicators (e.g. from ¿l ¼çnm in 4Q428 20 (//lQHs XXV 33). I have suggested in the DJD edition that there were multiple collections of the Hodayot in use at the same time, and I think a case could be made that some of them -- 4QHa for example -- have more liturgical features than others, but that requires further study and another paper.

My intent today is to try to set the issue in a broader context, rather than to focus on the Hodayot per se. First I want to look at statements ABOUT worship to see if they support or at least allow for the use of poetry and the singing of psalms and hymns. Then I will discuss how the scriptural psalms might have been used. Finally I will suggest how some of our fundamental presumptions about the nature of this community and its place in Judaism factor into our reconstruction, whether we argue for the liturgical, communal use of psalms and hymns or not.

Perhaps here is a good place to note that certainly there are some poetic compositions that can be situated in a specific liturgical context. In the Words of the Luminaries, we have both the prayers for the weekdays (with their set pattern: "Remember O Lord"/historical prologue/petition and concluding benediction) and the material for Sabbath which falls quite readily into the category of poetry. The liturgical component of the latter is evidenced by the title tbçh µwyb twdwh (with ryç written interlinearly as read by Puech); the plural summonses to praise; third person language for God; descriptive language of praise (hmhylht). The length of the Sabbath section depends somewhat on how the columns are reconstructed; according to Chazon there may have been seven short hymns or seven stanzas of a sabbath hymn. This is perhaps the clearest example of poetic material designated for a specific context. The Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, admittedly a quite different type of poetry, are also generally assumed to have been used in some sort of communal Sabbath liturgy (although this would be contested by Schiffman who separates these songs entirely from the "ritual of the sectarians" and views them as intended solely for study and devotion). The "songs" of 4Q510 and 511 are presumably the texts that the sage is to recite "to frighten and terrify all the spirits of the raging angels and the bastard spirits, demons, Lilith ... ", in whatever context that occurs. Finally there are psalms and hymns in theWar Scroll which are to be taken up in the days of the final battle. Thus is it not the case that all poetry is unspecified with regards to function and usage. And it is helpful to remember these compositions that have some sort of rubrics when we try to decide where to situate unspecificed collections such as the Hodayot and Barki Nafshi.

Now I want to turn to statements ABOUT worship. The so-called "Hymn of the Appointed Times" at the end of most copies of the Rule of the Community (lQS 9:26-ll:22) has often been taken as a starting point in attempts to reconstruct the elements of the daily liturgy -- thought there is the inherent problematic in attempting to make a poetic text function as a cultic calendar. Statements like "When I first put forth my hands and my feet, I will bless his name" (lQS 10:13) are taken as referring to blessings, specifically blessings recited together in light of statements such as "I will bless him with the offering of the utterance of my lips from within a congregation of men" (lQS 10:14); the recitation of the Shema is alluded to in "at the beginning of my going out and coming in, when I sit down or rise" (lQS 10:13-14); there are statements that refer to the recitation of the decalogue, grace at meals, and prayers that confess sin and acknowledge God's justice.

Of particular interest to us is lQS 10:9:

I will sing with knowledge (t[db hrmza)

and all my music will be for the glory of God;

I will play my lyre ( ylbn hka) for the measure of his holiness,

and the flute of my lips I will raise in harmony (wq) with his judgment.

This section is often taken as evidence that songs and musical instruments formed part of the liturgical complex. It is on the basis of this line that Falk includes "songs about God's holiness and justice" in his overall reconstruction, and I suspect that this was the basis for Talmon's inclusion of "hymns of praise" at the beginning of his reconstructed Manual of Benedictions (although he does not make as explicit a link to 1QS10:9). The difficulty, of course, is to know to what extent this is metaphorical language and simply a reuse of common biblical terminology. Zimmer can mean to sing; with beth it is more often to play an instrument / wrnkb (Ps 47:22, 98:5, 147:7); "¼wtw (Ps 149:3) lbnb 33:2, 144:9. Here the speaker's instrument is knowledge (t[d), just as his lips are his flute. The few similiar references to singing and musical instruments in the Hodayot are equally vague and could well be metaphorical. In and of themselves such passages may tell us little about actual practise.

We turn now to statements about the Essenes in Philo and Josephus -- and I will consider these as a source of information, though recognizing all the problems of identification. In no place in Josephus or in Philo is there an explicit statement that the Essenes sang hymns, songs, chants. This is in contrast to Philo's elaborate description of the singing of hymns by by the Therapeutae, De vita contemplativa 80-89. We can recall that Josephus says that the Essenes speak before sunrise certain ancestral prayers (patrious tinas eucas). It is often assumed that these are the short prose blessings and petitions found in 4Q503 and 4Q504. But might psalms/hymns have been included in these "prayers (eucas)? Although overall Josephean usage per se may not be so relevant if this section of War is taken from a source, Josephus generally uses umnoi and wdai (not yalmoi) to designate the scriptural psalms; David's compositions are "songs and hymns" (7.305, 7.364, 20.216, Wars 2.321), and "hymns he taught the Levites" (7.305); poetic composition in hexameter verse that God composed after crossing the Sea (2.346) and on the plains of Moab( 4.303) are designated as songs (wdai). On the other hand, as Hengel has pointed out, euch is often used very broadly; in the Septuagint it frequently translates tephillah which designates both prose prayers and psalms.

The issue of terminology is highlighted when we turn to the corresponding statement in Hippolytus: (Refutatio 9 21):they pray eucomenoi from early dawn, not speaking a word until they have sung a hymn to God umnhswsi ton Qeon. On the basis of this statement, Falk concludied that, according to Hippolytus, the morning liturgy consists of both prayers and hymns, but I wonder if that is not reading too much into the text (apart from the question of whether Hippolytus or his source can be treated as independent evidence). I find it difficult to argue that a distinction is being made here between prose prayers and poetic hymns, especially since in the description of the morning meal, before the meal the priest prays (epeuxetai) and blesses (eulogwn); after the meal he prays as at the beginning (epeuzetai); this section is rounded off with the statement as at the beginning so at the conclusion of their meal they hymn God (umvousi tovn Qeon). There is always this question of how much a distinction was made in antiquity in general, and by a certain author in particular, between the terms psalmoi, hymnoi, odai, euchai and whether we may be seeking too much precision (the conclusion reached in a recent detailed word-study "Psalmi, hymni and cantica in early Jewish-Christian tradition," Studia Patristica 21, 1989).

When it comes to proposing a concrete sitz-im-leben for much of the poetry, scholars have usually looked to the morning service. For instance, Weinfeld has described the Hymn for the Creator as a morning song; likewise Weinfeld finds the themes of the traditional Jewish morning prayers in the "Plea for Deliverance" (llQPsa 19) and some of the Hodayot , and we await his long-promised full study of this issue. There is less specific evidence for the use of psalms/hymns and singing at meals is less (apart from the problematic phrase of Hippolytus, as discussed above). Both in lQS 6 and lQSa there are blessings associated with the meal, not hymns (unlike at the banquets of the Therapeutae).

The other ritualized time of communal activity was, of course, the common study for one third/one watch of each night (or l/3 of the community for the whole night). Three activities are specified for the Many (lQS 6:7-8a): to read the book (rpsb arql), to study the communal law (fpçm çwrdl) and djyb rbl -- the last phrase has received less attention than the other two. It is variously translated: pray/bless/praise together/ worship together. Leaney talks of "prescribed prayers" that opened and closed the watch of the night; many commentators seem to assume some series of blessings (taking lebarek in technical sense); Fraade suggests that the phrase points to "the recitation of blessings (or perhaps psalms)". Many years ago Delcor had suggested that this these nightly sessions of study were the sitz-im-leben for the Hodayot. That suggestion has not been taken up, perhaps because there is so little explicit in the content of the Hodayot about reading and interpretation. But poems that were associated at some level with the Teacher of Righteousness could well have found a place when the community gathered to continue in its own day the interpretative process begun by the Teacher. (I have a passing footnote here to the addition in the Slavonic version of Josephus "they rest a little at night; they rise for singing, praising God and praying" -- but this is surely more a reflection of Christian monastic practice).

Our search for statements that give explicit evidence for the singing of psalms and hymns has not been particular productive, though neither have I found much that would render such a liturgical practise impossible or implausible. I would now like to turn to the scriptural psalms (whether the MT version or the llQPs-Psalter) and their use, to see if this can shed some light on the larger picture.

We start from the fact that a large number of psalm manuscripts were found at Qumran, more copies of the Psalter than of any other single book. I am fudging on giving a precise number because it is impossible to do without opening up the question of what to count as a "psalter/scriptural/biblical manuscript." I think that Flint would now give a figure of 37 psalm manuscripts from Qumran, 2 from Masada, and l from Nahal Hever (but that number includes some manuscripts that I would not be ready to count as a Psalter, e.g., llQapocPs). For our purposes now, we can certainly agree that there were many copies of the psalter at Qumran, and it is the Psalter that turns up both at Masada and Nahal Hever.

Why such a large number? VanderKam's treatment of the question in The Dead Sea Scrolls Today is standard he lists the large numbers of manuscripts and draws the conclusion: "the numbers alone give a fairly reliable impression of where the Qumran group placed its emphases. The Psalms could be used for worship, meditation, and prooftexting." By prooftexting: I presume that VanderKam is referring to how the psalms served as a book to be studied, a work of prophecy to be interpreted as were the prophetic books, as evidenced in the pesher on the Psalms (lQpPs, 4QpPsa, 4QpPsb) and thematic pesherim such as 4Q174/177 and llQMelch. This same understanding of psalmody as something to be studied is reflected also in 4QMMT C 10-11 which refers to careful study (b ^ybhl) ... dwydbw ... µyaybn rpsb ... hçm rpsb.

That the psalms were also used for meditation (VanderKam's second use) is more of an assumption. Certainly this is very hard either to prove or disprove from physical manuscript evidence, and begs the question of whether much of the Psalter would have been memorized so that those who meditated or sung them were not dependent on copies. Puech and others have suggested that some of the small scrolls found at Qumran might have been written as a "personal copy" (e.g., the small 13 cm-high scroll of theWords of the Luminaries ; one of the copies of the Hodayot 4QHc is a similar size); if some of the psalm scrolls can be similarly reconstructed, it might suggest that these were private copies for personal meditation. Similarly if there were scrolls containing only Ps 119, perhaps 5QPs, 4QPsg, h, these may have been written for meditation on this long psalm. Various bits of evidence can be advanced to demonstrate that in Judaism as a whole in Second Temple period the psalms were being used devotionally to shape and inform personal piety, e.g., the insertion of psalms into narratives such as in the book of Jonah; Jesus's quotation of psalms on the cross; the reference in 4 Mac to a father singing the songs of david to his children (4 Mac 18:15), even the arguments of scholars such as Zenger and Lohfink that the final ordering of the Psalter reflects a concatenation of catchwords to facilitate the recitation and meditation upon the psalms seratim (a phenomenon that could have been operative, in at least a few places, in the arrangement of the Hodayot ). If Jews in general -- so the argument goes -- prayed the psalms in this way, we can assume that the pious people of this community also did so.

But even if such a personal usage can be demonstrated, was it customary to sing (or recite) the psalms communally as part of worship? Would we be justified, for example, in concluding that the use of red ink for the first two lines of Ps. 103 in 2QPs reflects some type of liturgical rubric? Certainly those scholars like Goshen-Gottstein, Talmon, and Schiffman who have argued for taking llQPsa as a liturgical prayerbook, "a synagogue Psalter" are allowing for and presuming a worship service that used that used the psalms, perhaps sung with refrains (Ps. 145 in llQPsa) or with psalmic verses strung together in free composition.

Occasionally in popular-level descriptions, the community at Qumran was depicted almost as Christian monks who spent their days saying the Office -- that is not what I am proposing. But I found it interesting to discover that back in the 1930s K. Kohler had already raised the possibility that the Psalter was used in a distinctive way by the Essenes; that is, Kohler suggested that the reference in(t. b.) shabbath 118b to those who finish the Hallel every day (µwy lkb llh yrmwgm) was referring to the Essenes who customarily recited the whole book of psalms (Hallel in that sense) every day.

The decision about whether we think that the members of the Scrolls community used the psalms in communal worship outside the temple cannot help but be influenced by what we think was happening beyond this particular communities: when other groups of Jews gathered for reading of the Torah, did they make use of the psalms? We are really asking the question of whether the psalms part of synagogue worship at this early stage? Radically different answers have been proposed (and some of you know this discussion much better than I do), but if I read the literature correctly the dominant scholarly opinion is that psalmody came into the synagogue service rather late, certainly the use of the psalms in any set order or number, or as a matter of obligation. To quote Louis Rabinowitz: "during the whole period of the Talmud, with one exception [Hallel] the Psalms had no place at all in public worship," and Hoffman has showed that well into geonic times there was wide-ranging variety in the number and content of the pisukeh de zimra. This is a marked change from earlier theories that had postulated extensive use of psalmody in the synagogue in the pre-70 period so that, for instance, the melodies of the temple singers were passed on via the synagogue to the early Christian church (e.g. Werner, Idelsohn) and the monastic office directly carried on synagogue practice. But if "the psalmody of the early Synagogue is a myth fostered by a curious coalition of Anglican liturgists and Jewish musicologists" (to quote Mackinnon) it is not a myth that everyone, especially New testament/Christian scholars are ready to give up. For example, in a recent paper that attempted to reconstruct the first-century synagogue practice, E. P. Sanders again puts forth the argument that

"in 1 Cor. 14 [ we could also include Col 3 Eph 5] Paul .. refers to hymns and lessons. Since his view of group worship was almost certainly influenced by the synagogue services that he had attended, we may add singing to prayers and the reading and exposition of scripture as possible synagogal activities."


However, if, as I am inclined to agree, the weight of the evidence is on the side of silence with regards to the singing of psalms in synagogues both before and after 70, how does this affect our reconstruction of the worship of the Scrolls community? At first glance, it might seem an argument against supposing that the Essenes were regularly using the biblical psalms and other poetry. Yet the opposite case could be made. Some practices developed among the Essenes in a quite different way than in the "synagogue pattern." For example, Talmon, followed more recently by Stegemann, proposed that among the Covenators (as among the Samaritans) the daily service of blessings was kept distinct from a public reading of scripture, as opposed to the synagogue practise of joining the two. Furthermore, recently Annette Steudel and Stegemann have interpreted the problematic passage in CD 11:21- 12:l about the "house of prostration" as a reference to local Essene places of worship; if this is correct (and I realize that not all will agree ), this would mean that certain features associated traditionally with temple worship -- the blowing of trumpets, prostration, purity requirements for entrance -- had been transferred to the non-temple worship. Indeed, the more that we see the worship of the community of the Scrolls as fundamentally priestly in orientation and rooted in temple milieu (the argument of Falk), the more likely it is that singing of psalms --a temple practice -- would have been carried over into a non-temple context. Thus the fact that the psalms did not enter into synagogue liturgy until rather late may not be that relevant for what was happening in this community whose worship was developing according to quite different norms.

And that brings me to my final point. Perhaps more thought needs to be given to how fundamental assumptions about the nature of the Essene community and its worship affect how we approach the specific question of the use of the poetic materials. Just two brief examples of the type of reflection that I have in mind. In a provocative article a few years ago in a volume edited by Adele Berlin, Devorah Dimant tried to articulate the core, the essential basic idea that held together the entire system of the Qumranic phenomenon, and she proposed that one essential clue lay in the "Qumranic self-image as an angel-like priestly community." One of the essential tasks of the heavenly angels is to sing the divine praises and hymns. To the extent that a community understood itself as "angel-like," poetry and hymnody could be expected to play a central role in their worship.

Or, we could start from a totally different point. In the study of the development of early Christian music, more attention is being paid in recent studies to influences from the Greco-Rome world, and in particular the role that music played in the voluntary associations, collegia, Qiasoi. For instance, Stephen Wilson's recent article on "Early Christian Music" in the Graydon Snyder Festschrift collects some interesting material on singers and regulations about singing in all sorts of collegia, not just those of professional musicians. Inasmuch as it is helpful to think of the Essenes as a voluntary association rooted in the hellenistic world, this model might support a role for music and musicians in communal life.

Thus I suggest that ultimately the determination of the use and function of the poetic corpus found in the scrolls cannot be resolved only by a study of the texts per se. It is necessary to attend to broader issues such as I have raised here: similarity and dissimilarity to the synagogue model; the extension of temple practises, the imitation of the angelic realm, even influences from the hellenistic world. In any case, I hope I have convinced you that the whole issue of the use and function of the poetic materials merits ongoing consideration.