Adele Reinhartz- Wilfred Laurier University
Today I will illustrate this phenomenon by looking at a specific text from Qumran, 4QMMT, often referred to as the Halakhic Letter. Most studies of this text place it in the context of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the writings of Josephus and rabbinic literature, and argue on that basis that MMT presents three different groups: a "we" group that is represented by the author, a separate "you" group that represents the addressees, and a "they" group that constitutes the opponents of the author. But when comparing this document to a selection of New Testament letters, another possibility emerges, namely, that MMT presents only two groups. In this line of interpretation, "we" and "you" would appear to be members of the same group. On the basis of the New Testament parallels, then, we would argue that the author of MMT is exhorting a person or group within his community, who may nevertheless be geographically removed from the author, if this is a letter meant for sending to an individual, or perhaps not, if it is meant as a circular to be read within the community itself. It is a document in which "we" are confirming, teaching, reminding and exhorting "you" to remain steadfast, and not to stray from the common principles of the community.
In our current postmodern intellectual context, we have become accustomed, if not always reconciled, to the notion that personal identity, social location, and other seemingly unacademic factors may have some impact on the topics we are interested, the ways in which we approach them, and the hypotheses we propose and defend. In the process of researching and writing this paper, however, it struck me with some force that there is another, less personal and perhaps more subtle factor that also has an impact on our scholarship: the repertoire of texts that we carry around in our heads and that form the background against which we measure or evaluate any new texts that come our way.
Today I will illustrate this phenomenon by looking at a specific text from Qumran, 4QMMT, often referred to as the Halakhic Letter. As a New Testament scholar, I initially chose this document because its polemical nature provides an interesting point of comparison with the language and rhetoric of the Gospel of John. The Fourth Gospel, its historical background, and its polemic against the non-believing world, have preoccupied me for some time, and it seemed to me it would be interesting to compare John and 4QMMT in terms of their polemical discourse. But when I began studying 4QMMT in earnest, I was completely sidetracked by a different, though related element of this text: its use of personal pronouns. Most striking is line 7 of the third section of the document as reconstructed by Strugnell and Qimron: "And you know that we have separated ourselves from the multitude of the people and from all their impurity." This line, in which an author or authors ("we") explicitly addressed an audience ("you") about the authors' relationship with "them" - a group designated as "the multitude of the people" - seemed to provide a direct line to the experience of a community that had split off from a larger group (rov ha'am). The text it reminded me most strongly of I John: 2:19:"They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us." In this text too we also have an author or authors ("us") writing to "you" - an individual or group - about a schism or separation, this time from the point of view of the group who remained behind, and not, as in MMT, the group that left.
These two texts come from different communities, and different geographical areas. They are separated by about two centuries and they reflect different situations. There are, however, several reasons for considering them together. Both of these texts were preserved within communities that had or were in the process of separating off from the form of Judaism centered around temple worship in Jerusalem, at the same time as they continued to have the Hebrew Bible and the belief in the one God of Israel as cornerstones of their own self-definition. Both texts reflect a covenantal frame of reference. Their authors place their own beliefs and behaviours in the context of a covenantal relationship with God. For the group behind MMT, as for the Pharisees and Sadducees, being in covenantal relationship with God requires human obedience, and also entailed the expectation of a future vindication of their own view point, though whether this would occur in this world or in the eschaton is a matter of debate. For the group behind 1 John, the basis of the covenantal relationship is Jesus, and what is required of the human partner is faith in Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God. This group too expects a future vindication of its own deeply-held truths, promising salvation and eternal life to those who believe.
Beyond these general similarities, MMT and 1 John have several specific features in common. In both cases, the presence of an author and addressee identifies both texts as letters or epistles. Second, in each case, relationships among two or more groups is signaled by the overt or implicit use of pronouns. Third, both texts have been used extensively by scholars in their attempts to reconstruct the historical situation of the group or groups being invoked. Fourth, both texts present us with the problem of delineating the boundaries between insiders and outsiders. Both texts imply that there are profound and irreconcilable differences between the group that remained and the group that separated itself out, that is, between "us" and "them," at least, from the point of view of the speaker in each case.
Finally, each text leaves one important question unanswered: What is the relationship between "we" and "you," that is, the speaker and the addressee? One possibility is that there are three groups, two of which are hostile (us and them) and one of which is different from but in communication with the addressee ("you"). Thus boundaries of varying degrees of permeability would exist between all three. The other possibility is that "we" and "you," that is, the speaker and the addressee, are really part of the same group, and both stand in hostile relationship with the third group ("they"). In this case, "we" and "you" would stand together on one side of the boundary-line, while "they" stand on the other.
I will begin by looking at how C 7 has been used in the analysis of the historical background of the text, with particular attention to the question of whether it is seen as implying two different groups or three. First a few introductory words about 4QMMT. The version I have used for this study is the composite text published by Elisha Qimron and John Strugnell in the Discoveries in the Judaean Desert series. This composite text comprises approximately 130 lines and has been constructed from six extant manuscripts that, on paleographic grounds, can be dated from 75 BCE to 50 CE. None is an autograph.
The composite text has three discrete sections. Section A is a calendar outlining the dates of shabbatot and holidays, as well as the thirty-first day at the end of each quarter, for a calendar year of 364 days. Section B is a list of laws pertaining to a variety of issues, including purity regulations, sacrifices made by gentiles, forbidden unions, and the responsibilities of the priests towards the people. Section C, which is the literary context for the line that is the focus of our discussion, is a homiletic-paraenetic conclusion that exhorts the reader or readers to study the books of Moses, the prophets, and David (line 10), and to return to God with all their hearts and souls (15-16).
Some matters of the reconstruction are open to debate. There is some uncertainty, for example, as to whether the calendrical portion is part of the original document, as it is found only in the fragments of 4Q394. Also unclear are the placement of particular fragments and the relationship between the halakhic section in B and the homiletic section in C.
Likewise, there is no firm agreement on the genre of the document. While it is often referred to as a letter, Strugnell has argued that it may be a systematic exposition of the reasons for the separation of this group from another group, a free-standing introduction to a collection of laws, or a legal proclamation sent to an accepted leader or ruler. Finally, there is no consensus on the historical implications of MMT or the meaning and significance of halakhah against the background of other late Second Temple and early rabbinic legal material. All of these issues, uncertain as they are, impact on the identification of the parties that may stand behind the personal pronouns in 4QMMT.
Qimron's contribution to the DJD volume devoted to 4QMMT assumes that the three pronouns refer to three distinct parties. "We" are the Dead Sea sect, writing to "you," a currently sympathetic Hasmonean leader and perhaps even the Wicked Priest, before he became wicked. "They," the multitude of the people, are the Pharisees, who, in accordance with Josephus, are seen as the majority group. An even more specific identification can perhaps be made. As noted in the DJD volume, "there is a later inner-Qumranian tradition in 4QpPsa referring to a document of 'precepts and law' which the Teacher of Righteousness had sent to the Wicket Priest." If MMT is this document, then it is reasonable to identify "we" with the Teacher of Righteousness and "you" as the Wicked Priest.
Central to this point of view is the observation that the halakha that the document criticizes resembles the halakhic perspectives espoused by the rabbis of the Mishnah who, in turn, are seen as continuous with the Pharisees. The halahic view championed by the author of MMT, on the other hand, is similar to that associated with the Sadduceean priesthood. The similarities between the Halakhic positions espoused by the author or authors and those associated with the Sadducees according to rabbinic literature would then account for the fact that there appears to be no hostility between the "we" and "you" of the document. According to this theory, MMT is evidence for the rleationships among three of the four philosophies famously discussed by Josephus.
In his contribution to the DJD volume, as well as in other articles, Strugnell presents a somewhat different view. He agrees that MMT favours the identification of "we" as proto-Qumranites whose halakhic views are likely to have been Sadducean. But he argues that there is little evidence on the basis of which to identify the addressees ("you") as a specific individual such as the Wicked Priest. In Strugnell's view, MMT reflects an early stage in the community's history, before the High priesthood was a major issue, the addressee is unlikely to be the Wicked Priest. Given that MMT reminds the addressee about David, however, it is possible that "you" may well be a political leader, who may have lived some time between the death of Alkimus and Jonathan's accession (160/59 to 152). In that case, the purpose of the document would have been to keep those leaders faithful to Sadducean priestly laws.
Many other scholars argue for three separate parties, though they differ in their precise identification. From the evidence of our extant sources, Larry Schiffman argues that "we" are the Qumran group at an early stage of their development, reflecting the perspective of early Hasmonean Sadducean priests before they were corrupted by Hellenization. "You," the addressee, is the Hasmonean High Priest. This can be seen in the shift from the plural second person to the singular addressee. The authors' opponents are the Pharisees or proto-Pharisees. The issue at stake is halakhah, particularly laws pertaining to sacrifices and ritual purity. The purpose of the document is to persuade the Hasmonean ruler to adopt or follow the halakhic path chosen by the author(s). Only in this way will the ruler be saved from misfortune. In Schiffman's words, the author(s) "strove to fulfill the words of the Torah as they understood them, seeking to find God in the meticulous performance of the sacrificial worship in His holy Temple in Jerusalem and in the constant maintenance of the highest standards of ritual purity."
Hanan Eshel agrees that MMT speaks of three parties, but differs on their specific identification. In his view, "We" are the Qumran spokesmen, "you" are the party in power, namely, proto-Pharisees, and "they," the opponents, are the pre-Hasmonean Temple establishment that would later become the Sadducean group. Section C aims to legitimate the authenticity and credentials of the author(s) group, and to persuade the addressees to see them in a favorable light. He argues that both grammatically and rhetorically the "you" group, the target of persuasion, indicates a group distinct from rov haam, with the latter denoting a significant group among the people, perhaps even the majority. Therefore at the time that MMT was written, the addressee was a political leader, but not the leader of the majority of Israel. Eshel suggests that the author of MMT and his group separated themselves from the multitude of the people not because of the halakhot that were specified in MMT but for other reasons, such as the hellenization of Jerusalem.
Finally, Eshel speculates that the MMT refers to the period either just before or just after Jonathan became High Priest in 161 BCE. Rov Haam can refer to those who followed his leadership, as would be reasonable with respect to the majority of the people. "The precipitating cause of the Qumran's sect's split from the Temple cult was a quarrel not with Jonathan and the Pharisaic movement, but rather with the Hellenized priesthood in charge of the Temple until 152 BCE. MMT may convey the Qumran group's belief that it shared with Jonathan and the Pharisees some fundamental assumptions about the biblical laws and their interpretation, a belief that was soon proven to be wrong when Jonathan followed Pharisaic law rather than the calendar and stricter halakhah of the Teacher of Righteousness.
Danny Schwartz follows a similar scheme. He comments that if the opponents are understood to be Pharisees or proto-Pharisees, MMT can be used as conclusive evidence for the centrality of legalism to second Temple Judaism, as the traditional interpretation of Paul's letters has asserted all along. Schwartz also sees three groups. The addressee is apparently a rulter of the Jewish people who, along with his group, is assumed to be interested in details of Jewish law, an inference apparently made from the fact that the document does in fact discuss such details. Schwartz concludes that "the writer of MMT is indicating to his Pharisaic addressees that he, although of the priestly camp, is sincere in his religion: after all, he and his community separated themselves from the multitude of bad priests." Thus, MMT is a Qumran text from the early Hasmonean period in which the writer attempts to justify his group's sincerity by urging the addressee not to mix up his group with other priestly groups.
What is common to all of these solutions is the assumption, or, for some, the reasoned conclusion that the three sets of pronouns reflect three distinct groups that can be identified with greater or lesser certainty with other groups or personages known from second temple sources. Most important among these are other scrolls from the Dead Sea, which are seen as emerging from the same or similar community, and are thought to be roughly contemporaneous with MMT or to come from a later stage within the same community, Josephus, whose comments about the various groups or philosophies in the period before the Jewish revolt have long been the basis upon which many theories about second temple Judaism have been founded, and rabbinic texts, primarily the Mishnah, which provides interesting parallels and counter-parallels to the halakhic positions outlined in MMT.
Some scholars go even further to attempt to identify the pronouns with specific individuals. As we have seen, Qimron views the speaker as the Teacher of Righteousness and the addressee as the Wicked Priest before his opposition to the Teacher of Righteousness had solidified into hostility. Most suggest Hasmonean high priests from the mid-second century BCE. Thus they attempt to situate MMT very specifically into the complex history and ever-shifting relationship between the Hasmonean monarchy and the Pharisaic and Sadducean groups. This also provides a dating for the document, and perhaps even more importantly, for the formation of the Qumran community especially if this is identified with the Essene group of which Josephus, Philo and Pliny speak. Using the document in this way also reflects the assumption that it does in fact testify to the overall history of the community rather than speaking of a dynamic for which we have no corroborating evidence in the extant sources. A dissenting voice in this debate is that of Israel Knohl, who disputes the dating to the early Hasmonean period and instead argues that we should look for a time much closer to the date of the extant fragments themselves, namely, in the last three decades of the first century BCE. His candidate for the identity of the addressee is the High Priest Simon (23-5 BCE).
Yet it is useful to keep in mind Schiffman's comment, that the historian of Judaism has evidence for what was only a small part of the canvas of Jewish history in late antiquity. While it is important to examine our extant sources for clues to the meaning and context of MMT, we cannot rule out the possibility that MMT may allude to individuals, groups and events that are not present in the corpus of literature that has survived to our own days.
In addition to the history of the community, this approach to the pronouns of MMT also addresses the development of halakhah. In particular, it legitimates the position that Pharisaic halakhah, and the halakhic differences between the Pharisees and Sadducees, developed in the Hasmonean period, long before the formal articulation of these positions in the Mishnah. As Vander Kam notes, MMT is significant because it shows that the sorts of legal debates and positions found in rabbinic literature had a long pre-history.
Finally, all these lines of interpretation make some assumptions about genre. Most assume that MMT was a communication from one group to another, whether this is a letter or some more general document, and that its purpose was to influence the addressee particularly on halakhic matters, and to draw him or them into an alliance against "rov ha'am."
To sum up. This line of interpretation looks at MMT primarily within its literary context within the corpus of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the first instance, and then within other literature that speaks about, though does not originate from, the second Temple period. Of particular importance are the works of Josephus, written in the late first century CE, and early rabbinic literature, dating from the early third century CE onwards. Setting MMT in this literary context in turn leads scholars to focus on specific features of the text. First and foremost among these is halakha, with respect to which the author contrasts his own position with that of his opponents. MMT's halakhic content draws scholars into using rabbinic literature as well as with Josephus' statements about the halakhic stances of the Pharisees and Sadducees as tools in their analyses of MMT and as building blocks of their hypotheses about its historical context, meaning, and purpose.
Other points of emphasis are the variations in the use of the second person, from the singular to the plural. This variation is used to justify the position that the addressee is a leader of a group that is separate from that of the author. For the example, the formula "and you know" is plural (e.g. in C 7) whereas in C 10 the writer says "we have written to you," using the first person plural to refer to himself or themselves, and the second person singular mode of addressee to his or their audience. The use of the first person plural is easily enough taken as the "royal we," to denote a singular author such as the Teacher of Righteousness, who may be speaking not only of himself but on behalf of a group. The second person plural is seen as reference to a group and its leader, an interpretation that is reinforced in C 26-27: "We have (indeed) sent you some of the precepts of the Torah according to our decision, for your welfare and the welfare of your people."
This section suggests that the addressee (second person singular) is the leader of a group for whom he bears some corporate responsibility. This impression is reinforced in C 31-32: "This will be counted as a virtuous deed of yours, since you will be doing what is righteous and good in his eyes, for your own welfare and for the welfare of Israel." This exhortation implies that "you" have a corporate responsibility towards Israel, ust as do the priests throughout B, as in B 12-13: [for the sons of] the priest[s] should take care concerning this practice [cereal and flesh sacrifices] so as not to cause the people to bear punishment." The similarity between C 31-32 and B 12-13 suggest that the addressee may be a priest.
The arguments in favour of identifying the addressee as a leader, "you," as a and/or king focus on the author's comment in C 10, namely, that he has written to you (singular) "so that you may study (carefully) the book of Moses and the books of the Prophets and (the writings of) David..." The reference to the writings of David has suggested to some that the addressee is a member of a royal household, namely, a Hasmonean ruler.
From this brief discussion it is evident that the context into which one places this document dictates not only which other text will be brought into conversation with it but also the features of the text that one will tend to emphasize in constructing one's hypothesis concerning the identities of and the relationships among "us", "you" and "them."
While the views that we have discussed thus far vary in their details, they all assume that "we," "you," and "they" denote three separate groups. Not all Qumran scholars, however, accept the three-party hypothesis. John Kampen is unconvinced by any of the arguments that identify the first and second person pronouns with the Teacher of Righteousness and the Wicked Priest, nor does he consider "you" to have been one of the Hasmonean high priests. He dismisses the argument that the references to David pint to a royal addressee, for David functions as a model not only for kings but for a variety of figures in second Temple Judaism. In Kampen's view it is more likely that the addressee was part of the same movement as the writer, though he may be at a geographical and/or theological distance. This argument is supported by the fact that the addressee is recognized for his prudence and knowledge of Torah, hence implying that he is on the same page, so to speak, on halakhic issues. George Brooke suggests that there may not be a single, specific and definable addressee. In his view, MMT is not a personal epistle but rather a confirmatory instructional treatise that would have had a very broad and general circulation. It is written in such a way that many different people could have seen themselves as being addressed by the "you" in both the singular and the plural forms. MMT's purpose was therefore not only to set out the lines of opposition between the writer(s) and "rov ha-am" but also to encourage the audience to see themselves in the same camp as the author(s).
Kampen and Brooke approach this text primarily on its own terms, placing less emphasis on its relationship to other texts from the Qumran corpus or other bodies of literature. This also reflects, at least implicitly, a methodological approach that places greater emphasis on internal evidence than on parallels to other literature. My own approach will be to reflect upon the text, and, in particular, the implied referents of the personal pronouns "we," "you," and "they," against the background of the New Testament. The purpose of this exercise, as I stated at the outset, is to illustrate how the specific texts that normally occupy one's mind will affect one's readings of other texts that are from the same general period, even if not directly related to the texts with which one normally engages. There is of course an element of anachronism involved in this approach, for the New Testament books were written from the mid to late first century through to the early second century CE, some two centuries after MMT was composed. Yet this does not in my view invalidate the exercise, for the same problem exists with respect to the works of Josephus, which date from the late first century, and, even more acutely, with rabbinic literature, the earliest texts of which stem from the early third century CE. In any case, my arguments will not posit any connection whatsoever between MMT and the New Testament, but will focus only on some generic similarities that may open us up to some interpretive possibilities.
MMT has been discussed in comparison with the Gospels and Acts; some have found similarities in their theologies and modes of discourse. But perhaps the closest parallels, in terms of literary form, can be found in the New Testament epistles. While we may debate whether MMT is the private letter of one individual to another, or a document meant for more general circulation, the fact remains that it is framed as a communication from one party (we) to another party (you) and that it addresses at least in part the relationship with a third party (them: the multitude of the people). Similarly with the New Testament epistles. Most scholars do not doubt that the genuine Pauline letters were written by Paul, and sent to and read by the communities to which they were explicitly addressed, yet they obviously achieved a much broader circulation and eventually became canonical for the Christian churches as a whole. Other New Testament letters may have been intended from the outset for wide circulation and hence were not targeted to specific situations in particular communities.
Of greatest interest are the epistles that address boundary issues, that is, fundamental positions that determine whether one is inside or outside the author's community or group. These letters, like MMT, imply an instability in the relationship between the author and the addressee. The boundary lines are clearly drawn by the author, but the position of you" with regard to these boundaries is not static or stable. In all of the texts we shall look at, it is precisely the real or potential instability that occasions the letter and that constitutes its central theme. I begin by looking briefly at examples from Galatians and 2 Peter, which illustrate clearly the relationship between "us," "you," and "them," and then move to a more detailed discussion of 1 John.
Paul wrote to his Galatian church in a heat of anger so styrong that he could not even finish all of his sentences. The Galatian church, like all the churches that Paul had founded, was composed of Gentiles who were moved to profess faith in Jesus through Paul's proclamation. Paul's "gospel" expressed his profound conviction that Gentiles who came to have faith in Jesus as the Messiah did not have to convert to Judaism, that is, they did not have to undergo circumcision or to observe the dietary laws, the sabbath, or other distinctively Jewish practices. after the church in Galatia was well-established, Paul continued on his missionary journeys. In his absence, another group of leaders, likely including Peter, James and other pillars of the Jerusalem church, visited Galatia with a message that posed a fundamental contradiction to Paul's gospel: that Gentile converts to the new movement did indeed have to undergo circumcision and take on Jewish practice in addition to faith in Jesus as the messiah.
Paul's letter to the Galatians blasts the Galatians for even considering the viewpoint of the Judaizers. In doing so, he employs a variety of arguments, many of them based on scripture. His exasperation, and his fear of the erosion of his own authority, are clear from Galatians 1:6-9.
1: 6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- 7not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! 9As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!
Here, as in MMT, the first and second person pronouns are used explicitly, and the third person is implied in the vague noun "anyone." "I" denotes the sender, who is Paul. "You" are the Gentiles in Galatia who have been following his Gospel. "They," the opponents, are, in general, "anyone" who proclaims a contrary gospel, but in this specific instances, the Judaizers who are confusing his Galatians with their contrary message. The argument between Paul and the Judaizers is over the question of whether Jewish boundary markers such as circumcision and kashruth also pertain to members of this Jewish subgroup. For Paul, the only boundary marker needed for Gentiles is a profession of faith in Jesus; for the Judaizers, profession of faith must be accompanied by full conversion to Judaism and adherence to Jewish law.
From our point of view there are three important points. First and foremost, it is clear that the first and second person pronouns ("I" and "you") denote members of the same group. The letter is intended to bridge the geographical distance that currently exists between them. The opponents are related to the group to which the writer and addressees belong, but there are some fundamental differences between them. The writer perceives "them," the opponents, as a threat to "you" and he is writing in order to forestall "your" separation or defection from his church.
A second example relevant to MMT can be found in 2 Peter. In contrast Galatians, whose Pauline authorship is not in doubt, the Petrine attribution of this letter is almost certainly unhistorical, and there is no basis upon which to identify the individual who may have written this letter. It is generally dated to the early part of the second century. Whether this is a specific Christian subgroup is not clear. Bo Reicke, for example, has argued that the letter was intended for the church in general.
In much of the letter, there is no hint of "them," opponents; the author's intention is to confirm the faith of the addressees:
1:10Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. 11For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you. 12 Therefore I intend to keep on reminding you of these things, though you know them already and are established in the truth that has come to you. 13I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to refresh your memory, 14since I know that my death will come soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.
To this end, the writer exhorts his reader to
1:5 make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, 6and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, 7and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. 8For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is clear, therefore, that, as in Galatians, "I" and "you" are members of the same group, "I" being the leader and "you" being the followers. They are separated by geographical distance, hence the need for written communication. The writer is writing explicitly in order to strengthen them in their faith, to remind them, and to exhort them to stick with it, in anticipation of his departure and death. Staying the course, he assures them, will result in salvation at the end times.
The opponents, referred to as "false teachers," appear soon after these initial exhortation. The author warns his readers against "them," in this case, "false prophets."
1:20First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, 21because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. 2But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive opinions. They will even deny the Master who bought them-bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2Even so, many will follow their licentious ways, and because of these teachers the way of truth will be maligned. 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with deceptive words.
These opponents originate within the group itself. It is not clear what the historical referent is, but their destructive potential is clear: if allowed to prevail, "they" will drive a wedge between the writer ("me") and the addressee ("you"). Underlying the apparent unanimity between the author and his audience is the fear of potential instability.
In both of these letters, "I" and "you" are closely aligned. They exist in a hierarchical relationship according to which. "I" has some spiritual authority over "you." "I" establishes and reinforces the boundaries within which "you" currently reside. The allegiance and good will of "you" are anticipated, but unstable in the face of the activities and potential influence of "them." Thus the letters serve to spell out the threat, and to confirm the addressees with respect to the particular understanding of faith that they have been given by the writer, a confirmation that also serves to underscore the spiritual authority that they should ascribe to the writer.
The same points can be seen in 1 John. The question of whether the "John" to which this letter is attributed is the same as the author of the Gospel of John has never been fully resolved. Many scholars believe that even if there are two different writers, they belong to the same group or at least reflect a similar orientation to and understanding of Christ and of Christian faith. Indeed, some scholars argue that the Gospel of John and 1 John reflect the same community at different stages in their history. Even if we surmise that the author of 1 John was involved in the composition of the Fourth Gospel, his identity is not known.
Like 1 Peter, 1 John exhorts its readers to faith.
1 John 2: My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
Soon, however, the writer warns his readers about the enemy: the antichrist.
18 Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour. 19They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us.
Like 4QMMT, 1 John makes explicit reference to a separation. Whereas in MMT it is the author who represents the group that has separated off from "the multitude of people," in 1 John it is "they" who have left. Who these "separatists" are is not know. According to Rudolf Bultmann, they are heretical teachers who had belonged to the church and still constitute a danger to those who had remained. These teachers still view themselves as legitimate members of the group, and thus may still be among the audience of this letter. Schnackenburg presents a slightly different point of view, arguing that the "separatist" group no longer belonged to the community. Similarly, Brown does not see any reason to believe that this group still saw itself as part of the author's church, though they may well have viewed themselves as the only true Johannine community. In Brown's view, "the author is refuting the secessionist propaganda that he is an innovator who has abandoned true Johannine teaching while they are preserving the true Johannine Community. In this bitter split…each group probably said it could no longer live with the other; but the author and his adherents were not so sovereign that they could have expelled the secessionists as a small band of troublemakers." What separates those inside from those outside the community is faith, at least, that version of faith that the author espouses.
21I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and you know that no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.Faith is what separates the in group from the out group. See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
The New Testament letters that we have looked at are addressed to those who are inside to warn them of the views of those outside. They reflect the author's perception of the danger regarding the instability of his addressees' location with respect to the boundaries that he has drawn for them. The authors fear that "you" will follow the ways of "them" and in doing so will withdraw from "us" though "you" are currently among "us." The purpose of the letters is to confirm or strengthen their faith, and hence to remove the instability. In doing so, these letters also of course reflect the particular points of view of their authors, to encourage the allegiance of the addressees to these points of view and warn them away from adopting the alternatives apparently posed, directly or implicitly, by their opponents. One might well imagine that had we access to an epistle written by the "antichrists" mentioned in 1 John, we would read a different story about the split in this church.
The New Testament parallels open up the possibility that in MMT too the author is facing a real or perceived instability in the allegiance of the audience, with respect to which side of the divide he and his people are on. MMT may thus be a communication that provides information and encouragement to keep his addressees within the fold, to ensure that they continue to adhere to the author's vision of the divine will, and of the behaviours required to remain in covenantal relationship with God. According to this perspective, the phrase "and you (plural) know" is not directed to an outsider but to an insider whose allegiance the author would like to ensure. The fact that several copies were found at Qumran may suggest that, like the letters of Paul, MMT was initially directed to a specific individual or group but later came to be seen as applicable to and useful for the community as a whole.
Reading MMT against the background of the New Testament epistles supports John Kampen and George Brooke's suggestions mentioned earlier, namely, that the author of MMT, like Paul and the pseudonymous authors of 1 Peter and 1 John, is writing to one of his own, or perhaps to a group of his own, who may be at a geographical distance (if we see this as a "real" letter) or perhaps not. Indeed, in exhorting his audience to study the books of Moses, the prophets, and David, and to return to God with all their hearts, this author does not sound very different from these other letter writers who similarly exhort their readers. In explicating the laws of purity, sacrifices, forbidden and permitted marriages and other matters, the author may not necessarily be telling the audience something they did not know, but reminding them of the halakhic perspective that distinguishes them from other groups, much as the author of 1 Peter write to remind his readers and to teach them in preparation for his eventual demise. In tying his discourse very carefully to sections of Deuteronomy towards the end of section C, the author of MMT is not that different from Paul, who builds his elaborate argument for the rejection of the Judaizers' "Gospel" on a varied and broad scriptural foundation in Galatians 2-4.
One objection to seeing the addressee as being within the community is the reference in C 26-27 to "you and your people." This is used to support the view that the addressee is a leader of Israel in his own right, who has authority over a group of people separate from the community represented by the author of MMT. In the two biblical parallels, the phrase "you and your people" is uttered by God, not by one person to another (Exodus 9:15 and Jeremiah 27:13). But perhaps in MMT it has a more general meaning, as in, Israel as the covenant people, and not necessarily to a specific group of people separate from the group represented by the author. This is implied in C 31-32: "This will be counted as a virtuous deed of yours, since you will be doing what is righteous and good in his eyes, for your own welfare and for the welfare of Israel." It is also similar to the comments in section B that the priest must act in a way that does not bring down punishment upon the people as a whole, as in B 13 and 27 where particular halakhot must be observed by the priest lest the priest causes the people "ha-am" to bear punishment. Thus the formulation "you and your people" does not necessarily mean a group separate from that of the author but a way of calling the addressee(s) to responsibility for others. Just as the priests should behave in a way that does not cause punishment upon the people, so should the addressees behave in that manner. Priests, addressees, and the one(s) who is (are) enunciating the law are all part of the same community.
On the basis of the New Testament parallels, then, we would argue that the author of MMT is exhorting a person or group within his community, who may nevertheless be geographically removed from the author, if this is a letter meant for sending to an individual, or perhaps not, if it is meant as a circular to be read within the community itself. It is a document in which "we" are confirming, teaching, reminding and exhorting "you" to remain steadfast, and not to stray from the common principles of the community. The impression is that the author perceives a threat to the stability of his addressees' affiliation.
At this point, it is useful to reiterate that the purpose of this comparison has been to reflect on the ways in which the scholarly preoccupations of the interpreter may affect the ways in which he or she reads MMT. Moving from these observations to any historical conclusions would be highly speculative. Nevertheless, if pressed, I can venture a guess, though I would not be willing to place any money on its historical accuracy. Viewing MMT as addressed to an "in group" that is geographically distant and whose affiliation is perceived by "us" to be unstable would lead me to speculate that the author fears that the "you" group is subject to influences from "them" who may or may not be actively engaged with or recruiting among the group. If so, we might speculate that the document reflects a group, or perhaps a stage in the history of Qumran, when there was more than one enclave, and where at least some among the group may have been living among or in proximity to "rov ha'am." Of course, this scenario corresponds quite well to the comments of both Philo and Josephus concerning the Essenes, namely, that they live in various communities, in varying degrees of proximity to those not of their group. Whether this construction will hold up at all to scrutiny by specialists in the field I do not know. It is certainly less detailed, and so perhaps less helpful and less interesting than the hypotheses put forward by those unlike myself who do not have New Testament texts but rather rabbinic literature and the entire corpus of the Dead Sea Scrolls at the front of their consciousness. Nevertheless, it may be helpful, and perhaps appropriately humbling to keep in mind at all times the speculative nature of the exercise in which we are engaged, and the ways in which not only who we are but what we think about can influence the directions in which our speculations may lead.