The Dead Sea Scrolls
The Book of the Covenant of Damascus (the Zadokite Documents or the Damascus Document) is a work presenting the views of the sect which is said to have left the Land of Judah and emigrated to the Land of Damascus. The work first became known through the discovery by Solomon Schechter in 1896 of two fragmentary manuscripts of it (conventionally called A and B) in the genizah of a Karaite synagogue in Cairo. Schechter dated A to the 10th century C.E. and B to the 11th or 12th. They represent two different recensions of the work, to judge by the relatively small portions which overlap. When the Qumran texts were discovered in 1947 and the following years, an affinity between some of them and the Damascus Document was speedily recognized, and it soon became evident that the sect referred to in the Damascus Document must be identified with the Qumran community. This conclusion was confirmed with the discovery of fragments of the Damascus Document in the Qumran caves – fragments of seven manuscripts in Cave 4 and further fragments in Cave 6 (6QD).
The book is written in biblical Hebrew, free from Aramaisms. The style is marked throughout by linguistic usages from the Bible; it contains also later idioms most of which are known from the Mishnah. It includes homilies in the spirit of the ancient Midrashim and material paralleled in such apocryphal and pseudepigraphic writings as the Book of Jubilees and the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs.
The first part of the work, named “The Admonition” by C. Rabin, comprises moral instruction, exhortation, and warning addressed to members of the sect, together with polemic against its opponents; it serves as a kind of introduction to the second part, called “The Laws” by Rabin (see bibliography). Even in the Qumran manuscripts, these two parts are not treated as separate compositions but belong together as one work. The lack of continuity in several places in both parts suggests that the work as it now is known is an abridgment of a longer work, over and above the fact that the abridgment itself has survived in a fragmentary form.
The first part contains some details about the history of the sect as understood by the author. At the end of 390 years (cf. Ezek. 4:5) after the destruction of the First Temple there sprouted forth from “Israel and Aaron” a “planted root,” the beginning of the sect. Twenty years later there arose the Teacher of Righteousness (CD 1:11; in 20:14 he is called moreh ha-yaḥid, “the unique teacher” or “the teacher of the One” – or, if ha-yaḥad is read – “the teacher of the community”). He organized those who accepted and kept his teaching in a “new covenant.” At the same time arose “the man of mockery” or “preacher of falsehood” who misled Israel; in consequence, many of those who had entered the covenanted community left it and were accordingly “delivered to the avenging sword of the covenant.” “At the end of the destruction of the land,” when the influence of the backsliders and adversaries of the sect became stronger, those who remained true to the covenant went out of the holy city and “escaped to the land of the north.” The leader of those who “turned back [from impiety] in Israel and went out of the land of Judah to sojourn in the land of Damascus” was “the lawgiver who expounds the Torah,” who enacted laws by which “those who entered into the new covenant in the land of Damascus” might regulate their lives “until the teacher of righteousness arises at the end of days.” But there were also betrayers of the covenant who returned, together with the “people of mockery,” and those and others like them are threatened with severe punishment.
The “people of mockery” are those who “build up an insecure wall and daub it with white plaster” (cf. Ezek. 13:10); by these the author seems to indicate the Pharisees who made a fence to the Torah (Ar. 1:2). These, he says, walked in the stubbornness of their heart (cf. Deut. 29:18; Jer. 3:17, etc.), followed the preacher of falsehood, and were caught in “fornication” – a term used by the author (and by those like-minded) of those who married two wives simultaneously or who married their nieces. To have two wives at once is, for the author, a breach of the ordinance of creation. The example of David cannot be pleaded as a defense, because in his day the Torah was inaccessible; it had been sealed and hidden in the Ark “until Zadok arose,” i.e., Zadok the priest whose sons are “the chosen of Israel, men of renown.” As for marrying the daughter of one’s brother or sister, this is not explicitly forbidden in the Torah (for which reason it was permitted by the Pharisees), but in the circle to which the author belonged it was evidently regarded as forbidden by analogy with the prohibition of marriage between aunt and nephew (cf. Lev. 18:12–14). In addition to committing fornication in these two respects, the “people of mockery” are charged with failing to keep the laws of uncleanness as specified in the Torah; they profane the Temple and “speak abominations against the ordinances of God’s covenant, saying that they are not right.” Because the Temple was rendered unclean by them, those who had entered into the covenant undertook not to approach the Temple or bring sacrifices to it; that would be “kindling God’s altar in vain” and they would do better to shut the Temple door altogether, in accordance with Malachi 1:10.
The second part of the work deals with the laws of the sect and its social arrangements. These laws comprise regulations for judgment, the Sabbath, the altar, the synagogue and the city of the Temple, the attitude to worshipers of idols, forbidden foods, and uncleanness. Several of these regulations correspond to the accepted law, but others are in opposition to it and correspond rather to the laws accepted by the Samaritans and the Karaites, and all of them are inclined to be severe. The social arrangements that were fixed by the leaders of the sect put its members under a severe discipline. The members of the sect in all their “camps” are divided into four classes: priests, Levites, Israelites, and proselytes. Their names must be recorded in a book. At the head of each “camp” stands a priest who understands the “book of the Hagu” (a book of laws, apparently some composition of the character of the Manual of Discipline, which seems to be older than the Damascus Document). Next to the priest stands the “inspector (mevakker) of the camp” whose responsibility it is to act as guide and educator of those in the camp. A distinction seems to be drawn between those who live in camps as members of a separated community and those “living in camps after the order of the earth” – which may denote associate members or sympathizers with the sect who pursued normal family life in the cities of Israel.
Before the discovery and study of the Qumran community, many conjectures were expressed about the identity and date of the sect of the Damascus Document. Even when it has been set in a wider context, many such questions remain undecided. The internal testimony of the work indicates that the sect existed at a time when the Temple still stood. A particularly knotty problem is presented by the reference to Damascus: is this to be understood literally (as was usually taken for granted when the Damascus Document was the only one of its kind extant) or as a “prophetic name” (cf. Amos 5:27) for the wilderness of Judah to which they had withdrawn? (For the latter view see Y. North, in PEFQ, 87 (1955), 34ff.; F.M. Cross, The Ancient Library of Qumran (1958), 59f.). Murphy-O’Connor suggested alternatively that it might actually refer to Babylon.
If Damascus is taken literally, it appears that when the sect fled there, some of its adversaries and enemies went there too, and instigated a number of its members to betray and forsake it. From this it may be argued that at that time Jerusalem and Damascus were controlled by separate (if not indeed opposing) governments, so that it was possible for refugees from Judah to find asylum in or near Damascus: this situation corresponds only to the time of the Hasmoneans. (It is relevant to note that the oldest manuscript fragment of the Damascus Document from Qumran has been dated by some scholars on paleographical grounds to the pre-Roman period; cf. Cross, op. cit., 59, n. 46). The flight of both members of the sect and their adversaries from Judah to Damascus under the Hasmonean regime is best related to the reign of Alexander Yannai, to the time when his enemies (as is known from Josephus and from the Talmud) fled from the Land of Israel after his decisive victory in the long civil war. Yannai would have hated the people of the sect because they opposed the Hasmonean assumption of the high priesthood, which in their view belonged exclusively to the descendants of Zadok; and it is possible that they also participated in the war of the Pharisees against Yannai. On this basis it is possible to suggest the following time-sequence in the history of the sect: The growth of the sect (“the root”) began during the reign of John Hyrcanus I (135–114 B.C.E.), when the opposition of the Pharisees to the Hasmonean kings’ exercise of the high-priestly function became manifest. Twenty years (half a generation) later arose the “Teacher” who organized the sect in a covenant, and after his death, which occurred during Yannai’s reign (103–76 B.C.E.), the people of the sect fled (at the end of the civil war) to the land of Damascus. During the peace which followed under Salome Alexandra, the “people of mockery” returned to Jerusalem as did several of the people of the sect. In that case the Damascus Document would have been written originally after Salome’s death (67 B.C.E.), during the war between her sons Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II, when Pompey was preparing to march on Jerusalem (63 B.C.E.); his invasion may be hinted at by the author in the words “He is the head of the kings of Yavan, who is coming to wreak vengeance upon them.” (Pompey was by this time the master of all the rulers in the Hellenistic states, which had fallen under the dominion of Rome.)
So much can be inferred from the Damascus Document taken by itself. How far this reconstruction can be correlated with the evidence of the other Qumran texts is a subject for continuing study. Certainly the basic ideas, as well as the language and style of the Damascus fragments, correspond from every point of view with those of the Qumran scrolls. Such leading personalities as the Teacher of Righteousness and the Man of Mockery are as prominent in some of the Qumran texts as they are in the Damascus Document. One possibility to be considered is that the Damascus sect was a special branch of the Qumran yaḥad whose history differed somewhat from that of the yaḥad as a whole; another is that the Damascus Document reflects a later development of the Qumran community than that represented by the Manual of Discipline.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.
S. Schechter, Documents of Jewish Sectaries, 1 (1910); L. Rost, Die Damaskusschrift (1933); C. Rabin, The Zadokite Documents (19582); S. Zeitlin, The Zadokite Fragments (facsimile edition, 1952); H.H. Rowley, The Zadokite Fragments and the Dead Sea Scrolls (1952). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. Murphy-O’Connor, “An Essene Missionary Document? CD II, 14-VI, I,” in: Revue Biblique, 77 (1970), 201–29; P.R. Davies, The Damascus Covenant: An Interpretation of the “Damascus Document” (1982); M. Broshi (ed.), The Damascus Document Reconsidered (1992); S.C. Reif, “Solomon Schechter and his Oxbridge Academic Friends,” in: Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society 21 (2003), 103–4.