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Books in Brief: The Temple Scroll: The Hidden Law of the Dead Sea Sect, Lawrence Schiffman, BAR 11:04, Jul-Aug 1985.

Dead Sea Scrolls - test chart

The Temple Scroll- The Hidden Law of the Dead Sea Sect

Yigael Yadin

(New York- Random House, 1985) 261 pp., $24.95

Yigael Yadin, whose name was synonymous with Israeli archaeology until his untimely passing last summer, was well-known for his ability to excite the general public with the results of his research and to transmit its important conclusions to the widest possible audience. In his lifetime, he published several books designed specifically for this purpose, including The Message of the Scrolls (New York- Simon and Schuster, 1957), Masada (New York- Random House, 1966), Bar-Kokhba, the Rediscovery of the Legendary Hero of the Second Jewish Revolt Against Rome (New York- Random House, 1971), and Hazor, the Rediscovery of a Great Citadel of the Bible (London- Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1975). Now, another in this series of publications has appeared posthumously. This new volume conveys the results of Professor Yadin’s research on the Temple Scroll. This document is the most recent of the Dead Sea Scrolls to come to light; it was acquired by Yadin during the Six-Day War of 1967.

While Yadin had communicated his results to the scholarly world in major Hebrew and English publications,a as well as in numerous articles, it is the present volume that will no doubt be the most widely read. Like his earlier volumes, this book is lucidly written, beautifully designed and illustrated, and breathes with the excitement of discovery, an experience with which Yadin was so often blessed. One has only to read the first chapter to share in the captivating story of Yadin’s acquisition of the scroll for the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem. Scholars and students will make use of the more technical volumes, but they will also have to read this account of the acquisition since it is much fuller than those the author included in his scientific publications. Even the more descriptive sections of this book take the reader into Yadin’s study, there to share the process of decipherment and the thrill of interpreting a scroll that had not been unrolled for millennia.

The Temple Scroll is indeed a unique find. Its size alone (26.9 feet [8.148 meters] are preserved) makes it one of the major discoveries in the Dead Sea corpus. It is essentially a description of the author’s views regarding the plan of the Jerusalem Temple and its furnishings, the laws of sacrifice, ritual purity, the festival calendar, and a series of laws for the king hitherto unknown. Most of these laws are adapted from Pentateuchal legislation according to a detailed system of Biblical interpretation that often yields rulings at variance with those of other contemporary Jewish authorities. Often the materials in this scroll agree with views in the other Dead Sea Scrolls or in the rabbinic traditions.

Yadin himself surveyed the contents of this scroll in a recent issue of BAR,b so there is no need for us to do that here. This volume spells out in fascinating detail all aspects of the scroll and introduces the reader to its specific provisions. The account is clear and readable, as is always the case with Yadin’s writings. This book follows the structure and contents of the analysis in Yadin’s scholarly works on this scroll.

Yadin’s basic conclusions regarding the scroll are that it is an integral part of the literature written by the Dead Sea sect, identified by him and by most scholars with the Essenes described by Josephus and Philo. Yadin dated the composition of the text to the period before John Hyrcanus (135–104 B.C.). He understood the Temple Scroll as a text regarded by the sect of Qumran as a canonical “Torah,” claiming to be spoken directly by God. He suggested that this scroll may possibly be mentioned in other writings of the sect and may even be mentioned in rabbinic literature. It was considered by the Essenes to be a revelation that came to Zadok, the founder of the sect, who was called the Teacher of Righteousness.

These conclusions, already expressed in Yadin’s scientific editions of the scroll, have led to considerable scholarly debate and controversy Yadin did take some account of this critique in writing this book, but nevertheless maintained his previous stances and interpretations. The primary challenge to Yadin’s approach has come from those, including this reviewer, who have raised questions about the place of the scroll in the Qumran corpus. This scroll was found in Qumran Cave 11 by Bedouin, so that it is, indeed, part of the corpus of Dead Sea Scrolls. In recent years, however, it has become increasingly clear that the Qumran corpus is a varied collection. Some books in it were in fact authored by the sect of the Dead Sea Scroll people that inhabited Qumran. Other books were part of the sect’s library, stemming from earlier or contemporary authors or even from sects whose ideas were in some ways similar and related to those of the Dead Sea sect. Yadin was aware of this problem, yet he concluded that the scroll was indeed composed by the Dead Sea sect and that it played a central role in its way of life. He gave little attention to the other possibilities. Other scholars have suggested that despite the parallels Yadin has cited and analyzed, this scroll, this new Torah, is not the work of the Qumran sect, but is a composition by some similar group.

What gives rise to the opinion that the Temple Scroll was not authored by the Qumran sect? This scroll bears none of the sectarian animus that is so familiar to us from the other materials. Further, this document seems to be a priestly text, concerned with gaining salvation through the sacrificial service. The sect, on the other hand, saw itself as a substitute for the Temple and its cult, in which it could not bring itself to participate. The Temple Scroll cannot be used as a source to reconstruct the life of the sectarians of Qumran, except insofar as it was part of their library and, therefore, would have influenced their teachings to some extent.

After a brief discussion of the identification of the Dead Sea sect with the Essenes of Josephus and Philo, and of the relationship of the scrolls to the New Testament, Yadin stated his conclusions at the completion of his study of “the longest and perhaps most important of all the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered so far.”

“Whether or not one accepts my interpretations, suggestions and conclusions … one thing is clear- this scroll provides us with a ‘Torah’ of absorbing interest. … It is my hope that further specialist studies on each facet of the teachings of the Temple Scroll will draw forth data on the biblical texts, the Hebrew language and the Jewish faith of two thousand years ago, on the eve of the destruction of the Temple by the Romans” (p. 254).

Yadin’s work has itself gone a long way toward illuminating this period, and his contribution to the study of the Dead Sea corpus is unparalleled. This posthumous work will make the results of his research available to a wide public. This is a book that anyone interested in Biblical archaeology or the history of Judaism and Christianity should read. The spirit of inquiry Yadin espoused and the important questions investigated by him provide a firm foundation for the study of the Temple Scroll. As a result, this text has taken its place as one of the central documents for the study of the Judaism of the Second Temple period.

a. The Temple Scroll (Israel Exploration Society- Jerusalem, 1983) 3 vols. Reviewed by Jacob Milgrom, Books in Brief, BAR 10-05.

b. “The Temple Scroll—The Longest and Most Recently Discovered Dead Sea Scroll,” BAR 10-05.

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