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Pesharim, Qumran, Devorah Dimant, Anchor Bible Dictionary (ed. David Noel Freedman), Doubleday, New York 1992.

The Dead Sea Scrolls
PESHARIM, QUMRAN. The discovery of the Qumran library has brought to light a hitherto unknown type of biblical commentary, employed by the Qumran community, which has come to be known as “pesher” (pl. pesharim). This name derives from the frequent use of the term “pesher” (Heb pšr—in the OT it occurs only once at Qoh 8-1; Akk pišru, Aram psr˒) to introduce an interpretation of a biblical text. The word is used in the sense of “interpretation, realization” (Rabinowitz 1973- 226 suggests- “a presaged reality”), akin to the Heb ptr.

The term “pesher” is currently used in four different senses- (a) a Qumranic biblical commentary written in pesher-like form; (b) the formal term used to introduce the expositionary section of this kind of commentary; (c) the literary genre of these commentaries; and (d) the particular exegetical method of these Qumranic commentaries.


A. Form and Content of the Extant Pesharim

1. Continuous Pesharim

2. Thematic Pesharim

3. Isolated Pesharim

4. Other Forms of Pesharim

B. Nature and Structure of the Pesharim

C. Literary Genre of the Pesharim

D. Exegetical Method Used by the Pesharim


A. Form and Content of the Extant Pesharim

The importance of the Scriptures in the life and ideology of the Qumran community is expressly stated in the writings of the Qumranites (CD 6-3–11; 1QS 6-6–8; 8-2, 15–16; 1QpHab 2-8–10; 7-7–8), from which we learn that exposition and interpretation of the Torah and the Prophets constituted an important part of the community’s special teaching. This is corroborated by the numerous biblical texts and biblical commentaries found among the Qumran scrolls. Significantly, most of the surviving commentaries offer expositions of divine discourses, mainly from the Prophets, but also from the Torah, as well as from the Psalms and the book of Daniel (4QPs37 on Ps. 37; 11QMelch ii.9–12 on Pss. 82-1–2 and 7-8–9; 4QFlor 1–2.i.14 on Ps. 1-1 and elsewhere; 4QFlor 1+3 ii.3 on Dan 12-10; 11QMelch ii.8 on Dan 9-25), since both David and Daniel were considered prophets (11QPsa 27-11; 4QFlor 1+3 ii.3). The commentaries are identified as belonging to the Qumran community by virtue of their terminology, subject matter, and ideology. These commentaries are the only Qumran texts so far published that refer to historical persons and events, and they constitute the main evidence for dating the Qumran community and understanding its history. Some scholars have concluded, based on the fact that the extant pesharim are all single Herodian mss with no copies or overlapping sections, that the pesharim were autographs and produced within the community at a later stage in its history (Milik 1959- 41; Cross 1980- 114–15). However, some pesharim betray a copyist’s hand (e.g., 4QpIsa 5-5a–5, which has an interlinear addition that appears to be a correction; Horgan 1979- 3–4) and therefore may not be autographs. Moreover, the exegetical method of the pesharim is to be found already in much older Qumranic works such as 1QS, CD, and 1QM. It is possible therefore, that some of these pesharim, or their sources, may be attributed to an early stage in the community’s history, or even to the founder of the community himself.

The extant pesharim appear in several forms- (a) continuous pesharim—running commentaries (section by section) on single biblical books, mainly the Prophets; (b) thematic pesharim—exposition of verses from various biblical books, organized around a common theme, such as 4QFlorilegium and 11QMelchizedek; (c) isolated pesharim—exposition of one or two biblical verses, within a work of a nonpesher genre (e.g., Isa 40-3 in 1QS 8-13–16; Isa 24-17 in CD 4-13–15; and Num 21-18 in CD 6-3–10). These first three forms share a common lemmatic structure- a biblical citation followed by an exposition, usually introduced by the term “pesher.” There are also (d) other forms of pesharim.
1. Continuous Pesharim. Most of the extant pesharim are of this type. Fragments of 15 mss were discovered in Qumran Caves 1 and 4 (editions- Allegro 1968, to be used with Strugnell 1969–71; cf. also Horgan 1979). These include-

4QpIsaa (= 4Q161, on Isa 10-22–27, 33–34; 11-1–5),

4QpIsab(= 4Q162, on Isa 5-5–30),

4QpIsac(= 4Q163, on Isa 8-7–8; 9-11–20; 10-24; 14-8, 26–30; 29-10–23 [with a quotation from Zech 11-11]; 30-1–21; 31-1),

4QpIsad(= 4Q164, on Isa 54-11–12),

4QpIsae(= 4Q165, on Isa 40-11–12; 14-19; 15-4–5; 21-10–15; 32-5–7; 11-11–12),

4QpHosa(= 4Q166, on Hos 2-8–14),

4QpHosb(= 4Q167, on Hos 5-13–15; 6-4–11; 8-6–14),

1QpZeph (= 1Q15, on Zeph 1-18–2-2),

4QpZeph (= 4Q170, on Zeph 1-12–13),

1QpMic (= 4Q14, on Mic 1-2–9; 6-15–16),

4QpNah (= 4Q169, on Nah 1-3–6; 2-12–14; 3-1–14),

1QpHab (the Habakkuk pesher, the longest and best preserved ms, containing a pesher on Hab 1-1–2-20),

1QpPs (= 1Q16, on Ps. 68-13, 30),

4QpPsa(= 4Q171, on Pss. 37-2–39; 45-1–2; 60-8–9), and

4QpPsb(= 4Q173, on Ps. 129-7–8).

Most of the continuous pesharim have a common structure, exegetical method, and subject matter. They all refer in a similar way to a certain community, its leaders and opponents, and its history. Similar references appear also in other Qumran documents. It is generally assumed that the pesharim, as well as writings such as 1QS and CD, refer to a community of Essenes, one of the three Jewish sects that, according to Josephus, flourished in Judaea during the Second Temple era. See also ESSENES.

a. The Pesher on Habakkuk (1QpHab). This pesher, the first to be published, has received the most attention. The ms is written in an early Herodian hand (Trever and Cross 1972); thirteen columns have been preserved but, owing to extensive decay, without their lower edge (Cross 1972- 4). The author expounds the first two chapters of Habakkuk verse by verse, reading contemporary events into the prophecy.

The exposition refers repeatedly to three main persons, designated by special sobriquets, and to events connected with them. The first figure, the Teacher of Righteousness (based on Hos 10-12; Joel 2-23), is the leader of a group whose members are described as “The Men of Truth” and “The Doers of the Torah” (7-1, 10–14; 8-1–3). This leader is an inspired teacher of the Torah (5-11–12) and the Prophets. Being divinely inspired, he is able to decipher the hidden historical and eschatological meaning of the prophetic words (2-7–10; 7-4–5). The Teacher of Righteousness is involved in a bitter controversy with a second person, an ideological opponent, a person referred to as “The Man of Lies” or “The Spouter of Lies” (based on Mic 2-11), who was at one time the Teacher’s follower but broke away, together with his adherents, to form his own group (2-1–3; 5-9–14; 10-9–13). The third person, yet another adversary of the Teacher, is a political leader, a ruler of Israel, who is accorded the sobriquet “The Wicked Priest” (1-12–15; 11-4–8). This Wicked Priest is described as one “who was called by the true name at the beginning of his course” (8-8–9), but who, corrupted by wealth and power, defiled the Temple (12-2–10) and amassed wealth by violent and sinful means (8-8–13; 9-8–12; 11-12–16; 12-10). He pursued the Teacher of Righteousness to “his place of exile,” and disturbed his rest on the Day of Atonement (11-5–7, which seems to indicate that “The Wicked Priest” used a different calendar from that of the Teacher and his followers; Talmon 1965- 166–167; for polemic in matters concerning the calendar and festivals, cf. also CD 3-12–16; 4QpPsa 1–10 ii 10–11; 4QpHosa ii 16–17).

The external and internal conflicts of the Teacher and his followers were seen by the pesher as signs of the approaching eschatological era and the End of Days (7-7–14). The Qumranites believed that the day of final judgment was imminent, and hoped to see their wicked opponents punished and their own faithfulness to the true way of the Torah rewarded (8-2; 10-3; 12-14; 13-3). One of the contemporary events which made a deep impression on the author of the pesher was the approach and attack of a terrible people, the Kittim, whom he identified with the Chaldeans in Habakkuk. The Kittim are depicted as swift, cruel, mighty, merciless, and invincible (2-10–4-16; 6-1–2). Their attack is interpreted by many of the pesharim as a divine punishment of their wicked adversaries.
There is no reason to believe that all these details are invented. It is generally assumed that they refer to real persons and events. At present, the most plausible identification is that the Kittim are the Romans (note 1QpHab 6-1–12, which appears to refer to the Roman military standards. The identification of the Kittim as Romans is corroborated by 4QpNah 3–4 i 3; Milik 1959- 64–65; Cross 1980- 123). Similarly plausible is the identification of the Wicked Priest as one of the early Hasmonean rulers, generally assumed to be either Jonathan (161–142 B.C.E.; Milik 1959- 65–71; Vermes 1981- 151; Murphy-O’Connor 1974- 229–33; Delcor, DBSup fasc. 51- 907) or Simon (142–134 B.C.E.; Cross 1980- 142–52; Nickelsburg 1976). Both more or less fit the description in 1QpHab 9-1–2 and 11-15. Others identify the Wicked Priest as Alexander Janneus (103–76 B.C.E.; Delcor 1951; Nitzan 1986- 132–33) or Hyrcanus II (Dupont-Sommer 1980- 274). The identity of the Teacher of Righteousness remains, however, an enigma. Initially, it was argued that he was a descendant of the high priests of the Zadokite lineage who was ousted from office by the Hasmonean Jonathan (Stegemann 1971- 250–51), but this explanation is too conjectural. See also TEACHER OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. As for the Man of Lies, he was sometimes identified as the leader of the Pharisees. This is based on 4QpNah 3–4 ii 2, 4 (cf. also 4QpIsac 23 ii 10), in which the community’s opponents are referred to as “the Seekers of Smooth Things,” an expression interpreted as a cryptogram for the Pharisees (Amoussine 1963; Flusser 1970). Others see him as identical with the Wicked Priest (Vermes 1981- 143), but the different characteristics of the two men make this identification unacceptable.

b. The Pesher on the Psalms (4QpPsa). Substantial fragments of four columns of this Herodian ms have been preserved (Stegemann 1963–64; 1967–69). The author reads the dichotomy of the Righteous and the Wicked, as described in the Psalms, as referring to the Teacher of Righteousness and his followers on the one hand and their opponents on the other. The Teacher is referred to here as “the Priest” (1–10 iii 15). He is persecuted both by the Wicked Priest (1–10 iv 8) and the “Wicked ones of Ephraim . . . who will seek to lay their hands on the Priest and his partisans” (1–10 ii 18). This is seen by the author as part of the events taking place “at the time of testing that is coming upon them” (1–10 ii 19–20). The community believed that its own salvation by God was imminent, as was the punishment of their enemies. The Man of Lies also figures here. He is the one “who led many astray” with false teaching (1–10 i 26–27).

The sharp contrast between the Teacher (and his followers) and their opponents is also reflected by the various epithets applied to each party. The Teacher and his adherents are variously called “those who practice the Torah” (1–10 ii 15, 23), “the Congregation of the Meek” (1–10 ii 10; iii 10), “the congregation of his chosen ones” (1–10 ii 5), and “those who returned from the wilderness” (1–10 iii 1; cf. 1QM 1-2–3; 4QpIsaa 2–6 ii 18). Their adversaries are referred to as “the Ruthless Opponents of the Covenant” (1–10 ii 14; iv 1–2), “the Wicked of Ephraim and Manasseh” (1–10 ii 18), and “the Wicked Princes” (1–2 iii 7). The contrast between the community and its opponents is seen as part of the cosmic battle between the forces of Good and the forces of Evil (1–10 ii 7–11).

c. The Pesher on Nahum (4QpNah). Substantial fragments of five columns of this late Hasmonean or early Herodian ms have survived (Strugnell 1969–71- 205). Published after 1QpHab, this pesher was the first of the Qumran writings to mention historical names. It mentions “[Deme]trius King of Greece” (4QpNah 3–4 i 2), probably referring to the Seleucid ruler Demetrius III Eukerus (95–88 B.C.E.; Cross 1980- 124–25; Milik 1959- 72). It also mentions “the kings of Greece from Antiochus until the rise of the rulers of the Kittim” (4QpNah 3–4 i 3). While it is difficult to ascertain which specific king this refers to, it is at least clear that the kings of Greece (= yawan, as in Dan 8-21; 10-20; 11-2; also referred to in CD 8-11–12), namely the Seleucids, are distinct from “the rulers of the Kittim” (mentioned also in 1QpHab 3-5), who must then be the Roman governors. These references, therefore, place the events and persons alluded to in the pesharim on a firm historical footing, dating them in the 2d century B.C.E.

The Nahum pesher seems to refer to events dating from Alexander Janneus to the fall of the Hasmonean kingdom following the conquest of Palestine by Pompey (63 B.C.E.; cf. 4QpNah 3–4 iv). Perhaps the clearest indication is the allusion to Alexander Jannaeus, referred to here as “the Lion of Wrath.” This Lion is one “who would hang men up alive” (4QpNah 3–4 i 7), apparently alluding to Alexander Jannaeus’ crucifixion of the Pharisees who had transferred their allegiance to Demetrius III (cf. Josephus Ant 13.14.2 §§379–83; JW 1.4.6 §§96–98). The pesher, though it may appear to be condemning Jannaeus’ act, may in fact be approving it as an appropriate punishment for the Pharisees’ treachery (thus Yadin 1971, relying on the ruling of 11QTemple 64-6–13 to hang traitors alive [cf. Deut 21-22–23]; also Yadin 1983, 1- 378).

“The Seekers of Smooth Things” (4QpNah 3–4 i 7, based on Isa 30-10; cf. Ps. 21-3; Dan 11-32), namely the Pharisees, appear both as the foes of the Lion of Wrath and as the adversaries of the Qumranites. Most of the pesher’s polemic is directed against them. They are referred to as “those who lead Ephraim astray; with their false teaching, their lying tongue, and deceitful lip they lead many astray” (4QpNah 3–4 ii 8; cf. 4QpPsa 1–10 ii 18–19). A similar charge is leveled by 1QpHab against the Spouter of Lies and his followers. 4QpNah refers to three distinct groups within Israel, by means of three biblical symbols- Ephraim, Manasseh, and Judea. Ephraim stands for the Seekers of Smooth Things, namely the Pharisees (4QpNah 3–4 ii 2, 8). A second group, represented by Manasseh, is also condemned by the author (4QpNah 3–4 iii 9–11, iv 1–7). The third group appears to refer to the Qumran community itself, and is represented by Judea and Israel (4QpNah 3–4 iii 4–5).

It had been concluded from other Qumran writings (1QS and CD) that the Qumran community must be identical with some branch of the Essenes. If the pesher’s tripartite symbolism is equated with the three Jewish sects referred to by Josephus—Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes (Ant 13.5.9 §§171–73; 18.1.2–5 §§11–22; JW 2.8.2–14 §§119–166)—the second group, Manasseh, must be identified with the Sadducees (Amoussine 1963; Flusser 1970; the same tripartite symbolism underlies 4QpPsa 1–10 ii 18–19 and other pesharim). However, new evidence shows that the members of the Qumran community adhered to a Sadducean halakhah (Qimron and Strugnell 1985, citing the yet unpublished work 4QMMT; see also MIQSAT MA˓ASE HATORAH), so that the identification of the triple symbolism of the pesharim with the three sects of Josephus must be modified.

d. The Pesher on Isaiah (4QpIsad). A fragment of this pesher offers an interesting insight into the self-image of the Qumran community. The pesher interprets the description of the eschatological Jerusalem in Isaiah 54 as symbolic of the eschatological community and its leadership- “the council of the community was established [among the] priests and the p[eople] [in the midst of] the congregation of his chosen ones, like a stone of lapis lazuli in the midst of the stones” (1 2–3). Underlying the equation of the eschatological Jerusalem with the community is also the equation of Jerusalem with the Temple and, consequently, the equation of the community with the Temple (also in 1QS 5-5–6; 8-5–6; 4QFlor 1–2 i 6–7; cf. Dimant 1986- 184–89). The pesher appears also to connect the twelve community leaders (cf. the twelve apostles of the early Christian community) with the twelve precious stones on the breastpiece of the High Priest (Exod 28-4, 15 etc.). A similar theme and approach are to be found in the description of New Jerusalem in Revelation 21. The concept of community as temple is applied also to the early Christian community by several NT writers (e.g., Matt 16-17–18; Eph 2-19–20; Rev 3-12; cf. Baumgarten 1977; Flusser 1965).

2. Thematic Pesharim. Unlike continuous pesharim, the thematic pesharim do not provide a running commentary on a single biblical text; they are a collection of pesharim of various biblical verses on a single, or several themes. The theme thus dominates the structure and development of the pesher, and dictates the choice of biblical texts to be interpreted. These pesharim use a structure similar to the continuous pesharim, but modify it in some ways.

a. 4QFlorilegium (4Q174). Several fragments of this ms together preserve most of one column, and parts of another two columns (editions- Allegro 1968- 53–57; Strugnell 1969–71- 220–25; Brooke 1985- 86–91). The ms dates from the end of the 1st century B.C.E. or the beginning of the 1st century C.E. (Brooke 1985- 83–84). Organized around citations from 2 Sam 7-10–14 (1 Chr 17-9–13); Exod 15-17–18; Amos 9-11; Ps. 1-1; Isa 8-11; Ezek 37-23; and Ps. 2-1; the work expounds various eschatological themes.

The best preserved column contains a pesher on 2 Samuel 7. It interprets the prophecy of Nathan concerning the House of David as alluding to three temples (Schwartz 1979; Dimant 1986)- the future eschatological temple (Heb mqdš ˒dny) to be built by God (1–2 i 1–5; also mentioned in 11QTemple 29-10); the Temple of Israel (Heb mqdš yśr˒l), which was the temple built by Israel and later desecrated (probably to be equated with the contemporary temple; 1–2 i 5–6); and the Temple of Men (Heb mqdš ˒dm), that is, the temple created and fashioned by the life and deeds of the Qumran community itself. The pesher accordingly states (1–2 i 6–7) that the sacrifices in this third temple are not of animals but of “deeds of Torah” (Heb m˓śy twrh; cf. 4QMMT m˓śy mṣwh; Qimron and Strugnell 1985- 406). The author goes on to interpret 2 Sam 7-11–14 as referring to the Shoot of David, the eschatological leader of the community (mentioned also in 4QPatrBless 3; cf. 4QpIsaa 7–10 ii 22; CD 7-16), who will appear together with another leader of the community, the Interpreter of the Torah (mentioned also in CD 6-7; 7-18).

This first section (4QFlor 1–2 i 1–13) does not use the term “pesher” at all, whereas the second section (4QFlor 1–2 i 14–19) does. Moreover, this second section opens with the formula “Midrash of ‘happy is the man . . .’” (Ps. 1-1) (Heb mdrš m˒šry h˒yš). These distinctions were taken to indicate that this second section (4QFlor 1–2 i 14–1–3 ii 1–6) is a real pesher in the form of a midrash, whereas 4QFlor 1–2 i 1–13 is not (Brooke 1985- 140–41, 154–55). This view is, however, questionable, since both sections employ the same exegetical procedures and syntactic patterns as other pesharim. The differences of style and terminology between the two sections may indicate that 4QFlor was originally a collection of various eschatological pesharim.

b. 11QMelchizedek (11QMelch). Parts of three columns of this early Herodian ms have survived (de Jonge and van der Woude 1965–66; fresh edition Puech 1987- 488–89). The fragments describe the events as taking place during the tenth eschatological jubilee, so that originally they must have formed part of a larger pesher on ten jubilees. But differences of style and subject matter make it doubtful whether the fragments 4Q180–181 are to be considered as part of this pesher (as Milik 1972 has suggested; cf. Dimant’s criticism 1979- 89–90).

In 11QMelchizedek the author strings together pesher-type expositions of various biblical texts (Lev 25-9–10, 12-13; Deut 15-2; Isa 49-8; 52-7; 61-1–3; Pss. 7-8–9; 82-1–2; Dan 9-25). He interprets the freedom accorded in the biblical jubilee as the eschatological liberation of the Sons of Light imprisoned by the evil Belial (ii 1–6). This liberation will take place at “the End of Days” (ii 4), at the end of the tenth jubilee (ii 7), which implies a division of historical time into ten jubilees (cf. 1 En. 93-1–10; 90-12–17; Kobelski 1981- 49–51). The chief actor in these events is Melchizedek, the eschatological judge who figures as a priest in Gen 14-18 and Ps. 110-4. In this capacity he acts as liberator and expiator of sins for the Sons of Light while wreaking vengeance upon Belial and his hosts (ii 13–14). By applying Ps. 82-1 to Melchizedek (ii 13), the author of the pesher treats him as a supernatural figure.

3. Isolated Pesharim. Most of the isolated pesharim come from the first part (the admonition) of the Cairo Damascus Document- 3-20–44 (on Ezek 44-15); 4-13–19 (on Isa 24-17); 6-3–11 (on Num 21-18 + Isa 54-16); 7(B)-10–21 (on Isa 7-17 + Amos 9-11 + Num 24-7); 8(A)-8–15 (on Deut 32-33); and 19(B)-7–13 (on Zech 11-11 + Ezek 9-4). Only one isolated pesher is to be found outside this document (the Community Rule interprets Isa 40-3; note also 9-20). Significantly, all the isolated pesharim occur in paraenetic sections, where the pesharim serve as prooftexts both for events in the history of the community and for its ideological tenets. The texts commented upon in this way are mostly prophetic, but a few are taken from ancient songs found in the Torah (Num 21-18; 24-7; Deut 32-33). This means that these songs were considered prophetic and were interpreted as such.

4. Other Forms of Pesharim. Another type of biblical interpretation is the use of various sobriquets in the pesharim to refer to historical persons. Most of these sobriquets serve as cryptograms for pesher-type interpretations of biblical passages (cf. above and the examples discussed by Nitzan 1986- 43–46). Thus, for instance, the epithet “The Seekers of Smooth Things” for the community’s opponents clearly refers to Isa 30-10, but implies a pesher of the entire context of Isa 30-8–14. The epithet “The Teacher of Righteousness” is based on Hos 10-12 and Joel 2-23, but has its source in a pesher of the larger context of the two verses (note esp. Joel 2-18–27). Although these sobriquets cannot formally be considered “pesharim,” they are derived by the same exegetical principles.

Another form of pesher is interpretation of biblical verses by allusion, that is, without explicit quotation (cf. 1QpHab 11-12–14 on Hab 2-16, alluding to Deut 10-16; Jer 4-4; see other examples cited by Nitzan 1986- 61–78). These interpretations of alluded vv are also derived by the pesher’s exegetical method. The fact that pesher-like characteristics appear in various other literary forms indicates that continuous or thematic pesharim were not the only literary forms that employed the pesher-type exegesis.

B. Nature and Structure of the Pesharim

Besides the pesharim, the members of the Qumran community employed several other modes of biblical interpretation (Gabrion, ANRW 2/19/1- 779–848; Fishbane 1988). However, it is the pesharim which are most typical of the community. Their distinctive historical-eschatological subject matter and typical lemma-and-exposition form reflect in a unique way the doctrines and attitudes of the Qumran community.

The Pesher on Habakkuk claims that the pesharim are of divine origin. It states that “God divulged all the mysteries of the words of His servants the Prophets” to the Teacher of Righteousness (1QpHab 7-4–5), and these mysteries relate to the historical events leading to the eschatological era (1QpHab 2-8–10). Biblical prophecies are, therefore, interpreted as enigmatic predictions relating to events of the Last Day, revealed to the Prophets who perhaps did not understand them (being too far removed in time from the events about which they prophesied). These enigmatic mysteries (Heb rzym; e.g. 1QpHab 7-8; 1QS 3-23; 1QH 2-13; 1QM 3-9; CD 3-18; cf. Dan 2-29 et al) could therefore only be unraveled by an inspired person living close to the time of the actual events. The Teacher of Righteousness, according to 1QpHab, not only possessed such great visionary powers, but was also inspired and guided by God (Elliger 1953- 154–55; Nitzan 1986- 25–26). We should not conclude from this that all the extant pesharim were necessarily composed by the Teacher of Righteousness himself, but the pesher-method, as developed within the Qumran community, may ultimately derive from him. The numerous exegetical techniques the pesharim share with other contemporary literary corpora seem to indicate that the Teacher of Righteousness, like other contemporary Jewish writers, also drew on traditional exegetical modes and traditions (Fishbane 1988- 340–41; Dimant 1988- 379–84).

The character and form of the pesharim are best understood by observing the relationship between their formal structure and their content. The lemmatic pattern makes for a structural and stylistic distinction between the biblical citation and its exposition, thus differentiating between the word of God and man’s interpretation of it. The Pesher of Habakkuk provides the most comprehensive illustration of pesher patterns. The work consists of small pesher units. Because the main text expounded is known, each unit opens with a biblical citation without any introductory term. The interpretation which follows is, however, always introduced by the term “pesher.” Such pesher-interpretation identifies parts of the biblical citation with contemporary personages or activities (Rabinowitz 1973- 226), with further explanations (Brooke 1979–80- 498).
When applied to persons the identification is introduced by the formula pšrw ˓l (“its interpretation concerns”) + a noun + the relative ˒šr (“who”/“which”) + verb/s describing the activities of the persons mentioned. An alternative formula uses pšr hdbr ˓l (“the interpretation of it concerns”; cf. 1QpHab 10-9; 12-2, 12–13). A good illustration is 1QpHab 6-8–10-

THEREFORE HE DRAWS HIS SWORD CONTINUALLY TO SLAUGHTER NATIONS AND HE HAS NO COMPASSION [Hab 1-17]. Its interpretation concerns the Kittim, who destroy many with the sword . . .

When applied to activities the identification is introduced by the formula pšrw ˒šr (“its interpretation is that”) or pšr hdbr ˒šr (“the interpretation of it is that”) + verb. A good illustration of this form is found in 1QpHab 7-7–7-

FOR THERE IS YET A VISION CONCERNING THE APPOINTED TIME. IT TESTIFIES TO THE END, AND IT WILL NOT DECEIVE [Hab 2-3]. Its interpretation is that the last end will be prolonged . . .”

The pesher unit may be elaborated by repeating a portion of the citation and giving it a fresh interpretation. The subordinate character of such elaborations is indicated by special introductory terms- the quotation is always introduced by the formula w˒šr ˒mr (“and as for what he said”; cf. 1QpHab 6-2; 7-3; 9-3; 10-1–2) or hw˒ ˒šr ˒mr (“this is what he said”; cf. 1QpHab 3-2, 14). Such repeated quotations are followed by additional identifications, again introduced by the term “pesher” (e.g., 1QpHab 5-6–7; 7-3–4). These identifications are in the form of nominal sentences which repeat some terms from the quotation itself, and equate them with other, nonbiblical, terms. For example, 1QpHab 12-3–4 (on Hab 2-17) reads- “for ‘Lebanon’ is the council of the community, and the ‘beasts’ are the simple ones of Judah.”

The above formal patterns are employed, with slight modifications, by all continuous pesharim (Brooke 1979–80- 498–500; Horgan 1979- 239–44), with a single exception- 4QpIsac, which omits comment on some passages of its main Isaiah text, contains quotations from Jeremiah and Zechariah (Horgan 1979- 237–38).

The thematic pesharim also employ the basic patterns of the continuous pesharim, with appropriate modifications. But unlike the continuous pesharim, they employ a combination of main text with subordinate ones. Thus, for example, 4QFlorilegium, like the continuous pesharim, quotes the main text of 2 Samuel 7 without any introductory formula (1–2 i 10–11) because the main text had been cited explicitly in the initial section of the pesher (which has not been preserved). As with the continuous pesharim, the interpretation which follows the quotation is identifactory, but takes the form of nominal equations (4QFlor 1–2 i 2, 11) instead of a “pesher.” This is followed by fresh quotations from other biblical books, considered by the author to refer to the same exegetical subject. Since these quotations come from biblical books other than that of the main text, their source is explicitly mentioned. These quotations are introduced by the term k˒šr ktwb (“as it is written”; cf. 4QFlor 1–2 i 2, 12), a typical introductory formula for scriptural prooftexts (also used in explicit nonpesher quotations, chiefly in legal sections of Qumran works; cf. CD 5-1–2; 11-10; 1QS 5-15). These quotations are in turn interpreted as subordinate units (which repeat a quotation and introduce it with “and as for what he said” [4QFlor 1–2 i 7], or introduce nominal equation [4QFlor 1–2 i 12–13]). 11QMelch is too fragmentary to permit a full reconstruction of the structural patterns. The surviving quotations are all introduced by formulas used to mark subordinate elaborations (“and as for what he said”; “this/as it is written”). The main quotation appears, therefore, to be missing.

C. Literary Genre of the Pesharim

The fact that the term “pesher” is not always used in the pesharim indicates that the use of this term is not constitutive to the genre (Brooke 1979–80- 492). Rather, the structure, terminology, and exegetical purpose of the work are of greater importance. The exegetical procedure underlying each pesher-unit may be reconstructed as follows (similarly Brooke 1979–80- 497).

The first step consists in locating within the biblical citation the subject of the exposition and identifying it with a contemporary figure or situation. The subject may be located in a noun, a verb, or a pronoun of the biblical text. These identifications may appear to the modern reader to be very arbitrary, but they are often based on an already existing exegetical tradition. Thus, for instance, the equation of the Chaldeans with the Kittim goes back to a well-established exegesis (cf. Num 24-24 together with Isa 23-12–13 and Dan 11-30; Brooke 1985- 328–29). Similarly, the identification of the term “Lebanon” in Hab 2-17 with the community (1QpHab 4-12) rests on the traditional equation of Lebanon with the Temple (in the Targums tradition; cf. Brownlee 1956; Vermes 1961- 28). It is this initial step of applying the ancient prophecy to a contemporary situation that is the most difficult. This is often done through symbolic or allegorical equations- the lion of Habakkuk stands for a human king (4QpNah 3–4 i 1–6), the eschatological Jerusalem stands for the Qumran community (4QpIsad), a reference to “a town” stands for “the town of vanity,” namely, for a group of opponents led by the Spouter of Lies (1QpNah 10-9–10).

Having established the identification, the author sets out to relate the various details in the citation to the identified subject (the second step). In order to bridge the gap between the literal meaning of the biblical prophecy and the sense attributed to it in the pesher, the author will indicate the presence of analogy, similarity, or identity between various elements of the two texts.

Finally, the above aims are achieved by the application of various exegetical techniques (the third step; see D below).

The exegetical steps described above, as well as their eschatological subject matter, though not always explicitly formulated, are essential components of (and underlie all forms of) pesharim. They are the distinctive features of the pesher-commentary. The presence or absence of these constituents is, therefore, sufficient to decide if a work is to be defined as a pesher or not. The occurrence of the term “pesher” is important, but not indispensable, for such a definition. We may find pesher-type works which do not employ the term “pesher,” but employ other terminological equivalents to perform the same task (cf. 4QFlor 1–2 i 1–13). Conversely, the pesher exegetical method may be employed in a different literary form and with different structural patterns (compare isolated pesharim and the sobriquets; cf. also 1 Macc 7-16–17 commenting on Ps 79-2–3; cf. Dimant 1988- 390–91).

It should be noted, however, that two Qumranic texts make a different use of the term “pesher”- the text known as 4QOrdinances (= 4Q159) 5-1, 5 uses the term to introduce a pesher on a legal passage from the Pentateuch (Lev 16-1?). In another text, 4Q180, the term “pesher” introduces abstract themes later to be interpreted by means of pertinent quotations. This indicates that the use of the term “pesher” may have been wider than what can be gathered from the evidence of the continuous and thematic pesharim (Brownlee 1979- 28; Dimant 1979- 96).

What is the genre of the pesharim? A heated debate on this question was conducted in the years following their publication. It was argued that the pesher, serving as it does to disclose contemporary events presaged in ancient biblical prophecies, should not be termed “interpretation” or “exposition” of scripture, for it does not aim at explaining or clarifying biblical verses, but rather at disclosing coming events (thus Rabinowitz 1973). Nevertheless, the lemmatic structure and the exegetical techniques used by the pesharim link them firmly with other types of lemmatic commentaries, such as the rabbinic midrashim and the commentaries of Philo. Some scholars have, in fact, classified the pesher as a sort of Qumranic midrash (Brownlee 1979; Brooke 1985). Other scholars have discovered an affinity between the pesharim and the interpretation of dreams as practiced in the ANE and as evidenced in the biblical stories of Joseph (Gen 40–41) and Daniel (chaps. 2–6). The pesharim, like the interpretation of dreams, aim at revealing future events alluded to in visions, and do so by similar exegetical means (Rabinowitz 1973- 230–32; Finkel 1963–64).
But although the pesher has some affinity with all these literary forms, and especially with the prophetic dreams and apocalyptic visions, it has a distinct form, distinct aims, and a distinct background. The distinctiveness of the Qumranic pesharim lies in their peculiar structure and terminology, and in their systematic application of the biblical text to the historical circumstances of the community itself. The immediate purpose of the pesharim is to vindicate the Teacher of Righteousness and his followers in their struggle against their opponents, to strengthen the adherents’ faith and their powers of endurance, and to inspire them with hope for the future (Brownlee 1979- 35–36). The Qumranic pesher should, therefore, be considered as a commentary of a special kind.

D. Exegetical Method Used by the Pesharim

The pesher’s strict formal distinction between the biblical lemma and its interpretation indicates the interpreter’s main task- to extract the desired sense from the biblical citation by indicating the analogy and similarity between the text and the community’s situation. To accomplish this a number of exegetical techniques were used (Elliger 1953- 130–48; Brownlee 1951; Bruce 1960- 11–18; Horgan 1979- 244–49; Brooke 1985- 279–352; Nitzan 1986- 39–79)-

(1) modeling the interpretation on the syntactic and lexical patterns of the citation (cf. 4QFlor 1–2 i 1–13; Dimant 1986- 174);

(2) using, in the pesher, lexical synonyms of words occurring in the biblical citation;

(3) punning on words of the citation (paranomasia);

(4) atomizing;

(5) vocalizing or grouping the consonants of words in the citation in a different way; and

(6) adducing other biblical quotations which share one or more terms with the main citation.

These procedures have close parallels in the rabbinic midrashim, in early biblical versions, and in early apocalyptic literature. It is, therefore, often asserted that they are identical with the techniques used in the rabbinic midrashim (Silberman 1961–62; Slomovic 1969–71; Brooke 1985- 154–55, 283–92). These procedures, though similar, are nevertheless not identical; they are used in widely different texts, different in character, period, and social background. Identity cannot, therefore, be established until further research is carried out. However, the affinity between the exegetical methods used in all these corpora seems to indicate that the Qumranic pesher is not a unique phenomenon, but it must be placed within the wider framework of Jewish exegesis of the Second Temple era.


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