By April 14, 2008 Read More →

Proselytes in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 1994.

The Dead Sea Scrolls
Despite the sect’s notions of predestination and their view that the nations—the non-Jews—would be destroyed in the End of Days, it nonetheless recognized the institution of proselytism—religious conversion to Judaism—that apparently existed by that time. Proselytes appear in the lists of the classes making up the sect-

They shall all be mustered by their names, the pr[ies]ts first, and the Levites second, and the children of Israel third, and the proselyte fourth. And they shall be written down by their na[mes], each after his brother…. Thus shall they sit and shall they be asked about everything. (ZADOKITE FRAGMENTS 14-3–6)

During the sect’s occupation of Qumran, sectarian officials maintained written documents that the sect used for the purposes of its mustering ceremony. Some of the lists of names found among the documentary texts from Qumran may be remnants of such lists. In another passage, the Zadokite Fragments mentions that the proselyte may be in need of economic help (6-21).

The sectarians assigned proselytes a status different from that of full Israelites. In this respect, they conformed to an approach held by a minority of early Rabbis (T. Kiddushin 5-1). Accordingly, the Temple Scroll expected that proselytes would be permitted to enter the Temple only in the fourth generation. The author of Florilegium wanted to exclude converts altogether from his messianic sanctuary.

We have previously noted that slaves who had entered the status called by the Rabbis “the Canaanite slave”—that is, who were already involved in the process of conversion—could not be sold to non-Jews. Clearly, then, the sect recognized converts and conversion and probably included converts in its ranks.

The material studied here represents a paradox. On one hand, we have encountered non-Jews in what may be considered the classic position assigned to them by the Jewish legal system. Although they are not obligated to observe specifically Jewish precepts such as the Sabbath laws or other Jewish commandments, they are nevertheless forbidden to worship idols or to blaspheme God. Hence, our texts go out of their way to note laws pertaining to idolaters and idolatry. Of course, some of these laws indirectly address the problems of how pagan religious behavior affects Jews. Yet non-Jews, even idolaters, are to be protected from depredation and pillage by Jewish armies solely intent on enriching Jewish rulers or their subjects.

On the other hand, some of the sectarian documents express an eschatological view that anticipates the future destruction of the non-Jews, together with those Jews who reject (or who are predestined to reject) sectarian doctrine and practice. For the Qumran sect, the messianic redemption was not to be the universal experience foretold by the prophet Isaiah; it was to be theirs and theirs alone.

Ultimately, Judaism accepted many aspects of the laws commonly held during the Second Temple period as well as specifically Pharisaic teachings. Together, these laws formed the basis for rabbinic halakhah. Although Qumran law shares many of the presuppositions and rulings of this Pharisaic-rabbinic tradition, the sectarians were less willing than the Rabbis to embrace the vision of Israel’s prophets, who anticipated that all the nations would one day come to worship God under Israel’s leadership. To the Pharisees and their rabbinic successors, this universal homage at Israel’s holy mountain would represent the true fulfillment of the ideals and aspirations of the messianic future.

That holy mountain, of course, was located in Jerusalem. We now turn our attention to the nature and significance of the holy city, which, to the Qumran sect, as for all Jews, is the center of the Jewish world.

Pages 383-384

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