By April 14, 2008 Read More →

Purification Rituals, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 1994.

The Dead Sea Scrolls
Another manuscript to be considered here, Purification Rituals, has been dated to the early first century B.C.E. The text discusses a number of issues- sexual impurities, purity of the cultic servitors, the laws of skin diseases for both persons and houses, and contact with the dead. In addition, the text explicitly mentions the obligation to purify oneself for Sabbaths and Festivals, for the equinoxes and solstices, and for the harvest Festivals and the New Moon.

In this text we find certain rulings on halakhic matters pertaining to ritual purity and impurity. What concerns us here, however, is the text’s liturgical features. Each person engaged in a personal purification ritual was to recite a prayer beginning with the clause- “Blessed be You, God of Israel, Who …” (frag. 41-3; frag. 42–44-3).

The evidence in this text can help us dispel a common misconception about the Jewish laws of ritual purity and impurity—that they lack ethical and religious dimensions. Critics claim that these rites are mechanical at best and that they actually represent taboos. But in the Qumran Purification Rituals we find clear evidence that at least by the first century B.C.E., this Jewish group emphasized the spiritual and religious meaning of such rituals, believing that ritual purification must be preceded and accompanied by an inner turning, a dedication to the goals and aspirations sought by Judaism. One example is the following-

And he shall bless and reci[te] and say- Praised are You [God of Israel Who has saved me from al]l my transgressions and has purified me from contact with menstrual impurity, and You have granted atonement, so that I may go […] purification, and the blood of the burnt offering of Your acceptance and the remembrance of the sweet sav[or … ], Your holy incense, [and the swe]et sav[o]r of Your acceptance … (PURIFICATION RITUALS 29–32 VII 6–9)

Indeed, what made the purification rituals work was repentance. In fact, when these rituals were performed with genuine feelings of spiritual purification, they apparently served as a substitute for the sacrifices no longer being offered by the sectarians. This idea is enshrined in Rule of the Community (2-26–3-12), which required proper repentance by anyone who wished to enter the waters of purification. Thus, purification was a deep spiritual process of self-improvement, not a mere cultic rite.

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2 Comments on "Purification Rituals, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 1994."

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  1. Bonnie Boyd says:

    Titus 3:5 in old Greek ( using parsing for additional information) goes with your two statements about about an inner turning and process of self improvement; but Titus 3:5 also references being ‘born again (new)/ changed (of John) reference, and Jesus (wondering why (they didn’t know it)).It brings in references to receiving a changed spirit, which makes it also a reference for receiving the Holy Spirit/ a.k.a. The Spirit of Truth. It seems that the DSS could be referencing that as ‘The Teacher of Righteousness’- who is also the Advocate/ Paraclete of the N.T. ….- and has possible never been interpreted in this fashion before.
    One of my favorite personal DSS interpretations was from a 1956 publication, and was about the Rite of Purification, where the author had translated about “no one has gone (down) under the water”- which also could say “Has No One?…, ( expecting an affirmative answer) – and could also say “ No one has as yet gone down under the water…”, but using JRD & N as ‘ to go down ( or carry down (under (implied) ( the water ( implied by the rite of water immersion)) & N as meaning ‘to happen’), which in pronounciation become a reference to ‘ Baptizing in the River (/water) JRDN Jordan. It is said that John the Baptist was in the essence community – he could have read the Rite as such , and so came to obey and began baptizing in the Jordan for forgiveness and repentance of sins. In Titus , the old Greek talks of washing and right/ upright thinking and behavior, – which then brings in a Gad and Asher reference of being the two anointed (/Shining THR/ THRH) ones-I.e. GDH (banks/sand (Gen 15 progeny/seed reference , to be washed like the sand , and ASHR -to be Upright )of a river- parsing definition references … that bring in about right thinking ( which can be Truth) and a changed spirit, as well as cleansing and being upright ( which includes being upright in thinking = righteousness/ right wiseness.
    Please forgive any typos or sentence word placement errors. I have no WiFi or computer and my cell phone letter is hard to correct at times.
    About myself:
    I use old Greek lexicons a lot in translation, and Gesenius Hebrew as my main Hebrew source for definitions. I have studied the Bible and associated works for over 20 years (over 10,000 study hours at least), and enjoy learning what others write about these things.
    Bonnie Boyd

  2. Bonnie Boyd says:

    I found the ‘ out of place’ words in the above comment. — ‘ of a river ‘ belongs with GDH (Gad) sand/banks ( Gesenius Hebrew lexicon reference) ; I accidentally placed the ASHR ( Asher) part in the midst of the wording. I apologize.
    Sincerely again,
    Bonnie Boyd