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Teacher of Righteousness, Jerome Murphy O’Connor, Anchor Bible Dictionary (ed. David Noel Freedman), Doubleday, New York 1992.

The Dead Sea Scrolls
TEACHER OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. The dominant figure associated with the branch of the Essenes that established itself at Qumran. The fifteen references in the published Dead Sea Scrolls, however, furnish only meager information about him. Some are so fragmentary as to yield only the name môreh haṣṣedeq (1QpHab 1-13; 4QpPsb [= 4Q173] frag. 1, 4; frag. 2, 2). See also MIQṢAT MA˓ASE HATORAH (4QMMT). Despite periodic efforts to argue that the allusion is to a function carried out by different individuals at various stages of the sect’s history (Buchanan; Rabinowitz; Starcky), the consensus is that it is the title of a particular personage. Two texts (4QpPsa [= 4Q171] 3-15; 1QpHab 2-8) identify him as “The Priest,” which must be understood in a titular sense and so indicates that he was a high priest (Stegemann 1971- 102, 210–20; de Vaux 1960- 267; Schürer HJP² 1- 605–6). The Essenes were already in existence when he joined them (CD 1-9–11). Yet he is considered the founder of a community (4QpPsa 3-15–16) in which he enjoyed the status of a prophet (1QpHab 2-3; 7-4–5) whose interpretation was the only valid understanding of the demands of the Law (1QpHab 8-1–3; 1QpMic frag. 8–10, 6–7). For his followers he was the Unique Teacher (CD 20-1) and fidelity to his teaching was the criterion of salvation (CD 20-32). Within the Essene movement, nontheless, he was opposed by the Man of Lies (1QpHab 2-1–4; 5-9–12), and from without he suffered persecution at the hands of the Wicked Priest (1QpHab 9-9–10; 11-4–7).

Is it possible to identify the Teacher with an historical figure? A number of authors have answered in the affirmative and their proposals range from Onias III in the 2d century B.C. to the rebel Menachem during the First Revolt in A.D. 66–70 (Schürer HJP² 3/1- 436 n. 7). All the late identifications, however, are excluded by the paleography of the Scrolls, which means that none of the individuals mentioned can be dated after the middle of the 1st century B.C. A much tighter time frame is indicated by the link between the Teacher and the Wicked Priest, because with great probability this latter figure has been identified with Jonathan Maccabeus (Jeremias 1963- 36–78; Stegemann 1971- 202–7), although some prefer his brother Simon (Schürer HJP² 3/1- 435 n. 6, 438). Since the two were contemporaries, the activity of the Teacher must be dated in the middle of the 2d century B.C. In view of 4QpPsa 3-15–16 this provides an important correlation, because the first phase of Essene occupation at Qumran could be dated to the second half of the 2d century B.C. (de Vaux 1973- 5), although positive evidence is virtually nonexistent (DBSup 9- 748–52).
Although the Teacher was a high priest, his rigoristic attitude toward the Law precludes his identification with any of the Hellenizing high priests who ruled from the murder of Onias III in 172 B.C. to the death of Alcimus in 159 B.C. Neither, of course, can he be identified with either of the Maccabean brothers, Jonathan or Simon, or with John Hyrcanus, since Jonathan’s successors would have inherited his enmity toward the Teacher. This focuses attention on the period 159–152 B.C. when, according to Josephus, “the city continued for seven years without a high priest” (Ant 20.10.3 §237). This can only mean that no one had been appointed officially. As a description of the real situation it is impossible, because the indispensable liturgy of the Day of Atonement demanded the participation of at least a de facto high priest. 2 Macc 10-38 attests the existence of such an individual (Murphy-O’Connor 1976). If his identification with Onias IV, who as the son of Onias III had the preeminent claim to the high priesthood, is impossible (Schürer HJP² 3/1- 145–47), then we must presume that the function of high priest was assumed by the leading member of the Temple hierarchy (Graetz 1884- 122). In the eyes of traditionalists such as the Essenes his legitimacy would have been unquestioned, and from a Jewish perspective the credit for the return to orthodoxy would have belonged to Jonathan (1QpHab 8-8–9; Murphy-O’Connor 1974- 230 n. 73), even though in reality the vacuum is explained by divisions among claimants to the Seleucid throne. In order to consolidate his power, however, Jonathan accepted the high priesthood in 152 B.C. when it was offered to him by Alexander Balas (1 Macc 10-15–20; Jos. Ant 13.2.2–3 §43–46). Thus he became the Wicked Priest, and the deposed de facto high priest joined the Essenes. Their demand for radical religious reform (CD 2-14–6-11) coincided with his own desires.

His presence quickly provoked a split within the Essene movement. The reasons are complex and not entirely clear. One factor was probably his assumption of the eschatological (but not messianic) role of “the one who teaches righteousness” predicted in CD 6-10–11 (Davies 1983- 123–24); this is the simplest explanation of his title, Teacher of Righteousness. The heightened sense of the imminence of the eschaton that this implies appears also in the movement of some Essenes to Qumran in fulfillment of Isa 40-3. 1QS 8–9 (minus 8-16–9-2) is the proposal for this project (Murphy-O’Connor 1969- 529–32; Knibb 1987- 127), and its attribution to the Teacher is adequately justified by 4QpPsa 3-15–16 and by the position he enjoyed within the Qumran group. Such initiatives may have been associated with an intensification of the rigorism of the Essene movement, since “the latter ordinances” (CD 20-9, 31–32) are probably additions by the Teacher to “the former ordinances” (1QS 9-10) by which the sect had hitherto been governed (Laperrousaz 1971).

Jonathan, the Wicked Priest, had first dismissed the Teacher as insignificant, but when it became known that he had acquired followers and moved to Qumran, he had to act against him because an eschatological movement was both a threat to his authority and a danger to the Jewish people at a critical moment in their history (1QpHab 9-9–10). Various attempts have been made to reconstruct what happened during the inconclusive encounter recorded in 1QpHab 11-4–7 (Jeremias 1963- 57; Stegemann 1971- 236; Talmon 1951), and the only one that is certainly wrong is Dupont-Sommer’s (1950- 121–22) hypothesis that the Teacher was killed. It became the foundation of a bizarre interpretation of the Teacher’s career, which was decisively refuted by Carmignac (1957).

At the beginning of Qumran studies there was a tendency to consider the Teacher the author of 1QS, 1QM, and 1QH (e.g. Carmignac and Guilbert 1961- 13, 86, 136). For the reasons noted above 1QS 8–9 is substantially the work of the Teacher, but nothing in 1QM suggests the attribution of any part to him. Scholars working independently and with different methods agree that the following hymns at least should be ascribed to the Teacher- 1QH 2-1–19; 4-5–29; 5-5–19; 5-20–6-36; l 7-6–25; and 8-4–40 (Becker 1963- 53; Jeremias 1963- 171; Kuhn 1966- 23). Despite certain hypercritical reserves (Schürer HJP²- 454), it is certain that these hymns are the work of a single author and the radical nature of his claims to be the ultimate religious authority (1QH 2-13; 5-22–23; 7-12; cf. CD 20-1) makes the Teacher the only plausible candidate (Schulz 1974). Attempts have been made to use the hymns to fill out the career of the Teacher (Carmignac 1960; Delcor 1962; Mansoor 1961- 45–49; Michaud 1956), but all specific biographical inferences are excluded by the fact that the texts is a tissue of OT citations and allusions. At most the hymns reveal the inner life of the Teacher (Jeremias 1963- 266). It has been suggested that the historical data in the pesharim concerning the Teacher were derived from the hymns (Davies 1987- 87–106), but this approach has not yet been adequately tested. See also MIQṢAT MA˓ASE HATORAH (4QMMT).


Becker, J. 1963. Das Heil Gottes. Heils- und Sündenbegriffe in den Qumrantexten und im Neuen Testament. SUNT 3. Göttingen.

Buchanan, G. W. 1969. The Priestly Teacher of Righteousness. RevQ 6- 553–58.

Carmignac, J. 1957. Le Docteur de Justice et Jésus-Christ. Paris.

———. 1960. Les éléments historiques des “Hymnes” de qumrân. RevQ 205–22.

Carmignac, J., and Guilbert, P. 1961. Les textes de Qumran traduits et annotés. Vol. 1. Paris.

Davies, P. R. 1983. The Damascus Covenant. JSOTSup 25. Sheffield.

———. 1987. Beyond the Essenes. History and Ideology in the Dead Sea Scrolls. BJS 94. Atlanta.

Delcor, M. 1962. Le Docteur de Justice nouveau Moise dans les Hymnes de Qumran. Pp. 407–23 in Le Psautier Ses origines, ses problèmes littéraires, son influence, ed. R. De Langhe. OrBibLov 4. Louvain.

Dupont-Sommer, A. 1950. Apercus Preliminaires sur les Manuscrits de la Mer Morte. Paris.

Graetz, H. 1884. Histoire des Juifs. Vol. 2. Paris.

Jeremias, G. 1963. Der Lehrer der Gerechtigkeit. SUNT 2. Göttingen.

Knibb, M. 1987. The Qumran Community. Cambridge Commentaries on Writings of the Jewish and Christian World 200 B.C. to A.D. 200 2. Cambridge.

Kuhn, H. W. 1966. Enderwartung und Gegenwärtiges Heil. Untersuchungen zu den Gemeindelierdern von Qumran. SUNT 4. Göttingen.

Laperrousaz, E. M. 1971. Les “ordonnances premières” et les “ordonnances dernières” dans les manuscrits de la mer Morte. Pp. 404–19 in Hommages à André Dupont-Sommer. Paris.

Mansoor, M. 1961. The Thanksgiving Hymns translated and annotated with an Introduction. STDJ 3. Leiden.

Michaud, H. 1956. Le Maitre de Justice d’après les Hymnes de Qumran. Bulletin de la Faculté libre de théologie protestante de Paris 22- 67–77.

Murphy-O’Connor, J. 1969. La genèse littéraire de la Règle de la Communauté. RB 76- 528–49.

———. 1974. The Essenes and their History. RB 81- 215–44.

———. 1976. Demetrius I and the Teacher of Righteousness (1 Macc 10-25–45). RB 83- 400–20.

Rabinowitz, I. 1958. The Guides of Righteousness. VT 8- 391–404.

Schulz, P. 1974. Der Autoritätsanspruch des Lehrers der Gerechtigkeit am Qumran. Meisenheim am Glan.

Starcky, J. 1978. Les Maitres de Justice et la chronologie de Qumran. Pp. 249–56 in Qumran- Sa piété, sa théologie et son milieu, ed. M. Delcor. BETL 46. Paris and Louvain.

Stegemann, H. 1971. Die Entstehung der Qumrangemeinde. Bonn.

Talmon, S. 1951. Yom Hakkipurim in the Habakkuk Scroll. Bib 32- 549–63.

Vaux, R. de. 1960. Les institutions de l’Ancien Testament. Vol. 2. Paris (ET 1961).

———. 1973. Archaeology and the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Schweich Lectures of the British Academy 1959. London.

Vol.6, p.340-341

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