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War Rule (1QM). Reprinted with permission from Philip R. Davies, Anchor Bible Dictionary (ed. David Noel Freedman), Doubleday, New York 1992.

The Dead Sea Scrolls
WAR RULE (1QM). Also known as the War Scroll or War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness, this scroll was among the major documents discovered in Qumran Cave 1, and was first published by Sukenik (1954–55). The definitive edition in English is that of Yadin (1962). Several fragments from this work have also been found in Cave 4 (see Hunzinger 1957; Baillet 1972, 1982), their contents suggesting that the work existed in different recensions, probably at different times. Nineteen columns of 1QM (= Milḥamah) have been preserved, but the bottom of all the columns and almost certainly some final columns have been destroyed. Column XIX was written on a separate sheet, and may not have followed directly after XVIII; however, its contents form a plausible sequel to those of XVIII.

A. Contents

The document is divided into three sections. The first (cols. I–IX) describes the plan of the war, and regulations regarding the warriors and their equipment. The overall sequence of events is first given (col. I)- the war will last for forty years, beginning with a conquest of the land of Israel in six years. It will be fought by the “children of light” and predominant among the enemy (the “children of darkness”) in the initial phase is the nation of the “Kittim.” The seventh, sabbatical year (col. II) is devoted to the (reformed) temple cult. The remaining years of the war will be divided into campaigns against the nations of the known world, who are listed according to Genesis 10. Cols. III–IV describe the army’s trumpets, banners, (also shields?) and their inscriptions. Cols. V–VI.7 are apparently intended to depict the formation, weaponry, and age-limits of the three components of the army of the “children of light”- infantry, light infantry (?—˒nšy hbynym), and cavalry. All women, children, and cultically ineligible persons are barred from the camp. VII.9–IX describe military maneuvers, the pitched battle, siege (?), and ambush.

The second section (cols. X–XIV) contains various liturgical pieces juxtaposed without any explicit rationale, and unfortunately the beginning of the section is lost at the foot of col. IX. However, it seems from the quoting of Deut 20-2–4 that the first item (XI.1–5) comprises a speech from the chief priest before battle. X.5 prescribes an address by “officers” (sôterîm) to the soldiers, but it is unclear whether the following items of liturgy in X.6–XII.17, which are juxtaposed without a break or any further rubrics, are meant to constitute such an address, or whether the whole of cols. X–XII is the chief priest’s speech. There is certainly no doubt that the various items are originally quite independent and indeed quite varied in theme and ideology. They offer an interesting form-critical challenge to scholars. By contrast, the settings of the contents of cols. XII and XIV are clear. XIII opens with a rubric stipulating that the chief priest (?—the reference is lost at the end of col. XII), the other priests, the Levites, and “elders of the sereḥ” (“army”?) shall “bless . . . the God of Israel . . . and they shall curse Belial, and all the spirits of his lot (gôral).” The following material is the only markedly dualistic part of this section, and shows strong similarities with the covenant renewal ceremony described in 1QS 1-18 (see Yadin 1962- 224). Col. XIV also opens with rubrics- “After they have retired from the slain towards the camp, they shall all sing the ‘psalm of return.’ In the morning . . . they shall bless all together the God of Israel. . . .”

The third section, cols. XV–XIX, describes the battle against the “Kittim,” whose seven stages are won alternately by the “children of light” and the “children of darkness.” This consists of three kinds of material- liturgical items, battle-descriptions, and the framework which binds them together and provides the overall picture of the encounter. Some of the material is paralleled elsewhere in the document (see below).

The battle itself, as well as the liturgy, is conducted by the priests, headed by the chief priest. Priestly leadership of the army is in fact maintained throughout all the sections of the scroll. The brief reference to the inscription on the shield of the “Prince of the Congregation” (v 1) is tantalizing. This character belongs to the source-material rather than to the ideology of the scroll as a whole, for its presence serves to emphasize the complete absence of any lay figure elsewhere in 1QM, a curious and interesting absence. It seems that the only “messianic” figure in 1QM is priestly. The place of a lay warrior “messiah” is filled by the angelic host, or an individual angel, the “Prince of Light” (XIII.10) or Michael (XVII.6), or God himself (XIII.13; XIX.1). The lack of consistency in 1QM in this respect as well as others is almost certainly to be explained by its complex literary history.

B. Literary History

Although the overall plan as outlined above is reasonably clear, the arrangement of the contents is not without its problems. First, the relationship between the 40-year war of cols. II–IX, and the seven-stage battle of XV–XIX is unclear. Although col. I seems to explain that the battle of XV–XIX represents the opening stage of the war of II–IX, XV–XIX depict an eschatological confrontation between light and darkness, while II–IX depict Israel against the nations. Second, the relationship between the liturgical items in X–XIV and between this section as a whole and the rest of the scroll is unexplained. Third, the three sections of the scroll share material which is either virtually identical (XII.7ff. and XIX.1ff.) or closely related (XIV.2ff. and XIX.9ff.; battle descriptions from VII and XVI). Such observations have led to suggestions that it was compiled from several sources. After earlier assumptions about the literary unity of the document, it has been recognized that the document has a literary history (Davies 1977). This is confirmed by fragments from Cave 4, which appear to belong to a different recension (or recensions) of the work.

Although the Cave 4 fragments (4QMiii–f[491–496]) have now been published in full (Baillet 1982) and compared with 1QM, no analysis of the data has yet been undertaken in terms of the literary history and recension of the document. On the basis of a study of dualism at Qumran (P. von der Osten-Sacken 1969) argued that the “eschatological war-dualism” of 1QM I was the earliest form of that belief at Qumran and the earliest stratum of 1QM itself. A detailed analysis focusing on the document itself (Davies 1977) reached the opposite conclusion, namely that the dualistic material in the document was one of the latest strata, and the non-dualistic nationalistic ideology lay in the earlier strata. Similar conclusions have been reached by Duhaime (1977, 1987). The first Cave 4 fragment published (4QMiii- Hunzinger 1957) was held to represent an “older recension” which was demonstrably less “sectarian” and more “nationalistic.” Further comparison of 1QM with the Cave 4 fragments will hopefully clarify- (1) the nature of literary recensional activity at Qumran (which can be applied to other works such as 1QS, CD, and 1QH); and (2) the development of ideology at Qumran, especially with respect to dualism.

C. Genre and Historical Background

The purpose of the scroll remains disputed. The ms of 1QM dates from the end of the 1st century B.C.E. or early 1st century C.E. According to Yadin the tactics and weaponry described in it reflect Roman practice of the time of Caesar and Augustus. However, this view remains disputed, and the fact that all the fighting in the scroll is done by light infantry with a large body of heavy infantry and cavalry used only in pursuit may point to the experience of guerrilla warfare such as used in the Maccabean period (Davies 1979- 65–67). If the scroll has a long history then obviously many different political and military conditions may have influenced it. However, it seems impossible that in our document the Kittim are any other than the Romans; no other “final enemy” could possibly be in view. In Yadin’s view, and that of several other scholars, 1QM is essentially a practical composition which foresees a war against Rome which would be eschatological. Such a background is plausible; indeed, the mixture in the scroll of dualistic and nationalistic viewpoints may be the result of a deliberate effort to harmonize formal idealistic notions of the final overthrow of evil with zealous antagonism to the power of Rome. However, this can only be speculative and may not hold for earlier versions of the work which seem to have circulated and will have reflected a different historical context and even a different enemy. It has been suggested, for example (Davies 1977), that II–IX contain materials from a Hasmonean military manual (see also Duhaime 1986). The view has also been expressed that 1QM is entirely idealistic—perhaps a liturgical text (Carmignac 1958; North 1958). Generic analysis is important for this question; although earlier commentators have sometimes described 1QM as an “apocalypse” (e.g., Michaud 1955), more recent analyses based on more technical definitions (Collins [ed] 1979) of “apocalypse” have withheld this label. Duhaime (1986) has recently conducted a comparison with other Greco-Roman military works, concluding that 1QM corresponds rather closely in content and structure to Hellenistic military manuals.

Nevertheless, its obvious impracticalities, such as the highly choreographed movements which entail the enemy falling or fleeing on cue, the direction of all maneuvers by priests blowing trumpets, and the direct intervention of God render this work unique and link it as closely to OT theological traditions (see, for example, 2 Chronicles 20) as to the practicalities, political and military, of the Hellenistic-Roman world whose destruction it envisages.


Baillet, M. 1972. Les manuscrits de la Règle de la Guerre de la grotte 4 de Qumrân. RB 79- 217–26.

———. 1982. La Guerre des fils de Lumière contre les fils de Ténèbres. Pp. 12–72 in Qumran Grotte 4, vol. 3. DJD 7. Oxford.

Carmignac, J. 1958. La Règle de la Guerre des fils de Lumière contre les fils de Ténèbres. Paris.

Collins, J. J., ed. 1979. Apocalypse- The Morphology of a Genre. Semeia 14.

Davies, P. R. 1977. 1QM, The War Scroll from Qumran. Rome.

Duhaime, J. 1977. La rédaction de 1QM XIII et l’évolution du dualisme à Qumrân. RB 84- 210–38.

———. 1986. The War Scroll from Qumran and Greco-Roman Military Manuals. SBLASP.

———. 1987. Dualistic Reworking in the Scrolls from Qumran. CBQ 49- 32–56.

Hunzinger, C.-H. 1957. Fragmente einer älteren Fassung des Buches Milhamah aus Höhle 4 von Qumran. ZAW 68- 131–51.

Jongeling, B. 1962. Le Rouleau de la guerre des manuscrits de Qumrân. Assen.

Michaud, H. 1955. Une Apocalypse nouvelle. La guerre des fils de lumière contre les fils de ténèbres. Positions Luthériennes 65–76.

North, R. 1958. “Kittim” War or “Sectaries” Liturgy? Bib 39- 84–93.

Osten-Sacken, P. von der. 1969. Gott und Belial. Göttingen.

Ploeg, J. van der. 1959. Le Rouleau de la guerre. Leiden.

Sukenik, E. L. 1954–55. The Dead Sea Scrolls of the Hebrew University. Jerusalem.

Yadin, Y. 1962. The Scroll of the War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness. Rev. ed. Oxford.


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