Damascus Rule, Philip R. Davies, Anchor Bible Dictionary (ed. David Noel Freedman), Doubleday, New York 1992.


DAMASCUS RULE (CD). The “Damascus Rule (CD ) ”document was first discovered in the genizah (storeroom) of the Qara’ite synagogue in Old Cairo by S. Schechter, who brought it to the University Library, Cambridge, where it remains. First published as “Fragments of a Zadokite Work” (Schechter 1910) because of its references to “sons of Zadok” (4.1, 3) and “Zadok” (5.5)—and hence often referred to as the Damascus Document and officially denoted by the siglum CD (= Cairo- Damascus) on account of its allusions to Exile and covenant-making in the “land of Damascus” (6.5, 19; 7.19; 19.34; 20.12). CD consists of two incomplete mss, designated A and B, and dating respectively from about the 10th and 12th centuries C.E. A contains eight sheets, each with two columns; and B a single sheet with two columns. Schechter numbered the A columns 1–16 and the B columns 19–20—rather confusingly, for 19 contains a slightly different version of 8, while 20 follows 19 but has no counterpart in the A ms. There are also fragments of this work from Qumran Caves 4, 5, and 6 ( 4QDa–g, 5QD and 6QD).

A. Contents

It is now customary to divide CD into two parts, the “Admonition” consisting of cols. 1–8–19–20 and the “Laws,” cols. 9–16. The “Admonition” opens with reflections on the present condition of Israel in the form of three discourses about the history of God’s dealings with his people (1.1–4.12a); from the beginning, mankind, then Israel, strayed after its own desires, and the “covenant of the former ones” (i.e., the preexilic Israel) was abrogated with the divine punishment of desolation of the land and Exile. In the “age of wrath” which has followed, Israel is forsaken by God and misled into continued departure from the true law, despite its belief that it was following God’s will. However, God has renewed a covenant with the remnant of the “former ones” and revealed to them through their founder, the “interpreter of the law” (doreš hattôrâ) “the hidden things in which all Israel had gone astray—his holy sabbaths, and his glorious festivals, his righteous testimonies and his true ways” (3.14), so that these might “inherit the land.” An invitation is issued to outsiders to join this “remnant” community before judgment descends upon Israel. The next section (4.12b–7.9) deals with matters of halakah, which separate Israel from the remnant community, beginning with the three “nets of Belial,” unlawful marriage, illicit wealth, and sanctuary defilement, which Israel mistakes for “righteousness.” By contrast, the community’s laws, of which a sample is given, stress the distinction between holy and profane, limited contact with the temple cult, and love for one’s “brothers” (fellow members of the covenant community). The third section (7.10–8.21–19.1–20.34) issues warnings about the coming judgment on the wicked, drawing a parallel with Ephraim’s secession from Judah and the successive fates of the two kingdoms; one was lost forever. The final part of this section focuses on apostasy from the community itself and emphasizes loyalty to the “teacher” whose recent death is also reflected. This last part of the section may be addressing a later situation and a different audience from the rest of the “Admonition”- not outsiders to be invited, but other members of the community to be admonished. It has been suggested (Davies 1983- 48–55) that the three elements of history, law, and warnings in the “Admonition” correspond to the structure of the “covenant formulary” (Bundesformular) known in the ANE and believed to exist also in the OT.

The “Laws” deals with a variety of issues governing life within the covenant community, including judicial processes, sabbath and sacrificial observances, officers within the community, support for the needy, oaths, and vows. The principles of arrangement are inscrutable and the compilation is incomplete. However, it seems that two orders of community life are ordained, in “cities” and in “camps.” Among the more important aspects of these laws are those which acknowledge temple offerings and those which presuppose considerable contact with gentiles.

On the basis of the Qumran fragments a fuller outline of the document has been proposed (Milik 1959- 151–52; cf. Fitzmyer 1977- 90–92) with additional material at the beginning of the “Admonition” and the beginning and end of the “Laws.” But the fragments to be edited by Milik have yet to be published (see, provisionally, Milik 1966), while those already published from Cave 6 (Baillet 1956) contain no additional material or significant deviation from CD. For the time being, judgment must be reserved on this matter.

B. Identification and History of the Community

CD is evidently the product of a Jewish community at variance with its fellow Jews. Its identity was disputed for many decades, although a wide consensus correctly placed it in the Hellenistic-Roman era. The references to “Zadok” and “sons of Zadok,” as well as the apparently non-Pharisaic halakhot led many to suggest Sadducees (e.g., Charles APOT 2- 785–834; Lévi 1911–12), though Ginzberg’s minute analysis of the halakhot led him to prefer Pharisees (Ginzberg 1970); Essenes, though considered (Lévi 1911–12; Meyer 1919), were rejected. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls apparently supplied the answer. Even before the recovery of fragments of the document from Qumran, phrases like “teacher of righteousness” and “man (or spouter) of lie(s),” present in CD, had reappeared in the Cave 1 Pesher on Habakkuk, while other terminological parallels emerged between CD and the Rule of the Community. Both the Qumran community and that of CD have subsequently come to be widely regarded, with good reason, as Essene.

However, although a simple equation of the community of CD with the inhabitants of Qumran was widely accepted at first, it is now recognized that the relationship is not so straightforward. Yet it is widely believed to hold the key to the origin and/or the history of the Qumran community, a fact which affords CD a crucial place in Qumran studies. The key differences between the community of CD and that of Qumran are as follows-

1. Damascus. CD’s historical summaries place the foundation of the “remnant” community in the wake of the “destruction of the land” by Nebuchadnezzar while it was exiled in “Damascus” (6.5). While pre-Qumran scholarship interpreted “Damascus” literally, there is hardly room in what we know of the history of the Qumran community for such an Exile. The suggestion that “Damascus” is a cipher for Qumran (Cross 1961), once widely favored, is no more than a wishful guess; CD speaks of exiles who “went out of the land of Judah,” which is hardly true of the inhabitants of Qumran; and CD never associates “Damascus” with the “teacher of righteousness,” who seems to have been the founder of the Qumran group.

2. The Founder of the Community. For CD the founder of the community is the “interpreter of the law” (6.7), whose rules will be followed for the “period of wickedness” until there arises one who will “teach righteousness at the end of days.” This passage might appear not only to separate the “interpreter” and the “teacher” but to place them in a clear temporal and ideological relationship. This relationship appears to be obscured by 1.11, which refers to a past “teacher of righteousness” who came to an already formed but “blind” group; however, it is not so much the relationship between the two characters which is altered as the relationship between the characters and the writer- CD 1 seems to come from a later period and from a post-“teacher” community; CD 6 does not. Where does the rest of CD stand? The majority of scholars still regard all of CD as Qumranic; Davies (1983) regards it as originally pre-Qumranic, but subject to a Qumranic recension, partly following the lead of Murphy-O’Connor (1970–74), who sees pre-Qumranic sources and Stegemann (1971), who concluded that the “Laws” of CD reflected the circumstances of the Qumran community’s parent movement, which he identified with the Maccabean Hasidim.

3. Organization and Ideology. CD and other Qumran documents, notably 1QS, share important similarities alongside significant differences. CD depicts life in “camps” or “cities” (14.3; 12.19), including women and children (7.7), governed by “judges” and involving participation in the temple cult. Personal property seems permitted. At Qumran celibacy seems to have been the rule, and its organization (on which the texts offer a confusing picture) had no “judges.” The Qumran community apparently boycotted the temple and permitted no personal property. (For a convenient comparison and contrast, see Vermes 1977- 105–6.)

Two main hypotheses are offered to explain both the similarities and the differences. Each assumes that both types of communities are Essene, though this is not essential. The long-established view is that the Essenes began at Qumran (implying identification of the “interpreter of the law” and “teacher of righteousness”) and later formed settlements elsewhere which developed their own rules, with Qumran possibly remaining as a “mother house.” It is these other communities which CD describes. The second, more recent theory, first advanced by Murphy-O’Connor (1970–74) on the basis of a series of analyses of CD, is that the Essenes as a movement predated Qumran, and that the Qumran community was a splinter movement, which remained alongside, but presumably in disagreement with, the non-Qumran Essenes. For Murphy-O’Connor, “Damascus” is a cipher for Babylon, where the Essenes originated before migrating to Palestine in the Maccabean period and subsequently withdrawing from its society because of differences over halakah and high priesthood. The crucial difference between the two theories, each of which conforms well with Josephus’ description of two kinds of Essene (JW 2 §119–61), lies in the explanation of Essene origins; the former theory sees the formation of the Qumran community as the starting point, the latter opens the way to an earlier origin, possibly described in CD . For the latter theory the community to whom the “teacher of righteousness” came (CD 1.11) was Essene; for the former, it has to be some other group, usually the Hasidim. Each theory poses different reasons for the origin of the Essenes, though not necessarily for the origin of the Qumran community.

The resolution of this crucial problem involves other elements in CD, notably the laws and the relationship to other literature found in the Qumran caves. Several detailed studies of the CD halakah have been undertaken (e.g., Ginzberg 1970; Rabin 1954; Schiffmann 1975) but without conclusive results; in many cases failure to distinguish the laws of CD from those of 1QS reduces the usefulness of the study. But important parallels exist between CD and Jubilees, a book to which CD probably refers at 16.3, but which is not thought to be a Qumran composition. Other parallels with 1 Enoch and the Temple Scroll are also evident, lending weight to the suggestion that CD has much in common with other movements related to—and possibly earlier than—the Qumran community.

C. Qumran and the Qara’ites

A further aspect of CD, perhaps rather underemphasized in recent research, is its relationship to the Qara’ites, in one of whose synagogues it was found and by whom it was presumably copied. Al-Qirqisani (10th century C.E.) mentions “Zadokites” who opposed “Rabbanites” and whose doctrines, as he reports them, resemble both those of the Qara’ites and of CD (Schechter 1910- XVIII–XX; Driver 1965- 260–61). Two possible explanations are available for the apparent continuity of these traditions. One is that the Essene movement continued after the end of the Qumran settlement—quite probable if non-Qumran Essenism was a substantial movement and if it existed also outside Palestine; the other is that the discovery of texts in the Dead Sea region in ancient times (see Driver 1965- 6–15) led to the adoption in some circles of doctrines and laws contained in them or even to the creation of Jewish sects devoted to their teaching. While there seem to be strong links between CD and the Qara’ites, the question is far from resolved and invites further research. A detailed and balanced assessment has been made by Wieder (1962; the most recent and very positive discussion is by Wacholder 1985- 148–55).


Baillet, M. 1956. Fragments du Document de Damas. Qumrân, grotte 6. RB 63- 513–23.

Cross, F. M., Jr. 1961. The Ancient Library of Qumran. Garden City.

Davies, P. R. 1983. The Damascus Covenant- An Interpretation of the Damascus Document. Sheffield.

———. 1987. Behind the Essenes. History and Ideology in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Atlanta.

Driver, G. R. 1965. The Judaean Scrolls- The Problem and a Solution. Oxford.

Fitzmyer, J. A. 1970. Prolegomenon to Schechter 1910.

———. 1977. The Dead Sea Scrolls. Major Publications and Tools for Study. Rev. ed. Missoula, MT.

Ginzberg, L. 1970. An Unknown Jewish Sect. New York.

Lévi, I. 1911–12. Un écrit sadducéen antérieur à la destruction du Temple. REJ 61- 161–205; 63- 1–19.

Meyer, E. 1919. Die Gemeinde des neues Bundes im Lande Damaskus- eine jüdische Schrift aus der Seleukidenzeit. APAW Phil.-hist. Klass 9- 1–69.

Milik, J. T. 1959. Ten Years of Discovery in the Wilderness of Judaea. London.

———. 1966. Fragment d’une source du Psautier (4Q (Ps 89) et fragments des Jubilés, du Document de Damas, d’un phylactère dans la grotte 4 de Qumrân. RB 73- 105 and Pl. III.

Murphy-O’Connor, J. 1970. An Essene Missionary Document? CD II,14–VI,1. RB 77- 201–29.

———. 1971a. A Literary Analysis of Damascus Document VI,2–VIII,3. RB 78- 210–32.

———. 1971b. The Original Text of CD 7-9–8-2 + 19-5–14. HTR 64- 379–86.

———. 1971c. The Translation of Damascus Document VI,11–14. RevQ 7- 553–56.

———. 1972a. The Critique of the Princes of Judah (CD VIII,3–19). RB 79- 220–26.

———. 1972b. A Literary Analysis of Damascus Document XIX,33–XX,34. RB 79- 544–64.

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

Rabin, C. 1954. The Zadokite Documents. Oxford.

———. 1957. Qumran Studies. Oxford.

Schechter, S. 1910. Documents of Jewish Sectaries. Cambridge.

Schiffmann, L. H. 1975. The Halakhah at Qumran. Leiden.

Schwarz, O. J. R. 1965. Der erste Teil der Damaskusschrift und das AT. Diest.

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

Vaux, R. de. 1973. Archaeology and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Schweich Lectures. Rev.ed. Oxford.

Vermes, G. 1977. The Dead Sea Scrolls- Qumran in Perspective. London.

Wacholder, B. Z. 1985. The Dawn of Qumran. Cincinnati.

Wieder, N. 1962. The Judean Scrolls and Karaism. London.

Vol.2, p.8-10

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