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


It is difficult to define precisely the role of another leadership type, the maskil. The word itself derives from a verb, meaning, “to enlighten,” and it might be translated literally as “enlightener,” that is, “instructor.” No doubt the use of the term was influenced by Daniel 12—a chapter known to have been influential in Qumran sectarian texts—in which the term appears twice (verses 3 and 10). For reasons of convenience, and because of the dual usage of this term at Qumran to denote both the enlightened nature of the maskil and his role in enlightening others, we have chosen to leave the term untranslated.

A very general description of the role of this leader states-

It is for the maskil to explain and to teach all the Sons of Light the nature of all men- all the types of their spirits, their signs, according to their actions in their generations, and the visitation of their plagues, as well as their periods of peace. (RULE OF THE COMMUNITY 3-13–15)

According to sectarian teachings, humankind has been predestined to be divided into the Sons of Light, the sectarians, and the Sons of Darkness, the rest of the Jewish people and the other peoples of the world. The job of the maskil was to teach the sectarians the nature of the spirits of light and darkness, as well as the way these two spirits manifest themselves in human history. He was to explain how interaction between these two spirits could lead both to misfortune in the world and to peace as well. Presumably, the maskil was responsible for conveying the ideology and theology of the Qumran community to other members of the group.

Another passage emphasizes the maskil as possessor of legal knowledge-

These are the statutes for the maskil according to which he should conduct himself with every living being, according to the measure of each and every period, and according to the value of each and every person, to do the will of God according to everything that is revealed from time to time, and to learn all the knowledge which is derived according to the times, and the law of the time.

The maskil was expected to be a master of the sectarian legal tradition as it applied to the various periods of time. He was supposed to apply it properly in his dealings with others according to their status and level within the sect. Each member of the group had a particular status, determined by the order in which the sectarians were mustered.
This “legal” wisdom is also stressed in a very similar passage in the Zadokite Fragments, which serves as the conclusion to a list of laws-

These are the statutes for the maskil according to which he should conduct himself with every living being, according to the regulation for each and every time. And according to this regulation shall the descendants of Israel conduct themselves so that they not be cursed. (ZADOKITE FRAGMENTS 12-20–22)

Neither of these last two passages speaks about the teaching or leadership role of the maskil. It is therefore possible that, in time, a class of scholars became a class of leaders, although this theory cannot be proven. What is most interesting about the maskil is that this learned leader did not have to be a Zadokite or even a priest. He appears to have been a lay member of the sect—knowledgeable about its law, but not born into his status.

Another passage from the same text should be mentioned because it is now possible, with the help of the newly released Qumran manuscripts of the Zadokite Fragments, to reconstruct it fully. It, too, serves as the conclusion for a list of laws-

And these are the statutes for the maskil according to which he should conduct himself [when God brings visitation (punishment) on the] earth, when [the] matter takes [place] about which He (God) said, “There will come [upon you days the likes of whi]ch have not come [since] the day when E[ph]raim turned away from [Judah” (approximately Isaiah 7-17). And all those who con]duct themselves according to these (statutes), the covenant of God is dependable [for them to save them from all sn]ares of the [P]it, “for the f[oo]ls violated (these statutes) and were punished . . . “ (Proverbs 27-12).
(ZADOKITE FRAGMENTS Db 11 II 1–4 = 13-22–14-2)

Here again we see the maskil connected with knowledge about how to live correctly according to the Torah. Those who knew these laws were to be saved from the coming visitation, which would be the greatest catastrophe since the split of the kingdom after Solomon’s death. But others—the “fools” who violated the Torah—would suffer greatly.

The maskil took the lead in reciting the blessings found in Rule of Benedictions. I maintain that these were to be recited in the eschatological mustering ceremony. The text begins with the blessing for those who fear the Lord (Rule of Benedictions 1-1). Further on, the text presents a blessing for the Zadokite priest (3-22–28) and the Prince of the Congregation (5-20–29).

The maskil, an expert in the law, was expected to share this knowledge with his fellow sectarians and to set an example by his own way of life. Yet nowhere do we find specific administrative functions assigned to this person or class.

Pages 123-125

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