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


Most likely the various sectarian leadership roles did not all coexist at the same time, but rather represent different stages in the organizational history of the sectarian community. The role of the Teacher of Righteousness may have been inherited after his death by the mevaqqer (examiner), to whom we now turn our attention.

This important figure in the sectarian leadership appears in both the Zadokite Fragments and Rule of the Community. The term mevaqqer has been variously defined as “examiner,” “overseer,” or, in some anachronistic and confessional presentations, “bishop.” Instead of seeking a literal translation of mevaqqer, we shall examine his function, hoping in this way to understand his role in the sect’s life.

Almost all of the references to this official occur in the Zadokite Fragments. However, reference to this office in Rule of the Community as well suggests that it functioned in sectarian communities both at Qumran and elsewhere in the Land of Israel.

The examiner was considered sufficiently important to merit an entire halakhic section in the Zadokite Fragments-

This is the rule regarding the examiner of the camp- He shall instruct the community in the deeds of God and teach them His wondrous mighty acts. And he shall relate before them the events of eternity in its details. And he shall have mercy upon them, like a father to his sons, and heal their diseases. Like a shepherd to his flock, he shall loose all the fetters of their bonds, so that there shall not be (anyone) oppressed or downtrodden in his congregation. And anyone who joins his congregation, he shall examine him as regards his deeds, his wisdom, and his strength, his might, and his property. And he (the examiner) shall inscribe him in his place, according to his inheritance in the lot of truth. No one from the people of the camp shall decide to bring any person into the congregation without the permission of the examiner who is (in charge of) the camp. . . . And let no one do anything in regard to buying or selling unless he has made (it) known to the examiner who is (in charge of) the camp, and does so with (his) counsel, lest they e[rr. And thus] for a[ny]one who ma[rr]ies a wo[man], i[t] (must be) [with] (his) counsel. And thus (also) for one who divorces (his wife). And he (the examiner) shall [instruct their sons and their daughters with a spirit of] humility and with lovingkindness. He may not harbor a [grudge] against them. [He should forgive] their sins. (ZADOKITE FRAGMENTS 13-7–19)

This long passage certainly places the examiner at center stage in sectarian life. In fact, it seems as if he must have been the inheritor of the duties, and perhaps the powers, of the Teacher of Righteousness, although such a claim cannot be proven.

What precisely were the examiner’s responsibilities?

First and foremost, the examiner was a teacher and a guide to his followers, responsible for their spiritual and physical welfare. He tested new members and had to approve their entrance into the community. He supervised all members’ business transactions, probably deriving the prerogative from the rights of communal use exercised by the sect over individuals’ property. He was responsible for approving marriages and divorces (evidence that the sect was not celibate, a matter to which we will return later), and he was required to treat his people with love and kindness.

Apparently, a number of individuals fulfilled this office for smaller groups of sectarians and one was in charge of the entire sect. His age and qualifications are carefully specified-

The examiner who is in charge of all the camps shall be from thirty years old [and] up to fifty years old. (He must be) experienced in every secret (known) to men and in every language. . . . According to him shall the men of the congregation enter, each in his turn. And regarding every matter which any man should have to say, he should speak to the examiner regarding any dispute or judgment.

This official, with his wisdom, understanding, and knowledge of languages, was to organize the sectarians in order of their ranks. The system of ranking served both for the mustering ceremony at the annual covenant renewal and for determining the order of speaking in the sectarian assembly, where senior members were given first opportunity to speak. (This same practice was followed in the Sanhedrin, according to rabbinic sources, except in capital matters, when junior judges voted first.)

As we have already seen, the examiner was heavily involved in the process of accepting new members, and he had an important function in the sectarian legal system as well. It appears from our study that the examiner occupied an office that was to a great extent designed to serve as a substitute for the Teacher of Righteousness after the teacher’s death. However, because other officials also carried on some of the teacher’s tasks, the examiner alone did not wield exclusive power.

Pages 121-123

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