Non-Jews in Sectarian Teaching, The Destruction of the Nations, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 1994.


War Scroll

War Scroll


The long Admonition at the beginning of the Zadokite Fragments is almost entirely directed to intra-Jewish issues, especially to the sect’s self-image and polemic with the Pharisees. The only time that non-Jews appear here is in a pesher-like exegesis of Deuteronomy 32-33 (“Their wine is the venom of asps, the pitiless poison of vipers”) that mentions the “kings of the peoples,” their evil ways, and the “king of Greece” (that is, Rome), who will take vengeance, most probably on the other kings (Zadokite Fragments 8-9–12 = 19-21–25). This passage certainly reflects the circumstances during the Hasmonaean period, when the Romans were slowly gobbling up the various local kings of the Mediterranean Basin and the Near East. The same circumstances are referred to in Pesher Habakkuk (3-2–13, 3-17–4-9).

A strange passage in the Zadokite Fragments, preserved only in the Qumran manuscripts, appears as part of a ritual for expelling miscreants from the sect. There we read that God created the various peoples of the earth-

… and You led them astray in confusion, and with no path, but You chose our forefathers … (ZADOKITE FRAGMENTS Da 18 V 10–11)

Here we are told that God caused the other nations to go astray. That is, the nations were predestined to go astray, a view consonant with the sect’s predestinarian outlook and its extreme ethical dualism. We will encounter the chosen people motif in other texts later.

According to Pesher Hosea A (II 12–13), the Jews will be punished for their transgressions in the presence of the nations. The same text lists as a primary transgression the scheduling of feasts “according to the appointed times of the nations” (Pesher Hosea A II 15–16), a reference to following the wrong calendar. This passage most probably alludes to the sect’s adoption of a solar calendar, as opposed to the calendar of lunar months adjusted to solar years followed by most of the Jewish community.


The Dead Sea sect expected that the End of Days would soon dawn. Their apocalyptic, messianic tendencies led them to develop a body of literature outlining the eschatological battle that would usher in the final age. The War Scroll presents a very schematized view of these battles- The sectarians are the Sons of Light, destined to emerge victorious in the End of Days. The place of their exile before this battle is called “the desert of the peoples.” The nations, on the other hand, are grouped with the Sons of Darkness, including also those Jews whose behavior has revealed that they are not predestined to be among the Sons of Light but are to be assigned to the lot of Belial. No remnant of these evil nations is to survive in the End of Days.

In the author’s scheme, the nations bear names drawn from the biblical table of nations in Genesis 10. Most prominent of these are Assyria (Seleucid Syria) and Kittim (Rome); the destruction of both is high on the author’s agenda. The battles will take place in “all the lands of the nations.” Indeed, as one of their banners testified, the sect expected the “annihilation by God of all nations of vanity” (War Scroll 4-12). The final battle would exact retribution on these nations for their wickedness, killing all of them.

The text echoes the chosen people motif of the Bible (Deuteronomy 7-6, 14-2), when it declares-

Who is like unto Your people Israel which You have chosen for Yourself from all the nations of the lands, a people of those holy through the covenant!” (WAR SCROLL 10-9–10; Me FRAG. 1)

The passage goes on to explain that Israel has expressed its chosenness through being willing to receive revelation and to probe the depths of God’s commands (lines 10–11). This passage, like other poetic and liturgical sections of the scroll, probably predated its final authorship. When the author compiled the scroll as a whole, he included in it various poems previously composed. Further on, the sectarians themselves are designated as “the chosen ones of the holy nation” (12-1).

One particular poem, included twice in the scroll, seems to contradict the document’s premise that all the nations are to be destroyed in the End of Days. Addressed primarily to God, who is asked to crush the nations, his adversaries, the poem (War Scroll 12-12–14) turns to the city of Jerusalem and calls on it to-

Open your gates forever,

to let enter in to you the wealth of the nations,

and their kings shall serve you …

and rule over the king[dom of the Kittim].

We will discuss this poem in the next chapter when we investigate the place of Jerusalem in the scrolls. For now it is enough to remark that this passage, based almost entirely on Isaiah 60-10–14, anticipates that the nations, including the Romans, will survive into the messianic era when they will be subservient to Israel. That the nations will continue to exist, this time under the rule of the Davidic messiah, is also expected in Pesher Isaiah A (7 25).

This idea may also lie behind the expression “to subdue the nations,” found in the messianic Rule of the Congregation (1-21), although the phrase may, alternatively, refer to their destruction. And we might be encountering this approach also in a related text in a blessing for the Prince of the Congregation, when we are told-

be[fore you will bow all peoples, and all the nat]ions will serve you. (RULE OF BENEDICTIONS 5-28–29)

Despite these few exceptions, however, the dominant theme of the War Scroll is that the nations are predestined to be destroyed in the great war that will usher in the End of Days. At that time, the sectarians, aided by angelic forces, will defeat and kill all the nations. Even those Jews who do not join the group will be destroyed. Thus, in the End of Days, the world will be populated only by members of the sect.

Pages 380-382

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