Other Laws in the Temple Scroll, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 1994.


At the beginning of the preserved portion of the Temple Scroll (2-1–15), in the same context as the requirement to destroy pagan cult objects, we find restated the biblical prohibition against making covenants with the nations of Canaan, who are to be destroyed (Exodus 34-10–16). Both the Bible and the scroll state explicitly that such a restriction is intended to prevent intermarriage with these nations. This passage adheres so closely to its biblical source that we cannot determine if the sect expanded the law in Exodus to ban intermarriage with all nations, as was already done in the biblical period (I Kings 11-1–2, Ezra 9-1–2, Nehemiah 10-31). However, passages elsewhere in the scroll seem to indicate that all marriage between Jews and gentiles was prohibited (Temple Scroll 57-15–17).

No doubt non-Jews would have been prohibited from entering the Temple since even proselytes were forbidden entry into the middle court until the fourth generation (Temple Scroll 39-5–7). Indeed, in the End of Days, non-Jews as well as proselytes were to be excluded from the sanctuary described in Florilegium (1–2 I 4).

Another law, concerning burial, is unique to the scroll, although the text’s literary style reflects the phraseology of biblical language. Because the dead impart impurity, Jews are to bury their dead in specially set-out cemeteries, one for every four cities, in order to maintain the ritual purity of the Land of Israel. In contrast, the nations bury their dead everywhere (Temple Scroll 48-11–14). They similarly offer sacrifices and erect cult places everywhere, a practice condemned by the scroll (Temple Scroll 15-19–21). The unstated (or perhaps unpreserved) implication here is that Israel is to perform sacrificial worship only at its central Temple complex in Jerusalem.

The scroll also lists the abominations of the nations- passing children through fire as part of Molekh worship, divination, augury, sorcery, and necromancy. Israel is told that because of these abominations, the Canaanite nations have been expelled from the land (Temple Scroll 60-16–61-02). This passage, however, is no more than a verbatim quotation of Deuteronomy 18-9–14, with minor textual variation.

The nations are mentioned several times in the Law of the King, a separate source that the author/redactor of the scroll incorporated into his text. Although Israel is to have a king “like all the (other) nations,” that king must be Jewish (Temple Scroll 56-13–15), an exact echo of Deuteronomy 17-14–15. He may marry only a Jewish woman (Temple Scroll 57-15–16). He must be protected by a guard of twelve thousand chosen Jewish men, lest he be kidnapped by “the nations” or “a foreign nation” (Temple Scroll 57-5–11). The repetition within this passage, undoubtedly intended for emphasis, suggests that kidnapping by foreigners was a central concern. (A passing reference in Zadokite Fragments 14-15 similarly mentions redeeming hostages “captured by a foreign nation.” Furthermore, the sect considered no longer fit for priestly service any priest captured by non-Jews.) A fundamental duty of the king was to defend the Land of Israel against foreign attackers in quest of booty (Temple Scroll 58-3–10).

After the conclusion of the Law of the King, we find another recapitulation of the Deuteronomic laws of war, obligating Israel to kill all the Canaanites lest Israel learn from the Canaanites’ abominable ways (Temple Scroll 62-11–16). Here again we are dealing with a Deuteronomic text (20-15–18), rather than with independent Second Temple period material.

Two final examples from the Temple Scroll concern those to be punished by hanging-

If a man has informed and has delivered his people up to a foreign nation, and has inflicted harm on his people, you shall hang him on a tree and he shall die…. If a man has committed a crime punishable by death and has fled to the midst of the non-Jews and cursed his people and the children of Israel, you shall hang him also on a tree and he shall die … (TEMPLE SCROLL 64-6–11)

The first law prescribes that one who informs against his people or delivers them to “a foreign nation” shall be executed, apparently by crucifixion (Temple Scroll 64-6–9). This law is based on an interpretation of Leviticus 19-16- “Do not go about slandering your people.” Like the Targumim and the Rabbis, and the Zadokite Fragments, the Temple Scroll regarded informing to non-Jews a particularly heinous crime, as indeed it has always been regarded in Jewish tradition.

The second law concerns those subject to the death penalty who flee “to the midst of the nations” and there curse their people, the Israelites. If caught, they are to be put to death, apparently by crucifixion as well (Temple Scroll 64-9–13). The prohibition against execrating the Jewish people and the prescribed punishment by what was termed “hanging,” but was most probably crucifixion, is based on an interpretation of Deuteronomy 21-22–23, “If a man is guilty of a capital offense … and you impale him on a stake…. For an impaled body is an affront to God….” This verse is understood by the scroll to mean that one who affronts God, by cursing the Jewish people, is to be impaled, that is, crucified.

This passage has given rise to heated discussion because it seems to legitimize punishment by crucifixion, according to the scroll’s own interpretation of the Torah. However, some scholars have argued that “hanging from a tree” refers not to crucifixion, but to hanging after death, which is the original intent of the Torah. Whatever the term’s precise meaning, the Temple Scroll condones this punishment only in the limited circumstance of informers whose actions threaten to expose the Jewish people to serious danger.

In general, in the Temple Scroll, most mentions of non-Jews (“the nations”) occur in material taken almost verbatim from Scripture. Particularly significant are those passages the author composed on his own- the rejection of non-Jewish burial practices to ensure the purity of the land, the requirement that the king marry only a Jewish bride, fear of enemy attack by non-Jews, fear that the king might be kidnapped, and the problem of informers and execrators against the Jewish people. Here we see the special concerns of the author/redactor or his sources, writing in the Second Temple period. Indeed, the issues of purity, especially of the land; intermarriage; treason; and the complex web of Hasmonaean and pagan military activity were major concerns during this period.

Pages 377-379

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