Other Liturgical Texts, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 1994.


Psalms Scroll

Psalms Scroll

A text that may provide information about organized liturgy at Qumran is the Psalms Scroll. This scroll, as we have already explained, contains canonical and noncanonical psalms, as well as numerous other poetic prayer texts. Many of the canonical psalms in this text are exactly the same as those incorporated into later rabbinic liturgy. Even the organization of the psalms in the scroll seems to parallel the conceptual framework of the later rabbinic prayer book. Most important, many of the selections discussed in the Talmud as part of the prayer services appear here. One psalm, Psalm 145, has liturgical responses included in it as well. Clearly, these same psalms, most notably Psalm 145 (preceded in Jewish liturgy by the verses beginning with the word “Ashre”), were used in liturgical context by the Qumran sect.

One particular noncanonical poem included in the scroll, the Hymn to the Creator, may be of great significance in this regard (Psalms Scroll 26-9–15). It is a poetic hymn of praise to God-

Great and holy is the Lord,

holiest of holies from generation to generation.

Before Him majesty goes,

and after Him the rush of many waters.

Mercy and truth surround His presence,

truth, justice and righteousness are the foundation of His throne.

He distinguished light from darkness,

the morning He established with the knowledge of His heart.

Then all the angels saw and they sang,

for He showed them what they did not know.

He crowns the mountains with produce,

good food for every living being.

Blessed be the One Who creates the earth with His strength,

Who established the earth with His wisdom.

With His understanding He stretched forth the heavens,

and He took out [the wind] from [His store]house.

He made the [lightning for ra]in,

and He raised up the clou[ds from] the end(s) [of the earth].

This poem certainly resembles the early Jewish mystical hymn El Adon, which eventually found its way into the rabbinic liturgy. El Adon, recited on Sabbaths and Festivals, contains a number of the same motifs. Among the many parallels we can cite are these two- “knowledge and understanding surround Him” and “merit and uprightness are before His throne, kindness and mercy are before His glory.” But in one important respect, the two poems differ- whereas the Qumran hymn portrays God as the creator of the entire world, the rabbinic hymn speaks of God only as the creator of the heavenly luminaries.

It is tempting to regard the Thanksgiving Scroll as a series of hymns for public worship. But we have no evidence that this material was in fact liturgical. These poems are individual plaints, perhaps composed by a leader of the sect—some scholars claim by the Teacher of Righteousness himself—concentrating on serious matters of theology and belief. The Thanksgiving Hymns were certainly not part of a regular order of prayers. Rather, they belong to a genre of devotional, introspective poetry.

The same is the case with the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, also called the Angelic Liturgy. This text describes how the angelic hosts daily praise God in the heavens according to fixed rituals. As we will see in a later chapter, this is a mystical text describing the angels’ praise of God in the heavens, not songs of praise for us to recite on earth. Therefore, this text cannot actually help us understand the ritual of the sectarians or of other ancient Jews.

Pages 300-301

What do you want to know?

Ask our AI widget and get answers from this website