By April 13, 2008 Read More →

Pharisees and Sadducees, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1994.

Pirkei_AvotNot only can we understand the legal theology of the Qumran sect from the scrolls, but also we can gather from them a great deal of information about the legal views of the Pharisees and Sadducees, supplementing what we already know from rabbinic sources and Josephus.

What we learn about the Pharisees comes indirectly from the sectarian polemics against their views. By evaluating this material carefully and then judiciously comparing the later evidence from Josephus and the rabbinic tradition, we can reconstruct many Pharisaic attitudes. Here we will be concerned not with the content of Pharisaic halakhah but with its basic theoretical underpinnings.

The Admonition, which opens the Zadokite Fragments, includes a list of transgressions attributed to-

The builders of the wall who followed (literally, “walked after”) the “commander.” The “commander” is the preacher about whom He (God or the prophet) said (Micah 2-6), “They shall surely preach.” (ZADOKITE FRAGMENTS 4-19–20)

Who are the builders of the wall? Who is the commander or preacher? Clearly, they are the villains. Buried in the text are two biblical allusions that make these references clear. One is to Hosea 5-10–11- “The commanders of Judah have acted like shifters of field boundaries. On them I will pour out My wrath like water. Ephraim is defrauded, robbed of redress.” A different passage states, “‘Stop preaching!’ they preach. ‘That is no way to preach’” (Micah 2-6). The commanders of Judah are equated here with Ephraim, a sectarian term for the Pharisees. They are the builders of the wall who follow the teachings of the commander. This same commander is the one who preaches improperly, hence defrauding his listeners. The sect regarded the Pharisees as preaching falsely and misleading their followers.

Thereafter appears a series of laws with which the sectarians disagreed, constituting the views of the preacher who here again refers to the Pharisaic leader and the “builders of the wall.” The designation “builders of the wall” apparently derives from a concept found in the mishnaic tractate Avot, generally known as Ethics of the Fathers, which instructs, “Build a fence around the Torah” (M. Avot 1-1).

To “build a fence” refers to the Pharisaic-rabbinic concept of creating more stringent laws than those found in the Bible in order to safeguard biblical laws from violation. For example, to uphold the Torah’s prohibition against laborious work on the Sabbath, the Rabbis, and the Pharisees before them, prohibited handling even the implements used to do such work. Although talmudic sources consider this “fence” (siyyag in mishnaic Hebrew) a positive feature of rabbinic halakhah, the authors of the Zadokite Fragments oppose this approach, not only because they disagreed with the specific laws that resulted but also because they did not accept expanding the law in this manner in the first place.

That the differences of opinion between the sect and the Pharisees went to the heart of many halakhot is clear from this continued critique of the Pharisees-

They even rendered impure their holy spirit and in blasphemous terms opened (their) mouth against the laws of the covenant of God, saying, “They are not correct.” And they spoke abomination about them. (ZADOKITE FRAGMENTS 5-11–13)

To the sectarians, the Pharisaic polemic was not only fierce, but worse—an abomination.

We find another mention of the Pharisees’ lack of understanding, here again referring to them as “builders of the wall,” later in the Zadokite Fragments-

All these things the builders of the wall and the daubers of plaster did not understand. For one who raises wind and preaches falsehood preached to them, because of which God became angry with His entire congregation. (ZADOKITE FRAGMENTS 8-12–13; cf. 19-24–26)

As a result-

Since He hated the builders of the wall, He became angry. (ZADOKITE FRAGMENTS 8-18; cf. 19-31)
When false preachers—”windbags”—stirred up the people with their false message, God’s anger blazed against them, causing the people of Israel to suffer.

Over and over again in the scrolls, the sect characterizes Pharisaic halakhah by its tendency to derive laws not directly from scriptural sources but through their own interpretations. In this spirit the Pharisees are called dorshe halaqot, literally “seekers after smooth things,” but correctly translated “interpreters of false laws.” This phrase is based upon the biblical expression “smooth things,” referring to lies or falsehood, as in “Speak to us falsehoods” (Isaiah 30-10).

Dorshe halaqot puns on the Hebrew dorshe halakhot, “interpreters of the laws.” The use of this pun in Qumran texts indicates that the term halakhot (laws) was already in use in Pharisaic circles. During this period, Pharisaic teaching was indeed distinguished by traditions and laws not having a direct basis in Scripture, a body of law called by the Pharisees the “traditions of the fathers” or “elders.” Thus, the Pharisaic laws certainly included nonbiblical laws.

On the first page of the Admonition, the Zadokite Fragments clearly refers to the Pharisees when speaking of the followers of the Man of Scoffing, apparently some Pharisaic leader-

… they interpreted false laws (dareshu be-halaqot) and chose delusions, and sought out breaches (opportunities to violate the law), and chose luxury, and declared innocent the guilty and declared guilty the innocent; and they violated the covenant and annulled the law, and banded together against the soul of the righteous. (ZADOKITE FRAGMENTS 1-18–20)

Here the Pharisees are accused of following those false laws, finding ways around the requirements of the law, and pronouncing false verdicts in legal cases—practices leading to the virtual annulment of Jewish law in the view of the sect. Indeed, the very existence of such laws constitutes an annulment of the Torah, because it replaces Torah laws with the laws of the Pharisees.

It may be that the Thanksgiving Hymns refers to the Pharisees when it speaks of the author’s adversaries-

They planned evil (literally, “Belial”) against me to replace Your Torah which You taught in my heart with smooth things (i.e., false laws) (which they taught) to Your people. (THANKSGIVING HYMNS 4-10–11)

To the sect, the very notion of adding laws to the divinely given laws of the Torah was forbidden. They permitted themselves to derive laws from the Torah only by means of inspired exegesis, discovering what they termed the “hidden” laws.

Similar ideas about the Pharisees are discussed in Pesher Nahum. We have already noted that this text as a whole cannot be dated earlier than the last years of the Hasmonaean period. For our purposes here, one phrase in this text is extremely important. In the course of interpreting Nahum 3-4, “Because of the countless harlotries of the harlot … who ensnared nations with her harlotries,” Pesher Nahum states-

[Its] interpretation [con]cerns those who lead Ephraim astray, whose falseness is in their teaching (talmud), and whose lying tongue and dishonest lip(s) lead many astray. (PESHER NAHUM 3–4 II, 8)

Elsewhere in this text we discover that Ephraim is a code word, symbolizing the Pharisees. (Menasseh represents the Sadducees.) There is no question that our author is referring to them in this passage.

At the beginning, the text refers to “those who lead Ephraim astray,” that is, the leaders and teachers of the Pharisees. The text likens them to the harlot mentioned in Nahum 3-4; their offense is teaching falsely. The text refers to their teaching by the Hebrew term “talmud,” the same word later used to designate the “Talmud,” the rabbinic work also known as the Gemara, the commentary and discursive discussion on the Mishnah.

In the early years of scrolls study, some scholars argued that the presence of this Hebrew word in the text proved the Karaite origins of the scrolls and the medieval dating of the material. Unfortunately, they mistakenly took “talmud” here to refer to the later rabbinic text by the same name.

Yet the matter is even more complex. In early rabbinic literature, the term “talmud” referred to the Pharisaic-rabbinic method of study that allows the deduction of laws from one another. It is precisely that method of study that the sectarians are excoriating in this text. What this scroll text proves is that such a method of legal argumentation already existed in the Hasmonaean period, at least in the latter half.

If both the Pharisees and the Qumran sect deduced laws from the Torah, why then was the former’s method considered illegitimate by the latter? After all, interpretation of the Bible underlay the legal traditions of both groups. How precisely did they differ?

Apparently, a substantial difference did exist between these two modes of interpretation. Although the method, known as “talmud,” used by the Pharisees in this period certainly seemed to yield laws derived from biblical exegesis, the Pharisees did not regard such exegesis as divinely inspired. They may have readily acknowledged the involvement of human interpretive creativity in the process, perpetrating, in the sect’s view, further falsehood. Even more serious, the laws resulting from the Pharisaic method of “talmud” did not agree with those of the sectarians.

Pages 249-252

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