Prohibitions Against Idolatry, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 1994.


We have already seen that the Zadokite Fragments prohibits the support of idolatrous practices. The Temple Scroll, in recapitulating biblical legislation on this topic, also addresses the issue. In the introduction to the scroll, the author, basing himself on Exodus 34-10–17, restates the obligation to destroy idolatrous cult objects and to avoid idolatrous worship (Temple Scroll 2-6–12). His extensive treatment begins with the prohibition of idolatrous practice-

Do not do in your land as the nations do- Everywhere they sacrifice, and plant for themselves Asherot, and erect for themselves pillars, and set up for themselves figured stones to bow down to (or- on) them…. You may not plant [for yourself any tree as an Asherah next to my altar which you shall make for] yourself. Nor may you erect for yourself a pillar [which I despise], n[or] shall you make for yourself (anywhere) in your entire land a [fi]gured [st]one to bo[w] down to (or- on). (TEMPLE SCROLL 51-19–52-3)

This passage, based on Deuteronomy 16-21–22 (cf. Leviticus 26-1), outlaws decentralized sacrifice throughout the land, planting Asherot, and erecting cultic pillars and figured stones. Note that the sectarian version of this law adds nothing to biblical law, except in its particular reformulation.

The scroll next paraphrases the law of the idolatrous prophet stated in Deuteronomy 13-2–6 (Temple Scroll 54-8–18). Here, too, although the text includes minor variations in the textual traditions behind it, as well as a few changes to eliminate ambiguities, the passage simply repeats the biblical law mandating the death penalty for what is termed a “prophet” who advocates worship of other gods. Similar is the way the scroll reviews the law of the enticer to idolatry, found in Deuteronomy 13-7–12 (Temple Scroll 54-19–55-1). As in Deuteronomy, such a person is to be put to death. Here again, the scroll introduces no significant legal innovations.

More significant variants appear in a paraphrase of the law of the idolatrous city, found in Deuteronomy 13-13–19-

If you hear regarding on[e of your cities which] I give you [in which] to dwe[ll], the following- “Some worth[less] peo[p]le among you have gone out and have led astray all the [in]habitants of their city, saying, ‘Let us go and worship gods’ which you have not known,” then you must ask, inquire and investigate carefully. If the accusation turns out to be true (and) correct, (that) this abominable transgression has been committed among (the people of) Israel, you must kill all the inhabitants of that city by the sword, destroying it and all (the people) that are in it. And all its domesticated animals you must kill by the sword. Then you must gather all the spoil (taken) from it into its town square and burn the city and the spoil (taken) from it with fire as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God. It shall be an eternal mound never to be rebuilt. None of the property to be destroyed should remain in your possession. (You shall do all this) in order that I shall be appeased from My anger and show you mercy, and have compassion on you and increase you as I promised to your forefathers, provided that you obey My voice to observe all My commandments which I command you this day so as to do what is right and good before the Lord your God. (TEMPLE SCROLL 55-2–14)

The biblical legislation requires that a city that has gone astray and worshiped idols be totally destroyed, its inhabitants killed, and its spoils burned.

Our passage modifies some of these requirements- For the city to be entirely destroyed, all its inhabitants must have worshiped idols—in contrast to the mishnaic requirement that only the majority must have transgressed (M. Sanhedrin 4-1). Conversely, although the rabbinic view exempts the city’s children from death (T. Sanhedrin 14-3), the scroll condemns all the inhabitants. Similarly, the rabbinic interpretation spares animals dedicated for certain sacrificial offerings (T. Sanhedrin 14-5; Sifre Devarim 94), whereas the Temple Scroll mandates that all the animals be destroyed.

The final law on idolatry in the Temple Scroll is the law of the idolatrous individual, based on Deuteronomy 12-2–7 (Temple Scroll 55-15–56-04). While the text eliminates some ambiguities found in the original passage, it is essentially a recapitulation of the Deuteronomic prescription that idolaters be put to death if they can be convicted in court under the applicable rules of testimony.
In formulating all these laws—with the exception of the law of the idolatrous city—the sectarian text simply adheres to the biblical prohibitions with little addition or modification. In the one case in which there are extensive changes, the law may have been formulated in response to Hasmonaean attempts to eradicate idolatry in the country, a campaign that sometimes led to the destruction of entire cities, without prior investigation or trial. Our author may have wanted to argue that Hellenistic Jews, no matter how errant, should not be destroyed unless the entire city had participated in idolatrous worship.

What emerges from this discussion is that the author/redactor of the Temple Scroll had little if anything to add to the Torah’s legislation on idolatry. Furthermore, he says nothing about non-Jews who worship idols except that their cult objects and cult places are to be destroyed. Thus, following the lead of Deuteronomy, he is concerned almost exclusively with eliminating idolatrous worship from among the Jews, an agenda that fits both the author of Deuteronomy and the author/redactor of the scroll.

Pages 375-377

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