Qumran and Jerusalem, Jacob Neusner, Fellowship in Judaism, Valentine, Mitchell, London 1963.


Wadi Qumran

Wadi Qumran

Two Jewish Ways to Fellowship

The modern world knows two forms of Utopianism, social and revolutionary. The social Utopian would restore society to its ancient ideal, proposing to reconstruct the city out of its own stone and mortar. The revolutionary Utopian would build a new society on the ruins of the old, destroying in order to create. These two Utopian forms recall the efforts of ‘moral men’ in an earlier ‘immoral society,’ that of Jewish Palestine during the Second Commonwealth. In the centuries before the start of the Christian Era, these men drew apart from the common life to discover social forms capable of embodying religious ideals.

The central issue of the Jewish Commonwealth was how to transform biblical precept into daily practice. It was, therefore, religious rather than humanitarian Utopianism that moved men to dream of a better world- how to translate the vision of lawgiver and prophet into the workaday situation of a later and lesser age. Biblical Judaism had taught that the pious man ought to love those who love God, and to abhor those who despise Him. ‘Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers…’ (Psalm 1-1). Conversely the pious man says, ‘I am a companion of all who fear Thee and of those who keep Thy precepts’ (Psalm 119-63). The Psalmist’s choice of the word COMPANION (haber) connotes more than merely FRIEND, but rather FELLOW-WORSHIPPER, one who is an associate in a common sacred task. Indeed the word recalls an earlier pagan and Pre-Mosaic meaning, to tie together by magic charm, knot, or spell. In the Second Commonwealth there were many such ‘charmed circles,’ groups of companions who came together to form fellowships of the faithful. These communes took two forms. That founded at Qumran represented revolutionary Utopianism, and those founded in Jerusalem and elsewhere social Utopianism. This paradigm may offer some insight into the sociology of Judaism at a crucial moment in Jewish history.

The wilderness communes were drawn by the vision of the wilderness, the setting for Israel’s holiest drama, and recalled the compelling words of Jeremiah ‘I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in an unsown land’ (Jeremiah 2-2). In the sun-parched hills, the members of the commune thought to make a new beginning, to create a sanctuary of purity in the land they thought to be profaned. These communes, of which there were many, saw themselves morally secure only behind the barrier of rough terrain and within a high wall of discipline. The Qumran group escaped from sinful men in order to found a better and holier society- ‘This is the regulation for the men of the community who devote themselves to turn away from every evil and to hold fast to everything which He has commanded as His pleasure- they shall separate themselves from the assembly of men of deceit, they shall be a community, with Torah study.’1 The Psalmist of Qumran likewise expressed this attitude-

The nearer I draw to Thee

The more I am filled with zeal

Against all that do wickedness.

For they that draw near to Thee

Cannot see Thy commandments defied…

So for mine own part, I will admit

No comrade into fellowship with men,

Save by the measure of his understanding…

Only as Thou drawest a man unto Thee

Will I draw him unto myself,

And as Thou keepest him afar,

So too will I abhor him.

I will not enter into communion

With them that turn their back upon Thy covenant.2

(The members of the wilderness communes whom Philo called Essenes likewise avoided the cities ‘because of the iniquities which have become inveterate among city dwellers, for they know that their company would have a deadly effect upon their own souls.’3) The wilderness communes brought together very good Jews, fully normative, if somewhat abnormal, in their devotion to the Torah and to both its moral and its ritual precepts.4 They followed the main lines of Jewish law as meticulously as the men in the synagogues whom they abandoned in their flight. They did indeed have their peculiar emphases, both in theology and in ritual, but this marked them apart as a heterodoxy, not a heresy. The men of Qumran were zealous, too deeply committed to the sacred to believe and behave according to the common faith. Escape to the wilderness provided a way to purer, holier life than the men of the cities promised ever to live.

The alternative was the road to Utopia chosen by some of the Pharisees of Jerusalem. They founded religious communes within the common society of the villages and towns, and lived the holy life among profane and ordinary men. This was the way of the Pharisaic fellowship (called HABURAH), which brought together some of the larger number of Jews who identified themselves with the Pharisaic viewpoint. (It is emphasized that not all Pharisees were demonstrably members of the Pharisaic fellowship at any time, although all members of the fellowship were probably Pharisees, adhering to their interpretation of Judaism.) In the words of Josephus, ‘they are able greatly to persuade the body of the people, and whatsoever they do about divine worship…they perform according to their direction, insomuch that the cities give great attestations to them on account of their entire virtuous conduct, both in the actions of their lives and their discourses also.’5 The Pharisaic sages taught their followers, ‘Do not separate yourself from the community,’6 but on the contrary, they lived among the masses, teaching and admonishing, seeking to bring all men closer to their Father in heaven. They sought out the heart of the people, and were willing, according to the Gospel, to ‘traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte’ (Matt. 23-15). Thus they exercised formidable influence over the mind of Jewish Palestine.

At the same time, however, the Pharisaic fellows distinguished themselves from the common people by observing even the most neglected details of the Torah, the laws of ritual purity and by giving tithes and heave offerings as set forth in Scripture. In doing so, they cast up a barrier between themselves and the outsider (called in the sources Am-Ha-aretz), for an outsider was for many reasons a potential source of ritual defilement. Even in the towns and villages, therefore, the HABURAH formed a separate society. Two biblical precepts contended in the Pharisaic ethics- first, that all Israel is to be a kingdom of priests and a holy people (and this was understood to mean at the very least a people ritually pure and holy), and second, that every individual Jew everywhere was himself to be as ritually fit as a priest to perform the sacrificial act in the Temple. The Pharisees believed in the sanctity of all Israel, and passionately affirmed the obligation of every Jew to his King. Obsessed with the vision of life and society sanctified in every detail by the commandments of the Torah, they observed and taught the Jewish people to carry out even those laws which were both troublesome and generally ignored.

Although the masses of the people regarded the acts of careful tithing and ritual purification as far beyond the proper task of a Jew, the fellows were not prepared to give up the struggle. They founded their associations in the villages and towns, among the people but not of them. (These associations were not organizations in the pattern of Qumran, and had neither officers nor formal constitution, but were rather groups of people who recognized one another as part of the same fellowship of observant and pious men.) They taught their eccentricities of observance by example, ever aware not to imitate their students. Thus they sought at once to transform and to transcend society, to ‘live Utopia’ in an ‘unredeemed’ world. They elaborated laws to govern the infinite specific situations presented by ritually pure life among defiled men. In such a way the fellows resolved the tension between the precept that demanded sanctification of all Israel, on the one hand, and of every Jew, on the other.

All the communes went far beyond the measure of the Law. Some, and among them the associations described by Philo and Josephus as Essenes, by the Qumran documents as the Many, and by the Zadokite Fragments as the Congregation, thought to find a way to God in the solitude of the wilderness. What sets the Pharisaic fellowship apart is the search for the Godly community within the society of men.

In ancient times the commune was a widespread form of social organization for religion. It was common to the Pythagorean schools of Hellenistic Egypt and to the Nabataean kingdom to the south of the Dead Sea. Jewish Palestine itself provided rich analogues to the Pharisaic order. Many of the sects, particularly the Essenes and the Qumran group, shared with the Pharisees common institutional forms. Indeed Josephus characterizes the social form of Judaism as a series of self-sufficient sects, and the similarities between the Qumran association and the groups known in Josephus and Philo as Essenes and Pharisees have impelled scholars to identify the Qumran literature with one or another known group. The specific forms of the Pharisaic fellowship were determined, however, by the particular obsession of the associates- food.

The Bible had commanded Jews to return to God through the priests and Levites some part of the gifts of the land. Traditions of the time ascribed to Abraham, and later to Saul, the practice of eating even the remaining unconsecrated produce in a state of ritual purity. Tradition likewise ascribed to Solomon the practice of washing hands before a meal as an act of ritual purification. Thus every Jew was obligated to eat his ‘secular’ (unconsecrated) produce in the purity which characterized the Temple priest in his holy office. This concern was entirely natural in the ancient world, where ritual purity was the common concern of pagan temple, mystery cult, and even of the philosophical schools of the Pythagoreans. In very early days, the Pharisaic fellowship took on specific form and precise definition from the effort to observe the difficult religious obligations of tithing and ritual purity. Even by the first century the schools of Hillel and Shamai disputed certain details in the rule of the fellowship, indicating both a fixed tradition and sufficient interval in which to forget some details. The purpose of the fellowship from the first was to carry out the obligations incumbent on all men.

The Qumran community shared this obsession with ritual defilement, regarding even the Temple as irreparably unclean. They established themselves in the wilderness and elaborated rules by which others might reach their sanctity through a year of probation, a vote of the members, and a second, novitiatory year. The Essenes likewise admitted a newcomer into their fellowship by stages.

Josephus records- ‘A candidate anxious to join their sect is not immediately admitted. For one year, during which he remains outside the fraternity, they prescribe for him their own rule of life…Having given proof of his temperance during this probationary period, he is brought into closer touch with the rule, and is allowed to share in the purer kind of holy water, but is not yet received into the meeting of the community…After this exhibition of endurance his character is tested for two years more, and only then if found worthy is he enrolled in the society. But before he may touch the common food, he is made to swear tremendous oaths…’7

The Pharisees received into their fellowship any Jew who undertook to nourish his body in a manner appropriate to the sanctity of his soul. Not all followers of the Pharisees accepted the rule of the fellowship. There were many kinds of Pharisee, as both the Talmud and the Gospels recognize, and there were even sages who were considered outsiders in relationship to the fellowship. A slave might become an associate without his master, and vice versa. The specific rules of affiliation were exhaustive and beyond them there were no distinctions between members and outsiders. The testimony of outsiders was accepted in regard to the KASHRUT (legal fitness) of food, but not in regard to its ritual purity. Thus they were presumed to adhere to the dietary laws, like all good Jews, even though they stood outside the fellowship.8

Transcending family, caste, and class distinctions, the fellowship established a new polity within the old society of city and village, a community based upon the willingness of the individual to assume obligations imposed upon him by an ancient and unrepudiated commandment. This disruption in the social order recalls the Gospel saying, ‘I have come not to bring peace but a sword…For I have come to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother.’ (Matt. 10-34–37). The fellowship represented a considerable complication in the urban order. The city could contend with men who separated themselves from the common life in exclusive alien communes in the wilderness.

Reciprocal indifference may have governed the day-to-day contact between the new society at Qumran and the old. Even the Essenes in their villages and neighbourhoods in the towns apparently faced inward towards their commune. On the other hand, the Pharisaic association posed a peculiar problem for the general society. At many intimate and some crucial relationships in daily life, the fellow was guided by a complicated rule that made social intercourse intricate and delicate. The wilderness heterodoxies formed new polities built on the ruins of the old, and the individual moved from one exhaustive clearly defined and exclusive pattern of human relationships into another equally comprehensive and unambiguous situation. The act of the self-conscious, private individual began and ended with the act of affiliation to the new order. For the Pharisaic associate, on the other hand, entry into the new polity was only the first step on a path towards individualism and disintegration of customary social patterns.9

A new member of the HABURAH discovered that his relationships with outsiders had become fundamentally transformed. He could no longer associate with any man freely and carelessly. In certain ways his social intercourse completely changed in character, and in every way he had to rearrange his habits of daily life into a new and complex structure.

Obedience to the rule of the order meant that special concern for the sanctity of food entered into hitherto simple social relationships. The implications of the rule were thus translated in very great detail into everyday terms. The rules called for new adjustments in the life of the fellow, multiplying the problems bound up in living with men indifferent to obligations he considered sacred. The obvious solution to these problems was to retreat to neighbourhoods dominated by the commune, or to escape entirely from the common, defiled society. This option was, however, precisely what the fellowship rejected at the start.

The particular emphasis on ritual purity and tithing indicates that the HABURAH was fundamentally a society for strict observance of laws of ritual cleanliness and holy offerings. This was, indeed, all it might have been. Membership in the association could be achieved only through adherence to a pattern of actions which demonstrated devotion to neglected commandments and traditions of Judaism. In urban society deeds alone truly marked the man, rather than any commitment of faith or intellect. The social relations in the city, brief and random at best, could not manifest any profound virtue of mind or heart. They could, however, serve as a tentative measure of a man’s willingness to serve God in ways held particularly significant. The fellowships were open to hypocrites, it is true, and the Gospels and Rabbinic sources give evidence that a faith expressed only through deeds might represent in the end only a meaningless pattern of naked gestures. Such a perplexity troubled the Pharisaic fellows and their heirs.

In the wilderness commune, on the other hand, the total personality of an individual became relevant. ‘When he enters into the covenant…then they shall examine their spiritual qualities in the community, in their mutual relationship, according to everybody’s insight and actions…They shall register them in the order, one before the other, according to his insight and his doings…’10 In Qumran the commune examined a man about ‘his intelligence and his actions…’ Likewise the Zadokite Community examined newcomers, each ‘about his actions and his understanding and his strength and his property…’11 In the close life of the wilderness commune, all these things were relevant and important. In the towns and villages only deeds spoke compellingly about a man.

The prosaic literature of Pharisaic law represented, therefore, the comprehensive articulation of all that could ever characterize such a fellowship. Unlike the wilderness associations, the HABURAH could have no other standard but how a man carried out his religious obligations throughout the subtle patterns of daily life. The associates in the intellectual classes, sitting in the academies, schools, and courts of Palestinian Jewry, did in truth reveal the almost unlimited intellectual dimension of their order and its cause. The following story indicates, however, their unrelenting emphasis on the act as the final measure of the man-

Akabya ben Mahaleleel testified to four opinions. His colleagues answered, Akabya, retract these four opinions that thou hast given, and we shall make thee Father of the Court in Israel. He said to them- Better that I be called a fool all my days than that I be made a godless man before God even for an hour; for they shall not say of me, He retracted for the sake of office…In the hour that he died, he said to his son, My son, retract the four opinions which I gave. His son answered, Why didst not thou retract? He answered, I heard them from a majority, and they also heard their opinions from a majority. I continued steadfast to the tradition that I heard, and so did they. But thou hast heard a decision both from an individual and from the majority. It is better to leave the opinion of the individual and to hold the opinion of the majority. His son answered, Father, commend me to thy fellow sages. He said, I commend thee not. He answered, Perchance thou hast found in me some cause for complaint. Akabya answered, No, but thine own deeds will bring thee near, or thine own deeds will remove thee far [from the fellowship].12

The fellows of the academic sages in the streets and fields of the land likewise wove a fabric of actions that represented the effort to build God’s kingdom on earth.

The Qumran community chose a revolutionary path to Utopia. The men who fled to the Judean desert abandoned all hope of restoring society or of rebuilding it on its imperfect foundation. At Qumran they established their order, defined its rule, and prepared the way for others to join them. In all this they demonstrated from their city on the hill above the Dead Sea that God was truly sovereign on earth. Their rule was simple, neither elaborated nor complicated by a repudiated past. The men of Qumran struck out to build their new city upon the ruins of the old.

The Pharisaic fellowship made a moral decision to endure the ‘iniquities inveterate among city dwellers’ so that men far from God’s way might return to it through precept and example. The associates consecrated themselves to keep the neglected ordinances governing tithes and ritual purity. They too defined the rule of their order, educated men in the manner of keeping it, and determined a sequence of concerns by which an outsider might come by degrees to enter into fellowship. The infinite implications of the rule for day-to-day affairs were spelled out, and the precise, detailed information so gained made it possible for the associates to keep the faith in the company of men who did not. It was, in fact, law which made possible the Pharisaic choice of a social way to Utopia.

The dilemma of the Pharisaic fellowship, and the manner of its resolution, continue to speak out of the troubling question of Hillel-

If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?

But being only for myself, what am I?

And if not now, when?13


1 Manual of Discipline, V, 1, 2.

2 Thanksgiving Scroll, XIV, 14–22, pass. Tr. Theodore Gaster, The Dead Sea Scrolls, N.Y., 1956, p. 188–190.

3 Philo, De Quod Probus Liber Sit, XII, 76.

4 Cf. S. Lieberman, ‘Light on the Cave Scrolls from Rabbinic Sources’, Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, XX, 395–404.

5 Josephus, Antiquities, XVIII, 1, 3.

6 Hillel, cf. Avot, 2-5.

7 Josephus, Jewish War, II, viii, 7.

8 Mishnah and Tosefta Demai, Chs. 2 and 3. Cf. S. Lieberman, Tosefta Kipshuta, ad. loc. Cf. also Talmud Bavli, Bekorot 30b–31a.

9 Cf. Mishnah Demai 2-2, 3; Tosefta Demai 2-2, 3, 10, 11; and Lieberman, op. cit. ad. loc. Cf. also S. Lieberman, ‘Discipline in the so-called Dead Sea Manual of Discipline,’ Journal of Biblical Literature, LXXI, 4 (1952), 199–206.

10 Manual of Discipline V, 20–21.

11 Zadokite Fragments 13-11, ed. Ch. Rabin, The Zadokite Fragments, Oxford 1954, 66.

12 Mishnah Eduyot, 5-6–7.

13 Avot 1-14.

Pages 11-21

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