Teacher of Righteousness., Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 1994.


Pesher Habakkuk

Pesher Habakkuk

No Qumran figure has been more frequently discussed than the Teacher of Righteousness. Although his sobriquet also may be translated as the “correct teacher,” the current translation has become almost a technical term in the field of Qumran studies and cannot be easily replaced. The “teacher” has been credited with so much that he is often falsely identified as the author of texts to which he has no explicit relationship. Assuming that only direct references to this figure can be taken to concern him, I will attempt to reconstruct all that legitimately can be said about him. It is also possible that the term may have designated not only one but a series of figures who occupied the role of sectarian leader over a period of time.

The Zadokite Fragments makes a few references to the Teacher of Righteousness. We have already seen in our study of the origins of the sect that according to this text (Zadokite Fragments 1-11), the teacher was believed to have been sent by God to lead the sect after its separation from the Jerusalem religious establishment.

An extended passage in the Zadokite Fragments refers to the role of the teacher as legislator. In referring to the fate of members who have held fast to the teachings of the sect, the text states-

All those who have held fast to these regulations, to [g]o out and to come in according to the Torah, shall listen to the voice of the teacher (or and who have listened to the voice of the teacher) . . .

Only a bit farther down the same page, this teacher is explicitly identified as the Teacher of Righteousness. The text refers to-

. . . those who have been instructed in the original regulations by which the men of the community were judged, and who have listened to the voice of the Teacher of Righteousness . . .

The context of this passage indicates that it is speaking about the age of tribulation, what the Rabbis would later call “birthpangs of the messiah.” The sect hoped to emerge from the age of tribulation into the future age of messianic perfection.

From these two passages we learn that the teacher is expected to show his followers how to put the Torah into practice and that it is his wise instruction that all must obey. The sect believed that Jewish law consisted of two complementary parts- the revealed, written Torah (nigleh) and the hidden or secret (nistar), known only to the sect. It was this second body of law with which the teacher had endowed them. Therefore, his teachings had the same validity as the Torah itself.
At least part of the Zadokite Fragments was authored after the teacher’s death, as is clear when the text speaks of the period-

From the day when the teacher of the community was gathered in (passed away) until the arising of a messiah from Aaron and Israel. (ZADOKITE FRAGMENTS 19-35–20-1)

In this text, although the teacher has died, the sect still looks forward to the speedy coming of the messiah. Thus, contrary to the claims of many scholars, the teacher himself was not regarded as a messianic figure, even though he had arisen on the eve of the End of Days (Zadokite Fragments 6-11).

Though it is difficult to be specific on this matter, it seems that the sect suffered a crisis with the death of its first primary leader. It had expected that the messianic era was soon to dawn and that no successor to the Teacher of Righteousness would be needed. Nonetheless, the sect weathered this crisis and was able to replace its leader with various officers, who later managed its affairs.
The Pesher Habakkuk, the sectarian commentary on the biblical Book of Habakkuk, contains much information about the teacher and his career and tribulations. The teacher was opposed by the Man of Lies (Pesher Habakkuk 2-2). In interpreting the words of Habakkuk 1-5, following the textual reading “See O treacherous ones . . .” (see verse 13), the scroll writes-

[The interpretation of the matter concerns] the treacherous ones together with the Man of Lies. For they did not [listen to the words of] the Teacher of Righteousness from the mouth of God.

Here the teacher is depicted as a sectarian leader and messenger of God opposed by those who reject his teachings. Later we will see that these opponents are probably the Pharisees, the predecessors of the talmudic Rabbis.
This same theme appears in Habakkuk 2-2, which discusses the writing of a vision on tablets “in order that the reader would be able to read it [literally, “run”] quickly.” Pesher Habakkuk says-

Its interpretation concerns the Teacher of Righteousness, to whom God made known all the mysteries of the words of His servants the prophets. (PESHER HABAKKUK 7-3–5)

According to this passage, God granted the teacher the ability to understand the true meaning, that is, the sectarian interpretation of the words of the canonical prophets. The teacher therefore could understand the historical processes unfolding at that time as well as the true interpretations of Jewish legal matters and the Torah about which so much friction existed between the sect and its opponents.
The sect always believed that it would be rewarded for its steadfast adherence to the teacher’s authority. Interpreting Habakkuk 2-4 (“But the righteous man shall live by his faith”), the text states-

Interpreted, this concerns all those who observe the Law in the House of Judah, whom God will deliver from the House of Judgment because of their suffering and because of their faith in the Teacher of
Righteousness. (PESHER HABAKKUK 8-1–4)

Later on, the teacher is mentioned in an interpretation of Habakkuk 1-13 (“Why do you look on, treacherous one, [and] keep silent when an evil man swallows up one more righteous than he?”)-

Its interpretation concerns the House of Absalom and the men of their council who were silent during the reproof of the Teacher of Righteousness and who did not help him (the teacher) against the Men of Lies. (PESHER HABAKKUK 5-9–12)

This text depicts an experience of the teacher when he was verbally abused by the Man of Lies. A certain group, called here the “House of Absalom,” stood by and did not come to the teacher’s assistance. Apparently, the group’s name derives from the biblical story of Absalom’s rebellion against his father, David (II Samuel 15–18). We learn here of the teacher’s dispute with the leader of an opposing group.
The teacher was also plagued by a Wicked Priest, certainly a designation for one of the early Hasmonaean rulers. On Habakkuk 2-8 (“For crimes against men and wrongs against lands, against cities and all their inhabitants”), Pesher Habakkuk relates-

Its interpretation concerns the [Wi]cked Priest, who, because of (his) transgression against the Teacher of Righteousness and the men of his council, God handed over into the hand[s] of his enemies to afflict him . . . (PESHER HABAKKUK 9-9–10)

The sect saw the suffering of the Wicked Priest as a direct result of his persecution of the teacher.
In the interpretation of Habakkuk 2-15 (“Ah, you who make others drink to intoxication as you pour out your wrath, in order to gaze upon their nakedness”), we find a more specific explanation of the nature of the Wicked Priest’s transgression. Our text reads the final phrase as if it said, “in order to gaze upon her appointed times”-

Its interpretation concerns the Wicked Priest, who pursued the Teacher of Righteousness to swallow him up with his wrathful anger to the place of his exile. And at the time of the day of rest of the Day of Atonement, he (the Wicked Priest) appeared before them, to swallow them up and to make them stumble on the day of the fast of their abstention from work. (PESHER HABAKKUK 11-4–8)

The teacher led the people in a “place of exile,” that is, when they were already at their sectarian center. Although it cannot be proven that this is a reference to Qumran, it is the most probable location for these events. The Wicked Priest pursued and attacked the sect “with his wrathful anger” as they were celebrating the most holy Day of Atonement—one of the appointed times—and disrupted their fast and prayers.

The seriousness of the attack against the teacher and his followers is magnified by its occurrence on the Day of Atonement. But it is important to point out that it was this sect’s Day of Atonement, not that of the rest of the Jewish people. This most important detail indicates the sect’s adherence to a different calendar, a point to be taken up further in a later chapter.

One final characteristic of the teacher may be gleaned from Pesher Psalms. In interpreting Psalms 37-23 (“The steps of a man are prepared by the Lord”), the text states-

Its interpretation refers to the priest, the Teacher of [Righteousness, whom] God [pr]omised would arise, fo[r] He (God) prepared (i.e., predestined) him (the teacher) to build for Him a congregation . . .

This text completely accords with the notion in Pesher Habakkuk that God gave the teacher the gift of an almost prophetic message. Here we learn that the teacher was a priest. If this detail is true, it would fit well with the historical picture previously suggested. We can easily imagine that out of the Zadokite priestly leadership, one priest would emerge to take control of the sect and give it shape and form. We could then easily comprehend the competition between him and the Wicked Priest. It is curious, however, that only this text identifies the teacher as a priest.

We can see from the preceding discussion that the Qumran documents do not give us very much information about the teacher. Nevertheless, some scholars have assumed him to be the author of various texts and have increased his role far beyond what is warranted by the documents we have studied. They see him, for example, as author of Rule of the Congregation and Thanksgiving Hymns. Some of the early Qumran scholars were inclined to see in him a proto-Jesus. A similar view has recently been espoused by some who wish to claim that the scrolls refer directly to the early Christian movement. This view, as I previously maintained, is impossible to accept on chronological grounds. In fact, the sources allow us to say little more than that the teacher led the sect in its formative period after the initial schism and period of uncertainty, that he was probably a priest, that he had confrontations with the Man of Lies, and that he was persecuted by the Wicked Priest. But most important, the sect believed that his leadership derived from his God-given ability to interpret the words of the prophets and to formulate the beliefs and halakhic norms of the sect.

Although the Teacher of Righteousness died at some point during the life of the sect, the sect continued to adhere to its principles, expecting the End of Days and the coming of the messiah. The teachings of the sect’s preeminent leader were still considered authoritative and determined the sect’s pattern of behavior long after his death.

Pages 117-121

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