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


Herodion Synagogue

Herodion Synagogue. By Fallaner – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=121010451

The sect that left us the Dead Sea Scrolls removed itself voluntarily from Hellenistic Jerusalem and forswore participation in the Jerusalem sacrificial service, regarding the conduct of that service’s priestly rituals no longer acceptable. Sect members maintained that violations of the law marred the Temple and that its priests were illegitimate. Presumably, the founders of the sect believed that the Jerusalem cult no longer served as a vehicle for contact between Israel and its God; therefore, they saw no value in their continued participation in it. Whether retiring to Qumran or living in “camps” throughout Palestine, they were left with a Judaism devoid of Temple and sacrifice, a Judaism in which prayer, purity, study, and the sectarian life itself would have to serve as a replacement for the Temple. The sect thus viewed itself as a sanctuary that brought its members into the same intimate contact with God that members formerly had experienced through cultic worship. Despite the claims of some scholars, sacrifices were not performed at Qumran.

The situation facing the Rabbis soon after the Destruction of the Temple, when the mishnaic sages assembled at Yavneh on the Mediterranean coast, was very similar. Judaism had long been based on sacrificial worship, which ensured Israel’s relationship with God through the proper and orderly conduct of the rites required by the Levitical codes. Now, in the aftermath of the Great Revolt of 66–73 C.E., the Temple was gone. The priests no longer sacrificed; the Levites no longer sang; Israel no longer made pilgrimages to the holy Temple. Henceforth, only prayer and the life of rabbinic piety could ensure Israel’s continued link to their Father in Heaven.

It is naive to assume that this catastrophe came upon Pharisaic-rabbinic Judaism with no warning. Indeed, it is clear to us now that throughout the Second Commonwealth period, sacrificial ritual was on the wane, and prayer and liturgy on the rise. Gradually, prayer made greater and greater inroads even in the Temple. Those distant from the Temple turned increasingly to prayer during the Second Commonwealth period. Pharisaism, in displacing Temple purity to the home and table, had helped to free the later sages from the inexorability of sacrifice. The Qumran sect, too, had long before demonstrated how to live a Jewish life without a Temple. Sectarians had, as we shall see, developed both a liturgy and an ideology to compensate for their absence from the Temple.

Throughout its days, the sect yearned not for the restoration of the Temple, which still stood and functioned albeit improperly, but for the return of their priestly leaders to leadership of the Temple and its ritual. This, to them, was tantamount to the Temple’s restoration, which would result in establishment of the New Jerusalem and renewal of the bonds uniting the people of Israel and its God. Then, in the End of Days, the sect’s priests would officiate at the Temple, properly carrying out its practice and ensuring its utmost purity. It is probable that to many of the sectarians, the Temple Scroll, with its dream of an expanded Temple and greater levels of sanctity for the Temple and its sacrifices, expressed their hopes for the premessianic Temple. But until such a Temple were established, or until the coming of the divinely built sanctuary at the End of Days, they would have to be satisfied with the efficacy of prayer and with the study of texts dealing with the worship and cult of the Temple at which they would neither serve nor offer sacrifice.

The Zadokite Fragments refers to some kind of place of worship-

And anyone who enters the house of prostration let him not come in a state of impurity requiring washing. (ZADOKITE FRAGMENTS 11-21–22)

Although the remainder of the passage is difficult to decipher, the text seems to indicate that sectarians who were scattered in the towns and cities of Palestine established permanent places of sanctity for the conduct of sacred services.

However, we find in the archaeological remains from Qumran no evidence of the establishment of a synagogue or a fixed place of prayer. In fact, the Qumran settlement predates the earliest excavated synagogues in Palestine—at Masada, Herodion, and Gamla—all from the first century C.E. References to earlier synagogues in the Hellenistic Diaspora probably signify Jewish communal organizations, not buildings used for ritual purposes. It seems, therefore, that community prayers, certainly part of the life of the sectarians at Qumran, were conducted in premises used for other purposes, perhaps in the dining hall. A special building for worship would not have been necessary at the sectarian center at Qumran, for the entire settlement was dedicated to this purpose. Such a house of worship would be needed only by those sectarians who lived elsewhere in the Land of Israel.

Pages 290-292

What do you want to know?

Ask our AI widget and get answers from this website