Temple Scroll, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Anchor Bible Dictionary (ed. David Noel Freedman), Doubleday, New York 1992.


Qumran Cave 11

Qumran Cave 11. By PMATAS – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21905608

TEMPLE SCROLL. A scroll emanating from Qumran Cave 11 (hence its designation 11QTemple; Heb Megillat Hammiqdaš) which sets forth the author/redactor’s plan for a perfect society, cult, and government of the Jewish people in the land of Israel.

A. Discovery

The Temple Scroll was first brought to the attention of the late Yigael Yadin by Joseph Uhrig, a Virginia minister, in 1960 who said it was in the hands of a Jordanian antiquities dealer (Shanks 1987). After two years of negotiations, Yadin had little more to show than a small fragment proffered as a sample, and he gave up hope of recovering the scroll. In the aftermath of the Six Day War in 1967, Yadin was able to locate the antiquities dealer and the scroll which was eventually purchased for the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem (Yadin 1983, 1- 1–5).

B. Description and Paleography

The scroll was in poor condition. It had been kept under the floor of the antiquities dealer’s home in a shoebox. In addition, other fragments were in a cigarbox, and some had been hidden elsewhere. The task of unrolling the scroll and placing the fragments in order was made even more difficult because the writing of some columns was preserved only on the back of the preceding column. The upper edge had been severely damaged by dampness, either in antiquity or in the care of the antiquities dealer.

The scroll consists of 19 sheets, each containing 3–4 columns. Adding space for the damaged beginning, the entire scroll would have been approximately 8.75 m, making it the longest of the preserved scrolls (1QIsaa is 7.34 m). It is written in two hands, one scribe writing cols. 1–5 and another (with some overlap of text) the remainder of the scroll. Yadin (1983, 1- 12) suggests that the scribe of the first part of the scroll repaired the scroll by rewriting the first part which had become worn through use. The scribal techniques and script are typical of the other Qumran manuscripts. While the language of the scroll has much in common with the dialect in which the sectarian compositions from Qumran are written, in certain linguistic features and in its legal terminology, it exhibits more affinities to rabbinic Hebrew than do the other scrolls (Schiffman 1980).

The Temple Scroll is also known from other manuscripts. These other manuscripts are extant only in fragments and some have been used in restoring parts of the text. Yadin (1983, 1- 17) identified the script of the two scribes of 11QTemple as Herodian, dating to around the turn of the era. He also discussed two fragments, dating Rockefeller 43.975 to the Herodian period but 43.366 to the Hasmonean, from the end of the 2d century B.C.E. J. Strugnell (in Wacholder 1983- 205–6), having examined the manuscripts at the Rockefeller Museum, writes that 43.366 belongs not to a manuscript of the Temple Scroll but rather to a Pentateuch with supplementary additions. Further, Strugnell calls attention to a group of Cave 4 fragments which quote the Temple Scroll or one of its sources and which he dates no later than ca. 150 B.C.E. A few fragments from Cave 11 are also awaiting publication.

C. Contents

The scroll presents itself as a rewritten Torah which begins with the renewal of the Sinaitic covenant in Exodus 34 and then turns to the building of the temple in Exodus 35. From this point, the scroll continues in the order of the canonical Torah, covering the basic structures of the sanctuary and its courts, the sacrificial system, the various other Temple rituals, laws of ritual purity and impurity, and finally a long series of Deuteronomic prescriptions, including a distinct section on the king, the government, and the army. The scroll concludes with the laws of consanguineous marriages.

11QTemple 29-2–10 indicates clearly that the purpose of the Temple Scroll was to provide a system of law for the pre-messianic temple. This temple, it was expected, would be replaced in the end of days with a divinely created sanctuary. Until then, the author/redactor saw his scroll as representing the correct interpretation of the Torah.

The scroll does not simply recapitulate the prescriptions of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. It collects together the various pentateuchal (and sometimes prophetic) material relevant to the issue at hand and weaves together a unified, consistent text. In this respect it can be said that the text redacts the Torah, combining all materials on a single topic together. In many cases, statements in the canonical Torah referring to God in the 3d person are shifted into 1st-person-divine direct address. In this way the intermediacy of Moses is eliminated and the contents of the scroll are presented as the direct revelation of God to Israel at Mt. Sinai.

Yet the scroll goes further. It uses a distinct form of exegesis, in some ways similar to the midrash of the later rabbis, to reconcile the differences between the various pentateuchal texts so as to create a unified and consistent whole. At times, it makes minor additions to clarify its legal stance. In a few places, extensive passages appear which are not based on our canonical Scriptures. In this way the scroll propounds its own views on the major issues of Jewish law relating to Temple, cult, government, and sanctity. It is this exegetical and legal approach which makes the Temple Scroll so central for the history of Jewish law and midrashic exegesis, and for understanding the sects of the Second Temple period.

The laws of the scroll include a number of provisions of great interest. The architecture of the temple proposed here differs from biblical accounts, on which the author claims to base himself, as well as from descriptions of the Second Temple in Josephus and the Mishnah. Most interesting is the extension of the temenos (the “Temple City”) by the addition of a 3d courtyard, so large that it would have encompassed most of what was then Jerusalem. The courtyards and their gates represent the Israelite encampment in the wilderness. Unique approaches appear here for the construction of the temple furnishings. The sacrificial festival calendar includes a number of festivals not part of the biblical or rabbinic cycle. A second New Year festival is to be celebrated on the first of Nisan, in the spring, followed by annual celebration of the eight days of ordination. Besides the Omer festival for the barley harvest (the 2d day of Passover) and the first fruits of wheat (Shavuot), the scroll adds two more first-fruits festivals, each at 50-day intervals, for oil and wine. The wood offering is also celebrated as an annual festival in the summer. Extensive laws deal with the sacrificial procedure and ritual purity and impurity. Here we see a general tendency to provide additional ways to protect the sanctuary from impurity. This brief survey does not even begin to indicate the rich nature of the scroll’s exegesis and the many details of Jewish law in which the text diverges from the views of other sectarian documents or rabbinic literature.

D. Sources

Even in its present form, it is not difficult to discern that the Temple Scroll has been redacted from a number of sources by an author/redactor. His sources most certainly included the sacrificial festival calendar (11QTemple 13-9–29-1) and the law of the king and army (56-12–59-21). It has also been suggested that the description of the temple precincts and furnishings (2-1–47-18, passim) and the laws of purity (48-1–51-10) constituted separate sources (Wilson and Wills 1982). It was the author/redactor who added the Deuteronomic paraphrase at the end (51-11–56-21, 60-1–66-17).

E. Dating

Rockefeller 43.366, taken by Yadin as the earliest manuscript of the Temple Scroll, led him to date the scroll to no later than the reign of John Hyrcanus (134–104 B.C.E.) or Alexander Jannaeus (103–76 B.C.E.). Yet, as already noted, this is not actually a manuscript of our scroll.

All sources now included in the scroll presuppose the existence of a canonical Torah differing from MT only in minor details (contrast Stegemann 1988- 246–56). Only a few legal rulings can be shown to derive from variant biblical texts. For this reason the scroll had to have been completed after the period of the return (ca. late 6th to mid-5th centuries B.C.E.). Further, all manuscripts of the Temple Scroll identified thus far are of Herodian date, although it is possible that a source of the scroll was extant by 150 B.C.E. It is within these parameters that we must seek both a dating and a Sitz im Leben for the scroll.

More specific dating must take into account the particular regulations of the law of the king which is the largest sustained non-pentateuchal section. This text provides the clearest indications of date in the scroll. It emphasizes the separation of roles of the high priest and king and the need to constitute the gerousia so that it would consist of twelve each of priests, Levites, and Israelites. It argues against the use of mercenaries which were used extensively by John Hyrcanus. The Temple Scroll requires that the king have a special palace guard to protect him against kidnap. Here we have an illusion to the perfidious kidnap and murder of Jonathan the Hasmonean in 143 B.C.E. (cf. 1 Macc 13-24). The text further polemicizes against campaigns such as those of John Hyrcanus and Alexander Jannaeus when it prohibits wars with Egypt for the sake of accumulating wealth.

Since the law of the king is incorporated into the fully redacted scroll, it is therefore appropriate to date the scroll as a whole to no later than the second half of the reign of John Hyrcanus (Schiffman 1987; Yadin [1983, 1- 386–90] dates the scroll to the reign of Hyrcanus or slightly earlier; Hengel, Charlesworth, and Mendels [1986] date the scroll to 103–88 B.C.E.). At this time, the author/redactor called for a thoroughgoing revision of the existing Hasmonean order, desiring to replace it with a Temple, sacrificial system, and government which was in his view the embodiment of the legislation of the Torah. This dating is fully consistent with the paleographic data described above.

F. Relation to Other Qumran Documents

In his initial study of the Temple Scroll, Yadin assumed that it, like the rest of the Qumran corpus, represented a text of Essene provenance. Accordingly, he interpreted the scroll to agree with the previously known Dead Sea sectarian texts and Philo and Josephus’ description of the Essenes. Many scholars have followed this lead. Others have pointed to the absence of the usual Qumran polemical language and distinctive terminology, and the lack of some characteristic linguistic features in these texts (Levine 1978 [and the responses of Milgrom 1978 and Yadin 1980]; Stegemann 1988- 237–46; Schiffman 1983- 13–17). Further, this text has a different view of the origins, authority and derivation of Jewish law. Whereas the sectarian texts from Qumran generally expect the law to be derived by inspired biblical exegesis from the canonical Torah, the Temple Scroll sees extrabiblical laws as stemming from the Sinai revelation as an actual Torah. Some recent scholarship now sees the Temple Scroll as emerging from a related group which was either contemporary with or earlier than the previously known Qumran sect. Still to be investigated are the unpublished Torah scrolls with supplementary material which at some points seem to underlie the Temple Scroll.

There is an even closer link between the Temple Scroll and the Miqsat Ma˓aseh Ha-Torah (4QMMT). This “halakhic letter” describes a series of laws over which the authors disputed with the established authorities of the Jerusalem priesthood. The 4QMMT claims that due to disagreements with the Jerusalem establishment its authors left Jerusalem and forswore worship in its temple (Qimron and Strugnell 1985). It is most likely that this letter dates to the origin of the Qumran community. In general, 4QMMT takes positions equivalent to those of the Sadducees in rabbinic literature and ascribes to the Jerusalem priests views identified as Pharisaic. In many cases, this text’s rulings agree with those of the Temple Scroll. This new evidence suggests that the Temple Scroll stems from forerunners of the sect who shared Sadducean rulings on many matters. See also MIQṢAT MA˓ASE HATORAH (4QMMT).

G. Significance

This scroll is the largest of the Dead Sea Scrolls and for this reason alone it vastly enriches the textual remains of Second Temple Judaism. This text shows that the exegesis of Scripture for the derivation of Jewish law, the activity which the later Rabbis called midrash, was already a central part of the Judaism of some groups in the Hasmonean period. This exegesis served as the basis for highly developed legal teachings which are evidence that among some groups of Second Temple Jews strict adherence to a living and developing tradition of Jewish law was the norm. Further, some of these Jews objected strenuously to the conduct of the Hasmoneans in both the religious and political/military spheres. These opponents were at the forefront of the movement represented by the Qumran sect. Among the texts they brought with them to Qumran were the sources of the Temple Scroll.


Garcia-Martinez, F. 1986. El Rollo del Templo (11 Q Temple)- Bibliografia sistematica. RQ 12- 425–40.

Hengel, M., Charlesworth, J. A., and Mendels, D. 1986. The Polemical Character of “On Kingship” in the Temple Scroll- An Attempt at Dating 11QTemple. JJS 37- 28–38.

Levine, B. A. 1978. The Temple Scroll- Aspects of its Historical Provenance and Literary Character. BASOR 232- 5–23.

Maier, J. 1985. The Temple Scroll, An Introduction, Translation & Commentary. Sheffield.

Milgrom, J. 1978. “Sabbath” and “Temple City” in the Temple Scroll. BASOR 232- 25–27.

Qimron, E., and Strugnell, J. 1985. An Unpublished Halakhic Letter from Qumran.Pp. 400–7 in BibAT.

Schiffman, L. H. 1980. The Temple Scroll in Literary and Philological Perspective. Pp. 143–58 in Approaches to Ancient Judaism- Volume II, ed. W. S. Green. Chico, CA.

———. 1983. Sectarian law in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Courts, Testimony and the Penal Code. Chico, CA.

———. 1985a. Review of The Temple Scroll by Yigael Yadin. BA 48- 122–26.

———. 1985b. Exclusion from the Sanctuary and the City of the Sanctuary in the Temple Scroll. HAR 9- 301–20.

———. 1987. The King, His Guard, and the Royal Council in the Temple Scroll. PAAJR 54- 237–59.

Shanks, H. 1987. Intrigue and the Scroll. BARev 13/l 6- 23–27.

Stegemann, H. 1988. The Origins of the Temple Scroll. Pp. 235–56 in Congress Volume, Jerusalem 1986, ed. J. Emerton. Leiden.

Wacholder, B. Z. 1983. The Dawn of Qumran, The Sectarian Torah and the Teacher of Righteousness. Cincinnati.

Wilson, A., and Wills, L. 1982. Literary Sources of the Temple Scroll. HTR 75- 275–88.

Yadin, Y. 1980. Is the Temple Scroll a Sectarian Document? Pp. 153–69 in Humanizing America’s Iconic Book, Society for Biblical Literature Centenary Addresses, ed. G. M. Tucker and D. A. Knight. Chico, CA.

———. 1983. The Temple Scroll. 3 vols. Jerusalem.

———. 1985. The Temple Scroll, The Hidden Law of the Dead Sea Sect. New York.

Vol.6, p.348-350

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