The Jerusalem of Religious Law, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 1994.


All Jewish groups in the Second Temple period assigned Jerusalem special sanctity in Jewish law, because the Temple located there was the religious center of the Jewish people. Despite the Dead Sea sectarians’ condemnation of and abstention from the Temple rituals of their own day, the Judaism they espoused did not in any way renounce these rituals in principle. Rather, they objected to specific practices being currently performed at the Temple, fully expecting that both in the present and in the eschatological future, such improprieties would be corrected.

According to Jewish tradition, Jerusalem was central in Jewish ritual because God had chosen the city as the final resting place for the ark of His covenant. Indeed, in a broken passage in Words of the Luminaries, referring to the placement of the ark and Temple in Jerusalem, the text declares-

Its ta[ber]nacle […] rest in Jerusa[lem, the city which] You [ch]ose from the entire land so that Y[our name] would be there forever. (WORDS OF THE LUMINARIES A 1–2 IV 2–4)

According to this text, the placing of the ark and Tabernacle in Jerusalem in David’s time secured the city’s future role as the spiritual center of the Jewish people. The passage goes on to recount the political and economic effects precipitated when the religious capital was established in Jerusalem-

Then all the nations saw Your glory in that You were sanctified among Your people Israel, as well as Your great name, and they brought their tribute of silver and gold and precious stone(s) with all the treasure of their countries, to honor Your people and Zion Your holy city, and Your glorious Temple. And there was no adversary or misfortune, but rather peace and blessing … (WORDS OF THE LUMINARIES A 1–2 IV 8–13)

To this author, the time of David was an ideal period, when Jerusalem, the city of Zion, was simultaneously the religious, political, and economic capital of the nation.

A hymn from Non-canonical Psalms A Scroll (1 I 1–8) also focuses on the chosenness of Jerusalem-

[Jeru]salem [the city which the Lo]rd [chose] from eternity,

[as a place of residence for] the holy ones.

[For the na]me of the Lord has been invoked upon it,

[and His glory] has appeared over Jerusalem [and] Zion.

Who can declare the renown of the Lord,

and announce all of [His] praise.

The fragment containing the Prayer for King Jonathan, probably a prayer for the welfare of Alexander Janneus, also includes a section (A10), paralleled in Psalm 154 from the Psalms Scroll, that has been restored to read-

His habitation is in Zion,

He ch[ooses Jerusalem forever].

The poem at the end of Ben Sira (51-12) in the Hebrew version expresses a similar notion-

Give thanks to the One Who chooses Jerusalem,

for His mercy endures forever.

Perhaps the most direct statement on the halakhic status of Jerusalem comes from the Halakhic Letter. The writers criticize their opponents in the Jerusalem establishment for slaughtering animals outside the “camp,” referring to nonsacrificial slaughter—that is, meat to be eaten—that was performed outside the Temple in close proximity to Jerusalem. The Halakhic Letter counters that all slaughter is to take place “in the north of the camp,” a ruling probably derived from Leviticus 1-11, wherein sacrifice is prescribed on “the north side of the altar, before the Lord.” Apparently the authors of this sectarian foundation document required even whole-offerings—those sacrifices offered for eating purposes—to be sacrificed on the north side of the altar, as prescribed in the Torah. This view is directly opposite to mishnaic procedure (M. Zevahim 5-7), which permits these offerings to be slaughtered anywhere in the inner court.

Then the writers state-

But we hold the view that the Temple is [the (equivalent of) the Tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting, and Je]rusalem is the camp, and outside of the camp [is (equivalent to) outside of Jerusalem]; it is the camp of their cities. (HALAKHIC LETTER B29–31)

Here the sanctuary is regarded as equivalent to the Israelite camp in the wilderness period- the Temple in the center corresponds to the Tabernacle; and the city of Jerusalem, to the entire camp in the desert. Since it was permissible to slaughter only in the Israelite camp, not outside, so it is similarly permissible to slaughter only in the city of Jerusalem. Those outside, presumably those living close by, should be required to offer their animals as whole-offerings in the Jerusalem Temple.
Further on in the text is a second reference to this same matter. After banning dogs from Jerusalem because they might gnaw on the bones of sacrificial meat, the text states-

For Jerusalem is the camp of holiness, and it is the place which He (God) chose from all the tribes of Israel, for Jerusalem is the chief of the camps of Israel. (HALAKHIC LETTER B58–62)

Only Jerusalem has this exalted status since God chose it. Furthermore, for legal purposes the city is the equivalent of the wilderness camp. All offerings and restrictions that pertained to the entire camp here pertain to the entire city of Jerusalem.

In the Temple Scroll, we find a vision for the reform of religious and political life in Hasmonaean Judaea, including, among other things, a new Temple of enormous proportions. Rather than being messianic, the scroll envisions an ideal society for the present, premessianic age. But it presents itself as a Torah, with the author’s views represented as the word of God. Because of this literary conceit, the Temple Scroll, like the Book of Deuteronomy, never mentions Jerusalem, but instead refers to the “place which God will choose to make His name dwell therein.” Yet we can confidently assume that this scroll refers directly to Jerusalem as the site of a future Temple that the author/redactor hoped to see constructed in his own day.

If that is the case, then this text should provide us with a description of that “Jerusalem.” We have already seen in a previous chapter that the scroll’s author regards the Temple as the central building not only of the city, but of the nation as a whole. Unlike the actual Temple of his day, which had two concentric courts, this new Temple would have three concentric courts. Like Ezekiel, he designed the third court to increase the stringency of the purity regulations for the Temple and to further limit access by those who did not attain the necessary levels of purity.

Our detailed analysis of the architecture of this Temple complex, and specifically of its gates and chambers, has shown that its planner conceived of it as a replica of the desert camp. Accordingly, the Temple and the inner court were taken as equivalent to the Tabernacle. The middle court represented the area in which the Levites dwelled, immediately around the Tabernacle. The outer court was the equivalent of the entire camp assigned as the dwelling place of the Israelite tribes.

The scroll calls this Temple complex “the city of the sanctuary.” Since the Temple Scroll was published, scholars have debated whether that term covers the entire city of Jerusalem or only the Temple complex—what the Rabbis called the Temple Mount. Since it was originally taken to refer to the entire residential area of Jerusalem, it was assumed that Temple purity restrictions would apply throughout the city, thereby elevating earthly Jerusalem to the status of a Temple with its attendant rules and regulations. Other scholars then proposed that “the city of the sanctuary” referred only to the Temple complex itself; in this case, the residential area of Jerusalem would surround the Temple but not be considered part of it.

The enlarged platform on which the Temple would stand was to approximate the size of the entire city in the author’s own day. In my view, the author of that section of the scroll, who was also the planner of the future Temple, expected the entire city of Jerusalem to become the Temple complex that would represent the wilderness camp of Israel. It was, after all, during this early period of Israel’s history that the people showed uncompromising loyalty to God and his law.

These three courtyards basically accord with the later rabbinic conception of the “camp” in biblical law. The Rabbis understood the various laws about the camp to refer to three concentric camps- the camp of the divine presence, namely, the Tabernacle; the camp of the Levites, the area of their encampment around the Tabernacle; and the camp of Israel, the rest of the desert camp. Although the Temple Scroll differs about some of the particular regulations, it adopted for its projected Temple the same system found in the rabbinic sources.

The authors of these documents clearly regarded Jerusalem as the religious center of their universe, the place God had chosen as his own. Worship was to be conducted there according to the sectarian interpretation of the Torah—if not in the present age, then soon, when the End of Days was to dawn. To prepare for this approaching time, the sectarians continued to study sacrificial laws and to dream of a new Temple, purer and more holy than the one they had abandoned.

Pages 387-391

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