The Land of Israel and the Temple, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 1994.


The Temple Scroll claims that Israel is given the land only conditionally. In order for the people to merit the land, they must uphold the highest judicial standards. Bribery and corruption in judgment must be avoided-

… in order that you live, and come and take (or- retain) possession of the land which I am giving you as a possession for ever. (TEMPLE SCROLL 51-15–16)

If they violate these principles, the land will experience destruction, and the people, exile. Only after repentance will Israel return again to its land (59-2–11).

For the author of the Temple Scroll, the center of the Land of Israel was the Temple and its surrounding complex. The scroll presents a Temple plan of very different proportions from that which existed in First or Second Temple times. This new Temple plan envisions the Temple building enclosed by three concentric courtyards. This Temple, of course, was never built.

The Inner Court (Temple Scroll 36-3–7) was to measure some 280 cubits square, with an outside dimension of 294 cubits. (A cubit is approximately one and a half feet or half a meter.) The gates of the Inner Court would be located on each of its four sides. By extrapolating from the apportionment of chambers on the inside wall of the Outer Court, we can surmise that these gates represented the four groups of the tribe of Levi- the Aaronide priests on the east, the Levites of Kohath on the south, Gershon on the west, and Merari on the north. This arrangement corresponds exactly to that of the desert camp as described in Numbers 3-14–39. The courtyards and their gates would represent the Israelite encampment in the wilderness. The entire Temple plan was intended to re-create the experience of the desert period, when sanctity radiated to all Israel from the sanctuary at its epicenter.

The Middle Court (Temple Scroll 38-12–15) was to surround the Inner Court, 100 cubits farther out, covering an area 480 cubits square, with three gates on each side. Each of the twelve tribes would have its own gate (Temple Scroll 39-11–13).

The Outer Court (Temple Scroll 40-5–11), a concentric enclosure surrounding the Middle Court with sides measuring some 1,600 cubits, would also have twelve gates corresponding exactly to those of the Middle Court. Equally important were the chambers in the outer wall that faced inward. These areas, three stories high, were to be apportioned to the various tribes as well as to the priestly and Levitical groups. Aaron was assigned two groups of chambers in recognition of his status as a sort of “ritual firstborn,” entitling him to a double portion (Temple Scroll 40-13–45-2).

This unique Temple plan does not follow the plans of any of the biblical sanctuaries—either the Tabernacle, the Solomonic Temple, or the descriptions at the end of Ezekiel. Neither does it match the pre-Herodian or Herodian Second Temple structures. Rather, its layout represents a synthesis of the Tabernacle and the desert camp. Through this design, the architect sought to grant the tribes access to the Temple and even symbolic dwelling places for them within the Temple courtyards. Each tribe would enter the Temple precincts through its assigned gate and proceed first to its designated chambers. From there all members of the tribe or Levitical clan could circulate in the Outer Court. Those not disqualified from entry into the Middle Court could then proceed into that court, again through their respective gates. Only priests and Levites could proceed to the Inner Court through their gates where the Temple and its furnishings were located.

This entire plan envisions the Temple as the center of sanctity, accessible by entering further and further into the concentric spheres of holiness. The scroll repeatedly makes clear that what grants the Temple its special level of sanctity is the indwelling of the divine presence there. According to many passages throughout the text, God is to dwell in the Temple among the children of Israel forever. This motif, expressed in all of the possible sources for the scroll, is among its most dominant themes.

Beyond the Temple City were a few installations designed to ensure the sanctity of the holy place. Among them would be the place for the latrines, constructed as “roofed houses with pits within them.” These structures were to be located northwest of “the city,” that is, the Temple City, at a distance of 3,000 cubits (46-13–16).

Further, the scroll requires (46-16–47-1) that outside the Temple City, specific locations be assigned to the east for three groups that are impure- those with the skin disease sara‘at (usually mistranslated as “leprosy”), gonorrhiacs, and those who have had a seminal emission. The intention of the scroll is to locate the entire residential area of Jerusalem outside the Temple City. Those who came to Jerusalem in a state of impurity would not be allowed to enter the Temple until the seven-day purification rites were completed. They were to stay in these outside areas during the rituals, after which they could enter the Temple to offer their sacrifices in a state of purity.
Beyond the Temple City, which symbolized the desert camp, was the hinterland of Israel. There the territory of each tribe would be located, directly opposite its gate. Indeed, it was through these gates that the tribal territories would be tied to the sanctity of the central shrine and the divine presence that dwelled there.

We cannot be certain exactly how the tribal allotments were to be shaped. They may have been conceived as radiating from the epicenter, so that the tribes essentially dwelled in a circle around the Temple. Probably the scroll treated the Land of Israel as a square, with the tribes distributed in equivalent positions, each occupying square or rectangular areas. Only such a model could provide all the tribes with equal access to the Temple through their respective gates and at the same time accord with the scroll’s predilection to square structures.

Since the author expected all the tribes of Israel to dwell in the land as ideally constituted, it appears that he assumed the return of the lost tribes, although this is nowhere stated directly. Throughout the scroll, in numerous cultic and other contexts, the twelve tribes as a whole play a role corresponding to that reflected in the architecture of the Temple and the apportionment of the land. In this respect, the Temple functions as a microcosm of the Land of Israel, with each tribe having its appointed place in the sanctuary.

Pages 266-268

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