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


Medallion of John Hyrcanus

Medallion of John Hyrcanus

The collection of laws pertaining to the king constituted a separate unit that the author incorporated into the Temple Scroll. The text first discusses the obligation of setting up a monarchy-

When you enter the land which I am giving you, and you take possession of it and dwell in it, and you say, “I will set a king over me like all the nations who are around me,” you shall set as king over you the one whom I choose. (TEMPLE SCROLL 56-12–14)

This passage is virtually identical to Deuteronomy 17-14–15, except that, as is his general habit, the author or redactor has replaced the third person—“which the Lord your God is giving you”—with the first person, to suggest the unmediated authority of the text.

The requirement that a king be appointed is most likely intended as a critique of the early Hasmonaean rulers, who, while serving as high priests, arrogated to themselves the temporal powers of the king. Our passage requires that the monarchy and the high priesthood be two separate offices with two distinct incumbents.

The Temple Scroll goes on to require that the appointed king be Jewish and that he have written for him a special copy of the Torah for his edification. Adapting Deuteronomy 17-16–17, the scroll continues with a series of prescriptions that limit the power of the monarch-

But he may not keep for himself many horses nor may he send the people back to Egypt for war in order to accumulate for himself horses, silver and gold. For I have said to you, “You may never go back that way again.” Nor may he have many wives lest they turn his heart from following Me, nor may he accumulate for himself silver and gold to excess. (TEMPLE SCROLL 56-15–19)

Josephus gives us a hint about the dating of this section. He reports that the unrest in Syria “gave Hyrcanus leisure to exploit Judaea undisturbed, with the result that he amassed a limitless sum of money.” No doubt Hyrcanus’s extensive military campaigns outside the boundaries of Judaea also contributed to his wealth. It is likely that this text, in repeating here the Torah’s law against the king’s sending his people to war to increase his own wealth, is reacting to conditions during the period of John Hyrcanus.

The king is obligated to raise an army and provide a royal guard-

He (the king) shall choose for himself from them (those he has mustered) one thousand from each tribe to be with him, twelve thousand warriors, who will not leave him alone, lest he be captured by the nations. And all those selected whom he shall choose shall be trustworthy men, who fear God, who spurn unjust gain, and mighty men of war. They shall be with him always, day and night, so that they will guard him from any sinful thing, and from a foreign nation, lest he be captured by them. (TEMPLE SCROLL 57-5–11)

The king is also required to select twelve thousand men, one thousand from each tribe, to serve as a palace guard. They must never leave him, lest he be captured by foreign enemies. The members of the guard are to be honest, God-fearing men, of the highest military prowess.

The author of this text may have based his number of twelve thousand men on the twelve thousand warriors who went out against the Midianites (Numbers 31-3–4) or the twelve thousand horsemen of Solomon (I Kings 5-6, 10-26). This description of the royal guard is in direct contrast to its Hasmonaean counterpart, which was manned by foreign mercenaries. The author requires for the royal guard not only trustworthy Jews but also those who will keep the king from transgressing. Apparently, the author is here criticizing the Hasmonaean rulers for being overly influenced by their foreign mercenaries.

The purpose of the guard was to prevent the capture of the king. These elaborate arrangements for the royal guard only make sense against the background of the last days of Jonathan the Hasmonaean ruler—namely, the years 152–143 B.C.E.—who while traveling with three thousand guards, was captured by Trypho, a Seleucid pretender, and later murdered.

The Temple Scroll further required that the king constitute a council of twelve princes, twelve priests, and twelve Levites to consult in matters of judicial rulings (Temple Scroll 57-11–15). He is forbidden to act without their advice. Historical sources inform us that a council of elders functioned in Judaea both before and after Maccabean times. To ensure the influence of religious leaders in government, the Temple Scroll here requires the inclusion of priests and Levites. A further passage mandates that the king may not pervert the system of justice nor confiscate any of his subjects’ property unlawfully (Temple Scroll 57-19–21).

The Law of the King concludes with an admonition. A king who turns aside from God’s laws will find his kingdom taken from him. But as for the king who observes the Torah and rules justly-

… none of his sons shall be cut off from sitting on the throne of the kingdom of Israel forever. I will be with him, and I will save him from the hand of his enemies and from the hand of those who seek to take his life. (TEMPLE SCROLL 59-17–19)

Here the author, pronouncing the end of the royal line for a king who does not govern according to the Torah, clearly implicates the Hasmonaean dynasty.

In this scroll, compiled during the Hasmonaean period, the author/redactor presents his utopian vision of the present, premessianic era- an ideal Temple, located in the sacred Land of Israel, settled by the twelve tribes in their allotments. Such idealistic hopes are also reflected throughout other sections of the scroll, probably from preexistent Sadducean sources. Indeed, this overall plan expressed the author’s dream of a complete reform of the polity and worship of the Jewish people in the Hasmonaean period.

The complete, edited scroll may be seen to a large extent as a polemic against the policies of the Hasmonaeans on the one hand and against the rulings of the Pharisees on the other. A similar polemic underlies the Halakhic Letter, confirming that Pharisaic rulings were being followed in the Temple in the early Hasmonaean period. Also composed during this period, the Temple Scroll called for a total reconstruction of the Temple and redistribution of the land around it, a rededication to strict purity laws, and the appointment of a high priest and a king who would uphold the holiness of the Temple and the Land of Israel. Only in this way, the author believed, would the future of Israel upon its land be guaranteed.

The scroll’s plan, as we have examined it here, bears little relationship to the teachings of the Qumran sect as they are known from the sectarian texts. Further, the architecture of the Qumran structures reflects no attempt to follow any ideal blueprint. In this respect, the preceding study supports our general conclusion that some of the sources of the Temple Scroll are in fact pre-Qumranian and that the author/redactor, regardless of his own affiliation, was not reflecting the ideas of the Qumran sect.

It appears that the Sadducean sources of the scroll included laws dating back to pre-Maccabean days, a theory confirmed by comparing this scroll to the Halakhic Letter. Whatever may eventually be decided about the many enigmatic issues surrounding this scroll, it is clear that its final author truly believed that the observance of Jewish law and sacrificial ritual brought the worshiper into the presence of God. This belief, common to all expounders of Jewish law throughout the ages, certainly was shared by the compilers of the legal material of the Dead Sea sect, the subject of the next chapter.

Pages 268-271

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