By April 14, 2008 Read More →

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

The Dead Sea Scrolls
We have already seen that the Qumran sect divided laws into two types- the revealed and the hidden. Because the revealed law, the Torah, was accessible to all Jews, the sectarians did not concern themselves with it very much. Therefore, following their lead, we will focus primarily on the hidden law.

From the moment of the sect’s founding, legal issues played a pivotal role in determining the character and political fate of the group. The Halakhic Letter clearly demonstrates this. After the letter failed to achieve its aims, the sect went its own way, at some point relocating at Qumran. From that point on, the sect’s halakhic views began to diverge from those of the Sadducean group, becoming distinct but retaining a link to the Sadducean texts and halakhic method, as evidenced in the Halakhic Letter and the Temple Scroll. We will now take a look at some of the laws transmitted in the sect’s own documents.


A major source of Qumran legislation is the sectarian law code known as the Zadokite Fragments. But how can we be certain that this document, found in medieval copies and at Qumran, indeed represents the teachings of the Qumran sect? First, the sectarians themselves attached this code to the Admonition, a sort of sectarian manifesto outlining the early history of the sect and its basic arguments with the Jerusalem establishment. Second, the Laws—the legal section forming the second part of the Zadokite Fragments—frequently turns, without even a pause, from mention of laws applicable to all Jews to mention of regulations bearing exclusively on the organization and conduct of sectarian life. The considerable extent to which these two aspects are integrated in this text amply demonstrates that these laws represented the sect’s views.

The nine copies of the Zadokite Fragments found at Qumran confirm the general reliability of the medieval copies of this text. At the same time, the Qumran manuscripts have doubled the size of the preserved text known to us. The new material has shown the same integration of halakhic and sectarian concerns.

Scholars have observed that the Zadokite Fragments reflects the way of life of satellite sectarian communities scattered throughout the country. No distinctions in religious law would have existed between these offshoot communities and the sectarian center at Qumran. In fact, we could even go one step further and assert that the law of the sect was part of a wider trend of Sadducean law. It is likely that many of these rulings were observed not only by the sectarians in and outside Qumran but also by other groups related in their legal tradition to the Sadducean priestly approach.

It is thus clear that the laws in the Zadokite Fragments and in the other sectarian legal documents did not all originate among the sectarians at Qumran. No doubt the sect’s first members brought many of these laws into the newly formed group. And many of the laws may have been shared by other Jewish groups close to the Sadducean approach, the sect’s source of origin. But it is difficult to establish the original provenance of these laws by studying the Zadokite Fragments, because the legal material is embedded in the literary framework of a sectarian text.

Numerous topics are covered in the fragments- oaths and admission to the community, witnesses, judges, court procedure, Sabbath regulations, ritual purity, and organizational issues relative to the community. This collection of laws was not intended to be complete, however. The text lists only a number of those laws that the sectarians wished to emphasize, perhaps those they felt were not being properly followed by the Jewish people as a whole.

Rule of the Community contains other legal materials, although these are vastly outnumbered by sectarian organizational regulations. That these sectarian laws are so similar in language, form, and content to those presented in the Zadokite Fragments proves beyond a doubt both that we are dealing here with the same group and that the sectarian laws are meant to function in the society described in the Rule. Although the Zadokite Fragments deals with the satellite communities while the Rule deals with the main center, together these texts describe a unified society living by common sectarian laws.

The War Scroll, a text that addresses eschatological matters, lists various laws pertaining to conscription into the army, purity of the camp, sacrificial worship, prayer, and thanksgiving rites. Rule of the Congregation concerns many halakhic aspects of the messianic age, including ritual purity, and presents an eschatological mirror image of the sect’s current way of life. Because sectarians saw themselves as living on the verge of the End of Days, they sought to practice its laws in their present life. In a later chapter, we will take a look at aspects of the sect’s messianic halakhah.

Other legal documents include calendar texts (often termed Mishmarot) describing the sect’s calendrical calculations and listing the holy days. We can also glean valuable information from a number of prayer and ritual texts as well as tefillin (phylacteries) and other evidence of scribal law in the scrolls. A variety of important smaller texts reflects the same halakhic approaches as the larger ones.

To illustrate the sect’s legal teachings and method, we will treat a few examples of these complex legal discussions in detail. In particular, we will examine topics addressed in two of the legal lists (serakhim)- the Sabbath and issues of civil law. When we study these laws closely, we discover their remarkable similarity to the later topical codes of the mishnaic tractates. I also hope to convey here a sense of the complexity of this distinctive legal system and its process of legal interpretation. But since whole books have been written on this subject, I present the material here only to exemplify this singular system of Jewish law that sometimes harmonizes with and other times clashes with that of the later Rabbis. The ritual of the sect, including its calendar, prayers, tefillin, and mezuzot, will be treated in a separate chapter.

As we study sectarian law, it is important to keep in mind that the vast majority of Jewish laws and practices were shared by Torah-observing Jews of the Second Temple period; debates and even conflicts arose over only a small number of issues. That is why it is not surprising that here as well as elsewhere we find so much agreement.


The Sabbath code, clearly marked as a discrete literary unit by its heading, is one of the primary legal sections in the Zadokite Fragments. It contains a list of laws—called a serekh. We will briefly discuss some of its laws, noting how these laws derive from the Torah and how they compare to the views of other Jewish groups, most importantly to the rabbinic tradition of halakhah.
We begin with the first prescription in this code-

No one shall do work on Friday from the time when the sphere of the sun is distant from the gate (by) its (the sun’s) diameter, for this is (the import of) that which He said (Deuteronomy 5-12), “Observe the Sabbath day to sanctify it.” (ZADOKITE FRAGMENTS 10-14–17 = De 10 V 1–3)

For ritual purposes, the Jewish day begins at sunset the night before. The Rabbis derived this approach from various scriptural sources. From the foregoing passage we learn that this understanding of the day was normative in Second Temple times. But sectarian law goes even further. The sect effectively agrees with the later talmudic sources requiring that the observance of the Sabbath begin even before actual sunset—that is, on Friday afternoon. According to most views in rabbinic literature, such a measure was only an added stringency, designed to show greater appreciation for the Sabbath by extending its beginning and end. But our text and one rabbinic opinion maintained that the Torah indeed required such an extension of the Sabbath. It is likely that in Second Temple times all Jews began the Sabbath early, when a set of trumpet blasts in Jerusalem announced the time to stop work. Even those who did not consider this precaution required by the Torah probably followed this practice in order to avoid accidentally violating the holy day.

This text has sparked a curious debate. One scholar has suggested that Sabbath in Qumran began on Saturday morning, a practice that would fit in with the solar calendar used by the sect. However, that theory flies in the face of the explicit prescription found in our Qumran Sabbath code. To account for the contradiction, the theory’s advocates have claimed that a medieval copyist added this prescription to the genizah manuscripts of the Zadokite Fragments. But since the discovery of cave 4, especially since the release of these documents in 1991, it has become clear that this supposedly late medieval addition was unquestionably part of the original text (Zadokite Fragments De 10 V 1–3). Although one scholar has continued to promote the idea of a Saturday morning onset for the Sabbath, any fair reading of the text must acknowledge that the sectarians shared with the rest of the Jewish people the notion that the Sabbath began on Friday at sunset.

Two laws deal with Sabbath limits, meaning, the distance one is allowed to walk beyond the city limits on the Sabbath. The first law sets a general limit-

Let him not walk about outside his city more than a thousand cubits. (ZADOKITE FRAGMENTS 10-21)

The medieval scribe was sufficiently surprised at the one thousand-cubit limitation that he wrote the last part of the sentence in large letters. Later on, the text includes a law specifying a two thousand-cubit limit, similar to that known from mishnaic law-

No one shall walk after an animal to pasture it outside his city more than two thousand cubits. Let him not raise his hand to strike it with a fist. If it is stubborn let him not take it out of his house. (ZADOKITE FRAGMENTS 11-5–7)

According to the first text, on the Sabbath one was permitted to walk only one thousand cubits (about 1,500 feet or 450 meters) beyond the city limits. But the second text notes an exception- in order to pasture an animal, one could go another thousand cubits, reaching a total of two thousand cubits, about three thousand feet (900 meters).

These prescriptions are based on the prohibition of travel on the Sabbath, found in the Book of Exodus, “Let everyone remain where he is- let no person leave his place on the seventh day” (Exodus 16-29). During the Second Temple period this verse was generally understood to prohibit long journeys. According to the third-century C.E. church father Hippolytus, the Essenes did not leave their beds on the Sabbath, a view not supported by earlier sources. Yet we do know that both Samaritans and Falashas refused to leave their home on the Sabbath, except to go to synagogue. Clearly, our sect did not subscribe to such a limiting interpretation of Exodus 16-29. Like the Rabbis, the sect allowed walking about within one’s immediate city limits. What was debatable was how far and under what circumstances one might extend that limit.

The sect reached its decision about Sabbath limits through a kind of midrashic interpretation. We can conclude from the way these laws are formulated that they depend on an interpretation of Numbers 35-5, which sets out the boundaries of the Levitical cities, prescribed by the Torah as homes for the Levites. There we find an early version of urban planning, the requirement that areas be set aside for “town pasture” for animals.

This biblical passage specifies two limits for the size of the pastureland surrounding the cities- one thousand and two thousand cubits. Selecting the larger number, the Rabbis ruled that the limit for Sabbath travel was two thousand cubits. Therefore travel for all purposes was limited to that distance. Sectarian law, however, chose the stricter view, ruling that one could travel only one thousand cubits, except when one needed to pasture animals. To sectarians this interpretation seemed to accord completely with the Torah, because Numbers specifies two thousand cubits as the pasture area. Although the sectarians and the later Rabbis disagreed on this matter because of their different interpretive approaches, we see that they both based their legal rulings on this text from Numbers, applying to the question of Sabbath limits a case seemingly unrelated to Sabbath law.

A few regulations in this scroll are virtually identical to those in rabbinic law, suggesting that all Jewish groups in the Second Temple period shared the great bulk of Jewish law. One example is the following prescription about carrying on the Sabbath-

No one shall carry (anything) from the house to the outside, or from the outside into (the) house. And if he is in the sukkah, let him not carry (anything) out of it or bring (anything) into it. (ZADOKITE FRAGMENTS 11-7–9)

As in rabbinic law, sectarian law prohibited carrying anything on the Sabbath from a private to public domain. This law is stated explicitly in Jeremiah 17-21 and 22- “Guard yourselves … against carrying burdens on the Sabbath day…. Nor shall you carry out burdens from your houses on the Sabbath day, or do any work….” Here the sectarians derived their law from prophetic texts, whereas the Rabbis stretched to avoid using this passage.

Formulating the law in its own words, the sect added here the case of the sukkah, referring either to any temporary dwelling or, more likely, to the sukkah connected with the Festival of Sukkot. This Festival posed a particular problem for those who abstained from carrying on the Sabbath, as it still does today- when the sukkah is in a field, or in a yard next to the house, it constitutes a separate domain; therefore, food cannot be carried from the house to the sukkah. For rabbinic Jews, the solution to this problem lies in the eruv, a legal institution designed to create a wider “home” by enclosing large areas and designating a loaf of bread as a symbolic common meal, thereby making carrying permissible on the Sabbath. Did Qumran sectarians accept this procedure? Talmudic sources tell us that the Sadducees did not. Unfortunately, our sources simply do not provide this information. But certainly the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Qumran sectarians all agreed that carrying from domain to domain was forbidden on the Sabbath.

In the headlong rush by many scholars to compare the scrolls to the New Testament, the halakhic material has been generally ignored. Yet a number of laws demonstrate that the views of the sectarians were very different from those of the early Christians as recorded in the New Testament. One such case is the following-

No one shall deliver an animal on the Sabbath day. And if it fall into a cistern or a pit, one may not lift it out on the Sabbath. (ZADOKITE FRAGMENTS 11-13–14)

This text deals with two similar cases, both involving the question of whether one can set aside or otherwise relax the Sabbath laws to aid an animal on the Sabbath. Both cases concern issues about caring for domesticated animals on the Sabbath.

The prohibition against delivering a newborn animal on the Sabbath applies specifically to removing the fetus from the uterus. This action is prohibited by rabbinic law. In fact, the Rabbis prohibited any other help to the animal on the Sabbath. In this case, the Qumran sectarians agreed with rabbinic halakhah. Although both the sectarians and the Rabbis set aside the Sabbath restrictions to save a human life, including providing aid during childbirth, they did not set these restrictions aside for the benefit of animals.

The second part of this law concerns an issue apparently common in the agrarian everyday life of Second Temple times- animals that have fallen into pits. The Rabbis ruled that if an animal falls into a pit on the Sabbath, it should be given food to keep it alive. The later talmudic sages understood this ruling even to permit placing pillows or other devices there to allow the animal to climb out.

But rabbinic law still prohibited lifting the animal out of the pit, even if its life were endangered by remaining there. If rising water in the pit threatened to drown the animal, the case assumed here by the later Rabbis, it would be no different from the case of an animal’s giving birth, during which the life of both the mother and the offspring was at risk. The ruling was still the same- Sabbath rules could not be suspended or relaxed to save an animal.

In this matter, the sectarians again agreed with the view expressed in later rabbinic texts. But the New Testament indicates that the early Christians disagreed, perhaps reflecting a more lenient view common among other Palestinian Jews in this period. We know from Matthew 12-11 and Luke 14-5 that early Christian tradition considered it acceptable to draw animals directly out of a pit on the Sabbath. In this case, the sectarians and the Rabbis agreed; the sectarians and early Christians did not.

Closely related to this issue is the question of violating the Sabbath to save a human life. Did the sectarians accept such violation as permissible? This issue, long under debate, can at last be resolved with the help of the newly released cave 4 documents. The text of the medieval manuscript of the Zadokite Fragments, partly confirmed by a Qumran manuscript and in one case slightly emended, reads-

And as to any human being who falls into a place of water or into a reservoir, let no one bring (him) up with a ladder, rope, or instrument. (ZADOKITE FRAGMENTS 11-16–17 = Df 3 I 10–11 = De 10 V 19–20)

If one looks at this text with no preconceptions, it appears to outlaw setting aside the Sabbath restrictions to save a life. Apparently one may not use tools and equipment normally forbidden for Sabbath use even to save a life, for then one would be engaged in forbidden labor. Most scholars, including myself, have always refused to accept this understanding of the Qumran law, because it is so antithetical to the spirit of Judaism. Furthermore, the context of this law suggests that the sect did in fact accept violation of the Sabbath to save a life, because it is presented in contrast to the ruling immediately preceding, which forbids relaxing Sabbath rules in the case of an animal.

The idea of setting aside the Sabbath is a pillar of rabbinic Sabbath law. The Bible says about the laws of the Torah, “by the pursuit of which man shall live” (Leviticus 18-5), meaning that the commandments were given to ensure life, not to bring death. Further, the Rabbis, enlisting additional support from various verses, argued that it was better to violate one Sabbath in order to make sure that many more would be observed.

This principle was promoted by the Maccabees after a group of Hasidim (pietists) gave their lives early in the Maccabean Revolt rather than defend themselves on the Sabbath. Refusing to handle work-related equipment to block the entrances to their hiding places, the Hasidim proved that they regarded this prohibition as inviolable (I Maccabees 2-29–41). After the revolt, this law seems to have been firmly in place among virtually all Jewish groups.

To establish that the sect refused to violate the Sabbath to save a life, some scholars have argued that this law did not specifically concern using equipment, but rather was listing the ways people were usually saved. In effect, they regarded this law as a blanket prohibition against saving people. I have argued in response that what the law demanded was that one should not use those prohibited articles—ladder, rope, or tool—to save the life, but if possible should find another means that would not require setting aside the Sabbath rules concerning these tools. When I initially made my arguments, I was criticized for being apologetic and for harmonizing the sect’s laws with rabbinic sources. However, when the documents from cave 4 began to appear, I learned that I had been proven correct. Among the cave 4 fragments is a text called Serekh-Damascus. This document, an interesting piece of evidence about the history of sectarian literature, brings together some of the laws in the Zadokite Fragments with the Penal Code of Rule of the Community. In addition, it contains other laws not known from other texts. Its composite nature demonstrates that sectarian law was a living, developing phenomenon constantly giving rise to new compilations of lists of laws (serakhim). In this document we find a parallel to the Sabbath code we have been studying-

And if it is a human being who falls in[to] the water on the Sabbath [day,] he (the rescuer) should extend to him his garment to bring him up with it, but he should not pick up an instrument. (SEREKH-DAMASCUS 7 I)

Here we see the rescue prescribed according to the sectarian legal system; the sectarians do in fact believe that the Sabbath is to be set aside to save a life. The text contrasts this ruling with the preceding lines, which, as in the text of the Zadokite Fragments, concern an animal, which is not to be saved on the Sabbath. As I had originally suggested, the rescue was to be accomplished without the use of forbidden utensils, if possible. But if such utensils provided the only way to save a person’s life, we can be certain that the sect would have allowed their use. In this passage, sectarians were simply proposing that this be avoided—if at all possible.

Parenthetically it may be noted that here again we have come upon an incongruity between the sectarian approach and that of the early Christians. The New Testament (Matthew 12-1–8, cf. Mark 2-23–28) regards even feeding the hungry as a form of “saving of life,” permitted on the Sabbath. It argues that this positive commandment sets aside the negative one, that is, violating the Sabbath. In this case, the early Christians were the most lenient, but the Pharisees, with whom they argued, accepted this principle only when an actual risk existed. And the sectarians were even more strict by requiring that the use of forbidden utensils be avoided whenever possible.

Once again we see that the law of the sect can be understood only in the context of what we know about Jewish law in this period. Certain basic principles, such as the need to override the Sabbath to save a life, were shared by all groups, from the Hasmonaean period on.

We can now sum up the Qumran Sabbath law, including other laws not treated here, to create a general picture of sectarian Sabbath practice. Like the mishnaic treatise of Shabbat, the Sabbath code of the Zadokite Fragments deals primarily with labors forbidden on the Sabbath, not with the positive actions that are required as well.

The sect began its Sabbath on Friday night, some time before sunset, to be sure there would be no violation of the Sabbath. Any discussion of business was forbidden, including all financial matters and the planning of work to be done after the Sabbath. For this reason, it was forbidden to walk in the field on the Sabbath to plan further work. It was probably also forbidden to enter a partnership on the Sabbath.

The sect had two Sabbath limits- One permitted a person to walk only one thousand cubits beyond the city; if one were pasturing an animal, one could go an additional thousand.

All food had to be prepared before the Sabbath, including not only cooking (as in rabbinic law) but all aspects of preparation as well. Containers had to be opened in advance, and vegetables had to be peeled. Food and drink could be consumed only within the “camp,” the settled area. Other food and drink were regarded as not prepared before the Sabbath.

To avoid carrying on the Sabbath, a person on a journey had to drink directly from a water source since it was forbidden to draw water. Even within the camp, it was forbidden to carry from domain to domain. Children, likewise, could not be carried on the Sabbath. Nor were women permitted to wear ornamental perfume bottles. It was forbidden to have non-Jews do labor on one’s behalf on the Sabbath. A servant could not be instructed to do even permitted labor. It was expected that members of the sect would wear clean, deodorized clothes on the Sabbath. It may have been forbidden to fast on the seventh day.

Although the Sabbath limit was extended in order to pasture animals, nevertheless one was forbidden either to help deliver an animal being born or to draw it out of a pit on the Sabbath. In fact, the Sabbath could never be profaned for the sake of material possessions. The sect allowed violation of the Sabbath to save a life, but it demanded that such rescue be undertaken if at all possible without using instruments or tools forbidden to be handled on that day. Handling rocks and earth on the holy day was forbidden because these were objects not suited to the spirit of the Sabbath. The sect forbade spending the Sabbath anywhere other than in a Jewish environment and prohibited, apparently, the offering of sacrifices except for the Sabbath offering.

Even though the sect had separated from the Temple because the sectarians regarded Temple procedure as improper, they still legislated for Temple worship on the assumption that they would resume their participation after their approach had triumphed over that of their opponents. The Rabbis likewise continued, in the Mishnah and Talmud, to legislate for sacrifice long after the Temple had been destroyed.


The Zadokite Fragments contains also a full set of legislation regarding civil law, dealing with the same topics that are treated in the mishnaic order of Nezikin (Damages), although the topics are not discussed in as much detail. Even though the sectarian court system, laws of witnesses, and testimony are derived from biblical interpretation, we will find in the case of civil law much greater divergence from early rabbinic approaches than we saw in the case of Sabbath law. Further, in this area of law we will also encounter a greater nexus between the halakhic issues under discussion and the way the sect was organized. These laws clearly address the sectarian community, albeit one with private ownership, marriage, and family.

Because the foundation of any system of law is the judiciary, it is not surprising that the sect had very specific laws regarding courts and judges-

And this is the rule for the judges of the congregation, according to the time, four of the tribe of Levi and Aaron, and from Israel six, learned in the Book of Hagu and in the teachings of the covenant, from twenty-five years old to sixty years old. (ZADOKITE FRAGMENTS 10-4–8)

This text describes a court of ten, certainly not the norm in any other Jewish source we know. This court was to be composed of four members of the tribe of Levi, one a priest descended from Aaron the brother of Moses, and the other three to represent each of the other Levitical clans of Gershon, Kohath, and Merari.

The judges were to have studied the Book of Hagu (perhaps read “Hagi”), which was either the Torah or some particular sectarian book of laws. Various theories have tried to link this book with known compositions from the Qumran library. There is, however, no basis for identifying that text as the Temple Scroll. Nor should it be identified with one of the recently published Sapiential Works, as has also been suggested.

In addition to the laws of the Torah, these judges also had to know sectarian law. They were limited in age from twenty-five to sixty. In the Torah, twenty-five was the minimum age for Levitical service. Probably because the sect regarded itself as a substitute Temple, sectarians selected this number as the starting age for judicial service. The retirement age of sixty could have been derived only from the maximum age of valuation stated in Leviticus 27-3. This age was considered applicable, for as the text explains, it supposedly marked the onset of senility.

These judicial laws contrast markedly with later rabbinic usage. Although some early sources refer to groups of ten that performed certain legal functions, the Rabbis make no mention of a court of ten. The most prominent group of ten in Jewish tradition, of course, is the minyan, the group of ten Jewish adult males that makes up the quorum for public worship. Rabbinic law does not specify ages for judicial service. Although some rabbinic sources require that priests and Levites be part of the Great Sanhedrin, the high court of seventy-one members, this passage goes much further, assigning a greater judicial role to priests and Levites. Of course, this requirement is understandable coming from a group founded by dissident Zadokite priests.

Witnesses must also meet specific requirements-

Let no witness be accepted by the judges to put someone to death by his testimony whose days are not sufficient to pass among the mustered (and who is not) God-fearing. Let no man be trusted as a witness against his neighbor who violates any commandment intentionally, until (his deeds) have been purified (sufficiently for him) to return. (ZADOKITE FRAGMENTS 9-23–10-3)

Here we learn that witnesses were to be at least twenty, the age of majority in the sect, when young men were mustered and took an oath of adjuration to abide by the sectarian way of life. They were to be God-fearing—meaning, members of the sect. Finally, if they were not totally observant of the commandments, they could not be trusted as witnesses unless they had undergone a process of repentance. Although some have attempted to claim that the sectarians accepted women as witnesses, a view we considered in the chapter on women, that view must be rejected because it is based on a corrupt text and does not accord with the role of women described in other Qumran documents.

Even though other Jewish sources do not specify twenty as the minimum age for witnesses in capital cases, we have some indications that twenty might have been a general age of majority in Second Temple times. The age of thirteen, commonly termed Bar Mitzvah, meaning “obligated to observe the commandments,” was considered the minimum age for physical maturity, bringing with it ritual obligation and, hence, religious majority. By twenty, maturity could be confidently ensured, and, therefore, testimony could be accepted. This way of thinking, however, was at odds with that of the Pharisaic-rabbinic tradition.

This text accepts as witnesses only members of the sect, those who are “God-fearing.” Here we see the connection between legal requirements and the sectarian life. For if righteousness were attainable only through the sect’s way of life, then only those who observed that way of life were qualified to serve as witnesses. Others, obviously untrustworthy, had to be excluded. The law of witnesses, then, in its present form, was applicable only to the sectarian community.

An issue of considerable controversy among scholars is the number of witnesses required in legal cases. The section of text discussing this issue (Zadokite Fragments 9-16–23) is so difficult that its translation and analysis would take us far afield. Suffice it to say that in my view, the sect required two witnesses for financial matters and three for capital matters. Further, witnesses were permitted to testify before the examiner about independent occurrences of the same transgression, provided that the violator had been informed of the gravity of the transgression prior to committing the offense and that the offense had been duly recorded by the sectarian official. This is the process termed “reproof” that we examined in the chapter on halakhic midrash.

These laws are peculiar to the Zadokite Fragments and disagree with rabbinic halakhah. Although the requirement of three witnesses has some Second Temple parallels, it is not known as a legal requirement anywhere else but in our text. Furthermore, later talmudic law considered and rejected the notion of cumulative testimony to separate repeated occurrences of the same offense.
An exceedingly illuminating feature of the sectarian legal system was its method of attempting to recover lost or stolen property. In this regard, the Zadokite Fragments provides-

But anything which is missing and it is not known who stole it from the property of the camp in which it was stolen, its owner shall swear an oath of adjuration. Whoever hears, if he knows and does not tell, is guilty. (ZADOKITE FRAGMENTS 9-10–12)

This law states explicitly that it applies to a situation in which a sect member steals property within the “camp,” a term in the Zadokite Fragments for the sectarian settlements located throughout the country. The law thus addresses the case of theft specifically among sectarian group members. Further, this text, as well as for that matter the entire civil law code, assumes that sectarians have private property. Because of these features, many scholars claim that the law in this document applies only to those in the “camps” who did in fact own their own property. Consequently, they would claim that these laws did not apply in the Qumran center. However, we have shown that even in the Qumran center the system of property ownership provided for private ownership and communal use. So this restricted view of the law cannot be justified.

If property were missing, the sect employed an oath of adjuration to effect its recovery. Sectarians derived this procedure from the command found in Leviticus 5-1, “If anyone sins in that he has heard a public adjuration, and he is able to testify … , if he does not speak, then he shall be subject to (punishment for) his offense.” According to the sectarian interpretation of this passage, a person who heard such an adjuration was obliged to come forward and reveal the location of the lost or stolen property.

Therefore, anyone who knew the whereabouts of the missing property would, upon hearing this oath pronounced in public, feel compelled to reveal it. Although there is no similar law in rabbinic sources, we encounter such a procedure in medieval Jewish law. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing whether the medieval parallel is simply coincidental or whether it is a survival into the Middle Ages of an ancient sectarian practice documented in the Qumran scrolls. We should note that rabbinic sources do describe an oath employed to cause recalcitrant witnesses to testify, but that procedure functions only to compel testimony, not to recover stolen or lost property.

Since “oath of adjuration” is a term used specifically in the Bible to describe the oath administered to the woman suspected of adultery, it is most probable that this biblical legal procedure (Numbers 5-11–31) enabled sectarian legal scholars to fill in various missing details not even hinted at in Leviticus 5-1. From the law of the suspected adulteress we learn that suspicion alone was enough to require the oath. The sectarian oath was probably formulated as follows- Those adjured swore not only that they did not know the location of the stolen property but also that they accepted upon themselves a dire curse should they be hiding the truth. Probably the hearers of the oath were compelled to recite “Amen, Amen,” indicating that they too were bound by the oath, since such a requirement applied to the adjuration of the suspected adulteress.

The last of these civil laws that we shall examine discusses the restoration of property to an owner who cannot be located or determined. Here again, we may observe the priestly orientation of the law and the community it assumes-

(Regarding) every amount to be repaid which does not have an owner, the one making restitution shall confess to the priest and everything shall be his (the priest’s) except for the ram of the guilt-offering. And likewise, any lost object which has been found and has no owner shall go to the priests, for its finder does not know the regulation pertaining to it. If no owner is found for it, they (the priests) shall guard it. (ZADOKITE FRAGMENTS 9-13–16)

This passage first deals with how to make restitution in a case in which the rightful owner cannot be located or identified. This law is based on the Torah’s legislation dealing with the restitution of property kept by means of illegal and dishonest legal claims, most probably by means of false oaths (Numbers 5-6–8 and Leviticus 5-21–26). In such a case, the sect ruled that the restitution be made to the priest who received the money and the added penalty of one-fifth prescribed by the Torah. In addition, the sacrifice of a ram as a guilt-offering was to be made by the person making restitution.
The Rabbis understood these verses completely differently, taking them to refer to the property of a proselyte, a convert to Judaism. They believed that the words “If the man has no kinsman to whom restitution can be made” (Numbers 5-8) referred to a proselyte, because there could be no other Jew who could possibly have no relatives as heirs. Accordingly, for the Rabbis this biblical passage did not offer a general rule about the disposition of lost property.

In a case in which the owner was unknown, the sect required that the object be given to the priests for safekeeping, a practice probably adopted due to the complex questions, also discussed in the Mishnah, of how to care for the property and what to do if the property had a maintenance cost that could consume its value, as in the case of feeding a lost animal. It was assumed that the average person, no matter how well-meaning and upright, simply could not adjudicate these difficult matters.

But this entire procedure is difficult to understand in light of the requirement of Deuteronomy 22-2 that such property be kept by the finder until the owner can be located. Indeed, the mishnaic approach, whereby the finder keeps the property until the owner or his heir is located, seems much more consistent with the biblical prescription.

Then how did the sect come to this conclusion? Probably it understood the requirement—to take it to “your house” (bayit; Deuteronomy 22-2)—to refer not to the finder’s home but to the Temple, often designated as bayit, the house of God. Based on this understanding, the sect mandated that the lost property be given to the priests. In their own community, in which they did not participate in the rituals of the Temple, this ruling would make even more sense.

These examples have shown that the sectarians developed an extensive and detailed system of civil law to deal with the affairs of their members. Although their system varied in many ways from the later rabbinic one, it agreed in many matters as well.

Before we leave this topic, it will be worthwhile to summarize this system as a whole- The basic court had ten members. Judges were to be trained both in Scripture and in sectarian legal teachings. Specific age requirements ensured the competence of judges. Witnesses had to be members of the sect and, in capital matters, had to be older than twenty. Whereas two witnesses were sufficient for financial matters, three were required for capital cases. The testimony of fewer witnesses sufficed for the imposition of sectarian sanctions even when the testimony was insufficient for conviction. It was possible to make use of the cumulative testimony of single witnesses to successive commissions of the same crime, provided that the offense was duly recorded. All trials had to be preceded by the required formal reproof in the presence of witnesses before conviction was possible. In cases of lost or stolen property, laws provided for the use of oaths of adjuration that aided in the return of missing items. When illegally gained property was to be returned but the owner was absent, the property could be returned to the priests. If no one claimed lost property, it was entrusted to the priests for safekeeping.

This set of laws has been examined in order to show how in matters concerning Sabbath law, civil law, and even in some cases the conduct of sectarian affairs, the sect derived its laws differently from the ways other groups of Second Temple Jews and the later Rabbis did. In many cases, the differences resulted from differing interpretations of relevant biblical laws. Early Christianity, we noted, tended to be on the opposite side of the spectrum from the Qumran sect, representing a more lenient group than the Pharisees, whereas the sect tended to be still stricter. And we found that, in many aspects of the law, the sect’s views were either the same as or very similar to those of the rabbinic tradition. Even where they differ, they indicate a common agenda and even some common conclusions, alongside their many differences.

The next chapter examines the religious way of life of the Dead Sea Scrolls community and allied groups. Here we will observe the life of the sectarian not from the abstract point of view of legal codes, but from the evidence of actual practice.

Pages 273-287

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