The Qumran Supplication Texts., Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 1994.


Certain parallels to what rabbinic liturgy calls Tahanun (supplication texts) have also been identified in the caves. The Lament of cave 4 was copied in about 50–25 B.C.E. This text appeals to God to remember the downtrodden condition and disgrace of Israel and not to hand over the land to foreigners. God is asked to avenge the wrongs that the nations have perpetrated against his nation-

Do not give over our inheritance to strangers and our legacy to foreigners. Remember that [we are the … ] of Your nation and the abandoned ones of Your inheritance. Remember the children of Your covenant who are destroyed…. Look and see the disgrace of the children of [Your people …]. (LAMENT 1–2, 5–6)

Although this text is extremely fragmentary, we can still identify parallels in theme and content to the rabbinic supplication recited on Mondays and Thursdays (We-Hu’ Rahum). Although the Tahanun prayer in its present form has been dated to the Middle Ages, it apparently had ancient antecedents and probably drew from a tradition of previous prayers. Both the Qumran Lament and the rabbinic prayer clearly depend upon Joel 2-17, “Let not Your possession become a mockery, to be taunted by nations! Let not the people say, ‘Where is their God?’”

A similar composition is the Words of the Luminaries, preserved in three copies. The name of the text actually appears within the manuscript, a rare phenomenon in the Qumran library. Scholars have described this text as a collection of liturgical hymns for use on specific days of the week. Indeed, Wednesday, the “day of the covenant,” and the Sabbath, the “day of praise,” are explicitly mentioned. The passage preceding the Sabbath material identifies Friday—assuming this is the day described—as the “day of confession of sins.” Because the text is so fragmentary, we can presume that the other days are mentioned in sections that were not preserved.

Central to this text is the notion that although God had to punish his people for their transgressions, he spared them from complete destruction-

… and they worshiped a foreign god in their land. And also their land was destroyed by their enemies. For Your anger has been [pou]red out and Your wrath with the fire of Your zealousness, to destroy it so that there is no more traveler or passerby. Even so, You did not despise the descendants of Jacob nor revile Israel to destroy them and to cancel Your covenant with them. For You alone are a living God and there is none like You. And You remembered Your covenant that You had taken us out (of Egypt) in the presence of the nations and You did not abandon us among the nations. (WORDS OF THE LUMINARIES A 1–2 V 3–11)

This passage reflects notions of sin, destruction, mercy, and return found in the rebuke passages of Deuteronomy (29-23–30-6). These same notions are also prominent in the final section of the Halakhic Letter.

Also significant is the theme of asking forgiveness-

[… and ca]st [off] from [u]s all ou[r] transgressions, and pu[r]ify us from our sins, for Your own sake. For Yours O Lord is righteousness, for You have created all these. And now, at this time, for our hearts are submissive, we have paid the penalty for our sins and for the sins of our forefathers, because we sinned and because we lived rebelliously. (WORDS OF THE LUMINARIES A 1–2 VI 2–6)

This text draws on the confessional formula—“we have sinned, we have transgressed …”—antecedents of which are known from the Bible (Ezra 9-6–15) and from various Qumran documents and which was prominent in the Day of Atonement service in the Temple and later became part of the synagogue liturgy.

We can therefore identify this text as a series of daily supplications for liturgical use, one for each day of the week. The supplication for the Sabbath apparently avoided topics judged improper for the Sabbath day, specifically references to the tragedies that had befallen the people of Israel. This text would have been recited as part of an organized ritual. It is not possible to tell if this particular text was written for Temple service or for worship away from the Temple.

Although we cannot claim based on this evidence that rabbinic Tahanun texts go back to Second Temple times, we can state with assurance that some Jews, whose works are preserved at Qumran, were already reciting prayers with similar motifs as part of their prayer services in the first century B.C.E. Specific selections were used for the various days of the week. Already by the time the Words of the Luminaries was composed, a special version had been created for the Sabbath, acknowledging the day’s uniqueness as well as the inappropriateness of bringing up certain motifs on this holy day.

Pages 296-297

What do you want to know?

Ask our AI widget and get answers from this website