The Revealed and the Hidden, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 1994.


The bulk of the materials we shall discuss are sectarian, and thus we begin by laying out their basic views. Then we turn to additional materials in the collection and to the sect’s polemics against other approaches in order to learn about other contemporary systems of Jewish law.

The legal materials of the sect are to a great extent derived from biblical interpretation, an activity that took place at regular study sessions as part of sectarian life, most probably in the main center at Qumran. The decisions reached at such sessions were recorded in lists of sectarian laws called serakhim. Indeed, collections of laws or regulations of this type constitute the component parts of Rule of the Community and the Zadokite Fragments.

Where did these laws come from? In what ways were the laws not directly found in the Torah to be tied to God and His revelation? How did the sect view the process of interpretation that lay behind these laws?

When we examine the sectarian laws in detail, we will see that they were for the most part made up of snatches of biblical phraseology woven together. Only rarely do we find explicit quotation. By examining these paraphrases, we can discover the biblical basis upon which the sect arrived at its own particular views.

The sect divided the law into two categories—the nigleh, “revealed,” and the nistar, “hidden.” The revealed laws were known to all Israel, for they were manifest in Scripture, but the hidden laws were known only to the sect and were revealed solely through sectarian exegesis-

Everyone who joins the council of the community shall enter the covenant of God in the presence of all the volunteers, and shall take upon himself through a binding oath to return to the law of Moses, according to everything which He (God) commanded, with all (his) heart and with all (his) soul, in respect of everything which has been revealed (nigleh) from it to the Sons of Zadok, the priests who guard His covenant and seek His will, and to the majority of the men of their covenant who volunteer together for His truth and to live by His will. And he shall establish by a covenant upon himself to separate (himself) from all men of iniquity who walk in the path of evil. For they have not been reckoned in His covenant, for they did not search and did not study His laws, to know the secrets (nistarot) in which they erred, incurring guilt, and the revealed (niglot) they did (violate) defiantly … (RULE OF THE COMMUNITY 5-7–12)

In this passage the revealed laws refer to those explicitly stated in the Torah. All Israel was expected to know and observe these laws. Although the hidden laws were known only to the sect, the other groups were nonetheless held responsible for not observing them.

In general, the revealed laws left little room for debate about their observance. However, the hidden laws required the help of divinely guided exegesis to enable sect members to discover their correct interpretation. This process involved searching in the law, an activity not practiced by the sect’s opponents. Hence, the opponents did not have the correct views. These hidden laws had been revealed to the Sons of Zadok—the members of the Zadokite high priestly family—who founded and first led the sect.

That these hidden laws are those of the sect is emphasized in a passage in the Zadokite Fragments-

And with those who hold fast to the commandment(s) of God, who remained of them, God established His covenant with Israel eternally- to reveal to them hidden laws (nistarot) in which all Israel erred. His holy Sabbaths, His glorious Festivals, His righteous testimonies, His truthful ways, and the desires of His will, which man shall observe that he may live, He opened before them. (ZADOKITE FRAGMENTS 3-12–16)

Not only were these halakhic mysteries divinely revealed to the sect through study sessions, but these laws and the revelation behind them would change and develop over time. Such a concept is emphasized several times in Rule of the Community. One passage provides that sectarians who join are-

To walk before Him perfectly in all that has been revealed (niglot) for their appointed times. (RULE OF THE COMMUNITY 1-9)

In another passage, the maskil—the sectarian teacher—is expected-

To do the will of God according to everything that is revealed from time to time and to learn all the knowledge which is derived according to the times and the law of the time. (RULE OF THE COMMUNITY 9-13–14)

The hidden laws were thus progressively revealed and changed with the times. The sectarians held a similar view about the revealed law, that is, the law of the Bible itself-

This is the interpretation of the Torah [which] He commanded through Moses to observe, according to everything that is revealed (nigleh) from time to time, and as the prophets have revealed by His holy spirit. (RULE OF THE COMMUNITY 8-15–16)

The text intimates here that the prophetic books also represented a modification of the words of the Torah over time. The sectarians indeed believed that it was legally valid to use statements from the Prophets to derive laws. Later rabbinic tradition rejected this practice almost entirely.

The notion of revealed and hidden laws discloses to us a system of sectarian legal theology. The revealed law—that is, the Torah and the words of the Prophets—was known by all of Israel, who, nonetheless, violated it. The hidden, on the other hand, was known only to the sect. These hidden laws constituted the very points of disagreement around which the sect coalesced. The written Torah, originally revealed by God, had been modified later by His prophets through their divine visions. The hidden law, the nistar, had also developed over time and would continue to change, but it did not originate at the same time as the revealed Torah. Rather, it represented God’s constant, ongoing revelation of Torah interpretation disclosed to the sectarians during and through their study sessions. These two types of law complemented each other and together made up the system of Jewish law as understood and practiced by the sect.

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