Theology of the Temple Scroll, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 1994.


Certain basic theological notions, forming the core of all approaches to Judaism in Second Temple times, undergird much of what appears in this scroll. The author no doubt regarded these beliefs, which he appropriated from the Torah, as constituting a uniform theology. To the author and his sources, God is the creator, the ultimate legal authority, and the object of worship. However, we find here none of the characteristic theology of the Qumran sect- no dualism, determinism, or even messianism. Rather, the scroll makes explicit only a few specific theological notions that motivate the author’s polemic against the dominant views of the Pharisees and of the reigning political and religious order in Hasmonaean Palestine.

Implicit in the literary style of the Temple Scroll is a theological claim about the authority of the laws presented here. Although the author derives his laws through a type of midrashic interpretation of the canonical (and, therefore, authoritative) Torah, he presents them as actually deriving directly from Sinaitic revelation. In one passage this notion is stated explicitly-

And do not become impure by (contact with) those (sources of impurity) which I relate to you on this mountain. (TEMPLE SCROLL 51-6–7)

Although the passage refers directly only to purity regulations, it is unquestionable that the author/redactor regards his entire “Torah” as divine.
In order to emphasize this point, the text regularly excises Moses from the picture, constantly rewriting the scriptural text to eliminate Moses as intermediary. In one passage the author/redactor seems to have slipped, allowing an indirect reference-

And the en[tire] right side of the gate of Levi and its left side you shall apportion to the sons of Aaron, your brother. (TEMPLE SCROLL 44-5–6)

But the overall picture presents God directly revealing the author’s legal views to the entire people standing at Sinai.

The Temple Scroll begins with the covenant between God and Israel found in Exodus 34-10–16. The Land of Israel is to be given by God to Israel as part of a covenant requiring separation from the nations and from their idolatrous practices-

[For that which I] am do[ing for you is awe-inspiring. I am about to drive out from before you] the A[morites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgash]ites, the Pe[rizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Take c]are of yourself, lest you enter a cove[nant with the inhabitants of the land] to whom [you are] going lest they become a sn[are among you]. (TEMPLE SCROLL 2-1–5)

The scroll emphasizes that Israel’s tenure on the land is conditional on its avoidance of idolatry. Perhaps the author identified idolatry with Hellenism, intending to polemicize against the Hellenizing tendencies already observable under John Hyrcanus (134–104 B.C.E.) and Alexander Janneus (104–76 B.C.E.). It was during the reign of one of these kings that the Temple Scroll was compiled. Alternatively, the original source on which the scroll is based may have been targeting the extreme Hellenizers of the early second century B.C.E. But of course in the original biblical text, the dangerous idolators were the Canaanites.

Basing itself on passages in Exodus and Deuteronomy, the text continues-

[Indeed] you must tear down their [altar]s, [smash their] pillars, cut down their [Asherim], and [burn] the graven images of [their] god[s with fire. You must n]ot covet (their) silver or gold, les[t you be ensnared by it, for it is an abomination to Me. You may not] take of it, so that you do not bri[ng (this) abomination into your house and become] accursed like it. (Rather,) you shall utterly dete[st and abhor it, for] it is an accursed thing. (TEMPLE SCROLL 2-5–15).

These words are in reality no more than an explicit quotation from the Bible. Probably the author has here chosen to stress pure monotheism to protest the syncretism inherent in the views of the more Hellenized Jewish groups.

At the top of column 3 (which is missing from the scroll) may have stood some adaptation of Exodus 25-8, “And you shall make Me a sanctuary so that I can dwell in their midst,” commanding the Jews to build the Temple. This notion is certainly one of the major themes of the scroll, derived from Deuteronomy 12-10–11. Here the scroll specifically commands that when the enemies of Israel give them rest in the land which God has given them, then they shall build the Temple in the place where God shall choose to place His name, that is, the sacred place of God’s presence. This new Temple, the fulfillment of God’s command in Deuteronomy, is to be even more perfect than the Temple of Solomon. It is this Temple alone that will be appropriate for the indwelling of God’s presence.

The notion of this perfect Temple, repeated numerous times in all sections of the scroll, most probably represents the ideology of the author/redactor who imposed it upon his sources, or it may have been an idea already shared by all the sources used in the composition of the Temple Scroll.

The main purpose of this text is to prescribe the sacrificial worship that may take place in this Temple and nowhere else. The author of the Temple Scroll stresses that only if sacrifices are conducted according to the particular ritual calendar of the text, including its added Festivals dependent on the solar calendar, will God cause His name, that is, His presence, to dwell in the Temple. The sacrifices are intended to bring God’s favor upon Israel, both strengthening the bond between God and His people and bringing about atonement for transgression.

The sacrificial rites outlined here are intended for the present age and the present Temple. In the End of Days, God will create a new Temple to replace the present one. Such a Temple is actually mentioned in Florilegium 1-2–3, where it is distinguished from that of the present age.

Pages 262-264

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