Zadokite Priests, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 1994.


Michelangelo, Ezekiel

Michelangelo, Ezekiel

At the very founding of the sect, Zadokite priests played a leading role. Yet even though we have considerable documentary evidence about their prominence in the sect, the role of the Zadokite priests may have been largely ceremonial or even anachronistic. As founders of the sect, the Zadokite priests probably passed from actual to ceremonial leadership as the sect attracted lay Israelite followers with the passing of time. Nonetheless, the Zadokites were certainly the initial leaders until the Teacher of Righteousness assumed control. If we accept the claim of the Zadokite Fragments that the period before the Teacher of Righteousness lasted only twenty years (Zadokite Fragments 1-9–11), then this part of the history of the sect lasted no more than a generation or so. Apparently, the Zadokite priests continued to play a leadership role for sometime after, although it is not clear for how long or how extensively.

These priests were clearly at the heart of the sect’s early ideology. The Zadokite Fragments describes in metaphoric terms the establishment of the sect as the remnant, that is, the only Israelites who truly maintained the commandments when everyone else in the Jewish community had gone astray (Zadokite Fragments 3-12–20). Then it quotes the promise of God through Ezekiel-

This is in accord with what God promised them through Ezekiel the prophet, saying, “The priests and the Levites and the Sons of Zadok who maintained the service of My Temple, when all Israel went astray from Me, they shall offer Me the fat and blood” (adapted from Ezekiel 44-15). “The priests”- these are the penitents of Israel who leave the land of Judaea and those who join them. “And the Sons of Zadok”- they are the chosen ones of Israel, the renowned men, those who arise in the End of Days.

This text is an interpretation of a passage in Ezekiel chosen for its reference to the Zadokite priests. In this interpretation, the phrase “the priests . . . the Levites . . . the Sons of Zadok” has been broken apart in order to describe three separate groups. First are the priests (who are certainly Zadokites), identified as the repentant ones who have abandoned the land of Judaea, probably referring here to Jerusalem. Ezekiel’s “Levites,” originally an adjective modifying “priests,” here is understood to refer to those who have joined the priests. Finally, the Sons of Zadok are identified as the chosen of God, those who will inherit the End of Days.

That these obviously anachronistic ideas are raised at all in biblical commentaries requires some explanation. The pesharim, as mentioned previously, are not commentaries as we know them, but rather contemporizing interpretations of specific biblical material. In them, the sectarian writers interpreted the visions of the prophets of the Hebrew Bible as referring to events in their own time. They searched for—and found, albeit sometimes in a very veiled manner—allusions to events and personages relevant to their current circumstances.

From this complex pesher interpretation (of which more examples are discussed in a later chapter), this author deduces that the sect was initially formed by Zadokites, who were then joined by others. In other words, the initial leaders were the Zadokite priests who left Jerusalem.

Rule of the Community also testifies to the primacy of this priestly group-

This is the rule for the men of the community who volunteer to turn aside from all evil and to hold fast to all which He has commanded according to His will- to separate from the congregation of the men of iniquity to be a community as regards Torah and property. And they shall answer according to the Sons of Zadok, the priests, who observe the covenant, and according to the majority of the men of the community who hold fast to the covenant. According to them shall go forth the decision regarding every matter of Torah, property or judgment. (RULE OF THE COMMUNITY 5-1–3)

Then follows a series of obligations for the sectarian. The text next goes on to describe the oath of admission to be taken by new members, a topic treated earlier. For the moment, we shall look at only one portion of this text.

He shall take upon himself with a binding oath to return to the Torah of Moses, according to everything which He commanded, with all his heart and all his soul, according to everything which is revealed of it (i.e., the Torah) to the Sons of Zadok, the priests, who maintain the covenant and seek (or study) His will, and according to the majority of the men of their covenant who volunteer together for His truth, and to conduct themselves according to His will. (RULE OF THE COMMUNITY 5-8–10)

Here the Sons of Zadok appear as leaders of the sect, but not as the sole seat of power. Rather, they are in association with the majority of the men of the community, who together are expected (as we know from other texts) to make all decisions regarding financial matters or Torah for the members of the sect.

The prominence of this group, based as it was on the Zadokite-Sadducean role in the founding years of the sect, took its cue as well from biblical tradition regarding this priestly clan. Zadok was one of Solomon’s two high priests. The Bible gives precedence to him, because his priestly colleague Abiathar was eventually banished (I Kings 2-26–27). It was therefore natural for a sect so closely linked to and inspired by biblical tradition to place the Zadokite priests in a position of leadership and authority. The sect found further validation for the legitimacy of the Zadokites in the vision of the future Temple and the sacrificial service described near the end of Ezekiel, which sets out an entire code of priestly service, limiting the priesthood to Sons of Zadok (Ezekiel 44-9–31).

The introduction to Rule of the Congregation, a messianic text from cave 1 (not to be confused with Rule of the Community), indicates that in the End of Days, the Zadokite priests would retain at least their ceremonial role-

And this is the rule for all the congregation of Israel in the End of Days- when they assem[ble as a community to li]ve according to the regulation of the Sons of Zadok, the priests, and the men of their covenant who have [turned away from living in the way of the people] . . .

The Assembly of the End of Days will be conducted under the direction of the Zadokite priests and their followers. Though it is possible that this role for the Sons of Zadok is only titular and ceremonial in this text, it is a role that acknowledges their initial function as founders and leaders of the sect. And though other officials would clearly join the Sons of Zadok in leading the community of the End of Days (Rule of the Congregation 1-23–25), the Zadokite priests would conduct the meetings of the Assembly (Rule of the Congregation 2-1–3).

Rule of Benedictions, which I believe was part of the ritual of mustering the sectarians in the End of Days, contains a blessing to be recited in honor of the Zadokite priests-

. . . whom God chose to strengthen His covenant [eternally and to ex]amine all of His laws in the midst of His people and to instruct them as He commanded, and who established [His covenant of tr]uth, and in righteousness commanded all of His laws and lived a[s] He had chosen.

In this passage, the Zadokite priests fulfill their role as instructors of the law and of its correct, that is, sectarian, interpretation. The sect believed that the Zadokites had been chosen from among God’s people to fill this role. The passage also confirms beyond a doubt that the term “Sons of Zadok” did not refer to the sect in general, but rather to a segment of the group entrusted with teaching and interpreting the law to others. It also shows that the sectarians expected that leadership role to continue in the End of Days.

The expectation that the Zadokite priests would play a messianic role seems to challenge the assumption that their leadership eventually became simply symbolic or anachronistic. In fact, the entire text of Rule of the Congregation is a rehearsal in the present for what was to occur at the End of Days. That is, the sect regarded its present behavior and procedures as instrumental in bringing to realization its dreams and aspirations for the future. Accordingly, the text suggests that when it was authored at least, the Zadokites still maintained an important role in the conduct of the sect’s affairs.

Such a leadership structure would fit well with the sect’s self-image as a replacement Temple. Because the Zadokites considered the current conduct of the sacrificial system in Jerusalem illegitimate, it makes sense that they would include priests among their core leadership group, replacing their former role in sacrificial worship with that of leaders of the sect. Indeed, the sect saw its entire religious life and communal existence as a substitute for the Temple worship in which they no longer participated.

Other priestly leaders may have also played a significant role in the life of the sect. A number of passages refer to Aaronide priests. For example, Rule of the Community specifies-

Only the sons of Aaron shall have control over law and property, and according to them shall the decision go forth for every norm of the men of the community. (RULE OF THE COMMUNITY 9-7)

In that text, and in others of its type, it is most likely the Zadokite priests who are intended, for in other passages that have been quoted here, sectarians appear to have delegitimized all others.
Yet we cannot be certain that other priests did not have a role in the sect, especially in light of numerous biblical traditions to that effect. After all, Deuteronomy 17-8–13 enjoins that in difficult cases requiring further investigation, the litigants are to go up to the chosen city to be judged by “the Levitical priests and the judge.” Deuteronomy 21-5, perhaps reflecting an idealized command, requires that all lawsuits be decided by priests. The priest was also expected to be a teacher of Torah, as is clear from Deuteronomy 33-10, and to render decisions in matters of impurity and diseases. Indeed, we cannot be sure if all of the priestly officials of the sect were Zadokite. Certain legal passages mention only the Sons of Aaron.

Pages 113-117

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