One of several scrolls found in Cave 1 at Qumran, near the Dead Sea, the War Scroll (1QM) was acquired by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and first published (posthumously) by Eliezer D. Sukenik in 1955; two rather small and inconsequential fragments appeared in Discoveries in the Judaean Desert (vol. 1, pp. 135–136). The fullest edition to date is that of Yigael Yadin, which includes an extensive introduction. It contains nineteen columns that describe a war sometimes defined as taking place between the “children of light” and the “children of darkness” (aided by the “Kittim”) but sometimes between Israel and the Gentiles. This and other variations in language and ideology suggest a composite document, whose sources have nevertheless been organized in a fairly coherent way.

Column 1 summarizes the entire war, opening with a battle between the children of light and the children of darkness—the latter being nations living in Palestine or on its borders (the traditional biblical enemies of Israel—Edom, Moab, Ammon, and Philistia) and in league with the Kittim, who are present in Syria and Egypt and whose “domination” is thereby ended. Columns 2–9 deal in more detail with subsequent battles between the twelve tribes of Israel and the nations of the world (based on Gn. 10). They involve six-year campaigns interspersed with sabbatical years, making a total of forty years of combat, including the initial battle. Column 2 opens with the restoration of the Temple cult in Jerusalem (in the seventh year of the war, after the defeat of the Kittim?). Columns 3–9 describe the inscriptions on trumpets and banners, the lengths of banners, battle arrays and weaponry, the ages of participants, and, finally, military maneuvers. Columns 10–14 comprise a variegated collection of liturgical pieces. Columns 15–19 describe in detail a seven-stage battle between the children of light and the children of darkness, directed by priests, assisted by heavenly hosts, and finally won by direct divine intervention (probably the one also described in col. 1).

The scroll thus combines a nationalistic scheme of world conquest by Israel with a seven-stage dualistic confrontation between the forces of light and darkness. The balance between fantasy and reality is precarious: the dualistic battle proceeds as if minutely choreographed; the nationalistic sections (cols. 2–9) contain some realistic data, such as the use of guerrilla tactics and lightly armed troops. Its genre has recently been compared with Hellenistic and Roman military manuals. It is certainly not an apocalypse. Its descriptions of the weaponry and tactics led Yigael Yadin to posit an imperial Roman date for it—and certainly most scholars see the Kittim in 1QM as the Romans. The scroll might be seeking to converge both dualistic and nationalistic eschatological schemes in a struggle against Roman domination. The manuscript probably dates to the late first century BCE or the first half of the first century CE.

Fragments found in Cave 4 at Qumran contain material similar to 1QM, which has led to attempts to construct an “original” War Scroll or to see 4QM as an abbreviated edition. Given the evidence of the sources in 1QM, it may be more likely that a variety of materials was in circulation concerning a possible future war, an idea rooted perhaps in the independent army constituted under the Hasmoneans.

[See also Dead Sea Scrolls.]


  • Baillet, Maurice. Qumrân grotte 4, vol. 3, 4Q482–4Q520. Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, vol. 7. Oxford, 1982.
    See pages 45–54 and 69–72 for, according to Baillet, fragments of a shorter recension of the War Scroll (4QMa–g[?])
  • Barthélemy, Dominique, and J. T. Milik. Qumrân Cave 1. Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, vol. 1. Oxford, 1955.
  • Davies, Philip R. 1QM, the War Scroll from Qumran: Its Structure and History. Rome, 1977.
    Detailed study of the sources and composition of 1QM
  • Duhaime, Jean. “The War Scroll from Qumran and the Greco-Roman Tactical Treatises.” Revue de Qumran 13.1–4 (1988): 133–151.
    Fullest treatment of the genre of 1QM
  • Yadin, Yigael, ed. The Scroll of the War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness. Translated by Batya Rabin and Chaim Rabin. Oxford, 1962.
    Excellent introduction, translation, and commentary

Philip R. Davies