In 1896, Solomon Schechter of the University of Cambridge, England, discovered two Hebrew manuscripts in the genizah (a storeroom for valued texts) of a Qaraite synagogue in Cairo. He brought them to Cambridge, England, where they were subsequently published, In 1910, as the Damascus Document. The first of the two, manuscript A (tenth century CE) contains eight sheets of parchment; manuscript B (eleventh/twelfth century) contains one sheet. Both sides of a sheet were used. Schechter numbered the sheets pages 1–16 and 19–20, respectively; page 19 of manuscript B parallels, with some important differences, pages 7–8 of manuscript A, thus enabling a continuous, but conflated, text to be restored. Page 20 is not paralleled in manuscript A.

The document is comprised of two sections. A paranetic section, the Admonition(s), contains Israel's history, the preservation of a righteous remnant after the Babylonian Exile, and criticism of current religious practice (1–4.12); laws governing a sectarian organization (4.13–7.10); and threats of punishments to outsiders and defectors (7.10–8.19; 19–20). The second section is a collection of laws governing settlements in “camps” and in “cities” (9–16). The name Zadokite Fragments derives from a reference in the work to the sons of Zadok; the alternate designation Damascus Document derives from a reference to an exile in Damascus.

Fragments of texts that either parallel or are similar to the Cairo manuscripts (designated CD for Cairo Damascus) have been found in three caves at Qumran near the Dead Sea (designated 4Q[umran]D[amascus]a–h, 5QD, 6QD). With the aid of these fragments, some scholars reconstruct an “original” Damascus Document in which CD 15 and 16 directly precede CD 9 and other Cave 4 fragments are inserted before CD 1 and after CD 14. However, fewer than half of the QD fragments actually parallel CD.

Schechter and others recognized CD as the product of a Palestinian Jewish sect from the Hellenistic period. Since the Qumran discoveries, CD has played a central role in the dating and identification of the Qumran community. It is acknowledged to contain the most extensive account of the historical and ideological roots of the group that produced it, traced back to the Babylonian Exile, when God revealed to it “the hidden things in which all Israel had gone astray” (3.14)—namely, calendrical and legal observances. These issues surface in other Qumran texts and seem to represent the original cause for the adoption by certain Jews, perhaps in the third or second century BCE, of a segregated life-style governed by a solar year of 364 days (not the standard Jewish lunar year of 354 days) and by their own interpretation of the law of Moses. Their settlements were governed by a mebaqqer (“overseer”) and a priest, and dealings with the Temple, and with other Jews and Gentiles, were strictly controlled. They regarded themselves as living in an “age of wickedness,” in which God's anger with Israel would persist, until “there will arise one who will teach righteousness at the end of days” (6.11).

The relationship between the Damascus communities and the community of the Qumran text known as the Rule of the Community (the yaḣad) remains unclear. Some scholars identify the two as one because of references in CD to a Teacher of Righteousness as the initiator of a recent penitence movement (CD 1). Many prefer, however, to regard the yaḣad as a splinter group because of its clearly different manner of organization and ideology. If so, the yaḣad must have written its own creation into the CD's history, perhaps in the light of its belief that the “one who will teach righteousness” had actually arrived. Parts of CD 20 appear to be directed from within the yaḣad against those who rejected the “Teacher.”

Schechter attributed CD to an otherwise unknown Zadokite sect from which the Dositheans were descended; Israel Lévi (1911) regarded them as Sadducees, but not of the kind depicted in the works of Josephus; Robert H. Charles (1912) saw them as reformed Sadducees. All these scholars identified the Pharisees as the opponents of the sect, although Louis Ginzberg found their laws to be essentially Pharisaic. Since the Qumran discoveries, an Essene identification has been popular; recent studies on CD's legal traditions (which are congruent with the Temple Scroll) again favor the Sadducees, however. The origins of the Damascus community have commonly been ascribed to the Maccabean period, but this conclusion is becoming less certain. Reference to “Damascus” may be taken literally, but Frank M. Cross has proposed that it means Qumran, while Jerome Murphy-O'Connor (followed by Philip R. Davies) has argued that it refers to Babylon.

Recent publication of the 4QD fragments has revived the study of the Damascus communities, with emphasis on the important part legal differences played in creating ancient Jewish sects. The nonlegal material in CD (to which the Qumran texts add little) also maintains a central place in research into the historical and ideological context of the Qumran scrolls, although no theory currently dominates.

[See also Dead Sea Scrolls.]


  • Baillet, Maurice. “Document de Damas.” In Le “petites grottes” de Qumrân, pp. 128–131. Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, vol. 3. Oxford, 1962. Publication of the 5QD and 6QD fragments.
  • Broshi, Magen, ed. The Damascus Document Reconsidered. Jerusalem, 1992. Critical text edition, including plates and apparatus, incorporating some Q materials by Elisha Qimron; an essay on the 4QD materials by Joseph Baumgarten; and a bibliography (1970–1989) by Florentino García Martínez.
  • Cross, Frank M., Jr. The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Biblical Studies. New York and London, 1958.
  • Davies, Philip R. The Damascus Covenant: An Interpretation of the “Damascus Document.” Sheffield, 1982. Analysis of the Admonition, including a discussion of the history of research on CD.
  • Ginzberg, Louis. An Unknown Jewish Sect (1922). New York, 1976. Fullest discussion of the legal material, though the identification of the group concerned is widely challenged.
  • Murphy-O'Connor, Jerome. “An Essene Missionary Document? CD II, 14–VI, 1.” Revue biblique 77 (1970): 201–229. Argues that the Damascus Community (identified as the Essenes) immigrated into Palestine from Babylon and formed a sect in the face of opposition to their laws.
  • Rabin, Chaim, ed. and trans. The Zadokite Documents. 2d rev. ed. Oxford, 1958. Includes text, translation, and notes, but no introduction.
  • Schechter, Solomon. “Fragments of a Zadokite Work.” In Documents of Jewish Sectaries (1910). Reprint, New York, 1970. Contains a bibliography for 1910–1969, and an updated introduction by Joseph A. Fitzmyer, correcting several misreadings in the original edition's introduction.
  • Wacholder, Ben Zion, and Martin G. Abegg, comps. and eds. A Preliminary Edition of the Unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls: The Hebrew and Aramaic Texts from Cave Four. 2 vols. Washington, D.C., 1991–1992. Contains a computer-generated reconstruction of 4QDa–h based on concordance entries, plus a concordance of CD passages paralleled in the 4Q fragments. See, in particular, pages 1–57, 102.

Philip R. Davies