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Interpretation of Scriptures

The picture of biblical interpretation at Qumran is but a piece of the larger mosaic of Jewish biblical interpretation in antiquity. Although it may not have comprised a major component of that body of exegesis during the Second Temple period, Qumran biblical interpretation now constitutes a principal element in our delineation of the overall system of early biblical interpretation. The significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls in this area is based not merely upon the number of manuscripts discovered, but also on the diversity in its corpus and the way in which the collection seems to mirror Second Temple Jewish literature as a whole. It can thus serve as a virtual representative of a much broader body of material.

Nearly all of the writings of the Qumran community, whether formally linked with scripture or not, are pervaded with scriptural interpretation. Fragments of all books of the Hebrew scriptures, with the exception of Esther, have been found at Qumran. Clearly then, the raw material for scriptural interpretation was available. Regardless of whether there was a biblical “canon” at Qumran and what its contents might have been, it is generally conceded that, however it was defined by the Qumranites, and whatever books it contained, the books of what is now known as the Hebrew scriptures frequently functioned as both the source and the framework for what the Qumran writers wanted to say and the way in which they said it. The genres employed for interpretation are so diverse, and the various parts of scripture are employed in such diverse fashions, that they force us to focus on the important fact that any picture that is drawn of Qumran scriptural interpretation must be a highly variegated one. Diversity of texts commented upon, methods of interpretation, genres of commentary, functions of commentary, and modes of presentation make variety itself a characteristic feature.

It should also be stressed that the very notion “Qumran interpretation of scripture” is a virtual misnomer, for there is no reason to assume that the Qumran documents, deposited in the caves over a lengthy period of time, whether brought to the caves or written in the Qumran community, derive from a group or groups that had a unified sense of the way in which scripture was to be read or a single conception of the message that it was to convey. Our classification of the texts, their characteristics, and their methods of interpretation should not be taken as intended to produce an integrated portrait of what is actually at best a mosaic. We can view the biblical interpretation of the Qumran scrolls as presenting a representative variety of the kinds of biblical interpretation that were presumably being carried out in Second Temple Judaism as a whole, with an admixture of uniquely Qumranic material such as, perhaps, the pesharim. [See Pesharim.]

The history of scholarship on Qumran biblical interpretation is instructive, since in many ways it serves as a microcosm of Qumran studies as a whole. The order in which the Qumran documents were discovered was responsible to a large degree for the guidelines and categories by which the genres of Qumran literature were described, and biblical interpretation was no exception. Thus the pesharim, especially the nearly complete Pesher Habakkuk (1QpHab), were the focal point of much early study, while the other biblical commentary from Cave 1, the Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen), lagged behind in attracting academic interest because of its poor state of preservation. It has only been with the publication of a broader range of Qumran texts that focus on the Bible, such as the many pesharim (4Q161–173), Florilegium (4Q174), and the Temple Scroll (11Q19), that properly nuanced discussion of scriptural interpretation at Qumran could be carried on.

Unsurprisingly, the books of the Pentateuch dominate at Qumran as objects of interpretation. In addition to texts such as the Genesis Commentaries, the Genesis Apocryphon, the Reworked Pentateuch, and the Temple Scroll, we find substantial literature pertaining to Enoch, Noah, and Levi, “Moses-pseudepigrapha,” other legal texts related to the Torah, as well as Jubilees and works related to Jubilees within the Qumran corpus. A very substantial proportion of Qumran pentateuchal interpretation pertains to Genesis, and even as far as that biblical book, there seems to be particularly heavy interest in the narrative of Genesis from Creation through the Aqedah (the binding of Isaac, Gn. 22.1–19). The other divisions of the Hebrew scriptures in their later form, the Prophets and Writings (cf. Miqtsat Ma῾asei ha-Torah [4QMMT C 10]), attracted less written attention. Among the latter prophets, Isaiah, Hosea, Micah, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Nahum were the object of pesharim, while Jeremiah and Ezekiel engendered works that have been classified by scholars as “Apocryphon of Jeremiah” and “Pseudo-Ezekiel.” It is somewhat striking that there is no generic overlap in the treatment of the two groups of prophetic texts.

The Aramaic Targum of Job (11Q10, hereafter 11QTargum of Job) represents the most extended interpretation on any book of the Writings. Beyond translation, focused and sustained interpretation of the Writings is to be found primarily in pesharim on Psalms from Caves 1 and 4, with only one of the manuscripts, Pesher Psalmsa (4Q171), being at all substantial. Three so-called “thematic” pesharim, Florilegium (4Q174), Catenaa (4Q177), and Melchizedek (11Q13), also contain interpretive material on Psalms, with the latter commenting on Daniel as well. Based on the extant fragments, it is difficult to classify the pseudo-Danielic material (4Q243–245) as scriptural interpretation.

The study of biblical interpretation at Qumran (once again, like that of early Jewish interpretation generally) can be approached from a variety of valid perspectives. This survey is organized around the following categories: types of biblical interpretation; forms or genres of biblical interpretation; and methods of biblical interpretation. The first of these categories characterizes briefly the typological varieties of interpretation that are found in those works; the second, in somewhat greater detail and from a formal perspective, the kinds of works wherein we find biblical interpretation at Qumran; and the third, the techniques and methods through which those interpretations are derived from the biblical text.

Types of Interpretation.

Classifying the types of biblical interpretation that are found at Qumran is more difficult then surveying its genres or describing its methodologies. One utilitarian perspective arranges types of interpretation along a range, which stretches from a straightforward literal exegesis demanded by a text (along the lines of that which is described as peshaṭ in later Jewish literature) to the most extreme eisegesis, wherein the biblical text becomes the pretext for an ideologically or theologically colored “reading” that is superimposed upon it. In between these we find simple sense readings, which conform to, but are not demanded by, the text, and readings that might be the sense of the text, but that are selected by the interpreter largely for ideological reasons. At Qumran we can find types that range across this whole spectrum, and the boundaries between the “types” are usually not clearly delineated.

The Qumran (or other Second Temple) interpreter faced a variety of difficulties: some real; some imagined. Linguistic problems had to be solved; perceived gaps in a narrative had to be filled in; repetitive or contradictory stories and laws had to be integrated or harmonized; stories that contained matter at variance with the moral tastes of later generations needed to be adjusted. At the same time, the interpreter could also delve into the text in order to attain the fullest meaning of God's word for his generation, as he searched scripture for answers to questions, which, from the perspective of the modern reader, scripture does not seem even to ask. The interpreters in the Dead Sea Scrolls were offering only one (or more) of a range of interpretive options that existed in Second Temple Judaism, and their readings must often be read as in dialogue with, or as polemic against, those of other Jewish groups. G. Vermes has distinguished between these two types as “pure” and “applied” exegesis, respectively, but it is not at all clear whether the ancient interpreter would have made such a distinction. Indeed, although the distinction is at times quite valuable, it is often difficult, even with our hindsight, to draw the line between “pure” and “applied.”

The question is further complicated if we allow for the possibility that not everything we consider as “interpretation” is textually generated, even by the standards of very close reading and gap-filling, which seem to have characterized ancient exegetes. The expansions of biblical narratives (and occasionally biblical legal material) with completely extrabiblical material, which need not be exegetically linked to the Hebrew text, certainly belong to the category of interpretation, but are hard to classify according to type.

If we try to classify some of the interpretive texts from Qumran against this background, we will find that most interpretive texts contain different sorts of exegesis side-by-side. The Genesis Apocryphon works out and smooths out details of the narratives in the Bible about Noah and Abraham in a manner that responds to the “bumps” in the biblical text, but also seems to find place for introduction into its narrative of legal practices that were of particular interest to the Qumran sect. Portions of Commentary on Genesis A (4Q252) seem to be directed at resolving “simple sense” exegetical difficulties (4Q252 ii.5–7, 8–10), but others seem to be focused on sectarian interests such as the chronology of the Pentateuch (i.1–ii.5) or on locating certain sectarian beliefs within the biblical text (v.1–5).

The pesharim, of course, stand at one extreme of the spectrum; almost all of the interpretation in them aims at locating sectarian history and theology within the interpretation of the biblical text of the Prophets or Psalms through the identification and association of names and events from the Bible with the personalities and history of the authors' own day. Any attempt to interpret the biblical text in the modern sense appears to be very secondary to the prophet's hidden message, which the authors are striving to reveal.

In the case of virtually all legal texts from Qumran that have scriptural interpretation, a spectrum of interpretive types may be observed. Generically diverse works such as the Temple Scrolla (11Q19), Damascus Documenta–h (4Q266–273; CD), and 4QMMT (4Q394–399) all contain exegesis of the legal portions of the Torah. The reading of the biblical text is often of the sort that can comfortably be described as “simple sense,” but the textual support is often for laws that are the subject of debate between the Qumran group and its opponents. “Simple sense” interpretation thus serves tendentiously as the support of a legal system.

Genres of Biblical Interpretation at Qumran.

When we turn to the forms of interpretive works, we observe the range of literary genres wherein biblical interpretation is to be found either as a primary or secondary function. It is especially necessary to distinguish between these two groups because, on the one hand, formal commentary differs generically from the other types, and, on the other, because to omit the nonformal commentaries would be to overlook the very pervasive nature of biblical interpretation in the Qumran scrolls as a whole. It also should be stressed that Qumran biblical interpretation, like other forms of biblical interpretation in antiquity, often did not resemble modern, “objective,” reading of the text. The Bible was not merely the object of study for the Qumranites, it pervaded their lives, prescribing both practice and belief. The study of, or meditation on, scripture was part of their daily (and nightly) religious and intellectual activity (see Rule of the Community [1QS vi.6–7]), and the unidentifiable Teacher of Righteousness was an inspired interpreter of prophetic texts (Pesher Habakkuk [1QpHab vii.3–5]).

Interpretation in interpretive genres.

Biblical interpretation can be seen immediately as the goal of a variety of works from Qumran, particularly those labeled by modern scholars as pesher or “commentary.” These at times resemble the commentary form, which persists to the present day. The structure of such works, with the presentation of a lemma from the biblical text followed by interpretive remarks, makes it obvious that the Bible is the object of what we describe as interpretation. When the pesharim were discovered and read, beginning with Pesher Habakkuk in the early 1950s and followed by about fifteen other subsequently published exemplars, they provided scholars with a completely new type of ancient biblical commentary. Its form was indisputably commentary, although the kind of commentary it contained was not the straightforward explication of the text to which modern readers were accustomed, but one that located the message of the biblical text in the interpreter's day, with the fulfillment of the biblical prophecy being seen in contemporary events. The commentary's solution to the enigmatic prophecies often remains enigmatic to the modern student, and perhaps to some ancient readers as well, because the identities of groups and characters alluded to in the Bible are hidden behind “code” terms, which must have been clear to the author and the initiates of his group.

In the 1980s and 1990s, it became clear that the pesharim were not the only commentary form to be found at Qumran, and that the books of the prophets were not the only objects of commentary. In particular, four texts (4Q252–254a) containing remarks on different parts of Genesis were labeled “Commentaries on Genesis A-D.” Although their remains, with the exception of Commentary on Genesis A (4Q252), are meager, that one manuscript exhibits a number of significant features for the classification of Qumran interpretation. Not all of Commentary on Genesis A is lemma + comment-type, and parts of it seem to derive from something resembling “Rewritten Bible,” but what is clear is that it is not a systematic retelling of the biblical text, and therefore must be distinguished generically from “Rewritten Bible.” It is also not even a commentary on all parts of Genesis, and that distinguishes it from many of the pesher-type commentaries, the discovery of which preceded it, because those commentaries usually present a verse by verse exegesis on the biblical text. What appears to characterize these commentaries, if we may use the best-preserved Commentary on Genesis A as a paradigm, is their selectivity and their willingness to comment, in whatever fashion, on specific texts and not on the biblical book as a whole.

The other major interpretive genre at Qumran is the so-called “Rewritten Bible.” Under this term we include texts that retell, summarize, or present in altered fashion the narratives or laws of the Hebrew scriptures. All rewriting is commentary, and the methodology of selection, rearrangement, supplementation, and omission in the process of rewriting is a form of commentary, even if the interpretive aspect is not always overt at first glance to the reader who is not closely attentive to the original text being rewritten. It is possible that “Rewritten Bible” represents the earliest generic attempt to comment on the Bible before the more economical “commentary” form was developed. Before the Qumran discoveries this ancient genre was extant only in such works as Jubilees, Josephus's Jewish Antiquities, and pseudo-Philo's Biblical Antiquities. [See Rewritten Bible.]

The Qumran caves enriched considerably the range of extant examples of this literary type, while simultaneously presenting some problems to the modern interpreter. At one end of the spectrum, on the border between biblical texts and biblical interpretation, stand the “Rewritten Bible” texts, which have been named by their editors “Reworked Pentateuch” (4Q158 and 4Q364–367). Inclusion of these works under the rubric of “interpretation” can be taken to imply that they are not biblical texts, but it is possible that, from the standpoint of their authors, as opposed to that of the modern scholar, they are biblical, with the process of interpretation taking place within rather than upon a text (cf. the relationship of the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Masoretic Text). [See Reworked Pentateuch.]

The lengthy rewriting of the Pentateuch in this modified form, which, it must be stressed, differs considerably among the several manuscripts given this title, rearranges segments for the sake of clarity, introduces interpretive comments, and occasionally adds new material. For long stretches some of these texts resemble some form of the biblical text itself. Thus the breadth of the rewriting, together with the fact that there are few major additions, makes the interpretive aspect of these manuscripts rather small in proportion to their lengths (4Q158 may be an exception to this description). In a like fashion, some of the “deviations” from the Masoretic Text in a biblical manuscript like 1QIsaiaha may not all be due to variant textual traditions, but rather to interpretive rewriting. Distinguishing between variant text and exegetical rephrasing is a delicate matter regarding which scholars are virtually bound to disagree, and in the case of some of the Reworked Pentateuch material from Cave 4 a final decision has yet to be rendered as to their “biblical” or “nonbiblical” nature.

When we turn to works that are clearly distinguishable as nonscriptural, Cave 1, once again, provides an early example, the Genesis Apocryphon, which, in its extant portions, retells in Aramaic parts of the Noah and Abraham narratives of Genesis. Occasionally close enough to the Hebrew text to be a virtual targum, it also offers paraphrase and “midrashic” expansion of the biblical story. The Temple Scroll, discovered later, is rewritten Bible of a legal sort. The first part of the scroll describes the festivals and their sacrifices and the construction of the Temple in a fashion both structurally and stylistically modeled on the Pentateuch. The latter section of the scroll (li.11–lxvi.17, called by some the “Deuteronomic paraphrase”) gathers biblical laws under common rubrics, rearranging the pentateuchal legal material, and occasionally adding laws that have no overt scriptural basis. Because its language remains so closely modeled on the biblical, we can often follow the Temple Scroll's manipulation of the pentateuchal text with great ease, and detect the places in which it has altered the original or handled it in such a fashion as to indicate a particular reading of the original. [See Genesis Apocryphon.]

A genre that is interpretive in a somewhat different fashion is the so-called thematic pesher mentioned earlier, which collects and interprets verses from diverse parts of the Bible around a particular issue. Both the anthologizing itself and the comments on the texts constitute scriptural interpretation. In particular, the employment of material from one book of the Bible as part of the exegesis of another demonstrates the sense of the interrelationship of various parts of the Bible held by the authors of the texts. Florilegium (4Q174) and Catenaa (4Q177) focus on Psalms, but cite texts from the Pentateuch and the Prophets in the course of their interpretation, while Melchizedek (11Q13) does not appear to be as firmly located in a single biblical book and follows its theme through the Pentateuch, Isaiah, Psalms, and Daniel. One of the Isaiah pesharim (Pesher Isaiahc [4Q163]) also introduces references to other prophetic books (Hosea, Jeremiah, Zechariah) into its commentary on Isaiah.

Interpretation in noninterpretive genres.

Not all Qumran biblical interpretation, however, is to be found in texts that focus on the Bible. In texts that are heavily legal in content, such as the Damascus Document (CD), the Rule of the Community (1QS), and 4QMMT (4Q394–399), we find exegesis in both legal and nonlegal sections. The orientation of the Qumran group to the Bible appears to have demanded biblical support for theology as well as law. Thus, the Damascus Document or Zadokite Fragments (CD) interprets and employs biblical passages in both of the sections into which it has been divided, the Admonition and the Laws (a distinction that has grown progressively difficult to assert after the full publication of the 4QDamascus Document texts). The Bible is in no way the framework for either so-called division of the work, but its influence is pervasive on both of them.

Miqtsat Ma῾asei ha-Torah (4Q394–399), the so-called halakhic letter, is clearly not as scripturally based as the Temple Scroll, but it is difficult to deny its connection with scripture. It does not derive laws from scripture, but in listing the halakhot which it addresses, Miqtsat Ma῾asei ha-Torah actually employs scripture as the model for its language. The legal section B of Miqtsat Ma῾asei ha-Torah is heavily influenced by Leviticus and Numbers.

There are other literary forms at Qumran, such as prayers and others of less easily identifiable genres, that have been given such names as “paraphrase,” “exposition,” “admonition,” and the like by modern editors, which also include or reflect scriptural interpretation. If a biblical narrative is employed in a hortatory fashion or made part of a historical survey contained in a prayer, scriptural interpretation is inevitably present. Thus in the final section of Miqtsat Ma῾asei ha-Torah, the so-called “Exhortation,” the phraseology is heavily influenced by the diction and theological themes of Deuteronomy. Finally, although perhaps furthest removed generically from “interpretation,” the Hodayot are composed in language that is saturated with that of the Bible, and the employment of biblical phraseology in the poetry often sheds light on the way in which the poet of the Hodayot would have interpreted Scripture.

Methods and Techniques of Interpretation: A Selection.

The methods, or techniques, of interpretation at Qumran, with the exception of pesharim, are not unique to this corpus of literature, but are shared with other Second Temple documents and rabbinic texts as well, and some may even find their origins within the Hebrew Bible itself. They are not linked exclusively to the ideology of the Qumran group although they are sometimes employed in support of that ideology.

Thematic association.

Thematic association is one of the most prominent methods of interpretation found in the Qumran texts, and it includes a variety of specific interpretive methods. Thus, the juxtaposition of biblical passages that share a common theme, whether legal or nonlegal; the harmonization of passages on the same or similar theme; and the linking of passages through common vocabulary are all forms of thematic association employed in Qumran biblical interpretation.

Harmonization and rearrangement are aspects of this procedure employed by the Qumran biblical interpreters in both legal and narrative material. At times their goal is the convenient assembly of material, found originally in diverse parts of the biblical text, into a single location. This systematization and collocation of related material is one fundamental form of interpretation. These methods are also employed in order to resolve difficulties in the text, whether of contradiction between two biblical passages or the apparent lack of sequentiality within a biblical narrative.

The Reworked Pentateuch texts omit the laws of Numbers 5–6 so that the narrative proceeds from the appointment of the Levites in Numbers 4.47 to the construction of the Tabernacle in Numbers 7.1 (4Q365 28). The laws of the festival of Sukkot, which appear in Numbers 29 and Deuteronomy 16, are juxtaposed in 4Q366 4 and may have been followed, according to the editors of the Reworked Pentateuch texts, by the laws of Sukkot in Leviticus 23. In their narrative portions, as well, we find the dialogue between the Israelites and the Edomite king harmonizing the accounts of Numbers 20 and Deuteronomy 2 (4Q364 23a–b i) in a manner similar to, but not identical with, that of the Samaritan Pentateuch. In Reworked Pentateuchc (4Q365 36), the two incidents pertaining to the daughters of Zelophehad (Nm. 27 and 36) are placed together (cf. Numbersb [4Q27 31–32]).

Temple Scrolla shows an even greater tendency toward the gathering of legal material with similar subjects from different places in the Torah into common locations. The intent was apparently to produce a “better organized” Torah than the Mosaic one. An extended example can be found in 11Q19 lii–lv where the biblical text Deuteronomy 17.1, which prohibits the sacrificing of blemished animals, engenders a series of laws about slaughtering, some biblical and some extrabiblical, including the laws against sacrificing a mother and her child on the same day (Lv. 22.28). Other laws about animal slaughter deriving from Deuteronomy 12 and 15 and Leviticus 17 are introduced in a harmonizing fashion. Moving from the laws on slaughter in Deuteronomy 12 to a law on vows in Deuteronomy 12.26, the Temple Scroll then moves to Deuteronomy 23.24 on vows, followed by the major pentateuchal passage on vows deriving from Numbers 30. This is then followed by Deuteronomy 13, several laws pertaining to idolatry, and then by the equivalent of Deuteronomy 17.2 introducing another passage on idolatry and continuing from the point at which the rearrangement within this section began.

The Genesis Apocryphon has minor rearrangements of material at several points in the extant fragments, the goal of which appears to be the creation of smoother narrative by furnishing information to the reader at an earlier point than its appearance in the biblical text. Thus Hagar is introduced into the Apocryphon's narrative at the point of Abram's leaving Egypt in order to account for her presence in Genesis 16.1. The words from Genesis 20.13, which Abram is said to have spoken to Sarai at the beginning of their wanderings, are actually inserted into the narrative's equivalent of Genesis 12.12–13, thus making the biblical narrative smoother and consistent.

Specification and atomization.

Since the biblical text is often terse and nonspecific, the interpreter often must employ what might be termed specification, assigning specific identification or meaning to nonspecific references. This technique, employed by Qumran interpreters of both legal and nonlegal biblical texts, might be said to underlie much pesher exegesis in which the interpreter assigns specific meaning to the nonspecific words of the prophet, thereby revealing to his reader the hidden intention of the prophet. Thus the “wicked one” of Habakkuk 1.13 is “the man of the lie” in Pesher Habakkuk (1QpHab v.11); the “righteous one” who will live by his faith (2.4) is associated with the “keepers of the law in the house of Judah” (v.1); and the “arrogant man” of Habakkuk 2.5 is associated with the Wicked Priest (1QpHab viii.8). The “wicked” of Psalm 37 are taken in Pesher Psalmsa (4Q171) to refer to the opponents of the Qumran group, while the “righteous” are claimed by the author to be himself and his colleagues. In a nonpesher context, the unidentified escapee (Gn. 14.13) who tells Abraham about the capture of Lot at Sodom is identified as “one of the herdsmen of the flock which Abram gave to Lot” in the Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen xxii.1–2).

Such pesher-type readings (whether or not they appear in formal pesharim) are often “atomized,” ignoring the contextual meaning of the phrase or clause under consideration, or the punctuation between verses in order to decode its contemporary referent. Thus when the author of Damascus Document iv.12–19 interprets the “terror, pit and snare” of Isaiah 24.17 as referring to three sorts of sins of which his opponents are guilty, he has stripped the verse of its probable contextual sense according to which the three terms represent the catastrophic disasters of an apocalyptic day of judgment. In a legal context, the key word in the phrase “Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy” (Dt. 5.12) is not taken as a general prescription, but as regulating one's behavior by avoiding forbidden activity late Friday afternoon (CD x.14–17).

Legal methods.

In legal contexts, it is clear that the Qumran interpreters at times read the biblical text strictly rather than loosely. Thus in 4QMMT, the gifts of the first planting of fruit trees and the animal tithe (Miqtsat Ma῾asei ha-Torah B 62–64) are assigned to the priests (unlike their treatment in rabbinic halakhah), based on the strict reading of Leviticus 19.23–24 and 27.32, “holy to the Lord.” The priest who burns the ashes of the red heifer must be totally purified (once again in opposition to the rabbinic position) because Qumran law insisted on reading the biblical “pure” (Nm. 19.9) in the most limiting fashion.

At the same time, legal exegesis may expand the meaning of the pentateuchal text. The prohibition against defrauding (Lv. 25.14) is interpreted to mean in Damascus Documentf (4Q271 3.4–6) that the seller must disclose defects in his wares to the buyer, and the failure to disclose the faults in a prospective bride to the potential groom (7–10) is characterized as “leading the blind astray from the road” (Dt. 27.18). Opposition to divorce (CD iv.21–v.2) is grounded in two narrative passages, “male and female he created them” (Gn. 1.27), and “they went into the ark two by two” (Gn. 7.9), coupled with the interpretation of Deuteronomy 17.17, “he shall not multiply wives for himself,” as meaning that even the king may not take many wives.

Linguistic analogy (similar to the rabbinic gezerah shavah) is implicitly employed in Temple Scrolla (11Q19 l.17–18). The texts regarding the false prophet (Dt. 18.22) and a dishonest judge (Dt. 1.17) are the only pentateuchal occurrences of the phrase lo᾽ tagur(u) (“you shall not be afraid”). Since a false prophet is to be put to death, reasons the scroll, so is a judge who takes bribes. A logical form of analogy seems to be employed in the argument that the laws of consanguinity operate for both males and females, so that uncle-niece marriage is to be prohibited on the same grounds as aunt-nephew marriage (Lv. 18.13; CD v.7–10).

Introduction of completely new material.

Finally, scriptural interpretation at Qumran must also be taken to include the introduction of material that is virtually wholly new into readings of the biblical text without any stimulus for it within the text. On a legal level, the lengthy section of Temple Scrolla that is generally referred to as the “Law of the King” departs at great length from the straightforward interpretation of the passage in Deuteronomy about the appointment and regulation of a king, and incorporates the treatment of topics that are completely unfounded on the scriptural material. Yet it is located within the running paraphrase of deuteronomic legislation set out by the author. The same is true of nonscriptural details in Pseudo-Jubileesa (4Q225) or in lengthy passages of the Genesis Apocryphon where, in the course of retelling the biblical narrative, the narrator includes details not exegetically derived from the Bible. The extrabiblical speech of Rebecca in Reworked Pentateuchb (4Q364 3.ii.1–6) is typical of this type.

Comparison with Other Biblical Interpretation in Late Antiquity.

Although it is clear that the Qumran scrolls are geographically isolated as a collection, it must be stressed that they nevertheless constitute a perhaps nonisolated selection of Jewish literature in late antiquity, and, as has been noted, this is as true in the area of biblical interpretation as in any other. The methods and terminology employed in citing biblical texts at Qumran are strikingly similar to those employed both in the New Testament and in rabbinic literature. The Aramaic targum (translation) of Job from Qumran can clearly be seen to stand on the same continuum as the later Aramaic versions, while the Genesis Apocryphon straddles the boundary that is drawn later between midrash and targum.

The kinds of legal interpretation that are found in the Qumran scrolls are similar to the types of readings that are found in later rabbinic and targumic literatures. Even when the rabbis derive a different law from the text than the Qumran exegete, the way in which Scripture is read to extrapolate the law is often the same. In that fashion, later rabbinic legal and nonlegal exegesis is part of the same continuum with the forms of interpretation that we find at Qumran, even if it is not literally a continuation of that interpretation. Like the Qumran interpreters, the rabbis specify what is nonspecific in the Bible, atomize texts by decontextualizing them, introduce new material (aggadot) into narratives, and associate and harmonize related texts with each other. Many of the problems that challenged Qumran interpreters confronted the rabbis as well, and after allowances have been made for the differing theological stances of the two groups, we can see how similar difficulties were often faced in similar ways.

Not all aspects of Qumran interpretation, however, found their continuation in rabbinic literature; pesher-type exegesis especially seems to be lacking. That type of prophecy-fulfillment interpretation, however, seems to survive in early Christianity, the other heir of Second Temple Judaism. In this model, texts from the Hebrew prophets are taken to be applicable to the days of the commentator. For the Qumran commentator, the eschatological prophecies were to be fulfilled in the era of the Teacher of Righteousness, while for the authors of the New Testament it was during the time of Jesus. Furthermore, such documents as Melchizedek may be seen as belonging to the exegetical milieu that generates the interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Bibliography

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  • Bernstein, Moshe J. “4Q252: From Re-Written Bible to Biblical Commentary.” Journal of Jewish Studies 45 (1994), 1–27.
  • Bernstein, Moshe J. “The Employment and Interpretation of Scripture in 4QMMT: Preliminary Observations.” In Reading 4QMMT: New Perspectives on Qumran Law and History, edited by John Kampen and Moshe J. Bernstein, pp. 29–51. Society of Biblical Literature Symposium Series, 2. Atlanta, 1996.
  • Bernstein, Moshe J. “Re-arrangement, Anticipation and Harmonization as Exegetical Features in the Genesis Apocryphon.” Dead Sea Discoveries 3 (1996), 37–57.
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Moshe J. Bernstein

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