The only reference to the phrase house of Absalom in the Dead Sea Scrolls appears in Pesher Habakkuk (1QpHab v.9), where its position in a dispute between two religious leaders is described as follows:

"Why are you staring, traitors, but are silent when a wicked man swallows up one more righteous than he? [Hb. 1.13b). Its interpretation concerns the House of Absalom and the men of its council, who kept silent at the reproach of the Teacher of Righteousness and did not help him against the Man of the Lie, who rejected the Law in the midst of their whole con[gregation]."

(1QpHab v.8–12)

The author of the pesher is disappointed by the attitude of the house of Absalom toward the Teacher of Righteousness, this group or family's behavior appearing to result in its alignment with the policies of the man of the Lie, or the Liar.

The historical identification of the house of Absalom and the meaning of the title are open to dispute. William H. Brownlee (1948) and those who agree with his position see here a cryptic reference to a religious party given the name of Absalom who rebelled against his own father, thereby symbolizing its unfaithfulness to the Teacher of Righteousness. By contrast, David N. Freedman (1949) and those who follow him see this as a reference to an actual historic figure named Absalom and his family or partisans. They suggest a historical family such as that mentioned in 1 Maccabees 11.70 and 13.11; a historical figure such as the one mentioned in 2 Maccabees 11.17 (Freedman); or even a later figure to whom Josephus refers in Jewish Antiquities (14.4. 4 [71]; Dupont-Sommer, 1964). The latter set of hypothetical identifications is not likely, and nominal identifications of specific persons are not customary in the scrolls. Conversely, in light of the terminology used in the scrolls, Brownlee's suggestion may be supported in the following way: Terms such as house (bayit) and the like are used in the scrolls to symbolize a definite group or party (Flusser, 1965). For example, we find the title, the house of Judah, and similar titles, referring to the Yaḥad (Qumran) community (Pesher Habakkuk, 1QpHab viii.1; CD iv.11; xx.10.13; cf. 1QS v.6; viii.5, 9; ix.6) and the house of Peleg, another cryptic name given to an opposing group (Damascus Document, CD xx.22–24; Pesher Nahum, 4Q169 3–4.iv.1), in which the name Peleg is used to symbolize a schism (cf. Gn. 10.25, Jub. 8.8).

This suggestion is supported by another term, the men of their council (῾etsah), used here to define the members of the house of Absalom rather than their followers. The term ῾etsah is used in the Hebrew scriptures for “counsel,” but in the Qumran scrolls it acquires the additional meaning of “council”: either “the council of the Yaḥad” (1QpHab xii.4; Rule of the Community, 1QS vi.14) and its members (1QpHab ix.10; Pesher Psalmsa, 4Q171 1–2.ii.18; Rule of the Congregation, 1Q28a i.3; Hodayota, 1QH vi.11, 13), or the council of their opponents, the “seekers after smooth things” (4Q169 3–4.iii.7–8).

Various identifications have been suggested for the historical event mentioned here, most of them related to the historical identification of the Man of the Lie and his partisans. One must nevertheless recognize that all identifications are only theoretical. Groups such as the house of Absalom or the house of Peleg, which separated from their parent body and attached themselves to others, may have been one of the socioreligious consequences of the dispute among religious leaders concerning which halakhic precepts should prevail in Israel. The existence of such groups reflects the dangerous situation of schism among the followers of the Teacher of Righteousness (cf. 1QpHab ii.1–4; CD xix.32–35; xx.10–12, 22–26) and within Second Temple Judaism as a whole.

[See also Peleg, House of; Pesher Habakkuk; and Teacher of Righteousness.]

Bibliography

  • Brownlee, William H. “The Jerusalem Habakkuk Scroll.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 112 (1948), 8–18. See especially page 17, n.36.
  • Brownlee, William H. The Midrash Pesher of Habakkuk, pp. 91–98. Society of Biblical Literature, Monograph Series, 24. Missoula, Mont., 1979.
  • Dupont-Sommer, André. The Essene Writings from Qumran. English version of Les écrits esséniens découverts près de la Mer Morte, 3d. ed., 1964. Translated by G. VermesDead Sea Sect and Pre. Gloucester, Mass., 1973.
  • Flusser, D. “The Dead Sea Sect and Pre-Pauline Christianity.” In Aspects of the Dead Sea Scrolls, edited by Chaim Rabin and Yigael Yadin. Scripta Hierosolymitana, 4, pp. 215–266. Jerusalem, 1965. See especially pages 233ff.
  • Freedman, David N. “The ‘House of Absalom’ in the Habakkuk Scroll.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 114 (1949), 11–12.
  • Nitzan, Bilha. Pesher Habakkuk. A Scroll from the Wilderness of Judea (1QpHab), pp. 52–53, 166–167 (Hebrew). Jerusalem, 1986.
  • Worrell, J. “‘Counsel’ or ‘Council’ at Qumran?” Vetus Testamentum 20 (1970), 65–74.

Bilha Nitzan

Translated from Hebrew by Jonathan Chipman