The phrase “Prince of the (whole) Congregation” (nasi [kol] ha-῾edah) occurs some ten times in the Dead Sea Scrolls (CD vii.19–20; 1QSb v.20; 1QM v.1; 4Q161 2–6.ii.19; 4Q266 3.iv.9; 4Q285 4.2, 6; 5.4; 6.2; 4Q376 1.iii.1), nine times if allowance is made for overlapping texts. Four other references to nasi probably refer to this personage: the isolated reading “to the Prince” in the Apocryphon of Moses Bb (4Q376 1.iii.3, which probably refers to the nasi mentioned in 1.iii.1); the “prince of the myriad” in the War Scroll (1QM iii.16), who is distinct from the lower-ranking tribal chieftains; and the fragmentary and partially superscripted twin references in War Scrollf (4Q496 10.3–4: “the [great standard of the Pri]nce who heads […and they shall write] ‘People [of God’ and the name of Isra]e[l and] Aaro[n] and [the name of] the Prince” [cf. 1QM v.1]). Two other nasi texts could be mentioned, but they probably do not refer to the Prince of the Congregation. The first is the “Prince of holiness” in Songs of the Sabbath Sacrificeb (4Q401 23.1; probably a reference to Melchizedek as fragments 11 and 22 seem to suggest), while the second is found in a fragmentary line in Sapiential Work Ae that reads, “first of the fathers […] and prince of your people” (4Q423 5.3). Here we may have a reference to Moses.
Derivation of the Epithet.
The word nasi occurs some 134 times in the Hebrew scriptures thirty-seven times in Ezekiel alone. The messianic epithet Prince is probably derived from Ezekiel, a prophetic book that is manifestly pro-Zadokite (Ezek. 40.46, 44.15; cf. 1Q28b iii.22–23). Ezekiel speaks of a coming prince (nasi) who will shepherd Israel faithfully: “My servant David, a prince among them” (34.24); “My servant David shall be their prince forever” (37.25). In the Targum both of these passages read “king” instead of “prince,” probably as part of a messianizing tendency. In contrast, the designation “the whole congregation” reflects language frequently found in the Pentateuch, for example, “Speak to the whole congregation [kol ῾edah] of Israel” (Ex. 12.3; cf. Ex. 12.47, 16.1–2, 16.9, passim). The plural “princes of the congregation” also occurs several times in the Hexateuch (e.g., Ex. 16.22, 34.31; Nm. 4.34, 16.2, 31.13, 32.2; Jos. 9.15, 9.18, 22.30). However, the singular “prince of the congregation” does not occur in Hebrew scripture— Qumran's singular “Prince” appears to be an innovation.
Thus, a text such as Numbers 27.16–17 (“Let the Lord appoint a man over the congregation [῾edah]…that they may not be as sheep without a shepherd”) provides a bridge between the congregation frequently mentioned in the Pentateuch and Ezekiel's hope for a prince who will prove to be a caring shepherd of God's flock (cf. 4Q504 1–2.iv.5–8). The prophet criticizes Israel's shepherds who plunder and oppress the sheep (for example, Ezek. 34.1–19) and promises that God will set up “one shepherd,” his “servant David,” who will feed the sheep (Ezek. 34.23). The two kingdoms will be reunited under the one shepherd David, who will be king over them (Ezek. 37.24).
Ezekiel's portrait of the prince who will faithfully observe the cultus (Temple worship, sacrifice, etc.) and not infringe in any way upon the prerogatives of the high priest (Ezek. 44.3, 45.17, 45.22–25, 46.2–8, 46.10, 46.12–15) probably also contributed to Qumran's expectation of the appearance of the “Messiah of Israel” who would serve alongside the priest (cf. 1Q28a ii.11–21). Thus, Qumran's concept of the expected Prince of the Congregation appears to draw on the prophetic anticipation of a coming prince from the line of David and on an idealized portrait of the wilderness congregation.
In this connection it is noteworthy that some of the coins and papyri associated with Bar Kokhba and the revolt he led (c.132–135 ce) designate him as the “Prince of Israel” (nesi yisra᾽el). He, too, was regarded by some as a messiah (cf. Nm. 24.17). [See Bar Kokhba Shim῾on.]
Identification of the Prince.
The Prince of the Congregation is identified as the “rod that is risen from Israel” (CD vii.19–20 = 4Q266 3.iv.9; cf. Nm. 24.17; 1QM xi.6; 4Q175 12). In the War Rule he is identified as the “branch of David” (4Q285 5.4). This identification is probably presupposed in Pesher Isaiaha (cf. 4Q161 2–6.ii.19; 7–10.iii.22). Several “branch” passages in the Old Testament are interpreted messianically in the Targum (cf. Targum on Jer. 23.5, 33.15; Targum on Zec. 3.8; 6.12). This interpretive tendency is fundamental, as seen in the Commentary on Genesis A (4Q252 1.v.3–4), where “Branch of David” is identified as the “Messiah of righteousness” (cf. Jer. 23.5, 33.15; Ps. Sol. 17.32, which speaks of a “righteous king…who shall be the Lord Messiah”), and in the Florlegium (4Q174 1–3.i.11), where the “Branch of David” is identified as the “son” mentioned in 2 Samuel 7.14. The blessing for the Prince of the Congregation in the Rule of the Blessings (1Q28b v.20–29) concludes with the words: “For God has established you as a rod over the rulers” (cf. Is. 14.5; Ezek. 19.11, 19.14). This blessing contains language derived from Isaiah 11, thus implying that the Prince is the fulfillment of the hope for the appearance of the “shoot from the stump of Jesse” (Is. 11:1). The pesher on Isaiah 10.24–11.5 agrees with these ideas (cf. 4Q161 2–6.ii.10–7–10.iii.29). From this it seems clear that Qumran's Prince of the Congregation is none other than the Davidic Messiah.
Functions of the Prince.
The primary function of the Prince of the Congregation is military; he is to lead Israel against the forces of evil. He is to fulfill the prophecy of Numbers 24.17 and so “break down all the sons of Sheth” (CD vii.19–21) and his name will appear on battle implements (1QM iii.16; v.1; 4Q496 10). The commentary on Isaiah 10.24–11.5, though poorly preserved, clearly implies that the Prince will do battle against Israel's enemies “at the end of days” (4Q161 7–10.iii.22). Indeed, the Prince of the Congregation “will put him (the Roman Emperor?) to death” (4Q285 5.4). It is through the Prince that God “will restore the kingdom of his people” (1Q28b v.21).
The Messiah (who in 4Q252 1.v.3–4 is identified as the Branch of David) also plays a cultic role, though possibly subordinate to the priest. He is to enter the assembly, but behind the priest (1Q28a ii.11–16). When they sit at the table, he follows the example of the priest and “stretches out his hands over the bread” (1Q28a ii.17–22). Even in battle the Prince cooperates with—perhaps even defers to—his priestly colleagues. This is implied in the War Scroll (1QM) and is probably reflected in the War Rule (4Q285 5.4–6), where the Prince is engaged in battle and the priest directs the disposal of the corpses of the slain. Pesher Isaiaha (4Q161 7–10.iii.28–29), commenting on Isaiah 11.3, suggests that the Prince is guided by priestly counsel.
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Craig A. Evans