Songs of the Sagea (4Q510) and Songs of the Sageb (4Q511) are remnants of copies from the late first century BCE (Herodian script), representing two exemplars of an extensive collection of liturgical texts in Hebrew. Extant are fragments from eleven of the approximately twenty-one original columns. Only a few of them, however, exhibit any overlapping text (see 4Q510 1 and 4Q511 10). There are only 7 fragments remaining of Songs of the Sagea; of Songs of the Sageb, 215 fragments have survived, most of them, however, consist of rather tiny pieces. In his reconstruction, Hartmut Stegemann revised the sequence of the fragments of Songs of the Sageb in Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, 7, according to their presumed position within the scroll.

The components of the collections are assigned to the maskil (see 4Q511 2.ii.1), who (according to 4Q510 1/4Q511 10) in this liturgical context is supposed to perform an active role: to proclaim the majesty of God's loftiness in order to deter and frighten harmful demons and to protect the righteous against them. A maskil was, consequently, an important priestly functionary. Such passages of apotropaic character (4Q510 1/5Q511 10; 4Q511 2.ii; 7; 8; 16.4; 35.6ff.; 44–51.ii) have parallels in Apocryphal Psalmsa (11Q11, which contains psalms against demons along with Ps. 91), but this text does not correspond to the liturgical character of Songs of the Sageb. More adequate is a comparison with Berakhota (4Q286), where fragment 7 contains formulas of two liturgical curses (counterparts of benedictions) directed against Belial. It seems to have been a standard topos among the priestly tasks to safeguard nature and man against evil powers, one of the basic functions of any cult.

Certain phrases in Songs of the Sageb are characteristic of the liturgical genre of such specific priestly (angelic) liturgies as the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrificea–h, or 4Q400–407 (4Q511 10.i.4; 4Q511 2.i.2–3; 8ff.; 52–59.iii). Similar solemn wordings may be found in Berakhota (4Q286 1) and Berakhotb (4Q287). The major part of the contents may, therefore, be regarded as liturgical units constructed for use among priests (cf. 4Q511 35).

Other passages (4Q511 18.ii; 26) are in style and content nearer to Hodayot (1QH) and related poetical texts. They stress God's grace as the cause of an exalted status, which humans never exhibit in their quality as mere creatures and never achieve by themselves (4Q511 28–29; 52–59). Such texts also underline, therefore, a person's dependence on God's forgiving grace. In consequence, the pious person promises to express God's praise according to the faculty given to a him from God (4Q511 63.iii), the Creator (cf. 4Q511 30), praising him regularly in accordance with the cosmic powers (4Q511 1) and by way of eternal rules for appropriate times (4Q511 2.i; 63.ii; 64). The latter passages obviously contain an allusion to the calendar (cf. 1QHa xx.8.15 [xii.4–11]; 1QS x.1ff. with parallels in 4Q258 and 4Q260).

This concept of humans exposed in a realm of tension between the unworthy constitution of a weak creature, on the one hand, and the high status analagous to the position of the angelic servants of God, on the other hand, was originally a specifically priestly one. Since we know very little about the internal social structure of the Qumran community, it remains difficult to decide whether such liturgical and poetic pieces remained more or less exclusive characteristics of priestly self-consciousness. They could have been generalized and applied to lay members of the community, a possible development which, however, remains hypothetical. Only the priestly and, within this framework, the Zadokite character of such traditions is well established.

It may be suggested that liturgical texts of this kind (without any specific sectarian character) are, despite the relatively late date of the copies, a source for the liturgy at the Temple in Jerusalem. If this be the case, we should then see the above- described dualistic anthropological concept as also stemming essentially from the priestly tradition (emphasizing as it does the functional position between human and angel) and not primarily the effect of a sectarian tendency and radicalization during a later stage of development within the Qumran community. Liturgical traditions usually correspond to rather conservative attitudes and preserve concepts from earlier times. Therefore, if we are not able to identify in liturgical texts from Qumran traces of specific group interests beyond the priestly realm, we may assume that they contain such older concepts. Furthermore, it should also be understood that the dualistic traits of said liturgical texts do not necessarily constitute characteristics developed exclusively in the later Qumran community. Considering the possibility that the organizational pattern of the yaḥad also had its roots in the structures and norms of priestly service in the sanctuary, our criteria for the sectarian character of texts seem to fade away except, of course, for the practical halakhic differences as stated in Miqtsat Ma῾asei ha-Torah (4QMMT).


  • Baumgarten, J. M. “The Qumran Songs against Demons” (in Hebrew). Tarbiz 55 (1985/1986), 442–445.
  • Nitzan, B. “Hymns from Qumran—4Q510–4Q511.” In Dead Sea Scrolls: Forty Years of Research, edited by D. Dimant and U. Rappaport, pp. 53–63. Leiden and Jerusalem, 1992.
  • Nitzan, B. Qumran Prayer and Religious Poetry. Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah, 12. Leiden, 1994.
  • Schiffman, Lawrence H. “Sifrût ha-heykhalôt wekhitbey Qûmran.” Meḥqerey Yerûshalayim be-maḥashebet Yisra᾽el 6 (1986–1987), 121–138.
  • Stegemann, H. “Methods for the Reconstruction of Scrolls from Scattered Fragments.” In Archaeology and History in the Dead Sea Scrolls, edited by L. H. Schiffman, pp. 188–220. Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha Supplement Series, 8. Sheffield, 1990.
  • Ta-Shema, I. “Notes to ‘Hymns from Qumran’” (in Hebrew). Tarbiz 55 (1985/1986), 440–442.

Johann Maier