Repentance at Qumran

Repentance at Qumran: The Penitential Framework of Religious Experience in the Dead Sea Scrolls

Mark A. Jason
Copyright Date: 2015
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    Repentance at Qumran
    Book Description:

    Mark A. Jason offers a detailed investigation of the place of repentance in the Dead Sea Scrolls, addressing a significant lacuna in Qumran scholarship. Normally, when the belief system of the community is examined, “repentance” is usually taken for granted or relegated to a peripheral position. By careful attention to key texts, Jason establishes the importance of repentance as a fundamental way of structuring and describing religious experience within the Qumran community. Repentance was important not only for entry into the community and covenant but also for daily governance and cultic activities, and even for authenticating understanding of the end times. Jason shows, then, that repentance was a central and decisive element in shaping that community’s identity and undergirded its religious experience from the start. Further, comparison with relevant texts from the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha shows that the Qumran community represented a distinctive penitential movement in Second Temple Judaism.

    eISBN: 978-1-4514-9427-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-28)

    Whoever would have thought that the retrieval of a lost goat would have led to one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the twentieth century, namely, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls? The story has often been told of the goat that strayed away, unwittingly leading its owner, Muhammad El Dibh, past the many caves that dotted the cliff face along the western shore of the Dead Sea. Exploring one of these caves, he found found several rolls of leather and brought out seven of them. This was the start of an incredible journey, which took these seven leather...

  6. 1 Religious Experience and Repentance
    (pp. 29-46)

    From time immemorial, deepening one’s relationship with God has always been a central aspect of human religious experience. It forms and shapes our identity and our outlook or worldview—how we see our place before God and in our relation with others. We will ultimately be exploring how the Qumran community’s understanding of repentance influenced their religious experience, how it shaped and formed their religious identity and their worldview. With this overriding purpose in mind, it will be helpful to first of all understand religious experience in very general terms.

    William James, in his famous study from the early part...

  7. 2 Motivations for Repentance
    (pp. 47-64)

    As I noted in my working definition, repentance is expressed most commonly by two-dimensional turning language that involved a turningawayfrom wickedness (transgression, wickedness, sin, evil, idolatry) and a turningtowardGod. In the Hebrew Bible, repentance is a call to return to God and live in obedience to him and may be “subsumed and summarized by one verb”—שךב. ¹ This root combines in itself both requisites of repentance that I highlighted in my working definition: to turn from evil and to turn to the good. In other words, the essence of repentance is turning. The key to...

  8. 3 Repentance, Separation, and the Covenant
    (pp. 65-104)

    We begin our analysis of the concept of repentance in the very place where we encounter the community—in the isolated and bleak landscape near wadi Qumran, on the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea in the Judean wilderness. In this chapter, we will discuss how the choice of this location was fundamental to their religious experience, since for the Qumran community, fidelity to the covenant was manifested by separation from the world. We will explore how withdrawal and separation from the world functioned as a powerful metaphor for repentance, reshaping their understanding of covenant in penitential terms. We will...

  9. 4 Predestined Repentance
    (pp. 105-144)

    In the previous chapter, we explored the function of repentance within a covenantal framework. In joining the separate community, one joined the renewed covenant with its reinterpreted law. Such repentance appears to be the individual’s conscious decision. In identifying the Qumran community with the Essenes, we immediately run into a problem. InAntiquities of the Jews18.1, 2, 5 (§11, 18–22), Josephus mentions the three “philosophies” among the Jews, namely, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. He then says this of the Essenes: “The Essenes like to leave all things to God”, which is in fact the very first thing Josephus...

  10. 5 The Extent of Repentance
    (pp. 145-156)

    Before we move on, we must pause here and consider the implications of the conclusions of the previous chapter, which showcases the strong predestinarian worldview of the community, one that affected all aspects of their religious experience, including their understanding of repentance. Members of the community were predestined to repent; the community itself served as an agent that facilitated repentance. In the following chapter, we will see that there were clearly defined cultic expressions that were connected to the community’s understanding that they had been predestined to be part of this community and that this predestined, penitential community alone had...

  11. 6 Repentance in Daily Life: Cult and Rituals
    (pp. 157-200)

    In chapter 4, we saw that the Qumran community could separate from wickedness because they believed that God had predestined them for it.¹ Not only was this predestined state taken to be an act of repentance, but it was also one that required them toremain penitent.Paradoxically, although members of the community were well aware that they were predestined thus, this did not prevent them from “responding” to this predestination by striving to remain truly penitent, thereby seeing themselves as a penitential community in the wilderness. In other words, their penitential actions within the community, although predestined, were nevertheless...

  12. 7 Repentance and Eschatology
    (pp. 201-232)

    We have seen that repentance was first of all a radical and spatial separation from wickedness and adherence to the community and covenant. This was possible because God had predestined it thus. The now separate, predestined community stayed penitent through daily rituals that had to be accompanied by genuine repentance. Since the community’s perception of the world was eschatologically charged, we must place the above picture of repentance into an eschatological framework.

    “Eschatology concerns mainly ‘the last days’ ( הימיכ אהרמדך קץ ,אחריה) and what follows ‘at the end of days.’”¹ This period would culminate with a final war against...

  13. Conclusion
    (pp. 233-252)

    As we attempt to locate repentance at Qumran within the wider context of their religious experience, we realize that the Qumran community, like any other religious movement, implies an organized attempt to introduce change in religion.¹ The community conformed to certain generalizations regarding religious movements. M. Nye talks of religious movements attracting attention for propagating ideas or practices that are said to be more specialized or esoteric than those of longer-established religious groups.² With regard to the Qumran community, this aspect can be related to the repentanceas-separation motif, with the aim of joining the community with its distinctive interpretation of...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 253-280)
  15. Index of Authors
    (pp. 281-284)
  16. Index of Scriptures and Ancient Literature
    (pp. 285-289)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 290-290)