Friday, April 15, 2005

Summary of Seminar on the Temple Scroll

We looked briefly at Stegemann's argument that the Temple Scroll was unlikely to be a sectarian document on the grounds that there are so few copies (two from Cave 11 and perhaps one from Cave 4). It seems like a foundational document for someone but probably not the people who preserved it for us.

Then we discussed the potential significance of the unusual (I believe unique) presentation of the Temple Scroll in the first person singular with God as speaker. It's not entirely clear what this was supposed to prove, but it certainly seems to be emphasizing the authority of the traditions in the Temple Scroll, notably the Temple described therein, which was radically different from the Temple that actually stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Whether this was thought of as legitimizing rejected traditions or adding a layer of tradition over the Pentateuch to make it relevant again (as with Deuteronomy for the Tetrateuch) or something else is open to debate. The Temple of the Temple Scroll is not eschatological. (We know this because in column 29 it seems to be distinguished from a future Temple that God will create at the end time.) Therefore it is probably best to regard the Temple Scroll as a utopian document, one that intended its program for real life, even though there was no real chance of it being implemented.

We talked about several specific points in the essay which we needn't go over here. But one thing we did go over that is worth mentioning, is some of the halakhic detail that is important for Schiffman's and Baumgarten's Sadducean origin hypothesis. First, let me note something important about halakhic texts: the thing that makes them so difficult is that they represent debates about fine details between people who agreed on nearly everything. These people took the details on which they disagreed very seriously indeed, but in order to make any sense of the texts you have to master the much larger areas of agreement that the writers take for granted. As an example of this sort of problem we discussed at length the basic concepts behind the issue of Tevel Yom.

I don't have the energy here to go through all the details. Briefly, in order to produce the ashes of the red heifer (Numbers 19), which is the only means of purifying people from "corpse impurity" (ritual defilement by touching a dead body), a ritually pure priest must slaughter the heifer outside the camp and burn it to ashes. There are a number of situations in the laws Pentateuch in which if one becomes ritually impure, one must go through an immersion ritual and then be considered pure again when the sun goes down. This left a certain ambiguity in the system: what is the state of people between immersion (tevel) and the end of the day (yom) when the sun goes down? Are they still fully defiled (in which case what was the point of the immersion)? Are they now purified (in which case why are they "unclean until evening")? Or are they something in between -- purified for some purposes and still impure for others? According to the Mishnah the Sadducees took the strictest interpretation and considered them still impure for all purposes, but the Pharisees thought their status was in between and they were ritually pure for some purposes, including a priest carrying out the rite of the red heifer.

The interesting thing is that according to the Temple Scroll, the Tevel Yom is considered strictly impure, along the lines of the Sadducean view (see 45.7-12 [sexual intercourse]; 49.19-21 [corpse impurity]; and 51.4-5 [contact with creeping animals]). 4QMMT also has the same view. In a number of other cases (although not unambiguously in all such cases) the Temple Scroll and 4QMMT take positions equivalent to those attributed to the Sadducees in the Mishnah. These include (possibly) the question of whether animal bones are unclean (all agreed that human bones were) and whether impurity could travel upstream when liquid was being poured from a pure vessel into an impure one. This is the basis for the Sadducean origin hypothesis.

UPDATE: I spoke imprecisely above. Schiffman is the one who promotes the Sadducean origin hypothesis. He does so on the basis, in part, of parallels between Sadducean and Qumran halakhah pointed out by Baumgarten, but Baumgarten himself does not promote this theory.