The Dead Sea Scrolls--A New Interpretation

By:  David Ramsay

Introduction Community Rule Habakkuk I Habakkuk II Damascus Document Ecclesiastes Essenes


The Damascus Document

The Date

I believe the clue to the dating of the document lies in the prophecy near the end of the 'Exhortation'.

"From the day of the gathering of the Teacher of the Community until the end of all the men of war who deserted to the Liar there shall pass 40 years and during that age the wrath of God shall be kindled against Israel as He said 'there shall be no king, no prince, no judge, no man to rebuke with justice.'"

The 'gathering in of the Teacher' refers to the death of Onias (171 BCE), the last legitimate High Priest of the Zadoc line.

The 'Liar' is Jason. In the Commentary on Habbakkuk he is referred to as the 'Spouter of lies who led many astray that he might build a city of vanity and blood...'

He was of the Zadoc line although not a legitimate High Priest, according to the Essenes, and his followers became known as Sadducees.

The men of war were therefore the Sadducees.

During the 40 year period after Onias' death, from the death of Aleimas, 159 BCE, to the election of Jonathon, 152 BCE, the position of High Priest remained vacant. There was 'no king, no prince, no judge, no man to rebuke with justice', for those seven years.

The writer is prophesying that by 131 BCE (171-40) there would be no more Sadducees left.

I would believe the original Damascus document was written very soon after the election of Jonathon as High Priest (152 BCE), probably about 150 BCE.

I would guess the author thought that with the election of a Pharisee as High Priest, the Sadducees, who both the Pharisees and Essenes hated, would quickly be suppressed.

The First teacher of Righteousness

The first paragraph of the Damascus Document describes the events leading up to the first appearance of the Teacher of Righteousness.

There is a key phrase which sets these events in time. It reads, "390 years after He had given them into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar". 

In their book "The Dead Sea Scroll, A New Translation" (1996, Harper) Wise, Abegg Jr., and Cook, state "The ambiguous statement about 390 years is interpreted so that the 390 years follow, rather than precede (as is possible in the original Hebrew) the conquest of Nebuchadnezzar."

If it is assumed the conquest took place about 597 BCE the date referred to could be either 207 BCE or 987 BCE.

Despite 50 years of effort no one has been able to find events that even remotely resemble those described in the Scroll around the year 207 BCE. Some have tried to get around the problem by suggesting the 390 years "is only symbolic" and really means some other time span, but that solution I do not find satisfactory.

In this essay I will examine other possibilities and look for the events anchored on the date 987 BCE.

1) From the Scroll

"And when they were unfaithful and forsook Him, He his His face from Israel and His sanctuary and delivered them up to the sword. But remembering the covenant of the forefathers, He left a remnant to Israel and did not deliver it up to be destroyed."

From the Old Testament

"And after Joshua's death there arose another generation who did not know the Lord...and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel". God turned His back on His people and refused to allow them "to drive out any of the nations that Joshua left before he died." (Judges)

The same period is described in Psalm 106. The Jews mingled with the nations and learned to do as they did and "sacrificed to the idols of Canaan."

The anger of the Lord was kindled against them and He game them into the hands of their enemies.

"Many times He delivered them" but they kept returning to their sinful ways.

Eventually He relented and "remembered, for their sake, His covenant with them".

2) From the Scroll

"And in the Age of Wrath, 390 years before He had given them into the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, He visited them, and He caused a plant root to spring from Israel and Aaron to inherit His land and to prosper on the good things of the earth."

From the Old Testament

The Jewish nation almost disintegrated until, under David's leadership, the people were united and firmly established on their lands. The date 987 BCE falls somewhere in David's reign.

3) From the Scroll

"And they perceived their iniquity and recognized they were guilty men, yet for 20 years they were like blind men groping for the way".

From the Old Testament

When the Philistines sacked Shiloh (c 1080 BCE) they took with them the Ark of the Covenant as part of their booty. After a number of stops it came to rest "at Kiriathjearim, a long time passed, some 20 years" before David brought it to Jerusalem and the people once again had God's Laws to guide them in their conduct.

4) From the Scroll

"And God observed their deeds, that they sought Him with a whole heart and He raised for them a Teacher of Righteousness to guide them in the way of His heart."

From the Old Testament

David "left" Zadoc, the priest, before the tabernacle of the Lord to offer burnt offerings..." That is David appointed Zadoc chief priest in the Jerusalem sanctuary. As head of the priesthood which was responsible for insuring the people behaved righteously, he was given the title of "Teacher of Righteousness" within the Community of God.

The Teacher of Righteousness always refers to a chief, or high, priest of the Zadoc line. After Onias III, the last of the line killed by Menelaus, there are no further mentions of the Teacher of Righteousness.


The similarities of the events leading up to Zadoc being appointed to offer burnt offerings before the tabernacle as described in the Old Testament and those leading up to the raising of the Teacher of Righteousness as described in the Scroll are so strong and numerous they cannot be ascribed to coincidence. The conclusion, I maintain, must be that Zadoc was the first Teacher of Righteousness.

This conclusion is strengthened by the interpretations of Psalm 37:23 in the "Commentary on the Psalms" scroll "the Priest, the Teacher of Righteousness whom God has chosen to stand before Him to build for Himself the congregation of..."

Also the Damascus Document states that "the sealed book of the Law which was in the Ark was not opened in Israel from the death of Eleazar to Joshua. It was hidden and was not revealed until the coming of Zadoc."

The New Covenant In The Land Of Damascus

CA693 BCE Manasseh began to rule in Judah and "he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord.  He erected altars for Baal even in the House of the Lord and seduced the people to do evil".  This so angered the Lord that He declared The House of Judah had broken His covenant and punishment would follow.

Later, when Jeremiah visited the exiles in Babylon, God spoke to him "Behold the days are coming when I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel and the House of Judah, not like the covenant I made with your fathers when I took them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke.  But this is the covenant which I will make with the House of Israel of those days.  I will put my law within them and I will write it upon their hearts and I will be their God and they shall be my people".

No longer did the people need the tablets containing His laws, that He had given to Moses, and which had, presumably, been destroyed along with the temple.

In the Damascus Scroll this is referred to as "The New Covenant in the Land of Damascus".

The Exhortation

The title is misleading. It should be entitled a "Commentary on the Exhortation", like the Commentary on Habakkuk, Psalms, Nahum, etc, because the writer interprets the biblical passages in the original document so they relate to people, places or events in Israeli history.

This commentary, like the others was only meant for the eyes of the men of Qumran, the Council of Holiness members, and not by the general public. The original 'exhortation' must have been a very old document and would have been known to everyone.

What follows is, what I believe to be, the original Exhortation. In arriving at it I have not changed the Scroll document in any way, except to delete those parts added by the Scroll writer. The start of the deleted sections I have marked by an *.

  • Delete 1:

...this was the time of which it is written 'Like a stubborn heifer thus was Israel stubborn' * He cased them to wander...

  • Delete 2:

...Prophet Isaiah saying 'the priests, the Levites and the sons of Zadoc who kept charge of my sanctuary when the children of Israel strayed from me shall offer me fat and blood * They were the first men of holiness whom God forgave...

  • Delete 3: He spoke by the hand of Isaiah, son of Amoz, saying 'Terror and the pit and the snare are upon you, O, inhabitants of the land * For in ancient times Moses and Aaron arose by the hand of the Prince of Lights...

  • Delete 4:

...and they dug the well 'the well which the princes dug, which the nobles of the poeple delved with the stave' * None of those brought into the Covenant shall enter the temple in vain...

  • Delete 5:

...those who walk in perfect holiness the Covenant of God shall be an assurance that they shall live for a thousand generations * and all those who despise the commandments...

  • Delete 6:

...who held fast escaped to the land of the north as God said 'I will exile the tabernacle of your kings and the bases of your statutes from my tent to Damascus' * At the time of the former visitation they were saved whereas the apostates were given up to the sword...

  • Delete 7:

...whom God said 'their wine is the venom of serpents, the cruel poison of asps.' * But all these things the builders of the wall have not understood...

  • Delete 8:

...who walk in stubbornness of their heats they shall have no share in the law. * For they have spoken wrongly...

  • Delete 9:

...neither they nor their kin shall have any part in the house of the law * and during that age the anger of the Lord will be kindled...


In the above revamped document there is a continuity of text from before to after the *s which is a good indication that the sections I have deleted were not included in the original Exhortation.

It also reads like a true Exhortation.

The Interpreter and the Prince

"The star is the Interpreter of the Law who shall come to Damascus as it is written, "A star shall come out of Jacob and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.' The scepter is the Prince of the whole congregation and when he comes he shall smite the children of Seth."

The Interpreter
This is Ezra who interpreted Gods words to be transcribed into the 104 Holy Books. He was warned that 70 of these books (I believe they were the books of the Prophets) should only be delivered to such as are wise among the people (The Sophorem).

The Prince
This is Cyrus. 'Thus says the Lord to His annointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue the nations before him'. (Isa 45:1)

The Children of Seth
These are the Chaldeans. (Isa 47)

The writer of this Commentary sees the return from exile being foretold in the Book of Numbers.


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Introduction Community Rule Habakkuk I Habakkuk II Damascus Document Ecclesiastes Essenes