Charlotte Hempel. The Laws of the Damascus Document: Sources, Traditions, and Redaction. Leiden, Boston, and Cologne: Brill, 1998. xii + 217 pp. $81.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-90-04-11150-9.
Reviewed by Hannah K. Harrington (Professor of Old Testament, Patten College)
Published on H-Judaic (September, 1999)
This work focuses on the laws of the Damascus Document, an important text of the Qumran Community. Found in the genizah of an old synagogue in Cairo, this document, commonly referred to as "CD," was first published by Solomon Schechter in 1910 as "Fragments of a Zadokite Work." When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered at Qumran, scholars immediately noticed similarities between the terminology and ideas found in the Damascus Document and those found in the Scrolls. Even more recently, fragments of the same text were found in Caves 4-6 at Qumran proving its early existence and its provenance among the Qumran Community. The document is in two parts, the Admonition and the Laws. As it turns out, the Laws represents the bulk of the contents. Questions today revolve around the origin of the document, e.g., was it created by the Qumran Community or was it the product of a more ancient Jewish group? Is the document sectarian or does it reveal general Jewish attitudes in the early Second Temple period?
Hempel aims to uncover units of laws and redactional strata within the Laws of the Damascus Document. She insists that scholars must look more closely at the primary Qumranic documents instead of forming perspectives of the community largely based on classical sources. Nevertheless, Hempel does subscribe to the widely accepted "Essene Hypothesis," which she regards as best suited to all of the data, both Qumranic and classical, at hand. According to Hempel, the Damascus Document represents a parent community to the Qumran sect, and in itself is not a sectarian document. Rather, a "Serekh" redactor later revised the document, attempting to bring the laws into line with 1QS, the Community Rule.
Hempel divides the laws of the Damascus Document into two major categories, Halakhah and Community Organization. Her analysis, as she admits, is heavy on the latter category, which comprises the majority of the legal analysis. However, here is where she makes her major contributions using strong redactional techniques.
In the category of Halakhah, Hempel uses the work of Joseph Baumgarten and others to demonstrate the biblical character of many of the laws. She incorporates the recently-produced 4Q fragments of the Damascus Document in her analysis. Her main point is that the Laws have a long history which predates the Qumran Community and they are not sectarian. They do not contain legislation that is "associated with a particular organized group within the larger community of Israel." She refers to the halakhah as "cherished and handed on in priestly circles." In Hempel's view, the halakhah of the Damascus Document was not confined to the Qumran community but widely circulated among Jews in the Second Temple period. Hempel finds virtually no redactional activity in these laws. She also does not see a polemical stance in this section, and the few exceptions are attributed to a later redactor who tried to bring the Laws into line with the Admonition.
In contrast to the halakhah, Hempel explains, the organizational laws show much revision throughout the life of the community. She explains that by nature these laws had to be updated with time and so they were subject to a fair amount of redaction. Hempel does a fine analysis of the material in this section. She points out vocabulary and stylistic changes present in the document which reveal different strata in the text. For example, in an earlier stratum the leader's title is the head priest, following the biblical authority model, but this changed over time to the position of overseer. Also, Hempel notes that such biblical terms as edah and mahaneh are still in place alongside newer terms, such as yahad and rabim, and explains this by saying that the group cherished Scriptural terminology and did not discard it when adding new terms of their own. Hempel also notes various formulae which set off different units of material.
Hempel concludes that there is much evidence of redactional activity throughout the organizational law section, including one redactor who is steeped in the thought of Jubilees. However, the primary redactions are those of 1) D (Damascus), the redactor who added the Admonition to the Laws and created the shape of the document, and 2) S (Serekh), who tried to bring the Laws of D into line with the organization of the community represented in 1QS. It is S, in Hempel's view, who is responsible for most of the sectarian attitude in phrases scattered throughout the document. Hempel has done an admirable job of presenting a plausible account of the redactional activity in the community organizational laws of the Damascus Document. She employs a sound methodology based on vocabulary, stylistic formulae, and ideological stance.
Hempel is emphatic that the Damascus Document is not a sectarian work, and rightly argues that the fact that it contains so many laws for the community's organization does not on its own make it sectarian. She insists that 1QS is, by contrast, a sectarian document, and that the sect behind it was created because of a strong difference concerning the visibility of women in the community. However, Hempel puts the Damascus Document in the same category as 4Q159 (Ordinances), 4QMMT, and 11QT (Temple Scroll), texts which all focus on halakhah. She does not regard any of these documents as sectarian. I would point out, however, the polemical character of both 4QMMT (cf. its "you," "us," "them" language and some very stringent halakhah) and, as Yadin as demonstrated, the Temple Scroll.
I tend to agree with Hempel that the Damascus Document contains some very old halakhah and that its community represents a parent group to the Community Rule. Her point that the use of a solar calendar was probably in effect in many circles other than the Qumran community (e.g. Jubilees) is well taken. In fact, Hempel is correct that the halakhah of the Danascus Document generally does not polemicize against opposing views and much of it may have been widely accepted in early Second Temple Judaism.
However, I wonder if Hempel has not made some overreaching conclusions from the evidence at hand. She insists throughout the book that the halakhah is not sectarian but widely accepted since it does not refer to any particular community. I wonder if she has not polarized the issue too much. She seems to set up two options: the laws are either 1) scripturally based (halakhah) or 2) reflect a particular contemporary community. Isn't there room for a third category: laws which are biblically based but represent a particular, sectarian attitude? Some of the biblical interpretations of the Damascus Document seem too stringent to apply widely across Second Temple Judaism. For instance, the notions that picking up a piece of dust on the Sabbath (CD 11:7-11) is prohibited or the idea that fish need ritual slaughter (CD 12:13-14) appear to be sectarian. Also, the extension of biblical priestly laws applicable in the Temple to the laity of Israel (e.g. the disallowance into the community of those who are physically impaired, CD 15:15- 17, and the prohibition on sexual intercourse in Jerusalem, CD 12:1-2), to my mind, represents a sectarian attitude.
As is made clear in the Expulsion Ceremony, the interpretation of law, both biblical law as well as particular community rules, was a serious point of difference between the group(s) behind the Qumran documents and other Jews in the Second Temple period. According to 1QS 6:7, the group at Qumran worked for one-third of every night on what they believed to be the correct interpretation of biblical law. Thus, I would consider the group behind the Damascus Document sectarian not only because of the tenor of the Admonition and various sharp statements throughout the work against outsiders, but also because of some of the particular sectarian rulings. The sectarian laws are sometimes based on Scripture but represent a very specific, stringent interpretation of it which would not have been accepted by most Second Temple Jews.
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