Jewish Messianic Expectations (3/4)

The Messiah – Different Thoughts from Qumran Sources

There have been many documents found at the Essene community of Qumran that deal with the messiah.  The Essenes were a very strict religious sect who separated themselves from society and lived in their own community off the Dead Sea.  They are most famous for their library we found that contained the oldest known copies of the Old Testament dating from 200 B.C.  However, they also had many of their own writings that explained their beliefs.  It is important to look at the beliefs the Qumran community held for two reasons.  First, their existence was from 2nd century B.C. to 1st century A.D. which is very close chronologically to the period being investigated.  Also, When the ideas from the Dead Sea Scrolls  are very similar to Zechariah.  It is apparent that the Qumran ideas do not diverge much from the traditional expectations of other Jews.[1]  One of the reasons Qumran was so interested in a Messiah was because during their history they were constantly enduring troubled times and were being persecuted even by their fellow Jews.[2]  This caused them to look for a time when a messiah would come to set up a kingdom and stop the persecution.  There was much literature written about the Messiah in Qumran but as Poirier points out it was not “worked out to systematic precision.”[3]

     One of the interesting features that is brought out in the Qumran literature is the belief in two messiahs.  This evolution to two messiahs occurred after the fall of the monarchy when the Jews were waiting for a messiah descended from David.  Although this belief persisted, an “increasing importance of the priesthood led certain circles to attribute a messianic role to the descendant of Aaron as well.”[4]  Zechariah seems to advocate at least a special role if not a messianic one in Zechariah 6:9-16.  It says that the high priest Joshua will be crowned and will rule from his throne and rebuild the temple (cf. 4:14).  Also, not only did God make an eternal covenant with David and his royal line, but He also made an eternal priestly covenant with Phinehas in Numbers 25:12-13 which says, “Therefore tell him I am making my covenant of peace with him.  He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood.” 

This tradition was not unique to Qumran but came from older post-exilic traditions.[5]  According to the pseudepigraphical writing, the ‘Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs’ (3 B.C.-2 A.D.) it is full of passages and references dealing with the two messiahs which shows that this idea was present at other loci during the time of the Qumran community.[6]

     One of the references this idea comes from is from the Damascus Document 7:17-21 which says, “The star is the Interpreter of the Law who shall come to Damascus; as it is written, ‘A star shall come forth 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 all the children of Seth.[7]  The Prince of the congregation talked about is the messianic king or messiah of Israel (CD 7:20) and the Interpreter of the Law is the Priest (CD 7:18).[8]  The king and priest are both seen as having messianic functions.  The Florilegium (4QFl) makes the idea of two messiahs clear when it talks about a “Branch of David will arise along with the Interpreter of the Law to rule Zion at the end of time.”[9]  The Priestly-Messiah or the Messiah of Aaron is the dominant figure in the sect.[10]  The kingly Messiah has to be taught by the priestly messiah (4 Qp Isa Fr. 8-10,23).  The teaching function of the high-priest is seen in the titles of Teacher of Righteousness (Damascus 6:11; 8:10) and Student of the Law (7:18; 9:8).[11]


[1] ??? Woude, “Messiah,”  Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1964-1976), 9:520.

[2] Brown, 53.

[3] John C. Poirier, “The Endtime Return of Elijah and Moses at Qumran,”  The Jewish Theological Seminary of America 10 (2003), 221.

[4] Brown, 63.

[5] Woude, IX:  519.  cf. Poirier, 221.  Poirier adds that this belief was propagated mostly among apocalyptic circles.

[6] Brown, 63-64.

[7] Emil A. Wcela, “The Messiah(s) of Qumran,”  Catholic Biblical Quarterly 26 (1964), 340.

[8] Poirier, 226.  cf. Kimelman, 316; Woude, 9:517-519.  It is also interesting to note that Poirier sees three messiahs talked about in Qumran.  He says that they are the prophet, priest, and king which is talked about in 4QTestimonia.  He says that the Qumran community uses three proof texts to support their view:  prophet – Deuteronomy 18:18-19; priest – Deuteronomy 33:8-11; and king – Numbers 24:15-17.

[9] Wcela, 345.

[10] Brown, 63.

[11] Woude, 9:519.

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