Covenanters of the Dead Sea scrolls: their way of life and relations to the religious world of their time

Barbara Preston, Colby College


The purpose of this paper is to present a comprehenslve view of the organization, characteristics, and beliefs of the community which produced the Dead Sea Scrolls, a discussion of some of the various theories about its history, an examination of several later groups which may have absorbed or been influenced by the Covenanters, and a consideration or their contribution to the religious world of that time and especially to Christianity. I shall make no attempt to retell the involved story of the discovery of the scrolls and their subsequent progress through various hands until they were finally brought to the attention of those qualified to handle them. This, while a fascinating story, is not the most interesting aspect to me. Any discuss of the paleography and archeology employed in dating the scrolls is left to those qualified in these fields. I can only summarize the results obtained by these methods. I must also apologize, for the omission of arguments deriving from various translations of words in the original text. This, again, must be left to the scholars. In dealing with the Essenes, it seems natural to me to use only the original sources, Philo and Josephus, and not the interpretations put on these accounts by the various dictionaries, since these interpretatlons must, of necessity, be based on Philo and Josephus. The dictionaries sometimes twist the original accounts. For example, most of them attribute sun-worship, in one form or another, to the Essenes. This is based entirely on the statement in Josephus, "before sun-rising they speak not a word about profane matters, but put up certain prayers which they have received from their forefathers, as if they made a suplication for its rising."1 This certainly is not a definite statement of sun-worship, based, as it is, on the words "as if." Josephus could easily have cited one time of prayer, omitting others. We know that the Covenanters offered prayers at sunrise as well as at many other times; these times are listed in the closing psalm of the Manual of Discipline. The case for sun-worship is perhaps slightly strengthened by the Essenes' desire not to commit any unclean act in the sun's presence "that they may not affront the Divine rays of light."2 However, the adjective "Divine" suggests that they saw in the sun's brightness "an emblem of the divine radiance."3 Thus, prayer directed toward the sun rather than toward the Holy of Holies at Jerusalem would not be surprising in a sect which had withdrawn from the temple and must have seen in the sun the truer manifestation of God's presence.