The Pesher Habakkuk

Written on September 8, 2022 – 12:50 pm | by dave |

The Pesher Habakkuk (1QpHab), was one of the first scroll discovered at Qumran. It is a commentary on the biblical book of Habakkuk. Pesher is a style of writing wherein the true message of the biblical book is understood to speak to present day conditions. It contains two characters that have been previously discussed – the teacher of righteousness and the Wicked Priest.

The Main Pesher Texts

The Pesher Habakkuk is part of a series of main Pesharim which review the following biblical works:

  • Isaiah
  • Hosea
  • Micah
  • Nahum
  • Habakkuk
  • Zephaniah

Habakkuk 1:5 in the Pesher Habakkuk

Original Text:

” Behold the nations and see, marvel and be astonished; for I accomplish a deed in your days, but you will not believe it when told.”

1QpHab 2:1-2:

“This concerns those who were unfaithful together with the Liar, in that they did not listen to the word received by the Teacher of Righteousness from the mouth of God. “

According to the understanding, the Teacher receives divine communication from God, with the proper interpretation of Scripture. However the prophecy ended with Malachi (c. 450 B.C.E) according to the Rabbis of the time which is in conflict with the Pesher Habakkuk.

Habakkuk 1:6 in the Pesher Habakkuk

  • Refers to the Chaldeans as “that bitter and hasty nation” but in this context, the Chaldeans would be understood as Babylon in the original text.
  • In the Pesher Habakkuk, it refers to the “Chaldeans” as the ‘kittim’ which is the Qumran code word for Romans. “…who are quick and valiant in war, causing many to perish.” (1QpHab 1:10-12)

Habakkuk 2:2 in the Pesher Habakkuk

“Write down the vision and make it plain upon the tablets.” – Habakkuk 2:2

“And God told Habakkuk to write down that which would happen to the final generation, but He did not make known to him when time would come to an end.” – 1QpHab 7:1-3

It is clear here that the QpHab interpretation of the text could be taken to have eschatological meaning but the readers of the original text in Habakkuk would have never connected this material to eschatological messages.

“…that he who reads it may read speedily.” – Habakkuk 2:2

“This concerns the Teacher of Righteousness, to whom God made known all the mysteries of the words of His servants the Prophets.” – 1QpHab 7:4-5

Habakkuk 2:4 in the Pesher Habakkuk

“But the righteous shall live by his faith.” – Habakkuk 2:4

“This concerns all those who observe the Law in the House of Judah, whom God will deliver from the House of Judgement, because of their suffering and because of their faith in the Teacher of Righteousness.” – 1QpHab 8:1-2

In this context, the “HIS” from the Habakkuk would likely be interpreted as the believer themselves as the faith that should be observed. However, in the QpHab, the “his” in this case is pointing to the Teacher of Righteousness.

The text from Habakkuk 2:4 is something very important to the Christians of the New Testament as it is quoted in multiple New Testament Scriptures including:

  • Romans 1:17
  • Galatians 3:11
  • Hebrews 10:37-38

Paul would see this passage as referring to:

  1. Jesus
  2. the future life

We can agree that the Qumran sect and the early Christians used Habakkuk 2:4 as a key passage in their theology of a single individual through whom faith is to be directed.

Habakkuk 2:15 in the Pesher Habakkuk

“Woe to him who causes his neighbors to drink, who pours out his venom to make them drunk that he may gaze on their feasts.” – Habakkuk 2:15

“This concerns the Wicked Priest who pursued the Teacher of Righteousness to the house of his exile that he might confuse him with his venomous fury. And at the appointed time for rest, the Day of Atonement, he appears before them to confuse them, and to cause them to stumble on the Day of Fasting, their Sabbath of repose.” – 1QpHab 11:5-8

The Wicked Priest, the opponent of the Teacher and of the Qumran community, undoubtedly was identified as one of the Hasmonean high priests/kings – most likely Jonathan Maccabee. It even features a play on words as the high priest would be understood as kohen ro’s while the Wicked Priest would be understood as ha-kohen ha-rasa’.

The Qumran sect must have used a different calendar than the one in use in Jerusalem and by other Jews. Otherwise, how could the Wicked Priest travel from Jerusalem to Qumran on Yom Kippur? Therefore, the wicked priest must be observing a different Yom Kippur than the Qumran people or he would not have been able to travel all the way to the ‘house of exile’ (Qumran) and still obey the laws of Yom Kippur sabbath.

Examples of the Pesher Method of Interpretation in the New Testament

  • Matthew 1:23, which invokes Isaiah 7:14 to refer to the birth of Jesus to his mother Mary.
  • A host of New Testament passages (e.g. Matthew 8:17), which may apply Isaiah 53 (The “Suffering Servant” passage) to refer to Jesus’ suffering.

Similarities between Essenes and Christians

  • Dualism – seen in the Community Rule and in the new Testament
  • Celibacy – practiced by some Essenes, and an ideal for early Christians
  • No polygamy or divorce
  • Continued revelation, beyond the books of the Prophets
  • The use of Habakkuk 2:4 in Pesher Habakkuk and in three New Testament verses
  • The Pesher method of interpretation
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