The War Scroll

Written on September 8, 2022 – 12:53 pm | by dave |

In this discussion, we will be reviewing the material found in the War Scroll (one of the Dead Sea Scrolls found in Qumran Cave 1) and some other apocalyptic texts and how they factor into the eschatology of the Christian world view. The War Scroll details a cataclysmic battle between the “Sons of Light” and the “Sons of Darkness” using military techniques and maneuvers or Roman origin.

Early on, some scholars believed that the Qumran community might have belong to the Zealot movement due to reading of the War Scroll. However, modern scholarship indicates that the Qumran community was more likely to be a monastic society rather than a militant group.

War Scroll (1QM)

  • Scroll was found in Qumran Cave 1
  • “M” comes from the Hebrew word for war ‘milhama’.
  • Eight additional but fragmented versions appear in Cave 4 which seem to attest to its importance to the Qumran community
  • It provides a manual for the conduct of the war for the Sons of Light (The Qumran community) against the Sons of Darkness (the enemies of the community, also known as the ‘army of Belial’)

The beginning of the War Scroll

“… a time of salvation for the people of God, and an end-time for the dominion of all the men of his forces, and an eternal destruction for all the forces of Belial. And there will be a great upheaval… The dominion of the Kittim shall come to an end, and wickedness shall be subdued, without a remnant, and with no escape for the sons of Darkness.”

“And the sons of righteousness shall shine over all the ends of the earth, continuing to shine until the appointed times of darkness are totally consumed. And at the time appointed by God, His exalted greatness shall shine for all time with peace and blessing, glory and joy, for length of days over all the sons of light.” (1QM 1:5-9)

  • The message seems quite apocalyptic in tone and illustrates this desire for one side to overcome the other (dualism)
  • Remember that the Kittim is a word used in other texts to describe the Romans
  • The term for “forces” in this text uses ‘goral’ which is Hebrew for ‘fate’.
  • Sons of Darkness could also indicate those whom the Qumran community disagree with over theological and doctrinal issues as these people ‘walk in darkness’.
  • Another text that appears later (1QM 7:5) refers to the ‘day of vengeance’ or ‘yom naqam’ in Hebrew
  • We also see the words “war of God” in 1QM 9:5 which translates to ‘milhemet ‘el’ in Hebrew
  • For a New Testament relation, the expression “sons of light” occurs in John 12:38 and 1 Thessalonians 5:5.

“As long as you have the light, believe in the light so that you may become children of light.” – John 12:38

  • If we use original gender translation, this becomes “sons” of light.

Direct Accounts of the War Scroll

  • As mentioned earlier, some of the original scrolls were purchased by Eliezer Sukenik from the merchant that found them.
  • Sukenik later provided the scrolls to his son, Yigael Yadin, who became one of the foremost scholars on the scrolls. Yadin was also a decorated general of the Israeli freedom force during the Israeli War of Independence in 1948
  • Yigael Yadin later published a detailed study of the War Scroll in 1957

Components of the War Scroll

  • Introduction (column 1)
  • General Rules of Battle (columns 2-14)
  • Prophetic Description of the Final Battle (columns 15-19)

Example Passage from the Introduction

“… the sons of Levi, Judah, and Benjamin, the exiles in the desert [who will] return from the Desert of the Peoples to camp in the Desert of Jerusalem; and after the battle they will go up from there.” – 1QM 1:2-3

  • The Desert of the Peoples refers to the Qumran community and the Desert of Jerusalem could be Qumran or it could be the city of Jerusalem after the ‘battle’

Thoughts on the General Rules of Battle

  • Scholars have concluded that the military arrangement and tactics described here are based on the Roman legion.
  • This indicates that despite the remoteness of the Qumran community, they knew enough about the Roman tactics and translated them to Hebrew

Example Passages from the Prophetic Description of the Final Battle

“The purpose [goral (fate)] of God is eternal redemption.” -1QM 15:1

“…destruction of all the nations of wickedness…” -1QM 15:2

  • The good and the evil have angels fighting with them – the good angels with God and the bad angels with Belial

Eschatology and the War Scroll

  • eschatology – considerations about the end of time or the ‘end of things’.
  • God is manifested in history by intervening in human affairs – this is a very different from the the pantheon of Gods from Rome/Greece
  • At some point, we will all be vaulted into the ‘Eschaton’ or ‘Final Days’ – this we can all agree on.
  • Christian examples of eschatology include:
    • Isaiah 2 – “the nations shall never again engage in war”
    • Isaiah 11 – “the prey and predators will no longer fight”
  • Apocalyptic Eschatology
    • Can determine when the end will be
    • Will occur through a cataclysmic battle
    • Also known as ‘Apocalypticism’ originates in Zoroastrianism
  • The two apocalyptic movements best known to us are the Qumran community and early Christianity
    • Both movements feature a Messiah
    • Dead Sea Scrolls are less focused on a single Messiah figure
    • The anointed one (mašiah) appears only 32 times in the Dead Sea Scrolls

“…by the hand of Your anointed ones [Messiahs, in the plural], those who discern testimonies, You have told us the end-times of the battles of Your hands, to fight against our enemies, to bring down the troops of Belial.” – 1QM 11:7

  • This version and the Community Rule uses Messiahs in the plural form.
  • Belial is a synonym of Satan, the devil figure, the leader of the forces of evil.

Another important Qumran text that speaks of eschatology is the “Rule of the Congregation” (1QSa) or the “Messianic Rule”.

“… the rule for all the congregation of Israel in the last days” – 1QSa 1:1

  • It culminates in the communal meal, to be presided over by the Messiah (see 1QSa 2:20-21)
  • This also seems to be an eschatological reference for the people of Qumran

Additional Scholars of the War Scroll

  • G.R. Driver (1892-1975) from Oxford University and Chaim Rabin (1915-1996) of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem were part of the group considering the Essenes to be part of the Zealot movement based on material in the War Scroll
  • The Zealots’ goal was independence from Rome and they even went to war in 66 CE which led to the destruction of Jerusalem’s temple and, later, the fall of the final Zealot outpost in Masada.
  • This scholarly view has been essentially denounced by the scholars of the Dead Sea Scrolls as the history and documentation simply does not present this idea. However, the Zealot movement may have had apocalyptic beliefs attached to it which could contribute to this confusion.

Final Thoughts on Apocalypticism in the War Scroll

  • If the Essenes had an apocalyptic viewpoint in their works, why didn’t Josephus mention this when he wrote about them?
    • Likely this is because Josephus was recording the Hebrew history for the Greco-Romans and was being paid by Romans to do this.
    • If he had mentioned the apocalyptic leanings of the Essenes, this would be counter-cultural to the beliefs of his patrons.
  • The Jewish nature of these texts is self-evident: they are written in Hebrew by a group of Jews in the pre-Christian period
  • The apocalyptic vision characterizes both the Qumran texts and the New Testament books
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