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4Q Pesher Nahum and the Teacher of Righteousness

The true identity of the Teacher of Righteousness—ironically missed in prior discussions and never even considered as a possibility in any prior secondary literature—points to Hyrcanus II.

By Gregory L. Doudna
Danish Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities
Vimmelskaftet 41 A,2
DK 1161 Copenhagen K Denmark
October 2003

Is it possible that a Qumran text which never mentions the mysterious figure, the "Teacher of Righteousness," could provide the means to identify this figure?

This is what I think I found in 4Q Pesher Nahum, or the Nahum Commentary. This finding is presented in Appendix B of my study, 4Q Pesher Nahum: A Critical Edition (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001).

This discussion dealing with the Teacher of Righteousness occurs as an appendix for two reasons: first, the thesis argued there became clear to me only after the critical edition was completed, and second, I developed an interest in preserving a formal separation between the text reconstruction (which was not influenced by any historical theory), and what is likely to be the more controversial argument concerning the Teacher of Righteousness.

In one sense Appendix B undertakes a very old-fashioned enterprise, returning anew to the first kind of questions which engaged scholars in the late 1940’s concerning the newly found Habakkuk Commentary. Those first scholars sought to decipher the external identities of the intriguingly named "Wicked Priest" and his arch-rival, the figure within the Habakkuk Commentary and other Qumran texts called the "Teacher of Righteousness." These figures are never identified by proper name in the texts. This has given rise to many scholarly speculations and disputes over what the ancient authors had in mind.

But mistakes were made in the early years in textual and archaeological interpretation, which were inherited by later scholars. Furthermore, those early scholars did not, at that time, have the Nahum Commentary. The Nahum Commentary became known only in 1956. One of the most surprising outcomes of my study of this text was the realization that the Nahum Commentary, although it never mentions the Teacher of Righteousness, in fact gives the information enabling a true solution to the identity of this figure. It may be of interest to summarize the logic of this realization.

The language of the Teacher of Righteousness in the Qumran texts—even his very title—is language evocative of a high priest. This is well known to scholars and not very controversial. Yet this is a figure who is portrayed in the texts as in exile. He is spoken of in the language of a high priest, yet he is not functioning in Jerusalem as high priest. How is this paradox to be understood? And is this a figure who is known or unknown to history? The conventional view is that this figure, though prominent in some Qumran texts, was someone unknown or unimportant to history. That could be possible, but does it really make sense that this figure associated with texts of the range and magnitude of the Qumran finds would be unknown or marginal to known history? This, in turn, is related to the traditional scholarly construction of a marginal sect living at Qumran for 200 years in isolation, founded by a holy man, outside the flow of history taking place in Jerusalem. Does this kind of picture really make sense?

In 4Q Pesher Nahum: A Critical Edition, I argue for a different picture. The Teacher is portrayed in those Qumran texts which speak of him as active at the same time as other major figures of interest. In a detailed argument, I show that the figures of interest in the Nahum Commentary allude to Pompey and Aristobulus II. The conquering figure of the Nahum Commentary called "the Lion of Wrath"—the agency which carries out the Kittim conquest in the text—alludes to Pompey, the Roman conqueror of Jerusalem of the 60’s BCE. Furthermore, when the “Kittim” or Romans of the Habakkuk and Nahum Commentaries are portrayed by those texts as coming, this was the temporal reality of the authors of those texts. That is, a Roman conquest was either threatening or underway, but not completed or past, at the time these texts were composed (in the case of Pesher Nahum, perhaps composed while the temple in Jerusalem was under siege).

On the receiving end of this conquest, the text, 4Q Pesher Nahum, speaks of a doomed ruler of Israel called "Manasseh" (the sobriquet being drawn from wicked king Manasseh of Judah of biblical fame, not the geographical region of the same name). If "the Lion of Wrath" indeed reflects Pompey, it follows that the doomed, contemporary "Manasseh" alludes to Aristobulus II, the Jewish king and high priest of c. 67-63 BCE. And as brought out in 4Q Pesher Nahum: A Critical Edition, "Manasseh" of Pesher Nahum is the "Wicked Priest" of the Habakkuk Commentary. That is, they are two names for the same figure, and both allude to Aristobulus II.

Therefore, the Teacher of Righteousness should be active at this same time as well. The seemingly mysterious figure who reads like a high priest—the Teacher of Righteousness—should be a rival to Aristobulus II, a high priest in exile, at the time of Aristobulus II. Once the description is framed in these terms, it almost leaps out that the true identity of the Teacher of Righteousness—ironically missed in prior discussions and never even considered as a possibility in any prior secondary literature—points to Hyrcanus II. It is like an identity emerging from the mist, something which, once seen, seems obvious in retrospect.

Hyrcanus II was the oldest son of Alexander Jannaeus (reigned c. 103-76 BCE). Hyrcanus II had been high priest c. 76-67 BCE and then king briefly c. 67 BCE. He had then been deposed by his younger brother Aristobulus II, who took power and forced Hyrcanus to flee into exile. The rivalry and civil war between these two brothers is told in Josephus. From the perspective of supporters of Hyrcanus II, Hyrcanus was the legitimate high priest in exile when Aristobulus II was in power and wanted to kill Hyrcanus II. The Qumran texts which speak of the Teacher of Righteousness allude to Hyrcanus II during this period—when Hyrcanus II and his supporters perhaps were located literally, as the Qumran texts speak, in "the land of Damascus" (Coele-Syria). By this interpretation, the "Teacher of Righteousness" texts among the Qumran texts reflect one side of this civil war.

Contrary to common thinking, the Teacher of Righteousness never is said to have died or to have been a figure from the past or from tradition in any of the Qumran pesharim. In one edition of the Damascus Document, the medieval "B" text known from the Cairo Geniza (which presumably existed in full in the Qumran caves), there is a prophecy that the Teacher will die—but nothing in that text says that happened as anticipated. In fact, although his life was in danger at the time of Pompey's conquest according to ancient sources, Hyrcanus II did not die. Hyrcanus returned to power, becoming high priest in Jerusalem again from 63 BCE until 40 BCE. (And in becoming high priest again, he ceased to be the exiled "Teacher of Righteousness" in the world of the texts.) The texts, which ended up in the caves at Qumran, may reflect collecting activity of priests and scribes in Jerusalem during the era in which Hyrcanus II was high priest and revered as such. Given this context, it is not surprising that texts found at Qumran would allude favorably to Hyrcanus II.

Some scholars think the Qumran texts are associated with the Essenes of Josephus, though others are uncertain. I say little about Essenes in 4Q Pesher Nahum: A Critical Edition because it is too difficult to know what the Essenes were or what they were about. It is possible that Essenes supported Hyrcanus II, but historical sources are silent on the relationship of the various parties or sects to Hyrcanus II—or Hyrcanus II's own sympathies toward the various parties. There are possible glimpses of traditions that Essenes of the time of Herod the Great may have been in power formerly in the governing Sanhedrin during the preceding years of Hyrcanus II. But this is too uncertain to know. Those for whom the Essene connection with the Qumran texts seems strongly established are free to link the Essenes to Hyrcanus II because nothing in known history is opposed to such a link. Those for whom the Essene connection is more questionable are free not to link the Essenes to Hyrcanus II. The known sources, such as Josephus, do not address this matter either way.

Also in Appendix B, I argue that all of the texts found in the caves at Qumran were deposited in the caves in Qumran's Period Ib. There are two possibilities for the circumstances by which the texts came to be in the caves: a hiding in a time of crisis (with intent to recover the texts later, which did not happen); or a series of permanent disposals of texts (with no intent to recover the texts later on the part of those who deposited them). Although I argue in Appendix B for the former in the context of the Parthian invasion of Judea of c. 40-37 BCE (the traditional date for the end of Qumran's Period Ib), both the notion of a crisis-hiding as well as the exact date of the end of Qumran's Period Ib are currently disputed points within Qumran scholarship. (For example, Rachel Bar-Nathan and Jodi Magness each argue independently for a later end for Ib, toward the middle or end of the reign of Herod the Great.) The key point is that the deposits of all of the texts in the caves at Qumran are best associated with Qumran’s Period Ib, whenever it ended. The suggestion of Y. Magen and A. Drori that 1st century BCE Qumran was an installation founded and owned by the ruling Hasmoneans in Jerusalem and staffed by retainers of the ruling family may be relevant, though it is difficult to know for sure.

Following what the original excavator of Qumran, Roland de Vaux, saw as the destruction of Period I at Qumran by fire, there was a break in habitation and then a resettlement of the site (Period II; 1st century CE up to 68 CE). In 68 CE, there was another fire and another resettlement (Period III; post 68 CE). Although de Vaux argued for continuity of the people between Periods I and II and Magness defends de Vaux on this point, that is by no means a conclusion held by all archaeologists (e.g., Bar-Adon, Magen, Drori, Humbert, and Hirschfeld disagree with de Vaux and Magness on this). In any case, there is no reason to assume the 1st century CE people at Qumran had anything to do with the scrolls deposited in the nearby caves—whether or not the people of Period II who followed the destruction by fire of Period Ib were in continuity with the people of Ib. If, for example, the texts were imported to Qumran from sites outside Qumran, such as Jerusalem or elsewhere (say, for recopying and/or disposal of old copies), and this process ended due to political upheaval in Jerusalem or change in control of the temple, the deposits of texts in the caves could end even if the settlement or caretaking at Qumran remained in the same hands through the destructions. At this time, these things are simply unknown. What is clear is there is no secure evidence that texts found in the Qumran caves were composed or copied later than the time of Qumran’s Period Ib. It is likely that many Qumran scholars will soon realize on archaeological grounds that it is more likely that all of the scrolls went into the caves at the time of Qumran’s Period Ib (1st BCE) than in Period II (1st CE) or during both of the periods.

This analysis of the Teacher of Righteousness and the dating of the scrolls, if correct, may revolutionize the way the Qumran texts are viewed and understood. They will change scholars' understanding of whom the authors and collectors of the scrolls opposed and whom they supported, when they wrote, and perhaps where they wrote. There will be implications on scholarly reconstruction of the formation of the biblical canon. New vistas of research lie ahead.

These are some of the outcomes of this new analysis of this text which does not mention the Teacher of Righteousness: 4Q Pesher Nahum. If this interpretation is correct, the texts in the caves at Qumran become an exciting glimpse of political/religious reality of 1st century BCE Judea greater than heretofore realized.