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A Narrative Argument that the Teacher of Righteousness was Hyrcanus II

In what may come to be regarded as one of the more unusual, indeed astonishing, oversights in the history of Qumran scholarship, so far as is known it seems no previous scholar has proposed that Antigonus Mattathias, the last Hasmonean king of Israel, executed by the Romans in 37 BCE, might be the figure underlying the Wicked Priest of Pesher Habakkuk or the doomed ruler of Pesher Nahum.

(Excerpted from pp. 95-107 of Gregory Doudna, “The Sect of the Qumran Texts and its Leading Role in the Temple in Jerusalem During Much of the First Century BCE: Toward a New Framework for Understanding” in D. Stacey and G. Doudna, with a contribution from G. Avni, Qumran Revisited: A Reassessment of the Archaeology of the Site and its Texts [Oxford: Archaeopress, 2013].)

See Also: Article Archives - Dead Sea Scrolls.

By Greg Doudna
March 2015

In 37 BCE Roman armies sent by Mark Antony invaded Judea, put Jerusalem under siege, and breached the walls. According to Josephus the Romans massacred men, women, and children: “no quarter was given to infancy, to age, or to helpless womanhood” (War 1.352). Compare 1QpHab 6.10: “the Kittim destroy many by the sword—youths, grown men, aged, women and children—not even pity on babies”. The last Hasmonean king, Antigonus Mattathias (40-37 BCE), surrendered to the Roman commander, Sosius.

Three years earlier, Antigonus with the help of a Parthian army had invaded Judea and had overthrown Hyrcanus II. Revered and aged, Hyrcanus II, the oldest son of Alexander Jannaeus, had been the high priest of the Jewish nation for over three decades (76-67, 63-40 BCE), with a reputation internationally and domestically for moderation and a non-assertive personality—not known to have sought anyone’s execution or to have sought vengeance, at least according to the reports that have come down in history.

In the aftermath of his overthrow of Hyrcanus II in 40 BCE, Antigonus had had the aged Hyrcanus II brought to him bound in chains, and had responded to the humiliated high priest in prostration before him by lacerating or cutting off Hyrcanus’s ears with his own teeth, says Josephus (War 1.270). Josephus explains that this action had a reason behind it: it was to disqualify Hyrcanus from ever serving as high priest in the temple again, due to a stricture well represented in Qumran legal texts against priests serving who had physical disabilities. At War 1.229 Josephus tells of an incident in c. 43 BCE in which Hyrcanus, trying to keep a threatening army led by Herod from entering Jerusalem, “sent orders forbidding [Herod] to intrude aliens upon the country-folk during their period of purification”. Presumably this would have been a statement from Hyrcanus framed in the language of a legal ruling or citation and justified on that basis. Was the problem between Hyrcanus and Herod a “halakhic dispute”? Perhaps so, but behind minutiae in legal rulings there can be unseen or non-obvious issues at stake. In this light we might consider “the law” that the Teacher of Righteousness sent to the Wicked Priest to which the Wicked Priest is said to have responded by trying to kill the Teacher, of 4QpPsA 1-10 iv 8-9.

When Antigonus’s forces arrived at Jerusalem and Antigonus was threatening to take power, what would be Hyrcanus’s reaction? One thing a high priest such as Hyrcanus might do would be to issue a legal ruling explaining in halakhic language points a, b, c, that—by coincidence—might have the effect of preventing Antigonus’s forces from entering Jerusalem, or Antigonus from serving as a high priest, etc. This intent might not be spelled out in the legal document, though it would be clear to everyone anciently, including most pointedly Antigonus himself. How would someone in Antigonus’s position react in that case?

The reaction of the Wicked Priest to the law sent from the Teacher is: he rejects the law sent, and he tries to kill the sender, the Teacher. (But in the texts he does not kill the Teacher, despite his intent.) The reaction of the Wicked Priest implies something significant was at stake in the world of the text with this “law”.

Josephus does not say Antigonus’s cutting off Hyrcanus’s ears was a response to a legal ruling Hyrcanus had sent. But an hypothesized reconstruction might be: (a) Antigonus threatens to violently take power in Jerusalem. (b) Just as he did with Herod earlier, Hyrcanus issues a legal ruling which forbids e.g. Antigonus’s people from entering Jerusalem, Antigonus’s people from serving in the temple, etc. for reasons a, b, c. (c) Antigonus rejects the legal ruling and responds by mutilating Hyrcanus in a manner that disqualifies Hyrcanus from ever being high priest in the temple, or issuing further rulings in the name of the temple, again.

Hyrcanus was taken into exile by the Parthians and Antigonus became king in Jerusalem and assumed the high priesthood in the temple. That was in 40 BCE. Three years later in 37 BCE Antigonus was defeated and a prisoner, his regime in flames. Sosius sent Antigonus to Mark Antony—head of the eastern Roman empire—who was then in Antioch. Mark Antony executed Antigonus. The Roman historian Dio Cassius says Antigonus was scourged and crucified, or maybe the sense is he was put up on a cross for scourging as part of the execution (Roman History 5.49.22). Strabo followed by Josephus says Antigonus was beheaded. All accounts agree that the death was shocking and purposely so, intended to be ignominious in the eyes of all, so that any sympathy for Antigonus would be discredited and ended.

~ ~ ~

What has long been overlooked is that a Qumran text, widely acknowledged to have been authored at about this very time, speaks directly of a Jewish ruler being “hung up alive”—just like Dio Cassius’s account of the fate of Antigonus Mattathias. This is found at 4QpNah 3-4 i 8-ii 1, which is a pesher unit consisting of a biblical quotation followed by its interpretation. The text introduces this unit with the words: “concerning the one hanged up alive on a stake it is proclaimed:”, or “to the one hanged up alive on a stake he (i.e. God) proclaims:”. This is how the text of Pesher Nahum visibly introduces this particular unit. A quotation from Nah. 2:14 then follows (destruction of an Assyrian ruler and his regime) and then the pesher or interpretation, which refers to a doomed ruler of Israel and the fall of his regime. Elsewhere this same ruler of Israel (from identical language) is said explicitly to have a malkut, “kingdom” (3-4 iv 3). This doomed ruler of 3-4 i 8-ii 1 is a Jewish king in the world of the text, and the text presents him as “hung up alive” and accursed.

The authors of Pesher Nahum compare this Jewish ruler’s fate to that of earlier rebels against Alexander Jannaeus of 88 BCE, alluded to in the past tense at 4QpNah 3-4 i 2-3 and again explicitly in the past, in line 8.

The earlier rebels of 88 BCE had invited in a foreign army under the Seleucid king Demetrius III for the purpose of overthrowing Alexander Jannaeus. That rebellion had been unsuccessful, and in a story made famous by Josephus, the defeated rebels, whom the authors of Pesher Nahum regard as wicked, had been crucified by the hundreds en masse by Alexander Jannaeus, an event which Josephus says reverberated with horror and reprisals throughout Jewish society for decades after—but that is Josephus speaking, not the Qumran texts. The Qumran texts show only support for Alexander Jannaeus and for the crucifixions of his enemies.

In the same way (in the world of the text), in what the text sees as a repeat of history, Antigonus Mattathias had treacherously invited in a foreign army—this time the Parthians—for the purpose of again attempting to forcibly overthrow the legitimate high priest, Alexander’s son, Hyrcanus II. Unlike the previous rebels Antigonus had succeeded. He had become the new ruler, a wicked ruler from the point of view of Pesher Nahum. But in what the authors of Pesher Nahum regard as ironic justice, just as the rebels before of the text’s past had been accursed by being hung up alive, the treacherous Antigonus and other members of his regime of the text’s present also are hung up alive, become accursed in the same way, a replication of the same issues and the same outcome.

I believe the past crucifixions of Alexander Jannaeus are the reference of the italicized words below (at the end):

4QpNah 3-4 i 6-8
. . . Its interpretation concerns the Lion of Wrath [the one coming upon Israel in the last days to execute vengeance] upon the Seekers-after-Smooth-Things, whom he hangs up alive as living men [to be a horror and a curse as it was with the traitors] against Israel before.

I have reconstructed lacunas above, but the expression “in Israel before” or “against Israel before” is visible and is not reconstructed. That expression, “in or against Israel before”, refers back to the past event which the text has just introduced into the immediately preceding context in lines 2-3 a few lines earlier in the same column: the allusion to the wicked rebels against Alexander Jannaeus. Those past crucifixions (i.e. the ones of Alexander Jannaeus), which are set in the text’s past (by means of a perfect verb and a Greek-Kittim temporal sequence in lines 2-3), are evoked by the text as background or comparison for the text’s actual focus which is the downfall of the present wicked ruler and his regime, which is set in the text’s present.

Note clearly that Pesher Nahum situates its “Demetrius” of the Alexander Jannaeus episode in the text’s past, in contrast to nearly all of the rest of the text which is set in the text’s present. This is made clear in that Demetrius is given a perfect verb, one of only two perfect verbs used in a pesher in the entirety of the five surviving columns of Pesher Nahum. (The other is the amassing of wealth by the priests of Jerusalem of 3-4 i 11, preparatory to saying they lose that wealth expressed with an imperfect verb.) The perfect verb given to Demetrius in line 2, unlike every other unit and actor in the same column which receive imperfect verbs, signifies that Demetrius is in the past with respect to the text’s present, the implied authors’ present which is the actual authors’ present. By contrast, the Lion of Wrath, who functions in the text as other language for the Kittim conquest, receives imperfect verbs (lines 5 and 7), just as the Kittim receive an imperfect verb (line 3), and just as every surviving pesher of the entire text is expressed with an imperfect verb with the sole exception of four consecutive verbless peshers at 3-4 iii 9-iv 1.

The reason Demetrius in Pesher Nahum receives the highly atypical perfect or qtl form verb at 3-4 i 2 is because Demetrius, like Antiochus and the other Greek kings of line 3, is in the text’s past, is intended by the text to be understood as set in the past, unlike the Lion of Wrath and the Kittim who do not receive perfect or qtl form verbs because they are in the text’s present. The reference to something “in or against Israel before” of line 8 is also explicitly set in the past. That expression reads naturally as a second allusion to the very same past Demetrius episode of lines 2-3, the same allusion to Demetrius III which we know historically from Josephus involved crucifixions, just as the allusion to something in the past at line 8 suggests.

There is no reason internal to the texts to be surprised at or to resist reading an image of a Jewish ruler, a Jewish king, being hung up alive in Pesher Nahum. It is simply Pesher Nahum’s version of the Wicked Priest of Pesher Habakkuk who is brought to judgment, tortured and killed, and the Wicked Priest of Pesher PsalmsA who is killed by gentiles. It is all variants on the same theme of the ruler’s death at the hands of gentiles, and all of these figures of these texts described in this way are the same figure, set in the contemporary present of the implied authors in each of these texts, in texts which are themselves contemporary to each other.

~ ~ ~

It is sometimes claimed that there are multiple Wicked Priests in Pesher Habakkuk because there are three conflicting methods of death of the Wicked Priest in that text—by God, by disease, and by torture. Since three methods of death are believed inconsistent for single figures in texts (other than Rasputin), the logic goes, the text has multiple Wicked Priests. But that is a misunderstanding. A first response is this may fail to appreciate how singularly focused a literary text might be in making sure that a single hated figure is really, really good and dead, even if that means having him killed off in five different ways, or as Francis Watson puts it, “supposed inconsistencies over the circumstances of the Wicked Priest’s death (ix.1-2, 10-12; x.3-5) may simply be intended to make the Wicked Priest’s final sufferings as comprehensive as possible” (2004: 106-7 fn 76).

But that is not the most important point here, which is that there is in fact no death of the Wicked Priest by disease in the text, i.e. it’s not there, and once that means of death is removed there is no remaining contradiction between the other two. The sense at 1QpHab 9.1-2 is something like “horrible bodily injuries” rather than “diseases”, indicated by the parallelism with the expression of the same sentence, “vengeance upon his putrid flesh”; an image of a figure being tortured, and compare 2 Chron. 24:25. At 1QpHab 9.10-11 the sense is punishments inflicted by angels of destruction evoking torture (compare 1QS 4.11-13 and association with “annihilation in fire”), not “diseases” as rendered in some translations (Doudna 2001: 621-22).

And at 1QpHab 9.4 the “last priests of Jerusalem” is another way of alluding to the regime of the Wicked Priest, not a successive series of high priests following one after another as has sometimes been misunderstood. There are not multiple Wicked Priests in Pesher Habakkuk any more than there are multiple Kittims in Pesher Habakkuk. These texts are highly redundant. They say the same things over and over in slightly different ways. There is no reason to assume it was more complicated than that.

~ ~ ~

Again, the doomed ruler hung up alive of Pesher Nahum is Pesher Nahum’s variant on the violent death of the Wicked Priest of Pesher Habakkuk and of Pesher PsalmsA. It is the same figure, called by various names and depicted in various ways in these texts. All of this is set in the context of a Kittim invasion, in these texts from the latter half of the 1st century BCE. It is a doomed ruler of Israel portrayed in a context of a Roman invasion, contemporary to the time of these texts’ writing, killed by gentiles … defeated Jewish ruler … Romans … hung up alive … killed by gentiles … second half of the 1st century BCE … Roman invasion … Jewish ruler … Roman invasion … executed … Roman invasion … who could this figure alluded to in these texts possibly be?

In what may come to be regarded as one of the more unusual, indeed astonishing, oversights in the history of Qumran scholarship, so far as is known it seems no previous scholar has proposed that Antigonus Mattathias, the last Hasmonean king of Israel, executed by the Romans in 37 BCE, might be the figure underlying the Wicked Priest of Pesher Habakkuk or the doomed ruler of Pesher Nahum. The actual allusion of the figure of these texts, Antigonus Mattathias, remained unseen even though it was always in open view, as obvious as it could be. And in wondering how Antigonus Mattathias was missed in the history of scholarship I include myself, for I too missed this in my 2001 study of Pesher Nahum.

~ ~ ~

According to Josephus, Antigonus Mattathias, the son of Aristobulus II, perhaps a teenager at the time, was sent to Rome along with his family at the time of his father’s loss of power in 63 BCE (Ant. 14.70). The rest of Antigonus’s adult life was spent in Rome, then back in Judea with his father involved in a revolt which failed (Ant. 14.96), then in Ashkelon living with his mother and siblings (Ant. 14.97, 126), and finally and most importantly, in Chalcis or territory controlled by it when his sister married first the son of Ptolemy the ruler of Iturea and then Ptolemy executed the son and married her himself (Ant. 14.126). The Itureans leaned pro-Parthian and anti-Roman in this era (Overman 2009: 287-88). The plan of Antigonus to be king in Jerusalem is said to have begun with a deal between Antigonus and the Parthians brokered by the new king of Iturea, Lysanias the son of Ptolemy. Antigonus promised five hundred women to the Parthians and money, and in return received Parthian support in destroying Antigonus’s archenemy Herod and installing him, Antigonus, as king in Jerusalem (Ant. 14.230). In 40 BCE a Parthian army entered Jerusalem with Antigonus Mattathias and made him king.

Culturally Antigonus Mattathias came from a very different background than Hyrcanus II, with most of Antigonus’s adult life spent in pagan surroundings. Whether Antigonus’s differences in background resulted in significant changes in temple practices in Jerusalem when he took over as high priest, or small changes deemed significant by others, or no changes, is unknown and on one level perhaps not too important; the important point is how Antigonus’s regime was perceived from the point of view of supporters of the ousted former high priest, and how that might turn up in the world of texts written from the perspective of the side that had lost.

If there is any substance to Josephus’s account of a sanhedrin bringing charges against Herod but Hyrcanus II acting to spare Herod to the sanhedrin’s dismay, that could be a context not only for Pharisee support for Antigonus but for a direct Pharisee alliance in Antigonus’s regime, given the common cause against the same enemy (Ant. 14.165-175). Pharisee animus toward Herod in the years leading up to Antigonus’s ousting of Herod and Hyrcanus II seems explicit in Josephus: Josephus alludes to opposition to Herod from “Pollion the Pharisee” and “Samaias” in the story of the thwarted attempt to condemn Herod (Ant. 14.172-176; 15.1-10). The figures Pollion and Samaias are generally understood to be Abtalion and Shemayah of the later rabbis, teachers of the famous Hillel and Shammai. Josephus says Herod executed the entire sanhedrin under Antigonus with only the exceptions of Pollion and Samaias themselves after he came to power, implying that Herod regarded the sanhedrin under Antigonus as having been supporters of Antigonus and a continuation of the earlier sanhedrin of the time of Hyrcanus II which was at odds with Herod and Hyrcanus II. The Talmud refers to Herod killing the sages (Baba Bathra 3b-4b). The stories of Herod’s execution of the sages/sanhedrin of the time of Antigonus could be an indirect clue that there was a Pharisee-Antigonus convergence of interests and rule in the brief regime of the last Hasmonean king.

~ ~ ~

There has been a notion that Hyrcanus II was pro-Pharisee whereas the Qumran texts are anti-Pharisee. But a close reading of Josephus shows no evidence that Hyrcanus II favored the Pharisees, as distinguished from relating to the Pharisees as rivals to the Hasmonean family fortunes. Jean Le Moyne’s 1972 Les sadducées saw no Hyrcanus II/Pharisee alignment. Nor did Anthony Saldarini in his 2001 Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees in Palestinian Society. Günter Stemberger considered an equation of Hyrcanus II’s followers with Pharisees to be very questionable (1995: 113). James VanderKam notes that “the sources say nothing” about Pharisees exercising influence on Hyrcanus II (2004: 338), and so on. Hyrcanus II’s sectarian orientation is now generally understood to have been Sadducee: e.g. “it is known that the Hasmonean rulers, with the exception of Queen Alexandra, who leaned toward the Pharisees, belonged to the Sadducee sect” (Bar-Nathan 2002: 186).

~ ~ ~

Hyrcanus II became high priest in 76 BCE upon the death of his father, Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 BCE). According to Josephus, the Pharisees, whom Alexander Jannaeus had persecuted, exercised influence and control over Jannaeus’s widow and successor, Queen Alexandra Salome. Hyrcanus II was the rightful heir of Jannaeus and logically should have become king. But (as the story goes in Josephus) Alexandra Salome, the queen, did not permit this. Instead she let the Pharisees rule. The picture is that Alexandra retained nominal royal authority for herself but de facto civil power was in the hands of the Pharisees. In this picture Hyrcanus II does not have civil power; the Pharisees do. He was confirmed in the high priesthood so he controls the temple, but he does not have civil power. Nine years later in c. 67 BCE Queen Alexandra just before she died made Hyrcanus II king whereupon Hyrcanus was immediately challenged and overthrown by his younger brother Aristobulus II. As Josephus tells it, the two brothers publicly embraced in the temple and Aristobulus II took over as king and high priest (67-63 BCE). But later Hyrcanus II became frightened and fled to Arabia and civil war broke out. The Arabian king tried unsuccessfully to restore Hyrcanus II to power.

In 63 BCE the Romans arrived in Jerusalem. Both brothers had journeyed to Damascus to appeal to Pompey to be recognized as king, plus a third party representing “the nation”. “The nation” is probably other language for the Pharisees, in the literary scheme of Josephus’s source (Ant. 13.288, 296, 376, 402; 14.41). This third party (“the nation”, the Pharisees) was opposed to either Hasmonean being king (Ant. 14.41, 46; Diodorus of Sicily 40.2). Pompey responded by deciding to invade the Hasmonean kingdom. Both Hasmonean brothers cooperated with Pompey’s journey to Jerusalem. Aristobulus surrendered the fortresses to the Romans. In Jerusalem, supporters of Hyrcanus II assisted Pompey in gaining control of Jerusalem over a failed resistance from members of the regime of Aristobulus II who disobeyed Aristobulus’s order to surrender the city. Pompey removed Aristobulus II from being king and “liberated” the territories which Alexnder Jannaeus had earlier put under Jewish rule and which the Hasmoneans, most recently Aristobulus II, were charged with oppressing. Pompey reorganized the region and abolished the monarchy in Judea altogether. Aristobulus II and his family were exiled to Rome. Pompey put Hyrcanus II back in as high priest (63-40 BCE).

During the later years of Hyrcanus II’s high priesthood he was revered and influential throughout the eastern Mediterranean world and in the diaspora as the nation’s most highly respected religious leader or lawgiver. Throughout Hyrcanus II’s ups and downs as high priest during these turbulent decades he would have been the leading priest of the yachad groups, regarded as the moral authority, teacher, and lawgiver within the yachad groups scattered throughout the countryside, with all the respect and honor that the office of high priest meant. When Hyrcanus was deposed in 40 BCE he was taken from Judea in chains with the Parthians returning home, but there his situation improved.

“When Hyrcanus was brought there, the Parthian king Phraates treated him very leniently because he had learned of his distinguished and noble lineage. For this reason he released him from his bonds and permitted him to settle in Babylon, where there was a great number of Jews. These men honored Hyrcanus as their high priest and king, as did all of the Jewish nation occupying the region as far as the Euphrates.” (Ant. 15.14-15)

According to this account significant numbers of Jews (“all of the Jewish nation occupying the region as far as the Euphrates”) regarded the aged Hyrcanus II, mutilated and in exile though he may be, as their legitimate high priest. Perhaps they addressed him by titles reflecting this. Perhaps some in Judea did as well. Perhaps some wrote texts. Perhaps some of those texts have been found at Qumran.

~ ~ ~

Following the collapse of Antigonus’s regime in 37 BCE and Herod’s installation as king by Rome, Herod invited Hyrcanus II to return from exile to Judea, and Hyrcanus returned. As Josephus tells it, at first Herod outwardly honored Hyrcanus, but it was all a trap. Herod, after he had finished executing other Hasmonean potential threats, treacherously charged Hyrcanus with treason. There was a trial, and in 30 BCE, Hyrcanus II, now over eighty years old according to Josephus, was convicted and executed, an ignoble end to what Josephus portrays as a man of varied fortunes, betrayed by malevolent persons in whom he had too naively trusted. Here is Hyrcanus II’s ancient reputation:

“Hyrcanus because of his mild character did not choose either then or at any other time to take part in public affairs or to start a revolution, and he submitted to Fortune and appeared to be pleased with whatever she brought about … Not even in his youth did he give a sign of boldness or recklessness.” (Ant. 15.165, 177)

Gmirkin (2006: 40-71, 259-63) has argued that Diodorus of Sicily preserves an account of the Jewish high priesthood from Theophanes who accompanied Pompey to Syria and Judea in the 60s BCE. Gmirkin’s analysis is convincing in light of the context of Theophanes’ portrayal of and apologia for Pompey’s actions in Judea (contra Grabbe 2008; response from Gmirkin 2014). This account, arguably a contemporary description of Hyrcanus II, reads:

“Authority over the people [of the Jews] is regularly invested in whichever priest is regarded as superior by his colleagues in wisdom and virtue. They call this man the high priest and believe that he acts as a messenger to them of God’s commandments. It is he, they say, who in their assemblies and gatherings announces what is ordained, and the Jews are so docilic in such matters that straightway they fall to the ground and do reverence to the high priest when he expounds the commandments to them.” (Diodorus Siculus, Library 40.3.5c-6a)

Compare this outsider’s report of emic (insider) views of Hyrcanus II as high priest, with the emic (insider) portrayals of the Teacher of Righteousness in the world of the texts, who also is regarded as superior in wisdom and virtue. The etic (outsider) views of Hyrcanus II would be the historians’ accounts Josephus gives in his history. It is important to compare emic (of the high priest Hyrcanus) with emic (of the Teacher) views, for a true basis for analysis.

Perhaps a high priest in the temple in Jerusalem for over three decades might be remembered by fellow priests (who perhaps had assisted him in administration, speechwriting, liturgical compositions, and legal decisions) in terms something like the way the Teacher is remembered in the Damascus Document. Compare this from Yonder Gillihan’s study of the Qumran Rule texts and civic associations:

“A commonly cited analogy between the Covenanters and other voluntary associations is the veneration of a founding figure … But the analogy has significant flaws … Unlike founders of philosophical schools and voluntary associations, the Covenanters do not regard the Teacher as having created something new. Rather, as a divinely appointed agent acting on behalf of the entire people of Israel, he restored his generation’s adherence to the Torah of Moses … we may compare the depiction of the Teacher with portrayals of reformers, innovators, and restorers in Greek politeiai, such as the Aristotelian Constitution of Athens. Not one of these are described as having founded the polis or its constitution. Instead, they are contributors to a centuries-long process by which democratic Athens attained its final constitutional form. Their reforms are described as appropriate for their age; nevertheless many of their innovations underwent further change through the reforms of later figures. Here we find another analogy to the Teacher: his establishment of an interim constitution for the Covenanters is not depicted as eternal in all of its details. Instead the statutes provide guidance ‘for the age of evil,’ before the restoration of Israel at the End of Days … It thus seems that, like the Athenian statesmen, the Teacher’s accomplishment is that he established exactly what his people needed at the time, a foundation of eternal truths, but not the final constitution of Israel.” (Gillihan 2012: 157-9)

The figure the Qumran texts call the Teacher of Righteousness appears to read, very simply and with due allowance for imagination in the world of texts, as an emic or insiders’ portrayal of the figure who was the contemporary high priest during the decades of the most intensive era of composition and scribal copying activity of the Qumran texts. When the priests of the texts, the priests writing the texts, extol their leading priest, this figure is Hyrcanus II. When Hyrcanus II lost his high priestly position through violence at the time of the Parthian invasion, the texts portray the one who overthrew him as the Wicked Priest. The priests of the texts at Qumran were priests for whom Hyrcanus II was their high priest, with all of the deep significance and honor that would have meant in the world of imagination and texts.

An analysis of an identification of the ancient authors’ Teacher of Righteousness should not be affected by notions of what we today, far removed chronologically and culturally, might prefer or choose to admire. Yet despite the formal acceptance of this statement that every historian and scholar will grant, at the same time there is a romanticizing impulse in how the Teacher figure has been viewed to which scholars studying the Qumran materials have not been immune. Romanticized images of the Teacher, images of modern scholarly creation, may bring about cognitive dissonance when encountering a figure in history which practically by definition is going to be “not what we expected”. There may even be an attachment on a certain emotional level to a romanticized view of an ethereal Teacher who remains invisible, outside of history, forever unknowable even by name.[1]


Bar-Nathan, R. (2002), Hasmonean and Herodian Palaces at Jericho Vol III: The Pottery. Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority.

Doudna, G. (2001), 4Q Pesher Nahum: A Critical Edition. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press.

Gmirkin, R. (2006), Berossus and Genesis, Manetho and Exodus: Hellenistic Histories and the Date of the Pentateuch. New York: T & T Clark.

Gmirkin, R. (2014), “Greek Evidence for the Hebrew Bible.” Pp. 56-88 in T. L. Thompson and P. Wajdenbaum, eds, The Bible and Hellenism: Greek Influence on Jewish and early Christian Literature. New York: Routledge.

Grabbe, L. (2008), “Hecataeus of Abdera and the Jewish Law: the Question of Authenticity.” Pp. 613-26 in I. Kottsieper et al, eds, Berührungspunkte: Studien zur Sozial- und Religionsgeschichte Israels und seiner Umwelt: Festschrift für Rainer Albertz zu seinem 65. Münster: Ugarit-Verlag.

Humbert, J.-B. (2003), “The Chronology During the First Century B.C. De Vaux and his Method: A Debate.” Pp. 425-43 in J.-B. Humbert and J. Gunneweg, eds, Khirbet Qumran et ‘Ain Feshkha II: Studies of Anthropology, Physics and Chemistry. Fribourg: Academic Press.

Le Moyne, J. (1972), Les sadducéens. Paris: Librairie Lecoffre.

Overman, J.A. (2009), “Between Rome and Parthia: Galilee and the Implications of Empire.” Pp. 279-99 in Z. Rodgers et al, eds, A Wandering Galilean: Essays in Honour of Seán Freyne. Leiden: Brill.

Rocca, S. (2008), Herod’s Judea. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck.

Saldarini, A. (2001), Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees in Palestinian Society. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.

Stemberger, G. (1995), Jewish Contemporaries of Jesus: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress.

VanderKam, J. (2004), From Joshua to Caiaphas: High Priests after the Exile. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress.

Watson, F. (2004), Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith. London: T & T Clark.


[1] Note that there is good reason to suppose Hyrcanus II was in control of Qumran during much of the time he was high priest, such that it should hardly be surprising if texts found in caves close to the site reflect a point of view favorable to Hyrcanus II. “Qumrân, par proximité appartient à Jéricho et qui tenait Jéricho tenait Qumrân” (“Qumran by its promixity pertains to Jericho; who holds Jericho, holds Qumran”) (Humbert 2003: 469). “Hyrcanus II who was, in fact, the owner of the palatial environs [at Jericho]” (Rocca 2008: 115).

Comments (2)

an interesting hypothesis!there is not enough evidence supplied to convince me.
#1 - dr.peter long - 03/23/2015 - 11:14

There is a totally different possibility. According to traditional Jewish chronology the destruction of the Temple occurred in 423 BCE, thus the time of the Teacher would have been about 13 BCE. This puts the story away from the Hasmoneans, and even makes it possible that the sect was not necessarily anti- Pharisee at all.
#2 - Dave Sabatene - 07/26/2015 - 22:48

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