The Qumran Library
---Sectarian Scrolls: The Pesharim
“Being versed from their early years in . . . apophthegms of the prophets; and seldom if ever do they err in their predictions” (Josephus Jewish War II, viii, 12)
The Bible was the basis for the intellectual and spiritual experience of the members of the Qumran Community, and the purpose of its interpretation was in order “to do what is good and right before Him as He commanded by the hand of Moses and all His servants the prophets” (Community Rule 1:1–3). The exegetical works written by the sectarians deal with the interpretation of the laws of the Pentateuch (such as the Temple Scroll), of various biblical stories (such as the Testament of Levi), and, in particular, of the words of the Prophets.
The method of biblical interpretation known as pesher is unique to Qumran. The pesharim may be divided into two types: those dealing with a specific subject (such as 4QFlorilegium), and those written as running commentaries. In pesharim of the second type, the biblical text is copied passage by passage in the original order, and each passage is explained by turn. Most of the “running” pesharim, of which there are about seventeen, are based on books of the Prophets, such as Isaiah, Nahum, or Habakkuk; there is also one pesher on the book of Psalms, which the Community also regarded as a prophetic work. The interpretations themselves are prophetic in nature and allude to events related to the period in which the works were composed (hence their importance for historical research). With a few exceptions, they name no historical personalities, but employ such expressions as “Teacher of Righteousness,” “Priest of Wickedness,” or “Man of Falsehood.”