N. Mizrahi Reviews Those Who Hold Fast to the Ordinances (L. Goldman)

Liora Goldman. Those Who Hold Fast to the Ordinances: The Qumran Community and Its Exegesis in Light of the Pesharim in the Damascus Document. Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 2019. 76. [Hebrew]

Reviews of the Enoch Seminar 2020.09.05

Noam Mizrahi
Tel Aviv University


It is one of paradoxes that characterize the field of Qumran studies that, contrary to what one might have expected, they were not launched with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (presumably in 1946 or 1947), but about a generation beforehand, when Solomon Schechter identified among the thousands of Genizah fragments he brought from Cairo the remains of two overlapping manuscripts—known as A and B, or CDa and CDb—of an ancient composition, which he published under the title Fragments of a Zadokite Work (1910). The discovery of scrolls in the Qumran caves has vindicated Schechter’s hypothesis that this is a sectarian work dating to the late Second Temple period, and it became known as the Damascus Document (D), as it tells about a sect that took shape in “the land of Damascus.” A few fragments of two additional copies were unearthed in the “small caves” near Qumran and published as early as 1962: 5QD/5Q12 (published by J.T. Milik) and 6QD/6Q15 (published by M. Baillet). More than thirty years later, J. Baumgarten finally published eight more copies from Cave 4, originally entrusted to Milik, namely, 4QDa–h/4Q266–273. Due to the fragmentary state of preservation of the Qumran copies, the Genizah manuscripts are still the main sources for our knowledge of the work. This is especially true for CDa, of which 8 leaves have survived, written on both sides, thus supplying 16 pages of consecutive text. The Qumran scrolls contains some material that is not represented in the Genizah manuscripts, including the remains of the original opening and ending of the work. They also confirm that the order of the pages should be rearranged compared to Schechter’s editio princeps.

Since the first publication of D, scholars have generally acknowledged that it comprises two literary sections that differ in context and style: one section contains admonitions that describe the history of the sect from an insider’s point of view, and the other section consists of laws that comprise both religious prescriptions relying on—and interpreting—scriptural commandments, which apply, in principle, to the whole Jewish people, alongside rules that organize the social life of more particular sectarian communities. The first section is represented by CDa I–VIII, which partly overlap with CDb XIX–XX (though the two manuscripts differ textually), whereas the second section is represented by CDa XV–XVI + IX–XIV (in this order; some pages appear to be missing in between them, and the Qumran copies indeed preserve additional material that is missing from the Genizah manuscripts).

Although D has been known for well over a century and  has captured the attention of great scholars (such as R.H. Charles, L. Ginzburg, C. Rabin, to name just a few), its contemporary research is still lagging behind the extensive studies and commentaries devoted to some of the other sectarian works found at Qumran (such as the Thanksgiving Scroll [H], the War Rules [M], or the Temple Scroll [T]). Moreover, recent scholarship has focused, to a large extent, on the laws, discussed in contexts such as the history of ancient Jewish religious law (halakhah) and the sociological profile of the sectarian society that is reflected in the Dead Sea Scrolls, while the admonitions have not often received equal attention. In these two respects, Liora Goldman’s new monograph makes an important contribution: it sets out to investigate the admonitions, and offers a detailed commentary and close reading of select textual units of the admonitions. The study as a whole and the commentary in particular are written from a literary perspective, but without neglecting historical aspects. As explained below, Goldman’s main interest lies in decoding the intertextual relations between D and scriptural literature, which forms a spiritual and literary framework—as well as a linguistic and stylistic model—for D. The literary analysis sheds new light on the historical information that is embedded in D, sometimes requiring re-evaluation of some commonly held views.

Based on a doctoral dissertation that Goldman wrote at the University of Haifa, under the supervision of Prof. Devorah Dimant (2008), the book includes an introduction, three chapters that analyze specific textual sections, and a conclusion. It ends with the customary bibliography and indices—an index of terms (also comprising a subject index) and an index of sources. The main thesis presented throughout the book, supported by detailed textual analysis, is that despite the term “admonitions,” the literary units assembled in this section of D are actually exegetical in nature and belong to the genre of thematic Pesharim. They focus on scriptural quotations that are submitted to sectarian interpretation that follows the typical hermeneutics of the pesher-method, and they combine several such quotations, following a thematic and exegetical reasoning that expresses a typically sectarian ideology. D’s biblical interpretation is not restricted to passages that are explicitly quoted; it also transpires from passages that are only alluded to or even just hinted at along the text in a variety of strategies. Goldman develops a sophisticated typology for characterizing the various ways for referring to the scriptural passages, distinguishing between five levels of intertextual reference. These include explicit quotation that may be introduced with a citation formula (or lacking such introductory formula); allusions to specific passages, which may be transparent or ambiguous; and stylistic adaptation of biblical diction. The book chapters exemplify how each of the admonitions under investigation takes advantage of the full gamut of such referencing strategies. Thus, D’s biblical interpretation is not only an organizing principle from a structural point of view but also the essential basis for understanding the themes, ideas, language, and style of this work. Every chapter of the book under review accordingly concludes with a table that summarizes the scriptural passages embedded in the unit and how they are referred to.


The Introduction (pp. 15–48) surveys previous scholarship dealing with D. Next, it summarizes the state of the question with regard to Pesharim literature, analyzes the overarching structure of the admonitions, and presents Goldman’s methodology. Readers of Modern Hebrew who are interested in Pesharim literature often resort to the comprehensive introduction of B. Nitzan’s admirable edition and commentary of Pesher Habakkuk (1986), which naturally highlights the continuous Pesharim. The sections dealing with the Pesharim in Goldman’s Introduction will likely function as a very useful update, highlighting the thematic Pesharim.

Particularly interesting is the structural analysis of the admonitions, which, in Goldman’s opinion, consists of ten units, which she terms “orations”:

1. Opening of D (attested by some of the Qumran copies only, as it did not survive among the Genizah manuscripts).
2. Introduction to the admonitions: The formation of the sect (CDa I 1 – II 1). 3. Sins of past generations (CDa II 2 – III 12a).
4. Selection: The sect as a separate—and separatist—group (CDa III 12b – IV 5a).
5. Sins of the present generation (CDa IV 5b – V 19).
6. Revelation of the interpretation of the Law to the sect (CDa V 20 – VI 11). 7. Laws to present members of the sect (CDa VI 12 – VII 9a).
8. Eschatological deliverance of the sect and punishment of its opponents (CDa VII 9b – VIII 13 || CDb XIX 5-26a).
9. Conclusion of the admonitions: The sect at present, after the death of the Teacher of Righteousness (CDb XIX 33b – XX 34).
10. Ending and link to the laws (which again did not survive in the Genizah manuscripts, but found among some of the Qumran copies).

Goldman explains this analysis and explores its compositional rationale, such as the alternation between “positive” themes (the sect) and “negative” ones (sins), or the chiastic symmetry of the structure as a whole. However, it should be noted that the sequence of the text is interrupted at one point. It remains unclear how to integrate into this construction the section of CDb XIX 26b-33a, which is placed between Units 8 and 9, and thus damages the picture of a chiastic structure. Furthermore, the primary criterion that Goldman employs for dividing the text is a thematic one, but tracking down the introductory formulae may uncover an alternative division. For instance, Units 1 and 2 open with a similar formula: “And now, hear ye all those who know justice” (I 1), “And now, hear ye me, all who enter the covenant” (II 2). Yet a very similar formula appears in what Goldman considers as the middle of Unit 2: “And now, sons, hear me” (II 14). So why not consider it as a formula introducing a new unit?

Thematically, every oration is a self-standing unit, but all orations combine into a whole narrative complex, a quasi-historical survey of the sect, leading from the story of its past, through its present state, to the future that awaits it and its opponents in the pending End of Days. Furthermore, in Goldman’s view, the admonitory section can only be understood in light of its association with the legal section; the two cannot be interpreted independently of each other, as if they were joined only secondarily. Goldman also rejects literary-historical theories from the realm of redaction criticism, which identify traces of various compositional strata and redactional stages within the text as we have it. Rather, she considers D to reflect, fundamentally, a literary unity (with the exception of the variant recension represented by CDb). In my opinion, however, this last issue cannot be decided on the basis of the data analyzed in this book. Moreover, Goldman’s methodological perspective renders it difficult to discern compositional and redactional activity in the first place. Such internal stratification should be examined in its own right, in light of textual discontinuities, shifts in style and subject matter, as well as divergent worldviews; it is not easily observed if one focuses on intertextual references. The question whether the admonitions represent a compositional or redactional unity should therefore be investigated separately.


The lion’s share of the book is devoted to the detailed analysis of three—or actually four—orations. Unit 4 is discussed in Chapter 1: “The pesher-unit concerning the firm house (III 12 – IV 12)” (pp. 49–112). Unit 6 is the topic of Chapter 2: “The pesher-unit concerning the well (V 20 – VI 11)” (pp. 113–178). Unit 8 is the subject of Chapter 3: “The Pesharim concerning the controversy about the understanding of history (XIX 5–26) and the Pesharim concerning the schism and the exile (VII 9 – VIII 1)” (pp. 179–276); in reality, it splits to two variant orations, represented by CDa and CDb respectively, hence the double title of this chapter. Joining Chapter 3 is the Appendix, “Comparison of the Texts” (pp. 177-194), which submits both versions to comparative analysis.

These orations are discussed throughout the three chapters following a more-or-less consistent scheme: presentation of the original text; analysis of the literary framework of the unit under scrutiny; commentary on the text, based on division and subdivision of the unit; and examination of the biblical exegesis and literary reworking of biblical proof-texts. The last section pays attention to the pesher-hermeneutics, taking into account Goldman’s typology of interpretive strategies, the ways of linking the various scriptural passages, and the overarching literary structure of the unit in light of its intertextual characteristics.

Each such unit has its own special theme, literary structure, selection of quoted and alluded passages, and particular distribution of the various interpretive techniques. As a result, the rich and diverse material presented in these chapters cannot be adequately summarized and represented by way of a brief summary. What all chapters have in common, which is also decisive methodology-wise, is the systematic realization of the fundamental recognition that the exegetical dimension of the admonitions is not exhausted by the explicit Pesharim, namely, cases in which scriptural passages are quoted verbatim and then followed by a systematic explication of re-quoted words and phrases. As a matter of fact, the explicatory statements also engage in exegetical reworking of other scriptural passages in parallel. In addition, a close reading of the specific formulation of surrounding statements—which seemingly have nothing to do with the matrix of a pesher-unit—reveals that they often function as implicit Pesharim, as they draw their diction from various biblical passages, while their choice of words and reformulation reflect a tendentious reworking, which reflects coherent exegesis and ideology. This principle applies to statements that appear to be historiographical descriptions, as well as epithets of individuals and groups, which are actually sobriquets borrowed from biblical Hebrew or alluding to biblical passages. It turns out, therefore, that the make-up of all segments of the D text is a dense texture of literary allusions—both direct and indirect, transparent and ambiguous—which are interwoven into each other in a variety of sophisticated ways. Viewed from this vantage point, the explicit Pesharim embedded in D are nothing but the tip of the iceberg. The kinds of biblical interpretation practiced throughout the orations extend to all the literary units and to all their textual segments. The commentary included in each chapter thus explores the alluded passages, identifies the strategies by which they are explained and interlinked, and throughout this condensed stylistic texture it attempts to discern the historical events that are so described—as much as the thick literary disguise allows it—and to illuminate the author’s ideology and concerns.

Understanding well the challenge that the enormous amount of details poses to readers, Goldman wisely concludes each section and subsection of her discussion with a helpful summary, integrating highly informative tables that recap the textual data and the exegetical methods implemented when reworking quoted and alluded passages. Clever use is made of typographical means (such as font-switch) in order to distinguish between primary sources and their critical analysis, or between scriptural passages and their exegetical reworking. Such tools greatly enhance the absorption of both the data and their analyses.


The Conclusion (pp. 295–326) ties together all the different threads that have been followed across the book. It opens with presenting the ideological core of each oration: the apocalyptically-oriented historiosophy of the establishment of the sect as a group that gained access to esoteric knowledge and  the potential for eternal life (Unit 4), the sect’s special methods of interpretation (Unit 6), the events that shaped its early history (Unit 8, according to CDa), and the justification of its way in eschatological perspective (Unit 8, according to CDb). Each oration has its own thematic focus, which allows one to consider it as a “thematic pesher,” but the individual themes and idea are reiterated from various directions throughout all orations. In particular, they are expressed in a condensed way in the code-names that are used to denote the sect, its members and its opponents (“pesher-epithets,” in Goldman’s terminology).

Goldman then moves to survey the pesher methods, that is, the exegetical techniques applied by the orations to scriptural passages. She highlights the strategies of “an implied interpretation constructed from weaving together explicit Pesharim […] interwoven into each other by a rich variety of methods, creating a mosaic of biblical reworkings” (p. 307), while every single oration has its own special structure and pattern of interlinking the explicated passages when combining both transparent and ambiguous allusions to additional passages. The main techniques are repeated allusion or hint, parallel allusion to several pertinent passages, rearrangement of clusters of Pesharim that revolve around a shared theme (a phenomenon that supports the hypothesis regarding the independent existence of such clusters, which could have been utilized by authors of the documented Pesharim), and the very combination of various interpretive strategies in one and the same unit.

This discussion leads Goldman to reassess the genre of the D orations. From her point of view, they should not be classified as admonitions or historiography but rather as a work that is first and foremost exegetical in nature. They are, in fact, thematic Pesharim, but their theme is the history of the community. At the same time, Goldman proposes to reassess Pesharim literature itself, as well as its interpretive techniques, which exhibit flexibility and internal variation that have been hitherto underappreciated. And, as indicated above, Goldman concludes that D is a work featuring literary unity, as the orations join into a polemical introduction to the laws and rules, and the entire work exhibits a well-calculated structure that is chiastic in nature (see especially the illustration drawn on p. 317).

The final chapter also refers to the historical conclusions that follow from the literary analysis, such as the possible identification of certain events, developments, and figures mentioned along the orations. Of theoretical importance is the conclusion that if the genre of the orations is not historiography but rather a thematic pesher, then the orations’ presentation of events is not chronological, and they may overlap each other. Put differently, the orations narrate, time and again, the same foundational events, describing them from different directions. It seems to me that this assertion stands in some methodological tension with the attempt to differentiate between some “pesher-epithets” based on slight differences in formulation, such as moreh ha-ṣédeq (Teacher of Righteousness, i.e., a historical figure of the past) and yoreh ha-ṣédeq (which Goldman thinks refers to a messianic figure of the future). Yet if the same events can be described in diverse ways, wouldn’t the Pesherists be able to similarly employ diverse epithets for designating the same figures? If so, it would be even more complicated to extract historical information from the thematic Pesharim included in D. To be sure, the very existence of such information should not be denied. Still, while it was self-explanatory to the ancient readers of D, for us—its modern readers—it appears to be ambiguous and enigmatic, since we are no longer able to decode the ciphers and vague references that are scattered all over the place. Goldman’s book opens up a new and powerful perspective for viewing these problems, and one can only be grateful to the author, who produced a detailed, penetrating, and sophisticated analysis that is bound to make a lasting contribution to the study of D. But the mysteries D encapsulates are so numerous and complex, that the way for further research remains wide and open. 

Noam Mizrahi