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The Damascus Document Scroll, 4Q271Df, found in Cave 4 at Qumran

The Damascus Document [a] is an ancient Hebrew text known from both the Cairo Geniza and the Dead Sea Scrolls. [4] [5] It is considered one of the foundational documents of the ancient Jewish community of Qumran. [3]

The Damascus Document is a fragmentary text, no complete version of which survives. There have been attempts to reconstruct the original text from the various fragments. The medieval recension appears to have been shorter than the Qumran version, but where they overlap there is little divergence. [1] [4] The correct ordering of all the Qumran fragments is not certain. [3]

The Damascus Document's primary body of composition is a compilation of sectarian laws that have been coupled with historical information on the sect, and utilize the same figure names used in the group's pesharim commentaries. As the rules permit a woman to marry and possess private property, most scholars believe that they were composed to determine the lifestyles of the Essenes who lived in the camps and did not join the Qumran community. [5] The redactor of the text allows that the covenant is open to all Israelites who accept the sect's halakha, while condemning the others as the "wicked of Judah" against whom God would direct "a great anger with flames of fire by the hand of all the angels of destruction against persons turning aside from the path". The text states that those who abandon the true covenant "will not live". [6]


The fragments found in Cairo in 1897 were originally called the Zadokite Fragments [7] but after the work was found at Qumran, the name was changed because the document had numerous references to Damascus. [8] The way this Damascus is treated in the document makes it possible that it was not a literal reference to Damascus in Syria, but to be understood either geographically for Babylon or Qumran itself. If symbolic, it is probably taking up the Biblical language found in Amos 5:27, "therefore I shall take you into exile beyond Damascus"; Damascus was part of Israel under King David, and the Damascus Document expresses an eschatological hope of the restoration of a Davidic monarchy.


Two manuscripts (CDa and CDb) were found in Cairo, with further findings at Qumran. In contrast to the fragments found at Qumran, the CD documents are largely complete, and therefore are vital for reconstructing the text.

Cairo Geniza

The main fragments were discovered by Solomon Schechter in 1897 in the Cairo Geniza, a storeroom adjoining Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat (Old Cairo), among over 190,000 manuscripts and fragments that were written in mainly Hebrew and Judaeo-Arabic. [9] The fragments were quite large, and a number of them matched documents found later in Qumran. They were divided into two separate sections, CDa, and CDb. Schechter dated CDa to the 10th century C.E and CDb to 11th or 12th century C.E. [10] These fragments are housed at the Cambridge University Library with the classmarks T-S 10K6 and T-S 16.311 (other references are CDa and CDb).

Qumran scrolls

The fragments from Qumran have been assigned the document references 4Q266-73 (see photo of 4Q271), 5Q12, and 6Q15.


The combined text of CDa and CDb contains twenty columns of writing. As it has come down to us, two columns have been mislocated: columns 15 & 16 originally preceded col 9. Fragments of this text from Qumran include material not found in CD. [11] [12]

The Damascus Document can be divided into two separate sections, commonly called Admonition and Laws. [13] Davies divides the Admonition into four sections: History, Legal, Warnings, a Supplement (which Wise refers to as exhortations). [11] [12] The Admonition comprises moral instruction, exhortation, and warning addressed to members of the sect, together with polemic against its opponents; it serves as a kind of introduction to the second section. [10]

The Laws looks at this new covenant community expressed to them through the Teacher of Righteousness. [10] It goes into great detail of the different social arrangements that were taking place at the time. [10] The Laws feature Oaths & vows, Sundry rulings ( halakhot), Camp laws, and a fragment of Penal codes (more of which were found in the Qumran fragments [14]).

The Admonition

This part is divided into four subsections. [11]

A. Admonition (columns 1–8 + 19–20)

1. History (1.1–4.12a)
Background to the community [11]
A description of the community and how they originated, with their purpose and an appeal to join them. [11]
2. Legal (4.12b–7.9)
The significance of being outside and inside the community, some of the laws [11]
The position of people in and outside the community in regard to the law. Those outside are straying from the law, while their community is based on the law, which is strict, but offers salvation. [11]
3. Warnings (7.5–8.19)
Includes the Three Nets of Belial [15]
Expands on the original Admonition. Criticises of the "princes of Judah", i.e. the mainstream religious authorities. [11]
4. Supplement or exhortations (19.33–20.34)
Discusses apostasy, [11] disobedience, further warnings and a promise to the faithful[ citation needed]
Further expansion of the Admonition. A new group with a Teacher appears, calling themselves the "new covenant". Davies identifies them with the Qumran group. [11]

The Laws

The first 12 laws are from the Damascus Document found at Qumran, while the others are from the Cairo Geniza.[ citation needed]

B. Laws (columns 15-16 + 9-14)[ clarification needed][ citation needed]

1. Oaths and vows (15.1–9.10a)
Taking oaths, becoming a member of the community, offerings and vows to God[ citation needed]
2. Sundry rulings (9.10b–12.22a)
Rules regarding witnesses, purity and purification, the Sabbath, sacrifices, gentiles and impure foods[ citation needed]
3. Camp laws (12.22b–14.18a)
Laws for life in the camp, qualification for an overseer, relations with outsiders, ranks and needs of camp members[ citation needed]
4. Penal code (14.18b–22)[ clarification needed]
Fragment concerning punishments[ citation needed]

Another way to organise the laws would be:[ citation needed][ dubious ]

  1. Introduction: the new laws, priests, and overseer
  2. Rules about priests and disqualification
  3. Diagnosis of skin disease
  4. Impurity from menstruation and childbirth
  5. Levitical laws pertaining to harvest
  6. Gleanings from grapes and olives
  7. Fruits of the fourth year
  8. Measures and Tithes
  9. Impurity of Idolators metal,[ clarification needed] corpse impurity, and sprinkling
  10. Wife suspected of adultery
  11. Integrity with commercial dealings and marriage
  12. Overseer of the camp
  13. 15.1–15a: Oath to return to the law of Moses be those joining the covenant
  14. 15.15b–20: Exclusion from the community on the basis of a physical defect
  15. 16.1–20: Oath to enter the community, as well as laws concerning the taking of other oaths and vows
  16. 9.1: Death to the one responsible for the death of a Jew using gentile courts of justice
  17. 9.2–8: Laws about reproof[ clarification needed] and vengeance
  18. 9.9–10.10a: Laws about oaths, lost articles[ clarification needed] and testimony and judges
  19. 10.10b–13 Purification in water
  20. 10.14–11.18 Regulations for keeping the Sabbath
  21. 11.19–12.2a Laws for keeping the purity of the Temple
  22. 12.2b–6a Dealing with transgressors
  23. 12.6b–11a Relations with gentiles
  24. 12.11b–15a Dietary laws
  25. 12.15b–22a Two purity rules
  26. 12.22b–14.19 Regulations for those in the camps
  27. 14.20–22 Penal code dealing with infractions of communal discipline
  28. Expulsion ceremony

CD and the Community Rule

The Damascus Document contains prominent reference to a cryptic figure called the Teacher of Righteousness, whom some of the other Qumran scrolls treat as a figure from their past, and others treat as a figure in their present, and others still as a figure of the future. (Some of these other scrolls where he is mentioned are the Pesharim on Habakkuk (numerous times), Micah (once) and Psalms, as well as 4Q172[ clarification needed].) The document introduces the group led by the Teacher as having arisen 390 years after the first fall of Jerusalem (circa 200 BCE): "And God observed their deeds, that they sought Him with a whole heart, and He raised for them a Teacher of Righteousness to guide them in the way of His heart." On the basis of that reference, historians date the Teacher to circa 150 BCE.[ clarification needed] Scholars have also believed that he was a priest based on other variations in the text that are also thought to be him. These include: "the teacher", "the unique teacher" and "the interpreter of the law". [16]

This Teacher of Righteousness does not feature at all, however, in the Community Rule, another document found amongst the Qumran scrolls. To some scholars, this suggests that the two works are of different Second Temple groups. Most scholars, however, focus on the high degree of shared terminology and legal rulings between the Damascus Document and the Community Rule, including terms like sons of light, and their penal codes and on the likelihood that fragment 4Q265 is a hybrid edition of both documents. They turn to the fact that the Damascus Document describes the group amongst whom the Document was created as having been leaderless for 20 years before the Teacher of Righteousness established his rule over the group to explain that both works are from the same group under different situations.[ citation needed]

Within this approach of the majority of scholars, the textual relationship between the Damascus Document and Community Rule is not completely resolved, though there is a general agreement that they have some evolutionary connection. Some suspect that the Community Rule is the original text that was later altered to become the Damascus Document, others that the Damascus Document was redacted to become the Community Rule, a third group argues that the Community Rule was created as a utopian ideal rather than a practical replacement for the Damascus Document, and still others that believe the Community Rule and Damascus Document were written for different types of communities, one enclosed and the other open.[ citation needed]


Most scholars believe that the rules featured in the Damascus Document, which let men to marry women and own private property, were created to regulate the lifestyles of the Essenes who lived in the camps and did not join the Essene community that resided in Qumran. [5]

According to Boccaccini, the Damascus Document serves as a "bridge" document, connecting Judaism's post-exilic 'Enochian'-Essene majority[ clarification needed] to the asserted leadership of its radical minority Qumran– Essene community that was established in isolation near the shores of the Dead Sea. [17]


  1. ^ It is known by several names: Damascus Covenant, [1] Book of the Covenant of Damascus, [2] Zadokite Fragments, [1] or Cairo Damascus Document. [3] The Cairo recension is labelled CD and that of Qumran QD. [4]


  1. ^ a b c Timothy Ḥlim, "Damascus Document", in Adele Berlin (ed.), The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion, 2nd ed. (Oxford University Press, 2011).
  2. ^ "The Book of Covenant of Damascus," Jewish Virtual Library
  3. ^ a b c Joseph M. Baumgarten, "Damascus Document", in Lawrence H. Schiffman and James C. VanderKam (eds.), Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Oxford University Press, 2000).
  4. ^ a b c Philip R. Davies, "Damascus Document", in Eric M. Meyers (ed.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Near East (Oxford University Press, 1997).
  5. ^ a b c Eshel, Hanan (2009). "The History of the Discoveries at Qumran". In Kister, Menahem (ed.). The Qumran Scrolls and Their World (in Hebrew). Vol. 1 (1+ ed.). Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi Press. p. 9. ISBN  978-965-217-291-4.
  6. ^ Harrington, Hannah. Identity and Alterity in the Dead Sea Schools. Brill. p. 71.
  7. ^ Schechter, Solomon. Documents of Jewish Sectaries Vol. I. Fragments of a Zadokite Work, 1910
  8. ^ Ian C. Werrett (2007). Ritual Purity and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Brill. pp. 20–. ISBN  978-90-04-15623-4. Retrieved 22 March 2013.
  9. ^ "Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit". Archived from the original on 12 September 2016. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  10. ^ a b c d "Damascus, Book of Covenant of". Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Davies, Philip. The Damascus Covenant, pp. 52, 53
  12. ^ a b Wise 1996, p. 59.
  13. ^ "The Dead Sea Scrolls: The Book of Covenant of Damascus". Encyclopaedia Judaica. Retrieved 24 April 2011 – via Jewish Virtual Library.
  14. ^ Wise, Michael. The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation, 1996, p.50
  15. ^ Schechter, Solomon. Documents of Jewish Sectaries. Vol. I. Fragments of a Zadokite Work, 1910, pp. 35-36
  16. ^ "Qumran". Archived from the original on 26 February 2013. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  17. ^ Boccaccini (1998). Chapter 5: "The Schism between Qumran and Enochic Judaism: The Damascus Document (CD)".


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