The two historical layers of Pesher Habakkuk

Hanan Eshel

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It has been claimed here that 1QpHab consists of a work originally composed in the second century BCE, but later updated in the mid-first century BCE. In the first phase, the pesharim offered an interpretation of Hab 1-2, in light of events that took place during the lifetime of the Teacher of Righteousness. They provide glimpses into the reality of life in Judaea at the beginning of Hasmonean rule. The Seleucids lost power in this period, while the Hasmoneans became stronger. The pesharim reflect the notion that the Gentiles will very soon fall into the hands of Israel. The manuscript was updated, however, subsequent to the events that took place in the region in the 60s BCE. New interpretations on Hab 1 were added, reflecting the view that the Chaldeans (i.e., the Babylonians, who laid waste to the First Temple) mentioned among Habakkuk's prophecies should be identified with the Romans, who assumed power over Judaea and Jerusalem in 63 BCE. These pesharim make no mention of the Teacher of Righteousness, the Man of the Lie, or the Wicked Priest; nor do they express the hope that the Kittim will soon be stripped of their power. Qumran has yielded 18 Continuous Pesharim, but only three of these commentaries survive in a complete enough form to assess whether they underwent historical modifications. These are Pesher Habakkuk (1QpHab), Pesher Nahum (4QpNah), and 4QpPsa. Shani L. Berrin has noted that 4QpNah contains a historical modification similar to those made in 1QpHab that I have put forward.38 If these proposals are true, then two of the three relatively complete pesher scrolls were subject to a literary evolution that included an updating of their historical commentaries.39 According to Berrin, there is only one copy of each of the 18 Continuous Pesharim, because the sectarians only kept the most updated copy of each work.40 Similar modifications are identifiable in the thematic commentaries incorporated into the Damascus Document.41 Most scholars agree that the later parts of the Book of Daniel (chapters 7-12) came into being in a similar fashion.42 The recurrence of this tendency in these works only strengthens the supposition that two historical layers are reflected in 1QpHab. The earlier represent realities of the second century BCE; the later, apparently added to 1QpHab in the mid-first century BCE, of life after the Roman occupation of Judaea.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationNorthern Lights on the Dead Sea Scrolls - Proceedings of the Nordic Qumran Network 2003-2006
EditorsFlorentino Garcia Martinez, Anders Klostergaard Petersen, Torleif Elgvin, Cecilia Wassen, Hanne von Weissenberg, Mikael Winninge
PublisherBrill Academic Publishers
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9789004171633
StatePublished - 2009

Publication series

NameStudies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah
ISSN (Print)0169-9962


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