The Rule of the Congregation
The Rule of the Congregation (1QSa) is an appendix to one of the first seven Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in caves near the Qumran site in 1946. Three related sectarian documents were discovered in Qumran Cave 1: The Community Rule (1QS), The Rule of the Congregation (1QSa), and The Rule of the Blessing (1QSb). The Rule of the Congregation and the Rule of the Blessing were at first overlooked by researchers and considered a continuation of the much longer Community Rule. After careful study, it was revealed that the two texts acted as appendices to the first Community Rule scroll, and described an eschatological community (identified as the Yahad in the Community Rule) existing in Israel during the “end of times.”
Since their discovery, the two passages have been called many names, including The Messianic Rule, The Charter for Israel in the Last Days, The Rule of the Benedictions, and A Priestly Blessing for the Last Days. The book’s Hebrew names are Serekh ha-‘Edah, and Serekh ha-Berakhot. They have also been referred to by 5 sigla: 1QSa and 1QSb are the most common, but 1Q28a, 1Q28b, and 4Q249a-i may also be used to reference passages.
Only one complete copy of the book exists with certainty, but 9 other copies of the Rule of the Congregation written in a cryptic script may exist. This first scroll (the scroll containing the Community Rule, the Rule of the Congregation, and the Rule of the Blessing) dates from 100-75 BCE. As this document is not an autograph document, it has been hypothesized that the original composition of the Rules occurred in the 2nd century BCE.
The Rule of the Congregation is the longer of the two appendices, and describes an eschatological congregation of men, women and children who have kept God’s covenant and atoned for the ways of wicked men. The title of the work itself is derived from the opening passage, which follows:
“This is the rule for all the congregation of Israel in the Last Days, when they are mobilized [to join the Yahad. They must l]ive by the law of the Sons of Zadok, the priests, and the men of their Covenant, they who [ceased to walk in the w]ay of the people. These same men of His party who kept His Covenant during evil times, and so aton[ed for the lan]d.”
The scroll continues to say that in the “last days” there will be a great war with the Gentiles, and the whole of Israel will join with the Yahad to fight. The Rule of the Congregation then outlines in several sections the rules for governing the eschatological sect, stages of life for members of the sect and the duties expected of them at each age, those disqualified from service, duties for members of the Tribe of Levi, acts of the council of the community, a description of a man (or men) described as “the Messiah of Aaron and of David” entering, and the eschatological banquet that will follow to celebrate his arrival. The Rule of the Congregation concerns itself largely with the operations of the sect during these “end-times,” and the functions and purity prerequisites demanded of the sect during the messianic assembly (banquet).
- Phillip R. Davies, George J. Brooke and Phillip R. Callaway. "The Complete World of the Dead Sea Scrolls," London: Thames and Hudson, 2002.
- Michael O. Wise, Martin G. Abegg Jr., and Edward M. Cook. "The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation," San Francisco: HaperSanFrancisco, 2005.
- Lawrence H. Schiffman, “Community (Rule of the),” The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Ed. David Noel Freedman, Gary A. Herion, David F. Graf, John David Pleins, Astrid B. Beck. New York: Doubleday, 1992. 450.
- Lawrence H. Schiffman, The Eschatological Community of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Atlanta: Scholar’s Press, 1989.
- Lawrence H. Schiffman, “Rule of the Congregation.” The Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Ed. Lawrence H. Schiffman and James C. Vanderkam. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. 797-799.