Damascus Document

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

The Damascus Document, also called the Damascus Covenant or the Book of the Covenant of Damascus,[1] Cairo Damascus document (CD) or Damascus Rule, is an ancient Jewish document that some scholars suggest serves as a "bridge" document, connecting Judaism's post-exilic 'Enochian'-Essene majority to the asserted leadership of its radical minority Qumran–Essene community that was established in isolation near the shores of the Dead Sea.[2] It forms part of the Dead Sea Scrolls, found after 1947 near Qumran, but two fragments had already been discovered in 1897 in the Cairo Geniza.

The redactor of the CD 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".[3]

The Damascus Document is a composite text edited together from different sections of a larger source, and scholars have attempted to place the different sections in a chronological order to generate a more complete work of the original using evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls.[4]


The fragments were discovered by Solomon Schechter in 1897 in the Cairo Geniza, a storeroom adjoining Ben Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo, among over 190,000 manuscripts and fragments that were written in mainly Hebrew and Judaeo-Arabic.[5] 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.[6] In contrast to the fragments found at Qumran, the CD documents are largely complete, and therefore are vital for reconstructing the text.

The fragments found by Solomon Schechter were originally called the Zadokite Fragments, but after the work was found at Qumran, the name was changed because the document had numerous references to Damascus.[4] 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.


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. The document divides into two parts, commonly called Admonition and Laws. Davies divides the Admonition into four sections: History, Legal, Warnings, a Supplement (which Wise refers to as exhortations).[7][8] 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).

The Damascus Document can be divided into two separate sections of work, The Admonition and the Laws. 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. Meanwhile, the Laws looks at this new covenant community expressed to them through the Teacher of Righteousness. It goes into great detail of the different social arrangements that were taking place at the time.[6]

The Admonition[edit]

This part is divided into four subsections that each outline different parts of information that were especially relevant to the new covenant community. Section I, I:1–IV:12a there is a strong description of the community and how they originated with their purpose and goals. Section II, IV:12b–VII:9 it outlines the views of people in and outside the community, and discusses that these people are straying from the real law. Meanwhile, the people in this community are drawn together by the covenant, and strict laws they follow together. It is said that people who follow this law will attain salvation. Section III, VII:5–VIII:19 outlines the strong warnings given to the people who stray from the law, and gives vivid critiques of the Prince of Judah, and also three nets of Belial. Section IV, XIX:33–XX:34 has more warnings of not betraying the community, and making promises to be faithful.[9]

A. Admonition (1–8 + 19–20)

1. History (1.1–4.12a)
background to the community
2. Legal (4.12b–7.9)
the significance of being outside and inside the community, some of the laws
3. Warnings (7.5–8.19)
includes the Three Nets of Belial
4. Supplement (19.33–20.34)
discusses apostasy, disobedience, further warnings and a promise to the faithful

The Laws The first 12 laws are from the Damascus Document found at Qumran, while the others are from Cairo Geniza.

  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, 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 and vengeance
  18. 9.9–10.10a: Laws about oaths, lost articles 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. This was found in Qumran.

B. Laws (15–16 + 9–14)

1. Oaths and vows (15.1–9.10a)
taking oaths, becoming a member of the community, offerings and vows to God
2. Sundry rulings (9.10b–12.22a)
rules regarding witnesses, purity and purification, the Sabbath, sacrifices, gentiles and impure foods
3. Camp laws (12.22b–14.18a)
laws for camp living, qualification for an overseer, relations with outsiders, ranks and needs of camp members
4. Penal code (14.18b–22)
fragment concerning punishments

CD and the Community Rule[edit]

The 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 Pesher (numerous times), Micah (once) and Psalms, as well as 4Q172.) 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. 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.[10]

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.

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.


  1. ^ "The Book of Covenant of Damascus," Jewish Virtual Library
  2. ^ Boccaccini (1998). Chapter 5: "The Schism between Qumran and Enochic Judaism: The Damascus Document (CD)".
  3. ^ Harrington, Hannah. Identity and Alterity in the Dead Sea Schools. Brill. p. 71.
  4. ^ a b Ian C. Werrett (2007). Ritual Purity and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Brill. pp. 20–. ISBN 978-90-04-15623-4. Retrieved 22 March 2013.
  5. ^ "Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit". Archived from the original on 12 September 2016. Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  6. ^ a b "Damascus, Book of Covenant of". Retrieved 6 October 2014.
  7. ^ Davies 1983, pp. 52–53.
  8. ^ Wise 1996, p. 59.
  9. ^ Philip Davies, The Damascus Covenant, pp. 52, 53
  10. ^ "Qumran". Archived from the original on 26 February 2013. Retrieved 6 October 2014.


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  • Davila, J. "The Damascus Document and the Community Rule" (University of St. Andrews,2005)
  • Davies, P. R.: The Damascus covenant: an interpretation of the "Damascus document" (Sheffield, 1983)
  • Ginzberg, L.: An Unknown Jewish Sect (E.T.: New York, 1976)
  • Hempel, Charlotte, The Damascus Texts (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000) ISBN 1-84127-055-5
  • Kahle, Paul: The Cairo Genizah (Oxford: Blackwell, 1959)
  • Rabin, C.: The Zadokite documents, 1: the admonition, 2: the laws (2nd ed. Oxford, 1958)
  • Reif, Stefan: Article "Cairo Genizah", in Encyclopaedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Vol.1, ed LH Schiffman and JC VanderKam (Oxford: OUP: 2000) ISBN 0-19-513796-5
  • Rowley, H. H.: The Zadokite fragments and the Dead Sea scrolls (Oxford: Blackwell, 1952)
  • Schechter, S.: Documents of Jewish sectaries/ edited from Hebrew MSS. in the Cairo Genizah collection, now in the possession of the University Library, Cambridge (Cambridge: University Press, 1910) 2 v
  • Zeitlin, Solomon: The Zadokite fragments: facsimile of the manuscripts in the Cairo Genizah collection in the possession of the University Library, Cambridge, England (Philadelphia: Dropsie College, 1952)
  • No author. The book of Damascus
  • The Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit. (Cambridge University)

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