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Did Essenes Study Talmudic Law at Qumran?


Did Essenes Study Talmudic Law at Qumran?
By
James Scott Trimm



Obviously the Essenes did not study the Talmud as we know it because it had not been written yet. However they certainly studied their own body of halachic legal findings that parallel the very type of material found in the Talmud, but from an Essene rather than a Pharisee body of legal findings.

The clue is to be found in the “Manual of Discipline” also known as the “Community Rule” document found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. (The copy found dates from 100 to 75 BCE). In this document we read concerning the “Instructor”:

“He is to do the will of El in all the revelations from time to time and learn (ולמוד) all the wisdom of the findings (הנמצא) of previous times.”
(Col. 9 line 13)

“And he shall teach them all the findings (הנמצא) that they should do in that time.”
(Col. 9 line 20)

(The above is my literal translation from the original Hebrew.)

This word נמצא (nim’tza) is used in the Rabbinic literature to refer to halachic legal findings, especially when used in connection with the root (למד) which is also the root for the word “Talmud” (that which is learned/studied).

This meaning is lost in many translations of the document, however The Dead Sea Scrolls, a New Translation by Wise, Abegg and Cook gets this word correct, paraphrasing it “legal finding(s).”

The following are a couple of uses of the word in the Talmud:

“The finding (נמצא) is that what if valid for slaughtering is invalid for wringing the neck, what is valid for wringing the neck is invalid for slaughtering.”
(m.Hullin 1:4)

“Now, what connection has a murderer with a betrothed maiden? This comes to be learned and the finding is learned (זה בה ללמד ונמצא למד). The murderer is compared to a betrothed maiden: just as a betrothed maiden must be saved [from dishonor] at the cost of his [her ravisher's] life, so [in the case of] a murderer, he [the victim] must be saved at the cost of his [the attacker's] life.”
(b.Pessahim 25b)

This statement in the “Manual of Discipline” is telling us that the Instructor among the Essenes had the obligation to study the halachic legal findings of times past and to teach these legal findings to the Assembly of the Yahad passing them from generation to generation. This means the Essenes were very much like Pharisees, but with their own body of halachic legal findings which were generally much stricter than those of the Pharisees.

Better understanding the Essenes in relation to the Pharisees is helpful in better understanding the ancient Nazarenes who had roots in both groups.

 

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Help support our project to put the ancient Aramaic text of the Book of the Enoch (see Jude 1:14-15) up on the internet in interlinear format keyed to Strong's Word Numbers. We started posting this material just recently, and will continue posting more every few days as the work continues. Click here to see it

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