The Body in Qumran Literature: Flesh and Spirit, Purity and Impurity in the Dead Sea Scrolls

in Dead Sea Discoveries
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This article examines the concept of the body within a wide range of Qumran literature. In a comparison with the biblical tradition, which does not evince a consistent and systematic idea of the body, this article demonstrates that the sectarians developed their own somatic model. The sectarian model, as revealed through a close reading of such texts as Hodayot, 1QS, 1QSa, CD and 1QM, is one that repeatedly emphasized the body as a corporate entity comprised jointly of flesh and spirit. This article then reexamines the same Qumran texts to show that this concept of the body explains the extreme focus on purity at Qumran, particularly the sectarian conflation of moral and ritual purification. A final comparison with Philo, who espoused a dualistic model of the body, underscores just how truly unique the sectarian view of the body and purity was among early Jews.

The Body in Qumran Literature: Flesh and Spirit, Purity and Impurity in the Dead Sea Scrolls

in Dead Sea Discoveries




Jonathan KlawansImpurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism (Oxford: Oxford University Press2000) 75. The first to identify this conflation was Jacob Neusner The Idea of Purity in Ancient Judaism (Leiden: Brill 1973) 54. Other scholars who have echoed this idea include: Michael Newton The Concept of Purity at Qumran and in the Letters of Paul (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1985); and Florentino García Martínez “The Problem of Purity: The Qumran Solution” in The People of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Their Writings Beliefs and Practices ed. Florentino García Martínez and Julio Trebolle Barrera (Leiden: Brill 1995) 139–57. Hannah Harrington offers a modified position in that she argues that the sect regarded sin as ritually impure but did not view ritual impurity as sinful (“The Nature of Impurity at Qumran” in The Dead Sea Scrolls: Fifty Years after Their Discovery 1947–1997 ed. L.H. Schiffman E. Tov and J.C. VanderKam [Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society 2000] 610–16). The main dissenting view is found in Martha Himmelfarb “Impurity and Sin in 4QD 1QS and 4Q512” dsd 8:1 (2001): 9–37. Himmelfarb acknowledges a conflation of purity and sin but sees it as a metaphorical innovation not an actual legislative one. A very thorough overview of all of these views appears in Haber “They Shall Purify Themselves” 47–71.


See also Eibert J.C. Tigchelaar“ ‘Spiritual People’, ‘Fleshly Spirit’, and ‘Vision of Meditation’: Reflections on 4QInstruction and 1 Corinthians,” in Echoes from the Caves: Qumran and the New Testamented. Florentino García Martínez (stdj 85; Leiden: Brill 2009) 103–18. Tigchelaar understands the fleshly spirit in Hodayot to refer generally to humanity (110). Matthew Goff understands the term in Hodayot as having a “biological” sense that denotes human mortality and bodily existence (“Being Fleshly or Spiritual: Anthropological Reflection and Exegesis of Genesis 1–3 in 4QInstruction and First Corinthians” in Christian Body Christian Self: Concepts of Early Christian Personhood ed. Clare K. Rothschild and Trevor W. Thompson [Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2011] 45). In contrast Frey understands the “spirit of flesh” in Hodayot as referring “to the human spirit which is characterized as fleshly i.e. not capable of grasping God’s counsel and his wondrous deeds” (“Flesh and Spirit” 379).


Goff“Being Fleshly or Spiritual” 44.


Hyatt“The View of Man” 281.


Trans. Lawrence H. SchiffmanEschatological Community of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Atlanta: Scholars Press1989) 37–38.


Trans. SchiffmanEschatological Community46.


Trans. SchiffmanEschatological Community51.


Trans. SchiffmanEschatological Community38.


Trans. SchiffmanEschatological Community48.


Trans. SchiffmanEschatological Community50.


Trans. SchiffmanEschatological Community50.


Alexander“Physiognomy” 390.


Kvalvaag“The Spirit in Human Beings” 160–61.


DormanThe Blemished Body79.


KlawansImpurity and Sin41.


KlawansImpurity and Sin76.


KlawansImpurity and Sin85–87.


Kvalvaag“The Spirit in Human Beings” 172.


Stiebert“Shame and the Body” 826.

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