While the Damascus Document, like other writings found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, has been mined for historical information, with which to reconstruct the history of the Yaḥad, including the process and conditions of its formation and development over time, the present study is interested in discerning the text’s own understanding of the place in history occupied by its community of auditors and learners. Particular attention will be given to the text’s recurring reference to its beginnings (“first ones”) and ends (“last ones”) and to its sense of living in a truncated time-between. Through the close reading of two hortatory sections of the text, the question of how the Yaḥad’s collective social memory informs its self-understanding and practices as it faces both backward and forward in time.
Since soon after the initial discoveries and publications of the Dead Sea Scrolls, scholars have compared the Yahad of the scrolls with the Hăbûrâ of early rabbinic literature and sought to establish a historical relationship and developmental progression between the two types of communal organization. The present article reviews select but representative examples from such scholarship, seeking to reveal their underlying presumptions and broader implications, while questioning whether the available evidence allows for the sorts of sociological comparisons and historical reconstructions that they adduce.