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Kabbalah and Qumran

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Kabbalah and Qumran

By Dr. James Scott Trimm

View southeast from Qumran to oasis of Ain Feshka on Dead Sea

Now it is well known that researchers believe that Christendom’s roots were at Qumran. What is less well known is that many researchers also see the roots of Kabbalah at Qumran.

Kabbalah had its beginning as "torat-ha-sod" as Adin Steinsaltz writes:

The sources state that torat ha-sod (mysticism) was divided into two parts: Ma'aseh Bereshit (Act of Creation) and Ma'aseh Merkavah (Divine Chariot). The former was more theoretical and dealt with the creation of the world and the first divine revelations. Ma'aseh Merkavah, based on the prophet Ezekiel's description of the Divine Chariot, is a study of the prevailing relations between God and the world and apparently contained the seeds of what later came to be known as Kabbalah ma'asit (practical kabbalah).
(The Essential Talmud; Adin Steinsaltz p. 213)

And as G. Vermes writes:

The Throne-Chariot was a central subject of meditation in ancient as well as in medieval Jewish esotericism and mysticism, but the guardians of the Rabbinic orthodoxy tended to discourage such speculation. The liturgical use of Ezekiel's chapter on the Chariot is expressly forbidden in the Mishnah; it even lays down that no wise man is to share his understanding of the Merkavah with a person less enlightened than himself. As a result, there is very little ancient literary material extant on the subject, and the Qumran text is therefore of great importance to the study of the Origins of Jewish mysticism.
(The Dead Sea Scroll in English; Second Edition; G.Vermes; p. 211)

Among the parallels between Kabbalah and Qumran esotericism is the strong parallel between the Metatron figure of Kabbalah and the Melchizadek figure at Qumran as P. Alexander writes:

The Merkabah literature has links also with Qumran. Perhaps the closest Parallels are in the following texts: The angelic liturgy (4QsirSabb) … The heavenly Melchizedek (11QMelch) [also known as 11Q13]…  Physiognomies (4QCryptic)…
(OTP Vol. 1 pp. 250-251)

Regarding the Melchizedek/Metatron connection Alexander states:

In this text Melchizedek appears as being exalted over all angels. It is stated that he will preside over a heavenly assize and exact  Punishment, with the help of other angels, from Belial and his Minions. In view of the priestly functions of Melchizedek in the Bible (Gen. 14:8; Ps. 110:4), van der Woude has conjectured that at Qumran Melchizedek may have been regarded as the high priest of the heavenly Temple and identified with the archangel Michael, who fulfills the role of the heavenly high priest in rabbinic tradition … However all of this is very uncertain. A number of clear parallels between the heavenly Melchizedek of Qumran and Metatron of 3 Enoch at once suggest themselves: both figures hold exalted, if not pre-eminent, positions among the angels, both are heavenly judges… and both, apparently had earthly lives prior to their exalted, heavenly states.

Dead Sea scroll caves in cliffs above settlement at mouth of Wadi Qumran

The fact that the Qumran community believed in the deity of the Messiah can best be shown by examining the Qumran community's understanding of Is. 61:1-2. Now we know from 4Q521 that the Qumran community saw the one "anointed" by YHWH in Is. 61:1-2 as the Messiah as this fragment reads:

For the heavens and the earth shall listen to His Messiah …

And then goes on to allude to Is. 61:1-2. Another reference to the figure of Is. 61:1-2 is made in another Qumran document known as 11Q13. 11Q13 speaks of this Messiah as a figure called "Melchizedek." In this document Is. 61:2 is quoted with "Melchizedek" substituted for YHWH. Furthermore the terms EL and ELOHIM are in 11Q13 applied to the Melchizedek/Messiah figure.

11Q13 Col. 4-9 quotes Is. 61:1-2 but substitutes "the year of Melchizedek's favor" for "the year of YHWH's favor" thus identifying the Melchizedek figure with YHWH in this passage. 11Q13 goes on to say:

…as it is written about him [Melchizedek] in the Songs of David, "ELOHIM has taken his place in the council of EL;  in the midst of the ELOHIM he holds judgment"
(Ps. 82:1)

Scripture also says about him [Melchizedek],

"Over it take your seat in the highest heaven; EL will judge the peoples"
(Ps. 7:7-8)

(11Q13 Col. 10-11) The text of 11Q13 goes on to apply the passage "Your ELOHIM reigns" (Is. 52:7) to Melchizedek finally concluding:

"Your ELOHIM" (Is. 52:7) is Melchizedek, who will deliver them from the power of Belial.
(11Q13 Col. 24-25)

It is therefore apparent that the Qumran community saw the Messiah as a Melchizedek figure who was identified as EL, ELOHIM and even YHWH.

Further evidence for belief in the deity of Messiah at Qumran is found in a reference in the Book of Enoch, (seven fragmentary copies of this book were found in cave four at Qumran). In Enoch 14 Enoch is having a vision of the divine throne in which the figure on the throne calls to Enoch "come near to Me and to My Holy Word." (1En. 14: 24). Thus it would seem that the concept of the entity known as the "Word" of YHWH which we discussed in terms of Rabbinic Judaism earlier, was also held to by the Qumran community. It seems hard to escape the fact that in 1En. 14:24 the "Word" of YHWH seems to be positioned next to the throne of YHWH, just as Melchizedek is in Ps. 110.


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