The pesher on Habakkuk (1QpHab)
(link here to The Israel Museum digital copy)

© 2005 Dr. Barbara Thiering (Mar 12, 2005) (revised April, 2005)

The writing of the pesher on Habakkuk can be dated even more exactly than our previous ones, at the September equinox of AD 37.


THE QUMRAN PESHER ON HABAKKUK (1QpHab) (extracts only; translated by B.T.)
1:12-13

[For the wicked one surrounds] the righteous one (Habakkuk 1:4)

[Its pesher, the wicked one is the Wicked Priest, and the righteous one] is the Teacher of Righteousness...

1:16-2:10

[Look, traitors (Heb: bogedim, MT among the nations, baggoim) and behold. Be astounded and astonished; for I do a deed in your days, and you will not believe when] it is recounted (Habakkuk 1:5)

[The pesher of the saying refers to] the traitors with the Man of a Lie, for they did not [believe in the words of] the Teacher of Righteousness from the mouth of God. And it concerns the traitors of the New [Covenant], for they did not believe in the Covenant of God [and profaned] His holy name. And thus. The pesher of the saying [refers to the trai]tors at the Afterwards of Days. They are the violent ones [of the Cove]nant who will not believe when they hear all the things that will come upon the Last Generation from the mouth of the Priest whom God set in the mi[dst of the congregat]ion, to give the pesher of all the words of his servants the prophets, through whom God declared all the things coming upon his people Is[rael].

2:10-15

For behold, I raise up the Chaldeans, bitter [and impa]tient Gentiles (Habakkuk 1:6a)

Its pesher refers to the Kittim [who are] swift and mighty in war, destroying many... under the dominion of the Kittim. They will possess [many lands], they will not believe in the decrees of [God...]

2:15-3:2

[He who goes across the breadth of the earth] to [possess dwellings not theirs] (Habakkuk 1:6b)

[Its interpretation...] they will go across the plain, to smite and plunder the cities of the earth. For as He said, To possess dwellings not theirs.

3:6-12

Their horses are swifter than panthers and keener than evening wolves. Their horses spread out and spread their wings; from afar they fly like an eagle hastening to devour. All of them come for violence; the breath of their faces is like the east wind (Habakkuk 1:8-9).

[Its pesher] refers to the Kittim who trample the earth with their horses and beasts. They come from afar, from the islands of the sea, to devour all the peoples like an eagle which is not satisfied.

5:8-11

Why do you stare, traitors, and remain silent when the wicked one swallows up one more righteous than he? (Habakkuk 1:13)

Its pesher refers to the House of Absalom and the men of its Council who kept silent when the Teacher of Righteousness was punished and did not help him against the Man of a Lie who flouted the Law in the midst of their whole Council.

6:12-7:5

I will stand firm at my guardpost and will set myself up in my fortress. I will look out to see what He will say to me and what [He will answer] to my complaint. And Yahweh answered me [and said , 'Write down the vision and inscr]ibe it upon the tablets, so that [he who reads] may run'. (Habakkuk 2:1-2)

...and God told Habakkuk to write down the things coming upon the Last Generation, but the end of the period He did not make known to him.And as He said, So that he who reads may run, its pesher refers to the Teacher of Righteousness to whom God made known all the mysteries of the words of His servants the prophets.

7:17-8:3

[The righteous one shall live by his faith] (Habakkuk 1:4 2:4)

Its pesher refers to all who observe the Law in the house of Judah, whom God will save from the House of Judgment on account of their suffering and their faith in the Teacher of Righteousness.

8:3-13

Surely wealth will betray the arrogant man. He will not abide who widens his grave like Sheol. He like Death is not satisfied. All the Gentiles are gathered to him and all the peoples are assembled to him. Will they not all of them make parables and interpretations of riddles about him? They will say, 'Woe to him who multiplies but it is not his! How long will he load himself up with debts?' (Habakkuk 2:5-6)

Its pesher refers to the Wicked Priest who was called by the name of Truth at the beginning of his office. But when he ruled over Israel his heart became great, and he abandoned God and betrayed the precepts for the sake of wealth. He robbed and gathered the wealth of the men of violence who rebelled against God, and he took the wealth of the peoples, adding to himself sinful iniquity. And he practiced abominable ways amidst every unclean defilement.

8:13-9:7

Will not your oppressors suddenly arise and your torturers wake? You will become their spoil. Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples will plunder you (Habakkuk 2:7-8a).

[The pesher of the saying refers to] the Priest who rebelled...the precepts [of God] his striking by the judgments of wickedness. And they inflicted horrors of evil maladies on him, and took vengeance upon his body of flesh. And when He said, Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples will plunder you, its pesher refers to the priests of Jerusalem, the last ones, who will gather wealth and unjust gain by plundering the peoples. But in the Afterwards of Days, He will give their wealth with their plunder into the hand of the army of the Kittim, for it is they who are the remnant of the peoples.

9:8-12

Because of the blood of men and the violence to the land, the city, and all its inhabitants (Habakkuk 2:8b)

Its pesher refers to the Wicked Priest whom, because of the iniquity against the Teacher of Righteousness and the men of his Council, God gave into the hand of His enemies that he might be humbled by a destructive scourge, in bitterness of soul, because he had done wickedly to His Elect One.

11:2-8

Woe to him who causes his neighbours to drink; who pours out his fury to make them drunk that he may gaze on their feasts (mo'dehem, feasts. MT me'orehem, nakedness)(Habakkuk 2:15)

Its pesher refers to the Wicked Priest who pursued after the Teacher of Righteousness to his house of exile to swallow him up in his furious anger. At the period of a feast, at the rest time of the Day of Atonement, he appeared to them to swallow them up and to cause them to stumble on the day of fasting, the sabbath of their rest.

11:17-12:10

[For the violence done to Lebanon will cover you, and the destruction of the beasts] will terrify you, because of the blood of men and the violence done to the land, the city, and all who dwell in it (Habakkuk 2:17)

The pesher of the saying refers to the Wicked Priest, to repay him the retribution that he himself paid to the Poor Ones. For Lebanon is the Council of the Community; and the beasts are the Simple Ones of Judah who observe the Law. God will condemn him to destruction, as he himself plotted the destruction of the Poor Ones. And when He said, because of the blood of the city and the violence done to the land, its pesher, the city is Jerusalem where the Wicked Priest performed abominable deeds and defiled the temple of God. The violence done to the land, these are the cities of Judah where he robbed the Poor Ones of their possessions.

Josephus gives us an account of the occasion for the writing of the pesher, in Ant.18, 120-124. War had broken out between Antipas Herod the tetrarch of Galilee and Aretas the king of Arabia. One of the reasons for it was that Antipas had insulted Aretas by divorcing Aretas' daughter, to whom Antipas had been married for a long time. Antipas, a typically licentious Herod, son of Herod the Great from a Samaritan mother, had fallen in love with Herodias, the ambitious wife of a half-brother. Although Antipas would have had no objection to polygamy, she insisted that he divorce the Arab woman.

Antipas was in good standing with the emperor Tiberius, after whom he had named the Galilean capital Tiberias. The crafty, thrifty old emperor preferred Antipas to the spendthrift Agrippa I, whom he had expelled from Rome for bankruptcy. Antipas succeeded in gaining the emperor's approval for his new marriage, and orders were sent to Vitellius the Roman governor of Syria to give Roman assistance to Antipas in his war against Aretas. In March of AD 37 Tiberius died, but since it took 6 months for a ship to travel from Rome to Judea, this fact was not known in Judea until September-October . In the late summer Vitellius "got himself ready for war against Aretas with two legions of heavy-armed infantry and such light-armed infantry and cavalry as were attached to them as auxiliaries. .Since he had started to lead his army through the land of Judea, the Jews of the highest standing went to meet him and entreated him not to march through their land. For, they said, it was contrary to their tradition to allow images, of which there were many attached to the military standards, to be brought upon their soil."

The narrative goes on that Vitellius, who had learned from the mistakes of Pilate to be diplomatic with the Jews, acceded to their request and changed the route of his army, sending them now through the Great Plain, a term that can mean the Jordan valley. He then went to Jerusalem with Antipas to observe Tabernacles. On the fourth day of the feast he received the news of the death of Tiberius. He administered to the people an oath of loyalty to Gaius Caligula the new emperor, and "he now recalled his army, ordering each man to go to his own home for the winter", since he had lost his commission to make war on behalf of Tiberius.

From the watchtower of the Qumran buildings it was possible to look in the direction of Jericho, to the point where the Jordan flows into the Dead Sea. Just above this point was the crossing for which the Roman armies were heading when they were sent through the Jordan valley. At the September equinox the usual council meeting was being held at Qumran, and watchmen on the tower would have seen the Roman armies beginning to make the crossing. Before the order was effected to turn back, consternation reached crisis point in the Qumran council. It was not simply that the Romans were threateningly close, looking terrifying as their shields and helmets glittered in the sun, but there was also a possible threat to the substantial stores of money that were held in the Qumran vaults. It was the income from the mission to the Diaspora, established by Herod the Great, and legally owned by one of the Herod family. This had been Antipas up to now, but the message from Rome had also brought the news that Agrippa had been given the monarchy by his friend Gaius Caligula. It was certain that Agrippa would lay claim to the money, which he badly needed to restore his fortunes.

In a few days of sheer panic, one of the advisers to the council found another passage of scripture which could be interpreted as a prophecy of their present situation. It was in the minor prophet Habakkuk. His book had been written about 600 BC, and actually concerned the Babylonians, the Chaldeans, "who march through the breadth of the earth to seize habitations not their own. Dread and terrible are they.. Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves." "They come from afar.like an eagle."

This was surely, they believed, an exact prophecy of the advancing army they were now witnessing. The Chaldeans meant the Romans, the Kittim, whose emblem was the eagle. They were "marching across the plain (the Great Plain) destroying and plundering the cities of the earth." "They sacrifice to their standards and worship their weapons of war."

The pesher on Habakkuk was composed and written down, in a scribal hand of the middle Herodian period, AD 20- 50. An older piece of parchment, carbondated 88-2 BC, was all that was available to them in their haste, but this was no problem, since they valued older writing material as having venerable authority.

The Habakkuk passage proved to be just right for another problem that was worrying them, the success that Jesus and his pro-Roman hellenisers were having. Since the Teacher had died 6 years earlier, there had been no forceful leader of the Hasidim. Their plan for a Jewish world empire seemed to be collapsing - Diaspora Jews were going over to Rome en masse. The prophet's passage on the Arrogant Man, Habakkuk 2:5-19, could be made to fit Jesus, the Wicked Priest. He had ruled over Israel, that is had been accepted as the potential Messiah of Israel and at first had been called by the name of Truth, that is followed the Qumran doctrine that was called the Truth. But then he and his Gentile associates had abandoned Jewish identity altogether.

It was correct, too, that the Arrogant Man had had to suffer oppression and torture. His oppressors had "inflicted horrors of evil maladies and had taken vengeance on his body of flesh." He had been "humbled by a destructive scourge, in bitterness of soul" - by being crucified by Pontius Pilate.

Even when they saw that the Romans had turned back, the council at Qumran knew that they would have to remove themselves out of reach of Agrippa. Damascus lay outside Jewish territory, and was under the control of Aretas (2 Corinthians 11:32). A monastic building there had been one of their mission centres, and they now made it their new primary centre, transferring their vaults of money there. In Damascus, they justified their exile by declaring that they were the New Covenant in the land of Damascus. CD was written, its successive stages reflecting their history up to AD 70.

Far more correspondences than these will be found when the theory of pesher is applied to the gospels, Acts and Revelation, as will be seen. It may be maintained, however, that up to this point all the data concerning the Qumran pesharim fit the period of John the Baptist and Jesus better than the pre-Christian period in which they were placed by the consensus case.

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