The pesher on Psalms, 4Q171

© 2005 Dr. Barbara Thiering (Mar 10, 2005) (revised April, 2005)

The major Qumran pesharim, on Psalms, Nahum and Habakkuk, together with the fragmentary pesher of Micah and that on Hosea, may be shown to fit neatly into the events that the gospels and Acts record.

First to the pesher on Psalms, 4Q171, and also the pesher on Micah, 1Q14, which goes with it. The pesher on Psalms turns to Psalm 37, and in its later extant part to Psalm 45. Psalm 37 suits the writer's purpose well, for he was in a situation of crisis and the psalm gave him comfort with its message that the righteous would prosper and the wicked be punished.

THE QUMRAN PESHER ON PSALMS (4Q171) (extracts only; translated by B.T.)
2:5-9

Yet a little while (Heb: me'at, mem-ayin-tet) and the wicked one will be no more. I will discern his place but he will not be there (Psalm 37:10).

Its pesher refers to all wickedness at the end of 40 years (Heb:Mem = 40). They will be finished and no wicked man will be found on the earth.

2:16-20

Wicked ones draw the sword and bend their bow to cause to fall the afflicted and poor and to slay the upright of way. Their sword will enter their own heart and their bows will be broken (Psalm 37:14-15).

Its pesher refers to the wicked ones of Ephraim and Manasseh, who will seek to lay a hand on the Priest and the men of his Council at the time of distress coming upon them. But God will redeem them from their hand. And afterwards they will be delivered into the hand of the violent ones among the Gentiles for judgment.

3:14-17

For from Yahweh the steps of a man (Heb: geber) are established and in his way He takes pleasure. When he fa[lls, he will not] crash, for [Yahweh will uphold his hand]. (Psalm 37:23-24).

Its pesher refers to the Priest, the Teacher of [Righteousness whom] God chose to stand ... He established him to build for Himself a congregation for his Elect One in truth, and his w[ay] He made straight in truth

4:7-10

The wicked one spies on the righteous one and seeks [to put him to death]. Yahweh [will not abandon him into his hand and] He will not let him be condemned when he is judged (Psalm 37:32-33).

Its pesher refers to the Wicked [Prie]st, who sp[ies] on the Righteous O[ne and seeks to] put him to death ... and the Law which he sent to him. But God will not aban[don him and will not let him be condemned when he is] judged. And [God] will pay him his reward by giving him into the hand of the violent ones of the Gentiles, that they may carry out upon him [revenge].

4:13-15

I [have seen] a violent wicked one , rous[ed up like a green tree]. I passed by his place and be[hold, he was no] more. I [sought him] and he was not [found]. (Psalm 37:35-36).

Its pesher refers to the Man of a Lie who...against the Elec[t] Ones of God, [and he [sou]ght to bring to end...to do] judgment against him....to act insolently with an uplifted hand.

4:26-27

And my tongue is the pen of [a ready scribe]. (Psalm 45:1)

[Its pesher] refers to the Teacher of [Righteousness who...be]fore God with an answering tongue.

This is the famous one which can be shown to have turned the tide for carbondating. As has been argued in "Carbondating issues", it is proof that the Teacher of Righteousness was still alive on the 1st century AD. He is still living at the time of writing, and is the subject of the writer's distress. According to the 1995 Tucson carbondating test, the material on which it was written was not manufactured until AD 29-81, and it is not a copy of an earlier work, for all the pesharim are originals.

Each verse of Psalm 37, quoted in succession, is found by the pesharist to refer to his own contemporary situation, coming from his assumption that he and his associates are the centre of history, which must mean that divinely revealed scripture refers to them. From this starting point he proceeds consistently by the device of turning universals into particulars. Whereas "the righteous one" in the Psalm is shown by the context to mean a man typical of all righteous men, so of universal application, he narrows it down to one righteous man, the Teacher of Righteousness. The name Priest is also used for him, in apposition with the name Teacher of Righteousness in 3:15. The "wicked", both singular and plural, refers to the enemies of the Teacher. When plural, they are "the men of Ephraim and Manasseh", who "will seek to lay a hand on the Priest and the men of his council in the time of testing coming upon them." (2:18-19). When singular, a deceptive person is called the Man of a Lie (1:25-27), and a singular wicked person is the Wicked Priest who, following the words of the Psalm, watches out for the Righteous One and seeks to put him to death (4:7-8).

The men of Ephraim and Manasseh are, then, enemies of the Teacher. The traditional tribal territory of Manasseh was located on both sides of the Jordan, on the west side in the district that had become Samaria, on the east side in the district that had become Decapolis. In the fragment containing part of a pesher on Micah, 1Q14, a clear distinction is drawn between Jerusalem-Judah, which is associated with the Teacher of Righteousness and his followers, and Samaria, which is associated with "the one who drips lies" who has led astray the Simple (frags.8-10, lines 3-10).

THE QUMRAN PESHER ON MICAH (1Q14) (fragments translated by B.T.)
Frags 1-5,8-10,11
[All this is] for the wrongdoing [of Jaco]b and for the si[ns of the house of Israel]. What is the wrongdoing of Jacob?] Is it not [Samaria?] And what are the high places of Judah? Is it not Jerusa[lem? I will set Samaria as a ruin in the field, at its vineyards (Micah 1:5-6).

Its pesher refers to the One who Drips Lies [who misleads the] Simple Ones.

And what are the high places of Judah? [Is it not Jerusalem?] (Micah 1:5)

[Its pesher refers to] the Teacher of Righteousness who [taught the law to] his [Council] and to all the volunteers joining the Elect Ones of [God, keeping the Law] in the Council of the Community, who will be saved on the Day [of Judgment.

[And I will wail. (Micah 1:8)

Its pesher refers to the priests of Jerusalem who mislead his enemies.

Robbed and na[ked...has reached to] the gate of my people, t[o Jerusalem] (Micah 1:8-9)

[Its pesher refers to the Teacher of Righteousness, who will] judge his enemies...

The two documents make it plain, then, that the Teacher goes with Jerusalem and his enemies go with Samaria. They are classed as Samaritans.

From the starting-point that the Teacher appeared in AD 26, as has been shown in "Period of Wrath", and from the numerous parallels between the Teacher and John the Baptist (same doctrine of a coming judgement, same place of baptising in the Wilderness of Judea, same ascetic discipline, same title "he who rains down/baptises with righteousness", same term the Way of Righteousness, same quotation and application of the words of the prophets etc etc), the possibility appears that the Teacher and the Baptist were one and the same.

According to the Psalms pesher, the Teacher is in trouble, in a time of testing. The writer does not know what the outcome will be, and clings to Psalm 37 as his only comfort, with its assurance that the Righteous One will be saved. If all of the indications are sound that the Teacher was the Baptist, then it may be known with confidence that the pesher on Psalms was written in the year AD 30 or 31, during the period when John the Baptist had been arrested and had not yet been put to death. This event is recorded in the gospels, John 3:24; Luke 3:19-20; Mark 6:14-29. Josephus records the arrest and death of John (Ant.18, 116-119).

In 2:5-8 the Psalms pesher has a characteristic play on letters and numbers. When it comes to the word Heb: me'at (mem-ayin-tet) in v. 10 of the Psalm, meaning "a little while", it interprets it as 40 years, because the numerical value of Heb:mem is 40. It can be so confident that there will be a destruction of all the wicked in 40 years because it is working with a chronological scheme that places an eschatological crisis in or about the year AD 70. This fits perfectly with CD 20:14, in a passage using the language of the fall of Jerusalem, "from the day of the gathering in (death) of the Teacher of the community until the end of all the men of war who turned back with the Man of a Lie, there shall be about 40 years."

The identification of the Teacher with John the Baptist corresponds to all the evidence, and if it were not for an apparent major obstacle, might have been made very early. But the major obstacle is the fact that he had a rival, an alternate teacher who "flouted the law", "defiled the temple", and was said to commit other kinds of "wickedness", so much so that he could be called the Wicked Priest and the Man of a Lie. The only known alternate leader in the time of the Baptist was Jesus, and there were certain differences between them. But it seems offensive for conservative Christians to even entertain the possibility that Jesus could be accused of such things. An enormous amount of evidence is needed to sustain such an identification. It will be our subsequent project here to present this evidence, and to show that it recovers for us the real, historical Jesus, a heroic human political leader, one who helped lay the foundations of western civilization.


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