The Heavenly Man and the Grades

© 2005 Dr. Barbara Thiering (May, 2005)

When the Essenes exiled to Qumran built a substitute sanctuary for true worship, they attached to it a room acting as a vestry, where they put on and took off their holy garments. It was erected just south of the deep round well that supplied their drinking water. It was reached by a door in the south wall of the sanctuary, from which a short path led to the upper west door of the vestry. When the sanctuary became defiled by the earthquake, the occupants in the second phase built steps and a platform above the vestry, as a replacement where prayers were still offered. It was open to the sky, as the courtyard-sanctuary itself had been. This platform was called "heaven". See "Special meanings".

The custom had been preserved by Essenes of offering the Bread of the Presence, twelve loaves corresponding to the twelve tribes, laid out each day. They were originally associated with the Israelite tabernacle (Exodus 25:30). It was the custom for priests, representing God, to eat the loaves at their noon meal. This was a physical function, when they did not wear their splendid robes but only ordinary garments, eating in the vestry, which was thought of as the Body. It was this meal that was the origin of the Christian Eucharist. As may be shown, it was in the Qumran vestry room that the Last Supper took place.

The vestry room, the remains of which are still to be seen, was in the shape of a rectangle running north-south. Its walls made of undressed stones occupied a width of a cubit. (The Qumran cubit was 18 inches, as may be known from an object outside the vestry, a carved stone pillar base, the diameter of its circular top exactly 18 inches). Within the walls the east-west space was 10 cubits. Across the middle of the room a wooden table was placed, with benches on either side at which the priests sat to eat the sacred bread at noon. Further down the room stood another table, where the priests sat for their evening meal, a less formal occasion. The tables were 6 cubits long east-west, leaving passages 2 cubits wide on either side. There were 12 priests corresponding to the 12 loaves, 6 on either side of the table, each occupying a cubit space on the bench. A custom of sharing loaves meant that 6 loaves were eaten at the noon meal, the remaining 6 at the evening meal.

The vestry room itself was 12 cubits long, forming a dais ending in a step. From below the step a further room stretched south, of equal length. This was for a congregation of men of lay status.

As their exile deepened and the ascetics turned more and more to symbolic thinking about their situation, the interpretation of the meal-room as the Body gave rise to an image of themselves as participants in the strength of a Heavenly Man. The image was preserved when they later developed cabbalistic teaching.

Heavenly Man
A super-human was visualised, 12 cubits tall and 2 cubits wide. He was imagined at their meetings lying north-south, down the centre of the seats and tables in the vestry and its south room. The upper part of his body, the holy part, corresponded to the positions of the holiest men, the highest priests. The lower part, from the genitals down, corresponded to the less holy kind of human being, the lay congregation. The different grades of priests and laity corresponded to the different parts of his body. Terms such as "head", "eyes", "neck", "shoulders", "heart", "bosom" are used in the pesher to give the grade of ministry of a man whose position was at that part.

The central line of the 12 cubit long vestry lay on cubit 6, half way down the room. It was in the centre of this line, row 6, that the very highest priest belonged, the Zadokite. His position corresponded to the head of the Heavenly Man, between rows 5 and 6 in the centre. Between rows 6 and 7 lay his face, with the "eyes" in its higher half and the "mouth" in the lower half. This position belonged to two deputies of the high priest, sitting side by side in the two cubit width of the Heavenly Man's body. They formed a triangle with the highest priest. An alternate form of the triangle placed a higher two side by side on row 6, associated with "mind" (west) and "soul" (east). The third then sat in the centre of row 7, at the "mouth". While teaching from here, he was called the Word.

The tables were 2 cubits broad north-south. The noon table occupied rows 8 and 9, corresponding to the "neck" and "shoulders". In row 10, on the opposite side of the table, sat lesser ministers, their leader or leaders in the centre. When there were two of them, opposite the two on row 7, they could sit on the upper half of the row at the "heart", west or left side (as in the human body) , or at the "strength", east or right side. Ministers thus belonged either on row 6 as "mind" and "soul" or row 10 as "heart" and "strength". The saying "You shall love (agapēseis) the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30) in its institutional sense meant aspiring to the positions of higher minister at the Agape, a name for the sacred meal. The terms signified moral aspirations for everyone, and at the same time were exact designations of grades for those whose merit would earn them the right to enter the ministry.

In the lower half of row 10, the man on the west side was said to be on the "bosom" (kolpos) and the man on the east on the "chest" (stēthos), different words being used to distinguish the two sides. When there was only one man there, opposite the Word, he belonged on both sides. It was in this position that John Mark sat at the Last Supper, first as the Beloved Disciple on the kolpos (John 13:23), then on the stēthos (John 13:25).

On rows 11 and 12 the table for the evening meal was placed. Row 12 corresponded to the "loins" or "entrails". Extending from row 12 was row 13, a step leading out from the dais, below it the room for the congregation. At the evening meal for celibates, their lowest grade sat on this row, facing north to the evening table. But these men were also leaders of the lay congregation in the south room. They only had to turn south to face the congregation. Their row 13 corresponded to the genitals of the Heavenly Man. In its centre was the position for the phallus, with its "seed", an image extensively used for teaching given to the congregation. When two sat at the centre of row 13, they corresponded to the testicles, which were commonly likened to stones. The superior "stone" sat centre east, the inferior one centre west.

Row 13, the step raised up from the congregation, became the step in front of the communion rail in a Christian church. Associated with the "seed", it was the place where the sacred bread was received when Christian doctrine made it accessible to all laity. Reception of the "seed" would fertilise, give spiritual life, to all who came to the step.

The lower part of the Heavenly Man's body ran down through the congregation. On row 14 were his "thighs", on row 15 his "knees", row 16 his "ankles" and row 17 his "feet".

The names for parts of a human body are not used literally, but for objects placed at that part. The word "head" does not mean the literal head, but the headdress or crown worn on the head. So, when the "head" of John the Baptist was carried in on a platter, it was not his literal head but his papal headdress (Mark 6:28). Since he had lost his position and would be shortly executed, his papal headdress was now to be presented to his successor. When Jesus "bowed his head" at the crucifixion (John 19:30), it means the wreath of thorn-bush he was wearing, but since it was on his head, the apparent meaning is the same.

The word "foot" or "feet" refers to an object that a minister placed beside his feet. It was a jar, used by the village Essenes for the money collected for their charitable purposes (Philo, Every Good Man 86-87). The workers placed in it a portion of their income, to become common property to be distributed to the indigent, the class called Orphans and Widows. There was always a temptation to withhold some of the money, and for this reason the "feet" jar was washed at the meeting when the money was given. It was inspected by a bishop, then purified with water, for all coins were "unclean". This rite was performed at the beginning of the Last Supper (John 13:5, John 13:12). Since it also stood for care for the poor, the literal washing that has continued in Christian practice did reflect its significance.

Above a reader of the Law hung a lamp, to help him read. In the scheme of the Heavenly Man, the "eyes" were on row 7. It was here that the Law was read. The word "eyes" means a lamp,not literal eyes. When Jesus "lifted up his eyes" (John 6:5) he was bringing his lamp up to row 7 in preparation for reading the Law.

When parts of the body are in pairs, the singular of the word is used for the part on the superior east side and the plural on the inferior west. When Jesus "lifted up his eyes" he was bringing his lamp to the west side of row 7, as the subordinate one of the pair in this position. But it was better to have a "single eye", as stated in Luke 11:34 (Greek, not RSV). The third person of the triangle sat in the middle of row 7, representing both east and west.


It is thus seen that every minister had a seating position and a grade. The grades were numbered, and were part of the school system that the ascetics formed in their monasteries. It is explicitly stated by Josephus that the Essenes "follow a way of life taught to the Greeks by Pythagoras." (Ant. 15, 371). The Pythagoreans, following the teaching of the philosopher-mathematician Pythagoras, had founded ascetic communities in remote places, dedicated to the study of mathematics and astronomy as a religious discipline. Their metaphysic held that everything in nature and human affairs worked in measurable systems. Their habit of systematisation is reflected at many points of the pesher, and is one of the main approaches to its discovery.

Their schools graded knowledge, from elementary facts to intellectually demanding higher knowledge. The same definition is found in the Epistle to Hebrews, which distinguishes elementary doctrine, likened to milk for "babes", from higher knowledge, likened to solid food (Hebrews 5:11-14 - Hebrews 6:1-8). (Their elementary doctrine included the teaching of resurrection of the dead.) Consequently, their students were graded, as in any school system. Those who advanced to the highest grade came to be called "gnostics", "knowing ones".

The Community Rule 5:24 states that a promotion ceremony was held every year, and celibates were either promoted or demoted according to their merits or otherwise. A man on his way up the ladder of promotion stayed in each for a year. Each grade also represented an age when the grade was normally entered by students, beginning at the age of 12. The grades were called either by a number, going up from larger to smaller numbers, or by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, going up to the final letter Taw for the highest grade, to indicate that there could be nothing higher. The Taw, in its archaic form X, was depicted on the forehead of a man who had reached this highest state.

The grades corresponded to forms of ministry, such as bishop, an organisational term found at Qumran. The different forms of ministry were retained by the Christian church in their relation to one another, although not with the numbers.

The three highest priests and the levite were also called by the names of the archangels, the order of their hierarchy given in 1QM 9:15 and their dynasties endorsed in 1QM 17:2-3. The first three correspond to the three priests of the first temple in 2 Samuel 20:25-26. Zadok and Abiathar are named as the first two priests in 1 Kings 1:39, 1 Kings 2:26. The dynasties of the first two are described in 1 Chronicles 24:1-3. The order given in 1QM 9:15 is first, Michael (the Zadok, named in Revelation 12:7 , dynasty of Eleazar); second, Gabriel, (the Abiathar, named in Luke 1:19, dynasty of Ithamar or Ahimelech , see also Mark 2:26 with 1 Samuel 21:1-6); third, Sariel (the king's priest of 2 Samuel 20:26). The fourth, the levite, was called Raphael.

A Phanuel is named in Luke 2:36, the name occurring in 1 Enoch as one of the heavenly beings. He may be equated with the Diaspora priest of the synagogue given exalted status in 4Q400, Song for the Sabbath Sacrifice. He was of the same grade as Raphael, the levite in the homeland system.

The table of grades that is drawn on in the pesher, with the numbers, letters, ages and status, and the equivalent Christian ministers, is as follows:

GradeHebrew letterAge   StatusPriestSignificance
0Taw30Highest priest, equiv ZadokMichaelHeaven
1Shin29Second priest, abbotGabriel
2Resh28Third sanctuary priestSariel
3 Qof27Graduate, archbishop;cardinal   Raphael; Phanuel
4 Sadhe26BishopKohath
5 Pe25PresbyterGershon
6 Ayin24Deacon
7 Samekh23InitiateWine, property surrendered
8 Nun22NoviceBread, not wine
9 Mem21BaptisedWater, baptism
10Lamedh20PostulantKept outside or married
11Kaph19Pre-postulantPre-excommunicated, riches
12Yod18Begin monastic educationExcommunicated, fornication
13Tet17Highest elementary schoolPermanently damned, defilement
14Heth16Higher elementary school
15Zayin15Middle elementary school
16Waw14Elementary school
17He13Elementary school
18Daleth12Bar Mitzvah

A man could be called by the number of his grade, using another pesher device, a plural noun with a number always read as a numbered singular. "Three men" is to be read as Man 3, a levite of grade 3 Acts 10:19); "four men" as Man 4, a bishop of grade 4 (Acts 21:23).

There is a great deal of play with numbers and letters, drawing on this system. One of them, frequently found, comes from the fact that a servant or disciple sat on the opposite side of the 2 cubit table to his master or teacher. Since a cubit, meaning "elbow", referred to the forearm, 2 cubits meant the whole arm. From the emphasis on hierarchy, a servant must stand or be seated at arm's length from his master, with 2 cubits between them. These were at the same time 2 grades. Thus the servant of a grade 1 abbot was a grade 4 bishop. The servant of a grade 3 archbishop or cardinal was a grade 6 deacon.

At certain times, for example on the occasion of his dynastic marriage, a higher priest came down to the status of his servant. He was then said to be "in the body" (sōmatikō), an expression found in Luke 3:22, or en sōmati in 2 Corinthians 12:2. One way of indicating the change in grade was to use the same term, but without the Greek definite article. Thus the Holy Spirit in the form with definite articles, to pneuma to hagion, means a grade 1 abbot, while pneuma hagion without the articles is a grade 4 bishop, servant of the abbot.

The Hebrew letters were developed into coded terms in the early pre-Christian stage when Hebrew was still used. They had additional numerical significance, for Hebrew letters were also used as numbers. Aleph, the first letter of the alphabet, was used for 1, Beth for 2, Gimel for 3, Daleth for 4, and so on to Yod, 10, after which the next numbers were used for multiples of 10, up to Qof, 100. Thereafter Resh was used for 200, Shin for 300, Taw for 400. This is the origin of the name 666 for the Beast, in Rev 13:18. He was the head of the original Essene monastic system, himself a Taw, 400. The third priest, the first to enter the sanctuary, was a Resh 200. The letter for the grade of initiation was Samekh, a 60. The three main stages of the monastic system were thus Taw 400, Resh 200, Samekh 60, so 660. When Hebrew letters were put together as initials, a Waw 6 was added, as is illustrated in the Scrolls (CD 4: 19-20). Thus the group of initials with Waw could be read as 666.

All words have special meanings giving exact information. One of the most useful is the verb "to see". The Greek uses different words for "to see", apparently not with any special significance. But each of them refers to the number of cubits between one person and another. The verb atenizō, "stare" means that there was one cubit between two persons. The verb idein means that there were 2 cubits between. Blepō means 3 cubits, theōreō 4. It is from observation of these words that a great deal can be learned about the structure of physical places.

There has been space here to give illustrations only of the special meanings. A fuller list will be found in the Lexicons in Jesus of the Apocalypse and The Book that Jesus Wrote - John's Gospel. (See bio.)