Tuesday, December 15, 1998

When Did the Exile End?

When Did the Exile End?

Perspectives from the Intertestamental Period

By Stephen F. Noll

A lecture delivered to the IBR Intertestamental Literature (November 1989) by Stephen F. Noll

AS A TEACHER of the history of Israel, I have always drawn a clear distinction between the exile to Babylon and Egypt in the first two decades of the sixth century BC and the restoration which began with the edict of Cyrus about 538 BC and led to the reconstitution of the Jewish community under Ezra and Nehemiah a century later. Didn’t the exile end? Even a superficial study of the post-biblical Jewish idea of exile (or galut) reveals a rich variety of themes about the continuities between the first and second exile periods and the subsequent Jewish history. The question I would like to investigate today is how Jews of the intertestamental period looked back at their history when they spoke of exile and restoration.

The people’s worldview or psychology

I was stimulated in my thoughts along this line by an article written by Professor Donald Gowan in 1977 entitled "The Exile in Jewish Apocalyptic." Gowan examines the view of the exile in two kinds of post-exilic writings — prayers and apocalypses — and makes insightful observations about what I am calling the "psychology" or world-view of certain groups of the Jewish people during this period. First, he notes the ongoing penitential spirit of the age, manifested in books written long after the exile — e.g., Nehemiah 9, Sirach 36, 1 Maccabees, Daniel, Additions to Esther, 1 Baruch, and the Psalms of Solomon. Of course, a number of these books assume a pseudo-exilic setting, but that fact simply leads to the further question of way Zion had not been comforted by the re-establishment of sacral institutions and the Law. One may even ask why it is that Jewish books like Daniel, Psalms of Solomon, 4 Ezra, and 2 Baruch, which are grappling with the theological trauma of the threats to the destruction of the Second Temple, express the problem in terms of the destruction of the First Temple in 587.

Secondly, Gowan examines the surveys of Israel’s history as described in early apocalyptic writings. He distinguishes two basic attitudes amongst the apocalyptic writers. One attitude acknowledges the return from exile as an act of God’s mercy and the existence of the Second Temple as a legitimate if pallid likeness of the First Temple. One thinks of Ezra-Nehemiah and Haggai and Zechariah in this regard. Other writers recognize the restoration abut with even less enthusiasm. The book of Daniel represents the most notable text along this line. In chapter 9, Daniel struggles in prayer to understand the meaning of Jeremiah’s prediction of a seventy-year exile. It is then revealed to him that Jeremiah’s "seventy years" in fact refers to seventy "weeks" of years, i.e., 490 years. After the first seven weeks, i.e., 49 years, Jerusalem will be rebuilt and the priesthood reinstated. Daniel does not call the restored temple or priesthood illegitimate, though he speaks of the entire period as an age of sin (9:24) and focuses on the crisis time of the last week — when "vision and prophecy" will be ratified and a most holy anointed.

The Apocalypse of Baruch contains a similar evaluation: ". . . after a short time, Zion will be rebuilt again and the offering restored, and the priests will again return to their ministry and the nations will again come to honor it. But not as fully as before" (2 Bar 68:5-7). Interestingly, the author recognizes one clear deficiency of the Second Temple, that the temple furnishings — especially that of the Holy of Holies — were not original. These, he says, were swallowed up by the earth until the last times: "For the time has arrived when Jerusalem will also be delivered up for a time until the moment that it will be said that it will be restored forever" (6:8-9; cf. 2 Macc 1:33; 4 Bar 3). In Daniel and 2 Baruch, one senses equivocation as to the role of the Second Temple in God’s economy.

The second attitude found among intertestamental writings is less equivocal and more negative, expressing either open antagonism or total indifference toward the restored temple and community. The Book of Jubilees foresees a restoration of God’s people after exile, but this restoration does not seem to reflect historical events of the period. The author foresees an "exile" of apostasy — forgetting God’s commands regarding new moons, sabbath festivals, jubilees, and ordinances, i.e., sectarian halakah, followed by a period of enlightenment:

When they seek me with all their heart and with all their soul, I shall reveal to them an abundance of peace in righteousness. And with all my heart and all my soul I shall [transplant] them as a righteous plant . . . And I shall build my sanctuary in their midst and I shall dwell with them. (Jub 1:15-18; cf. 23:22-23)

While it is possible that this restoration refers to the Second Temple, more likely the emphasis is on God’s initiative — "I will build my sanctuary" — and reflects a future event.

Enoch’s timetables

The Book of Enoch offers two apocalyptic timetables of Israel’s history — the so-called "Animal Apocalypse" (chapters 83-90) and the "Apocalypse of Weeks" (chapter 91 and 93). The Animal Apocalypse sees the post-exilic age as supervised by seventy angelic shepherds who represent foreign rulers and also distinct time periods. It describes the return in 538 and 520 as a false start:

They again began to build as before; and they raised up that tower which is called the high tower. But they placed a table before the tower with all the food which is upon it being polluted and impure. Regarding all these matters, the eyes of the sheep became so dim-sighted that they could not see . . . The Lord of the sheep remained silent until all the sheep were dispersed into the woods and got mixed among the wild beasts - and could not be rescued from the hands of the beasts. (1 Enoch 89:73-75)

The reason for the rejection of the Second Temple, as in Jubilees, seems to be its errant purity observances and perhaps its ill-qualified priesthood. Only after the final judgment is the true Temple revealed:

Then I stood still, looking sat that ancient house being transformed: all the pillars and all the columns were pulled out; and the ornaments of that house were packed and taken out together with them and abandoned in a certain place in the South of the land. I went on seeing until the Lord of the sheep brought about a new house, greater and loftier than the first one and set it up in the first location which had been covered up - all its pillars were new, the columns new, and the ornaments new as well as greater than those of the first, that is the of house that was gone. (1 Enoch 90:28ff.)

The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs reflects as similar judgment on the Second Temple. Levi foresees a seventy week period when his sons will "wander astray and profane the priesthood and defile the sacrifice altars." After the period of desolation, the priesthood will raise up as new messianic priest who like Levi will see and reflect the glory of the heavenly temple (T. Levi 18).

The description of the return in the Testament of Zebulon is equally revealing. After describing the dispersion, Zebulon promises: "And thereafter the Lord himself will arise upon you, the light of righteousness with healing and compassion in his wings. He will liberate every captive of the sons of men from Beliar, and every spirit of error will be trampled down" (9:8). It is clear that the essence of liberation is eschatological and spiritual rather than temporal and political — freedom from error and enlightenment by God’s truth.

It is perhaps not surprising that these last three apocalyptic works — Jubilees, Enoch, and the Testaments of Levi — were popular at Qumran. I shall attempt to show in the remainder of this lecture how this theology of exile is reflected in the scrolls of the Qumran community, including a recently published text.

Qumran’s theology of exile

First, let me note that the origins of the Qumran community (whom I identify as Essenes) continue to be disputed. It is usually asserted that the founders were a branch of Palestinian Hasidim who broke with the Hasmoneans after the Maccabean revolt and eventually went into exile at Qumran. Hence their idea of exile emerged largely from their situation in the desert of Judah where they drew upon biblical imagery of the wilderness wandering. An alternative view, associated with Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, holds that the early Essene movement originated in the Diaspora, either in Babylon or Damascus: hence recollections of the exile in the texts are not merely literary but historical. It will not be my purpose to adjudicate between these views; I am interested in the idea of exile as presented by the texts themselves.

A key text for surveying the sect’s understanding of its pre-history is the Damascus Document. This document opens (in column i) with three exhortations which recount the history of God’s dealing with the covenant people. These exhortations follow a similar pattern of argumentation:

  • The pre-exilic generations sin and God destroys the sanctuary.
  • A faithful though unenlightened remnant remains throughout the period.
  • God provides for their enlightenment in a new covenant.
  • The wicked continue to test the elect in the age of wrath until its pre-determined end.

From this pattern we can derived several observations as to how the Essenes viewed their history and identity. Firstly, the exile is a watershed period in which God’s judgment of the "first members" of the covenant is manifest. The exile is epitomized in the destruction of Jerusalem — God hiding his face — but the sage of wrath extends considerably beyond that, indeed up to the present.

Secondly, the renewal of the covenant is in no way identified with the returnees of 538 or 520 BC Indeed the true returnees are the priestly founder of the sect who had departed from the land of Judah (whether literally to "Damascus" [Babylon] or figuratively to Qumran). But the realization of their restoration is still awaiting the near approaching end of days when they shall live forever in the glory of Adam.

Thirdly, the New Covenant community is not identified so much by racial or political characteristics as by revealed knowledge. This knowledge is rooted in the "covenant of the forefathers" but involved a recovery of hidden insights neglected by former generations of Israel. The biblical prophets play a crucial role both in condemning the wicked and proclaiming the truth. Indeed, the Teacher of Righteousness is the latter-day prophet who guided them into the way of God’s heart.

When we turn to the Qumran biblical commentaries, we shall find much the same outlook as in the Damascus Document. First of all, it is significant that the most frequently commented on books are the pre-exilic prophets — Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, and Habakkuk. These were the biblical writers who most clearly foresaw the destruction of the old covenant community but held out hope to a remnant. Also we should note that the commentator does not overtly "break frame" with the setting of the prophets: although he is clearly referring to recent events, he uses biblical code names like Teacher of Righteousness, Kittim, and "furious young lion." Thus he maintains continuity between the prophecies of exile and the latter-day fulfillment.

In the Habakkuk Commentary, we find a rather neatly drawn typology between Habakkuk’s Chaldeans (Babylonians) and the Kittim (Romans), who are seen as agents of God’s judgment on the wicked priests of Jerusalem. But whatever Habakkuk’s original sense, the Qumran writer understands the prophetic message as essentially directed to his generation:

God told Habakkuk to write down that which would happen to the final generation, but He did not make known to him when time would come to an end. And as for that which He said, That he who reads may read it speedily, interpreted this concerns the Teacher of Righteousness, to whom God made known all the mysteries of the words of His servants the Prophets. (1QpHab 7:1ff.)

Once again we note certain characteristic points:

  • The final age is wicked, an age of suffering and exile for the faithful.
  • The age was foreseen by the pre-exilic prophets, but the timing of the end was a mystery to them, revealed only to the Teacher of Righteousness.
  • The Temple of Jerusalem remains defiled under the Wicked Priest during this age and the proper feasts and fasts are carried out in exile.
  • Revealed knowledge remains the key mark of the community: "Afterwards knowledge shall be revealed to them abundantly like the waters of the sea. (11:1)

The final example of Qumran exegesis that I shall examine is the Melchizedek Scroll from cave 11. This text was of special interest when it was published in 1965 because it features an archangel Melchizedek who is strongly identified with God (he is called elohim) and who judges the sons of darkness and redeems the sons of light. My present interest in this scroll begins and ends with citations from Leviticus, chapter 25, which legislates the sabbatical and jubilee years of redemption in Israel. It is clear from other apocalyptic works that these seven- and forty-nine-year periods were used in reckoning the time of the exile and the time of the end. Two other exegetical details from Leviticus 26 are relevant: the notion that if Israel defiled the land, God would punish her sevenfold (26:18) and that the land would compensate by lying desolate for the number of violated sabbaths. Perhaps these notions lie behind Daniel’s reinterpretation of Jeremiah, resulting in the 70x7-year exile. It is also significant that 490 years is an excellent intersection of sabbatical and jubilee calculations (70x7=49x10).

It is the latter calculation for the exile which is specifically mentioned in the Melchizedek Scroll: "And this thing will [occur] in the first week of the jubilee that follows the nine jubilees. And the Day of Atonement is the e[nd of the] tenth [ju]bilee, when all the sons of [light] and the men of the lot of Mel[chi]zedek will be atoned for . . ." Whereas 1 Enoch looks for a dramatic reversal of history between the seventh and eighth week of years, 11QMelch sees the beginning of a new era at the beginning of the tenth and final jubilee.

The period of the final jubilee presumably corresponds to the history of the sect. This is the time of fulfillment of the prophetic message particularly of Isaiah (chapters 52 and 61) and Psalms (7 and 82), as is clear from the pesher on Isaiah 52:7:

This is the day of [Peace/Salvation] concerning which [God] spoke [through Isa]iah the prophet who said, [How] beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who proclaims peace, who brings good news, who proclaims salvation who says to Zion: Your ELOHIM [reigns] (Isa 52:7). It interpretation: the mountains are the prophets . . . and the messenger is the Anointed one of the spirit, concerning whom Dan[iel] said, [Until an anointed one, a prince (Dan 9:25) . . . [And he who brings] good news, who proclaims salvation: it is concerning him that it is written. . . [To comfort [those who mourn, to grant to those who mourn in Zion] (Isa 61:2-3). To comfort [those who mourn: its interpretation], to make them understand all the ages of t[ime] . . . In truth, they will . . . turn away from Satan . . . by the judgment[s] of God, as it is written concerning him, [who says to Zi]on: your ELOHIM reigns. Zion is . . ., those who uphold the Covenant, who turn from walking [in] the way of the people. And your ELOHIM is [Mechizedek, who will save them from] the hand of Satan.

(11QMelch; trans. Vermes [1975] 267)

The full exegesis, which unfortunately is broken by lacunas in the text, seems to reflect the pattern we have seen before:

"The prophets are the mountains," i.e. the base texts for understanding the length of the present evil age.

The messenger who interprets them is himself anointed with the spirit. He is further identified with the figure in Dan 9:24 who comes at the crisis point, beginning the last week of the age (in 11QMelch probably the last jubilee). The anointed one probably refers to the Teacher of Righteousness as the embodiment of this last prophet. It is not clear whether the martyrdom of the anointed (Dan 9:26) is significant for the Qumran commentator: probably not. What is important is that the anointed "comforts those who mourn," which is interpreted to mean he instructs them about the ages of time so they may turn from Belial. Once again the key ingredient in repentance is revealed knowledge.

Finally, Isaiah foresees the end of the evil age in the coming reign of "elohim," i.e., the archangel Melchizedek who will destroy the lot of Belial and save the elect.

The mention of the archangel Melchizedek is just one confirmation of Josephus’ statement that the Essenes "kept the names of the angels" (J.W. 2.142). This raises one further issue relevant tot he psychology of exile at Qumran: the predominantly transcendental outlook on the world. It has been recently argued by several scholars, most notably Paul Hanson, that apocalyptic thinking derives from the divorce of the strongly historical element in classical prophecy from its mythopoetic theology. This divorce was in part caused by the relegation of prophecy to out-groups standing over against the priestly establishment of the restored temple community. The Qumran Essenes would certainly qualify as such an apocalyptic group.

The earthly temple

The clearest question raised by the scrolls is the relative importance of the earthly Temple in Jerusalem over against the spiritual pattern of a heavenly temple (Exod 25:9). There continues to be a considerable dispute over whether the Essenes participated in any way in the affairs of the Second Temple. There is also disagreement as to whether or in what sense they considered their community in exile as a spiritual temple. What does seem clear is that their focus on the heavenly temple and worship of God was a major feature in their life and identity.

The interest in the "New Temple" in line with Ezekiel’s vision is represented by scrolls from five caves at Qumran. The publication of the Temple Scroll from cave 11 confirms that interest. Whether or not these ideal temples were considered as already existing "patterns" in heaven cannot be determined. However, the existence of such a plethora of texts suggests that they served some purpose within the community. Apparently meditation on the true form of the temple was an element of Qumran spirituality.

This possibility is strengthened by the recent publication of so-called Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice. This liturgy was a popular item; eight copies were found in cave 4, one copy in cave 11, and one copy at Masada. It is possible that the Songs were recited communally during the Sabbath worship of the community.

The original fragments of the Songs were assigned to John Strugnell of Harvard University. Strugnell published a preliminary report in 1960 with two sample texts and a promise that the principal edition would follow in "three more years." Twenty-five years later, Strugnell’s student Carol Newsom published the texts and photographs in a simple yet useful format.

The new publication contains many fascinating features. Newsom has determined that the scroll contains songs for only thirteen sabbaths of the year. Give the Qumran calendar, each song could have been recited for the sabbaths of a given quarter o the year and then repeated in subsequent quarters. However, Newsom supposes, reasonably I think, that the entire scroll was read in unison or antiphonally at one time, perhaps every sabbath or at major feasts.

The image of heaven, according to the sabbath songs, it of an enormous temple or series of seven temples within temples. The seven archangels are portrayed as priests. "They have become for him priests . . . ministers of the Presence in His glorious debir . . ." They not only bless and serve God: they also minister his grace to men. They are mediators of knowledge: "In all the assembly of all the elim . . . He inscribed His statutes for all spiritual creatures and [His glorious] judgments [for all who establish] knowledge, the people (who possess) this glorious insight, the godlike beings who draw near to knowledge" (4QShirShabb 400: 5ff.). They also offer propitiation: ". . . they propitiate His good will for all who repent of sin" (q. 1:16). And they bless the angelic and human creation. The entire sixth song is devoted to an elaborate priestly blessing by each of the seven archangels.

How does this heavenly world affect the human community. As in the Thanksgiving Hymns at Qumran, we find the response to be one of awe at God’s grace:

". . . how shall we be considered [among] them? And how shall our priesthood (be considered) in their habitations? And our ho[liness — how can it compare with] their [surpassing] holiness? [What] is the offering of our mortal tongue (compared) with the knowledge of the el[im? (2:6f. Newsom, 111)

But I would suggest there may be one further implication of the revelation of the heavenly temple. It serves to legitimate the spiritual authority of the exiled community and its priesthood over against any merely human tradition or succession. True priests are made in heaven not on earth and require heavenly revelation. The Testament of Levi suggests this same idea. Levi ascends through the heavens to the Lord’s throne. There he is told: "And when you have ascended three, you shall stand near the Lord. You shall be his priest and you shall tell forth his mysteries to men." (T. Levi 2:10). The Testament of Levi seems to commend a spiritual priesthood steeped in esoteric knowledge which may function in exile until the end time. The sons of Zadok at Qumran claimed to be just such as group. In the Sabbath Songs we may have an important vehicle by which their legitimacy was confirmed for community members. Newsom comments:

What was specifically needed at Qumran, however, were not merely arguments couched in visionary form to demonstrate the authenticity of the claims of the group but rather some form of experiential validation of their claims. I would suggest that the cycle of songs in the Sabbath Shirot was developed precisely to meet this need for experiential validation. Although no claim is made that the audience which recited or heard the Shirot was actually transported to the heavenly realms, the hypnotic quality of the language and the vividness of the description of the celestial temple cause even modern readers of these fragments to feel the power of the language to create a sense of the presence of the heavenly temple. The carefully developed and sophisticated form of the cycle of the Shirot further reflects the intention to produce and guide a particular type of experience. That the Sabbath songs functioned primarily to form the identity and confirm the legitimacy of the priestly community is also reflected in the fact that the work does not find its climax in the description of the divine merkabah but rather in the glorious appearance of the celestial high priests in their ceremonial vestments, model and image of the Qumran priesthood.

To the extent that the worshipper experienced himself as present in the heavenly temple through the recitation of the Sabbath Shirot, his status as a faithful and legitimate pries would have been convincingly confirmed in spite of the persistent contradiction of his claims in the world.

Quite possibly the Sabbath songs offer us a unique insight into how the Essenes differentiated themselves from other traditional groups of Jews. Taking over sacral imagery from prophetic descriptions of the ideal temple (especially Ezekiel), they alone participated in true worship with the angels, and only at the end time would God come and institute his reign in Israel.


In conclusion, I have suggested that there existed in early Judaism a variety of responses to the exile and especially to the significance of the Second Temple. These responses varied from qualified endorsement of the restoration in most of the canonical writings, to profound ambivalence in Daniel and some other apocalypses, to outright rejection in sectarian writings. (I might add that the book of Esther contains a curious lack of interest in the temple of Palestinian Judaism.) The Dead Sea scrolls are particularly useful in getting at the world view of sectarian Jews because at Qumran we have both texts and context. We find in the writers of the Scrolls a clear ideological break with the post-exilic generation who had identified with the Second Temple and restored community in Palestine. Whether this alienation was the result of a traumatic rift among the Maccabean-Hasidic parties or whether it reflects the identity of an unassimilated group of "exiles" is unclear. We also see how the apocalyptic eschatology of the sect served as an apologia for the sect’s history and as a legitimization for its institutions.

Finally, the emphasis on a radical break from the earlier era and the decisive importance of a new supernatural dispensation, accompanied by new revelation, remind us of central elements in early Christian proclamation. Without trying to follow this line of thought too far, I would draw your attention to the Gospel of Luke. In chapters 1-2, we meet a number of Old Testament figures "waiting for the consolation of Israel" (2:25) and the prologue culminates in the appearance of John the Baptist, Isaiah’s herald (3:4). In chapter 4, Jesus comes to the synagogue in Nazareth, reads the lection from Isaiah 61 announcing himself as the spirit-anointed one who would bring in the "year of the Lord’s favor" and he proclaims: "Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (4:21).

For the Christian community, the new era had dawned, accompanied by a new experience of the presence of God in face of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Spirit:

Now if the dispensation of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such splendor that the Israelites could not look at Moses' face because of its brightness, fading as this was, 8 will not the dispensation of the Spirit be attended with greater splendor? . . . 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:7-8-17-18)

This page was posted on 15 December, 1998.

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