The Secret World of the People of Qumran and the Sages

Meir Bar-Ilan

This paper aims to interpret the secret world of the sectarians at Qumran, starting with their use of the words sod and raz, and later by considering them in a religious-anthropological comparative study.

Different meanings are suggested for the term sod haYahad as the name of the sect by emphasizing the historical background, i. e., the Essenes' habit of keeping their secrets as is known from Josephus on the one hand, and from I Enoch on the other. In Rabbinic literature there are sources on certain priestly practices that were kept secret, and there is an attempt to show the resemblance between these secrets and the secrets of the sectarians in Qumran. Indeed, the sages speak of 'secrets of the Torah', though it seems that, from the cultural point of view, their Torah was exoteric while the sectarians' Torah was esoteric.

Towards the end, the sectarians at Qumran are examined from a social-anthropological standpoint: comparing them with a modern army on the one hand and a 'primitive' secret society on the other. These parallels call into question the hellenistic parallels to the society-pattern at Qumran, and thus the opinion that sees Qumran as an internal Jewish development is strengthened.

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last updated: December 23, 1996