Abstract of Angel, Joseph L. “Victory in Defeat: The Image of the Priesthood in the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

Note: Most universities now require the author of a PhD dissertation to write an abstract.  The following abstracts have been taken from the author’s written summary of his/her work.

Angel, Joseph L.  “Victory in Defeat: The Image of the Priesthood in the Dead Sea Scrolls.”  PhD diss., New York University, 2008. [Israel/Qumran/Priesthood/Heavenly Temple]

Abstract:  This study is concerned with pervasive literary representations of priesthood in the Dead Sea Scrolls and what they indicate about the Qumran community. Two images are treated, otherworldly priesthood (part one) and end-time priesthood (part two). It is found that these images are connected to two respective types of eschatology, “liturgical” and “messianic.” According to the former, the Qumranites envisioned themselves as communing with angelic priests in prayer. In liturgical time, community members became exalted priests in the truest temple, the imago templi between heaven and earth, and thus circumvented the corrupt Jerusalem temple.

However, from the numerous sectarian documents espousing “messianic eschatology,” it is clear that the community could not fully circumvent the Jerusalem temple. The Qumranites still thirsted for empowerment. They eagerly awaited the eschaton–the day of military victory over the forces of evil, a triumphant return to a restored Jerusalem, and a purified cult subject to an eschatological priest who would conduct the temple in line with sectarian legal rulings.

Both liturgical and messianic eschatology may be seen as compensatory responses to the community’s alienation from Jerusalem, but there is a fundamental distinction to be made between the two. The former is an innovative expression of confidence inasmuch as it argues that the community no longer needed the Jerusalem temple. But the latter, bound to the traditional notion that Jerusalem is the only true dwelling place of God, is an expression of frustration and powerlessness. The expectation of a priestly messiah reflects the hope that the Qumranites would soon gain power over their opponents in Jerusalem.

The coexistence of these two types of eschatology at Qumran reveals a tension, which pulled the community between innovation and tradition, power and powerlessness throughout its pained existence. On the one hand, the Qumranites were confident of their superiority vis-à-vis the temple establishment. On the other, they were infuriated by their second class status, of which they were constantly reminded by the harsh everyday reality of life in the desert. Such an understanding of Qumranite priestly imagination adds complexity to the commonly encountered vague description of the community as “priestly.”

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