Qumran Sedeq

The Teacher of Righteousness
in the Qumran Texts
By F. F. BRUCE, 1957

‘The Teacher of Righteousness’ is the name given in a number of the lately discovered Qumran documents to a man who was held in high veneration by the religious community on whose beliefs and practices these documents have thrown so much light. If he was not actually the founder of the community, it was certainly he who impressed upon it those features which distinguished it from other pious groups which flourished among the Jews during the last two or three centuries of the Second Commonwealth. So far as we can gather from our present sources of information, he is never referred to by his personal name in the Qumran texts.1

The title bestowed on him by his followers, ‘The Teacher of Righteousness’ (Heb. moreh sedeq or moreh hassedeq), may echo Hosea x. 12, where the prophet calls to his people: ‘break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness (Heb. yoreh sedeq) upon you.’ The RV margin gives ‘teach you righteousness’ as an alternative translation to ‘rain righteousness upon you’; in any case, moreh sedeq is the participial form corresponding to the imperfect yoreh sedeq which Hosea uses.

Numerous attempts have been made to identify the Teacher of Righteousness with some figure or other mentioned elsewhere in Jewish literature;2 and as the career of the Teacher, in so far as it can be pieced together from the Qumran texts, is linked very closely with the careers of one or two  contemporaries who are mentioned in equally allusive terms, it might be more accurate to entitle the present study The Teacher of Righteousness—and others.

The Teacher of Righteousness had been known in some degree to students of post-biblical Hebrew literature for many years before the first discovery of manuscripts at Qumran. He figures quite prominently in the Zadokite work which came to light in two imperfect manuscripts in the famous Cairo genizah towards the end of last century. This work has most recently been edited by Dr. Chaim Rabin,1 who distinguishes two treatises in it, one of which he calls the Admonition and the other the Laws. Not long after the first manuscripts were discovered at Qumran, it was recognized that a close affinity existed between some of them and the Zadokite work; and subsequently fragments of the Zadokite work were actually found at Qumran. It is now quite clear that the two parts of the Zadokite work originated in the same milieu as the community documents of Qumran.

At the beginning of the Zadokite Admonition we are told how God, in a time of apostasy,

remembered the covenant of the forefathers and caused a remnant to remain for Israel and did not give them up to be consumed. And in the epoch of wrath, three hundred and ninety years after He had given them into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, He visited them: and He caused to sprout from Israel and from Aaron a root of [His] planting to possess His land and to grow fat in the goodness of His soil. And they considered their iniquity and knew that they were guilty men; but they were like blind men and like men that grope for a way for twenty years. And God took note of their deeds, for they sought Him with a perfect heart; and He raised up for them
a teacher of righteousness to lead them in the way of His heart, that He might make known to the last generations what He was about to do to the last generation—the congregation of deceivers.2

Later references in both parts of the Zadokite work make it plain that the authors believed that
salvation was to be found in following the directions of the Teacher of Righteousness.

This tallies with much that is said about the Teacher of Righteousness in the commentaries (pesharim)1 on Habakkuk and Micah found in the first Qumran cave. In the Habakkuk pesher the prophet’s warnings of judgment are directed against those who refuse to believe the things which

the Teacher of Righteousness [told them] from the mouth of God.2

And when the commentator goes on to denounce the covenant-breakers

who will not believe when they hear all that is [coming upon] the last generation, from the mouth of the priest into [whose heart] God has put [wisdom] to interpret all the words of His servants the prophets, [through] whom God told all that was to come upon His people and up[on His land],3

it is most natural to infer that ‘the priest’ in question is identical with the Teacher of Righteousness.4

In Hab. ii. 1f. the prophet describes how, in his concern to understand the divine purpose, he determined to wait for the fresh light that might come from the further unfolding of that purpose in the course of events, and received the assurance that the final vindication of God’s righteousness would not be long delayed. Here is the commentator’s interpretation of these verses:

God commanded Habakkuk to write the things that were coming upon the last generation, but the fulfillment of the epoch He did not make known to him. And as for the words, ‘that he may run that readeth it’, their interpretation concerns the Teacher of Righteousness, to whom God made known all the mysteries of the words of His servants the prophets.5

That is to say, Habakkuk was enabled to foresee what was going to happen at the time of the end, but he was not told when the time of the end would be. This ‘mystery’ (the word is raz, which is used in a similar sense in the Book of Daniel)1 was reserved for the Teacher of Righteousness. When he arose, God showed him that the time of the end was close at hand, and gave him to understand how the predictions of Habakkuk and the other prophets were shortly to be fulfilled. (We may compare what is said in 1 Pet. i. 10 ff. about the prophets’ endeavour to ascertain the time which was indicated in the words which they uttered by divine inspiration—a mystery which had now been revealed to those who believed the gospel and recognized in Jesus the suffering and glorified Messiah of whom those prophets had spoken.)

For, the community of Qumran believed, the prophets had all spoken of the time of the end rather than of the days in which they themselves lived. If Balaam spoke of ‘a star out of Jacob’ which would ‘smite through the corners of Moab’ (Nu. xxiv. 17); if Ezekiel described the aggression and overthrow of ‘Gog, of the land of Magog’ (Ezk. xxxviii. 1 ff.); if Isaiah announced the Assyrian’s fall ‘with the sword, not of men’ (Is. xxxi. 8); if Habakkuk witnessed the advance and decline of ‘the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation’ (Hab. i. 6)—these prophets were not concerned about persons and events of their own times, but with the defeat of the Kitti’im by the sons of light at the time of the end.

These Kitti’im, the last Gentile oppressors of the people of God, have been variously identified. The two Qumran texts which make most frequent reference to them are the Habakkuk commentary (where Habakkuk’s ‘Chaldeans’ are explained as being the Kitti’im) and the Rule of War (where the ‘sons of light’ take the field against the ‘Kitti’im of Assyria’ and subsequently attack ‘[the king of]2 the Kitti’im in Egypt’). An adequate discussion of the identity of the Kitti’im cannot be launched here. They are either Graeco-Macedonians (cf. the use of ‘Kittim’ in 1 Macc. i. 1; viii. 5) or Romans (cf. Dn. xi. 30, where ‘ships of Kittim’—an echo of Balaam’s words in Nu. xxiv. 24—are Roman triremes).1

On the whole it seems more probable that they are Romans. This identification is supported by the description of their irresistible advance in the Habakkuk pesher and by the fact that the military organization detailed in the Rule of War appears to be based on Roman rather than on Graeco-Macedonian models.2 If they are to be identified with Graeco-Macedonians, the particular Graeco-Macedonians referred to would be the Seleucid forces of Antiochus IV and his successors. But this seems to be excluded by a passage in the Nahum pesher from Cave 4 which mentions an interval of time ‘from Antiochus to the rise of the rulers of the Kitti’im.’3 In any case, the men of Qumran expected to participate in the annihilation of the Kitti’im in that bitter struggle of the end-time when, according to Dn. xii.1, Michael the archangel would intervene as the champion of the people of God and ensure them final victory.

The exegetes of Qumran might well have expressed their viewpoint in the words of Peter in Acts iii. 22, 24: ‘Moses… and all the prophets from Samuel and them that followed after, as many as have spoken, they also told of these days.’ And this exegetical viewpoint, which interpreted all that the prophets had spoken in terms of the epoch which had now set in, was the viewpoint adopted by the Teacher of Righteousness and taken over from him by his followers. Who then was this man, whose original and creative interpretation of prophecy had so profound an influence on the thought and life of the Qumran community?




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