At the beginning of time, Adam and Eve demonstrated for their posterity the proper way to worship. They "called upon the name of the Lord" (Moses 5:4) after leaving the Garden of Eden. In response to their prayer, the voice of the Lord "gave them commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God" (Moses 5:5). Moses tells us that Adam and Eve were "obedient unto the commandments of the Lord" (Moses 5:5). They were commanded to "offer the firstlings of their flocks . . . [in] similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father" (Moses 5:5, 7), to repent of their sins, and to participate in other ordinances of the gospel, namely to receive baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost (see Moses 6:64–8). As Adam and his posterity called upon the Lord, the Lord blessed them. Moses records that a book of remembrance was kept that included inspired writings, and Adam and Eve's children were blessed by being able to read the words contained therein (see Moses 6:5–6). And it is recorded that Adam and Eve "blessed the name of God" (Moses 5:12). These verses suggest that true worship of the Lord includes at least seven elements: (1) calling upon the Lord in prayer, (2) obedience, (3) sacrifice, (4) repentance, (5) ordinances, (6) reading and studying the word of the Lord, and (7) continuing to bless the Lord's name.
These same principles were taught to the covenant people in the law of Moses. In the books of the Pentateuch, the Lord instructs Israel in regards to worship. Israel was commanded to continue to call upon the Lord in prayer. In Deuteronomy the Lord teaches, "But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul" (Deuteronomy 4:29). In the Psalms he said, "O give thanks unto the Lord; call upon his name: . . . Seek the Lord, and his strength: seek his face evermore" (Psalms 105:1, 4). The Old Testament gives many examples of people who call upon the name of the Lord: Abraham pleads for the preservation of Sodom (see Genesis 18:23–33), Hannah gives thanks for the birth of Samuel (see 1 Samuel 2:1–10), and Solomon dedicates the temple (see 1 Kings 8:12–53). Obedience was defined as becoming "holy" as God is holy. The Lord commands in Leviticus, "Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy" (Leviticus 19:2), and the Lord blessed Israel with many commandments to help them in their quest for holiness.
The sacrificial system was greatly expanded at the time of Moses, as delineated in the book of Leviticus, to include the sin, trespass, and peace offerings in addition to burnt offerings, as further symbols of the atonement that was to come. Israel was taught to repent with a "broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart" (Psalms 51:17) accompanied by sacrifices and ordinances of purification to remind them of the atonement that made repentance possible. Many ordinances in addition to circumcision, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost were revealed to the children of Israel. Those ordinances included the sacrifices and rituals of purification as well as the observance of a whole series of festivals designed to help covenant Israel remember their God, their sacred history, and their covenantal relationship with him. In addition, the reading and study of the Law were legislated as a part of worship. For example, every seven years Israel was commanded to gather and read the entire Law (see Deuteronomy 31:10–2).
The Bible is replete with examples of men and women who blessed the name of the Lord, offering up hymns of praise and thanksgiving. The Psalms in particular preserve many such hymns of praise and thanksgiving.1
Members of the Qumran community, understood by most scholars to be Essenes, were first and foremost Jews. They based their beliefs and practices on the Bible and other sacred books and thus they worshipped in ways similar to other Jews during this period. They believed themselves to be the only true covenant Israel, that they alone had access to the mind and the will of God, and that they had been called out of the world to prepare themselves to be ready for the end of time when they would be instruments in the hand of the Lord for the deliverance of the Sons of Light and the destruction of the Sons of Darkness.
From a historical perspective the Essenes are considered one of the several sects of Judaism, like the Pharisees and the Sadducees, that flourished at the end of the pre-Christian era. From a Latter-day Saint perspective, the Essenes were a group groping for light and truth during one of the most challenging periods of Israel's history. Although it was a time of apostasy, and darkness surrounded them, they continued to worship the Lord to the best of their ability and understanding. When Jesus the Messiah came in his mortal ministry, the Essenes as a group did not accept him. In AD 68 they were still at Qumran awaiting divine intervention on their behalf when their community was destroyed by the Romans.
We are fortunate to have discovered in Qumran the many texts that preserve remnants of Essene religious beliefs and practices. On the one hand, certain aspects of their worship are similar to that of the other sects of Judaism, since much of it is derived directly from the Old Testament. On the other hand, some of their beliefs and religious practices are unique to their community. We can survey their worship by examining each of the seven elements of worship identified in the Pearl of Great Price and the Bible: prayer, obedience, sacrifice, ordinances, repentance, study, and blessing the name of the Lord. For each of the seven elements I have chosen one or more representative passages from some of the important texts at Qumran to illustrate the Qumranites' understanding of each principle of worship.2
Prayer at Qumran
Like all forms of Judaism based on the Bible, prayer was a very important element of the worship at Qumran. Many of the more than 800 texts found at Qumran contain prayers. The most widely attested text at Qumran is the book of Psalms, which contains examples of many prayers. There were fragments of 36 different copies of the Psalms found at Qumran, 29 copies of Deuteronomy, 21 copies of Isaiah, and 17 copies of Exodus.3 We now have numerous texts containing the prayers used at Qumran as well as a wealth of information about the practice of prayer. Unfortunately, many of these texts are very fragmentary. Most of the 575 texts from Cave 4 consisted of many small fragments when the Bedouin first brought them to scholars, but scholars through the years have sorted these fragments and assembled them on plates preserving, albeit in fragmentary form, hundreds of texts from Cave 4 that are useful for the study of prayer at Qumran.4
The ancient historian Flavius Josephus describes for us how the Essenes prayed:
Before the sun is up they utter no word on mundane matters, but offer to him [the Lord] certain prayers, which have been handed down from their forefathers, as though entreating him to rise. They are then dismissed by their superiors to the various crafts in which they are severally proficient and are strenuously employed until the fifth hour, when they again assemble in one place and, after girding their loins with linen cloths, bathe their bodies in cold water. . . . Pure now themselves, they repair to the refectory as to some sacred shrine. . . . Before meat the priest says a grace, and none may partake until after the prayer.5
One of the treasures from Qumran is a copy of the scroll called the Rule of the Community (originally called the Manual of Discipline by scholars). This scroll contains eleven well-preserved columns discussing the rules for entrance into the community and the rituals and the ordinances and statutes governing the community. At the end of the scroll is a beautiful hymn expressing thanksgiving to the Lord for being part of the community. From this hymn we learn more about prayer at Qumran:
When I stretch out hand and foot I will praise his name. When I go out and come in, sit and rise, and when laid on my couch, I will cry for joy to him. I will praise him with the offering of the utterance of my lips in the row of men, and before I lift my hand to enjoy the delights of the world's produce. In the beginning of terror and dread, and in the abode of affliction and distress I will bless him for (his) exceedingly woundrous activity. I will meditate upon his power, and upon his mercies I will lean all day.6
In short, the Essenes believed in the need to pray regularly and constantly. Prayer could be offered at any time, in any place, in any circumstance, and at Qumran there were also set times for regular prayer in the morning and in the evening. The Rule of the Community specifies prayer when the light of day first appears in the morning and when it disappears in the evening (See 1QS IX 26–X 3). A series of texts from Cave 4 appears to preserve specific examples of these daily prayers for each day of a month (see 4Q503). Many scholars believe that the morning and evening prayers of the Essenes were offered, as in other sects of Judaism, at the same times as the daily sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem.7
Most of the prayers in the Bible appear to be spontaneous prayers directly addressing God in light of various circumstances. In the later rabbinic traditions rabbis warned against routine and unthoughtful prayer. According to the Mishnah (compiled ca. AD 200) Rabbi Simeon ben Nethanel said, "And when thou prayest make not thy prayer a fixed form, but [a plea for] mercies and supplications before God" (Avot 2:13). In rabbinic Judaism there is evidence that the writing down of prayers was not permitted during the centuries that the Essenes flourished. One of the sages stated that "those who commit blessings to writing are like those who burn Torah" (T Shabbat 13:4). Nevertheless, through the centuries a book of fixed prayers emerged in rabbinic Judaism.8 Thus the Qumran prayers are important evidence for the development of prayer between the biblical period and the texts of rabbinic Judaism, which began to be written in the third century AD. Several of the Qumran texts preserve remnants of prayers known from the rabbinic prayer book—often with the exact phrases intact—indicating that originally these prayers were known within Judaism outside of the Pharisaical circles.9
Undoubtedly, spontaneous prayer occurred at Qumran, and perhaps some of our texts preserve examples of such prayers. Many of the texts from Qumran appear to be fixed prayers uttered by the community on special occasions. A survey of some of the more important of the prayer texts will give us an idea of the wealth of the prayers found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
In Cave 11 a scroll was discovered called the Psalms Scroll, which contains a collection of forty-one biblical Psalms and seven non-canonical psalms, some of which are known from the Apocrypha, interspersed. Many scholars believe this scroll was a liturgical collection, meaning they were psalms used in the worship of the community.10 At the end of this scroll was a notation of the number of hymns that David wrote:
David son of Jesse was wise and brilliant like the light of the sun; (he was) a scribe, intelligent and perfect in all his ways before God and men.
YHWH gave him an intelligent and brilliant spirit, and he wrote 3,600 psalms and 364 songs to sing before the altar for the daily perpetual sacrifice, for all the days of the year; and 52 songs for the Sabbath offerings; and 30 songs for the New Moons, for Feast days and for the Day of Atonement.
In all, the songs which he uttered were 446, and 4 songs to make music on behalf of those stricken (by evil spirits).
In all, they were 4,050.
All these he uttered through prophecy which was given him from before the Most High.11
This passage confirms our suspicion that psalms were important elements in the worship of the community on a daily basis as well as throughout the yearly cycle of festivals. This passage also indicates the nature of the Qumran calendar. While we do not have Davidic psalms for each day of the year and all of the festivals, we do have fragmentary texts consisting of prayers for morning and evening of each day of the month (4Q503), prayers for various festivals (4Q507–9)—in particular the Day of Atonement (1Q34bis), a collection of prayers for the days of the week (4Q504), prayers of lamentation (4Q501), and a scroll called Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifices containing angelic praises of God for the first thirteen Sabbaths of the solar year (4Q400–7; 11Q5–6).
The Rule of the Community outlines the goal of the Essenes: "In order to seek God with [all the heart and soul] doing what is good and right before him, as he commanded through Moses and through all his servants the prophets, and in order to love all that he has chosen, and to hate all that he has rejected, keeping away from all evil and adhering to all good works, and in order to perform truth and righteousness and justice upon the earth" (1QS I 1–6). The Essenes were strict about obeying the law of Moses in terms of ethics, ritual, and purification, and their books contain specific penalties imposed on those who were not obedient to the code of conduct outlined. For example, speaking the name of God frivolously and murmuring against the authority of the community were grounds for permanent expulsion from the community. Anyone who "deliberately or through negligence transgresses one word of the law of Moses, on any point whatever, shall be expelled from the Council of the Community and shall return no more" (1QS VIII 20–25). Stiff penalties were imposed on those who spoke in anger, deceived or insulted a fellow, interrupted a meeting, or dressed immodestly (See 1QS VII 1–15). Falling asleep in the Assembly of the Congregation was punishable by penance for thirty days (See 1QS VII 10). In the Damascus Document, another text describing the rules of the community, there is an entire section of laws regarding proper conduct on the Sabbath (See CD X 15–XII 1).
As a symbol of their obedience, the Essenes had apparently adopted, as had other Jews, the use of the tefillin and mezuzoth as part of their worship. In Deuteronomy, in a passage Jews call the Shema, which means "hear" or "hearken," the Lord commanded Israel:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them [the words of the Lord] diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shall bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4–9)
At a certain point in time pious Jews interpreted literally the passage about binding these words on the hand and before the eyes and developed objects to be used in worship called tefillin (or phylacteries) to be placed upon the hands and before the eyes, as well as the mezuzoth to be placed on the doors of their houses. Twenty tefillin and several mezuzoth were found at Qumran. The tefillah (singular for tefillin), which was placed on the forehead, had four compartments for four tiny texts containing four scriptures (Exodus 13:1–10, 11–6; Deuteronomy 6:4–9; 11:13–21). The tefillah for the hand had only one compartment for a text containing all four passages. The texts in the tefillin at Qumran include the Decalogue along with the other four traditional texts, suggesting, as do other ancient witnesses, that the recitation of the Ten Commandments was part of the liturgy, or prayer service, at Qumran. The tefillin and the mezuzoth are graphic symbols of the Essene's commitment to obedience to the Law.
The most prominent symbols connected to the law of Moses are a series of divinely ordained sacrifices. At the time of the Essenes most Jews believed, based on Deuteronomy 12, that sacrifices could only be made at the temple in Jerusalem. However, the Essenes believed that the temple in Jerusalem was being run by a corrupt and illegitimate priesthood, and therefore they apparently did not offer sacrifice there. They understood their community to be the temple of the Lord until the temple in Jerusalem could be purified and rebuilt, and they looked to the future when such a temple would be built, as described in their Temple Scroll. The famous Temple Scroll found in Cave 11 contains specific instructions for sacrifices and other temple rituals.12
For the Qumran community, prayer was an act that could have the same effect as sacrifice until the temple was built. The Rule of the Community recognizes prayer as a form of worship comparable to sacrifice: "and prayer rightly offered shall be as an acceptable fragrance of righteousness, and perfection of way as a delectable free-will offering" (1QS IX 4–5). The morning and evening prayers at Qumran were likely offered at precisely the same time as the daily sacrifices at the Jerusalem Temple.
Ordinances and Rituals
The Essenes believed themselves to be the only true remnant of the covenant people of Israel. This is reflected in a prayer from Cave 1:
But in the time of Thy goodwill Thou didst choose for Thyself a people. Thou didst remember Thy Covenant and [granted] that they should be set apart for Thyself from among all the peoples as a holy thing. And Thou didst renew for them Thy Covenant (founded)on a glorious vision and the words of Thy Holy [Spirit], on the works of Thy hands and the writing of Thy Right Hand, that they might know the foundations of glory and the steps toward eternity.13
Entrance into the covenant consisted of a ritual initiation reminiscent of the covenant ceremony described in Deuteronomy 27 to 29. The Rule of the Community tells us that each initiate "shall take upon his soul by a binding oath to return to the Torah of Moses, according to all which he has commanded with all heart and with all soul" (1QS V 8). As recorded in the Rule of the Community, entrance to the community was a complex process that consisted of several steps: an examination, a one-year conditional membership, another examination, and another year of provisional membership followed by full membership—which consisted of giving up one's private property to the community and receiving full fellowship in the community (1QS VI 13–24).
Members of the covenant participated in a communal meal in which the bread and wine was blessed and distributed according to the hierarchy of the community. This meal was apparently considered a foreshadowing of the future messianic banquet. Members of the community gathered together and sat before the priest according their rank. The priest then blessed the firstfruits of the bread and the new wine and ate, followed by the rest of those who had gathered together (see 1QS VI 3–5).
In obedience to the Bible the Essenes pursued a strict observance of sacred time—setting aside sacred days during which they remembered God and witnessed their faithfulness to the covenant. The most important of the days of worship was the Sabbath. From several of the documents at Qumran we can reconstruct their sacred calendar of 364 days, a number divisible by seven. The Qumran community observed the Feast of the Passover, Feast of Weeks, the Day of Atonement, and Feast of Tabernacles. In addition the Temple Scroll mentions several firstfruits festivals not mentioned in the Bible: New Barley, New Wine, New Oil, and a Wood-Offering Festival.14
Repentance and Purification
From Adam to Moses and down to the time of the Essenes, the need for repentance and purification was central to the worship of God. A short prayer from Qumran illustrates this:
And he will bless there [the God of Israel. Answering, he will say: Blessed art Thou, God of Israel. And I stand] before Thee on the feas[t] . . . Thou hast . . . me for purity . . . and his burnt offering and he will bless. Answering he will say: Blessed art Thou, [God of Israel, who hast delivered me from al]l my sins and purified me from the impure indecency and hast atoned so that I come . . . purification and the blood of the burnt offering of Thy Goodwill and the pleasing memorial.15
Purification was symbolized at Qumran by ritual baths taken twice a day according to Josephus.16 The ritual was not a mechanical one. The Rule of the Community tells us that the wicked "must not enter the water . . . for they cannot be cleansed unless they turn away from their wickedness" (1QS V 13–4).
Reading and Study of the Law
The Rule of the Community succinctly describes the importance of the study of the word of God among the Essenes:
When these become the Community in Israel they shall separate themselves from the session of the men of deceit in order to depart into the wilderness to prepare there the Way of the Lord ; as it is written: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make level in the desert a highway for our God." This (alludes to) the study of the Torah wh[ic]h he commanded through Moses to do, according to everything which has been revealed (from) time to time, and according to that which the prophets have revealed by his Holy Spirit. (1QS VIII 12–6)
And where there are ten (members) there must not be lacking there a man who studies the Torah day and night continually, each man relieving another. The Many shall spend the third part of every night of the year in unity, reading the Book, studying judgment, and saying benedictions in unity. (1QS VI 6–8)
Study was intended to increase the understanding of the Law in order to further obedience, and this study was accompanied by prayer. These passages demonstrate the reverence the Essenes had for the word of God. Of particular interest are the various biblical commentaries called pesharim that were found at Qumran. The Qumran community believed that they lived in the last days, that all of the prophetic books in the Old Testament saw and prophesied of their day, and that the Teacher of Righteousness had the power to interpret these texts. The Qumran texts include pesharim on the biblical books of Hosea, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Psalms. Each of these commentaries cites a biblical passage line by line and then interprets the imagery and prophecies in these books as they apply to the Qumran community. For example, the destruction of the Chaldeans prophesied in Habakkuk is interpreted as the destruction of the Kittim—a reference to the Romans—and the arrogant man alluded to in Habakkuk 2:5–6 is interpreted as a reference to a Wicked Priest who persecuted the Teacher of Righteousness and the community at Qumran. These commentaries show how the community at Qumran viewed themselves and their role in the last days.
Blessing and Praising the Name of the Lord
Many texts from Qumran contain hymns of praise and thanksgiving. Some of these are clearly prayers, others are identified as hymns inasmuch as they are not specifically addressed to God and refer to him in the third person. The most remarkable of these texts is a collection of over thirty hymns found in one of the original seven scrolls. The collection is called the Thanksgiving Hymns, or in Hebrew, the Hodayot—a passage of which we will look at below.
I have the privilege of working with Professor Moshe Weinfeld of Hebrew University on a collection of six small scrolls from Cave 4. Five of these scrolls are part of Barki Nafshi—a single text of hymns blessing the Lord, named after the opening phrase Bless, O My Soul. The first several lines of one of the text read as follows:
|Bless, O my soul, the Lord,|
|for all his wonders forever,|
|and blessed be his name.|
|For he has delivered the soul of the poor|
|and the humble he has not despised,|
|and he has not forgotten the distress of the helpless.|
|He has opened his eyes to the helpless,|
|and the cry of the orphans he has heard,|
|and he has turned his ears to their cry.|
|In the abundance of his mercy he was gracious to the needy|
|and he has opened their eyes to see his ways|
|and their ears to hear his teaching.|
|And he circumcised the foreskin of their heart|
|and he delivered them because of his grace|
|and he set their feet to the way.17|
Here God is portrayed as the champion of the poor, the humble, and the helpless. As he has opened his eyes to their plight and his ears to their cry, so has he the power to open their eyes to see his ways and their ears to hear his teaching, and most importantly he has "circumcised the foreskin of their heart" and has set their feet to "the way." Elsewhere in Barki Nafshi there is reference to the fact that the Lord "gave them another heart" (4Q434 1 i 10). Another passage states, "My heart thou hast commanded it and my inmost parts thou hast taught well, lest thy statutes be forgotten" (4Q436 1 i 5). The Qumran community understood that true religion can only be judged by the internal man and not just by external acts, and they sang praises to the God who had the power to change their hearts.
Some of the worship at Qumran is foreign to us since it is from a culture far distant from our own in time and space. However, we as Latter-day Saints recognize in the texts from Qumran many aspects of worship that resonate with our restored truth because they are based on truths revealed anciently, many of which are still found in the Old Testament. The constant expression of humility is most impressive in the hymns from the members of this covenant community. The residents of Qumran recognized that their position as the only covenant people was an exalted calling, one that must be constantly balanced and tempered by humility. We share with the community at Qumran the heritage of the Old Testament and recognize with them the need to constantly call upon the Lord God of Israel, to be obedient to his word, to obey his law of sacrifice, to seek to become holy through repentance, participate in his ordinances, to read and study his word, and to continue to bless his name.
These remarkable lines from the Thanksgiving Hymns capture the feelings of covenant people from all ages and provide a moment of reflection for us, the covenant people of the latter days:
|And I, a creature [of clay|
|kneaded with water,|
|a heap of dust]|
|and a heart of stone,|
|for what am I reckoned to be worthy of this?|
|For into an ear of dust [Thou hast put a new word]|
|and hast engraved on a heart of [stone] things everlasting.|
|Thou hast caused [the straying spirit] to return|
|that it may enter into a Covenant with Thee,|
|and stand [before Thee for ever]|
|in the everlasting abode,|
|illumined with perfect Light for ever,|
|with [no more] darkness,|
|[for un]ending [seasons of joy]|
|and un[numbered] ages of peace.18|
David Rolph Seely is associate professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.