Review of S. Metso, The Serek Texts

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 8 (2008) - Review

Sariana Metso, The Serek Texts (Companion to the Qumran Scrolls, 9; Library of Second Temple Texts, 62; London/New York: T & T Clark, 2007).  Pp. xiii + 86. Hardcover, US$110.00.  ISBN 978-0-567-04092-3.


In this ‘Companion to the Qumran Scrolls’, Sarianna Metso, an expert on the textual development of the Community Rule (Hebrew Serek) now teaching at the University of Toronto, introduces the reader to the various manuscripts of this Rule and summarizes the scholarly discussion on the central topics related to them. Her book is divided into seven chapters. The short introduction (Chap. 1) begins with an account of the discovery and publication of the scrolls of the Rule, and then provides a physical description of twelve of them in numerical sequence (1QS Sa Sb; 4Q255-264 Sa-j; 5Q11; 11Q29 Fragment related to Serekh ha-Yahad); Metso also records the quotes of the Rule in a few additional documents and points to related texts.

Chap. 2, “Genre and Contents” discusses the structural units of 1QS (I.1-15 Introduction; I.16–III.12 Liturgy for the Renewal of the Covenant; etc.) and considers for each of them the most significant differences found in parallel texts, mainly those from Cave 4. On the basis of this comparison, it can be demonstrated, for instance, that the so-called ‘Manifesto’ found in 1QS VIII.1–IX.26 consisted once only of an introduction (1QS VIII.1-15a) and of instructions for the wise leader (1QS IX.12-26), as in 4QSe where these sections follow one another directly (4QSe III.1-6a.6b–IV.6); the two parts of the code of discipline (1QS VIII.16b-IX.2), and the duplicate of the introduction (1QS IX.3-11) found between them are most likely secondary additions.

Since the discovery of the first copy of the Community Rule in Cave 1 (1QS), several hypotheses have been made about the redactional history of this text. In Chap. 3, Metso briefly recalls the most significant before and after the public release of the evidence from Cave 4. Her own comprehensive study of the question has led her to suggest that an early version of the Rule prompted two lines of tradition, witnessed respectively by 4QSe and 4QSb,d. The early version began with material parallel to 1QS V and was addressed to the maskil (as does 4QSd); it ended possibly with a calendric text (as does 4QSe) rather than with the psalm found in 1QS X–XI. 1QS is a combination of both lines of tradition which also includes the insertion of cols. I–IV and of scriptural quotations and additions (as shown by 4QSb,d). This text was subsequently revised by a scribal corrector who left his mark particularly in cols. VII–VIII.

The title of Chap. 4. ‘Commentary on key passages’ is somewhat confusing, since these are gathered around common themes. The introductory passages of cols. I, V, and VIII provide information about the general principles of community life such as the adherence to and the study of the Law of Moses, the separation from outsiders, the observance of a specific calendar, etc. The first columns of 1QS also include an elaborate description of a covenant ceremony (I.16–III.12), parts of which are also preserved or echoed in other manuscripts, and the well-known Treatise on the Two Spirits (III.13–IV.26) with its strong dualism. Passages of 1QS related to the admission of new members, the judicial sessions of the community, its penal codes and its leadership are also studied, with special attention to their variants and, when relevant, reference to their similarities with the descriptions of the Essenes by Philo, Pliny, and Josephus.

Metso begins her study of the relationship between the Community Rule and the Bible (Chap. 5) by demonstrating that the three biblical citations found in 1QS (V.13b-16a; V.16b-19a and VIII.12b-16a) are secondary additions to an earlier form of the Rule. She then analyzes similarities and differences between the Community Rule and the New Testament. When they quote Isaiah 40.3, both the Community Rule (VIII.14) and the four evangelists (Mt. 3.3; Mk 1.3; Lk 3.4-6; Jn 1.23) disregarded its historical context, detached it from its original meaning and adapted its wording to fit their own needs. Many New Testament concepts and theological ideas, such as the Pauline belief on justification by divine grace, are also found in the Rule. Other parallel features, sometimes with significant distinctions, include literary forms (lists of virtues and vices), community structure and practices (division into twelve, sharing of goods, ritual immersions, etc.) and messianic expectations.

 In Chap. 6, Metso extends her exploration to seven texts related to the Community Rule: the Rule of the Congregation (1QSa), the Rule of the Blessings (1QSb), Miscellaneous Rules (4Q265), Rebukes Reported by the Overseer (4Q477), Communal Ceremony (4Q275); Four Lots (4Q279), and Rule (5Q13). The contents of these documents, their relationship with 1QS, and their particular significance are exposed separately; each one is provided with its own bibliographic information.

In the concluding chapter, Metso assesses the function and significance of the Rule texts in the Essene community. Rules and regulations, which stand at the core of these manuscripts, were most likely derived through oral decision-making and based on practical exigencies. Scriptural justifications were added later, perhaps when one or another practice was challenged. This suggests that “the community treated the laws of the Torah and community regulations as equally authoritative” (p. 67). In their written forms, the Rules would not have been intended as “lawbook” or “rulebook” in the modern sense, but rather “as a recording of different judicial decisions and a report of oral traditions” (p. 68). This would account for the presence of contradictory regulations in a compilation like the Community Rule. The several copies of the Rule suggest, according to Metso, that “it never existed as a single legitimate and up-to-date version of the Community Rule that supplemented all other versions” (p. 69).

This book perfectly suits the need for an introduction to 1QS, other manuscripts of the Community Rule, and related texts. It provides basic information, competently reviews early and current scholarship, and offers a fresh view of nature, growth, and function of these documents based on all relevant evidences. It is clearly written and accessible to everyone interested in the field of Qumran studies. Extensive bibliographic data and indexes of references and authors complete this work which will stand as an essential reference on the Rule texts for several years.

 Jean Duhaime, Théologie et sciences des religions, Université de Montréal