The conditions for entering the community are described in several of the sectarian Qumran scrolls. There is some variation among the descriptions of the initiation in the different sources, but all depict a multi-stage process. The most detailed description appears in the Rule of the Community (1QS), as summarized here.
After a preliminary interview, the acceptable candidate was instructed in the precepts of the sect and subjected to an examination by the full community. If he passed this stage, he was accepted into the group for one year’s probation, during which time he was not permitted to touch the food and drink of the main group. At the end of at least a year, he was examined again by the group and, if still acceptable, admitted into closer relationship with the group: he was instructed in their esoteric knowledge and handed over his property to the management of the community, where it was held in a type of escrow (See Economic Life). He was still barred, however, from the “pure drink” of the community (see Ritual Purity ). Finally, at the end of the second year, if acceptable, he was admitted to full membership in the group (full participation in meals and in communal meetings; his property was fully merged with that of the group). See Rule of the Community, 1QS 6:13–23; See also CD 15:1–15.
Admissions procedures—1QS 6:13–23:
If anyone of Israel volunteers for enrollment in the party of the Yahad, the man appointed as leader of the general membership [the Rabbim] shall examine him regarding his understanding and works. If he has the potential for instruction, he is to begin initiation into the Covenant, returning to the truth and repenting of all perversity. He shall be made to understand all the basic precepts of the Yahad. Subsequently in the process, he must stand before the general membership and the whole chapter shall interrogate him about his particulars. According to the decision of the Council of the general membership, he shall either proceed or depart. If he does proceed in joining the party of the Yahad, he must not touch the pure food of the general membership before they have examined him as to his spiritual fitness and works, and not before a full year has passed. Further, he must not yet admix his property with that of the general membership. When he has passed a full year in the Yahad, the general membership shall inquire into the details of his understanding and works of the Law. If it be ordained, in the opinion of the priests and the majority of the men of their Covenant, then he shall be initiated further into the secret teaching of the Yahad. They shall also take steps to incorporate his property, putting it under the authority of the Overseer together with that of the general membership, and keeping an account of it—but it shall not yet be disbursed along with that of the general membership. The initiate is not to touch the drink of the general membership prior to passing a second year among the men of the Yahad. When that second year has passed, the general membership shall review his case. If it be ordained for him to proceed to full membership in the Yahad, they shall enroll him at the appropriate rank among his brothers for discussion of the Law, jurisprudence, participation in pure meals and admixture of property. Thenceforth the Yahad may draw upon his counsel and judgment.
Admissions Procedures—CD 15:5-17:
Whoever enters the covenant for all Israel, this is a perpetual observance: Any children who reach the age to be included in the registrants, they shall impose the covenant oath upon them. This is the rule during all the era of wickedness for all who repent of the wicked ways: One the day he speaks to the overseer of the general membership, they shall register him by the oath of the covenant that Moses made with Israel, the covenant to return to the laws of Moses with a whole heart, and to return with a whole spirit to that which is found therein to do during the era of [wickedness]. No on is allowed to tell him the rules until he appears before the Oversee, so that he, the Overseer, is not fooled by him when he examines him; and when he imposes upon him the oath to return to the law of Moses with a whole heart and with a whole soul, they are innocent with respect to him if he proves false. Everything that is revealed from the law for the multitude of the Camp, and of which he (the postulant) is capable, the Overseer should tell him and command him to study for one full year; and then according to his knowledge he may draw near. But no one who is a fool or insane may enter; and no simpleton or ignoramus or one with eyes too weak to see or lame or crippled of deaf or minor child, none of these shall enter the congregation, for the holy angels are in your midst.
Full initiation took place in the context of an annual ceremony in which the entire Yahad renewed their commitment to the community’s covenant with God. This ritual was associated with the Festival of Shavuot/Pentecost (4Q266 fragment 11), and modeled on the covenant ceremony narrated in Deuteronomy 27–28. It is described at the beginning of the Rule of the Community (1QS 1-2). 1QS 1:16–26 tells us:
All who enter the Yahad’s rule shall be initiated into the Covenant before God, agreeing to act according to all that He has commanded and not to backslide because of any fear, terror, or persecution that may occur during the time of Belial’s dominion. While the initiates are being inducted into the Covenant, the priests and the Levites shall continuously bless the God of deliverance and all His veritable deeds. All the initiates into the Covenant shall continuously respond “Amen, amen.” The priests are to rehearse God’s gracious acts made manifest by mighty deeds, heralding his loving mercies on Israel’s behalf. The Levites in turn shall rehearse the wicked acts of the children of Israel, all their guilty transgressions and sins committed during the dominion of Belial. All the initiates into the Covenant are to respond by confessing, “We have been wicked – we and our fathers before us – walking [in rebellion to the laws] of truth and righteousness, [wherefore God] has judged us, both we and out fathers. Yet He has also requited us with the loving deeds of His mercy, long ago and forevermore.”
This confession is followed by the priestly recitation of blessings upon the whole community (modeled on Numbers 6:23-27). The Levites then pronounce curses upon those of “the lot of Belial,” and priests and Levites together then pronounce a separate set of curses on members of the covenant who sin against its precepts and leave or are thrown out—to which all of the initiates again answer “Amen, amen.”
See Community Discipline for more on the behavior expected of community members and how infractions were handled.