Community Discipline

            The Rule of the Community and the Damascus Document present rules governing property and commerce, communal meetings and meals, conduct between members and with outsiders, judicial procedures, and punishments.
Most of the disciplinary legislation is found in CD 14:20–23; 4Q266 10 i–ii; 4Q270 7 i, and 1QS 6:24–7:25). There were three primary disciplinary methods used by the sect: Expulsion from the community altogether; exclusion from the “pure meals” of the community (that is, meals which had to be eaten in a state of ritual purity); and a reduced food allowance. Like many other aspects of Qumran, much remains unclear about how these penalties were administered. Nonetheless, the lists of offenses and their punishments provide a valuable depiction of which issues were central to the internal workings of the community.

            Expulsion was permanent and entailed total social separation from the former member. If a member was caught talking to, assisting, or doing business with someone who had been expelled, his own fate was sealed (1QS 7:24–25; Damascus Document 4Q266 18 v 16). A member could be expelled for one of five offences:

  1. Intentionally or carelessly transgressing even one word of the Law of Moses (see 1QS 8:21–4).
  2. Saying aloud the Divine Name (Tetragrammaton). “Anyone who speaks aloud the M[ost] Holy Name of God, [whether in…] or in cursing or as a blurt in time of trial or for any other reason, or while he is reading a book or praying, is to be expelled, never again to return to the society of the Yahad.” (1QS 6:27–7:2).
  3. Slandering the Congregation (1QS 7:17–18).
  4. Rebelling against the teachings and authority of the sect (1QS 7:17–19; (4Q266 18 v 5–6). If the offender repented, he could apply for readmission; he went through the same two-year probation as a new member, and if the outcome was successful, reassumed his appropriate rank in the communal assembly. This is the only instance of expulsion for which re-entry was possible.
  5.  “Walk[ing] in the stubbornness of his heart” after 10 years of membership; that is deliberately going against the tenets and customs of the community when he should certainly know better. (1QS 7:22–23).

            The annual Covenant Renewal ceremony (see Admission to the Community) had a separate set of curses against anyone who entered the covenant and then let its demands become a “stumbling block.” Such behavior revealed that the person had never been one of God’s people; the liturgy reinforced the importance of social separation. A passage from the historian Josephus in his description of the Essenes gives a picture of the possible consequences of such exclusion:

            Those who are convicted of serious crimes they expel from the order; and the ejected individual often comes to a most miserable end. For, being bound by their oaths and usages, he is not at liberty to partake of other men’s food, and so falls to eating grass and wastes away and dies of starvation. This has led them in compassion to receive many back in the last stage of exhaustion, deeming that torments which have brought them to the verge of death are a sufficient penalty for their misdoings. (Jewish War 2.143–144).

            Exclusion was a less extreme mode of separation. Exclusion from the community’s “pure meal” (see Ritual Purity) went along with suspension from communal deliberations, “until all his works have been cleansed from evil.” Unlike the case of meal exclusions, which were prescribed for set periods of time, exclusion from community councils could only be revoked by the vote of the general membership. It seems that in other respects, however, the excluded member remained part of the group, on probation, so to speak, and under scrutiny. Members could be excluded, for example, for:
1. Speaking against one of the priestly community authorities (1QS 7:2).
2. Showing disrespect to a person of higher rank (1QS 6:26–27)
3. Slandering or knowingly bringing a false accusation against a fellow community member (1QS 7:4–5, 18).
4. Lying in regard to property matters (1QS 6:25).

Reduced Food Allowance
            For a number of seemingly lesser offenses, the Rule of the Community prescribes that the offender be “punished” for varying periods of time (see below). In addition, “punishment” is added to the sentence of exclusion in the cases listed above. The exact nature of this “punishment” is specified in only one place, 1QS 6:24–25, at the beginning of a detailed list of offenses. There the offender in property matters is “punished” (in addition to being excluded) by having one quarter of his food rations withheld. It has been suggested that wherever the word “punished” occurs in the ensuing list this same reduction in food rations is implied. This method of punishment shows us that excluded members were still in the care of the community in matters of food and upkeep. The term “punished” was also employed by itself for more minor infractions. One such list is found in 1QS 6:64–7:25, which includes among other items, the following:

  1. For unintentional slandering, intentional lying or fraud (including bringing false charges), nursing a grudge, taking vengeance, or inappropriate nudity, 6 months.
  2. For failing to care for one in need, for speaking “foolishness,” 3 months.
  3. For improper behavior in communal meetings—falling asleep, repeatedly leaving early, spitting, being rude, 30 days; for interrupting another member, 10 days.
  4. For dressing immodestly, 30 days; for gesturing with the left hand, 10 days.

            Note that the offenses included in this list are primarily offenses against manners, modesty, and the social conventions such as honesty that help community members to cooperate with and trust one another.