Ritual Purity

            Ritual purity was a concern for other contemporary Jewish groups besides those at Qumran, including the Pharisees and Sadducees. The biblical book of Leviticus specifies rules for maintaining ritual purity, which was a requirement for participation in sacred activities. The regulations are especially geared for priests, who had to keep themselves pure in order to serve in the sanctuary. In the Second Temple period, these laws were particularly important to the Sadducees, the priestly aristocracy at the time. This is evidenced in the abundance of miqva’ot found in the vicinity of the Temple. The Pharisees applied the Bible’s rules about purity surrounding the Temple sacrifices to life outside the Temple. Although they tried to limit the restrictions upon the general populace, some of them joined havurot—private associations whose members were very scrupulous about the laws pertaining to food, including purity.

            The Dead Sea Scrolls, however, indicate a more extreme concern about purity, a concern that applied universally to all members of the Community. Having become disaffected with the Jerusalem establishment in charge of the Temple, the Qumran Community needed to adapt to the undesirable situation in which they had no authority over the central national religious rituals. According to the evidence of the scrolls, the sectarians seem to have viewed the Community itself as a temporary replacement for the Temple. They thus adopted for themselves stringencies that had previously applied to the priests and Jerusalem precincts, requiring a high level of purity and holiness from all members alike. Some of the Community’s strict positions on purity regulations are evident in 4QMMT, which lists the author’s stringent views on a number of disputed laws. In the “Purification Texts” from Qumran, we not only find detailed instructions for immersion, but also learn about accompanying liturgical recitations, such as blessings.

            An interesting development found in the Dead Sea scrolls is the use of immersion in order to achieve and/or demonstrate “cleansing” from sin. In addition to the use of ritual baths for purification from ritual impurities, as noted above, and as prescribed in the Bible, immersion was also viewed as essential for moral purity. According to the Community Rule, immersion was only effective if preceded by repentance (1QS 3:39; 5:13-15. This is similar to the view of John the Baptist, in Matthew 3:6-11).

            Purity rites are discussed in detail in the Rule of the Community (1QRule of the Community, 1QS), Rule of the Congregation (1Q28a), Damascus Document (4Q266-273, CD), MMT (4Q394-399), Ordinances (4Q514), Purification Rules A (4Q274). It is not clear whether the Temple Scroll is a product of the Qumran Community; it too includes stringent rules about purification. It states, for example, that a man who had a seminal emission is banned from Jerusalem until he is purified. He would also have to immerse himself and launder his clothes before being allowed to eat of the sect’s special food and drink. (11Q19 45:11–12).            

            According to the Community Rule, ordinary food was eaten in a state of purity and all members of the community bathed in a miqveh before eating the pure food served at the communal meal (1QS 5:13). There were several circumstances that could render a person impure. Among those discussed in the Dead Sea Scrolls are: scale disease, genital discharges, coming into contact with a corpse, animal carcasses or excrement. In keeping with biblical precepts, an individual who became impure was required to wait a designated interval of time and then immerse in a ritual bath. If another member of the community came into contact with the impure individual before he completed the purification procedure, then that second member would himself become impure. He would have to bathe and launder his clothes before being allowed to eat of the sect’s special food and drink. Also, in contrast to more lenient Pharisaic requirements, the Damascus Document stipulates that a person had to be fully immersed in order for the impurity to be removed (CD 10:10–13).