Qumranic ‘Light’ metaphors: a bridge to the New Testament
The Dead Sea Scrolls are unique as exemplars of a singular set of literary phenomena in the Second Jewish Commonwealth. Specifically, the Hebrew language itself came to be used in new ways, to express a metaphorical sensitivity that fundamentally broke with the traditions of biblical Hebrew, and, I will argue, served as a bridge to concepts that later found expression in the New Testament. The example I will consider involves two textual fragments from Qumran Cave 4 that adopt an exegetical approach similar to 1QSb (a version of the so-called “Community Rule”) dealing with the word “light” (’or).
The Qumranic passages view “light” in a manner unlike anything previously referenced in the Hebrew Bible, in which the word ap pears as an emblem of redemption and spiritual regeneration. In the radical exegesis of the sectarian fragments, the word becomes a symbolic representation of the Qumran community itself (the Ya had) and/or the Zadokite priesthood. It is not enough for the sectarian exegetes to suggest that the community is graced by light or protected by light; the community/priesthood is in fact light. This interpretive phenomenon goes well beyond the mere personification of a Hebrew term. It involves the metamorphosis of lan guage, so as to near-deify the community as a whole and priests as individuals.
Moreover, the sectarian corpus appeals to biblical proof texts in a way that internalizes and allegorizes their “plain sense” meaning (p’shat, in the language of the rabbinic sages) and radically reinterprets them, suggesting “secret” messages understood only by members of the Yahad. This research will hopefully shine additional “light” on the process by which this metamorphosis of the word “light” (’or) transpired, anticipating its future usage in the Pauline epistles and the book of Revelation.
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