Moral Purification in 1QS -- By: Casey Toews

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 13:1 (NA 2003)
Article: Moral Purification in 1QS
Author: Casey Toews

Moral Purification in 1QS

Casey Toews

Trinity Western University

In preexilic times, moral purification (the enforcement of the death penalty and כּרת, “to be cut off”) held tragic and fatal consequences for the offender, as well as the nation at large, dynamically illustrated when the nation was collectively “cut off” in exile. In response to the severe punishments occasioned by moral impurity, the prophets considered a survivable alternative for moral purification in place of the harsh Pentateuchal penalties. They envisioned, metaphorically, a lustral cleansing that could wash away moral impurity. The Hebrew Bible does not provide evidence of a literal adaptation of this metaphor into praxis. In looking to the Second Temple period literature, we find that 1QS provides the earliest witness of a literal adaptation of the prophetic imagery into a baptism of moral purification. As such, 1QS is a very important document for demonstrating an approach to moral purification that is both a development of the postexilic Hebrew Bible, as well as a precursor to the practices evident in the lives of John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul.

Key Words: baptism, halakah, moral impurity, moral purification, ritual impurity, ritual purification, Qumran law, 1QS


An analysis of purity law in the Pentateuchal legislation (primarily Lev 11-26 and Num 19) reveals the presence of two distinct categories of pollution (טמא): ritual impurity and moral impurity.1 Though this

categorization of impurity is not maintained by all,2 the P material clearly distinguishes a permissible type of impurity (ritual), arising out of everyday occurrences of life, such as childbirth (Lev 12:1-8), disease (Lev 13:1-14:32), and death (Num 19:1-37), from a forbidden type of impurity (moral), arising out of prohibited conduct such as sexual sin (Lev 18:24-29), idolatry (Lev 19:31; 20:1-3), and murder (Num 35:33-34).3 Remedy of the former condition was relatively lenient.You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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