An Eternal Planting, A House Of Holiness: The Self-Understanding of The Dead Sea Scrolls Community -- By: Paul N.W. Swarup

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 54:1 (NA 2003)
Article: An Eternal Planting, A House Of Holiness: The Self-Understanding of The Dead Sea Scrolls Community
Author: Paul N.W. Swarup


An Eternal Planting, A House Of Holiness:
The Self-Understanding of The Dead Sea Scrolls Community1

Paul N.W. Swarup

This dissertation is a study of two metaphors, ‘an eternal planting’ and ‘a house of holiness’, which were used extensively by the DSS community in expression of their self-understanding. The sectarian writings and non-sectarian writings used by the community have been examined in order to bring out the theology behind these two metaphors. Fourteen2 different text excerpts have been examined, each treated initially as an individual, discrete passage and then placed within the framework of the document in which it is found, and finally within the Qumran corpus as a whole. Each passage is compared and contrasted primarily with the Hebrew Bible to see how the text has been reworked or nuanced to suit its new context. Once this is done, the theology underlying the two metaphors is discussed. It is concluded that these two metaphors express the deep yearning of the DSS community for a complete restoration of Israel, for a return to Edenic conditions as before the Fall, and for a temple which was pure. These metaphors contribute to the community’s self-understanding of themselves as the ‘eternal planting’, or True Israel, the faithful remnant, who practised justice and righteousness and awaited the eschaton. They understood themselves to be a proleptic temple in advance of the eschatological temple to be built by God. They were also the true priests, functioning in God’s heavenly temple carrying

out the priestly ministry of atonement, teaching, intercession, and blessing. These two metaphors appear to be quite distinct at first sight, but on closer examination they are seen to convey many complementary theological ideas. The reasons why the two metaphors of planting and sanctuary were important for the DSS community can be seen in the variety of theological themes that they embrace. The following are the key theological themes that arise out of the use of these two metaphors.

1. The Eternal Plant As The True Israel: The Righteous Remnant

The metaphor of the ‘plant/planting’ covers a wide spectrum of meanings within the biblical tradition. I have shown that the self- understanding of the DSS community as the ‘Eternal Plant’ enabled them to see themselves as the True Israel and the righteous remnant. The idea of the remnant was complicated during the exile because of the tension that existed between the historical reality of Israel in exile and the theological belief that they were God’s elect. It is in this context that we see the idea of the retur...

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