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Zadokite Fragments

ZADOKITE FRAGMENTS zā’ də kīt. The surviving pages of two Medieval copies of a Jewish sectarian treatise.


The two fragments were recovered by the American Jewish scholar, Solomon Schechter (1847-1915) from the geniza high in the wall of the Ibn Ezra Synagogue located in the old Jewish quarter of Cairo. The stained parchment sheets were among the thousands of scattered documents removed by Schechter to the Cambridge University Library in the years after 1896. The thirty sacks of material were incorporated into the library as the Taylor-Schechter collection. The cataloguing and editing of the over one hundred thousand items is still not complete. The Zadokite Fragments were published as Volume I of a series, Documents of Jewish Sectaries, in 1910. Schechter’s dating of the work to the 1st cent. b.c. became the center of a keen debate over the relationship of the two testaments and the situation of the interestamental period. Schechter assumed the authors to be Dositheans, a subgroup of the Sadducees. He was correct in his judgment that the source of the fragments was of intertestamental origin and that it represented a non-rabbinical collection of writings known to the early middle ages but subsequently lost.


The longer fragment consists of eight leaves of a mediocre parchment approximately 8 1/2\" (215 mm) x 7 1/2\" (190 mm) stained and worn with a few small holes. The sixteen pages contain from twenty-one to twenty-three lines of text. The letters are large and black in a medieval rabbinic hand with some separation between words and all initial and final forms of the characters. The lamed extends up into the lower limit of the line above while the final sade extends down to the upper limit of the next lower line. The margins on both sides are unjustified and the size if not the form of the letters is not wholly uniform. The shorter fragment consists of two pages on one large leaf containing thirty-five lines on the obverse and thirty-four on the reverse. The text is smeared, stained and mutilated at many points but without the lacunae of the longer fragment. The calligraphy is later than the other fragment and is smaller and less distinct. The longer portion assigned to the 10th cent. by Schechter is known as “A” and the single leaf assigned to the 12th cent. is known as “B.”


The “A” fragment opens with a general admonition and gives a paraphrase of Isaiah 51:7: “Hearken to me, you who know righteousness” (JPS); the remainder seems to be some type of parallelistic hymn or chant used for public or group worship. The Heb. is poorly preserved but has definite traces of archaic vocabulary and syntax. In the course of the exhortation there are hundreds of allusions to various OT passages, the largest number being to Isaiah, Ezekiel and the Psalms. Most of the other books quoted or mentioned by allusion are also poetical. The sanctuary (Heb. קֹ֫דֶשׁ, H7731) is mentioned as abandoned by God. This theme is followed in all the extant sectarian documents: that God had given up the Temple in Jerusalem and its reprobate hierarchy, and was about to do a new act of redemption through a faithful remnant. The fact that the “Sons of Zadok” are mentioned as true to the covenant, “the sons of Zadok are the elect of Israel” (tr. C. Rabin), demonstrates the probable source of the book. The mention of Damascus in a number of passages, however, was seized upon by the Ger. higher critical school, and so the fragments became known as the Damascus Writing, Ger. Damaskusschrift. The Zadokite intent of the work appears to take precedence. The text attempts a retelling of the history of the Jews not remotely unlike the defense of Stephen (Acts 7:2-53). However the events are out of any order, and so many allusions are made to sources and special meanings of terms that interpretation is difficult if not impossible. Frequently euphemisms and indirect references occur which would have been clear to no one but initiates of the sect. Of special importance is the mention of a “teacher of righteousness” or “right teacher” Heb. מוֹרֶה צֶדֶק, who is raised up by God to lead the sect. The chief motive of history is to obey the covenant and the remnant alone is preserved by God to this end. Every age of Biblical history is seen to have had its righteousness and its righteous remnant, and some of these are mentioned: Noah, Moses, and Joshua and their immediate followers. The larger population, the sons of Noah and others are described as reprobate and fallen. The true knowledge of the Torah is the possession of those who are faithful to the covenant. In this the sect appears secretive and almost gnostic in its references to this restricted truth.

The admonition contains an elaborate theory of history drawn from the OT but modified to fit the circumstances of the times. History is cyclical in so far as there has always been the constant warfare between the righteous led by the “Prince of Light” (more precisely “Prince of Lights,” Heb. שַׂר הָאוֹרִים), and the wicked led by Belial. This will culminate in the final triumph of the righteous and a state of perfection in the Torah.

The style is so crowded with multiple allusions to Biblical books, Apoc. and the peculiar usage of the sect that interpretation of the more difficult passages is impossible. It seems that the ultimate purity was the stringent keeping of the laws of the Levitical code and the attention to certain interpretations of the code peculiar to the sect. This would accord well with the Talmudic and sectarian usage known from other sources. The descriptions of the final state appear to be both sabbatic and eschatological. The most interesting feature of the epochs described is their similarity to certain passages in 2 Peter and Jude; e.g. 2 Peter 2:5 // “A” 1:11; Jude 16, 17// “A” 3:11, 12.

The assumption of the fragments is that a body of sacred law was passed down from Noah through Abraham and the patriarchs and that in each age there were masses of the people of Israel who were untrue to it, did not obey it and were by that iniquity insuring and displaying their non-predestination to the covenant. This notion is also present in the NT documents. It is unclear precisely who is meant by the oblique references to “the Teacher” or “the Teacher of Righteousness” and in some passages the “Staff.” There is some evidence that it may have been the little known Biblical character, Zadok. However, the connection of this personage with a special appearance “in the last of days,” identical to the phrase in Genesis 49:1; Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:1, which has been understood in a messianic sense by both Jews and Christians, may mean that all such references are to messianic figures. There is no reason to assume that only one personage was in view. The mission of the “Teacher” will be to guide the faithful to the full appreciation of the Torah, “the House of the Law” (XX:10-14). The text is a veritable gold mine of lower critical variants from both the MT and the DSS quotations of OT passages.

The notion that the true remnant will be led by the true law and their teacher into exile in Damascus is a central theme of the admonition. The historic situation behind this assertion is not yet clear. It was in the Damascus refuge that the sect was to find its “tabernacle of David.” All other Jews are apostate. The purity and uniqueness of the sect’s keeping of the law is stressed in many ways esp. in regard to marriage and the keeping of a “true” calendar rather than the lunar year of the Temple in Jerusalem. The similarity between the expectations of the fragments and those of the War Scroll (1 Q M) is quite striking. The organization and mission of the sect is to be the same as the Israelites in their sojourn in the desert after the Exodus but prior to the conquest. Joshua plays an equal if not greater part than Moses in the quotations from the OT. The conclusion that the world of thought of the fragments was the last cent. b.c. is inescapable. The admonition or exhortation is free from purely mythological material and although heavily interspersed with allusions to the Apoc. appears to have little in common with the Pseudep. other than Enoch, Jubilees and the Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirah.

In the manner and form of its Biblical material the text source is much closer to that represented by the DSS than the MT. Undoubtedly the original was a round script VS brought from Pal. to the Jewish community of Egypt. The question as to what meaning such unique documents had for the Jews of the Diaspora may only be speculated. It is clear that after the collapse of the Second Commonwealth and the final destruction of the Jerusalem rite the somber views of the sectaries must have gained popularity only to be subsequently lost in the ages after the fixation of the MT and the formation of the Talmud. The text of “B” overlaps “A” at the end of the Exhortation.

Rules of conduct.

The rules of obedience to the Torah are strict, but without the long additions and midrashic interpretations familiar from the Talmud. The results are not greatly variant from the way of life taught by the Pharisaic party. It is a mistake, however, to assume that the rule of the sect was identical to the later halachah (way of life) of the medieval rabbis. If for no other reason, the sect was strongly and centrally eschatological and this was the purpose for which the Torah was strictly observed. The quotations from the Torah are mixed and without any underlying schematization.

The Fragments continually refer to the period of wickedness in which they were written and against which they warned. The attitude toward the Torah is set over against the particular evils and iniquities widespread in their times. Of special interest is the position regarding the sacrifices of the Temple. Since the Temple service was not true to the OT instruction and the priests and Levites were not those legitimately appointed, the sect was to shun the Temple in Jerusalem. The key rearrangement was necessitated by the fact that the Temple was no longer fit for sacrifice, while no other location would fulfill the demands of the Torah. The sect thus proposes a spiritual-figurative interpretation of the Torah requirements demanding sacrifices. The prayers and possibly other spiritual exercises of the sectaries were to be equivalent to the required sacrifices. “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination, but the prayer of the righteous is like an offering of delight” (C. Rabin, XI:21). This statement is based on Proverbs 15:9, 29 and other similar texts. Y. Yadin proposes that the sect held their communal meal in a sacrificial sense. “There seems to be some foundation for the assumption that this sect, which calls the altar ‘table’ as well as sanctifying its dining-table with a special ceremony, including the priestly benediction regarded this ceremony and prayer as a substitute for sacrifices” (The Scroll of the War of the Sons of Light [1962], 200).

The sins proscribed in the Rules of Conduct are mostly concerned with the Temple service and the keeping of the Sabbath. There are included a long list of regulations regarding individual purity and ceremonial cleanliness.

Although concerned with the moral aspects of the Jewish religion the ordo salutis of the Fragments is both legalistic and autosoteristic, and so varies widely from the discourses of Jesus Christ and the writings of the NT. There is every reason to suspect that the Fragments represent the latter portion of the first section of the original. Some introductory material undoubtedly preceded the present text while a much longer catalogue of rules must have followed the rules contained therein. The problems arising from the Fragments are even larger than the questions answered. It may be hoped that parallel texts from Egypt and Israel may supply more exact data as to locality and time of the originals.

Some attempts have been made to divide the text into sources and to try to identify the unknown author or authors with one of the sources defined by the documentary or fragmentary hypotheses, e.g. “priests” or “royalists,” but such attempts have added little but confusion to the problem. The text does present the views of the anti-establishment minority in the late Hel. age of Judaism. It may have been not merely the religious interpretation of the sectarians alone, but may also have been widely held by the common people of the southern and Galilean areas of Pal. The unanimity of opinion between the fragments, the DSS and certain of the Talmudic sources lends credence to the argument that the messianism, eschatology and pietism of the fragments was not limited to an esoteric sect. The mass of Jews was prob. opposed to both Gr. and Rom. intervention in Jewish affairs and thus despised the royal and religious hierarchy who quickly came to terms with the conquerors. The paganism and immorality of the Rom. imperial administration is apparent in the many proscriptions and commands reiterated in the fragments. The expectation was for a supernatural activity of God which would bring forth one or more political messiahs who would reestablish the house and sovereignty of David.

The career of the Lord Christ was thus a fulfillment and a denial of that expectation.


The fragments are in the standard folio or book form while the originals were undoubtedly in the scroll or roll form of all ancient Heb. parchments. The state of corruption in which both texts are extant is prob. due to their being recopied in Egypt. In transliterating the round to square script and the obscure references of the scroll to the later era, such difficulties were certain to arise. The detractors of Schechter’s enthusiasm are correct in insisting that the fragments were (1) not originally from Pal. and (2) written in the high middle ages. But why should they have been preserved that long if only to be ultimately cast into the de facto censorship of the genizah? The answer is that for many centuries after the collapse of the second commonwealth and the rise of Christianity the popular notions of the sectaries were kept alive by small E European sects such as the Karaites. Sectarian Jewish scholars like Abraham Firkowich, following this line of descent in the 19th cent., recovered many exciting MSS. The Old Synagogue in Cairo like those in Bukhara and the Crimea had been centers of sectarian Judaism for nearly a millennium before the fragments were found. Solomon Zeitlin of the Dropsie College has demonstrated that themes and phrases from this lit. are found in various medieval Jewish documents showing that the views of the 1st-cent. sects were never totally lost.


The text can be dated only by indirect means, but the discovery of certain fragments of the same text from Qumran has placed it in the last cent. before the Christian era. Thus any chronological considerations applicable to the DSS are also applicable to the fragments. Although the terminus a quo cannot be stated any more precisely than the second half of the 1st cent. b.c., it certainly was a time when the Rom. legions were fighting in Pal. and the full iniquity of the Temple administration was clear. The terminus ad quem must be understood as the date when the scrolls were hidden in the caves and this can be no earlier than a.d. 70 and no later than the third year of the rebellion or a.d. 73. Their removal to Egypt may not have been accomplished in the 1st cent. There are references in both patristic and rabbinic lit. to hidden scrolls in the Dead Sea area and it is recorded that at several junctures in history scrolls were taken from the caves and distributed to Jewish communities. There is a high degree of probability that some of the sectarian texts were carried off to the Jewish communities of the Diaspora of which the Egyp. was by far the oldest. A definite resurgence of Jewish lit. took place after the era of Constantine and before the rise of Islam.

Relationship to the DSS.

Since small fragments of the Zadokite document have turned up among the DSS they were obviously part of the sectarian library if not a production of the sect. When and if the DSS are ever fully collated and edited it will be possible to tell if more extensive material of the ancient source has been recovered. It is probable that the text was one of the Essenes’ own publications. The mention of Damascus, however, is still mysterious. It is apparent that not enough of the text is known to make more than educated guesses. Of all the DSS it is the Manual of Discipline (1QS) which is most closely parallel, second is the War Scroll (1 Q M), and third is the Habakkuk Commentary (1 QP Hab) while other allusions do exist to a lesser degree. All the references in the Karaite and other later Jewish sectarian literatures to the DSS can be found in the Zadokite document and those not readily identifiable may have come from portions now lost. The quotation and comment on OT texts, the messianic expectation and the antagonism to the Temple hierarchy are all parallelled in the practical thought of the Essenes.

The fact that the Zadokite document was once part of the Essene library and was studied and recopied in the Middle Ages means that it survived the fate of the other DSS and found its way into sectarian Jewish communities of the oriental world. It thus formed one of the few links between the second commonwealth and the golden age of post-Islamic Judaism. It also has the unique value of being one of the early witnesses to the practice of a minority opinion within the Jewish state. Its relationship to the world of John the Baptist and the early ministry of Christ is very problematic but of major importance. The light shed on the OT is more oblique but nonetheless important. The fragments indicate a lost mode of exegesis and indicate a system of Biblical theology which never gained favor but derived its content from works and traditions now lost. Several other obscure works are mentioned in the fragments and these may yet be identified from Qumran or some totally new Palestinian site.


S. Schechter, Documents of Jewish Sectaries, Vol. I, “Fragments of a Zadokite Work, Edited from Hebrew Manuscripts in the Cairo Genizah Collection now in the possession of the University Library, Cambridge, and provided with an English Translation, Introduction and Notes” (1910); P. Kahle, The Cairo Genizah (1947); H. H. Rowley, The Zadokite Fragments and the Dead Sea Scrolls (1952); S. Zeitlin, “The Zadokite Fragments” J. Q. R. Monographed no. 1 (facsimile) (1952); C. Rabin, The Zadokite Documents (1954), rev. ed. (1958); O. Betz, “Zadokite Fragments,” IDB, Vol. 4 (1962), 929-933; G. R. Driver, “Myths of Qumran,” The Annals of Leeds University Oriental Society (1969), 23-48.