1QpHab — The Habakkuk Pesher — Relevance to New Testament Studies

Description: 1QpHab is a Qumran document found in 1947 and published by Burrows et al. in 1950. Its 13 columns of well-preserved Hebrew text contain a sectarian pesher commentary on Habakkuk 1 and 2. The scroll has blank space at the end, but has no comments on Habakkuk 3.

The handwriting style dates to 30-1 B.C.E.; the parchment was radiocarbon-dated to 120-5 B.C.E. (Vermes 1997, p. 478; Schiffman 1994, p. 226). Collins says it contains copyist errors (in Evans and Flint 1997, p. 83); Stegemann seems overly precise in claiming that it is at least a third-hand copy (1998, p. 131). Since 1QpHab 9:7 refers to the Romans taking the wealth of the priests, the autograph probably dates to near 54 B.C.E., when the Romans plundered the Temple (Stegemann, p. 131).

Relevance to NT Studies: The Habakkuk pesher gives us insight into the formation of the community at Qumran, but instead of giving us names of people, it gives code titles. The Teacher of Righteousness, founder of the community, had a controversy with a Wicked Priest and a Spouter of Lies. The Wicked Priest was probably Jonathan (153-143 B.C.E.) or Simon (140-134); see Vermes (p. 61) and Cross (1995, p. 115). The precise identity seems unimportant for NT studies. Of greater relevance is the insight the pesher gives us about sectarian religious polemic and schisms of the Maccabean era, when the Pharisees and Sadducees were beginning. The Spouter of Lies may have been the leader of a different religious community, but who did not believe the Teacher of Righteousness. They broke the [New] Covenant and had their own congregation (2:2-6; 5:12; 10:9-10). There is also a "House of Absolom" which failed, apparently against expectations, to support the Teacher in his struggle against the Liar (10:10).

1QpHab 8:1-3 interprets Hab. 2:4, which is quoted several times in the NT. 1QpHab says that the person who lives by faith concerns those who observe the Law (not the way Paul uses the verse!) and will be saved because of their faith in the Teacher (more like Paul's use). Suffering is also salvific: people expiate their guilt through chastisement (5:5) and are delivered because of their suffering (8:2).

1QpHab illustrates the pesher method of biblical interpretation, in which the original meaning is ignored, and a more contemporary meaning is claimed. Habakkuk did not understand everything God inspired him to write for the last days, but God made known to the Teacher of Righteousness "all the mysteries of the words of His servants the Prophets" (7:5). The Teacher was given the true interpretation "from the mouth of God" (2:2). The contemporary meanings concerned the beginnings of the sect, and the Romans ("Kittim"). The NT does not have continuous pesher interpretation, but some OT verses (e.g., Hos. 11:1) are treated in a pesher-like way: they are taken out of context and given a contemporary meaning. Prophecies about the last days (e.g., Joel 2:28) are applied to the early Christian context.

Stegemann finds it significant that the Qumraners did not write any commentaries on the prophets in the last 100 years of their existence (p. 133). The Teacher had been dead a long time, and the end still had not come. Interest in prophecy may have waned.