Explicit quotations and allusions to writings from the apocrypha and pseudepigrapha are rare in the Dead Sea Scrolls. For this reason, the two references to non-canonical writings in the Damascus Document (CD) are of particular importance. The first is a citation from the well-known Book of Jubilees in CD 16:3-4. Literature on Jubilees and CD is quite abundant. However, the second and more enigmatic passage in CD is the topic of this paper. It has much to tell us about the source of the theology and beliefs reflected in the Dead Sea Scrolls. In this citation, found in CD 4:15, the writer refers to the “three nets of Belial” taught by Levi, the son of Jacob.
Many scholars since the early days of research on the Dead Sea Scrolls have classified CD as a sectarian document of the Qumran sect. The oldest fragment of CD (4Q266) dates to the first half of the first century B.C.E. This makes it earlier than the establishment of the site of Khirbet Qumran, although its presence in multiple copies there shows that it was a foundational document for this group for the duration of its existence. The paleographical dates and historical contents of the Dead Sea Scrolls suggest that the first century B.C.E. was the formative period for the community described in these writings. Few new texts were written or copied after this time. Yet, the Qumran settlement existed for nearly 150 years. Because numerous editions of identical writings such as CD were found in multiple caves, and espouse a similar theology, this suggests they were copied and/or brought to the site by a single group. Since the archaeological evidence shows that there was no break in Qumran’s occupation between Periods I and II, early works like CD are particularly important for understanding the Qumran community’s history. This makes the enigmatic citation to the “three nets of Belial” of great significance since it is not only found in a text that pre-dates the establishment of Khirbet Qumran, but the author copied it from an even earlier work. Later documents show that this tradition remained central to the theology of the Qumran sect for the entirety of its existence. This makes the “three nets of Belial” passage a key but neglected texts for understanding the history and pre-history of the Khirbet Qumran sect.
Department of History
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Atkinson, Kenneth, "The “Three Nets of Belial” in the Dead Sea Scrolls: A Pre-Qumran Tradition" (2019). Faculty Publications. 5532.