Scholars have long debated the identity of the mysterious person denounced in the Dead Sea Scrolls by the sobriquet the Wicked Priest (הכוהן הרשע). Since the discovery of the Scrolls, researchers have identified nearly twenty persons as the Wicked Priest. Some view this vast number of proposals as indicative of a faulty method for understanding the history of the community behind these texts. This is because such efforts assume the Wicked Priest was an actual person. Consequently, scholars seeking to uncover his identity use material from Josephus, Philo, Pliny, and other writers to interpret the references to him in the Scrolls. Then, the same experts use the Scrolls to interpret these Greco- Roman authors. In recent years, several researchers have criticized the apparent circularity of this approach. Instead, these scholars focus on how the Scrolls have been interpreted and how these understandings have changed over time. They view the search for the Wicked Priest as futile since he did not exist.
This study proposes that we can uncover new information about the Wicked Priest from a close reading of the extant references to him in light of overlooked Roman historical texts. The growing awareness of the Hellenistic influences in the Scrolls makes such an approach not only feasible, but academically sound as well. A reading of the Scrolls in light of Roman texts suggests that the Wicked Priest inadvertently played a major role in Pompey’s 63 B.C.E. termination of the Hasmonean state.
Department of History
Original Publication Date
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UNI ScholarWorks, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa
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