Ancient Jews were generally most anxious to obey God. Yet obedience entailed putting into practice all of the biblical laws and precepts, and that is where matters got sticky. For the fact was, the Bible often left out important details that one needed to know in order to obey. For example, Exodus 30:13-14 stipulates that every man twenty years and older must pay a half-shekel (equivalent to about two weeks wages for a day laborer) to support the activities held at the tabernacle. But the biblical text is unclear: is this payment to be made every year (the actual practice at the time of Jesus, according to Matt. 17:24-27) or one time only? Differences of opinion on matters such as this could be seriously divisive. The present work in fact argues for the second method of payment, and thus apparently against prevailing practice. This work is a collection of legal ordinances whose author, by supplying the necessary details as a supplement to the biblical text, intended to help readers obey God. In that sense it is similar to a modern “statement of faith.”
In addition to the ordinance on the half-shekel payment, remains of at least eight additional rulings are preserved. One concerns the man who has a discharge from his penis (perhaps gonorrhea) and the biblical commands about such a man found in Leviticus 15:13. The Bible says the man “shal1 count seven days for his cleansing; he shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in running water, and then be clean.” Once again, important practical details are absent from the biblical statement. When is the man to wash? On the seventh day alone? On each day of the waiting period? What is the man’s purity status while waiting; is it the same throughout the seven days? This last point would affect whether the man could touch pure food. The present work tries to answer these questions by stipulating that the affected party must bathe on the first day, and then he can eat. If a man does not wash on the first day, he is not allowed to eat. The fact: that this ordinance is repeated more than once suggests a polemic against a competing interpretation, wherein the only washing required was on the seventh day.
We do not know which parties among the Jews held to which interpretation. Frankly, modern readers may not consider it important who held which views -Ñ to us such issues are nothing more than legal minutiae. But we should not be so quick to dismiss them. That these arguments strike many of us this way only brings home the vast chasm separating modern sensibilities from those of the ancients. For them, these arguments were not about minutiae, but about how to obey God. Presumably He cared about what they did, and presumably there was a right way and a wrong way to do things. For the ancients, discovering that right way was imperative, for otherwise they could not obey God. Thus, to care about the Bible was to care about the details, and this sort of text was not dry and dull, but the essence of passion and life.
Ordinance concerning atonement (Lev. 16: 16, 21.7).
4Q159 Frag. 1 Col. 2 1[ . . . ] not .[ . . . ] for [ ] 2[ . . . Isra]el His co[mmnandment]s and to atone for al1 the[ir] transgressions [ . . . ]
Ordinance concerning producefor the poor (Deut. 23:25-26).
3[ . . . and if I one makes from it a threshing floor or a winepress, whoever comes to the threshing flo[or or winepress . . . ] 4the Israelite who has nothing may eat of it and gather for himself but for [his] househ[old he shall not (?) gather . . . Whoever enters the grain of] the field may himself eat but he may not take anything to his house so as to store it. [ . . . ]
Ordinance concerning the hafl shekel for the sanctuary (Exod. 30:11-16).
6[ . . . concer]ning [the Ransom:] the money of the valuation which a man gives as ransom for his life shall be half [a shekel in accordance with the shekel of the sanctuary]. 7He shall give it only o[nce] in his life. A shekel is twenty gerahs in accordance with [the shekel of the sanctuary]. For the six hundr[e]d thousand, one hundred talents; for the third (i.e., three thousand), half a talent, [which is thirty mines; for the five hundred, five mines]; 9and for the fifty, one half a mi[n]a, [which is twenty-] five shekels. The total [is six thousand thirty-five and one half of a] ‘¡mina. [ . . . me]n for ten mines; [ . . . ] [ . . . five shekels of silver are a tenth of a [mine ] 12[ . . . the shekel is equivalent to twenty gerahs in accordance with the sheke]1 of the sanctuary. A hal[f of a shekel is twelve meahs and two zuzim . . . ]
Ordinance concerning the ephah and hash, two dry measures of uncertain modern equivalence (Ezek. 45: 11).
3[ . . . ] the ephah and the bath are the same measure, [ten tenths. As the ephah of grain is the bath of wine . . . ] i4[And the seah is three and [one third] tenths [and the tithe of the ephah is a tenth].
Ordinance concerning Israelite slaves (Lev. 25:47-55).
Frags. 2-4 And if [ . . . to] a stranger or to the offspring of the famil[y of a stranger . . . ] before Isra[el], they shall [not serve the Gentiles; with an [outstretched] a[rm and great judgments I brought them out from the land] 3of Egypt and commanded them that an Israelite should not be sold as a slave.
Ordinance concerning the Council of Twelve (Deut. 17:8-13). The Council was to act as a judiciary.
And [ . . . te]n laymen 4and two priests. And they shall be judged before these twelve [ . . . and for every] matter in Israel concerning a capital offense, they shall consult them and whoever rebels [ . . . ] 6he who has acted with a high hand shall be put to death.
Ordinance concerning wearing clothing of the opposite sex (Deut. 22:5). Although not stated, the penalty for this crime, as an “abomination,” would presumably be death.
Let not men’s garments be found on a woman. Every [ . . . Let not a man] 7be covered with the mantle of a woman, nor wear a woman’s tunic, because this is an [ab]omination.
Ordinance concerning non virgin brides (Deut. 22:13-21). Note the meager punishment for the man’s false accusation in comparison with the severe consequences for misbehavior by the woman.
8 If a man brings an accusation against a virgin of Israel, if [it is at the time] he marries her, let him speak and they shall investigate her 9trustworthiness. If he has not lied about her, she shall be put to death, but if he has test[fied flalse]ly against her, he shall be fined two mines 4[and] he may [not divorce her all of his life. Every [girl] who [ . . . ]
Ordinance concerning the half shekel for the sanctuary (Exod. 30: 11-16).
4Q513 Frags. 1-2 Col. 1 [the shekel is equivalent to twe]nty [gerahs] in accordance with the sheke[l of the sanctuary]. A half of 3[a shekel is tw]elve [meahs] and [two] zuzi[m . . . ] and also from them is uncleanness.
Ordinance concerning the dry measures of the ephah and bath (Ezek. 45: 11).
4[The ephah and the ba]th, from which is uncleaness, are the same measure, [ten tenths. As the ephah of] grain is the bath of wine. And the seah is 5[three] and one-third [te]nths, [from which is the unclea]nness. And the tithe of the ephah 6[is a tenth.]
Ordinance concerning the daughters of priests who marry foreigners (Lev. 19:8). They were prohibited from eating any of the sacrficial portions that their fathers received from Temple offerings and ordinarily shared with them and the entire family.
Frag. 2 Col. 2 to add them to the [hol]y food, for [they are] unclean [ . . . ] mistresses of foreigners and as for all the fornication which [ . . . which] 3he prov[ided] for himself, to feed them from all the offerings of the s[acred donations . . . ] 4and for [a]ngelic food and to make acceptable atonement with them for I[srael ] 5their food is [ . . . of I fornication, he has borne the sin for he has profaned al[l . . . ] 6they [ . . . ] guilt when they profaned [ . . . ]
Ordinance concerning a discharge from the penis, possibly gonorrhea (Lev. 15:13). Ordinary seminal discharges, such as would take place during intercourse, would entail only three days of uncleanness.
4Q5i4 Frag. 1 Col. 1 [ . . . ] woman [ . . . ] 2no one may eat [ . . . ] for all the un[cl]ean [ . . . ] 3to count for [himself seven days of wa]shing. And he shall bathe and wash on the d[a]y of [his] uncleanness [ . . . And no man] 4may eat who has not begun to be clean from his seminal (?) flow. Nor may he eat in his primary uncleanness. And on the day of their [cl]eansing, all those who are unclean of days (i.e., unclean during the seven days) shall bathe 6and wash in water and shall become clean.
Afterwards they may eat their bread according to the law of [p]urity.’No one may eat who is yet in his primary uncleanness, who has not begun to be clean from his seminal flow. Indeed, no one who is yet in his primary uncleanness may eat. Al1 of those who are [un]clean of days, on the day of 9their pu[rification] they shall bathe and wash in water and they shall be clean. Afterwards they may eat their bread according to the or[dinance. No] man [shall e]at or [dr]ink with any ma[n] who prepares [ . . . ] in [ . . . ]