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Teacher of Righteousness

TEACHER OF RIGHTEOUSNESS (Heb. מוֹרֶה צֶדֶק moreh ẓedek), the organizer of the *Qumran community or *Yaḥad . His designation may have been derived from such biblical passages as Hosea 10:12, "it is time to seek the Lord, till He come and cause righteousness to rain [yoreh ẓedek] upon you," or Joel 2:23, "rejoice in the Lord, your God; for He giveth you the former rain in just measure" – et ha-moreh li-ẓedakah, which has sometimes been translated "teacher of righteousness" (see AV margin). He is never indicated by his personal name, so far as can be told from surviving records; it has been suggested that his name was Zadok, and that it was for this reason that his followers were called *Zadokites (so H.J. Schoeps, Urgemeinde, Judenchristentum, Gnosis (1956), 74); but this is uncertain. Knowledge of him is derived from two principal sources – the Zadokite Fragments (or Book of the Covenant of *Damascus ) and various Qumran commentaries on books or sections of the Bible.

(1) The Zadokite Fragments

At the beginning of the Zadokite Admonition in a time of apostasy, God "remembered the covenant of the forefathers and caused a remnant to remain for Israel." For 20 years this remnant groped for a way like blind men, "and God took note of their deeds, for they sought Him with a perfect heart; and He raised up for them a teacher of righteousness to direct them in the way of His heart, that He might make known to the last generations what He was about to do to the last generation" (CD 1:4–12). While the godly remnant had a distinct existence of 20 years before the Teacher of Righteousness arose, he was the effective founder of the community, for they appear to have had no leader before him.

To the community which he organized, the voice of the Teacher of Righteousness was as the voice of God; the reward of ultimate salvation and victory is held out to those who "listen to the voice of the Teacher of Righteousness" (CD 20:28, 32). The Zadokite Admonition, in the form in which it has survived, apparently dates from a period after the death of the Teacher of Righteousness: an interval of indefinite duration runs "from the day when the Unique Teacher was gathered in until a Messiah stands up from Aaron and from Israel" (CD 20:1). It has been suggested that "Unique Teacher" (moreh ha-yaḥid) should be emended to "Teacher of the Community" (moreh ha-yaḥad), but this is probably unnecessary. If the Unique Teacher is identical with the Teacher of Righteousness – and it is difficult to think that anyone else could have been so designated by the community – he was evidently thought of as a preparer of the way for the messianic age but not as a messianic personage himself. There is a further passage in the Admonition which interprets the "nobles of the people" in the Song of the Well (Num. 21:17ff.) as "those who have come to dig the well with the staffs which the Staff [lawgiver] instituted [bi-meḥokekot asher ḥakak hameḥokek] to walk thereby… and without which they will not grasp instruction until there stands up one who teaches righteousness [yoreh ha-ẓedek] in the latter days" (CD 6:8–11). If the section in which these words appear is of the same date as the other passages quoted, then the community evidently expected at the end-time either another teacher of righteousness to arise or else the first Teacher of Righteousness to return to earth – in the latter case a comparison may be made with the similar expectation of the return of Elijah cherished in other Jewish circles.

In the Qumran texts themselves a parallel to the past and future Teacher of Righteousness is provided by the past and future Expounder of the Law (doresh ha-Torah). The "Staff" (meḥokek) in the Song of the Well is "the Expounder of the Law" who ordained the rules by which the men of the covenant live (CD 6:7); he is conceivably identical with the Teacher of Righteousness who organized the community. Later in the Zadokite Admonition the "star" of Amos 5:26 and (more especially) Numbers 24:17 is "the Expounder of the Law [doresh ha-Torah] who is to come to Damascus" (CD 7:18ff.). This coming Expounder of the Law is mentioned also in 4Q Florilegium, in an interpretation of II Samuel 7:11–14. In both of these passages he is to be accompanied by the Davidic Messiah, called "the prince of all the congregation" in CD 7:20 and "the shoot of David" in 4Q Florilegium. Since Torah is to be sought from the priest's lips (Mal. 2:7), this coming Expounder of the Law may be the great priest of the new age who will act as colleague to the great king; he may also be tentatively identified with the Teacher of Righteousness who is to stand up in the latter days (CD 6:11).

(2) The Commentaries

In the very fragmentary commentary on Micah from Cave 1 (1Qp Micah) the words "What are the high places of Judah? Are they not Jerusalem?" (1:5) are interpreted of "the Teacher of Righteousness, the one who [teaches the law to his] [council] and to all who volunteer to join the elect ones [of God, who keep the law] in the council of the community, who will be saved from the day [of judgment]."

Some fragmentary comments on Psalm 37 found in Cave 4 interpret certain statements in that psalm with reference to the Teacher of Righteousness. Verse 23, "It is of the Lord that a man's goings are established…" is said to concern "the priest, the Teacher of [Righteousness,… whom God] established to build for himself the congregation…"; and verses 32ff., "the wicked watcheth the righteous and seeketh to slay him…," are interpreted of "the Wicked [Priest] who [rose up against the Teacher of Righteousness] to put him to death [because he taught…] the law… He laid hands on him, but God 'will not abandon [him into his hand or let him be condemned when he is] brought to trial.'" Parallel to this last comment is one from another fragment, in which Psalms 37:14ff., "the wicked have drawn out the sword, and have bent their bow; to cast down the poor and needy…," is read as a reference to "the wicked of Ephraim and Manasseh, who will seek to lay hands on the priest and the men of his council in the hour of trial which is to come upon them. But God will redeem them out of their hands." From these fragments it is learned that the Teacher of Righteousness was a priest and that among his opponents was one outstanding figure called the *Wicked Priest .

These two facts are confirmed, and further information is supplied about the Teacher, in the commentary on Habakkuk from Cave 1 (1Qp Hab.). From the prophet's complaint in Habakkuk 1:4 that "the wicked doth beset the righteous" (interpreted of [the Wicked Priest] and the Teacher of Righteousness) onward, the Teacher plays a prominent part in the exposition. Those among the nations who are called upon in Habakkuk 1:5 to wonder and be astonished at the work which God is about to do, which they "will not believe though it be told," are the unfaithful ones who paid no heed to the words which the Teacher of Righteousness spoke from the mouth of God, refusing to believe "when they hear all that is [coming upon] the last generation from the mouth of the priest into [whose heart] God put [wisdom] to interpret all the words of his servants and prophets" (1Qp Hab. 2:7–9). This is in line with what is already known about the Teacher's mission from the Zadokite Admonition. The Teacher understood the course of future events by divine illumination: on Habakkuk 2:1ff. the commentator states that "God commanded Habakkuk to write the things that were coming on the last generation," but did not inform him when the epoch would be fulfilled. And as for the words, "so he may run who reads it," their interpretation concerns the Teacher of Righteousness, to whom God made known "all the mysteries of the words of His servant the prophets" (1Qp Hab. 7:1–5). The words of the prophets remained mysteries (razim), even to the prophets themselves, until the interpretation (pesher) was revealed to the Teacher; after that, the mysteries were mysteries no more, at least to those who heard and believed him. Of them the words of Habakkuk 2:4 ("the righteous shall live by his faith") were spoken: "Their interpretation concerns all the doers of the law in the house of Judah, whom God will save from the house of judgment because of their toil and their faith in the Teacher of Righteousness" (1Qp Hab. 8:1–3).

Of the occasions when "the Teacher of Righteousness and the men of his council suffered iniquity" at the hands of the Wicked Priest (1Qp Hab. 9:9, cf. 8:17) one is singled out for special mention. This was when "the Wicked Priest pursued after the Teacher of Righteousness to swallow him up in his hot fury, even to his place of exile, and on the occasion of the sacred season of rest, the Day of Atonement, appeared among them to swallow them up and to make them stumble on the fast-day, their Sabbath of rest" (1Qp Hab. 11:4–8, on Hab. 2:15). It is usually held that this implies that the Teacher and his followers observed the Day of Atonement according to a different calendar from that followed by the official priesthood in Jerusalem, and there is other evidence to confirm this (see *Calendar ). The reference to "swallowing them up" recalls Habakkuk 1:13, "wherefore lookest Thou when they deal treacherously and holdest Thy peace when the wicked swalloweth up the man that is more righteous than he?" – a passage which the commentary interprets of "the house of Absalom and the men of their council, who were struck dumb when the Teacher of Righteousness was chastised, and did not aid him against the *Man of Lies who rejected the law in the midst of all their congregation." This occasion may not be the same as the last, for the Man of Lies is probably not the Wicked Priest, and the problematic house of Absalom figures here but does not in the comment on Habakkuk 2:15. The Teacher of Righteousness, then, was persecuted by the Wicked Priest, but (as the commentary on Ps. 37:14ff., 32ff. suggests) was delivered from his malice.

(3) Attempts to Identify the Teacher

It has been argued that the title "Teacher of Righteousness" designates a succession of leaders of the Qumran community, but even so, it is apparently used especially of the community's first organizer. As for his identity and date, suggestions range from Ezra (so T.H. Gaster, The Dead Sea Scriptures (1956), vi et passim; C.T. Fritsch, The Qumran Community (1956), 83ff.) and Nehemiah (so L. Rabinowitz, in JBL, 73 (1954), 11ff.) at one end, and Menahem son of Judah the Galilean (or his kinsman and successor, Eleazar b. Jair) killed by Eleazar captain of the Temple in 66 C.E. at the other (so C. Roth, Historical Background of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1958), 12ff.; G.R. Driver, The Judaean Scrolls (1965), 267ff.). A number of scholars have identified him with Onias III, the last legitimate high priest of the house of Zadok, assassinated at the instance of the illegitimate high priest Menelaus in 171 B.C.E. (so H.H. Rowley, Zadokite Fragments and the Dead Sea Scrolls (1952), 67ff.; M. Black, The Scrolls and Christian Origins (1961), 20); others have suggested Onias the rain-maker, killed by partisans of Hyrcanus II in 63 B.C.E. (so R. Goossens, La Nouvelle Clio, 1–2 (1949–50), 336ff.; cf. A. Dupont-Sommer, Essene Writings from Qumran (1961), 359 with notes 2, 3), or Judah b. Jedidiah, one of the sages massacred by Alexander Yannai (so W.H. Brownlee, in: BASOR 126 (1952), 10ff., where this Judah is further identified with Judah the Essene, contemporary of Aristobulus I). The mention of "the house of Absalom" in 1Qp Hab. 5:10ff. does not help much, because, even if "Absalom" be a real name of the period and not a figurative one, an "Absalom" can be produced from contemporary history to suit almost every suggested identification of the Teacher. Perhaps the Teacher of Righteousness is not mentioned outside the Zadokite and Qumran literature and must be thought of as an otherwise unknown religious leader who had his following in or after the time of the Hasmonean dynasty. If, as is not unlikely, it is his voice that can be heard speaking in the first person in some of the Qumran *Thanksgiving Psalms , they throw further light on his devotion and struggles.


A. Michel, Le Maître de Justice (1954); G. Jeremias, Der Lehrer der Gerechtigkeit (1963); J. Carmignac, Christ and the Teacher of Righteousness (1962); F.F. Bruce, The Teacher of Righteousness in the Qumran Texts (1957); Roth, in: VT, 13 (1963), 91ff.

[Frederick Fyvie Bruce]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.