Teacher of Righteousness

Teacher of Righteousness

The Teacher of Righteousness is a figure found in some of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, most prominently in the Damascus Document (CD). This document speaks briefly of the origins of the sect, 390 years after the exile and after 20 years of 'groping' blindly for the way "God... raised for them a Teacher of Righteousness to guide them in the way of His heart" (CD 1:9-11). The Teacher claimed to have the proper understanding of the Torah, being the one through whom God would reveal to the community “the hidden things in which Israel had gone astray” (CD 3:12-15). He also claimed to be an inspired interpreter of the prophets, as the one “to whom God made known all the mysteries of the words of his servants the prophets” (1QpHab 7:5).

Identity of the Teacher

The exact identity of the Teacher is unknown. One theory initially advocated by Murphy-O’Connor [Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, "Teacher of Righteousness", Anchor Bible Dictionary VI, p340f] and subsequently by Stegemann is that the Teacher of Righteousness served as High Priest but was subsequently ousted by Jonathan Maccabeus. In 1 Maccabees, no High Priest is named for the period from the death of Alcimus in 159 BCE to the claiming of the position of High Priest by Jonathan on the authority of Alexander Balas in 152 BCE (1 Macc 10:18-20). From this it could be concluded that there was no High Priest for these years, and indeed Josephus, drawing heavily on I Maccabees at this point in his history, comes to that conclusion (Ant. 20.237). It is improbable, however, that the office remained completely vacant for these years. Stegemann suggests that the reason that nothing is said in 1 Maccabees about a High Priest between Alcimus and Jonathan was apologetic: to conceal the fact that the Hasmoneans obtained the High Priesthood by usurping it from its rightful holder, the Teacher of Righteousness. [H. Stegemann, "The Library of Qumran: On the Essenes, Qumran, John the Baptist, and Jesus". Grand Rapids MI, 1998]

Critics of this theory accuse it of being too hypothetical: slotting the Teacher as High Priest into a convenient gap during which no other High Priest is recorded in the few sources we have. Not the Damascus Document, nor 1QS or 4QMMT suggest that the legitimacy of the High Priest was an issue for the split. In addition, the motivation behind the split of the sect from mainstream Judaism appears to have been of a religious rather than political nature.

Other documents from the Dead Sea Scrolls portray the Teacher as being in heavy conflict against a figure termed the "Wicked Priest", which has led to several proposals for their identity:
*A Zadokite priest as the Teacher, possibly even the legitimate high priest, against a "wicked" Jonathan Maccabee, a significant conflict mentioned in the Books of Maccabees.
*Hillel the Elder as the Teacher, against a "wicked" Shammai, a significant conflict mentioned in the Talmud (Jerusalem Talmud Shabbat 1:4). [Rabbi Harvey Falk, "Jesus the Pharisee: A New Look at the Jewishness of Jesus", p53f]
*James the Just as the Teacher against a "wicked" Paul of Tarsus, a hypothetical conflict extrapolated from a debate recorded in the Book of Acts.

It should be noted that some scholars date the Damascus Document and the Dead Sea scrolls to the decades around the year 100 BCE, vastly predating the emergence of Christianity. This date would exclude both Hillel and James the Just, or any figure of early Christianity. Other scholars associate the Damascus Document with the an early Christian sect called the Ebionites, led by a person identifed as The Zaddik whom numerous ancient sources identify as James the Just.


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