New Temple Festivals in the Temple Scroll

Jacob Milgrom

Jacob Milgrom, “New Temple Festivals in the Temple Scroll,” in The Temple in Antiquity: Ancient Records and Modern Perspectives, ed. Truman G. Madsen (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1984), 125–33.

Central to the Restoration movement is the understanding that many ancient temples, like modern ones, foreshadowed a future eschatological temple to which the Messiah will come. Thus it is implicit and explicit in Mormon expectation that the temple of Jerusalem will be rebuilt by the Jews, that a temple in a New Jerusalem will be likewise built, and that the gathering of the house of Israel, defined to include all the tribes of Jacob, will surround these world centers. In these temples every authentic ritual and practice, including sacrifice, will be reenacted, thus bringing together into one all things. Jacob Milgrom, the American expert on the Temple Scroll, here shows that its writers anticipated, a century and a half before the common era, (1) a temple structure modeled after but replacing the desecrated temple, (2) a messianic figure to manifest himself in this eventual temple, and (3) that all ancient rituals (including some feasts heretofore unheard of) would be reinstated. Milgrom has become increasingly convinced that this scroll was viewed by its writers as part of the Pentateuch or Hexateuch.

T. G. M.

First, some preliminary words about the Temple Scroll and the Dead Sea Scrolls in general. The story begins in the spring of 1947 when three shepherd youths of the Taamira bedouin tribe were scampering after their goats on the cliffs overlooking the Dead Sea and throwing pebbles after them. One of the pebbles entered the mouth of a cave, producing the telltale crash of pottery. This is how the first cave of scrolls was discovered. The scrolls were transferred to an Arab dealer who sold them to his spiritual leader, the Metropolitan of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, for the sum of 24 English pounds, about $97. In 1947–48 amid the creation of the state of Israel, battle lines were drawn across the city of Jerusalem and Jewish scholars had no access to the scrolls. Consequently, the only place where they could be authenticated was the American School of Oriental Research. Photographs of some of the scrolls were taken there and sent to the doyen of archaeologists and biblicists, William Foxwell Albright of Johns Hopkins University, who verified that the scrolls were the greatest manuscript find of the century.

The scene then shifted to the United States, where the Metropolitan took them on tour in the early 1950s. But his real purpose was to sell the scrolls, because they were declared contraband by the Jordanian government and no respectable institution, no museum, would lay hands on them. An ad appeared in the Wall Street Journal dated June 1, 1954, announcing “Four Dead Sea Scrolls for sale.” A meeting was arranged in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and a banker purchased them for the sum of a quarter of a million dollars. A few months later the government of Israel announced that the scrolls were safely in its hands. It turned out that General Yigael Yadin happened to be in New York on the date the ad appeared and he persuaded the banker to front for the state of Israel. Coincidentally, or providentially, his father, Eliezer Sukenik, had purchased the other three scrolls that came from that cave. Thus all the contents of that first cave were back in the land where they were discovered and in the hands of their authors’ biological descendants.

Subsequently, ten more caves disgorged about a dozen more scrolls and hundreds of fragments. By the mid-fifties it was the general consensus that all the Dead Sea documents were known. However, there was still another scroll. It came into Israel’s possession after the Six-Day War of 1967. It had been held back by that same Arab dealer, who had sequestered it in the floor of his shop in Jerusalem, presumably waiting for a higher price.

The Temple Scroll is aptly named since it features a detailed blueprint of the temple which the Qumran sect was commanded by God to build after their coming restoration to Jerusalem. What took place in this temple? Clearly, the same catalogue of festivals as ordained in Scripture. However, to our great surprise, the Temple Scroll prescribes totally new festivals that are not in the Bible at all. But to fully understand these innovations we must first focus on the sect’s calendar. Theirs is a solar calendar, one totally at variance with that of their fellow Jews. It consists of fifty-two weeks or 364 days. Its advantage is obvious. Since the year is divisible by seven, all festivals must fall on the same day of the week every year. The new festivals and their dates are outlined below:

The Calendar of Qumran According to the Temple Scroll

Solar Year = 52 Weeks = 364 Days

Season = 13 Weeks = 91 Days (30+30+31)


New Temple Festivals


1. Preistly Consercration (8 Days)

begins 1/1 Wednesday

2. New Barley

1/26 Sunday

3. New Wheat

3/15 Sunday

4. New Wine

5/3 Sunday

5. New Oil

6/22 Sunday

6. Wood Festival (6 Days)

begins 6/23 (?) Monday (?)

We begin with New Year’s Day: 1/1. On this day commenced the priestly consecration, an eight-day festival. According to the Bible, Aaron and his sons were consecrated to the priesthood following the consecration of the Tabernacle on 1/1 (Ex. 29; Lev. 8). However, the Temple Scroll decrees that this consecration was not a once-only ceremony. It was meant to recur permanently. Every priest, in every age, had to be inducted into the priesthood by this consecration service, and the high priest by an even more elaborate service. However, why did the Scroll choose to begin the new year on a Wednesday? After all, the beginning of the week, and hence of the world, was on Sunday. The key is their calendar. It was solar. However, in the story of creation-the first page of Genesis-we are told that the sun was created on the fourth day. How logical was their reasoning! Terrestrial time did not exist before the sun; therefore our world really began on a Wednesday.

Following the priestly consecration, the table shows a series of first-fruits festivals. Here too they follow a biblical precedent, but only partially, since Scripture ordains (in Leviticus 23), new barley and new wheat festivals fifty days apart, but not the other first-fruits festivals. Barley is the first crop to ripen. But when is its first-fruits festival to be celebrated? The scripture merely says it should follow the paschal sacrifice-specifically, mimmaharat hashshabbat, “the day after the Sabbath” (Lev. 23:11, 15). This phrase is ambiguous and was subject to many interpretations. The Pharisees held that “sabbath” here meant the festival, that it falls on Nisan 16, the day after the beginning of the Passover festival. Their main rivals, the Sadducees, said no. Sabbath is the sabbath, the seventh day, and the day after the sabbath is Sunday. Thus the New Barley Festival is celebrated on the Sunday following the paschal sacrifice. Now along comes the Temple Scroll and gives a third date: not the Sunday which falls during the week of Passover but the one which follows the week of Passover. Thus the Scroll opts for the Sunday after the Sunday designated by the Sadducees. In the calendar year 1981 this would mean that the Pharisees would observe the New Barley Festival on Monday, April 20; the Sadducees on Sunday, April 26; and the Qumranites on Sunday, May 3.

Totally new, however, without any Scriptural prolepsis, are the New Wine and New Oil festivals. The “new wine” prescribed in the Scroll is nothing more than freshly pressed grapes. I understand that in Mormon scripture wine and strong drink are prohibited. But in the offering up of sacraments “pure wine of the grape of the vine” (D&C 89:5–6) is commended. In the future eschatological temple of the Mormons wine will be used, as the Scroll and as Scripture ordain.

Whence did Qumran derive these two new festivals? Of course, they grounded them in Scripture, specifically in Numbers 18:12, which prescribes temple first-fruits offerings of grain, must (freshly pressed grapes), and oil (freshly pressed olives). However, the Scripture gives no dates. The Temple Scroll supplies them, and on logical grounds. Since fifty days separate the two grain festivals, it follows that one should also wait fifty days for the wine and fifty days for the oil. Their calculation is positively uncanny. It turns out that the dates they prescribe for the first-fruits festival coincide precisely with the ripening of these respective crops in the land of Israel. The barley ripens in early spring, wheat in the beginning of the summer, grapes in the middle of the summer, and the olives at the end of the summer.

Personally, I cannot believe that it was their invention or their revelation. In my opinion, these new festivals were not new at all but were ancient festivals which were suppressed in later scriptural records. In the ninth chapter of Judges, we read about the citizens of Shechem engaged in a wine festival in their temple, where they fomented a rebellion against their king. The fact that they organized a rebellion in the temple must mean that everyone was present there. It had to be a public festival. And that perhaps explains why this festival may have been quashed in Scripture. We know of wine festivals in the ancient Near East. And as exemplified in ancient Greece, festivals dedicated to Bacchus turned into bacchanals. The term hillulim (Judg. 9:27) and the fact that the Shechem temple was probably a pagan one point in that direction. The Canaanite wine festivals were probably of such a licentious nature that they were suppressed in the Bible, only to surface a millennium later in the Temple Scroll.

According to the table, all of their first-fruits festivals fall on a Sunday. Here lies one of their lasting contributions. Bearing in mind that they observed the day of rest on the sabbath, we see that they now rested also on Sunday. Without doubt, they must be credited with being the first to institute the long weekend.

If the first-fruits festivals are fifty days apart, how can they fall on Sunday? For that to happen they should be separated by forty-nine days! This is how they counted: the first day of any new cycle was also the last day of the previous one. In that way the fiftieth day was in fact forty-nine days after the previous festival. Qumran’s calendar was helpful to me because it solved one of the great cruxes of the ancient Israelite calendar. The book of Leviticus ordains that the land should be uncultivated on the sabbatical and jubilee years (Lev. 25:1–13). This means that on the forty-ninth and fiftieth years, two years in succession, the land would be fallow. That is humanly impossible. However, Qumran has solved the problem. The biblical calendar counted the same way as Qumran, so that the forty-ninth sabbatical year and the fiftieth jubilee year coincided. And the land was to remain fallow for just one year.

What happened at these festivals? The New Wheat Festival, according to the Temple Scroll, was the annual day for the renewal of the sect’s covenant, when it would swear in new members, and the old members would pledge themselves anew. This covenant renewal is described in great detail, not in the Temple Scroll but in another document from the Dead Sea, the Manual of Discipline (1 QS 1:16–2:25). There is nothing like it in Judaism or Christianity, and it is to their loss. Among the Mormons there is, indeed, an annual priestly review of the members’ worthiness, which in Jewish parlance would be ritual purity followed by permission to enter the sanctuary in the spirit of “renewal.” Indeed, as I understand it, at the center of the Mormon sacramental system is the idea of “renewing of covenants.” It is not difficult to imagine the impact that such a mass ceremony would have upon the entire community.

The first-fruits festivals which follow also had a communal impact. For example, at the climax of the New Wine Festival there was a libation for the altar, then cups of wine would be passed out to the mass of celebrants overflowing into the outer court. And then, at a given sign, they lifted their cups and recited a blessing to God, asking Him in thanksgiving and prayer for an abundant harvest. The New Oil Festival was celebrated the same way. At its climax there was libation of oil for the altar and for everyone present.

The last of the new festivals is a Wood Festival. There is no trace of it in the Pentateuch, but later books of the Bible do provide a hint. In Nehemiah, which brings us into the Second Temple days, we learn of a situation that we are quite familiar with-an energy shortage. Groups of rich families then took it upon themselves to donate the necessary wood supply for the temple’s needs. Later the rabbis fixed the dates when these wood offerings should be brought, and ordained that the same families that had volunteered these offerings during the days of Nehemiah should continue to have this privilege (M. Taan. 4:4). However, Qumran would have nothing of that. They believed in the democratization of Israel. The Temple would not be the reserve of the priests and the rich. All of Israel was commanded to aspire to holiness (Lev. 19:1, etc.), and so they ordained that the wood offering should be brought by all twelve tribes during a six-day festival, two tribes per day.

One may be puzzled, given their love for festivals, why they doubled up the tribes. They could have given each tribe its day and spread the festival over twelve days (as Israel did when it initiated the altar, Num. 7). However, the table reminds us that a twelve-day festival would have run into the seventh month. And they did not want a conflict with the first day of the seventh month, which Jewry still celebrates as the New Year Festival.

This is all I can discuss in the time allotted to me and I have discussed matters from only four columns of the Temple Scroll’s sixty-seven!

Question: Was there an actual temple at Qumran?

Answer: There was no temple at Qumran. Scholars have thought so, but now the Temple Scroll has made it clear that there could not be any legitimate temple outside of Jerusalem-not the Jerusalem of their day, however, which they felt had become polluted. It had the wrong temple, the wrong priesthood, the wrong calendar, the wrong festivals. Their faith was that they would be restored to a destroyed Jerusalem to rebuild the temple according to their revealed blueprint. Its architectural design borrows from many prior temples, but in aggregate it is unique. For example, the square court is Ezekiel’s design, but in other respects it is not Ezekiel’s temple at all. The temple building itself is Solomonic; most of the other installations are not. So it is a composite, with many original elements.

Question: Is there evidence that the temple complex described in the Temple Scrolls was ever constructed?

Answer: Please bear in mind that this is a visionary temple, but not a messianic one. This temple is to be built by man, and as far as the sect of Qumran was concerned, it was going to be built tomorrow. In their view, the end of the world was imminent. And in that universal cataclysm, only the righteous of Qumran would survive. And we know from the War Scroll that the cataclysm would take the form of a forty-year war between the sons of light and the sons of darkness, in the seventh year of which the righteous would regain Jerusalem, and then, I presume, they would build this temple. There is also another temple at the end of time, a messianic temple, and it would be built not by man but by God.

Question: What was the specific role of the high priest? Is there any mention in the Temple Scroll of a Davidic king?

Answer: Two very sizable questions. The high priest is featured very prominently. So is the king. But the king is, interestingly enough, a limited monarch. I mentioned to you the Scroll’s impulse toward democratization. The king had a council of thirty-six, consisting of twelve priests, twelve Levites, and twelve Israelites, which held veto powers over the king. He had to consult the council on everything. He could not declare war without its consent. This is most remarkable. Mind you, over a thousand years before the Magna Charta, the Dead Sea sectaries promote a constitutional monarch. Of course, the book of Deuteronomy also prescribes a constitutional monarch, but the Temple Scroll puts teeth into its laws by ordaining an executive body that can enforce them.

Question: What is the date of the Temple Scroll?

Answer: I’m now convinced that this scroll is the oldest of the scrolls, indeed, the very constitution of the Qumran sect. Originally I thought it was written perhaps during the Maccabean period. Now I believe it is pre-Maccabean, composed at the beginning of the second century B.C.E. Let me cite one reason for this earlier dating. One of the Scroll’s purity rules states that impure skins may not be brought into the Temple city. There is no such rule in all of Rabbinic literature. However, the historian Josephus reports that in 198 B.C.E. Antiochus III confirmed the right of Jerusalem to forbid the importation of impure skins (Antiquities 12:146). This means that the city of Jerusalem actually enforced such a rule at the end of the third century and the beginning of the second. The rabbis know nothing of such a rule; the Temple Scroll does. This means that the Scroll must antedate the Maccabean period.

Question: Are you planning to write a book on the Temple Scroll?

Answer: No, but I have written a number of studies. A general description and evaluation of the Scroll is in the Biblical Archaeologist 41 (1978): 105–20, thus far the only thing available in English. More detailed studies are in the Journal of Biblical Literature 97 (1978): 501–23; the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 232 (1978): 25–27; and, most recently, the Jewish Quarterly Review 71 (1980/81): 1–17, 89–106. An English translation of the Scroll, edited by Yadin, will soon be published.