“140 Characters @Qumran: Scripture, Social Media, and Worldview Wars”

*Below is a summary of the paper I presented at the Central States Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) meeting last Monday in St. Louis. The paper identifies the use of the OT in the War Scroll (1QM) from Qumran. Much more could be said, including points of contact with the angel of the Lord executing 185,000 Assyrian warriors in Isaiah 37, messianic expectations in the NT, and the use of the OT in the NT. These are not addressed below. The general observation here is that the author of the War Scroll employed the OT in such a way that it would shape the mindset of the Qumran group even to the degree that the battle they fought was ultimately against doubt as much as human opponents.

Social Media and Worldview Wars in History

       The Arab Spring has become a case study for identifying how social media may be employed for advancing worldviews both intra- and internationally. The project on Information Technology and Political Islam (www.pITI.org) has conducted research through the University of Washington and concluded that “conversations about revolution often precede major events on the ground, and social media carried inspiring stories of protest across international borders” [“Opening Closed Regimes: What Was the Role of Social Media During the Arab Spring?”; http://pitpi.org/index.php/2011/09/11/opening-closed-regimes-what-was-the-role-of-social-media-during-the-arab-spring/].

In Writing on the Wall: Social Media the First 2,000 Years [New York: Bloomsbury, 2013] economist and author Tom Standage suggests that the way information is shared through electronic social media today resembles the public use of letters, tractates, and treatises in previous centuries. Leaders of political and religious movements have taken up pen and posted messages in order to sway public opinion in their favor. Standage’s survey begins with the rise of Imperial Rome but does not attend to the events taking place in Palestine at Qumran. The Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS, henceforth) mirror what Standage identifies as early social media, and their content is shaped by the Hebrew Scriptures. The War Scroll (identified in the composite document1QM) is an example of the worldview categories of Qumran and demonstrates how this worldview is shaped by the Hebrew Scriptures [Yigael Yadin, The Scroll of the War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness (trans. Batya and Chaim Rabin; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962); Jean Duhaime, “War Scroll (1QM; 1Q33; 4Q491-496 = 4QM1-6; 4Q497),” in Damascus Document, War Scroll, and Related Documents [vol. 2 of The Dead Sea Scrolls: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek Texts with English Translations; Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck)], 1995; Duhaime, The War Texts: 1QM and Related Manuscripts [Companion to the Qumran Scrolls 6; New York: T. & T. Clark, 2004; Duhaime, “War Scroll (1QM),” EDEJ; David Flusser, “Apocalyptic Elements in the War Scroll,” in Qumran and Apocalypticism (vol. 1 of Judaism of the Second Temple Period; trans. Azzan Yadin; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007)].

Roughly, the structure of 1QM can be identified in four divisions: cols. 1-2: Table of Contents for the War(s); cols. 3-9: Tactical Organization of the Sons of Light; cols. 9-14: Prayers and Speeches of the Chief Priest; and cols. 14-19: The Final Battle Sequence. The author of 1QM employs the Hebrew Scriptures in a Tweet-like fashion when: (1) describing the trumpets and banners used to organize the Sons of Light for battle (cols. 3-4), and (2) composing the prayers and speeches the Chief Priest is to speak during the battle (cols. 9-14).


Tweet-Like use of the Hebrew Scriptures in 1QM 

Cols. 3-9: Tactical Organization of the Sons of Light

       Lester L. Grabbe suggests that the language and imagery of cols. 3-9 reflect personal knowledge of combat and writes, “this section may well have been written by a priest with some knowledge of warfare. The military data have been put in a framework which gives them a different slant” [Grabbe, “Warfare: Eschatological Warfare,” Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 2:965; Yadin, The Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness]. Here the author of 1QM establishes procedures for organizing and deploying the Israelite army. He is especially concerned with the religious connotation of the trumpets and banners used to remind the Sons of Light that their battle is intimately related to their cult. These are like divine declarations posted on a giant social media wall to help shape the troops’ thinking in the War. The power believed inherent in these phrases is represented in the quantity of inscriptions placed on the trumpets, banners, and shields (col. 2, 16-col. 6, 6). The author states that distinct phrases are to be written on thirteen different trumpets—and these phrases reflect a Tweet-like use of OT Scripture.

The epithet “Summoned of God” (col. 3, 2) on the trumpets summoning the congregation echoes Num 10:2. The phrase “Rule of God” (col. 3, 3) on the trumpets of formation reflects 1 Chron 29:12 “Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is power and might; and it lies in Your hand to make great and to strengthen everyone” (NAU) and Lam 5:19 “You, O LORD, rule forever; Your throne is from generation to generation.” The phrase “Mighty hand of God in the battle to bring down all the slain of unfaithfulness” (col. 3, 8) on the trumpets of the slain reflects (among others) Exod 32:11, “Then Moses entreated the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?”; Deut 3:24, “O Lord GOD, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand; for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as Yours?”; and Isa 31:3, “Now the Egyptians are men and not God, And their horses are flesh and not spirit; So the LORD will stretch out His hand, And he who helps will stumble And he who is helped will fall, And all of them will come to an end together.” Yigel Yadin notes that the inscriptions on the trumpets have the same purpose as inscriptions on the banners and darts, stating that “the word of ‘God’ is mentioned in each inscription and indicates the connexion between the Lord and the congregation and its war” [Yadin, The Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness, 104].

Having directed the Sons of Light to posts epithets of Hebrew Scripture on the trumpets leading the troops, the author of 1QM devotes the remainder of col. 3, 13-17 and all of col. 4 to detailing the inscriptions the Sons of Light are to place on banners. These epithets reflect the inscriptions on the trumpets described previously in col. 3, 1-12 but extend beyond the trumpet inscriptions in at least two ways. First, in col. 4, 2 Belial (the devil) is noted as the head of the human opponents in view, inferring that the war is ultimately against spiritual powers and not just Israel’s historical foes. Second, the number of banners, and thus inscriptions, in cols. 3-4 surpasses the number of trumpets and inscriptions nearly two to one, thus displaying a greater use of synonyms and repetition than the phrases inscribed on the trumpets. Banners were employed by the Roman army contemporaneous with the Qumran sect, even having a religious connotation, but in 1QM their purpose is first cultic and then tactical while the reverse was true for the Roman troops [Yadin, The Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness, 63; Duhaime, “The War Scroll and Greco-Roman Tactile Treatises,” 150-51].

When the Sons of Light set out for battle, the phrases “Truth of God,” “Righteousness of God,” “Glory of God,” and “Judgment of God” (col. 4, 6) are to be written on the banners. When they withdraw they are to write on their banners “Deliverances of God,” “Victory of God,” “Help of God,” and “Support of God.” Grabbe notes that the trumpets and banners described in cols. 3-4 reflect common ancient military imagery, but “the amount of space devoted to them (in 1QM) gives them a significance far beyond their place in actual warfare,” such that they seem to have an end in themselves [Grabbe, Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 2:965].

Like the epithets on the trumpets, the phrases on the banners are in essence Tweets of the Hebrew Bible, reflecting phrases from Exodus 15, Deuteronomy 32-34, many Psalms. Placing these texts on banners directing the Sons of Light in the battle–where they would simultaneously be seen, read, and perhaps heard by individuals in a social context–mirrors the use of social media today. The author of 1QM is not concerned with just one’s individual relationship with God but that the Sons of Light together look upon and read and heard(?) the Hebrew Scriptures simultaneously. in a sense he simultaneously posts the Scriptures on everyone’s wall. Yadin summarizes the role of banners in 1QM stating, “they were (in addition to their regular tasks in battle and in organization) a means of encouraging the combatants by keeping before the eyes of the warriors the fighting slogans whose principal aim was (in the instance under discussion) to show that the war of the Sons of Light was a ‘war of God’ and that the soldiers of the congregation are the ‘chosen ones of God’ and His hosts” [Yadin, The Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness, 64].


Cols. 9-14: Prayers and Speeches of the Chief Priest

       Phillip R. Davies notes the structural importance of the prayer of the Cheif Priest in the development of 1QM stating, “the speech represents a halfway point between the presentations of 2-9 and 15-19, in that the enemy are the nations, and the chosen people the conquerors, but the tone is strongly ethical, and the suggestion of angelic or cosmic dimensions to the struggle is present” [Davies, 1QM, The War Scroll from Qumran: Its Structure and History (BibOr 32; Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1977), 79]. The tactical and militaristic language of 1QM is interpreted in light of Israel’s religious institutions, especially the role of priests (cf. Leviticus 16; Numbers 10). Though the Chief Priest does not fight in 1QM, his leadership in Israel’s cult underscores the spiritual character of the campaign. In 1QM, though the Levites do not fight per se, “they play an essential part in the conduct of war, conducting prayers before, during and after battle, and blowing the trumpets which both direct the troops and call divine attention to the battle. Without them the war could not be a holy war” [Bauckham, “Revelation as War Scroll,” 24 (italics original)]. The five explicit quotations of the Hebrew Scriptures in 1QM 9-14 are surveyed briefly in what follows [Yadin, The Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness; Jean Duhaime, The War Texts; Wenthe, Dean O. “The Use of the Hebrew Scriptures in 1QM.” Dead Sea Discoveries 5.3 (1998): 290-313].

Col. 10, 1-2 (Deut 7:21-22)

The Chief Priest begins his exhortation by praying Deut 7:21-22, (col. 10, 1-2). The Chief Priest prays the text not as the basis of military victory but as the grounds for the Sons of Light to maintain cultic purity in the camp, viz. avoiding shameful nakedness. The Chief Priest has in view not the destruction of the Sons of Darkness, but the worldview of the Sons of Light.

Col. 10, 2-5 and 15, 7-8 (Deut 20:3-4) 

       In the author’s rules for war the Chief Priest is to cite Deut 20:3-4. This is Moses’ command that the Chief Priest exhort Israel in the mighty acts of God (col. 10, 3-4). After praying Deut 7:21-22, the Chief Priest quotes Deut 20:3-4 (col. 10, 3-4), Moses’ instruction that the priest is to exhort the troops of God’s faithfulness to fight for them (cf. Psalms 9, 22, 40, 56, 125; Isa 8:11-22; 26:1-6; 31:1-9). The Chief Priest cites Deut 20:3-4 again in col. 15, 7-8, during the first engagement of the war. In both citations of Deut 20:3-4 the Chief Priest is concerned with the mindset of the Sons of Light, encouraging them to maintain their worldview despite the threats around them.

Col. 10, 6-8 (Num 10:9) 

In col. 10, 6-8 the Chief Priest cites Num 10:9 to remind Israel that when God hears the sound of the trumpets He is mindful to deliver them. The words of the Chief Priest both encourage the valiant and cause the faint of heart to turn back to the camp. His speaks brief portions of the Hebrew Scriptures to reinforce the courageous and refine the camp of the Sons of Light.

Col. 11, 5-7 (Num 24:17, 19, 18a, c) 

In col. 11, 6-7 the Chief Priest quotes Balaam’s prophecy (Num 24:17-19) that a star would rise from Jacob to crush the Moabites concerning the star of Jacob. The Chief Priest interprets the passage in light of God’s presence with the Sons of Light. By God’s power and valor the Sons of Light will be victorious.

Col. 11, 11-12 (Isa 31:8) 

In col. 11, 11-12 the Chief Priest cites Isa 31:8 as the basis of his prayer for God to raise up His hand against the Kittim of Assyria. His brief citation of the Hebrew Scriptures would not exceed the 140 character limit of a tweet.



The Chief Priest’s concern is with the worldview of the Sons of Light, posting the Hebrew Scriptures on the forefront of their minds that they would maintain faithfulness to God as they await His intervention. A study published March 12, 2014 by researchers at UC San Diego and Yale [Coviello L, Sohn Y, Kramer ADI, Marlow C, Franceschetti M, et al. (2014) Detecting Emotional Contagion in Massive Social Networks. PLoS ONE 9(3): e90315. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0090315] may illustrate the emotional effect the the Hebrew Scriptures on the Sons of Light in 1QM. They studied status updates posted by 100 million users in the 100 most popular U.S. Cities between January 2009 and March 2012. They identified instances where users posted that they were “down” because of the weather and tracked how that affected those who read that post. Researchers observed that even where viewers were not experiencing rain or severe weather, they posted more negative comments after seeing these negative status updates from friends. They authors of the study conclude: “Our findings also have significance for public wellbeing. To the extent that clinical or policy maneuvers increase the happiness of one person, they may have cascade effects on others in their social networks, thereby enhancing the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of the intervention, and these results suggest that such cascade effects may be promoted online.”



       What might we be able to infer from viewing 1QM in light of modern social media theory? First, Tom Standage’s Writing in the Wall establishes a starting point for understanding the history of social media, but to mention Roman and early Christian communication but not Qumran—and perhaps other religious texts and groups outside the purview of this writer—seems an oversight.

Second, related to viewing 1QM through the rubric of modern social media, it is advocated here that the author employs the Hebrew Scriptures not so much for how the Sons of Light might hand-to-hand defeat the nations, but for ‘strengthening the base,’ reinforcing worldview convictions about God’s ability to deliver on the day of battle. This position parallels Duhaime’s suggestion that to an audience in the contemporary period, 1QM should be considered “an utopian tactile treatise”—sufficient to prepare the Sons of Light hand-to-hand combat but most likely written to instruct the sect of how they might maintain the spiritual worldview expressed in their Scriptures though they feel like an embattled and inferior army when compared with pagan forces around them [Jean Duhaime, “The War Scroll from Qumran and the Greco-Roman Tactical Treatises,” RevQ 13.1-4 (1988), 133-51; cf.  Richard J. Bauckham, “The Book of Revelation as a Christian War Scroll,” Neot 22 (1988): 17-40]. For the Sons of Light, the war of 1QM is a war of belief. The author uses words as weaponry, posting the Hebrew Scriptures on the minds of the Sons of Light that they maintain their fidelity to God while they await His intervention.


Don't lose any sleep over it! We have a delayed start on Sunday, March 10, 2024

EH/MK 10:30-11:20
Worship: 11:30-1:00