The dead sea scrolls and the language of binary opposition: a structuralist/post-structuralist approach.
The Qumran corpus has been rigorously explored in relation to the Hebrew language and its evolution, but little attention has been devoted to elements of "binary opposition" (pairs of theoretical opposites, often organised in a hierarchy) inherent in Qumranic nuance and the implications of such expression on the subsequent development of religious thought and culture. Structuralist and poststructuralist critics examined these oppositions, ultimately viewing them as unstable, privileging one member of the pair and marginalising the other. The dualistic theology of Qumran can be looked upon as a superb example of Hebraic "binary opposition," underlying the Greek New Testament expression of dualism as well. The Dead Sea Scrolls arguably represent a quantum leap toward a theology of "divine election," which in turn became an expression of cultural superiority. A reevaluation of Qumranic dualism may help "de-center" such language, in the ancient sources and in modern usage as well.
The Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls has been thoroughly analysed with respect to its implications vis-a-vis the evolution of the language, but relatively little research has focused on Qumranic Hebrew as a conveyor of what structuralist critics have referred to as "binary oppositions"--the setting up, linguistically, of opposing pairs of terms. Such terms as benei or / benei khoshekh ("sons of light"/ "sons of darkness") and Yisrael / Ammim ("Israel"/"the nations") became in the Scrolls tools of an exclusionary theology which had profound consequences on the development of western religious traditions.
On a literary level critics such as Claude Levi-Strauss, Roman Jakobson and others looked for binary oppositions in language as clues to the "deep structure" of a culture (Saussure's langue). As Kurzweil (1980:17) notes, Levi-Strauss was engrossed with the way languages and the mythology of various cultures reveal striking similarities and kindred structural patterns. He postulated that they are in fact constituted in the same fashion. By the same token, he needed to reconcile the fact that incidents from long ago are recounted in the present tense and consequently appear to slide back and forth in time. He likewise had to differentiate between la langue and la parole via each one's variant temporal dimension (synchronic and diachronic). Jakobson had theorised binary oppositions between contradictory relationships and between vowels and consonants, this becoming the foundation of his brand of structural linguistics. According to Saussure, binary opposition is the "means by which the units of language have value or meaning; each unit is defined against what it is not." Jacques Derrida saw such oppositions as unstable, resulting in the privileging of one member of the pair and marginalising of the other.
As Van Wolde (1994:19-35) observes, the study of twentieth century literature reveals a development reflected indirectly in biblical exegesis. The notion (common to tradition and redaction criticism) that a biblical text's meaning is that established by its author was supplanted by the idea that the principal source was the text itself (close reading, stylistics, structuralism). There was thereafter a tendency to bestow upon the reader some importance as well (readerresponse criticism, rhetorical analysis, studies considering the position of reader or narrator). It is currently held (in the context of poststructuralism, ideological criticism and deconstruction) that meaning is largely determined by the reader exclusively.
This study examines the way in which one group of ancient readers of the Bible--Judea's Dead Sea Sect--determined the meaning of the text. It traces the theology of exclusion back to the period in which the Qumran corpus took shape, wherein one religious group was seen as privileged and all others as doomed--a view subsequently "borrowed" by the writers of the New Testament. The Second Jewish Commonwealth thus appears to have been a pivotal point in western history where the language of exclusion took hold. Of course the ancient Israelite longing for a "center" spawned the language of binary opposition, apparent in the Hebrew Scriptures themselves. Nonetheless, it may be concluded that this language is in the Dead Sea Scrolls exaggerated to a new level, that marginalised as "Other" the great bulk of humanity, by virtue of not belonging to the sect.
How did this development evolve? It is fitting to note at the outset that the pagan world from which Israelite monotheism sprang was by and large a tolerant place, which celebrated diversity just as it honoured multiple deities. Feldman (1993) shows how Judaism profited from the tolerance of pagan/polytheistic religions. Over time Judaism successfully resisted the attractions of pagan culture, offering instead a stern, unyielding world-view. To be sure the biblical world-view celebrated unity, oneness, and the Deity as a "privileged center," to whom all must pay due obeisance. The keynote of Judaism, from Deuteronomy 6:4 ("Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One") tells us a great deal about the essence of monotheistic thought. It allowed no rival to the "privileged center." The concept of binary opposition certainly became an integral part of biblical thought and ideology, and should by no means be conceived as an aspect of Hellenism alone.
To be sure, many conclude that Derrida viewed Hellenism (with its attendant stress on binary oppositions) and Hebraism antithetically, the latter being an "other" to the former. Shira Wolosky suggests that there is a "sirenlike" appeal behind the desire to "schematize" Hebraism and Hellenism as antonyms. While seductive, the enterprise is nonetheless doomed, for, as Derrida himself pointed out, the term Hellenism embraces both heterogeneity and rupture. Indeed, "Hebraism" has evolved since antiquity with "Hellenism" embedded deeply within. There is continuing controversy regarding the exact extents and moments in which both currents intersected, along with the broader implications of this intersection. Moreover, Hellenism and Hebraism continued to exert a seminal force in the configuration of Derrida's work (Wolosky 1998:261-280).
It is generally agreed, however, that unyielding monotheism did not arrive on the scene full-blown. During virtually the whole course of its development in the early Israelite period it allowed for a syncretistic blend of disparate religious ideas and even deities, existing side-by-side with the Temple cult. The extent of syncretism in ancient Israel is well summarised by Qumran scholar Millar Burrows (1941:10-16), who argued that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob probably combines no fewer than three separate deities, represented in the three patriarchs themselves. It should not surprise us that the language of the Hebrew Scriptures expresses, on occasion, the stern monotheism of the "privileged center" along with language which reflects the more evenhanded/tolerant view of the earlier period. By the time the Dead Sea Scrolls were produced--well into the Second Temple period--the earlier "free play" of binary opposites had given way to an inflexible theology of election, which cast all of humanity in terms of competing forces, privileging the chosen few and damning all others.
It has been observed (May 1948:100-107) that while Israelites in the pre-exilic period may have acclaimed one God as their own, this belief was not "universalized" until the later Israelite period, beginning with Deutero-Isaiah. The Israelite Deity subsequently required the veneration and allegiance of all nations and peoples. For example the post-exilic prophet Micah portrays the Gentiles as serpents licking the dust and as crawling things upon the earth, who will come from their dens trembling and quaking in fear before God. Assmann (1996:48-67) notes that as Jewish history progressed, both the concept of idolatry and the bitter acrimony against it became more pronounced. In general, the later the texts, the more pronounced the contempt and reproach they heap on idolaters.
David Flusser, who did a great deal of research with respect to the theology of the Dead Sea Sect, noted that Qumranic notions of good and evil, as well as the concept of reward and punishment (of the righteous and unrighteous) are much more radical in the sectarian corpus than in the Hebrew Scriptures themselves. The sectarian theology of "double predestination," whereby humanity is divided into two groups--"sons of light" and "sons of darkness"--was in Flusser's view (1988:483) not the product of the influence of Persian dualism. Wolosky (1998:262) points out that Judaism, as it developed historically, transformed, adapted, and polemically and apotropaically held off Aristotelian, Platonic, Neoplatonic and Gnostic trends, both internally and from the Greco-Hellenistic world. Following this line of reasoning, Qumranic dualism may be seen as intrinsically Hebraic, stemming authentically from the culture of ancient Judea, and I submit, the binary aspects of its language. Deroche (1992:11-21) comments on the binary aspects of the creation account in Genesis, duly noting the idea, advanced by the Hebrew Bible, that the entire cosmos are binary in structure. Furthermore, this binary structure exists on the cosmic level ("heaven and earth") as well as on the level of the elements of which the universe is comprised.
Frequently, the Scrolls quote the Hebrew Scriptures verbatim, though with a new purpose--to emphasise the divine election of the sect and the doom of everyone else. Classic Hebraic terms such as hesed are now employed as emblems of this election and the destruction of all others. Glueck (1967:74) makes approving reference to S.R. Driver's understanding of hesed (in its origin) as "a quality exercised mutually among equals." The later use of the term (suggesting doom and damnation for "outsiders"/pagans) is far from its roots in a covenantal context between peers. An exegetical combination of biblical verses in the Scrolls turns a term of divine compassion into a measure of binary opposition--innocence versus guilt:
And you shall again know the innocent from the guilty, those who serve God and those who do not (Malachi 3:18). He keeps faith (hesed) ... to those who love him and to those who keep him for a thousand generations (Exodus 20:6; CD 20:20-22).
The juxtaposition of verses extends the pattern of biblical parallelism, making "innocent" equivalent not only to "those who serve God" but to hesed. By implication, those who do not "serve God" or "love him" shall experience, not hesed, but harsh judgment reserved for the guilty. The operation of parallelism in biblical poetry is well explicated by Robert Alter (1983:615-637), who in turn cites Roman Jakobson. It was Jakobson who analyzed the "paradigmatic axis, or axis of selection, of language." Notably, Hebrew is a language which by nature builds on binary opposites, the Bible making a sharp distinction from its earliest chapters between man (ish) and woman (ishah), sacred (qodesh) and profane (khol), clean (t'hor) and unclean (tameh), Israel and the nations (ammim/ goyim). This "binary phenomenon" is of course a universal one. Roman Jakobson and later, Claude Levi-Strauss, argued that all known languages are predicated on phonological systems involving roughly a dozen choices of binary opposition (Jakobson and Halle 1956). As Levi-Strauss (1968) put it, languages develop classifications based on a logical system of oppositions such as light/dark, high/low, fresh/dry. Such oppositions derive from the human mind's innate structure, acting as a grid or filter for the coherent ordering and perception of the world at large. As Rogerson (1970:490-500) summarises, it is only possible to understand myth after we comprehend the essence of the "classificatory systems" of primitive humanity.
A significant degree of dualism is therefore inevitable, but the Qumranic texts magnify it well beyond biblical nuance. Gammie (1974:356-385) observed that there were various types of dualism prevalent in ancient Israelite literature. These include "cosmic dualism," that is, the view that the universe is divided (as in Zoroastrianism) into two opposing forces--good and evil, darkness and light. Another type of dualism may be called "temporal," wherein we find an opposition between this age and the age to come. A third type is "ethical," wherein an opposition is envisioned between two classes or groups of individuals: the righteous versus the ungodly. Flusser (1988:483) quotes a well-known passage from the Community Rule which well illustrates Qumranic dualism:
(He is to teach them both) to love all the Children of Light--each commensurate with his rightful place in the council of God--and to hate all the Children of Darkness, each commensurate with his guilt and the vengeance due him from God (1QS 1:9-11).
He observes that the scriptural commandment of mutual love is in the Qumranic material limited to the "sons of light" and is balanced by the sectarian command to hate the "sons of darkness." He asserts that this rigid Qumranic doctrine of hate (elevating it to a religious duty) can be seen as an extreme response to a new sensitivity in Second Temple Judaism, emphasising the solidarity of humankind (whether in virtue or iniquity) and the "golden rule" of love as the essence of Judaism. Flusser cites Stendahl (1962:343-355) in asserting that the Essene "theology of hatred" represents a perverted response to the "new Jewish sensitivity." I would suggest, however, that the "new sensitivity" was itself an extreme response to a wide-spread trend in Second Temple Judaism (of which the Dead Sea Scrolls are characteristic) to "polarize" humanity into rigid categories, in keeping with a stringent dualism.
Light and darkness in the Community Rule
Following the logic of structuralist criticism, it is appropriate to consider one of the fundamental binary oppositions in the Hebrew language, "light" and "darkness." The Dead Sea Scrolls are superbly illustrative of how, in the language of exclusion, one term, "light" ('or), is privileged over the other, "darkness" (khoshekh). The "privileged" status of "light" ('or) is consistent almost throughout the Qumran corpus, the former being an emblem for righteousness and the latter for transgression and iniquity. This is not atypical of sectarian ideas in general during Second Temple Judaism, but it is certainly heightened in the Scrolls (Grant 1973). The Qumran texts thus betray what has been called "language ideology," evidenced in the Scrolls by the development of new genres, such as pesher, which asserts an "exclusive" understanding of the true and accurate meaning of the prophets. Schniedewind (1999:235-252) observes that the inhabitants of Khirbet Qumran exhibit in their writings a pronounced "sectarian impulse" along with a strong perception of conflict with the religious establishment in Jerusalem, who are in "darkness." Examples of prominence of "light" are multiple, as seen in the Community Rule alone:
He cannot be justified by what his willful heart declares lawful, preferring to gaze on darkness rather than the ways of light (1QS 3:3). Upright character and fate originate with the Habitation of Light; perverse, with the Fountain of Darkness (1QS 3:19).
The Community Rule also presents light and darkness in terms of spiritual/supernatural entities who divide their powers between their respective dominions:
The authority of the Prince of Light extends to the governance of all righteous people; therefore, they walk in the paths of light. Correspondingly, the authority of the Angel of Darkness embraces the governance of all wicked people, so they walk in the paths of darkness. The authority of the Angel of Darkness further extends to the corruption of all the righteous (1QS 3:20-22).
May (1963:1-14) noted that some interpret the "two spirits" described in 3:17-19 as a statement of mood or disposition. He responded to the argument that they are used psychologically, without overtones of cosmic or metaphysical dualism, and carrying nothing more than the rabbinical differentiation between the good and evil inclination (yetzer tov/ yetzer ra'). This assumes that the only difference between rabbinic and sectarian thought is terminological. However, May pointed out that this assumption fails to take into account the apocalyptic nature of the Scrolls. Nor does it fully appreciate the respective roles of the "prince of lights" and the "angel of darkness" in lines 20ff. and their relationship with the "sons of light" and the "sons of darkness."
The stern monotheism of the Qumranic world-view nonetheless requires that the Israelite Deity be acknowledged as the author of both of these "binary oppositional" powers, lest anyone think that some kind of "bi-theism" is being depicted:
It is actually He who created the spirits of light and darkness, making them the cornerstone of every deed ... (1QS 3:25).
Importantly, these spirits are thought in turn to author the actions of every individual (yesod kol ma'aseh), to the extent that freedom of choice vanishes. May (1963:1-14) additionally observed that assoKenneth ciating deterministic ideology with the "two spirits" doctrine is consistent with its cosmological orientation, as it emphasises the "cosmic character" of the conflict. It is God who determines that good and evil will struggle in each individual, as well as each person's share in either attribute. He added that the "prince of lights" and the "angel of darkness" are not imaginary in the eyes of the sect and that the latter's power explains both the "sons of deceit" and the errant ways of the "sons of righteousness." Frank Cross recognised a "spiritspirit" dualism in the Community Rule and in I John. It is a radical doctrine of predestination which depicts some as devoted to God or to the "spirit of truth" and others to the "spirit of deceit." In the end the "logocentrism" of the text has left us with a rigid doctrine of "double predestination."
Of course the terms "darkness" (khoshekh) and "light" ('or) do not always appear together. Notably, when darkness is mentioned in the Community Rule as a term by itself, it becomes an emblem for hell:
May you be damned without mercy in return for your dark deeds, an object of wrath licked by eternal flame, surrounded by utter darkness. May God have no mercy upon you when you cry out, nor forgive so as to atone for your sins. May He lift up His furious countenance upon you for vengeance (1QS 2:7-9).
The passage quotes the Hebrew Bible indirectly, turning the "Aaronic Benediction" into a curse. Elsewhere, we find the use of the term "darkness" (khoshekh) both as an unrighteous way of life and as a symbol of Hell:
The operations of the spirit of falsehood result in ... walking in all the ways of darkness and evil cunning ... The judgment of all who walk in such ways will be multiple afflictions at the hand of all the angels of perdition, everlasting damnation in the wrath of God's furious vengeance, never-ending terror and reproach for all eternity, with a shameful extinction in the fire of Hell's outer darkness (1QS 4:9,11-13).
Notwithstanding these examples, we nonetheless find a striking exception to the presentation of light and darkness as binary opposites in a passage which appears to balance the "dominions" of each in a non-hierarchical fashion:
When light begins its dominion--each time it returns--and when, as ordained, it is regathered into its dwelling place; when night begins its watches--as He opens His storehouse and spreads darkness over the earth--and when it cycles back, withdrawing before the light; when the luminaries show forth from their holy habitation, and when they are regathered into their glorious abode; when the times appointed for new moons arrive, and when, as their periods require, each gives way to the next. Such renewal is a special day for the Holy of Holies; indeed, it is a sign that He is unlocking eternal loving kindness each time these cycles begin as ordained, and so it shall be for every era yet to come (1QS 10:1-6).
Light and darkness are here depicted simply as part of an eternal cycle, which unlocks everlasting mercies and shows forth the majesty of the Holy of Holies. We note, however, that the context of the passage relates to "rules for the conduct of the Instructor" (t'khunei ha-derekh l'maskil) with regard to "his loving and hating" (ahavato im sin'ato). The Overseer of the community is enjoined to employ "everlasting hatred in a spirit of secrecy for the men of perdition" (sin'at olam im anshei shakhat). Clearly, the apparent "free play" of binary opposites (light and darkness) in this poetic passage merely cloaks the larger message of privileging the "sons of light" and marginalising/"hating" the "men of perdition"/"sons of darkness." Light and darkness together become an emblem for the "double predestination" of the privileged and the damned.
Light and darkness in biblical narrative
At this point we may well ask whether the hierarchical presentation of binary opposites is equally characteristic of the Hebrew Scriptures, when it comes to the depiction of "light" and "darkness," or whether the Qumranic usage stands in contrast with the Bible. To be sure, structuralist criticism--based on the methodology of Claude Levi-Strauss--has revealed the Genesis text to be built on binary oppositions. Leach (1961:47-60) undertook a classic evaluation of the Genesis myth, suggesting that the text relies on the introduction of binary oppositions (for example, the two creation accounts and the story of Cain and Abel), but later mediates them. Carroll (1977:663-677) took issue with the idea that certain "mediating concepts" connected with both poles of a binary op-position "blur the distinction" which originally created the opposition. Based on a transformation rule developed by Levi-Strauss, he revealed a common structure underlying both the Garden of Eden and Cain and Abel stories. Leggo (1998:186-192) suggests that the relationship between a specific concept and its opposite is one of "distance and tension." He observes that it is common to valorise one idea in a binary opposition over the other. Love, for example, is privileged over hate; white is privileged over black. However, readers may appropriate fresh understandings by questioning the usual attitude toward the ordering--hierarchically--of the elements in a binary opposition.
The creation account in Genesis immediately distinguishes between the terms "light" ('or) and "darkness" (khoshekh), but one must not necessarily conclude that one term is (automatically) privileged over the other:
And God saw that the light was good, and God divided the light from the darkness; and God called the light "day" and called the darkness "night" (Gen. 1:4-5, author's translation.)
The text strains to report that the light is considered "good" (tov), but nowhere is darkness called "bad." There is as it were a single primordial substance, upon which the divine presence acts, and the resulting division of light and darkness is simply an aspect of the divine will. May (1939:203-211) commented that there came to be an emphasis on the Israelite Deity as creator of light and darkness in the late exilic and post-exilic periods. This would ultimately evolve into the conviction that Israel's God--apart from the sun--emanated a divine light that would become the only light of the world to come, in a "Golden Age." The narrative recounts in a matter-of-fact way that two lights were created, the sun and the moon, to rule the day and the night, respectively:
God placed them in the firmament of the heavens, to shine on the earth, to rule the day and the night, and to divide between the light and the darkness. God saw that it was good (Genesis 1:17-18, author's translation).
There is a strong sense of "polarity" here, the "binary oppositions" of light and darkness being clearly delineated. Carroll (1977:665) critiqued three points made by Leach: that Genesis introduces a "static" opposition between light and darkness (day and night); that on the fourth day, the static opposition is transformed as a dynamic one, via day and night alternations; that the initial (static) opposition between light and darkness is a metaphor for the tension between life and death, transformed into a dynamic opposition in which the two will themselves become alternations. Carroll found "no textual basis" for the assumption that light/darkness metaphorically implies life/death, nor for the idea that oppositions are subsequently mediated.
May (1939:210) observed that the (late interpolated) doxology of Amos 4:13 emphasises Israel's God, as creator of light and darkness. Furthermore, the luminaries are completely divorced from the divine light (which belongs to the Deity) in the post-exilic Psalm 139:
Also, darkness does not make it dark for you, But the night is as bright as the day; Darkness and light are both alike to you.
However, there is no sense that one term enjoys a privileged status. On the contrary, these binary oppositions appear to be functions or aspects of each other. The cosmos as a whole--not simply the light--is now called "good" (tov). Blythin (1962:120-121) argues that it is too readily assumed that "darkness" (khoshekh) is parallel in meaning with "formless and void" (tohu wabohu). Since it is reasonably certain that ruah 'elohim means the "spirit of God"--a powerful extension of the divine presence--it is therefore possible that "darkness" (khoshekh) is in fact parallel with this phrase.
According to Derrida (1979), the whole of Western thought is framed as pairs of binary opposites in which one component of the pair--being privileged--arrests the play of the system and marginalises the other component. He employs a tactic of "decentering"; destabilising the primary term so that the secondary term temporarily overthrows the hierarchy. However, acknowledging that this practice in fact reinstates a hierarchical structure, he advocates a complete "free-play" of the binary opposites in a non-hierarchical way: there should be no fundamental configuration (neither marginal nor privileged nor repressed) which aims at "freezing the play" of the system. On the contrary, "free-play" should be deliberately seen in all texts and languages. The alternative is "fixity," institutionalisation, centralisation and totalitarianism (Derrida 1977).
Derrida's nemesis, arguably, is not merely "Western thought" but the whole contour of ancient Israelite monotheism, which by its nature privileges one term or "world-view" over all others. But strict monotheism notwithstanding, it is at least plausible that the Genesis account, in its linguistic expression, echoes a somewhat "primitive" and less developed expression of monotheistic faith, patterned on the Enuma Elish and other ancient creation accounts. To be sure, the polytheism of the pagan world was much more amenable to the concepts of "give" and tolerance than Israelite monotheism, and was equally less inclined to establish fixed meanings than the rigid biblical narratives. Levi-Strauss (1970:490-500) pointed out that individuals in "primitive" societies were inclined to classify the natural world according to "similarities and differences," as does the scientist. Such societies were arguably less inclined to be "judgmental" than was later monotheistic civilisation. Seeing a unity between primitive and contemporary thought, he called the former Neolithic and the latter modern. It is therefore not unreasonable to suggest that the language of the Genesis creation account is less "logocentric" than the language of Qumran precisely because it hearkens back to a more "primitive" stage in the evolution of monotheism.
Ancient Sumerian mythology, for example, depicted the gods "emanating" in pairs--binaries--from a formless watery waste, itself divine. Since they all came forth from the same divine substance, their dominions were not hierarchical but in parity with each other. The Enuma Elish (Sandars 1971) recounts:
When sweet and bitter mingled together, no reed was plaited, no rushes muddied the water, the gods were nameless, natureless, futureless.
There is definitely "free play" here, since one term (sweet) cannot be privileged over another (bitter), and since all things, including the gods, are undifferentiated. Tiamat (meaning "watery mass," that is, salt water) and Apsu (meaning "sweet waters," that is, fresh water) are the dragons of the primordial void, mingled together in a divine androgynous matrix. The narrative of Genesis is doubtless related to this concept in declaring that "the spirit of God hovered upon the face of the waters." The Enuma Elish depicts new gods coming forth, one from the other, successively acquiring greater definition as the evolution proceeded. The first pair consisted of Lahmu and Lahamu, both names referring to "silt," as water and earth were still undifferentiated. The names of the second pair, Ansher and Kishar, refer to the horizons of the sky and sea respectively. Next Anu and Ea (the heavens and earth, respectively) came forth, as it were to complete the creative process. Over time a series of younger, dynamic gods rebelled against their parents, representing, as Karen Armstrong (1993:7-8) points out, the idea that creativity involves ceaseless struggle.
The creation account in Genesis is echoed in another biblical text which likewise deals with the creation of all things. In the language of the late Israelite book known as Second Isaiah, we find a curious example of a non-hierarchical "free play" of opposites. Hollenberg (1969:23-36) observed that Second Isaiah appears to be a book written on the cusp of evolutionary change in Israel's self-concept. The development of well-defined monotheism is also seen in the tension, expressed by the prophet, between "universalism" and "nationalism." Hollenberg suggested that a powerful conflict between these two concepts appears to be present in Second Isaiah. Here we find passages expressing a transcendent vision of redemption for all "the nations" as well as delineating narrow, national self-interest and spite for the enemies of Israel. While it is strictly monotheistic, it still makes room for binary oppositions to coexist in "symbiotic" relationship:
That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the Lord, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things (Isaiah 45:6-7).
The poetic parallelism of the passage stresses that the divine presence inhabits both light and darkness, the sunrise and the sunset. "Peace" and "evil" are equally parallel, God having created both. As Blythin (1962:121) points out, it is argued that "ultimate dualism" between light and darkness does not exist in the Hebrew Bible, since a single Deity is master of both. Deroche (1992:11-21) observes that the four elements said to be created by the Deity are not randomly listed, but appear in two groups of two, each containing a pair of oppositional terms commonly thought of as binaries. It is an expression known as a "merism," wherein oppositional terms are jointly employed to form a totality. He notes that structuralists are most responsible for bringing to the fore this aspect of creation. Elsewhere, he observes that God is in the promise declaring that the created order will forthwith be supported. Importantly, this order is conceived as a series of four binary pairs. He argues that Isaiah 14:7 reflects the identical notion, that sets of binary opposites comprise the created world. The two pairs in that case reflect the two dimensions of human existence. Light and darkness represent the physical world, well-being and evil reflect the ethical world. The binary oppositions are present, but there is no need to reconcile the inherent tension or to privilege one over the other. May (1939:203-211) noted--unlike Flusser--that the emphasis on the Deity as creator of both light and darkness (as found in Isaiah 45:7) may have evolved in response to Persian and Babylonian dualism. As with the more "primitive" notions expressed in the Enuma Elish, creativity is a function of ceaseless struggle--between light and darkness, between peace and evil.
The later Israelite Sages were unquestionably troubled by the apparent "parity" between "peace" and "evil," reworking the text of Isaiah in a manner more compatible with "logocentric" monotheism. In the language of the traditional Siddur, the Sages rephrased Isaiah to read: "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create everything."
Light and not-light
In the Derridian paradigm the human inclination to frame reality in terms of opposites is acknowledged, but there is also the suggestion that the opposite of "man" is not "woman," but "not-man," and the opposite of "alive" is not "dead," but "not-alive." The unstable character of such bifurcations is demonstrated through the intermediary states which often occupy these supposed "binary" oppositions: that is, Man- Androgyny-Woman, or Alive-Zombie-Dead. Derrida (1991:455) envisions a state "... beyond the binary difference that governs the decorum of all codes, beyond the opposition feminine-masculine, beyond bi-sexuality as well, beyond homosexuality and heterosexuality, which come to the same thing." Claude Levi-Strauss (1967:221) added: "Two opposite terms with no intermediary always tend to be replaced by two equivalent terms which admit of a third one as a mediator; then one of the polar terms and the mediator become replaced by a new triad, and so on." Through the application of deconstructive theory, these oppositions are destabilised, or at the very least, shown to be mutually undermining. In the case of the Qumranic and biblical texts, we might consider the intermediate states of Light- Twilight-Darkness and question whether the opposite of "light" should not be understood as "not-light" rather than "darkness."
In such a paradigm there is no need (contrary to Qumranic usage) to associate "light" with good and "darkness" with evil. It has long been noted that primitive concepts of light and darkness were far from more "evolved" notions. Priest (1921:499-500) pointed out that Aristotle understood light not as an emission from a specific source, but as " a mere quality of a medium." Notably, there are several passages in the Torah which do not depict darkness as the opposite of light, but rather as an aspect of the divine--even co-inhabiting the divine abode:
And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was (Exodus 20:21). And you came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire unto the midst of heaven, with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness (Deuteronomy 4:11). These words the Lord spoke unto all your assembly in the mount out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness ... And it came to pass, when you heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness ... (Deuteronomy 5:2223)
There are only a few instances in the Torah where the word "darkness" carries with it a negative connotation:
And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him (Genesis 15:12). And the Lord said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt. And Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days (Exodus 10:21-22). And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night (Exodus 14:20).
In one notable passage we find:
And you shall grope at noonday, as the blind gropes in darkness ... (Deuteronomy 28:29).
It comes as no surprise that this is the passage (rather than any of the verses equating God with darkness) adapted in the Dead Sea Scrolls to describe the members of the sect, prior to their "enlightenment":
They were guilty men, and had been like the blind and like those groping for the way (CD 1:9).
Rabinowitz (1954:11-35) suggested that the immediate context of the passage (in terms similar to Isaiah 59:10 and Deuteronomy 28:29) relates to a period in which the fortunes of those returning from exile were not going well. (On the "guilt" of the restored Captivity, we should note Ezra 9:6 ff.; Zechariah 1:1-6.)
Elsewhere in the biblical text we find darkness depicted--by the Deuteronomic historian--not as malefaction but as an agent of divine protection:
And when they cried unto the Lord, he put darkness (ma'afel) between you and the Egyptians, and brought the sea upon them, and covered them (Joshua 24:7).
There is a certain "free play" of association, as darkness is sometimes equated with the abode of transgressors--"He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness ..." (1 Samuel 2:9), and sometimes with the divine--"He bowed the heavens also, and came down; and darkness was under his feet ... And he made darkness pavilions round about him, dark waters, and thick clouds of the skies" (2 Samuel 22:10, 12). The "ordinary" association of divinity with light is reversed, replaced by a poetic theme of the Deity surrounded by/shrouded in darkness. There are of course instances, especially in later biblical texts, in which God is expressly connected with light. May (1939:203-211) posited that the author of Habakkuk 3ff., (in stark contrast with Job 3:2ff., 38:4-11, and Psalms 18:10ff.), envisions Israel's Deity approaching the conflict with waters garbed in mystical light: "A brilliance like light was under him, Rays of light were at his side; And he made them the veil of his majesty." In Psalm 104:2 we also find a parallel depiction from late in the post-exilic period: "Who wraps yourself in light as in a garment, Who stretches out the heavens like a tent."
The War Scroll: when binaries birth Jihad
Perhaps the supreme example of the Qumranic transformation of binary oppositions into logocentric terms of privilege and marginalisation may be found in the Dead Sea War Scroll. In this text we find binary oppositions utilised as terms of holy war. Collins (1975:596-612) declared that the mythology of dualism in a Jewish context was basically sectarian. He argued that there was an ambivalence in the War Scroll between the nationalistic opposition of Israel and the Kittim, and the opposition of light and darkness. It is nothing less than the "jihadization" of logocentrism:
The first attack of the Sons of Light shall be undertaken against the forces of the Sons of Darkness, the army of Belial: the troops of Edom, Moab, the sons of Ammon (1QM 1:1).
Not only are the Sons of Light the privileged term, but the Sons of Darkness must be obliterated, in a mass slaughter in which divine beings participate. Interestingly, Yigael Yadin (1962) makes it clear that the laws and tactics of this "holy war" correlate well with the Torah. Through the language of exclusion, reminiscent of Joshua's conquest of the land of Canaan, holy war is predicated on the need not only to sublimate the marginalised term but also to exterminate it:
It is a day appointed by Him from ancient times as a battle of annihilation (lit. "end" kalah) for the Sons of Darkness. On that day the congregation of the gods and the Congregation of men shall engage one another, resulting in great carnage (1QM 1:10-11).
On the trumpets of pursuit they shall write, "God has struck all Sons of Darkness, He shall not abate His anger until they are annihilated (lit. 'their end' kalotam)" (1QM 3:9). [...] for an eternal stand, and to annihilate all the Sons of Darkness and joy for [al]l [the Sons of Light ...] (1QM 13:16). [...] to [sup]port (lit. "help" 'azar) truth and to destroy iniquity, to bring darkness low and to lend might to (lit. "strengthen" l'hagbir) light ... (1QM 13:15).
Light and darkness have in this last case engendered additional binary pairs: "support"/"destroy" standing in chiastic parallelism with "bring low"/"lend might." Moreover, the war of annihilation is justified, since it is predestined to reveal the power of the divine agency:
The Sons of Light and the forces of Darkness shall fight together to show the strength of God with the roar of a great multitude and the shout of gods and men (1QM 1:11).
Significantly, the conflict described in the War Scroll is not gratuitously violent; description of actual combat is conspicuously missing. On the contrary, this is a liturgical war, faithfully sanctified and glorified as an act of religious consecration. Stegemann (1998) observes that the War Rule depicts a more "cultic event" than a real war. The lines of the enemy are breached--as were the walls of Jericho in Joshua's day--not through the power of weapons, but through strong and concerted trumpet blasts by the priests. Schiffman (1994:331) points out that the qualifications for combatants described in the War Scroll are the same as those for individuals entering priestly service. Those prohibited from the final battle included the lame, the blind, the crippled, the deaf, the dumb, men with blemishes, and even the "tottering old man" (2:3-11). Destruction and violence--alluded to only obliquely--are, by virtue of terms of binary opposition, transformed into supreme expressions of devotion and piety:
On the trumpets of the battle formations they shall write, "Formations of the divisions of God to avenge His anger on all Sons of Darkness" (1QM 3:6).
Furthermore, in the jihadic language of the text there is no hint of compassion on one's enemies. Logocentric patterns, once embraced, have a way of demonising the "Other":
Accursed are they for all their filthy (lit. "impure" nidda) dirty (lit. "unclean" tum'a) service. For they are the lot of darkness, but the lot of God is light (1QM 13:5).
The very term "lot" (goral) suggests "fate," in the sense of the double predestination of both the righteous and the damned. Marcus (1996:1-27) notes regarding the Dead Sea sect that due to this pronounced determinism, outsiders were not targeted for conversion. On the contrary, the truth must be concealed from them, and the sect must maintain an attitude of "everlasting hatred in a spirit of secrecy for the people of the pit" (1QS 9:21-22; cf. 1QS 4:6).
Elsewhere, the righteous are said to "shine," even while the present age is depicted as dominated by "seasons of darkness," and while another kind of darkness is reserved for the fires of hell:
Then [the Sons of Rig]hteousness shall shine to all ends of the world, continuing to shine forth until end of the appointed seasons of darkness (1QM 1:8). [T]he holy ones shall shine forth in support of ... the truth for the annihilation of the Sons of Darkness (1QM 1:16). Let all the Sons of Darkness [scatter from before You]. Let the light of Your majesty shi[ne forever upon gods and men, as a fire burning in the dark places of the damned] (lit. "place of destruction" Abaddon) (1QM 14:17).
We also find the complete reversal of the biblical imagery of God being shrouded in darkness, for the language of Qumran makes darkness the abode of Belial:
You yourself made Belial for the pit, an angel of malevolence, his [dominio]n is in darkne[ss] and his counsel to condemn and convict.
Indeed, the very concept of God being opposed by a supernatural counterpart of evil (a curious concept for monotheism) is arguably the logical end of the language of binary opposition, argued by some (Flusser notwithstanding) to have been influenced by Zoroastrian dualism. Collins (1975:596-612) argued that the War Scroll derives its fundamental structure from the dualism of light and darkness in
Persian tradition, not from the chaos myth of ancient Canaan. He illustrated the profound similarity between the War Scroll and Plutarch's account of Zoroastrianism, found in De Iside et Osiride 45-47. Light and darkness have, as oppositional terms, created their own domains/realms, locked in combat with each other, though ruled by a strict predestination:
All the spirits of his lot, the angels of destruction, walk in accord with the rule (lit. "statute" khok) of darkness, for it is their only [des]ire. But we, in the lot of Your truth, rejoice in Your mighty hand (1QM 13:11-13). When [Belial] prepares himself to assist the Sons of Darkness, and the slain among the infantry begin to fall by God's mysteries and to test by the mysteries all those appointed for battle, the priests shall blow the trumpets of assembly ... (1QM 16:11-12).
Flusser (1998:26) observed that for the Angel of Dark-ness/Prince of Lights antithesis, Paul substitutes Belial/Christ. The term "angel of light" is employed elsewhere in the New Testament, such as when Paul declares that Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14).
Finally, the War Scroll advances the concept that all individual actions, whether good or evil, take place in the respective dominions of light and darkness:
For they are a wicked congregation, all their deeds are in darkness (1QM 15:9).
This may be contrasted with the language of the Torah, which depicts the manifestation or "theophany" of the divine as connected with either light or darkness, both of which work to provide shelter and comfort for the people of the Covenant:
And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light (Exodus 13:21).
Light and darkness certainly function as binary opposites in the text, but there is a "free play" of sorts in their opposition, for a single divine agency produces both.
New Testament Qumranisms
It is important to recall at this point that for Derrida, logocentrism is fundamentally rooted in Plato, whose concept of the logos as "absolute truth" epitomised the great quest of Greek philosophy. Plato's ideal was of course a Republic, wherein Truth-perceiving philosopher-kings would not flinch at executing heretics. McCormick (2001:395-423) observes that Platonic "revealing to the philosophic" is attended by a "concealing to the unphilosophic," most conspicuously to the demos. He depicts Derrida as defending deconstruction through pursuing the ceaseless questioning of all opinion, political or conventional--even that of philosophers. Derridian deconstruction therefore moves inexorably away from Platonism. While Derrida chastises Plato as the progenitor of western logocentric philosophy, he paints Christianity (and of course the New Testament) as the supreme image/"incarnation" of logocentrism. Schildgen (1994:383-397) adroitly summarises Derrida's attitude toward Christian holy writ: The notion of the presence of the Word in Sacred Scripture is championed by Christian thought but challenged via postmodern interpretive methods--notably deconstruction. In the deconstructive approach, signs do not contain an immediacy of meaning. Writing obliterates not only the idea of the presence of meaning, but the meaning itself. What a sign means is a function of what it is not. Therefore, meaning is always in some sense "absent." She continues to suggest that Derrida's challenge is essentially a theological proposition, since, in undercutting the concept of "presence" in words, he assaults the very ideology of the logos. Nonetheless, while Derrida saw New Testament logocentrism as essentially Platonic, I submit that it is to an even greater degree Qumranic.
I would argue that the binary opposites inherent in monotheism itself became "ossified" during the period of Second Temple Judaism and even more so in the Qumranic manuscripts, as one term became increasingly privileged and the other increasingly marginalised.
Moreover, the language of exclusion was elevated to a new level in the New Testament, as the piously Jewish "sons of light" were, in the eyes of the early apostles of the faith, supplanted by the increasingly non-Jewish Christian Church. All of non-Christian humanity, Jews and non-Jews alike, were seen as predestined to doom. The language of the Dead Sea Scrolls was picked up by the New Testament writers, who rendered specific Qumranic terminology in Greek translation. Murphy-O'Connor (1968) offered a detailed discussion of individual passages and specific verses of the New Testament which are enlightened by the language of the Qumran corpus. Examples of this new expression of binary opposition are multiple in the Christian Epistles. Light and darkness in particular are often depicted in opposition:
Do not be mismated with unbelievers. For what partnership have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will live in them and move among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean ... (2 Corinthians 6:14-17)
Fitzmyer (2000:35) observes that the New Testament occasionally refers to Christians as "sons of light" (Luke 16:8; John 12:36; 1 Thessalonians 5:5; Ephesians 5:8). While the New Testament does not contain the expression "sons of darkness," a parallel phrase is seen in "sons of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2; 5:6) as well as "son of perdition" (John 17:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:3). He notes that this expression brings to mind the binary pair, light and darkness, recognised from the Hebrew Bible (as in Isaiah 45:7 and Job 24:14), but now interpreted as a symbol of good and evil. Flusser (1988:79) argued that an element of Essene dualistic theology lies directly behind the New Testament contrast between light and darkness. The imagery of light is utilised in another passage, which links it to the concept of divine election as well as the Israelite priesthood:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).
As Flusser (1988:30) observed, the sect viewed God as "electing" its members to the "lot" of the Deity while rejecting without equivocation the "Sons of Darkness." We thus understand the important place of "election" in the ideology and teaching of the sect. The sect referred to its members as the "Elect of God" or simply "the Elect." The identical terms were often used in early Christianity. Such common expressions suggest that there is some link between early Christian and sectarian ideas regarding election, and they warrant closer examination and critical analysis.
Even the concept of "mercy" (Hebrew hesed) is picked up by the New Testament, in Qumranic fashion, to imply--via binary opposition--the justification of the righteous and the predestined condemnation of the iniquitous:
Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus? ... But it is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his descendants; but "Through Isaac shall your descendants be named." This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are reckoned as descendants ... What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." So it depends not upon man's will or exertion, but upon God's mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh, "I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth." So then he has mercy upon whomever he wills, and he hardens the heart of whomever he wills (Romans 8:33-34; 9:6-8, 14-18).
In the final analysis it is reasonable to conclude that the hypostatisation of the logos, which Derrida saw ensconced in the New Testament canon, must be understood in tandem with the evolving Hebraic expression of binary opposition, as evidenced in the Qumran corpus. While logocentrism was indeed characteristic of Platonic thought, we should note a parallel linguistic phenomenon, which was Hebraic and monotheistic. I suggest that the "free play" of binary opposition, apparent in the Torah and the DH tradition, slowly vanished during the age of the prophets, the end result being expressed in the unflinching language of Qumran and its unintended stepson, the Greek of the New Testament.
The Dead Sea Scrolls (and their embedded terminology implying the "divine election" of a single sect) thus represent a quantum leap toward a theology of exclusion. The power of such language, whether in the Scrolls or in other religious texts, should by no means be underestimated. As Derrida (2002:320) wrote: "Every word counts. It holds, touches, pulls, like a lead, it affects and sometimes tears the skin, it wounds, it penetrates under the epidermic surface ..."
Arguably, the Scrolls helped to spawn a Hebraic version of "logocentrism," capable of propagating centuries of religious stereotyping. The concept of "divine election" (and its attendant language of exclusion) has even been expropriated as an expression of cultural superiority, leading ultimately to the explosive growth of religious fundamentalism in the modern period. Perhaps what is needed in the future is a humble recognition of the roots of exclusivist terminology and concepts coupled with an attempt to "decenter" such language, in modern usage and in the ancient sources themselves.
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