The Scroll of the War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness (or in short, the War Scroll) is one of the first seven Dead Sea Scrolls to have been discovered. Its genre is unique, describing an eschatological war that is to put an end to evil in the world. It is a kind of military manual, intended for priests, describing their role in providing ceremonial, cultic, and even tactical leadership to the army of the Sons of Light.

The introduction (Columns 1–2) gives the historical background to the war and the sequence of its development. It will begin with a “War against the Kittim,” a short but intense battle against Israel’s eschatological enemy (Numbers 24:24). After six rounds during which the Sons of Light will alternate between gaining and losing the upper hand, God will intervene with his mighty hand to miraculously bring victory.

This battle will introduce a second stage in the eschatological war, the “War of Divisions,” one that will be launched after six years of war preparations during which Israel’s exiles will be able to return to Jerusalem. The fighting itself will be spread out over 35 years, with breaks every sabbatical year, until the entire world is conquered.

Columns 3–9 are a series of rules (called serakhim in Hebrew), describing the trumpets and banners to be used, the different infantry and cavalry units, various purity rules, as well as tactical matters. These rules, originally intended for the War of Divisions, were eventually adapted to fit the War against the Kittim, as in Columns 15–19. Columns 10–14 are a series of prayers, imported from other sources, to be recited on the battle field.

From Cave 4, seven additional scrolls related to the eschatological war were found (4Q491-7), either copies of the War Scroll or compositions closely related to it, or perhaps its sources. They further support the impression gathered from the War Scroll that it had at least two stages in its composition, a first dating to the Maccabean period (Columns 1–9), and a second (Columns 10–19) intended to adapt the composition to a new reality resulting from the Roman conquest of Judea in 63 B.C.E.—Brian Schultz, Bar-Ilan University