I warmly welcome Professor Tabor’s courteous criticism of the summary of my Journal of Jewish Studies paper, “Seminar on the Rule of War from Cave 4 (4Q285),” renamed by BAR as “The ‘Pierced Messiah’ Text—An Interpretation Evaporates.” His rejoinder allows me to clarify the situation.
It is rare that absolute certainty can be attained in the interpretation of an ancient Jewish text, and in the case of a fragment, such assurance is never possible. What we are dealing with are varying degrees of probability.
This being said, it is up to the enlightened readers of BAR to assess the relative likelihood of the two conflicting theories. That advanced by Professors Eisenman and Wise, and argued to some degree by Professor Tabor, is essentially based on the reading of one line, the meaning of which, especially in the absence of et (the Hebrew particle of the accusative) before “the Prince of the Congregation,” is equivocal and would lead to an interpretation otherwise unparalleled at Qumran. The other theory, involving the triumphant Messiah, starts with the one certain fact in these mutilated six lines: the quotation of Isaiah 11:1. It then assumes—and no one has queried this assumption—that the sequence is linked to, and develops, the Isaiah citation. With the help of careful decipherment, aided by the computer, and supported by the relevant entries in the Preliminary Concordance, it is concluded that Isaiah 11:1 is preceded by Isaiah 10:34, letters of which, belonging to the first and last words of the verse, have survived. The exegesis of those verses of Isaiah in the sense of the defeat of the final enemy, the Kittim, and the triumph of the messianic Shoot of Jesse = Branch of David, judging the people by “the sword,” is firmly attested in 4Q161, and also, on the basis of Isaiah 11:1 ff, in the Blessing of the Prince of the Congregation in 1QSb. The phrase, “Prince of the Congregation,” is well documented at Qumran in a triumphant messianic meaning.
Professor Tabor, in order to associate the fragment with the notion of the slain Messiah, hardly suggested by Isaiah 11, introduces the otherwise unconnected 1 1QMelch(izedek), which quotes Daniel 9:25, speaking of a Messiah (Anointed One, usually identified as the High Priest Onias III). He then reminds us that in Daniel 9:26 this figure is to be “cut off.” But verse 26 is not cited in the Melchizedek document, neither does its context accommodate a dying Messiah.
Not wishing to prolong the argument, I let my case rest here, except that two particular criticisms leveled by Professor Tabor require direct answers.
1. According to him, the phrase “Isaiah the prophet” in line 1 of 4Q285 is unlikely to be suddenly followed by a quotation of Isaiah 10:34. I beg to differ. 4Q174 (Florilegium) and 4Q177 and 182 (Catenae) contain a series of abrupt Bible quotations introduced by, “as it is written in the book of Isaiah the prophet,” “Ezekiel the prophet,” “Daniel the prophet,” etc. This is how I see line 1: [“as it is written in the book of] Isaiah the prophet,” followed by Isaiah 10:34.
2. Professor Tabor questions my transliteration of hmytw as hemito and replaces it by hamito. This issue is admittedly of little importance because we do not know the vowel system in Qumran Hebrew. Nevertheless, I would like to emphasize that my version follows the most authoritative Hebrew Grammar by Gesenius-Kautzsch-Cowley 72w (p. 200): “Before a suffix in the 3rd sing. masc … , the vowel of the initial syllable is H|ateph-Seghol” (i.e. a short e).