Reading the history of the righteous remnant: Ideology and constructions of identity in the Damascus Document

Maxine Lynn Grossman, University of Pennsylvania


For historians of ancient Judaism, the Damascus Document is an important but problematic resource; it describes the founding and early history of a covenant community but its descriptions are scripturally allusive and often ambiguous. As an alternative to historical approaches that concentrate on the text's original meaning and the events “behind” the text, this project is grounded in a literary-critical approach that emphasizes the potential for multiple readings of the text, which may reflect a variety of historical events. A methodological discussion (chapter one) addresses the construction of textual meaning (involving texts, authors, and audiences, in specific social and literary contexts), historiography, sectarianism, and foundation documents. Two test cases follow (chapter two), with a reading of gender in the Damascus Document and (for outside comparison) history in 4QMMT. Longer discussions (in chapters three through five) analyze constructions of history (cosmic, national, and communal) in the Damascus Document; close readings of the text's temporal references (390-plus-20 years in CD 1.5–10; 40 years in CD 20.15), in light of those constructs; constructions of communal identity in the text (as a microcosm of Israel, a nation of priests, and an exilic remnant); and close readings of the Zadokite priestly reference (CD 3.21–4.4, interpreting Ezek 44.15), in light of those constructs. A final reading (chapter six) considers medieval interpretations of the text. Each reading begins with a range of possible “original meanings” for the text (ideological constructs) and continues with possible re-interpretations, by different audiences or audiences with different concerns. Together, these readings call into question the conclusiveness of any single narrative history based on the Damascus Document, while demonstrating the wide range of historical and identity-oriented claims the text can be mobilized to support. Future readings of this text will be most successful when they focus on the history of the use of the text (interpretations of its ideological constructs), rather than on the historical events behind it.

Subject Area

Bible|Religious history

Recommended Citation

Grossman, Maxine Lynn, "Reading the history of the righteous remnant: Ideology and constructions of identity in the Damascus Document" (2000). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9965484.