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The Thanksgiving Hymns found at Qumran

One of the columns of the Thanksgiving Hymns

1QH – hodayot (i.e. Hebrew thanksgiving hymns) from the first Qumran cave – is a scroll of parchment containing poetic texts, like many Bible psalms. Many scholars think that were composed by the Master of Justice – the mysterious founder of the essene community set up in Qumran. In addition to the first cave, fragments of hymns were also found in the fourth cave of Qumran.

Along with the Community Rule, the Thanksgiving Hymns is the oldest Qumran’s text and it genuinely reflects the theology and thought of the Qumran movement. Therefore, the Hymns date back to the second half of the 2nd century BC, when dissenting Jews separated from Jerusalem. Here are the most important themes in the hymns:

God is the creator of everything – earth, seas, heavens, heavenly bodies, spirits, and humans. He has even created words and thoughts. He is eternal and merciful.  On the other hand, man is merely a deadly, fragile and sinful being. Sin so radically affects human nature, that without a divine assistance man is totally incapable of doing anything. According to the well-known qumranic theological schema, men are divided into good and bad, predestined to salvation or to ruin. A strong emphasis is placed on knowledge, a prerequisite for obtaining salvation. Those people who don’t live in the community don’t possess knowledge. It is a typical sign of the divine election. Here is a part of the first hymn (three dots for missing text):

In your wisdom you established eternal generations;
before creating them you know all their deeds fore ever and ever …
Without you nothing is done,
and nothing is known without your will.
You have fashioned every spirit …
and the judgment of all their deeds.
You have stretched out the heavens for your glory.
Everything with it contains you have established according to your approval:
powerful spirits, according to their was,
before the changed into holy angels in their residences,
into eternal spirits in their realms,
the luminaries in their mysteries,
the stars in their circuits,
the stormy winds in their roles,
lightning and thunder in their duties
you have established the deposits of the computations in their purposes … in their secrets.
You have created the earth with your strength, seas and deeps …
you have founded them with your wisdom,
everything which is in them you have founded with your will.

These things I know through your knowledge,
for you opened my ears to wondrous mysteries
although I am a creature of clay, fashioned with water,
foundation of shame, source of impurity,
oven of iniquity, building of sin,
spirit of mistake, astray, without knowledge,
terrified by your just judgments.
What will I be able to say which is not known?
What will I be able to declare which has not been told.
Everything has been engraved in your presence
with the stylus of remembrance
for all the incessant periods
in the eras of the number of everlasting years
in all their predetermined times,
and nothing will be hidden,
nothing will remain away from your presence.

You created breath on the tongue,+you know its words,
you instituted the fruits of lips,
before they came to be;
you placed a rhythm for words,
and a cadence to the puff of breath from the lips;
you make the rhythms emerge by their mysteries
and the puffs of breaths by their measures. (1QH I, 1-29)

In this text all the most dear themes to the author of the Hymns are exemplified. The power of God is reflected in the mysteries of the cosmos. In it is enclosed his wisdom and the corresponding enormous inadequacy of man. Man can know the mysteries of the cosmos, only if God gives him wisdom and intelligence; otherwise he is only a cluster of iniquity and perdition. 

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Simone Venturini

Writer and Researcher at Vatican Secret Archives, Professor of Bible at Pontifical University of the Holy Cross od Rome

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