The manuscript’s acronym 1QS indicates the place where it was found: the first cave of Qumran; it also indicates the character of the text, a rule, in Hebrew serek. In fact, there is an analogy between the content of this manuscript and the rules of monastic orders and religious congregations; among other things, the term rule recurs several times in the manuscript.
It was found in 1947 and bought from the Bedouins by Athanasius Jan Jeshue Samuel, Syrian Archbishop of St. Mark’s Church in Jerusalem. In 1948, the so-called editio princeps – i.e. the main edition – came out. A first latin translation was made by Giovanni Boccaccio and Guido Berardi. Other editions followed, as new fragments of the manuscript emerged. Since the manuscript is attested in several copies, it should have had a very important role for the Essenes, especially in Qumran. In fact, it contains texts that were probably destined for reading and meditation.
The manuscript describes the different stages of admitting a Jew to the community:
- at first, the aspirant was introduced into the spirit and practices of the sect, verifying the sincerity of his choice, his intelligence, and his moral conduct;
- after the favorable opinion of a group called the many was partially inserted into the community;
- after the purification and the common table and after a further trial period the aspirant was finally admitted;
- after the last trial period, the aspirant was subjected to a rite of initiation, probably a dive into the water, with which he entered the covenant. The candidate then made a public confession of his sins, after which the priests blessed those who belonged to God and cursed those who belonged to Belial.
The initiate was then assigned its place within the community, which was divided into three classes: priests, levites, normal people. During the annual meeting, each community member could advance or even retire from the previously assigned seat. On that occasion, members forced themselves to separate themselves from sinners, to love the children of light, and to hate the children of darkness. Living together was governed by submission to the superior, even though there were moments of common sharing, such as meals and deliberations. The members were celibate.
Members of the community spent much of the time studying the Mosaic Law – our Pentateuch – and studying other sacred writings, and indeed, one-third of the night had to read, meditate, and bless. The interpretations of the Law had to remain secret and within the sect. Great importance was given to ritual purifications.
The members of the sect were regarded as the true Israel in the desert, for only they were the keepers of the promises made to the fathers. Therefore the Essenes were always waiting to enter the Promised Land. They considered themselves foreign to the outside world and formed a spiritual temple. They attended two messiahs – the political one and the religious – and were considered children of light, justice, and truth, while all the others were children of darkness. They loved to consider themselves as the children of heaven, diviners of divine secrets. Each year, on Pentecost, there was the renewal of the covenant by which one had become essen.
The community authorities were: the mebaqqer (a kind of bishop) and the paqid (a kind of superintendent); the doresh ha-torah was a kind of administrator and teacher. The famous Master of Justice is not mentioned.
Among the themes in the rule, predestination is the most important one. God, in fact, would rigidly divide humanity into children of darkness and children of light, a kind of separation between good and bad.