4QMMT and Paul's "Works of the Law" (Galatians 2)

A Special Study by Gareth L. Reese

Excerpted from 2 Corinthians and Galatians:  A Critical & Exegetical Commentary
(Moberly, MO: Scripture Exposition Books LLC, 2011)
Download a printable PDF of this Special Study



        4QMMT is the sigla scholars use to refer to one of the Dead Sea manuscripts.  4Q refers to Cave 4 and to Qumran where this manuscript was found.  The acronym MMT are the first letters of the Hebrew words in the name assigned to the manuscript, Miqsat Ma'aseh ha-Torah.  Translated, the words mean "a selection of the works of the Law" or "significant works of the Law."1  "Works of the Law" is a phrase used by Paul several times in the New Testament.  It is the thesis of this Special Study that "works of the Law" is a phrase that has been misunderstood and misused in theological circles for several hundred years.   The Dead Sea Scrolls may shed important light on what this phrase meant in the 1st century.  If so, it will help us rightly understand what Paul was saying when he used the phrase, and also help us to correct several centuries of misuse of this language in theological discussions.



        The goatherder and his stone throwing.  The first Qumran cave to yield ancient manuscripts was discovered in 1947-48.  The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was made in cliffs near Wadi Qumran, overlooking the Dead Sea just south of Jericho.  A young goatherder was throwing rocks into a cave opening and heard a "crash" sound.  The Scrolls were subsequently found. 

        Kando the "Antiquities Dealer" and the seven scrolls.  The first seven scrolls were sold by their Bedouin finders to Kando, a Christian Arab cobbler and part-time antiquities dealer.  The Bedouin suggested Kando might use the old leather in his shoe business.  Kando then sold four of the scrolls to Athanasius Yeshue Samuel, of the Syrian Metropolitan of St. Mark's Monastery, in Jerusalem, for $100.  The other three were acquired by Eliezer Lipa Sukenik, a professor at Hebrew University, and soon became the property of the new state of Israel.  Archbishop Samuel took his four scrolls to the United States where they were exhibited with much fanfare.  (For example, the 24'-long Isaiah scroll was unrolled on a table in the Library of Congress.)  Eventually, the scrolls were purchased for $250,000 and returned to Israel after Yigael Yadin saw an ad in the New York Times, with Yadin employing an intermediary to make the purchase of the scrolls.  With the four scrolls now returned to Israel, the Shrine of the Book was constructed to house all seven. 

        Archaeologists conducted a professional dig at Cave 1 from February 15 to March 5, 1949.  This dig turned up hundreds of fragments the Bedouins missed.  The archaeologists thought there could be no other cave like it in the area.  What a mistake!  Most of the materials from Cave 1 were published by 1956.



        Stories began to appear about the fabulous value of old manuscripts.  The Bedouins saw a chance to become rich if they could find more manuscripts. 

        Caves 2 and 3 were discovered in March 1952.  Caves 7-10 were discovered in 1955.  Cave 11 was discovered in 1956.  Late in 1951, in some large caves at Murabba'at (18 km south of Qumran), the Ta'amireh Bedouin located a deposit of inscribed leather and papyrus.  By January 21, 1952, archaeologists were working the same area, and did so until March 3, 1952.  Then news came about the discovery of another cave at Qumran, close to Cave 1.  G. Lankester Harding immediately went there on his own, and, not far from the site of the first cave, he saw a cloud of dust from high up on the cliffs which betokened the activities of the Ta'amireh "archaeologists."  There was nothing he could do on his own, so, returning to his car, he drove as quickly as possible to Jericho and begged the services of two soldiers of the Arab Legion.  With these, he was able to round up four of the diggers, but the rest melted away, taking with them any fragments they may have had.  By March 10 Harding had set up a small archaeological camp at Qumran, and several archaeologists (i.e., Milik, de Vaux, de Contenson, Barthelemy) and 24 Bedouins were employed.  They searched 275 caves and crevices, locating 39 that contained traces of habitation and household objects, like wooden poles, bronze rings, fragmentary cooking pots and lamps.  The most important object discovered at that time was the Copper Scroll, discovered on March 20, 1952, in Cave 3 north of Qumran.  The Copper Scroll was a list apparently of hiding places of the Temple treasure; the treasure had been hidden to keep the Romans from confiscating it if Jerusalem were destroyed by Roman armies who were attempting to put down a Jewish revolt (AD 66-70). 

        The Discovery of the Cave of the Wounded Partridge (Cave 4).  "One evening in one of their tents, a group of Ta'amireh were discussing the recent finds which were winning world-wide fame ... and substantial income.  A remark roused a venerable grey-beard from his somnolence, recalling to his mind something which might be of interest to keen cave hunters.  It happened long ago, during his youth.  He was following a wounded partridge when, suddenly, it disappeared into a hole not far from the ruins [of Qumran].  With great difficulty he reached his prey which had fallen into a cave, and there he collected also an old terracotta lamp and a few potsherds.  The younger tribesman noted carefully the topographical details that the old man gave, equipped themselves with a bag of flour, ropes, and primitive lamps, and went down to Qumran.  Using their ropes, they finally climbed into the right cave and set to sifting its earth.  They had already turned over several cubic meters of earth, when suddenly their hands came upon a compact layer of thousands of [leather and papyrus] manuscript fragments.  Their courage and perseverance had its reward."2  Soon there were more Ta'amireh "volunteers" working at the "dig."  "The news [of the discovery] spread also among the members of the [Ta'amireh] tribe and numerous volunteers – they say about 100 – who claimed a part in the work and in the booty.  Organized in teams which planned to make joint profit, they had strictly determined sectors in the cave where they worked in sequence, resting and sleeping on the neighboring [Qumran] plateau, where [Roland de Vaux] saw their campfires.  They gained access to the cave by extending a hole washed out by the rains on one side of the chamber.  They made their entry very close to the original entrance, which had been filled and not recognized by them."3 

        Manuscripts for sale, but not cheap!  The first two fragments were offered for sale by the Bedouins as early as September 18, 1952, at the doors of the Palestine Archaeological Museum (now Rockefeller Museum) in Jerusalem.  Two days later, very early in the morning, a dozen Bedouin knocked on the door of the Ecole Archeologique Francaise and presented many manuscript fragments, which de Vaux immediately recognized as Qumranian on paleographic grounds.  The guests confirmed his identification.  They bargained all morning, until an agreement on price was reached.  A few minutes later the conservator of the Palestine Archeological Museum was offered a lot of new documents. 

        The professional archaeologists spring into action.  They "find" Caves 4,5,6.4  It was obvious that it was necessary for archaeologists to act quickly.  Harding in Amman was alerted, and he alerted the police post in Jericho, and about 3 pm the same day a few policemen came to Qumran.  Seeing the soldiers, the Bedouins left the cave and fled the area.  A guard was posted for the next day, with no one allowed to enter the cave.  Caves 4 and 5 had been artificially carved out of the terrace of marl and fitted with wooden shelves.  In Cave 4, as later in Cave 11, archaeologists found regularly spaced holes in the walls where supports for shelves were once anchored.  Whether or not the cave was originally intended for use as a library, or perhaps simply a storage room, is debated.  Whatever its original purpose, it appears that nearly 600 different scrolls were placed on the shelves, which over the years collapsed.  The scrolls ended up on the floor of the cave where the Bedouins and the archaeologists found them.  Early in the morning of September 22, 1952, a rescue expedition arrived in the Qumran area (including Milik, de Vaux and Harding).  By that time the Bedouins had removed more than half the contents of the cave – including many thousands of small fragments of ancient documents.  However, the Bedouins had not touched the lowest strata of the cave, nor found the underground chamber.  The tribesmen had worked so neatly that only a few fragments were found in the earth they had already moved.  The rescue expedition found about 1,000 more fragments of about 100 different manuscripts.  They also located Caves 5 and 6, which the Bedouins had already been through. 

        The Jordanian Government enters the picture.  Realizing that the lot of fragments offered on September 20 were only a very small part of what the Bedouins had in hand, the archaeologists went to work to find enough money to purchase all that the Bedouins had.  Negotiations with the Bedouins to purchase the fragments and documents they had discovered took years.  Making a long story short, over $43,000 was raised, much of it from the Jordanian government, and eventually some 15,000 fragments were purchased, with some of the purchases occurring as late as the summer of 1958.  The Bedouins requested one British pound (at the time, $2.80) for each square centimeter of manuscript with a written text on it.  The Jordanian Government selected an "International Team" made up of 8 men to examine and sort the hundreds of tiny fragments and attempt to assemble them together into their original shape and place.  The Jordanians relied on de Vaux to assemble the team since he was the local archaeologist involved in much of the digging in Jordan.  All of the original 8-member team were paleographers.  Eventually, they became able to recognize a certain scribe's handwriting style, etc.  They'd pick up a new piece, examine it, and exclaim "Here's ...." and name the scribe whose handwriting they had come to recognize.  They would then carry it across the room, and place it with the plate(s) of that scribe's work.  Old lantern slides had two plates of glass with a piece of film between; the scrollery team adapted this idea to preserve the fragments of manuscripts now in their possession.  Using plates of glass a bit over a foot square, the team members would put the matching scraps between two plates of glass, making a kind of sandwich. 

        Now the fragments began to trickle in to the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem, 1953-59.  It is interesting to note progress in the identification and collation of the manuscripts from Cave 4.  In 1953, 70 manuscripts were identified.  By August 1955, 330 manuscripts had been isolated on 420 plates, and 80 plates remained unidentified.  By summer 1956, the number of identified manuscripts had increased to 381 on 477 plates, while only 29 plates were without attribution.  By June 1960, 511 manuscripts on 620 plates were ready for study, with only 25 plates of small isolated fragments remaining.  Today, there are 574 manuscripts on 752 plates, with 41 plates of miscellaneous texts and fragments which have not been identified.5 

        The fragments purchased from tribesmen generally came in boxes:  cigarette boxes, film boxes, or shoe boxes, depending on the size of the fragments.  The precious leather and papyrus had been delicately handled by the Bedouins, for the value of the material was all too keenly appreciated.  Often cotton, wool, or tissue paper had been used by the Bedouins to separate and protect the scraps of scrolls.  On occasion they even applied bits of gummed paper to pieces which threatened to crack apart or disintegrate.



        My grandfather had pieces of 6 different jigsaw puzzles all in one box, all intermixed.  In early grade school, on rainy days when I had to stay indoors, I often remember trying to put the puzzles together.  Some people get help assembling a puzzle by looking at the picture on the cover of the box.  Well, there were no such pictures at granddad's!  There was one helpful factor:  the back side of the pieces of each puzzle had a different pattern.  Before trying to assemble the puzzle, you made 6 different piles of pieces, depending on the pattern on the back of the pieces.  But that alone didn’t solve all the problems.  Some of the pieces were damaged, making it hard to find where they fit as one tried to assemble the puzzle. 

        At the Rockefeller Museum, there were 15,000 pieces from nearly 600 "puzzles" all in one room!  The pieces did not all arrive at the same time; they trickled in from 1953-1959.  There was precious little to help the team members know which pieces went with which puzzle.  Frank M. Cross has written a memorable description of the work during the 1950's.  Unlike the several scrolls of Caves 1 and 11 which are preserved in good condition, with only minor lacunae, the manuscripts of Cave 4 are in an advanced state of decay.  Many fragments are so brittle or friable that they can scarcely be touched with a camel's-hair brush.  Most are warped, crinkled, or shrunken, crusted with soil chemicals, blackened by moisture and age.  The problems of cleaning, flattening, identifying, and piecing them together are formidable.  To soften the leather fragments so they could be unrolled, the scrollery team used a tobacco humidor.  After a half hour or so in the humidor, the team would return to see what they could unroll, and what they had found. 

        The scrollery team worked from 1953-1959 – reading, sorting, arranging together pieces that seemed to belong to the same manuscripts.  Fragments were placed between two 12x15-inch plates of glass, taped together at the edges with the fragments between.  They made a card index of the words on each fragment.  They took photographs of the plates of fragments.  Most of this sorting, arranging and cataloging work was done by 1959.  Mr. Rockefeller, who had been funding the work, died in 1960.  Without money to support them, the team disbanded and went home.  Each member of the team took some of the photographs with him as he went.  The plan was for each man to publish the manuscripts of which he had photos.



        With one or two exceptions, that surely is true of the materials found in Cave 4.  Because of their failure to publish, criticisms of the scrollery team members became heated in the late 1980's and early 1990's.  Then some exciting things began to happen. 

        First came the announcement by John Strugnell and Elisha Qimron in 1985 of the existence of 4QMMT.  Though recognized as being a very important manuscript, few scholars even had had an opportunity to look at it.  Partly in response to increasing scholarly pressure, by 1988 the official editors had agreed to a limited release of a Preliminary Concordance of the Scrolls, all the while keeping the majority of the actual documents unpublished and under a tight seal.  Next, photocopies of a preliminary edition of 4QMMT began to circulate.  Z.J. Kapera, a Polish Qumran scholar, noted that every other well-known Qumran scholar had seen a copy of that photocopied edition, but none had been given to him.  Shortly, one showed up in his mail – anonymously, with no return address.  Kapera published it as Appendix A of Volume 1 of his Qumran Chronicle, Krakow No 2, December 1990, p. 1-9.  This "preliminary edition" is sometimes referred to as the "anonymous copy" of 4QMMT.  The team members' infuriating practice of writing articles on unpublished scrolls long before their actual publication had led to a growing impatience among Qumran scholars who were barred from access to these materials.  Consequently, in the late 1980's, "underground" (i.e., "pirated," "bootlegged") copies of the manuscript now known as 4QMMT began to proliferate within the academic community.  Perhaps Qimron himself made the original copies, intended for the eyes of certain trusted associates.  One of them made additional copies for his friends.  These bootlegged copies of Qimron's conjectures continued to be distributed. 

        A preliminary edition of the fragments was published, including 4QMMT.  Strugnell earlier had given a copy of the Preliminary Concordance to Ben Zion Wacholder of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Wacholder enlisted the help of a student, Martin G. Abegg, to enter the concordance material into a computer, in an effort to produce a computer-generated reconstruction of the manuscripts from Cave 4.  It took two years to enter the material into the computer, and then it took the computer just 15 minutes to reconstruct the first manuscript, a text of the scroll 4QMMT.  Then in 1991, amidst a fanfare of publicity, the Biblical Archaeology Society (publishers of Biblical Archaeology Review) published the results of the computer reconstruction made by Wacholder and Abegg, under the title A Preliminary Edition of the Unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls, The Hebrew and Aramaic Texts from Cave Four, Fascicle One (Washington:  Biblical Archeology Society, 1991).  Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR), included in the preface a printed copy of the "anonymous" 4QMMT.  Because of this publication, Qimron sued BAR for copyright infringement.  (Incidentally, Qimron won the case in an Israeli court, and subsequent editions of the now 3-volume work do not have the original preface.) 

        Thus was broken the publication team's monopoly on access to the original text.  This extraordinary accomplishment held out the possibility that the texts of other unpublished scrolls could be produced in a similar manner.  Computer generated Dead Sea Scroll texts are 98% accurate.  (The original concordance was based on pre-1960 versions of the manuscripts.  Some of these early readings have been improved in the intervening years.) 

        Pictures of all the plates of fragments were made available by the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.  In September 1991, shortly after the BAR publication, the director of the Huntington Library in San Marino, California announced that the library's complete set of photographs of the scrolls and fragments would be available to virtually anyone with a serious interest in them.  The library had come into possession of these photographs when E.H. Bechtel provided a second set of photographs for this library, after providing the first set for the Ancient Biblical Manuscript Center in Claremont, California. 

        BAR then published an edition of the photographs.  By June 1989, BAR had entered the campaign to free the scrolls; in fact, Hershel Shanks' efforts had been picked up by the international press.  Robert M. Eisenman, who repeatedly had been denied permission to even see some of the unpublished manuscripts, was identified publicly as the scholarly point man in this struggle for publication.  In September 1989, photographs of the remaining unpublished Dead Sea Scrolls began to be made available to Eisenman.  At first they came in small consignments, then more insistently, until by the autumn of 1990 photographs of virtually the entire unpublished corpus – nearly 1,800 in all – had been provided to him.  Eisenman and James Robinson made use of these to publish the two- volume Facsimile Edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls, published by the Biblical Archaeology Society.  E.J. Brill was to have published the work, but about a week before it went to press, because of pressure from the International Team and the Israelis, Brill decided not to publish it.  So the Biblical Archaeology Society did the publishing, late in 1991.  The photographs, and also a microfiche edition, were then used by Eisenman and Michael Wise to make translations of 50 key documents from Cave 4, which were published in 1992 in their book The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered. 

        All of this has helped call 4QMMT to the attention of the scholarly world.  The importance of 4QMMT for New Testament studies was almost lost in the sectarian wrangling and legal maneuvering.  Martin Abegg helped to show its importance for New Testament studies.6


5.   WHAT DO WE HAVE IN 4QMMT – Miqsat Ma'aseh ha-Torah?

        Description of the fragments.  A multi-volume series, Discoveries in the Judean Desert (DJD), is the official publication of many of the finds from Qumran.  In 1994, Volume 10 in the DJD series was released (Oxford:  Clarendon Press), relating the finds from Cave 4.  For 4QMMT, it shows 8 plates with a total of 52 fragments.7  These fragments, on fairly thin leather, form two groups.  One group is in color, a light buff ranging to grey (red where stained) with its back a coarse grey.  The other group is light brown which stains to a darker or reddish brown, with a glossy back, bluish to light brown in color.  In both groups the surface is glossy; all fragments tend to lose the topmost layer of surface, leaving apparently uninscribed spaces which in fact once bore writing.  There are both horizontal and vertical dry lines.  The writing, though irregular in its relation to the horizontal lines, is most frequently suspended from them.  The leather pages would have been about 6.75 inches high, with 20 lines of writing.  Column width was about 4.5 inches.  The letters are about 3/8 of an inch high.  Distance between the columns is about 1/2 inch.  There were no "rolling" or "handle sticks" at the beginning and end of the scrolls in Qumran times, only blank "handle sheets" (at both beginning and end).  When rolled up, the text itself faced inward.  Sometimes a title was written on the outside of the first layer. 

        Some assembly required!  When the scrolls from Cave 1 were published, little assembly was needed.  Only two of the seven scrolls were partially broken into fragments that had to be restored.  One of these fragmented scrolls was a second copy of Isaiah, but even the smallest fragments of that second Isaiah scroll could be realigned in their original position with the help of the parallel biblical text.  The second fragmented scroll from Cave 1, the so-called Hodayot (Thanksgiving) Scroll, presented the text of many non-biblical hymns.  To date, the Hodayot Scroll has not been reconstructed into one scroll since we just do not know in what order to place some of the fragments. 

        The reconstruction of the 4QMMT fragments is analogous to the Hodayot Scroll.  To date, there is no single complete manuscript of 4QMMT.  There are six or more extremely fragmentary copies of MMT, with only occasional overlaps.  Thus, it is necessary for scholars to arrange the fragments in an order they think suitable.8  The problem at hand is how to reconstruct a scroll from scattered fragments, when no parallel text exists that might help in arranging its remains according to their original sequence.  Qimron and Strugnell's arrangement has been circulating for some years, but we do not know for certain if the different fragments have been arranged correctly. 

        Some conjectural emendation is required.  Lacunae (i.e., gaps in the text) must be filled; in fact, whole phrases must at times to be supplied to finish out the thoughts.  The words scholars that guess should be used to fill the gaps are printed in [brackets].  DJD-10 has 33 pages of notes explaining the readings now printed in the official edition of the text.  In 1993 a group of experts began using multi-spectral imaging (MSI) techniques to read the manuscripts.  A computer imaging technique, MSI allows the photographer to enhance contrasts between different parts of an image since each part has a unique spectral signature.  MSI allows the ink and writing surface of a fragment to be presented in far greater contrast with one another than is visible to the naked eye.  The results have been astonishing.  A good example is a previously illegible fragment of the Genesis Apocryphon.  With MSI technology, the writing on the fragment is now clearly legible; even some letters that had been covered by another piece of leather which had become stuck to the surface of the first are now legible. 

        The 4QMMT fragments may be paleographically dated from 50 BC to AD 50.  Philip Callaway follows Frank M. Cross's dating.  "According to the paleographical analyses in the official edition, 4Q394-399 [the fragments of 4QMMT] are all Herodian and date roughly in the period 50 BCE into the 1st century CE.  The youngest manuscript, 4Q399, was copied in the early 1st century CE.  4Q398 is 50 or so years older.  4Q397, which presumably overlaps with 4Q398, falls much closer to the copying of 4Q399.  Until it is demonstrated that these fragments are all copies from an original document that was much older, one should treat them as artifacts from the 'Herodian' period – i.e., mid-1st century BCE to mid-1st century CE.”9 

        Structure and content of the Composite Text of 4QMMT.  The composite text, a mere 135 lines, consists of 3 parts:  (1) A calendar section, based on a 364-day solar year, of 21 lines.  (2) A list of approximately 20 religious laws (halakhot), 82 lines in length.  (3) A concluding section that discusses the separation of the sect that writes MMT from those who disagree with their halakhic laws, of 32 lines.  Perhaps there was an opening formula (i.e., an epistolary beginning), but it has not survived.  This commentator has examined 4 different translations of 4QMMT:  the "anonymous" 4QMMT, Dombrowski's annotated translation, one published in the BAR, and the official version in DJD-10.  The translations are all very close to one another.10 

        (1) The calendar is a typical Sadducean calendar for the dating of religious festivals.  In at least one of the six manuscripts (4Q394 3-7 i), the text proper (containing halakhot) is copied immediately after a 364-day solar calendar of the type known from some of the Qumran scrolls, Enoch and Jubilees.11  Pharisees and Sadducees did not agree on which calendar to use – the lunar or the solar.  There was a famous dispute between Pharisees and Sadducees about the celebration of Pentecost "on the day after the Sabbath" (Leviticus 23:15).  Sadducees understood the verse to refer to the Sabbath after Passover.  Pharisees understood it to refer to any day after Passover, regardless of what day of the week that was.  So for the Sadducees, Pentecost always fell on Sunday.  In the Pharisee calendar, "Pentecost" could fall on any day of the week.  As long as the Sadducees were in power in the Temple, Pentecost would be observed on Sunday.  When the Pharisees came into power, Pentecost was observed on whatever day of the week happened to be exactly 50 days after Passover.  There was a similar concern within "Second Temple Judaism to ensure that the observance of the set feasts was in accord with the heavenly calendar – the result being a factional dispute between those who calculated the dates of the feasts by the sun and those who calculated by the moon (see particularly Jub. 6:32-35; 1 Enoch 82:4-7; 1QS 1:14-15; CD 3:14-15)."12  Perhaps the point the author of MMT was making was that the Sadducean solar calendar was the only correct one to follow. 

        A point of contact with Galatians may be seen in this 4QMMT calendar.  There was a concern about observance of days (Galatians 4:10) in the teachings of the troublemakers who disturbed the Galatian churches.  That Jewish feasts were in mind is almost certain.  Observance of the proper calendar day was consistent with the emphasis on "works of the Law" both in MMT and in the teaching of the troublemakers who came to Galatia.

       (2) Halakhot (Heb., "how to walk") are "religious laws" one is obligated to observe.  Every Jewish sect had its own list of rules, and tried to convert the other sects to their way of thinking.  In MMT a list of 20 or so rules is introduced by the word "legal rulings" (Hebrew, Ma'asim).  These laws involve mostly ritual purity, especially in connection with the Jerusalem temple.  Each is related to and gives a contemporary interpretation of a verse in the Torah (Pentateuch).  The following halakhot are extant, and are given in the order of their appearance in the reconstructed MMT text: 

  1. Grain should not be brought into the temple by Gentile proselytes.
  2. A fragmentary halakhah about the cooking of sacrificial offerings in impure vessels
  3. A fragmentary halakhah about sacrifices by Gentile proselytes
  4. Cereal offerings should be eaten the day they are sacrificed, and not be left overnight.
  5. The purity of those preparing the red heifer (whose ashes were used in "holy water")
  6. Several halakhot concerning the purity of animal hides
  7. The place where sacrificial animals should be slaughtered and offered
  8. Concerning the slaughtering and sacrificing of pregnant animals
  9. Intermarriage with Ammonite and Moabite converts is forbidden, and so is the entry of those people into the sanctuary.
  10. Concerning the non-admission of the blind and the deaf into the temple
  11. The purity of the streams of liquids (musaqoth) poured from a pure vessel into an impure one
  12. The ban on bringing dogs into Jerusalem
  13. The fruit of the fourth year is to be given to the priests.
  14. The cattle-tithe is to be given to the priest.
  15. Several regulations about the impurity of the leper and about his isolation during the period of purification until final purification
  16. The impurity of human bones
  17. The intermixture of wool and linen clothing (sha'atnez)
  18. Plowing with diverse animals (qilayyim)
  19. Marriages between priests and common Israelite people are forbidden. 

The position taken in all these "religious laws" in MMT was the position advocated by the Sadducees (as we know from the Mishna).  The position rejected was the way the "halakhic laws" were formulated and applied by the Pharisees. 

        The halakhot of the Pharisees is encountered in a study of the Gospels; these Pharisaic "rulings" are called the "traditions of the elders."  Such halakhot were "man-made rules" but were thought to be implied in Old Testament Scripture.  Some typical examples from Qumran are these: 

(a) Concerning ritual impurity after the preparation of the red heifer.  Since touching a dead body rendered a person ceremonially unclean, the question was raised about the priest who touched the body of the heifer.  Did he become unclean and if so, how long did the uncleanness last?  The ruling was, Just until sunset of the day the animal was killed.

(b) Concerning streams of liquid poured from pure to impure containers.  The ruling was that the ceremonial impurity from the receiving container would travel up the stream of water being poured from a ceremonially pure container, thus defiling that container.

(c) Concerning inter-racial marriages.  Since in the Old Testament prohibition about intermarriage a masculine noun is used in the Hebrew, Jewish men may not marry Moabite women.  However, Jewish women may marry Moabite men. 

        These purity rules were so important that a lack of consensus on these halakhot would make it impossible for disagreeing groups to coexist within a single religious community.  The same would be true concerning which religious calendar was followed.  (E.g., if Passover fell on two different days in the same year, one group would be working on the other's Passover day and thus profaning it, and vice-versa.)  The strict observance of such halakhot automatically precluded fellowship with every other group.13  The thrust of the compilation of rules in MMT is this:  the MMT writer complains that the establishment (in Jerusalem) is not observing the ritual purity laws as they were meant to be observed. 

        (3) The words that have become the title of this work come from the concluding section.  "We have written to you some of the works of the Law (miqsat ma'aseh ha-Torah) ... " one line reads. 

(a) First, the MMT author(s) states that by accepting the rulings listed in the previous section, they have separated themselves (parashnu14) from the mainstream of the people (rov ha-'am), and accordingly have had to withdraw from participation in these rituals as performed by the majority of the people.

(b) There follows an affirmation that the members of the dissident group strictly observe the rules just listed in the previous section; the members are "reliable and honest."

(c) Next follows an explanation of the document's purpose.  The writers want the reader(s) to investigate the words of the Torah (Moses), the Prophets, and David and the day-to-day chronicles – i.e., the three-fold canon of Hebrew Scriptures (the Law, the prophets, and the writings).  The first point the reader is to see in these Scriptures is the prediction that the addressee would turn aside from the path of righteousness and as a result suffer misfortune.  Then, based on some verses taken from Deuteronomy, the point is made that the Scripture foretells that in the end of days the reader would return to God.  Appeal is made to the Old Testament kings to show that the people who were spared misfortune and whose transgressions were forgiven were those who observed the laws of the Torah.

(d) The writer of MMT then sums up why this letter was sent to the addressee. 

Moreover we have written to you some of the works of the Torah that we thought would benefit you and your people, because we saw that you have wisdom and knowledge of the Torah.  Understand all these [things] and ask Him to set right your counsel and remove far from you any evil thought and the counsel of Belial so that you may be glad at the end of time when you discover that some of our words are so/true/correct and it may be reckoned to you as righteousness when you do what is right and good before Him, to benefit you and Israel. 

        This is the "penultimate line" of 4QMMT, says Dunn15.  Men will be reckoned righteous at the end of time if they do what is upright and good (i.e., obeying the halakhic rules just enumerated) before Him.16  The writer of MMT appeals to blessings and cursings written in the book of Moses – cf. Deuteronomy 27-30.17  MMT recalls that curses have fallen on Israel in the past:  "we know that some of the blessings and the curses have [already] been fulfilled."18   The writers of MMT were confident of their own status and acceptance before God, and still held out the hope that others in Israel would return to the Lord and to his Torah. 

Note once more:  There is enough overlap in the fragments of MMT to be able to say that "halakhot" and the words Miqsat Ma'aseh ha-Torah refer to the same things.



        "Illumination" is defined as "clarifying the meaning of what was previously obscure, or the full force of something imperfectly understood."19  The official publication of 4QMMT (DJD 10) does not discuss the importance of MMT for New Testament studies since the current generation of Jewish scholars are delighted to find written materials that help fill the gap in the history of the development of halakhah between the exile and the writing of the Mishnah in AD 220.  But 4QMMT and Paul use the very same phrase, "works of the Law."  Thus, the Dead Sea Scrolls can help us understand exactly what Paul was talking about as he wrote. 

Paul uses the expression "works of the Law" (Galatians 2:16, 3:10; Romans 3:20,28) as he writes about "works of the Law" that are not a condition of salvation, in contrast to "faith in Jesus Christ" which is! 

        If the conclusions above are correct, MMT should enable us to understand in its historical context what Paul refers to as he wrote Galatians and Romans.  This is important because, since the Reformation, these very passages in Galatians and Romans have been used to show that "faith alone" (and no works – not baptism nor even works of love or good works) is the sole condition of salvation.  For centuries, Protestants have emphasized "faith alone" – in spite of certain Biblical difficulties encountered.  The Reformation era "faith alone" approach causes scholars to spend pages explaining away verses where such an interpretation of "works of the Law" seemingly makes Paul contradict himself (e.g., Romans 2:6-1620) and seemingly makes James difficult to harmonize.21  The Reformation explanation contradicts what one reads regularly in Scripture (e.g., Matthew 7:21, 25:31-46) – that faithfulness to what God has commanded has always been the condition of salvation being imputed ("justification").  Faithfulness to God's revelation, not faithfulness to man-made laws, is what the Scriptures everywhere teach! 

In short, Ma'aseh ha-Torah is the Hebrew equivalent of a phrase Paul uses in his letters, what our English translations render as "works of the Law."

        The usual translation of Miqsat Ma'aseh ha-Torah obscures its relationship to what we read in the New Testament in Paul's letters.  Scholars have varyingly translated the Hebrew phrase as "some precepts of the Torah" or "some legal rulings pertaining to the Torah."  Such translations cause us to miss the connection with any phraseology found in the New Testament Scriptures with which we may be accustomed.22 

        A review of the Hebrew words in this phrase would be helpful.  (1) Miqsat does not mean simply "some."  The same word is used in Genesis 47:2, where Joseph presents five of his brothers to Pharaoh.  In Genesis, the word could be understood to mean the most important of the brothers, or perhaps the choice or select.  Said differently, when the word is used in MMT, it does not refer to some random laws; instead, these laws are important to the writer.  The Hebrew word should be rendered 'some important' or 'pertinent' ... or 'most important ….'  (2) Ha-Torah, of course, is translated "the Law," and refers often to the five books of Moses, Genesis through Deuteronomy.  (3) Ma'aseh is the word the Jews used to refer to "Halakhic rulings."23 

        What Greek phrase would translate these Hebrew words Ma'aseh ha-Torah?  A few minutes with a concordance of the LXX (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) leaves little doubt that the Greek equivalent of Ma'aseh ha-Torah is likely ergōn nomou.  The most common Greek word for ma'aseh is ergōn.  The Greek word nomos most commonly translates torah.  It is striking that when the British Bible Society translated the New Testament into modern Hebrew in 1976, at a time when the text of MMT was known to only a half a dozen scholars, they consistently translated ergōn nomou ("works of the law") as ma'aseh ha-torah

        In our English versions of the New Testament, ergōn nomou is commonly translated as "works of Law" or "works of the Law."  This well-known Pauline phrase is found in Romans 3:20,28 and in Galatians 2:16, 3:2,5,10. 

MMT has helped illumine Paul's phrase "works of law."  Now we understand Paul's meaning in the verses in Romans and Galatians. 

        MMT is a document that details examples of "works of law" – man-made halakhic rulings or interpretations based on certain verses of Scripture.   When Paul writes in Romans and Galatians that "works of law" are not a condition of salvation, we can now understand that he is talking about "halakhic rulings" like those typified by the 20 or so examples in MMT.  For the first time in years, we can with confidence put ourselves back into Paul's 1st century world and understand what he was actually writing about.  We find both Pharisees and Sadducees making their own distinctive halakhic rulings.  Both Galatians and Romans tell us that such rulings, whether they be Pharisee or Sadducee, are not conditions of salvation.  "Faith," which is habitually doing what Jesus says, is the condition of salvation!







        4QMMT helps us see that Jewish "halakhic rulings" and Paul's expression "works of the Law" refer to the same thing.24  4QMMT enables us to illustrate what Paul meant when he wrote that "works of the Law" do not save; therefore, we no longer have to struggle with passages that for 400 years have been thought to be contradictory. 



        Now we can see clearly that the Protestant dogma that no "works" are included in the "faith" that saves is a grave error!  To the contrary, the condition of salvation called "faith" means precisely doing what God says – rather than getting all wrapped up in man-made rules like the halakhic laws of the Jews. 

        With this better understanding of 1st century phraseology, there should be an end to the thoughtless repeating of denominational preacher's sermons with their unbiblical ideas.  Such repeating provides no way for our people to get help putting the Bible verses together into a consistent, whole pattern so as to understand God's revelation. 

        With this better understanding of 1st century phraseology, there should be no more "faith-only" presentations to the seeking sinner!  We should cease asking a seeker to pray the "sinner's prayer" and giving him assurance when he completes it that he is already saved.  We should cease using Paul's "works of the Law" as proof that immersion is an unnecessary extra in the salvation of a man.  Instead, we can now present the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3) in all its pristine purity.  We can use the New Testament expressions exactly as we find them when we explain to lost men the way of salvation.




Abegg, Martin, "Paul, 'Works of the Law' and MMT," Biblical Archaeology Review 20:6 (Nov-Dec 1994), p.52ff. 
_____, "4QMMT C 27,31 and Works Righteousness," Dead Sea Discoveries 6 [1999] p.139-47.
Abegg contends that Paul was responding to a position like that in 4QMMT, where the author sees in the Law Judaism’s distinctiveness before God, not the Jewish way to earn final salvation.  This interpretation is suspect.  One text 4QpapMMTc (4Q398) frag.2 col.2 (=4QMMT 111-118) is clear.  In it the expression "works of the law" is used, and the observance of such works is held to pay off at the end of time:  "It shall be reckoned to you as justice when you do what is upright and good before Him" (trans. Watson, Dead Sea Scrolls Translated [ed. Garcia Martinez], 84-85). 
Dunn, James D.G., "4QMMT and Galatians." NTS 43 (1997), p.147-53. 
Eisenman, Robert, and Wise, Michael, The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered.  Rockport, MA:  Element, 1992.  Published by Penguin Books, 1993.
A translation and interpretation of 50 key documents from Cave 4.  Eisenman had access to the set of photographs that were anonymously mailed to him, and also to the photographs and the microfilm edition in the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA. 
Kapera, Zdzislaw J. ed., "Qumran Cave IV and MMT.  Special Report," Qumran Chronicle I:2-3 (Krakow:  Enigma Press, 1991).
The first part of this volume presents Kapera's 49-page narrative of the "unfortunate story" of the Qumran Cave 4 manuscripts.  The second part contains articles on 4QMMT:  Kapera on the history of its non-publication; Piotor Muchowski on its content and character according to Jacob Sussman; Kapera on bibliography between 1956 and 1991; Lawrence H. Schiffman on its nature as a basic sectarian text; Philip R. Davies on Sadducees in the Dead Sea scrolls; Robert Eisenman on Schiffman's interpretation; James C. VanderKam on the Qumran residents as Essenes rather than Sadducees; George J. Brooke on the significance of the kings in 4QMMT; Hans Burgmann on a historically justifiable dating of the work; and Joseph M. Baumgarten on Qumran law and the identification of the sect. 
Porter, Nancy, Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls, a 58-minute VHS production by NOVA, made in 1951 and distributed by PBS Video, 1320 Braddock Plce, Alexandria, VA.
A good visual history of the discovery and publication of the manuscripts, plus a presentation of the "scandal" about the publication of Cave 4 manuscripts until late 1951.  Photos and video clips from some of the principal International Team members, as well as from second generation Dead Sea Scroll scholars. 
Qimron, Elisha, and Strugnell, John, Qumran Cave 4:  Miqsat Ma'ase ha-Torah, Vol. 10 in Discoveries in the Judean Desert Series. Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1994. 
Schiffman, Lawrence H., "The Significance of the Scrolls," Bible Review 6:5 (1990), p.18-27,52.
After describing the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the article reviews the debates about dating and the identity of the people who wrote them.  Then taking its starting point from 4QMMT, it discusses the various movements in Second Temple Judaism:  the Pharisees as precursors of rabbinic Judaism, the Sadducees as aristocratic literalists, apocalyptic Jewish sects, and in a section that is hardly satisfactory Schiffman believes he can find Christian roots (or sources) in sectarian Judaism.  Finally, it looks at the Qumran texts for the light they can shed on the history of Biblical texts.




1 See Martin Abegg, "Paul, 'Works of the Law' and MMT," Biblical Archaeology Review 20:6 (Nov-Dec. 1994), p.52-55,82.  James D.G. Dunn, "4QMMT and Galatians," in New Testament Studies 43 (1997), pp.147-53.  M. Bachman, "4QMMT und Galaterbrief, Ma'aseh ha-Torah und ΕΡΓΑ ΝΟΜΟΥ," in Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 89 (1998), pp.91-113.
 2 Josef T. Milik, Ten Years of Discovery in the Wilderness of Judea, translated by James Strugnell (Naperville, IL:  Alec Allenson, 1959), p.16-17.
3 Roland de Vaux, Discoveries in the Judean Desert, VI (New York:  Oxford University Press 1977), p.3.
4 The archaeologists had earlier in 1951 and 1952 spent nearly 40 days in the Qumran area.  None of them noticed caves 4,5,6.
5 The original sigla for the manuscript fragments of 4QMMT, i.e., 4Q394-399, say something about the size of the 4Q archive.  The highest numbered sigla is something like 4Q590, implying that there are 590 manuscripts of which characterizable fragments have survived.
6 Martin Abegg, "Paul, 'Works of Law' and MMT," Biblical Archaeology Review 20:6 (1994), p.52-55.
7 Photos:  PAM 40.618*, 41.372*, 41.375*, 41.462*, 41.594*, 41.760*, 41.780*, 42.056*, 42.472, 42.815*, 43.477, 43.492, 43.521.
8 MMT is reconstructed from six surviving Qumran fragments (numbered 4Q394-99), none of them complete.  Most scholars believe it is a letter, written in the middle 2nd century BC, from the leader of the Qumran group to the head of a larger group, of which the Qumranites were once a part.  Norman T. Wright, "Paul and Qumran," Bible Review (Oct. '98), p.8.
9 Philip Callaway, "4QMMT and Recent Hypotheses on the Origin of the Qumran Community," Mogilany, 1993 (Krakow:  Enigma Press, 1996), p.28-29.
10 For translations of the text, see Elisha Qimron and John Strugnell, Qumran Cave 4 V: Miqsat Ma'ase Ha-Torah, Discoveries in the Judean Desert 10 (Oxford:  Clarendon Press, 1994).  Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Harmondsworth:  Penguin, 1997), p.22-228.  Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., and Edward Cook, The Dead Sea Scrolls:  A New Translation (San Francisco:  Harper San Francisco, 1996), p.358-64.  Florentino Garcia Martinez, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated:  The Qumran Texts in English (Leiden:  Brill, 1994), p.77-83.  Bruno Dombrowski, An Annotated Translation of Miqsat Ma'aseh ha Tora (4QMMT) (Krakow:  Enigma Press, 1993).  Idem., "Miqsat Ma'aseh ha-Torah (4QMMT) in English," Qumran Chronicle 4/1-2 (June 1944), p.28-38.
11 See Shemaryahu Talmon, The World of Qumran from Within:  Collected Studies (Jerusalem:  Magnes Press 1989).
12 James D.G. Dunn, The New Perspective on Paul (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 2005), p.345.
13 As a contemporary illustration about how such rules can divide people, consider the problems that worship on Saturday or Sunday can cause.  Consider also the issues raised by the mode of baptism, whether by immersion or sprinkling, and whether believers or infants are the proper subjects.
14 The writer of MMT tells us "we have separated ourselves from the multitude of the people [and all their impurity]."  The separation was motivated by purity concerns.  "Separated" (PRS, Hebrew) forms the root from which the name "Pharisees" (prusim = "separated ones") is generally derived.  Is what Peter did at Antioch (separated himself, Galatians 2:12), the same kind of separation the writer of MMT speaks about, that for reasons of purity he avoided association with certain other people?
15 Dunn, op. cit., p.343.
16 What the writer of MMT says about righteousness being reckoned to doers of halakhic rules is similar to what the troublemakers in Galatia were teaching, a teaching Paul repudiates when He says "by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified."  The language "reckoned ... as righteousness" in MMT reflects Genesis 15:6 – "[The Lord] reckoned [Abraham’s faithfulness] to him as righteousness."  "Doing what is right" (MMT) and "faithfulness" (Genesis 15:6) were treated as interchangeable ideas in MMT.  The same phrase from Genesis 15:6 is used at Galatians 3:6.
17 We recall that Galatians 3:10 also appeals to this same section of Deuteronomy.
18 See "For This You Waited 35 Years," a reprint of MMT as reconstructed by Elisha Qimron and John Strugnell, c.20, printed in BAR 20/6 (Nov-Dec. 1994), p.60-61.
19  Kitchen quoted in Mattingly.
20 In addition, when Romans 4 tells us that Abraham and David were not justified by "works" we are talking (in context) about halakhic kind of works.
21 Beware!  The NIV does not use the phrase "works of law" at Galatians 2:16 and 3:10 or at Romans 3:20,28.  The NIV simply reads "observing the law," leaving the reader with the very mistaken notion that it is the Law of Moses Paul writes about, rather than the "traditions of the elders."  The reader of the NIV is led to completely miss the point of what Paul writes.
22 For 4QMMT Eisenman and Wise choose the title "... Letter on Works Reckoned as Righteousness" (Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered).  This comes closer to language we are used to reading in the New Testament.  Dunn (op. cit., p.342) tells us that F. Garcia Martinez (at the Chicago SBL meeting, November 1994) acknowledged that the printed translation of (his) line 113 was less satisfactory, and that ma'aseh should after all be rendered "works of" as elsewhere in the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The ambiguity arises because ma'aseh can signify a "deed" prescribed (hence "precept") as well as a deed carried out.  Elisha Qimron and John Strugnell, Qumran Cave 4 ... MMT (Discoveries in the Judean Desert X [New York:  Oxford University Press, 1994]) p.139 n.41, note that the LXX translates ma'aseh in Exodus 18:20 as ta erga (“works”).
23 S. Lieberman ("Sefer Ha-Ma'asim--Sefer Ha-Pesaqim," Tarbiz 2 [1931], p.377) demonstrated that in Palestinian literature the expressions ma'aseh and sepher ha-ma'asim were used in the sense of "halakhic ruling" and "halakhic work."  "Ma'asim stands for legal institutions:  those of the law of sacrifices (qorbanot), tributes for the temple and priests (mattanot), the purity ritual (tohorot), etc." (Stanislaw Medala, "The Character and Setting of 4QMMT," QumChron. 4:1-2 [July 1994], p.10).
24 This does not mean, of course, that Galatians was written with a knowledge of MMT, or that the "certain men from James" (Galatians 2:12) were themselves Qumranites or influenced by Qumran.
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