The Self as Symbolic Space: Constructing Identity and Community at Qumran

The Self as Symbolic Space: Constructing Identity and Community at Qumran

The Self as Symbolic Space: Constructing Identity and Community at Qumran

The Self as Symbolic Space: Constructing Identity and Community at Qumran

Synopsis

This volume investigates critical practices by which the Qumran community constituted itself as a sectarian society. Key to the formation of the community was the reconstruction of the identity of individual members. In this way the self became an important symbolic space for the development of the ideology of the sect. Persons who came to experience themselves in light of the narratives and symbolic structures embedded in the community practices would have developed the dispositions of affinity and estrangement necessary for the constitution of a sectarian society. Drawing on various theories of discourse and practice in rhetoric, philosophy, and anthropology, the book examines the construction of the self in two central documents: the Serek ha-Yahad and the Hodayot.

Excerpt

“I have something to say to the congregation” (1QS 6:13). With those words a member of the Qumran community would seek permission to speak, even though it was not his designated turn to address the assembly. Only if he received their agreement might he say what was on his mind. This moment, poised between speech and silence, permission and prohibition, focuses the crucial but problematic role of speech in this intensely verbal community. The description of the assembly in the Serek ha-Yahad (6:8–13) presents speech as an activity required of every member. It is an object of value to which the community has a right and which it needs to accomplish its common purpose. But speech is also subject to regulation, since it is implicated not only in truth but also in falsehood, deception, and hypocrisy. What is produced and refined in this process is not only the speech of an individual but more importantly the discourse of the community as a whole.

The essential activities that gave the Qumran community its identity are almost all associated with language. Its raison d'être, of course, was to do the will of God; but the privileged repository of that will was a text that had to be copied, read, studied, and interpreted. This task was not conceived of as an individual one but as one that required the constitution of a community for its accomplishment. Because the Qumran community reflected self-consciously on the nature of its life together and embodied those reflections in texts, we know a significant amount about that life and the way in which it formed a community of discourse.

In a basic sense the community was constituted and maintained through speech acts. Members swore solemn oaths (1QS 5:8) and were separated from the larger society through a series of curses and blessings (2:1–10). The internal structure of the community was shaped in large measure by periodic examinations in which the ability to articulate the fundamental language of the community played a great . . .

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