This week fellow blogger and friend JohnDave Medina came to my home and we were discussing various aspect of Roman Catholic doctrine and practice (since he is a recent re-convert). One area of discussion was the Eucharist. I mentioned a fascinating element of the Dead Sea Scrolls collection found in The Community Rule (which is the result of several scroll and fragments if I am correct) where there is something known as “the Meal of the Congregation” (Geza Vermes) or “the Pure Meal” (Wise, Abegg, and Cook). I thought it soundly a lot like Eucharist in some ways, so I thought I’d list those here.
In VI.25 one can be banned from the meal for lying about money. In VI.27 it can be for usurping authority. In VII. 15 it can be for gossiping about a companion/friend. In VII.19-20 it can be for deviating from the secret teaching of the community. And here we also find the “Drink of the Congregation”. In VIII.20-25 a more specific Council is mentioned and here people can receive punishment that prevents them from this meal.
I don’t think this is merely the daily meal because it seems like suspensions can last for as long as a year. That would be a death sentence. So it must have more significance.
Does anyone know much about the meal at Qumran? If so, what do you think makes it significant? Is there any chance that it could be similar in any way to the Christian sacrament of Eucharist/Communion?
Once I get my mini-library unpacked, I’ll look up my Dead Sea Scrolls books and let you know. But right off the top of my head, I would say yes, but I think the differences are very significant. I’m pretty sure Carol Newsom says something about it in her book The Self as Symbolic Space: Constructing Identity and Community at Qumran, though.
Jeremy: That would great. Let me know what you find!
So, after a bit of brushing up on my DSS books, I’ve noted a few things:
1. Communal Meals were orderly, ranked, and conducted along by the priest (or a priest).
2. Heavy emphasis on purity prior to Communal Meal (Josephus, in discussing Essene practices, notes they would bathe before every meal – even if they didn’t need to according to the purity laws in the Torah)
3. Ability to partake in the Communal Meal wasn’t given to just anybody; there was at least a year-long probationary period for new initiates before they could eat. And yet another year of probation before they could drink the wine.
James VanderKam is actually the one who discusses the meal (Newsom discusses the power of words within the Scrolls, especially liturgical works). It seems to me that the Communal Meal was less about eating food and more about gathering as a community – even though there was a great emphasis on status.
In relation to communion, there appears to have been a greater diligence in keeping with God’s commandments (and even additional ones unique to the DSS). However, I do think 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 sets the bar pretty high for walking within the ways of God prior to partaking in communion. In the DSS, though, there were more rituals to go through (like immersion in water) before eating with the Assembly than in Christianity (baptism doesn’t seem to be a prerequisite anywhere).
I think one of my classmates wrote his paper on the Communal Meal and I think I have a copy of his outline for his presentation. I’ll dig that up here soon and see if he adds anything to the discussion.
Can you relay the Josephus reference? I gathered the other two from reading The Community Rule (though I didn’t notice all the nuances of the progression), but Josephus’ insight could be helpful. I’d like to read your classmates paper if you can get a hold of it.
VanderKam cited Josephus’ “Jewish War” 2:129-31. It might be a little while before I can dig up my classmate’s paper (assuming I haven’t thrown it away). If I can’t find it, I’m sure I can call him up and get a copy… Unless it was someone else who wrote the paper and not the guy I’m thinking of. Hopefully it’s him, though.
Awesome, thanks for the reference.
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