Biblical Archaeology Review 20:1, January/February 1994
Dead Sea Scrolls Research Council: Fragments

Who Was He? Rare DSS Text Mentions King Jonathan

By Esther EshelHanan EshelAda Yardeni

The fragmentary Dead Sea Scroll that is the subject of this article has been much discussed by scholars since our recent publication of it in a scientific journal,1 and it has even received some notice in the popular press, principally because it is one of the very few texts in the Dead Sea Scroll library that mentions a contemporary historical figure known from other sources—in this case, King Jonathan.

Oddly enough, this fragmentary text has been available to scholars since 1977. A picture of it was originally published in Qumran Grotte 4 (vol. 6 of Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, the official series of the Dead Sea Scrolls editorial team, published by the Clarendon Press at Oxford). It attracted no attention at that time, however, because it was so difficult to read, or, more precisely, to decipher.

Most of the Dead Sea Scrolls are written in formal script. Only a few are written in cursive or semicursive script. The text with which we are concerned—4Q448a—is written in semicursive script, which is extremely difficult to read. That is why the text was not deciphered in its original publication. Dr. Ada Yardeni was the first to realize the scroll’s significance when she correctly read a key phrase as containing the name King Jonathan (Yonathan, in Hebrew). Professor John Strugnell had previously deciphered this phrase to mean “the king’s happiness [or joy].”2 Yardeni correctly read it as “for King Jonathan.” The word “king” appears in both decipherments. Strugnell and Yardeni also read the same first two letters of the phrase. Even if you don’t read Hebrew, you can see that the difference in their readings is confined to the letters in the middle—two in Strugnell’s decipherment and four in Yardeni’s:

Strugnell: ûlmh tXyl[ (the king’s happiness)

Yardeni: ûlmh ÷tnwy l[ (for King Jonathan)

The next problem obviously was to identify this King Jonathan.

Fortunately, it is possible to identify Jonathan with considerable certainty. This will have two important implications. First, it will enable us to fix a relatively narrow range of absolute dates for the document, which can then be used to fix more reliable dates for earlier and later scripts in a typological line or sequence. Second, the particular Jonathan mentioned in this text raises intriguing questions regarding the nature of the entire Dead Sea Scroll library and the people who collected it.

Scroll 4Q448 is therefore likely to be analyzed and reanalyzed in years to come, and it provides us with an excellent example of the way Dead Sea Scroll scholarship proceeds. Let us look first at 4Q448. It is a leather fragment barely 3 inches wide and less than 6 inches long. It contains parts of three columns of Hebrew text. One column is on top, and two columns are below. We have labeled the top column “A” and the two lower columns “B” and “C,” reading right to left as Hebrew is read.

Clearly, columns B and C were written by the same scribe and are part of the same composition. Some of the letter forms in column A, however, are somewhat different, suggesting it may have been written by a different scribe.

Another unusual thing about this fragment is that it is from the beginning of the scroll (remember to read from right to left; the beginning is the right edge). A reinforcing tab of untanned leather, measuring 2 inches square, is folded over the right edge of the fragment. A leather thong that was originally tied around the scroll to keep it from unrolling survived and was still inserted through the middle of the tab when the text was recovered. Approximately 200 of these leather tabs and matching thongs have been found in Qumran Caves 4 and 8. Only a few scrolls were found in Cave 8, but many reinforcing tabs were nevertheless discovered there. Perhaps Cave 8 was a workshop for preparing the tabs and applying them to the scrolls; almost all of these tabs and thongs were found detached from scrolls. Only in one other case (4QDb [Damascus Document]) was the tab and thong still attached to the scroll.3 Ours is the second.

The text of column A can be identified as a psalm. The first line bears the title, “Hallelujah [that is, Praise the Lord], a psalm of …” At this point the fragment is cut. Note that this line extends into the margin of the scroll, apparently because it is the title. “Hallelujah” appears in the title of many psalms, and at the end as well, particularly in the latter part of the Psalter (Psalms 104–150).

Some of the lines at the beginning of column A appear to have been arranged in alternating order, with one line describing God’s love for Israel and the next depicting his attitude toward his enemies.

The end of column A can be identified as part of Psalm 154. Those readers who recall the canonical Psalter will immediately object that the Psalter contains only 150 psalms. In the Hebrew Bible, Psalms 52 and 53 were originally one psalm, now divided into two. This produced an additional psalm in the Greek translation known as the Septuagint (LXX), which has a psalm numbered 151. In some Syriacb manuscripts, four additional psalms are numbered 152 through 155. The most ancient and complete of these Syriac manuscripts dates to the 12th century and is preserved in a library in Mosul, Iraq.

In 1930 Martin Noth published a remarkable article, in which he retroverted the four Syriac psalms (152–155) into their Hebrew vorlage. He assumed that these psalms had been composed in Hebrew.4 In 1964 James Sanders published the Hebrew originals of two of these psalms, which were part of a scroll found in Qumran Cave 11 (11QPsa). Noth’s retroversion was confirmed to a remarkable degree.5

We can now easily recognize the last three lines of column A as part of the end of Psalm 154. By reconstructing the fragmentary text of 4Q448 on the basis of the Syriac manuscripts and 11QPsa, we can now correct four readings in the restored Hebrew text of Psalm 154.

The second composition included in this scroll, in columns B and C, is different. It is a prayer for Yonathan ha-melech, Jonathan the king.

Column B is intact and is one of the narrowest columns discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The column is so narrow that in line 4 there is only a single word, “Israel.”

Line 1 illustrates some of the common difficulties in understanding Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts. Although there are only six letters in this line, the second letter (from the right) can be read in two ways. Thus, the line says either ‘ir qodesh (vdq ry[) or ‘ur qodesh (vdq rw[), depending on whether the second letter is read yod (y) or waw (w), two very similar letters. ‘ir kodesh, means holy city, which would be a clear reference to Jerusalem. But the lack of the definite article, h- (heh) before the second word makes this reading somewhat unlikely; we would normally expect to see the holy city as ‘ir ha-qodesh, not ‘ir qodesh.

The other alternative (reading the second letter as a waw) is complicated as well. The first complication has to do with the word read above as qodesh, spelled here with three letters in Hebrew, vdq. If it were written with four letters, including one of the consonants that were used during this period as rudimentary vowels (known as matres lectiones—mothers of reading), we would know just how to read it. But with only three letters (defective spelling as opposed to full orthography, to use the scholarly jargon), this can be read either as qodesh or qadosh. However, both words were often used at Qumran, not only as the adjective “holy,” but as an epithet of God, the “Holy One.”

The word qadosh/qodesh is followed by the word ‘l (l[), which in the Bible means “rise against.” Perhaps it could be read “Rise against King Jonathan,” but the context indicates it should not be read this way. Much more likely is the translation, “Arise for war, O Holy one, on behalf of King Jonathan.”6 Still another viable possibility is to understand ‘ur ‘al (l[) as “watch over,” which is what this phrase means in Deuteronomy 32:11 and Job 8:6.7

Thus the first four lines of column B can be read either:

1. Holy One, watch1. Arise (for war), O Holy one,
2. over King Jonathan2. (on behalf of) King Jonathan
3. And all the qhal (congregation) of your people
4. Israel.

It is possible to go through the entire document in this way. Indeed, we have done this in the technical version of this paper, cited in endnote 1. But this is enough to give an idea of what the scholarly enterprise is all about.

The prayer in columns B and C goes on to ask for peace for the kingdom. The author of the prayer wants to indicate that the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Jonathan are one and the same. In lines 1–2 the author asks to watch over or to arise for war (on behalf of) King Jonathan, and then in lines 8–9, he says to God, “And upon your kingdom your name be blessed.” “Your kingdom” may be understood as the universe, or as Jonathan’s kingdom.

Jonathan is referred to as “king” both in line 2 of column B and in line 8 of column C. The attitude toward Jonathan is obviously positive. Otherwise, he would not be referred to as melech (king). In the Dead Sea Scrolls, the title “king” always reflects a positive attitude. The scrolls also contain many references to enemies of the group; scholars call these polemical references. But whenever rulers are referred to in a polemical (that is, critical) context, they are called sûallit\im, literally “rulers” (singular, sûallit\), not melachim, “kings.” The reference to Jonathan as “king” reflects a friendly, approving attitude. In column C, the author thanks God for helping King Jonathan in a time of war.

Jonathan son of Mattathias, Judas Maccabeus’s brother, ruled over Judea between 157 and 142 B.C.E. Beginning in 152 B.C.E., he also served as high priest. He was not, however, a king. Therefore he cannot be the King Jonathan of 4Q448.

The only ruler who can be identified as King Jonathan is Alexander Janneus, a member of the Hasmonean dynasty who reigned between 103 and 76 B.C.E.c

Alexander was his Greek name, but his Hebrew name was Yonathan (Jonathan). We know this from some of the coins minted during his reign. On one side of the coins there is a Greek inscription, “Alexander the King”; on the other side, a Hebrew inscription reads, “King Jonathan.” In addition, a bulla (a clay clump with a seal impression stamped into it, used to secure important documents) has been found that reads in Hebrew, “King Jonathan.” The modern master of Hebrew seals, the late Professor Nahman Avigad of the Hebrew University, wrote that this refers to Alexander Janneus.8 Finally, a number of coins from the reign of Alexander Janneus read Yonathan cohen gadol (Jonathan the high priest). Under this inscription, the remnants of another, earlier inscription that was subsequently erased can be detected. The lower inscription reads Yonathan ha-melech (Jonathan the king). At one point, Jonathan (or Janneus) took the title “high priest”; he erased the term “king” from his coins, replacing the inscriptions referring to him as “king” with the words “high priest.” He apparently used only the latter title and stopped referring to himself as king during his struggle with the Pharisees between 96 and 88 B.C.E. So we may assume that the prayer for King Jonathan in 4Q448 was composed either in his early days, before he stopped using the title “king,” or after he succeeded in defeating the Pharisees. We believe that 4Q448 was copied during Alexander Janneus’s lifetime, and is thus the only document from Qumran so far published that can be dated with almost complete certainty to the first quarter of the first century B.C.E.

Hence 4Q448 is extremely important for Hebrew paleography; it belongs to a very small group of documents from the Hasmonean (167–37 B.C.E.) and Herodian (37 B.C.E.–70 C.E.) periods written in semicursive script, and more precisely in a mixture of letter-forms in various degrees of cursiveness. This text is extremely useful in dating texts in both semicursive and what is known as bookhand script.

The friendly attitude in this text towards Alexander Janneus, however, raises a question about the nature of the entire Qumran library. The Qumran community left Jerusalem for the desert because it opposed the Hasmonean government and the priesthood. Alexander Janneus was a Hasmonean king. So what is a prayer for the welfare of a Hasmonean king doing in the library of the Qumran community?

We do not have an entirely satisfactory answer to this question. Incessant wars marked Alexander Janneus’s (or should we say King Jonathan’s) 27-year reign. Throughout, he attempted to expand the borders of Judea and force a one-man rule on his subjects. A number of historical incidents could have been the occasion for a prayer such as 4Q448.

Several Biblical commentaries called pesharim have been found at Qumran that seem to allude to historical events that took place during Janneus’s rule. Two of these pesharim reflect a negative attitude towards Janneus because of the bloodshed he caused in Jerusalem in 88 B.C.E., when he executed the Jews whom he opposed.9 The attitude of 4Q448, however, is different.

From the first-century Jewish historian Josephus and from one of the pesharim (Pesher Nahum), we learn that Alexander Janneus was viewed favorably only by the Sadducees. We may therefore assume that the prayer in columns B and C of 4Q448 was composed by a Sadducee author who supported Janneus.

Professor David Flusser of the Hebrew University, on the other hand, prefers the reading ‘ir qodesh, “the holy city” (that is, Jerusalem). So his interpretation is that the author of this prayer asks for mercy for the city (Jerusalem), for King Jonathan and for the people of Israel who are in the four winds of heaven. Flusser believes that 4Q448 is a unique document that connects Jerusalem and the independent Hasmonean Jewish state with the Diaspora. This reflects Hasmonean propaganda, because it hints that Jonathan’s kingdom had connections with all Jews, even with those who lived in the Diaspora. The author of the prayer had no problem with the Jewish Diaspora, and his prayer does not include a call for an ingathering, but extends the scope of the prayer beyond Jerusalem to “the four winds of Heaven.”10

What does this say about the nature of the library at Qumran? Or about the people who assembled it? Until now we would have thought the texts would be antagonistic to the Hasmonean ruler Alexander Janneus. Up to now we have detected little concern on the part of the Qumran sectarians with the outside world or Jews living in the Diaspora. How does 4Q448 fit into this picture? Many of the scrolls found at Qumran were brought there from outside; 4Q448 was probably one of them. In any event, this extraordinary little fragment should supply grist for the scholarly mill for years to come.