The majority of the Scrolls are written in Hebrew, but exhibit various kinds. Naturally, the ‘biblical’ manuscripts reflect both standard classical Hebrew and the ‘Late Biblical Hebrew’ characteristic of Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Qoheleth. But there are also texts composed in what is often termed ‘Qumran Hebrew’—for example, the Community Rule and War Scroll, while the Copper Scroll and the Halakhic Letter are closer to what we know later as ‘rabbinic’ or ‘Mishnaic’ Hebrew. In addition, the Damascus Document is written in a style imitative of classical biblical Hebrew.
How do we account for the variety? Was Qumran Hebrew a living Judaean dialect, or a purely literary language? In either case, is it to be seen as transitional between biblical and rabbinic Hebrew? To these questions there is no agreed answer, but there are clearly implications for those who wish to date biblical texts by means of linguistic criteria. It is now thought possible that Hebrew did not entirely give way to Aramaic during the Second Temple period; that linguistic variation may have a class or regional basis rather than a purely chronological one; and that a tradition of writing in classical Hebrew persisted well into the Graeco-Roman period. At any rate, the clear evidence of different forms of Hebrew written contemporaneously raises the same possibility for earlier periods also, thus complicating any linguistic criteria for dating biblical writings.
Text and interpretation as a continuum
As has often been remarked, virtually all of the Qumran texts are to some extent derived from, or inspired by, scripture. The Qumran scrolls also demonstrate the way in which scriptural texts interpret each other and even develop themselves through a kind of ‘internal’ interpretation (see Fishbane 1985). The formal separation of ‘text’ and ‘commentary’ with which moderns are familiar does not readily apply to the period before both canon and text were fixed. Before this act of ‘freezing’ the canon's form and content, biblical texts were not merely copied and recopied, but in the copying process were also adapted, enlarged, and edited, as a kind of ongoing interpretative exercise. At Qumran we find this process extended beyond the texts themselves to embrace paraphrased books and passages, excerpts, forming a continuum with the biblical manuscripts themselves. Compositions like the Damascus Document or the Hodayoth offer another model: they are so permeated with scriptural language that quotation, allusion, and paraphrase are often impossible to disentangle.
Quite apart from three targums (two on Job, one on Leviticus), we have as examples of ‘rewritten Bible’ the Genesis Apocryphon and Jubilees, 4Q123 and 4Q364–7; excerpted passages comprise not only tefillin and mezuzoth but other anthologies, such as 4QTestimonia or 4Q252. Some of these join texts to form a kind of theme or plot, and include a linking commentary (4QFlorilegium, 11QMelchizedek, 4Q364–7). There are also numerous other paraphrases, halakoth (religious laws) consisting of reordered biblical laws (11QTemple, 4QOrdinances); at the other end of the spectrum are texts or passages that are permeated with scriptural language and allusions without making explicit citations. Finally, there are also formal commentaries (i.e. pesharim), in which scriptural text and comment are separated. We are clearly dealing with authors who were not only familiar with the scriptural texts, but had inherited and developed a variety of ways in which these texts were presented, represented, interpreted, and applied, and undoubtedly the ways in which scriptures were used here represent a wider pattern of Jewish hermeneutics.