The scroll known as the Habakkuk Commentary, or Pesher Habakkuk, was discovered In 1947 at Qumran in Cave 1. In the corpus of Dead Sea Scrolls it is designated 1QpHab. W. H. Brownlee prepared the editio princeps (Burrows, ed., 1950). The scroll contains thirteen columns (originally the first twelve columns with seventeen lines each, and the last column with four lines). It is preserved almost intact, except that in the first column only the ends of the lines remain, and, because the bottom of the scroll deteriorated, that the last two or three lines of every column are lost. The scroll was written by two scribes, A and B: scribe A wrote col. i–col. xii, l. 13a, and scribe B col. xii, l. 13b–col. xiii, l. 4. The script of both hands is Herodian, characteristic of the second part of the first century BCE.

This scroll, like other scrolls of its type from Qumran, incorporates a commentary of the prophetic words (Heb., pesher), which is placed between the lemmas, or verses, in the scroll. In 1QpHab column ii, lines 6–10, and in column vii, lines 4–5, the pesher interprets mysterious presages contained in the words of the prophets concerning their actual fulfillment in historical events leading to the eschatological era. The man inspired by God to unravel the prophetic mysteries is the Teacher of Righteousness (see below).

The relationship between the prophetic words and the pesher is formally carried out in a lemmatic pattern—namely, citations of the biblical text of the first two chapters of Habakkuk, verse by verse—followed by pesher sections. The sections of the pesher follow the biblical lemmas by means of an introductory formula such as ps̆rw ῾l (“its interpretation concerns …”) and ps̆r hdbr ῾l (“the interpretation of the quoted text concerns …”), applied to persons, and ps̆rw ᾽s̆r (“its interpretation is that…”) and ps̆r hdbr ῾s̆r (“the interpretation of the quoted text is that …”), applied to events. The phraseology of the pesher sections is related to the biblical text principally by paronomasia (a punning of its words and letters in variegated forms). The adaptation of the biblical content into new historical circumstances is achieved by means of exegetical techniques such as analogy, allegory, and double meanings. Through such techniques, the content of the Book of Habakkuk became typological and was adapted to specific historical situations in the Second Temple period. For example, the Chaldeans of Habakkuk became the Kittim, in all probability the Romans, the imperialistic power since the second century BCE. Other figures in the Book of Habakkuk became typological for figures who took part in the internecine struggles in Judea (Judah) in that period. Pesher Habakkuk hints at the halakhic controversy between the Teacher of Righteousness, the first leader of the Qumran community (see Cairo Damascus [CD], col. i, l. 11; Pesher Psalms, manuscript a [4QpPsa], col. iii, ll. 14–17), and the Man of Lie (1QpHab col. v, ll. 8–11; col. x, ll. 9–13), a leader of an opposing community, probably the Pharisees, who was supported by those who had left the Qumran community (col. i, l. 16–col. ii, l. 6; col. v, ll. 8–11). It also depicts the political and cultic struggle between the Wicked Priest, probably the Hasmonean king who was also the high priest, and the Teacher of Righteousness, who criticized his politics (col. viii, l. 3–col. ix, l. 3; col. xi, ll. 2–10). As these figures are not called by their names but are referred to cryptically, scholars disagree on their identification—particularly about whether the Wicked Priest was Jonathan, the first Hasmonean high priest (161–142 BCE), during whose rule the Teacher of Righteousness would have established the Qumran community, or Alexander Jannaeus (103–76 BCE), who ruled when the internal political and religious struggle in Judea was most critical. (These are the two principal interpretations; others exist.) However, the symbolic presentation of figures and events is typological within the apocalyptic concept held by the Qumran community. It places their destiny in the universal struggle between righteousness and wickedness at the end of days, when wickedness is to be destroyed forever (col. vii, l. 1–col. viii, l. 3; col. xii, l. 10–col. xiii, l. 4).

[See also Dead Sea Scrolls.]


  • Brownlee, William H. The Midrash Pesher of Habakkuk. Society of Biblical Literature, Monograph Series, no. 24. Missoula, 1979.
  • Burrows, Millar, ed., with John C. Trevor and William H. Brownlee. The Dead Sea Scrolls of St. Mark's Monastery, vol. 1, The Isaiah Manuscript and the Habakkuk Commentary. New Haven, 1950.
  • Dimant, Devorah. “Pesharim, Qumran.” In The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5, pp. 244–251. New York, 1992.
  • Elliger, Karl. Studien zum Habakuk-Kommentar vom Toten Meer. Beiträge zur historischen Theologie, 15. Tübingen, 1953.
  • Horgan, Maurya P. Pesharim. Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Monograph Series 8. Washington, D.C., 1979.
  • Nitzan, Bilhah. Pesher Habakkuk: A Scroll from the Wilderness of Judaea (1QpHab) (in Hebrew). Jerusalem, 1986.

Bilhah Nitzan