Rebecca Harris Shohet Scholar Grant Report (2021/2022)

Living in the Liminal: The Present as a Place of Access in Qumran Literature

Rebecca Harris

During the grant cycle, I was able to complete three chapters of my book project, Living in the Liminal: the Eschatological Present in Qumran Literature. The manuscript is currently about 70% complete and should be ready to submit for peer review in 2023 or early 2024. The first chapter completed with the help of the Shohet scholarship deals with the construction of sacred time in the Qumran literature, while the other two chapters address how the liturgical practices of the group sought to facilitate the covenanter’s elevation and incorporation into the heavenly realm. I will be presenting versions of two of these chapters at the annual meeting for the Society of Biblical Literature this November (2022): “At the Times Ordained” in the unit Ritual in the Biblical World, and “Limitless: Qumran Liturgy through the Lens of Liminality” in the Qumran unit.

Summary of chapters completed during the grant cycle

  • "Sacred Time" (the third and final part of a unit on time): This chapter demonstrates that, for members of the Qumran group, sacred time was the dominant time. In the Qumran literature, the rhythms of sacred time include times of daily prayers connected to the day/night cycle, an extended nightly ritual, Sabbath observance, and annual festivals/celebrations. Within this ritually dense context, the regular and frequent practice of sacred time (including the synchronization of the covenanters’ worship with the rhythms of heavenly worship) creates a liminal space in which liturgical communion plays a formative role in the covenanter’s experience of the present as an eschatological reality.
  • "Making Things Present" (the first chapter in a unit on ritual and liturgical practices): In this chapter, I argue that the Hodayot (at least in the form in which they appear in 1QHa and probably also 4QHa) are arranged as a liturgical progression that, when performed in sequence, enacts the worshipers’ elevation to heavenly heights to take up permanent residence in the “lot” (Hebrew גורל) reserved for them. The performance of the hymns is a means of negotiating the liminal state and securing one’s place among the angels.
  • "Joining with the Angels" (the second chapter in a unit on ritual and liturgical practices): This chapter considers how two of the longer liturgies of the Qumran group, the War Scroll and Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, might have functioned as a means of enacting final, eschatological events—most prominently, the annihilation of wickedness and the covenanter’s elevation and incorporation into the heavenly realm. When performed as part of a ritually dense liturgical order, the experience of divine order and movement expressed in these liturgies is intensified, cultivating a sense of otherworldliness and producing a new reality for the observant.