The Pesher to Habakkuk
In this introduction we emphasize the text of Habakkuk and the next introduction majors on the peshers or comments on the text. Although in actual fact the commentary is run together,- Scripture text and comments.
The Qumran (Dead Sea Scroll) Pesher of Habakkuk is a valuable document to those who believe in the integrity of the Biblical text. The reason being that it is, after the Isaiah Scroll, one of the few other books of the Old Testament that has the degree of completeness necessary to compare it favorably with the current received text of Habakkuk. Other books of what is known as the Old Testament are referred to and quoted in the scrolls but they are largely incomplete or are too fragmentary to be of great importance when comparing the ancient text with the modern. Only the first two chapters of the three in Habakkuk in the received text were commented on by the author of the Pesher.
The most reasonable explanation to the absence of the third chapter relates to its character. That is, it is a psalm rather than a prophecy which is the character of the first two chapters. It is apparent from the manuscript that it was the purposeful intent of the scribe to write an explanation of only the first two chapters. It is not to be considered as missing because the scroll was damaged in some way. A view of the last page shows conclusively that there was plenty of room on the last 2 pages to include more text if that was the author's intent.
The copies of the pages of the scroll are offered in black and white photo copies for the following reasons: Actually the photo copies reveal more of the condition of the pages than the full color does. There are marginal lines and horizontal lines that were used to keep the scribe within bounds and keep the manuscript lines straight. These are much more easily seen in the photocopies as can other blemishes in the leather. The differences between difficult letters are also more easily seen. Thus, for reading, the photo copies actually are easier reading than the full color photos. The word "pesher" has the approximate meaning of "to explain." The Pesher of Habakkuk is a rough equivalent to a commentary. There are 13 surviving pages beginning with a portion of verse 2 of Chapter 1. All of verse 1 is missing and most of the content of verses 2 through 6 are very fragmentary due to most of page one (approx. 3/5) is lost due to deterioration and the text is missing.
The text itself is "run together" with the peshers. In fact each break in the verses of Habakkuk is followed by the word "pesher" or a derivative. There is often a spatium or paragraph break although there is sometimes no spatium to show the break between scripture text and commentary except the word "pesher." Sometimes there are no scribal indications at all of the end of the pesher and a return to the text of Habakkuk. Thus the only indication of the end of the pesher or comment may be the text itself which therefore must be already known by the reader, else he may think he is still reading commentary. However, often the pesher leads up to introduce further text with the words " 'asher 'omer" (where he says) and then the text of Habakkuk follows. See the introduction to Peshers for a discussion on this phrase.
Actually two forms introduce a comment. They are pesher and peshru . Pesher means "to explain" and peshru is a 3mpl verb and means "they explain." Thus the scribe is offering his comments in a pesher and is noting what others also say after peshru.
There are similar spelling differences in the manuscript as that found in the Isaiah Scroll which will be explained below. However, there is a marked difference in the style of forming the letters. (This causes some scholars to date the Pesher in the Herodian period just before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.) The major differences are the difficulties in distinguishing some letters from others. "He" and heth are very close and only a trained eye will distinguish the difference without close scrutiny. Kaph and Beth are more similar in this text that in other scripts. Daleth and Resh, as usual, need care in some words especially because the scribal copiest may have been mistaken. But the letters are more easily differentiated here than in similar texts. Waw and yod continue to be used in the same way as in the Isaiah scroll. That is, they seem to be interchangeable. Yod appears to look the same as waw more often than not. And waw is frequently an added semi vowel. Although there may be the use of double waw. Aleph is added to words with less frequency than in QA. He is added to 2ms suffixes to show the extra syllable formed by the addition of the suffix.
The most unusual notation found in the Habakkuk Pesher is the four symbols that take the place of the Tetragrammaton (the four letters YHWH which are the name of God). The set of symbols of the four letters appears 4 times in the Pesher in what is the scripture text. Once on page VI at the bottom and 2 times on page X and once on page XI. The symbols are actually old Paleo-Hebrew script. A font of the alphabet may be seen along with many other ancient fonts by clicking here. The name is not used by the scribe in a pesher, or comment, on the text. And where the word YHWH would have originally appeared in the Habakkuk text the antique symbols are substituted for the name YHWH. This is the ancient script for YHWH used in the Pesher to Habakkuk.
There are similar ancient near eastern scripts. Moabite script for YHWH which is identical to the script used in the Siloam inscription which described the construction of Hezekiah's tunnel in the 7th - 8th century BCE. A full description of the Tunnel and a facsimile of the inscription with translation can be seen here.
The same divine name is seen here in early Aramaic script. . As can be seen the early Aramaic is similar to the script used by the scribe of the Pesher to Habakkuk.
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