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Males descended from Aaron, the brother of Moses. According to the Pentateuch, only male descendents of Aaron were entitled to the status of kehunah, i.e., members of the Jewish ritual priesthood.

Acts of the Apostles

Sometimes called the fifth Gospel. Thought to have been composed by Luke, a physician and friend of Paul (Saul of Tarsus).


Anno Domini, "year of our Lord"; indicates that a time division falls within the Christian era; same as CE.


Literature, and associated beliefs, revealing the future, particularly the "End of Days" as revealed in visions, dreams and interpretations; often revealed by angels. See also eschatology.


Books by authors written between 150 BCE and 100 CE, included in the Septuagint and Vulgate, but excluded from Jewish and Protestant canons of the Old Testament. For Catholics the word has a much broader meaning to include all extra biblical books not included in the canon during the Constantine reformation of the Christian texts.


A northwest Semitic language known since before the tenth century BCE until the rise of Islam; still used today in some places in the Near East; official language of the Persian empire; used extensively in southwest Asia and by the Jews after the Babylonian exile; the cursive script replaced the ancient paleo-Hebrew script for secular writing as well as for holy scriptures. One of the languages most widely used by the Jews at the time the scrolls were written or transcribed or translated.


A text written by its original author in his own hand, as opposed to a copy, or transcription made later by someone else.


Babylonian captivity

The period of the destruction of the First Temple and exile of the Judaeans to Babylonia between 597 BCE (the fall of King Jehoiachin) and 538 BCE.


When referring to an orthography, a revival of an outdated style. Instances of barogue orthography must be carefully distinguished from authentic old style othography, especially if one is trying to data manuscripts paleographically.


Before Christ; indicates that a time division that falls before the Christian era; same as BCE.




Birth place of Jesus.


A Jewish sect that opposed the Pharisees; sometimes identifies as a group of Sadducees. A recent review holds that the Hebrew term bytwsyn, bytysyn, traditionally rendered as "Boethusians," in reality were slightly altered forms of byt 'ysin"House [='school or 'community'] of Essenes."


Cairo Genizah manuscripts

Contents of the genizah (storage area) of the Palestinian synagogue of the Jews in medieval Fustat (Old Cairo, Egypt). Includes letters, legal documents and literary texts many of which contain dates and datable historical references. See also genizah.


A collection of those biblical books designated as holy scripture. Canonization refers to the process whereby certain popular biblical texts were accepted as authoritatively holy while others were excluded during the reign of Constantine.


Common Era; indicates that a time division falls within the Common/Christian era; same as AD.


A religious tradition whose roots reach deeply into the Judaic traditions current in the first century BCE. There are several descendants of the original Christian faiths that use unique variants of the biblical texts. There are the Amharic, or Ethiopians. There are the Greek Orthodox. There are Gnostics. There are also the descendants of the church of James. It is clear that it is much easier to define Christianity in terms of its current Catholic Canon, and its protestant variants, complex as that may be, than in terms of historical roots which are clouded by the effects of time, mishap and generations of intervening redactors.


A group of manuscript pages stitched together on one side to form a book; as opposed to pages sewn together on both sides to form a continuous scroll that had to be rolled up for storage and unrolled to be read. Codices were more compact and easier to read, carry and store and for these reasons largely replaced the scroll in early Christian times.


An inscription, usually at the end of a manuscript, giving the name of the work, its author, date and place of composition, and sometimes other information.


A form of execution under Roman law reserved for revolutionary activity.



Roman Republican coins, originally cast in silver and worth 10 asses; known as a "penny" in the New Testament. The Library of Congress exhibition includes coins from the mid-first century BCE.


tributeThe tribute penny of the Bible is widely regarded as a denarius of the Emperor Tiberius, who ruled Rome from A.D. 14 to 37. It shows Tiberius on the front and the legend "Tiberius Caesar Augustus, Son of the Divine Augustus." The back shows his mother, Livia, seated and the words "High Priest," one of Tiberius' many titles.

The denarius was a day's pay for a worker, such as a vineyard laborer (Matthew 20:2).



Island in upper Egypt, near Aswan, where a Judaean military colony was located in the fifth century BCE. Approximately forty Aramaic autograph texts, written by or to the inhabitants of the colony, and some legal documents were discovered there in 1906. The precise geological references contained therein show that they were written locally.

En Gedi

An ancient city less than 10 miles north of Masada. The hills above En Gedi are the location of the Essene community described by Pliny according to some readings of this Natural History. The consensus view is that Qumran is the Essene community and the "above" in Pliny should be read as north, about 20 miles north, in fact. Of course, it is also possible that Pliny made it up. He was never there and the identity and reliability of his sources is uncertain.


That branch of religious literature and belief having to do with various aspects of the afterlife, the Final Judgement, bodily resurrection, immortality of the soul, etc.


A Greek term meaning 'ruler of a nation', a less prestigious title than 'king', but still implying a degree of independence under an overlord.


First Revolt

The Jewish rebellion against the Roman rule that began in 66 CE and ended in 74 CE with the capture of the Jewish held fortress at Masada by the Romans. Its climax occurs with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70 CE.

First Temple Period

ca. 950 - 586 BCE The period of Jewish history from the construction of Solomon's temple to the destruction of the First Temple and exile of the Hebrews to Babylonia.

Five Cities of the Plain

The five cities are Sodom, Gomorrah, Zoar, Admah, and Zeboiim. Some modern scholarship suggests but has yet to prove that these five cities sit at or near the mouths of five of the six major wadis that feed into the southeastern corner of the Dead Sea. All five wadis feed into the region above the Gohr which in earlier days may have been above water; thus the plain associated with these particular cities.



Northern region of ancient Palestine. Like Judaea it was an area of dense Jewish settlement during the intertestamental period.


(Hebrew: "storage room') A designated place, often in a synagogue, for storing worn out, damaged or defective Hebrew writings and ritual articles which cannot be destroyed because of their holiness.


A popular alternative form of Christianity widespread in the Roman Empire before Constantine, and adopted in various forms. Taking its name from the Greek word for "knowledge," it taught that its adherents could receive secret knowledge from God. Its most characteristic belief was a "dualism" emphasizing that the world and matter were inherently evil and that the holy spirit alone was good.


Texts written in the style of first hand accounts of the events taking place during and following the time of Jesus. Popularly attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Extended by some to include the Acts of the Apostles, attributed to Luke.



Terms for Jewish ritual and civil law (e.g., Sabbath observance, tithing, contracts, etc.) and the texts concerned with them; disagreement on these matters are thought by some to have caused the Judaean Desert sect to secede from Israel, although this presupposes such a sect actually existed.


"Pietists", "pious ones"; a religious sect of Jews devoted to strict observance of the law and opposed to the adoption of aspects of Greek culture by other Jews. They were the forerunners of both the Pharisees and the Essenes. They are first supported the Maccabean movement, but subsequently opposed it, regarding it as too political. It arose before the outbreak of the persecution by Antiochus Epiphanes (167 BCE), and continued to exist well into the time of the Hasmonaean dynasty.


A family (a dynasty) of Jewish patriots to which the Maccabees belonged; period of Jewish history from the Maccabean Revolt (ca.167 BCE) to the Roman conquest of Judaea (ca. 67 BCE). Sometimes the period is extended as 167-30 BCE. The dynasty included Judas Maccabaeus, Jonathan, Simon, John Hyrcanus, Aristobolus I, Alexander Jannaeus, Alexandra Salome, Hyrcanus II, and Aristobolus II.


Mystical Jewish writings composed during the first few centuries after the destruction of the Second Temple, and characterized by descriptions of the "palaces" or "halls" (Hebrew, hekhalot) to be encountered by those (mystics) worthy of beholding the "Divine Chariot" (merkabah) of the Lord described in the Book of Ezekiel.


That mixture of Greek and Near Eastern culture that began to develop after the conquests of Alexander the Great. (ca. 332 BCE). This movement was still very device at the time of Jewish Revolt in 66 CE.


Religious scholars specializing in the study of heresies. They collected the works, and wrote detailed descriptions of the beliefs, of sectarians primarily to refute them.


Associated especially with Herod the Great's reign 37-4BCE; a period of Jewish history from 30 BCE - 70 CE


Another Jewish fortress of ancient Palestine, built in the style of Masada and Machaerus, located southeast of Bethlehem and approximately 20 kilometers march from Qumran.


Departure, in the eyes of later analysts, from the normative beliefs and practices of a religion. With respect to Judaism of the intertestamental period and Christianity of the early New Testament period, "orthodoxy" is difficult to define because of the state of fluctuation of Judaism during the earlier period, and the lack of the primary, unedited Christian documents from the latter.



The inhabitants of Idumaea (Edom), who during intertestamental times continued to inhabit a large area east and south of the Dead Sea.


The addition of an extra month to the lunar year in order to adjust it more closely to the solar year. The lunar year is 11 days shorter than the solar year. To partially compensate for this difference, the rabbis would intercalate a month at the end of the year twice in every seven years. This was necessary to keep the various holidays falling in their proper seasons.


The period between the end of the time described in the latest books of the Hebrew Bible and the opening of the New Testament.

Iron Age II

Archaeological term for the period, particularly for Palestine, from the beginning of the United Monarchy (ca. 1200 - 1000 BCE) to the Babylonian Exile , 586 BCE, corresponding roughly to the First Temple period. Some modern scholars bring the Bronze Age forward to include the reign of Solomon so that the Iron Age starts closer to 900 BCE than to 1000 BCE. This is reasonable because the later part of the Bronze Age was a time of relative prosperity and that is more in accordance with the state of the court of Solomon than the rather austere style of the later Iron Age sites that have been excavated.



Ancient city on the plain north of the Dead Sea and due north of Qumran.


Ancient city, center of Palestinian and Judaean history and culture. City of the Temple of Solomon and many other well known structures. Center of Jewish, Islamic and Christian religious history and culture.


Southern region of ancient Palestine. Like Galilee is was a region of dense Jewish settlement during the intertestamental period. Qumran lies in a barren area within the Judaean Desert known as the Judaean Wilderness.

Judaean wilderness or desert

The low-lying steppeland of Judaea west of the Dead Sea and east of the Central hill country, or simply south of Jerusalem and west of the Dead Sea. It is an arid region with some springs and a fair amount of rain in the winter.



A ruin or destroyed place; Khirbet Qumran = "ruin of Qumran."


The name referred originally to inhabitants of Kiti, capital of the isle of Cyprus, then to any Cypriots, later to Greeks, in general, and eventually even to Romans.



Members of the Israelite tribe of Levi (one of the twelve ancient tribes of Israel) or their descendents. The Levites were responsible for the maintenance of the Temple and sacrificial system, and it was to this tribe that the Aaronic priests belonged.


Third book of Jewish and Christian scripture consisting mainly of priestly legislation. Scroll fragments are included in the Library of Congress exhibition.



A priestly Jewish family which ruled Palestine in the second and first centuries BCE (164 - 67 BCE) and wrested Judaea from the rule of the Seleucids and their Greek practices. The Jewish holiday Hanukkah commemorates the Maccabees' recapture of Jerusalem and re-consecration of the Temple in December 164 BCE A name often used for the Hasmonaeans. The term derives from the surname of Judas Maccabeus, the early leader of the revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes.


Another Jewish fortress of ancient Palestine lying southeast of Qumran across the Dead Sea at a distance of only twenty kilometers. Qumran lies almost halfway, as the crow flies, between Jerusalem and Machaerus. This fortress was built or at least strengthened by the Hasmonaean Alexander Jannaeus after he subjugated Moab to the east of the Dead Sea sometime before 90 BCE. It was designated as a bulwark to fend off attacks by the Aramaic-speaking Nabataeans who occupied Petra and areas to the south. Destroyed by Gabinius, the governor of Syria, circa 60 BCE, it was rebuilt by Herod the Great, and his son Antipas murdered John the Baptist there.

Madaba map

A sixth century CE map of Palestine, forming the mosaic floor of a Byzantine church located in the ancient town of Madaba (Medeba) modern al-'Asimah, in what is now west-central Jordan. It preserves many important details of the geography of Roman and Byzantine Palestine.


Important Jewish fortress of ancient Palestine situated on a butte west of the Dead Sea; last stronghold of the 960 Jewish Zealots, including their wives and children, who volunteered to be killed or committed suicide, rather than surrender to the besieging Roman army at the end of the final battle of the revolt that marks the end of the Second Temple Period. Located thirty-three miles South of Qumran.


Relating to the Massorah, or "tradition," that body of early medieval notes on the textual traditions about the proper reading of the Hebrew Bible and to versions of it based on these traditions. The so-called "Masoretic Text", the standard version that appears in today's Hebrew Bible, is the version transmitted by the medieval Jewish scholars known as the Masoretes. They standardized the Hebrew text's punctuation, accentuation, and consonantal divisions. In the Middle Ages, the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo (Fustat), also the former home of the now famous enizah archive collection obtained by Solomon Schechter, was the home of a Masoretic Bible manuscript vocalized by the tenth-century Masorete Aharon Ben Asher. The great Jewish scholar Maimonides declared it superior to the vocalizations of other Masoretes. So powerful was Maimonide's influence that Ben Asher's version became the standard text as it appears in today's Hebrew Bible. Ultimately Ben Asher's manuscript ended up in the possession of the Jewish community of Aleppo, Syria; today it is known as the Aleppe Codex and is kept in Jerusalem.


Hebrew for "anointed one," a kingly, prophetic, or priestly figure envisioned during and after the Babylonian exile as savior of the Jewish people who would restore their political/religious autonomy. Applied by Christians to Jesus ("Christ" is the Greek translation of "messiah") and by Jews throughout history to a handful of leaders (e.g., Simon bar Kokhba, 132135 C.E., Shabbatai Zevi, 16261676 C.E.).


The central legal collection of early rabbinic (= Tannaitic) Judaism. Based on rabbinic traditions compiled about 200 CE, it contains ordinances on such matters as marriage, Sabbath observance, sacrifices, ritual purification, civil law, etc; part of the Talmud. See also Tannaitic and Tosephta.



One of the names for the original Christians in Judaea; also known as Jesseans according to Epiphanius, an early Christian writer.



A term referring to the way the words are spelled in a manuscript or printed text.



Prepared animal skin on which text is written.


The first five books of scripture (the Books of Moses): Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; the first of three major divisions of the Hebrew Bible.


One of the three orders or sects of Jews described by Josephus and other ancient sources during the Second Temple period. Originally, an essentially lay group formed from one of the branches of the Hasidim of the Maccabaean age. By the time of John Hyrcanus I there was Pharisaic objection to his usurpation, as a non-Zadokite, of the high priesthood, though they were willing to accept him as the national leader. Eight hundred Pharisees were accused by Alexander Jannaeus of collusion with the Syrian Seleucid king Demetrius III Eucaerus and condemned by Jannaeus to die on the cross. By the time of Josephus they were the largest of the various groups and had the popular support of the people. They were characterized by their "free" interpretation of the Bible, adherence to oral traditions, strict observance of rites and interpretation, belief in future retribution, belief in angels and other spiritual beings, divine providence cooperating with free will, the immortality of the soul, the bodily resurrection of the dead, and a coming Messiah. Some commentators suggest that Jesus was from a Pharisee family and background. Similarities between his teachings, especially the Sermon on the Mount, and those of Pharisee teachers, such as Hillel, seem to support the contention that Jesus 'was himself a Pharisee'.


Collection of Biblical hymns, i.e. sacred songs or poems used in worship and non-canonical passages.


Pseudonymous or anonymous Jewish and early Christian religious writings of the period 200 BCE to 200 CE, especially those attributed to ancient biblical figures, often giving imaginative retellings of biblical stories or professing to tell the future, that were included among the apocryphal writings (see Apocrypha) in the Septuagint.


rabbinic Judaism

The form of Judaism that became most widely accepted from the second century CE on. It espouses various teachings of the rabbis ("masters" or "great ones") or hakhamim ("sages") as binding for Jewish thought and practice. Rabbinic Judaism harks back to the earlier Pharisaic Judaism; like the Pharisees, the rabbinic Jews accept the validity of oral tradition, beliefs in angels and spirits, and the resurrection of the dead.

ritual purity

In the case of the Jews, the special state of cleanness required of those who would observe the laws of the Pentateuch relating to the pure and impure and take part in various religious ceremonies. Ritual purity involved both the avoidance of certain people (e.g., lepers), items (e.g., a corpse), or animals (e.g., mice) considered as defiling, and the performance of certain kinds of washings and other rituals in order to purify oneself after coming into contact with things considered defiling.



Referring to the Temple or priesthood.


Central region of ancient Palestine. Unlike Judaea and Galilee it was not an area of dense Jewish settlement during the intertestamental period.


Inhabitants of the region of Samaria in Palestine who were not exiled with the Judaeans to Babylonia. They maintained belief in the holiness of the Pentateuch to the exclusion of other writings deemed holy by the Jews and included in the Hebrew Bible. Their center was Neapolis (Nablus), and they offered sacrifices not on the Temple Mount but on Mt. Gerizim, a few hundred still survive today.


The Jewish council of state, with political and judicial functions, meeting under the presidency of the high priest. While still in debate, many scholars hold that there were two sanhedrins; the primarily Sadducaean political council (to which Josephus often refers) and the primarily Pharisaean Great Sanhedrin of seventy members, with religious and legislative functions, under rabbinic control.


A room in which texts are copied, especially in mediaeval monasteries.


A roll of parchment, papyrus, or other material containing written texts, with the sheets being sewn or otherwise fastened together one next to the other so as to facilitate the rolling up of the joined text. In biblical times, the Hebrew term sefer designated not a codex but a scroll, which preceded the codex throughout the Mediterranean world.

Second Temple Period

ca. 520 BCE - 70 CE
A time of crucial development for monotheistic religions; ended with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE Period in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were composed, transcribed and/or copied. The period from the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple at Jerusalem to the victory of the Romans over the Jews during the First Revolt.

Seleucid Empire

Created out of part of Macedonian Empire after the death of Alexander the Great (323 BCE) and, at its height, extended from the southern coast of modern Turkey south through Palestine and east to India's border; spanned the period 312 - 64 BCE


The Greek translation of the Jewish (Old Testament) scriptures, but including also the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, that was in use among the Jews of Alexandria. Translated by Jewish scholars in the third to second centuries BCE; the first vernacular translation of the Bible and still used in the Eastern Orthodox Church.


The assassins or "daggermen" lead by Menahem b. Jair, Eliezer b. Jair, and Simeon bar Giora, who took the leading role in the First Revolt against Roman rule. It remains a matter of debate whether or not they were a cadre recruited from among the Zealots.

Synoptic Gospels

The first three Gospels, i.e., Matthew, Mark and Luke-so called because of the similarity of their contents, statements, and order. The Acts of the Apostles is also attributed to Luke, usually acknowledged to be the same Luke who composed the Gospel. Like the Gospel it was also written in Greek and addressed to the same recipient. Sometimes Acts is referred to as the second half of the Gospel according to Luke, though it is not usually referred to as one of the Synoptic Gospels.


A dialect of Aramaic that became widely used in Syria and Mesopotamia from the late pre-Christian antiquity until it was largely displaced by Arabic. It continues in use in some Eastern Orthodox Christian churches to this day.



(Babylonian; Palestinian) The authoritative body of Rabbinic Judaism, consisting of the Hebrew Mishnah and Aramaic Gemara or commentary. The Babylonian Talmud, eventually considered to be the most authoritative of the two Talmuds, consists of the Mishnah and commentary by rabbinic teachers mainly of Babylonia; the Palestinian (or Jerusalem) Talmud consists of the Mishnah and commentary mainly by Palestinian rabbinic teachers. Developed during the first to the fifth centuries CE


Referring to the Tannaim (tannaites), or early generations of rabbinic teachers. The actual period of rabbinic Judaism is generally held to span the period from 70 CE to about 220 CE, the traditional time of compilation of the Mishnah.

terminus a quo

The earliest possible date for a manuscript, event, etc.

terminus ad quem

The date after which an event, etc. could not have occurred.


Ancient Greek silver coins.


The four Hebrew letters that represent the divine name of God, usually transliterated YHWH or JHVH in many parts of the Bible. The name was regarded as too holy to be pronounced and out of reverence, Jews ceased to pronounce the word aloud about the third century BCE. It was vocalized in mediaeval manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible with the vowels of the Hebrew word adonai, an epithet signifying "God."


A Greek term originally meaning the ruler of a quarter of a piece of territory, but by the first century BCE meaning a dependent prince of fairly low rank and status.


Hebrew ("the Law" or "the Teaching") particularly designates the first five books of the Bible, otherwise known as the Pentateuch or Five Books of Moses (to whom they are traditionally attributed).



A unique thing; esp., a text that exists only in a single manuscript without necessarily being the author's own autograph.


Widow's Mite

miteThe smallest coins in circulation in Judea at the time of Christ were tiny bronze affairs that had been struck by the Maccabean or Hashmonean kings a century before.

These come in several varieties. One common one has the Hebrew inscription "Yahonatan the High Priest and the Council of the Jews" within a wreath on the front and a cornucopia adorned with ribbons on the back.

The lepton or half-prutah was an inconsequential amount of money. It took 32 of them to buy a loaf of bread.



A descendant of Zadok, from whose lineage the High Priests of Judah had been selected since the time of King Solomon. The Zadokites were deposed by Antiochus Epiphanes in exchange for a bribe. The Hasmonaeans, who later assumed the High Priesthood, were not of the Zadokite line, and were therefore (in the opinion of some) unqualified to assume the office.


Not so much a religious sect, according to conventional interpretations,as adherents of a political and military movement, who were the prime instigators of the First Revolt. Josephus seems to regard the Zealots as a well-defined group that came into existence during the revolt; however, there is evidence that the term (which primarily means "one zealous for the Law of the Lord") may have widely used before and even after the Revolt for any who violently opposed Roman rule. The sicarii/>, who may have been recruited from among the zealots, were the defenders of Masada, who in 74 CE committed mass suicide rather than be taken alive by the attacking Roman army. Noted examples are Simon the Zealot, one of the twelve Apostles and possibly even Judas Iscariot, whose name may derive from the Sicarii.


Persian religious leader (also called Zarathustra), lived ca. 600 BCE. founded Zoroastrianism, a religion whose central belief is the eternal struggle between Good and Evil, or Truth and Falsehood.

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