The Book of War is one manuscript in the collection known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, a library of about five hundred  documents first discovered in 1947-1948, along the shores of the Dead Sea, mostly near the ancient settlement of Qumran.  Most scholars believe the entire Scrolls library was the work of the Essenes, a radical sect of late Judaism that broke away from the worship in the Temple in Jerusalem and moved its headquarters to the desolate shores of the Dead Sea.

Biblical Reproductions offers several exquisite reproductions of pieces of the Scrolls, especially pieces of books of the Bible. The piece offered here is not Biblical, however, but rather theological.  It describes, in nineteen columns of text, a long  forty-year war against the “Kittim” – which one understands to mean the Roman Empire – which is really a war of our God against their gods. “They” are the Sons of Satan, the Sons of Darkness, while “we” are the sons of Light. This apocalyptic vision of the great battle seems to fit the ideology of the Essene community as we understand it from other sources.

Much of the Book of War scroll (columns 2 to 7), is truly military history: ranks and formations, weapons, armor, and maneuvers, trumpets and flags, etc.  As such, the scroll is a valuable contribution to our understanding of the means and methods of the Roman armies in the first centuries before and after the Common Era, when this scroll was written. The last four columns (columns. 15-19) are about the war itself, but many scholars believe them to be a later addition to the original work.

Other sections of the nineteen columns which form the War Scroll are religious rather than military.  We read of the proclamation of war, of the reorganization of Temple worship before going to war, of the duties of the Priests and Levites, prayers, addresses, a Thanksgiving ceremony and  its accompanying hymns, praising God for giving victory in the war. One such hymn of thanks is this reproduction presented by Biblical Reproductions,, which is licensed by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Author: Walter Zanger