1QM, 4Q491-496 - The War Scroll

Armageddon: the war to end all wars. These words stir up images of inevitable conflict, the final focus on the dark side of human nature, the ultimate catharsis that ushers in an age of peace. All of these issues come to a head in the War Scroll, a text that describes the eschatological last battle in detail - when righteousness is fully victorious and evil is forever destroyed. This vivid account gives us insight into how, at about the first century C.E., some Jews conceived of Armageddon.

The first lines of the scroll (1QM 1:1-7) lay the framework for a three-stage conflict between the Sons of Light, that is, members of the Yahad (see 1Q' 3:13) and the Sons of Darkness. The first battle finds the adversaries led by the Kittim of Assyria. (Although the name Kittim is often used in the scrolls as reference to the Romans, its basic sense seems to have been "archetypical bac guys.") The Kittim of Asshur come in alliance with the biblical enemies Edom, Moab, Ammon, and Philistia. Cooperating with this unholy alliance are the "violators of the covenant": Jews who had spurned the message of the Yahad and in so doing aligned themselves with the Sons of Darkness. The second stage expand the war's influence to the Kittim who dwelt in Egypt, and then finally to the Kings of the North.

Although this war is said to extend over forty years, the writer of the scroll was particularly concerned with the details of the very final day of battle. After six bloody engagements during this last battle, the Sons of Light and Sons of Darkness are deadlocked in a 3-3 tie. In the seventh and final confrontation "the great hand of God shall overcome [Belial and al]l the angels of his dominion, and all men of [his forces shall be destroyed forever]" (1QM 1:14-15).

Along the way, in true apocalyptic fashion, the scroll goes into elaborate detail concerning the battle trumpets (2:15-3:11), banners (3:12-5:2), and operational matters (5:3-9:16). Priestly prayers for the various phases of the conflict are corded next (9:17-15:3). Finally, the seven savage engagements of the final day battle are detailed (15:4-18:8), culminating in a ceremony of thanksgiving on the day following the victory (18:1-19:14).

As with biblical representatives of apocalyptic literature, Ezekiel 38-39 and the revelation of John as pertinent examples, one can easily lose sight of the primary purpose of the work. It is not to be found in the intricate and often mysterious tails of the text. Rather, the author was concerned with the tribulation and hopelessness that his readers were currently experiencing. He built his enouragement on a biblical theology of rescue: the defeat of Goliath at the hand of David (1QM 11:1-2), and Pharaoh and the officers of his chariots at the Red Sea 1:9-10). Coupled with this aspect was his understanding that great suffering was part of God's will for the redeemed. Indeed, God's crucible (17:9) was seen as a necessary component of man's existence so long as evil continued to exist in the World. Ultimately, God's purpose was to exalt the Sons of Light and to judge the Children of Darkness. The message is one of hope. In the face of such perverse evil, the Sons of Light are encouraged to persevere to the end. God was preparing to intervene and bring a permanent solution for the problem of evil.

The scroll itself is one of the first seven texts found by the Bedouin in 1947. Nineteen columns of text are preserved, lacking only a few lines at the bottom edge and the final page or pages of the composition. Although six additional manuscripts were found seven years later in Cave 4 (4Q491-496), they are only moderately helpful in reconstructing the missing portions of 1QM.