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BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access December 6, 2022

Trauma in the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C: Cultural Trauma as Forgetful Remembrance of Divine-Human Relations in Qumran Jeremianic Traditions

  • Albert Livinus Augustinus Hogeterp EMAIL logo
From the journal Open Theology


The Qumran Apocryphon of Jeremiah C (4QApocrJer Ca-d; 4Q390) provides reflections on the trauma of devastation, dislocation, and captivity at the time of the Babylonian exile as narrated in the book of Jeremiah. Yet, just as the Damascus Document (CD/4QD), its apocalyptic review of periods goes well beyond the biblical era. This article analyses the narrative discourses of the Apocryphon in comparison with the Damascus Document with the aid of modern theory about cultural trauma, cultural analysis of remembering and forgetting, and recent insights about theodical discourse in the Hebrew Bible. It analyses the recurrent trope of “God hiding his face” in Qumran Jeremianic traditions against broader biblical and early Jewish backgrounds. The article investigates the understanding of reciprocity in human-divine relations and explores how theodicy relates to forgetful remembrance of covenantal relationships. It contends that the Qumran Jeremianic traditions deal with cultural trauma in terms of lament, admonition, theodical discourse, and divisive memory against the historical background of the late Second Temple period, in particular the era of the Maccabean crisis.

1 Introduction

The book of Jeremiah has been identified among “trauma literature, … reflecting the crises of destruction, death, dislocation (thus, forced migration), refugee status, and so on in both individual and communal modalities” in her recent study on theodicy and the fall of Jerusalem by Dalit Rom-Shiloni.[1] The literary history and reception of Jeremiah in early Judaism have been much enriched by the Dead Sea discoveries, which illuminate plural literary strata and forms of this biblical text (4QJerb,d)[2] as well as the existence of a parabiblical cycle of Hebrew texts around Jeremiah (4QApocrJer A-C) of which the composition has been dated to the second century BCE.[3] Among these parabiblical Qumran texts with Jeremianic traditions, 4Q390 has been identified as 4QApocrJer Ce by Devorah Dimant and alternatively as an “Apocalypse II” related to the “Apocalypse I” of 4QApocrJer Ca-d by Kipp Davis.[4] Previous studies have further illuminated overlaps in thematic concerns and narrative scripts between 4Q390 and the Damascus Document.[5] Together with the longer known Damascus Document, the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C constitutes invaluable evidence for the study of how early Jewish carrier groups instrumentalized Jeremiah as trauma literature in their own discourses of shaping cultural trauma and constructing group identity.

The study of trauma and the question how people develop strategies to cope with it has become the subject of relatively recent attention in biblical studies, in particular in the research about the Hebrew Bible[6] and its prophetic literature.[7] Definitions of collective trauma may vary. According to Elizabeth Boase and Christopher Frechette, literary trauma theory presupposes the “unknowability of trauma,” while yet attending to “the representation of delayed or unassimilated memory in language.” Trauma theory thereby focuses on the interpretation of “gaps and disjunctions within texts, pointing to the impact of the often-violent disruptions that lie behind the textual world.”[8] As such, they envisage a complementary role for trauma theory in interpreting texts.[9] David G. Garber has distinguished trauma as an “initial wounding experience” from trauma literature as its visible trace in the form of a “scar.”[10] While trauma literature comprises referentiality to traumatizing experience, the two are also distinct. In this regard, Jeffrey C. Alexander has pointed out the risk of a naturalistic fallacy, emphasizing the differentiation between traumatizing events and collective trauma. In Alexander’s understanding, “trauma is a socially mediated attribution. The attribution may be made in real time, as an event unfolds; it may also be made before the event occurs, as an adumbration, or after the event has concluded, as a post-hoc reconstruction.”[11]

Beyond the definition of trauma, the question is what biblical interpretation may aim to accomplish with the added lens of trauma theory. This question has also been answered in diverse ways. For instance, this approach may uncover hidden layers of meaning, giving a voice to trauma behind a text in terms of human suffering, or, in the words of Claus Westermann about lament, giving “suffering the dignity of language.”[12] Trauma studies may also investigate strategies of coping with trauma in a text. How does a text facilitate ways to recover from trauma and build resilience against it? This question has also occupied the attention of recent biblical scholarship.[13] In the case of Jeremiah, this entails looking behind what Kathleen O’Connor has called the prophet’s “portrait of a violent, angry God and the book’s entry and reentry into violent images, metaphors and relationships.”[14] Beyond the Hebrew Bible, the study of 4 Ezra as a text which moulds tradition in retrospect by Hindy Nahman has referred to the imagination of “an alternative past … as one way to work through trauma.”[15] The narrative script of a text may thereby contain literary clues for coping with traumatic events in historical respect.

Turning to the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C among the Dead Sea Scrolls, this text has hardly been studied through the lens of trauma studies as compared with longer known Qumran sectarian texts.[16] Yet the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C is saturated with imagery of a wrathful God, who abandons the land to desolation when the priests of Jerusalem go over to idolatry (4Q387 2 iii 5–7), who repudiates those who combine their saying “you have left us, our God,” azavtanu elohenu (4Q385a 3a-c 5//4Q387 1 2)[17] with transgressions of divine commandments (4Q385a 3a-c 5–7//4Q387 1 2–4//4Q388a 3 4–7). It is also saturated with references to traumatic violence, starting with Israel’s loss of the kingdom to foreign rule determined by the Babylonian capture of Jerusalem, by devastation of the land, and by Babylonian exile (4Q389 1; 4Q385a 18 i–ii).[18] 4Q385a 18 i 4 specifically refers to Nebuzaradan, Babylonian captain of the guard, rav hatabakhim, who led the people from Jerusalem into exile to Babylon.[19] The Qumran Apocryphon of Jeremiah is not isolated in its elaboration on Jeremiah as biblical frame of reference for the Babylonian exile. Among the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Admonition of the Damascus Document further contains a review of the past, which mentions Israel’s abandonment to the sword at the time of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (CD 1.3–4, 6) and designates it as “the age of devastation of the land” (CD 5.20).[20] The Damascus Document is even known for the only non-citational reference to Jeremiah among “the entire corpus of Qumran sectarian literature.”[21] Thus, where it is relevant for putting the Apocryphon of Jeremiah in comparative perspective regarding broader Qumran Jeremianic traditions, this article draws the Damascus Document into the comparison.

The Apocryphon of Jeremiah C yet goes far beyond the biblical master narrative of the Babylonian exile in its literary imagination of traumatizing events. The Apocryphon of Jeremiah C from Qumran cave 4 incorporates a vision of the Second Temple period and the eschatological era in its apocalyptic review.[22] This broader review of time also includes a periodization in which, according to the edition by Devorah Dimant, “two blasphemous gentile kings” come to the fore, the first presumably being Nebuchadnezzar II king of Babylon, who conquered and destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BCE (4Q387 2 ii 8), and the second (4Q387 2 ii 12-iii 1//4Q388a 7 ii 2–4, 4Q389 8 ii 9–11) allegedly being “the Seleucid Antiochus IV, who initiated religious persecution against Israel in 167 BCE.”[23]

The periodization of the intermediate era between Babylonian exile and the time of evil befalling Israel under another blasphemous foreign king varies in the respective manuscripts of the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C. 4Q387 (4QApocrJer Cb) 2 ii 3–5 speaks of events on a timescale marked by the “completion of ten jubilees of years,” whereas 4Q390 1 7–8 speaks of events following the completion of a generation in the “seventh jubilee of the devastation of the land.”[24] By comparison, the Damascus Document refers to a “period of wrath, three hundred and ninety years after having delivered them up into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon” (CD 1.5–6).[25] Paradoxically, the long periodization of ten jubilees in 4Q387 (4QApocrJer Cb) 2 ii 3–5 stretches to the early first century BCE, the time of Alexander Jannaeus, Jewish civil war, and ultimate Roman conquest of Jerusalem. On the other hand, the periodization of seven jubilees in 4Q390 fragment 1 lines 7–8 could relate to the eve of transition from Ptolemaic rule to Seleucid rule over Israel, while the periodization of 390 years in CD 1 5–6 is more nearly situated at the eve of Hellenistic reform by Antiochus IV Epiphanes and his religious persecution of Jews. These varying periodizations may imply that the issue of Israel’s loss of dominion to foreign rule could be polyvalent in Qumran Jeremianic traditions deduced from the comparison of the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C with the Damascus Document. Yet periodizations can be notoriously problematic to relate to history, when figures have symbolic values in the apocalyptic imagination.[26] Thus, situating the narrative scripts of the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C against historical backgrounds will have to depend on further literary and intertextual comparison with broader contexts of early Jewish literature.

It is a question how the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C focalizes the trauma of loss of dominion to foreign rule through devastation, dislocation, and exile in relation to biblical tradition and beyond. The book of Jeremiah not only incorporates prophetic oracles of divine judgement against apostasy leading to wrath and devastation of the land (Jer 7:28–34), but also represents prophetic lament,[27] divine lament (Jer 12:7–13), and visions of consolation expected from covenant renewal (Jer 30–31). It remains to be investigated how the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C provides strategies of coping with trauma in comparison with biblical prophecy, in particular that of Jeremiah.

This article examines how the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C cultivates the traumatic memory of destruction and dislocation as part of communal identity concerns of its carrier groups. It starts with methodological reflections on cultural trauma as a master narrative and its application to the Apocryphon’s theodical discourse (Section 2). The article then turns to an overview of the way in which 4QApocrJer Ca-d and 4Q390 encode cultural trauma in their theodical discourses, highlighting the recurring trope of “God hiding his face” with a view to intertextuality with biblical traditions and to broader contexts (Section 3). Subsequently, this article addresses the question what triggers the cultural trauma in Qumran Jeremianic traditions. A recurring element in these texts (4Q390 frgs. 1 and 2 col. 1; CD-A cols. 1–5) is the forgetful remembrance of ancestral traditions. The article investigates the relation between forgetting and remembering in these texts,[28] with a view to broader literary contexts and to recent methodological reflections on forgetful remembrance[29] (Section 4). The article then evaluates how the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C keys into Jeremianic traditions about cultural trauma to shape Jewish group identity. It revisits previous hypotheses on cultural memory and traumatic memory in the Dead Sea Scrolls[30] and turns to conclusions (Section 5).

2 Methodological reflections

The study of cultural trauma has become distinguished from psychoanalytic approaches in relatively recent decades.[31] In his essay “Toward a Theory of Cultural Trauma,” Jeffrey C. Alexander observed that “traumatic status is attributed to real or imagined phenomena, not because of their actual harmfulness or their objective abruptness, but because these phenomena are believed to have abruptly, and harmfully, affected collective identity.”[32] The Apocryphon of Jeremiah C may also be characterized as a “posthoc reconstruction” of the “‘imagined’ traumatic event” of the “age of devastation” of Babylonian exile, of which the narrative further unfolds a prophetic history of Israel’s development.

In order to analyse cultural trauma as a master narrative, Alexander provides an interpretive model that distinguishes four key elements: (a) the nature of the trauma; (b) the nature of the group involved in traumatizing pain; (c) the relation of the victimized group to the wider audience; and (d) attribution of responsibility, in other words, who is the antagonist?[33] Somewhat analogously, in their introduction to Narrating Trauma, Jeffrey C. Alexander and Elizabeth B. Breese observe that texts about collective trauma follow cultural scripts that answer four “w” questions: “What happened? Who were its victims? Who were its perpetrators? And what can be done?”[34]

As applied to the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C a-d and 4Q390, the questions of trauma, victims, and perpetrators/antagonists cannot always be clearly delineated in a unidirectional way.[35] The prophetic persona of Jeremiah actually distinguishes various groups across generations, such as the children of Israel, of Judah and Benjamin (4Q385a 18 i 6, 18 ii 7),[36] the priests of Jerusalem (4Q387 2 iii 6//4Q388a 7 ii 6), and the sons of Aaron (4Q390 1 2–3), among those victimized by devastation and captivity. Yet from the penitential perspective of the Apocryphon,[37] those victimized are also transgressors of the covenant of the law and evildoers (4Q389 8 ii 4, 7; 4Q390 1 8–9). 4Q390 2 i 4–10 is even particularly detailed about covenant transgressions, of which the enumeration bears resemblance to descriptions of iniquities as “nets of Belial” (CD 4.12–19) and as matters that define an “age of wickedness” (CD 6.14–17) in the Damascus Document.[38]

On the other hand, the antagonists to the victims of the devastation and dislocation among Israel are also variously described, ranging from a gentile king who acts as a blasphemer and evildoer, godvan w e oseh raoth (4Q388a 7 ii 3//4Q389 8 ii 9); to a blasphemer and performer of abominations from a foreign dominion, [yi]h e [ye melekh w e h]u godvan w e asah toevoth (4Q387 2 ii 8); to the sword of “their enemies” (4Q390 1 9–10, 2 i 4), to “angels of Mastemot” (4Q387 2 iii 4; 4Q390 1 11, 2 i 7), and ultimately to wrath of God against disloyalty standing behind abandonment to the “dominion of Belial” and his angels of destruction (4Q390 2 i 4 and 7).[39] The Apocryphon even envisions a generation in which a violent split occurs among Israel, “waging war against one another for the sake of the law and for the sake of the covenant” (4Q387 3 7–8),[40] in which case a clearly delineated distinction between victims and perpetrators becomes more complicated.

The descriptions of antagonism at the later end of the Apocryphon’s narrative spectrum provide clues to situate trauma relatively broadly in relation to the Maccabean crisis and its consequences. That is, 2 Maccabees 9:28 actually calls the gentile king Antiochus IV Epiphanes a “murderer and blasphemer,” androphonos kai blasphēmos, at his death. Further, the book of Jubilees, which is dated to the second century BCE, includes an envisioned conflict within an evil generation among which war is waged concerning the law and the covenant (Jub. 23:19–20). It is also from the Maccabean era onwards that inner division finds its expression in early Jewish sectarianism.[41] A further argument to situate the Apocryphon in relation to the Maccabean era has been provided by Devorah Dimant, who compared Jeremianic instruction of a special law for people in exile in 2 Macc 2:1–4 with the wording of 4Q385a 18 i-ii.[42]

The realm of superhuman powers and perspectives involved in the prophetic history envisioned by the Apocryphon also raises the question how cultural trauma is articulated as discourse on theodicy. The problem of theodicy has been illustrated as a trilemma between human suffering, the idea of God as good and compassionate, and the idea of God as lord of history, being omnipotent and omniscient.[43] In her recent study on theodicy and the fall of Jerusalem in the Hebrew Bible, Dalit Rom-Shiloni has used the concept of “theodical discourse” to include theological reflections on both justification and protest addressing God vis-à-vis this trilemma.[44] In this regard, Rom-Shiloni distinguishes Hebrew Bible texts down to the sixth century BCE from late biblical and Second Temple literature, in which the wane of voices of protest and lament would be attributable to the influence of penitential prayer.[45] In subsequent sections, we will see which directions are taken in Qumran Jeremianic traditions in this regard and whether and how this resonates with other writings in the Qumran corpus.

Another issue which needs to be addressed here concerns the relation between cultural trauma and cultural memory, in particular the question how remembrance and forgetfulness, respectively, shape the understanding of trauma in the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C.

Previous studies have been divided about the question how history and memory are related to each other in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Cultural memory, and in particular traumatic memories, can be instrumentalized in a group’s construction of its history. In his study on the Damascus Document and Pesher Habakkuk, Tim Langille argued that “CD and 1QpHab revisit the traumatic memories of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile in the formation of exclusivist collective identities.” In his view, these texts “attempt to restore what they narrativize as the loss of an original preexilic identity.”[46] I have argued elsewhere that it is problematic to interpret the Damascus Document as a text preoccupied with an idealized preexilic past and identity, since its affiliation with a Jeremianic concept of covenant renewal has its setting in the Second Temple period.[47] The past is not idealized in the Damascus Document’s review of ancient times, which singles out many cases in which people went astray and walked in the “stubbornness of their hearts” (CD cols. 2–3). The contents of the Apocryphon of Jeremiah, as surveyed by Devorah Dimant, do not exhibit an idealized past either, since several fragments are also concerned with the “sins of the First Temple period” (4Q385a 3; 4Q387 1; 4Q388a 3, 4–6; 4Q389 6–7).[48] As opposed to a minimalist approach to cultural memory grounded in ideological criticism, other studies have contemplated more complementary functions of history and memory, respectively. Writing about the Pesharim, Shem Miller has recently emphasized a “didactic approach to history” in pre-modern traditional historiography.[49] With a view to history and memory in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Travis Williams has differentiated the epistemologies of historiography and collective memory: “historiography mediates the past through the critical investigation of source materials, while collective memory employs stories that have been accepted by communities and passed down across generations through various media.”[50] These considerations will be taken into account, when turning to the issue of group identity construction as represented in the articulation of cultural trauma in subsequent sections.

The relation between remembrance and forgetfulness is of acute importance for the study of cultural trauma behind the theodical discourses of the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C in comparison with the Damascus Document. The narrative scripts of the Apocryphon indicate that states of forgetfulness of the covenant which bring about disloyalty and transgressions lead to God’s abandonment of the covenant people. 4Q387 (4QApocrJer Cb) 2 ii 4–5 refers to acts of “walking in ma[dness] and in blindness and bewilderment of heart,”[51] which may also be a literary stock phrase as it recurs in other Qumran texts (4QpHosa 1 8–9; 4Q504 1–2 ii 14–15).[52] 4Q390 1 8–9 literally refers to the act of forgetting “the law, the festival, the sabbath, and the covenant,” which is tantamount to disobedience and evildoing.[53] 4Q390 2 i 7 subsequently phrases forgetfulness as ignorance and incomprehension regarding wrath of God against disloyalty. The Damascus Document again phrases forgetfulness differently as “hidden matters in which all Israel had gone astray: his holy sabbaths and his glorious feasts, his just stipulations and his truthful paths, and the wishes of his will” (CD 3.14–15).[54] On the other hand, CD 1.4–5 relates God’s remembrance of the covenant with the forefathers to his salvation of a remnant for Israel. 4Q390 1 10–11 further refers to divine preservation of survivors, while 4Q387 (4QApocrJer Cb) 3 8–9 formulates what Dimant has called “the appearance of the need for the true word of God” through a first person divine discourse:[55] “And I will send a famine, but not of bread, and a drought, but n[ot] of water.”[56] Finally, the Damascus Document implies a sense of divine acts of not remembering, not holding against people their sins in cases of realization of iniquity and search of God with an undivided heart (CD 1.8–10) and of the pardoning of sin through God’s “wonderful mysteries” (CD 3.17–18). Remembering and forgetting are thereby essential for understanding how Qumran Jeremianic traditions articulate cultural trauma in their theodical discourses. These interrelated phenomena will be the object of further investigation (Section 4).

In modern theory of memory studies, the mutual relations between remembering and forgetting in cultural memory have come under close scrutiny in recent years. In her essay on “Social Forgetting,” Elena Esposito has emphasized that “memory does not record the past …, but reconstructs it everytime for a future projected in ever new ways,” thereby realizing “a constant re-categorization.”[57] This sense of re-categorization may also stand behind the varying periodizations in Qumran Jeremianic traditions, ranging from 4QApocrJer Ca-d to 4Q390, and to the Damascus Document.[58] Just like memory, forgetting cannot be considered a unitary phenomenon either, as has been duly noted by Paul Connerton, who distinguishes seven types of forgetting: (a) as repressive erasure, under imposed power (such as damnatio memoriae); (b) as prescriptive forgetting, as a culture’s resolution of conflict breaking away from a cycle of violence; (c) as part of new identity formation, which involves “tacitly shared silences” and “newly shared memories”; (d) as structural amnesia, relating to systematic forgetfulness of what is not deemed socially important; (e) as annulment, related to a “cultural surfeit of information”; (f) as planned obsolescence (in the material culture of a product life cycle); and (g) as humiliated silence.[59] Some of these types of forgetting (a–d, g) may also well apply to ancient contexts. Related to issues of breaking away from cycles of iniquity and of upholding a stable religious identity, the petition to God not to remember former iniquities for ever is part of biblical tradition (Isa 64:8; Pss 25:7, 79:8) as well as of the Qumran corpus: “[and do not hol]d ([w e al tiz]kor) against us the iniquities of the forefathers” (4Q504 [4QDibHama] 4 6).[60] As we noted above, the Damascus Document implies a sense of passing over sin in the case of undivided search of God (CD 1.8–10, 3.17–18). The extant fragments of the Apocryphon of Jeremiah only contain imperatives of the prophetic persona of Jeremiah addressing the exiled people to Babylon to keep the covenant (4Q385a 18 i 9), to study the laws and keep the commandments of God (4Q385a 18 ii 8), and to serve God with undivided loyalty (4Q387 2 ii 1–2). Thus, Qumran Jeremianic traditions comprise varying types of admonition, in which, depending on the context, the idea of divine passing over human sin may be implied (CD) or completely recedes to the background (ApocrJer), presumably being absent or inappropriate for the narrative setting. We will turn to remembering and forgetting in greater detail in Section 4.

Before turning to the issues of cultural trauma and forgetful remembrance in greater detail, some observations on the understanding of the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C are in place. As noted in Section 1, the idea put forward by Devorah Dimant that 4Q390 would be another copy of the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C, labelled 4QApocrJer Ce,[61] has been met with critical differentiation. Kipp Davis differentiated 4Q390 from 4QApocrJer Ca-d as a reworked text, a type of Second Temple apocalypse redux, which does not directly mention the prophetic persona of Jeremiah, but constitutes a pastiche which yet has links with the same Jeremianic traditions.[62] The type of Jeremianic affiliation which 4Q390 exhibits has been more extensive subject of some debate.[63] The option has been entertained that 4Q390 “would be either a Mosaic or a Jeremianic text.”[64] Yet it should be kept in mind that Moses has also been counted among models of Jeremianic self-understanding in studies on the book of Jeremiah,[65] so that an either-or dichotomy is not necessarily applicable. Arguments in favour of a Jeremianic affiliation of 4Q390 put forward by Anja Klein further include the jubilean periodization of history linking 4Q390 with 4Q387,[66] the motif of the devastated land in 4Q390 1 7–8 deriving from Jer 25:11, and a “Jeremianic concept of exile.”[67] The fact that the intertextuality of 4Q390 cannot be exclusively limited to Jeremiah[68] is only natural for the apocalyptic text which 4Q390 is, analogously with 4QApocrJer Ca-d, which goes beyond the biblical period in its prophetic discourse.

Regarding the Damascus Document (D), we already noted its non-citational reference to Jeremiah (CD 8.20–21) as well as major overlapping thematic concerns and narrative scripts between D and 4Q390. Two overlapping thematic concerns will be singled out regarding the subject of cultural trauma in the next sections: the trope of God hiding his face (Section 3) and forgetful remembrance (Section 4). In this regard, 4QApocrJer Ca-d, 4Q390, and D can thereby be considered together.[69]

3 God hiding his face

The trope of God hiding his face from Israel recurs in Qumran Jeremianic traditions at points in the narrative discourses where abandonment to destruction, the loss of the kingdom to foreign rule, dislocation, and exile are invariably at stake (4Q387 [4QApocrJer Cb] 2 ii 9//4Q389 [4QApocrJer Cd] 8 ii 2; 4Q387 2 iii 4–5//4Q389 8 ii 4–5; 4Q390 1 9–11; CD 1 3–4//4QDa 2 i 8–9, 4QDc 1 10–11). This is a feature that clearly interlinks 4QApocrJer Ca-d, 4Q390, and the Damascus Document as a body of Qumran Jeremianic traditions. Before discussing these passages in greater detail, we will turn to biblical, early Jewish, and Qumranite contexts to put the understanding of this trope into perspective. This may uncover shades of meaning to this trope through the lens of cultural trauma, which situates the mental vacuum behind expressions of a God-forsaken world.

In her survey of “anthropomorphic metaphors of God,” Rom-Shiloni highlighted, among other anthropomorphisms, the implication of “God’s Face” in destruction through phrases such as the “setting the face against” or “hiding the face from.”[70] God hiding his face, in Hebrew upanay mastirim meyisrael, has also been listed among biblical locutions by Dimant, who compared its use in the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C with Deuteronomy 31:17–18, 32:20, Jeremiah 33:5, and Ezekiel 39:23–24.[71] But who are the object(s) of God hiding his face in biblical literature? Those from whom God hides his face are characterized in various ways: those who serve foreign gods forsaking God (Deut 31:17.18; 32:20); those who perpetrate many evils (Deut 31:18); a perverse generation without faith (Deut 32:20); those who consult mediums and wizards rather than God (Isa 8:17–20); those engaged in bloodshed and deceit (Isa 59:2–3); those disheartened by the power of their own iniquities (Isa 64:6); and those more generally described in terms of wickedness, iniquity, and treacherous behaviour (Jer 33:5; Ezek 39:23–24; Mic 3:4).

In contexts of prayer, the psalmist recurrently entreats God to arise from hiding his face to deliver personally or collectively from enemies or misfortune (Pss 10:11–12, 13:2–3, 27:9, 44:25–27, 102:3, 143:7). In other cases, the psalmist utters a lament questioning why God hides his face (Ps 88:15; cf. Job 13:24) or rather assures the addressees that God does not hide his face from the afflicted (Ps 22:25). In one case, the psalmist entreats God to hide his face from sins (Ps 51:11). Psalm 104:29 summarily voices the dire consequences of God hiding his face: “When thou hidest thy face, they are dismayed; when thou takest away their breath, they die and return to their dust” (RSV). It should be noted that there are several passages in the Psalter where the act of forgetting (shakakh) parallels hiding the face: the disheartened person who thinks that God has forgotten, hiding his face, who is addressed with the plea towards God not to forget the afflicted (Ps 10:11–13); a lament about how long God will forget the protagonist, hiding his face from him (Ps 13:2); and a cry for help against hiding the face and forgetting people’s affliction and oppression (Ps 44:25).

In the prophetic discourse of Jeremiah, there are two clear-cut examples of the trope of God hiding his face. As part of reflections on people’s “stubbornness of the evil heart” (Jer 18:12 RSV), Jeremiah 18:17 voices a first person divine discourse: “I will show them my back, not my face, in the day of their calamity” (RSV). As part of a section which gradually turns from punishment to restoration (Jer 33:5–9), Jeremiah 33:5 starts with punishment of Jerusalem with anger and fury against “those on account of whose wickedness I have hid my face from this city” (JB).

The above survey of biblical literature illustrates highly situationally determined contexts and conditions in which the trope of God hiding his face occurs. In prophetic discourse, God hiding his face may further be qualified as a temporary phenomenon. For instance, Isaiah 54:8 states: “In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer” (RSV). As part of his vision of restoration, Ezekiel 39:29 reads: “and I will not hide my face any more from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, says the Lord God” (RSV). In a different setting of envisioned covenant renewal, Jeremiah 31:31–34 concludes that the Lord “will remember their sin no more (lo ezkor od)” (Jer 31:34 RSV), implying the opposite of the trope of God hiding his face from his people.

In order to highlight what the trope of God “hiding his face” means, it may further be illustrative to draw a graphic contrast between positive expressions about God’s face as denoting divine presence and their negative reverse side. That is, in a positive sense, God’s face may denote divine empowering presence, such as in the priestly blessing (Num 6:22–27), where it is associated with preservation, grace, and peace. Yet in a negative sense, God hiding his face is related to a state of utter abandonment, of dismay and morbid fate (Ps 104:29), “like those who go down into the pit” (Ps 143:7 JB). Not surprisingly, the Qumran Jeremianic traditions also include various references to the divine act of abandoning the land.[72]

With a view to biblical and post-biblical literature of early Judaism, the hiding of God’s face may further reflect negative perspectives on human-divine relations as well as on the human condition. That is, the trope of God hiding his face has a broader setting in a perceived reciprocity between human empowering presence and divine empowering presence as well as their opposites of separation and abandonment. Thus, Isaiah 59:1–2 reads: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither is his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (JB). In early Jewish literature, the withdrawing of God’s face can be literally correlated with human withdrawal of the face from the poor. Thus, the Hebrew witness to Tobit 4:7 in 4Q200 (4QTobe) fragment 2 lines 6–7 reads: “and do not wit[hdraw your face from any po]or person, so that from you [the face of God does not with[draw].”[73]

The interhuman dimension to the act of hiding the face is further highlighted in the fourth Servant Song (Isa 52:13–53:12), as part of a lament (Isa 53:1–3): “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (RSV). If the servant stands collectively for Israel (cf. Isa 52:13–15), the act of “hiding the face” also reflects a lament about an experienced reality rather than a judgemental perspective.

In early Jewish literature, the trope of God hiding his face is further invoked in contexts of captivity and exile, entreated deliverance from foreign perils, and caution against the commitment of mortal sins. Thus, at the conclusion of his vexed prayer (Tob 3:1–6) amidst the misfortune of his people in captivity and exile (Tob 1–2), Tobit entreats God as follows: “and do not turn away your face, O Lord, from me” (Tob 3:6 LXXBA, NETS).

Jubilees 1.12–14 envisions the murder of law-abiding people, the captivity, and exile, which also includes reference to God hiding his face from them (Jub. 1.13//4Q216 (4QJuba) 3.14). Since Jubilees 1.12–14 contains many elements that also overlap with the narrative discourses of the Qumran Jeremianic traditions, its first person divine discourse may be cited in full here:

And I shall send to them witnesses so that I might witness to them, but they will not hear. And they will even kill the witnesses. And they will persecute those who search out the Law, and they will neglect everything and begin to do evil in my sight. And I shall hide my face from them, and I shall give them over to the power of the nations to be captive, and for plunder, and to be devoured. And I shall remove them from the midst of the land, and I shall scatter them among the nations. And they will forget all of my laws and all of my commandments and all of my judgments, and they will err concerning new moons, sabbaths, festivals, jubilees, and ordinances.[74]

The forgetful remembrance at the end of this passage is also a constitutive element of Qumran Jeremianic traditions. As part of a narrative on Abraham’s farewell testimony to Isaac (Jub. 21), the discourse cautions against all human sins and evils (Jub. 21.21), in particular against committing “a mortal sin before God Most High, so that he will hide his face from you, and deliver you into the power of your sin, and uproot you from the earth, and your seed from beneath the sky, and your name and seed will perish from all the earth” (Jub. 21.22//4Q219 (4QJubd) 2.26).[75]

Finally, in 3 Maccabees, the prayer of Eleazar (3 Macc 6:1–15) for divine intervention to save his people from destruction by Gentiles has its setting in struggles of Egyptian Jews against oppression by Ptolemy IV Philopator (221–203 BCE). This prayer concludes with the following entreatment of God that he will not have turned his face away from his people: “Let it be shown to all nations that you are with us, Lord, and that you have not turned your face away from us, but as you said, ‘Not even when they were in the land of their enemies did I despise them’; thus make it so, O Lord” (3 Macc 6:15, NETS).

As part of the Qumran corpus, other texts than the Qumran Jeremianic traditions also employ the trope of God hiding his face. The Temple Scroll includes a passage which juxtaposes the envisioned fate of devastation, a heavy yoke, and scattering in the lands of enemies for people engaged in idolatry and wickedness (11QTa 59.1–9) to that of their return to the Lord with an undivided heart to be saved and redeemed by God (11QTa 59.9–13). The former part of the passage includes first person divine discourse about God hiding his face from them (11QTa 59.7). In the Qumran sectarian Hosea Pesher, pesher commentary following Hos 5:15 envisions a situation in which “God [will hid]e his face fr[om the l]and” (4Q167 [4QHosb] 2 6).[76] Perhaps not unrelated to the subject is the pesher commentary on Hosea 2:8 in 4Q166 (4QpHosa) 1.7–10, which includes the stock phrase “madness, blindness and confusion of heart” (4QpHosa 1.8–9) that also figures in 4Q387 (4QApocrJer Cb) 2 ii 4–5. This pesher commentary also speaks of “the era of their disloyalty” and “the generation of the visitation” (4QpHosa 1.9–10).[77] The trope of God hiding his face is further part of ritual settings of supplication and entreatment in two other Qumran texts. Thus, 4Q437 (4QBarki Naphshi d ) 2 i 7 reads “you have [no]t hidden your face from my supplications, and all my anguish you have seen,” while 4Q393 (4QCommunal Confession) 1–2 ii 4–5 addresses God as follows: “Our God, hide your face from [our] si[ns, and] wipe out [al]l our iniquities.”[78]

Turning from this survey of biblical, early Jewish, and Qumranite evidence for the use of the trope of God hiding his face to Qumran Jeremianic traditions, it is time to consider the question at which points in their narrative discourse these traditions employ this trope and what this ultimately signifies in the discursive perspectives of these texts.

The trope of God’s hiding his face is variously situated in the narrative progression of the respective Qumran Jeremianic traditions. The Damascus Document situates it already in the biblical period at the time of Babylonian exile by the hands of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, which is retrospectively mentioned (CD 1.5–6) and further associated with the “age of devastation” (CD 5.20–21). Thus, CD 1 3–5//4QDa 2 i 8–10, 4QDc 1 10–12 reads: “For when they were unfaithful in forsaking him, he hid his face from Israel and from his sanctuary and delivered them up to the sword. But when he remembered the covenant with the forefathers, he saved a remnant for Israel and did not deliver them up to destruction.”[79] The periodization of misfortunes for Israel yet also extends beyond the Babylonian age in the Damascus Document, which situates an “age of wrath” 390 years after the time of king Nebuchadnezzar (CD 1.5–6).

The Apocryphon of Jeremiah C a-d and 4Q390 mention the trope of God hiding his face only at a later stage in their narrative discourses. According to Dimant’s survey of contents, these discourses not only concern loss of kingdom and devastation at the time of Babylonian exile, but also further punishment of transgressions with devastation, foreign rule, termination of nationhood,[80] and an inner rift of violent conflict in the Second Temple period.

This extended periodization is in view in the following passage of 4Q389 (4QApocrJer Cd) 8 ii 1–11//4Q385a 4 6–9, 4Q387 2 ii 8–12, 2 iii 1–2, 4Q388a 7 ii 1–5:

[a blasphemer and he will commit abominations and]I[ shall tear away his]k[ingdom and he too (will be) to the destroyers. And my face will be hidden from Israe]l and the kingdom will return to many nations. And the Children of Israel [will be crying out be]cause of the heavy yoke in the lands of their captivity, and there will be none to deliver them because they have spurned my statutes and abhorred my Torah. Therefore I have hidden my face from[ them until] they accomplish their iniquity. Vacat And this is the sign to them of the requital of their iniquity [for] I shall leave the land because of their haughtiness towards me, and they will not know [tha]t[ I have spurned them and]they will once again do evil, and the evil will be gr[eat]er than the former (ev[il),] and they will violate the covenant which I made]with Abraha[m] and wi[th I]saac and with [Jacob. In those days will]arise a king of the Gentiles, a blasphemer, [and a do]er of evils and[ And in his days I shall remove Israe]l from (being) a people.[ In his days] I shall break th[e k]ingdom [of Egypt Egypt, and I shall break Israe]l[ and deliver her up to the sword].[81]

The circumstances mentioned in this discourse may be paralleled by events attributed to the Maccabean era. That is, the reference to the breaking of the kingdom of Egypt “in his days,” [beyamo] eshbor e[t ma]mlekhet [Mitzraim] (4Q389 8 ii 10–11), has a parallel in Antiochus’ return from his conquest of Egypt in 1 Macc 1:20. Further, the envisioned “removal of Israel from being a people,” [a-avir et Yisrae]l me-am (4Q389 8 ii10), has a parallel in Matthathias’ lament about the “destruction of my people,” to suntrimma tou laou mou (1 Macc 2:7, NETS).[82] This lament has its narrative setting in external persecution on the one hand and internal strife between “many of the people” who abandoned the law (1 Macc 1:52) and “many in Israel” who remained steadfast (1 Macc 1: 62) on the other.

In the Apocryphon’s apocalyptic review of the past, the period of the Babylonian exile is not the only time of evils of devastation and abandonment befalling Israel. It is the beginning of an extended period of envisioned degeneration, which is twice marked by the trope of God hiding his face in the presence of evildoing. This evildoing and its punishment aggravate the situation of Israel from loss of kingdom (4Q385a 4, 4Q387 2 ii 5–6) to loss of nationhood (4Q389 8 ii 10//4Q387 2 iii 1, 4Q388a 7 ii 3–4). This traumatic situation in the Second Temple period appears to culminate in the narrative discourse of a violent inner conflict of civil war which splits Israel apart in 4Q387 (4QApocrJer Cb) 3 7–8. Yet the Apocryphon ultimately envisions a transition from the history to the eschatological era, which, in Dimant’s words, is marked by “the appearance of a need for the true word of God” in 4Q387 3 8–9.[83]

The negative characterization of the Second Temple period in the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C a-d should not be interpreted as a search for a lost preexilic identity.[84] That is, the Apocryphon does not idealize the past of the First Temple period. In fact, the narrative conclusion of the Apocryphon includes the following admonition of Jeremiah addressing the exiles: “and they should keep the covenant of the God of their fathers in the land [of Babylon and they shall not do] as they had done, they themselves and their kings and their priests [and their princes]” (4Q385a [4QApocrJer Ca] 18 i 9–11).[85] In this regard, the Apocryphon also elaborates on the prophetic discourses of Jeremiah, since Jeremiah 16:11–13 further denounces past iniquities of “your fathers,” who forsook God and the law and went after idols.

Finally, 4Q390 also employs the trope of God hiding his face in its narrative discourse about the Second Temple period. 4Q390 1 2–11 comprises the following first person divine discourse:

[… And I will] go back [and deliver them] into the hands of the sons of Aar[on …] seventy years … And the sons of Aaron will rule over th[em], but they will not walk [in] my [pat]hs which I comm[and] you so that you caution them. And they too will do what is evil in my eyes, like everything that Israel did in the first days of its kingdom, apart from those who will be the first to go up from the land of captivity in order to build the temple. But I will speak to them and send them a precept and they will understand all that they have abandoned, they and their fathers. And ever since that generation Blank has been completed, in the seventh jubilee of the devastation of the land, they will forget the law, the festival, the sabbath and the covenant; and they will disobey everything and will do what is evil in my eyes. And I will hide my face from them and deliver them to the hands of their enemies and abandon [them] to the sword. But/from among them/I will make survivors remain so th[at] [t]he[y will] not [be exter]mi[nated] by my anger [and] by the concealment [of my face] from them.[86]

With its first person divine discourse, the trope of God hiding his face, the abandonment to destruction, and the forgetfulness about covenant relationships, this passage shares many features with Jubilees 1.12–14 as well as with passages in the Damascus Document’s Admonition (cf. CD 1.3–5, 3.12–16).

Analogously with the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C a-d , 4Q390 also envisions degeneration in the Second Temple period, which it labels as a “dominion of Belial” (4Q390 2 i 4) and describes in terms of an intra-Jewish dispute amidst acts of breaking the covenant: “they will begin to argue (lehariv) with one another” (4Q390 2 i 6).[87] This dispute may not be unrelated to what the Damascus Document describes as provoking “the dispute of the people (lerib am)” (CD 1.21). The acts of disloyalty subsequently described in 4Q390 2 i 8–10 bear much resemblance to the “nets of Belial” as described in CD 4.12–19.[88]

Returning to the Damascus Document, the trope of God hiding his face ultimately concerns the abomination of generations on account of “blood(shed).” Thus, CD 2.7–9 addresses those who betray the way as instructed by God’s covenant as follows: “For God did not choose them at the beginning of the world, and before they were established he knew their deeds, and abominated the generations on account of blood and hid his face from the land, from <Israel>, until their extinction.”[89]

The trope of God hiding his face marks the trauma of fractured divine-human relations in a world of violent upheaval against Israel’s nationhood in a different way in the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C than the Maccabean literature. It may be illustrative to differentiate the discursive messages to readers in 2 Macc 1:5 and 6:12–16 that God does not forsake his own people in times of evil, so as not to discourage readers with calamities, from the type of admonition in the Apocryphon. In the narrative sequence of the Apocryphon, there is a progressive distantiation between the human speech and deeds on the one hand and divine presence on the other. Those who say “You have left us, our God,” azavtanu elohenu (4Q387 1 2//4Q388a 3 4), are characterized in first person divine discourse as those who abandon the commandments and violate the covenant (4Q387 1 2–5). In the asymmetrical dialogue between God and this group, the narrative discourse turns from God’s vain search for faith, emunah, among them (4Q387 1 6), to his abandonment of them to desolation among their enemies (4Q387 1 7–8), to their search of divine presence in their affliction, which God does not answer (4Q387 2 ii 2), hiding his face (4Q387 2 ii 9) for an extended period of time, which is also determined by human madness, blindness, and bewilderment of heart (4Q387 2 ii 4–5).

In the discourse of the Apocryphon, the focus is very much on admonition against transgressors of the covenant of the law, with first-person divine discourse focalizing circumstances in which “[will be brought down] the pride (gaon) of those who act wickedly against the covenant” (4Q387 3 6).[90] This may not be unrelated to the prophetic discourses of Jeremiah, which mention the spoiling of the pride of Judah and of Jerusalem (Jer 13:9). Thereby, the narrative accent of the Apocryphon is different from that of the Maccabean literature, where the resilience, martyrdom, and successful revolt of the Maccabees occupy centre stage.

4 Remembering and forgetting as aspects of cultural trauma

Having described what the trope of God hiding his face stands for and how it articulates traumatic memories of the past in Qumran Jeremianic traditions, we will now turn to forgetful remembrance in relation to cultural trauma.

In our survey of the trope of God hiding his face, we already came across various cases in the Psalter where God hiding his face parallels forgetting affliction of the protagonist (Pss 10:11–13, 13:2, 44:25). In a few cases, God hiding his face may rather be invoked as entreatment to pass over sins (Ps 51:11; 4Q393 1–2 ii 4–5). On the other hand, in CD 1.4–5, God’s remembrance of the covenant represents the opposite of God’s hiding his face from his people. Where forgetful remembrance of the covenant is perpetrated by the people, 4Q390 1 8–10 voices traumatic memories of misfortune and disaster befalling them. In the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C, forgetful remembrance is not literally stated regarding violators of the covenant. Yet it narrates their active part in spurning the statutes of the law (4Q389 8 ii 4), which results in God hiding his face from them (4Q389 8 ii 4–5) and in their ignorance (lo yad e u, “they will not know,” 4Q389 8 ii 6–7)[91] about God’s rejection of them with regard to their evil surpassing former evils (4Q389 8 ii 7). Thus, it may be hypothesized that the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C strongly implies a form of actively not remembering former divine-human covenant relations, which apparently kept evildoing in check, on the part of transgressors which it repudiates.

Before turning to the varying aspects of non-remembrance to cultural trauma behind unsettled divine-human relations, it may first be instructive to turn to remembering and forgetting in Jeremiah.

4.1 Remembering and forgetting in Jeremiah

The book of Jeremiah contains various passages which lament the situation that the people have forgotten the Lord their God (Jer 2:31–32, 3:21, 13:23–25, 18:14–16, 23:26–27.39–40, 44:7–10). This act of forgetting is variously associated with perversion of their way (Jer 3:21), with evildoing and falsehood (Jer 13:13–25), with idolatry and deviation from the ancestral ways (Jer 18:15–16), with false prophecy and idolatry (Jer 23:26–27), with an everlasting reproach and a perpetual shame (Jer 23:39–40), and with wickedness that brings a curse and reproach among all the nations of the earth (Jer 44:7–10).

In the face of forgetful remembrance, Jeremiah 20:7–11 appears to articulate the difficulty for the prophet Jeremiah to weigh this context situated between judgemental perspectives and experienced reality. Thus, Jeremiah 20:7–11 reads:

O Lord, thou didst persuade me, and I was persuaded; thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed: I am in derision daily, every one mocks me. For whenever I speak, I cry out aloud, I shout of violence and ruin; therefore the word of the Lord is made a reproach unto me, and a derision all the day. Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with containing myself, and I cannot. Though I heard the calumny of many, the terror all around. Denounce, and we will denounce him, say my familiar friends as they watch for my stumbling, Perhaps he will be persuaded, and we shall prevail against him, and we shall take our revenge on him. But the Lord is with me as a mighty terrible one: therefore my persecutors shall stumble, and they shall not prevail: they shall be greatly ashamed; for they shall not prosper: their everlasting confusion shall never be forgotten. (JB)

Even though this passage has no direct parallel in Qumran Jeremianic traditions, the predicament of cultural trauma also surfaces in the narrative framework surrounding the apocalyptic review of events in the Apocryphon of Jeremiah. 4Q383 (4QApocrJer A) 1 1 employs first person prophetic discourse about Jeremiah weeping bitterly.[92] Further, the narrative conclusion to the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C a-d refers to communications between exiles who ask for Jeremiah’s mediation in entreaty and prayer to God and Jeremiah’s lamentation (4Q385a 18 ii 3–4). In the apocalyptic perspective of 4Q387 2 ii 4–5, confusion of heart is a quality attributed to those who stray in disloyalty.

Next to forgetful remembrance on the part of the people, Jeremiah also contains perspectives of divine discourse on consolation, restoration, and covenant renewal. These perspectives include divine remembrance of Ephraim in God’s assurance of hope for the future (Jer 31:17–20), divine forgiveness of iniquity, remembering people’s sin no more (Jer 31:34), and Israel’s restoration turning to Zion for an “everlasting covenant which will never be forgotten” (Jer 50:5 RSV). The extant fragments of the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C a-d and of 4Q390 do not comprise clear parallels to these perspectives.[93] Yet the Damascus Document includes a Jeremianic concept of “new covenant” (CD 6.19, 8.21,[94] 19.33–34, 20.12),[95] the forgiveness of sins of covenant people who search God’s precepts with an undivided heart (CD 1.8–10) by God “in his wonderful mysteries” (CD 3.12–18), and an envisioned end to an “age of wickedness,” when there arises “one who teaches justice at the end of days” (CD 6.10–11).

4.2 Remembering and forgetting in Qumran literature

Turning to the corpus of Qumran literature, surveys of the Hebrew verbs for “forgetting” (shakakh) and for “remembering” (zakhar) illustrate that these two verbs are distinct and yet sometimes interrelated vocabularies in Qumran Hebrew. These verbs being antonyms, the act of not “forgetting” implies remembering, just as the act of not “remembering” implies forgetting. Part of the Qumran Hebrew evidence also attests this phenomenon. In his article on the Hebrew verb for “forgetting,” John Screnock distinguishes several connotations, such as human erring, ethical-moral senses of non-observance or disloyalty, and completely erasing from thought.[96] 4QBeatitudes 2 ii + 3 3–6 contains a beatitude on the one who holds on to wisdom and to the law of the Most High, recounting various adverse circumstances under which he does “not forsake her” nor “abandon her” nor “forget her” nor “loathe her” (4Q525 2 ii + 3 5–6).[97] These parallel verbs underline the negative moral weight attributed to forgetfulness of the law and the covenant from the early Jewish perspective of this Qumran text. When the Hebrew verb “forgetting” (shakakh) applies to God as subject, Screnock has observed that it usually concerns a negative context of the withdrawal of divine providence, whereas the negation of the verb reaffirms the idea of divine compassion.[98]

As for the Hebrew verb for “remembering” (zakhar), Lidija Novakovic distinguishes God’s past acts of deliverance and Zion’s past glory as most recurrent objects of human memories at the basis of expectations of restoration in Qumran literature,[99] while listing even more cases in which God is the subject of the act of remembering.[100] Novakovic also categorizes six cases of not remembering, which overlap with forgetting, referring to, among other things, acts of not remembering painful experiences (4QHa 2,3), falsehood (4Q455 3), and service of God in the prayer of Manasseh (4Q381 33 + 35 11).[101] When God is addressed in contexts of lamentation and prayer, the request to remember (zakhar) may concern the pitiable state of the supplicants (4Q501 [4QApocryphal Lamentations B] 1–2) or, for instance, God’s marvellous acts in the past (e.g. 4Q504 [4QWords of the Luminaries a ] 1–2 ii 11–12).[102] If God’s act of remembering features in the indicative, it may concern deliverance through the covenant relationship: “You remembered your covenant, for you redeemed us in the sight of the nations and did not desert us amongst the nations” (4Q504 1–2 v 9–11).[103] The issue of remembrance of the covenant as well as its forgetful remembrance are at stake in the Qumran Jeremianic traditions in particular. It is to this issue that our survey will now pay close attention.

4.3 Forgetful remembrance in Qumran Jeremianic traditions

The Apocryphon of Jeremiah C b envisions a period of ten jubilees of years during which a second person plural group of addressees will be “wa[l]king in ma[dness] and in blindness and bewilderment of heart” (4Q387 2 ii 4–5), which is followed by “insolence” ruling “over all the land” (4Q387 2 ii 6–7),[104] foreign rule, God hiding his face, and a heavy yoke for exiled Israelites in lands of captivity (4Q387 2 ii 7–11). The literary stockphrase in 4Q387 2 ii 4–5, for which we already noted Qumran parallels in 4QpHosa 1.8–9 and 4Q504 1–2 ii 14–15, is rooted in biblical tradition. Deuteronomy 28:28 further mentions “madness and blindness and confusion of mind” (RSV) as part of commentary on curses of the covenant applying to those who transgress the commandments of the covenant of the law. This Deuteronomic commentary further mentions a state of groping “as the blind grope in darkness” (Deut 28:29, RSV), which may also be echoed in the Damascus Document. CD 1.9 mentions a group’s bewilderment “at the age of wrath,” 390 years after Nebuchadnezzar (CD 1.5–6), who are “like blind persons and like those who grope for a path.”[105] Yet this latter group’s bewildered state is temporary, twenty years according to CD 1.10, since, according to the narrative discourse, they realized their iniquity, searched God with an undivided heart, and were led by the Teacher of Righteousness on the right path (CD 1.8–11). The intersection of intertextual backgrounds in Deuteronomy 28:28–29 in both Qumran Jeremianic traditions strongly implies that forgetfulness of the covenant is at stake in both textual traditions, either intentionally or unintentionally.

The distinction between intentional and unintentional forgetfulness of covenant relationships merits some further attention, when we compare 4QapocrJer Ca-d with 4Q390. 4Q389 8 ii 4–8 formulates forgetfulness of the covenant of the law as an intentional act of spurning the law which is surrounded by “haughtiness of heart,” rom l e vavam, and ignorance toward God in perpetuating evil which even surpasses former evils. The Apocryphon of Jeremiah C further characterizes a group of transgressors of the law as those who say “you have left us, our God” (4Q385a 3a-c 5//4Q387 1 2). 4Q390 features a partially different perspective. As we have already seen, it also mentions a distinct group of transgressors of the covenant of the law and the predicament of God hiding his face to the effect of abandonment and desolation of the land. Yet 4Q390 also highlights exceptions to this predicament, such as “those who will come first from the land of their captivity to build the Temple” (4Q390 1 5–6) and the deliverance from annihilation of “refugees,” pelitim, among them (4Q390 1 10). Like 4Q389 8 ii 6–7, 4Q390 2 i 7 also refers to ignorance and lack of understanding regarding God’s wrath against their evildoing, but this has been preceded by forgetfulness of the covenant (4Q390 1 8). The narrative discourse of 4Q390 2 i 6–10 about a violent inner conflict does not make explicit the upheaval of nationhood, as in 4Q388a 7 ii 3–4, but distinguishes a targeted “they” group whose “priests will commit violence” (4Q390 2 i 10).[106]

In the Damascus Document, a partly unintentional forgetfulness of the covenant is further implied in the description of that which was revealed to those who remained steadfast in God’s commandments: “hidden matters in which all Israel had gone astray: Blank his holy sabbaths and his glorious feasts, his just stipulations and his truthful paths, the wishes of his will which man must do in order to live by them” (CD 3.14–16).[107]

Forgetful remembrance is explicit in the narrative discourse of 4Q390, when it turns to the completion of “the seventh jubilee of the devastation of the land” (1 7–8): “they will forget (yishkekhu) the law, the festival, the sabbath and the covenant; and they will disobey everything and will do what is evil in my eyes” (4Q390 1 8–9).[108] As we noted in our discussion of the trope of God hiding his face (Section 3), the evil which spreads in the wake of forgetfulness leads to abandonment to the sword of enemies in the narrative discourse of 4Q390 1 9–11. The forgetfulness of all laws of the covenant is also at stake in Jubilees 1.13//4Q216 (4QJuba) 3.16–17.

Forgetful remembrance of the covenant has disastrous human results according to the Qumran Jeremianic traditions, but these traditions also emphasize that God is not determined by forgetful remembrance. CD 1.4–5 mentions the salvation of a remnant for Israel when God “remembered the covenant with the forefathers.”[109] 4Q390 1 10–11 also refers to the preservation of survivors from God’s wrath and concealment of his face from them.

How does this point of view, divine wrath against Israel and concealment of God’s face as a consequence of evildoing flowing from forgetful remembrance, compare with other points of view in Qumran literature? In this regard, it may be instructive to compare Qumran Jeremianic traditions with the prayer perspective of 4Q504 (4QWords of the Luminaries a ) and the lamentation perspective of 4Q501 (4QApocryphal Lamentations B).

Differently from the third person plural as object of description in the narrative discourses of Qumran Jeremianic traditions, the prayer perspective of 4Q504 (4QWords of the Luminaries a ) is determined by a first person plural point of view. 4Q504 fragment 8 recto unfolds a perspective on the glory of Adam (4Q504 8 r 4–7), which yet also turns to the degeneration of humankind toward paths “[to fill the] earth with [vi]olence and she[d innocent blood]” (4Q504 8 r 14).[110] 4Q504 1–2 v 3–11 envisions God’s wrath against idolatry, while at the same time addressing him as a “living God” (1–2 v 8–9), who does not reject Israel to destruction, obliterating the covenant with them, but instead remembering the covenant for redemption of the first person plural group. From the penitential perspective of 4Q504, the anguish about iniquities may be voiced in various ways: “We have come into anguish, [we were str]uck and tested by the anger of the oppressor; for we too have [we]aried God by our iniquities, we have tried the Rock with [our] sin” (4Q504 1–2 v 17–19); “We have not rejected your trials, and our soul has not despised your punishments to the point of breaking your covenant, in spite of all the anguish of our soul” (4Q504 1–2 vi 6–8).[111] 4Q504 ultimately entreats God to turn away his anger and rage from his people Israel (1–2 vi 10) and even looks back on God’s act of freeing “us from sinning against you” (4Q504 1–2 ii 16).[112] This perspective parallels some features of God’s wrath against iniquities in the Qumran Jeremianic traditions, but 4Q504 is distinct from the apocalyptic discourses of 4QApocrJer Ca-d, 4Q390, and CD in its conciliatory tone of entreaty of God in prayer.[113]

As compared with the brief reference to Jeremiah’s lamentation over Jerusalem at the conclusion of the narrative framework of the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C (4Q385a 18 ii 4–5), 4Q501 (4QApocryphal Lamentations B) comprises a first-person plural perspective of lamentation. This text does not focus on forgetful remembrance or iniquities on the part of the first person plural group, but entreats God to remember the “we” group in its position of affliction. This position is qualified in terms such as “the removed ones of your people,” “the forsaken ones,” “the desolate,” “the spurred ones, the wanderers, who no-one brings back, the sorely wounded, who no-one bandages, [those bent double, who no-one rai]ses up” (4Q501 2–4).[114] This “we” group is differentiated from a “they” group in 4Q501 4–9, who are denunciated as “the wretched ones of your people,” “with their lying tongue” (4Q501 4), who “act violently against the poor and needy” (4Q501 9).[115] This distinction between a “we” group and a “they” group bears some resemblance to descriptions of a “they” group in 4Q390 2 i 8–10 in terms of violent, oppressive behaviour, “domineering for money, for advantage [and for violence]” at the expense of one’s neighbour (4Q390 2 i 8–9).[116] It further compares with behaviour from which the Damascus Document’s Admonition urges to abstain, as it relates to the “age of wickedness,” such as “wicked wealth” and “stealing from the poor of his people” (CD 6.14–16).[117]

5 Conclusion

Together with affiliated Qumran Jeremianic traditions in 4Q390 and the Damascus Document, the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C describes a cultural trauma of perceived unsettled divine-human relations in a world of violent upheaval. Elaborating on biblical tradition, Qumran Jeremianic traditions key into the age of devastation of the Babylonian exile described in the book of Jeremiah. 4Q390 1 8 and CD 5.20 both refer to this time of Babylonian exile as a time of the “devastation of the land,” khorban ha-aretz, which the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C describes as a divine act of making the land desolate (4Q387 1 7//4Q389 6 1). Yet the narrative scripts of these traditions go well beyond the biblical period, providing apocalyptic reviews of periods of time up to an envisioned eschatological era. In this regard, a critical period is the time when, after the long lost kingdom of Israel, another king appears on the scene as blasphemer and performer of abominations (4Q387 2 ii 8). This may arguably refer to Antiochus IV Epiphanes, whose religious persecution brought about the Maccabean crisis and revolt. The Damascus Document refers to this era as the “age of wrath” (CD 1.5).

In the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C, the apocalyptic redescription of cultural trauma is beyond the modes of discourse of entreaty and prayer and enters the domain of lament (4Q385a 18a-b ii 3–5). The only words which the prophetic persona of Jeremiah directs to the Babylonian deportees as well as to those who fled to Egypt concern the admonition to be loyal to the covenant of the law and to refrain from going after idolatry as a prior generation had done (4Q385a 18a-b i 8–11 and 18a-b ii 8–10). This conclusion to a narrative discourse which includes prophetic history beyond the Babylonian exile and eschatological expectations serves as a powerful reminder of the mental vacuum left by an age of devastation which was marked by unsettled divine-human relations.

The Apocryphon of Jeremiah relates external causes of trauma, such as the loss of kingdom to foreign rule and the abominable activities of blaspheming and evildoing Gentile kings, but it also refers to internal causes of trauma, related to covenant people’s forgetful remembrance of the covenant amounting to evildoing and iniquities going from former evil to worse. In the narrative sequence of the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C a-d , internal causes include the loss of nationhood and an inner violent conflict within Israel situated in the late Second Temple period. Qumran Jeremianic traditions correlate intentional non-remembrance (4QapocrJer Ca-d) or non-intentional forgetful remembrance (4Q390, CD) of the covenant with the trope of “God hiding his face” (4Q387 [4QApocrJer Cb] 2 ii 9//4Q389 [4QApocrJer Cd] 8 ii 2; 4Q387 2 iii 4–5//4Q389 8 ii 4–5; 4Q390 1 9–11; CD 1 3–4//4QDa 2 i 8–9, 4QDc 1 10–11). This denotes a state of utter abandonment to mortal sin and its dire consequences among enemies. It is this predicament which constitutes the cultural trauma envisioned in the Qumran Jeremianic traditions.

Qumran Jeremianic traditions have various ways of dealing or coping with the trauma of devastation, dislocation, captivity, and exile.

a) Lament

In the narrative introduction to the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C, Jeremiah and his contemporaries face the trauma of captivity and exile with entreaty, prayer, and lament (4Q385a [4QApocrJer Ca] 18 ii 2–4), searching to address God about this predicament. 4Q383 (4QApocrJer A) 1 1 also mentions bitter grief on the part of the first person prophetic persona of Jeremiah. In this regard, these Qumran Jeremianic traditions have much in common with the biblical tradition of Jeremiah (cf. Jer 42:1–6), which also includes many personal lamentations (Jer 11:18–12:6, 15:10–21, 17:14–18, 18:18–23, 20:7–13.14–18). Thus, Qumran Jeremianic traditions cannot be solely categorized in terms of a perspective analogous with that of penitential prayer, since the voice of lament is not lost on them.

b) Admonition

The narrative framework of the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C concludes with Jeremiah’s admonition to the exiles to “keep the covenant of the God of their fathers in the land of [their exile]” (4Q385a 18 i 9–10) and “day after day (to) investigate my laws, and ke[ep] my precepts” (4Q385a 18 ii 8).[118] This admonition regarding loyalty to the covenant could also be understood as a call to allegiance and social cohesion in religious identity as a covenant people which could be a counterweight to a narrativized loss of nationhood in the Second Temple period (4Q387 2 iii 1–3, 4Q388a 7 ii 4–6).

c) Theodical discourse

The Qumran Jeremianic traditions (4QApocrJer Ca-d, 4Q390, CD) all articulate a theodical discourse of “God hiding his face” in front of complete forgetfulness of the covenant by his people. Yet this theodical discourse also provides the assurance that God’s covenant people are not completely abandoned to the dire consequences of their own mortal sin. Even in ages of devastation (Babylonian exile) and of wrath (Maccabean era), during which to all perceptions and appearances “God has hidden his face,” the texts still refer to some sense of divine providence leaving a remnant or survivors for Israel (4Q390 1 7–11; CD 1.3–5) and the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C ultimately also envisions survival, since its eschatological vision refers to the Tree of Life (4Q385a 17a-e ii 3). The trilemma of theodicy, which upholds the idea of a good and compassionate God facing human suffering, remains a conundrum in ages of devastation, wickedness, and wrath, where the Qumran Jeremianic traditions also partly situate their perception of their contemporary age. From a penitential perspective, these texts correlate evildoing and forgetfulness of the covenant with God’s wrath and God’s hiding his face. Compassion and forgiveness of iniquities is only explicit in the Damascus Document regarding people who realize their iniquity and search God with an undivided heart, albeit shrouded in an understanding of God in terms of “wonderful mysteries” (CD 3.18). As compared with denunciation of forgetful remembrance of the covenant of the law, the Apocryphon’s theodical discourse on the external causes of trauma is no less condemnatory about foreign oppression of Israel in terms of blasphemy and evildoing of its kings in the past.

d) Divisive memory

Qumran Jeremianic traditions also deals with the cultural trauma of dire consequences attributed to forgetful remembrance of the covenant in terms of a divisive memory regarding perceptions of the past. In their narrative discourses about the Second Temple period, these textual traditions, respectively, refer to a “they” group “who provoked the dispute of the people (riv am)” (CD 1.21), to a development of dispute between people who started to argue with one another (l e hariv eleh b e eleh), breaking the covenant (4Q390 2 6), and even to a generation (b e dor ha-huh) during which Israel is violently split, “waging war against one another (l e hilakhem [i]sh b e reehu) for the sake of the law and for the sake of the covenant” (4Q387 3 7–8).[119] In this regard, the Damascus Document voices a tendency of boundary marking of group identity in a context of emerging sectarianism,[120] but its affiliations with Jeremianic covenant renewal and openness to those who search God with an undivided heart preclude a completely unitary perspective of an “exclusivist collective identity.”[121] The extant fragments of 4Q390 share overlapping thematic concerns and narrative scripts with the Damascus Document, yet cannot be understood in unitary terms of exclusivist group identity either, in the absence of a fully-fledged perspective on the social organization of its carrier group. Differently from the Damascus Document, the extant fragments of the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C envision a divinely appointed hunger for hearing words (4Q388a 3 8–9), presumably divinely inspired words, whereas the Damascus Document focuses on directions by a Teacher of Righteousness (CD 1.11), to whose voice the carrier group of this text listens (CD 20.28).

The trope of “God hiding his face” which recurs throughout Qumran Jeremianic traditions epitomizes the non-remembrance of divine-human relations in a world of devastation, dislocation, exile. Yet beyond that, the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C also highlights a “scar” of the Maccabean era, which concerns aggravation of evildoing on the part of foreign dominion at the expense of nationhood and on the part of internal violent conflict. As compared with 4Q390 and the Damascus Document, the extant fragments of the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C appear most incisive in its negative perspective on transgressors of the covenant in terms of their “haughtiness” (4Q389 8 ii 6) and “pride” (4Q388a 3 7). The Apocryphon leaves very few signs of hope in a setting of intentional non-remembrance of the covenant relationship with God by transgressors who are implicated subjects in “Israel (being) rent asunder in that generation” (4Q388a 3 7)[122] to the effect of loss of nationhood (4Q389 8 ii 10). It is this trauma which haunts the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C, over against which 4Q390 leaves more exceptions of return to restoration, a remnant of refugees, and partly unintentional forgetfulness, which also recurs in the Damascus Document. The resilience with which the Apocryphon of Jeremiah C faces trauma mainly consists of admonition about loyalty to the covenant of the law in the interest of internal cohesion and external restoration of unsettled divine-human relations. As compared with this sobering perspective, the Damascus Document evinces a more radical hope of covenant renewal and direction by the voice of a Teacher of Righteousness.


Acknowledgements are due to incisive comments of reviewers of this article, from whose critical feedback the author has greatly benefited.

  1. Funding Information: The open access publication has been financially supported by the Department Old and New Testament Studies, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa.

  2. Conflict of interest: The author states no conflict of interest.


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Received: 2022-03-30
Revised: 2022-09-30
Accepted: 2022-10-25
Published Online: 2022-12-06

© 2022 the author(s), published by De Gruyter

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