Pesher (i/ˈpɛʃər/; Hebrew: פשר, pl. pesharim from a Hebrew word meaning "interpretation" in the sense of "solution") is an interpretive commentary on scripture, especially one in Hebrew. It became known from one group of texts, numbering some hundreds, among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The pesharim give a theory of scriptural interpretation, previously partly known, but now fully defined. The writers of pesharim believe that scripture is written in two levels: the surface for ordinary readers with limited knowledge, the concealed one for specialists with higher knowledge. This is most clearly spelled out in the Habakkuk Pesher (1QpHab), where the author of the text asserts that God has made known to the Teacher of Righteousness, a prominent figure in the history of the Essene community, "all the mysteries of his servants the prophets" (1QpHab VII:4-5). By contrast, the prophets themselves only had a partial interpretation revealed to them.

Types of pesharim

There are generally considered to be two types of pesharim. Continuous pesharim take a book of the Hebrew Bible, often from the prophets, such as those of Habakkuk, Nahum, or from the Psalms, quote it phrase by phrase, and after each quotation insert an interpretation. The second type, the thematic pesharim, use the same method, but here the author (or pesharist) brings together passages from different biblical texts to develop a theme. Examples of the latter include the Florilegium and what has been termed the Melchizedek Midrash. Smaller examples of pesher interpretations can also be found within other texts from Qumran, including the Damascus Document. The method has been likened to later forms of rabbinic biblical interpretation found in the Midrash, termed midrash aggadah and midrash halakhah, although there are some significant differences. William Brownlee, the author of a textual study of the Habakkuk Pesher, even proposed a third category of midrash, midrash pesher. In general, however, scholars are divided as to whether the pesharim are a distinct genre.

The term pesher itself is used within these texts as a terminus technicus (although this is a gross simplification) to differentiate between the biblical text and its interpretation. Typical examples include: "its interpretation is/concerns" (pishro/pishro al); and "the interpretation of the word/passage is" (pesher ha-davar). It has been suggested that the Semitic root derives from a base meaning of "loosen" and a similar term appears in the Hebrew Bible in connection with the interpretation of dreams. The Ancient Near Eastern roots are fully discussed by Maurya Horgan in her comprehensive study of the pesharim.

Historic individuals

The pesharim are the main source for the history of the Teacher of Righteousness and his rival the Wicked Priest, but the texts also refer to a number of other individuals, such as the Liar (or 'Scoffer'), and groups such as the Kittim (identified by scholars such as Robert Eisenman and Barbara Thiering as the Romans). The identities of these individuals would be obvious to those in the organization to which they belonged and the full meaning of the texts would be explained by the Teacher.

Apocalyptic themes

Many allusions within the pesharim are apocalyptic, with clear references to the eschaton, or the End times, a theme familiar to readers of the New Testament. Other familiar themes from the New Testament found in the pesharim include the "Righteous One", the Poor, the community as temple, the holy spirit, the Star Prophecy, and other messianic images. These allusive images are tied by the pesharim in an apocalyptic manner to selected prized biblical texts.

There is a considerable body of scholarly research discussing the methods of the pesharim, which can be classified under the general category of fulfillment hermeneutics.

Common pesharim

Modern usage

In books and scholarly articles, author Barbara Thiering applies the term "pesher" to her elaborate, newly "rediscovered" interpretive technique. According to her, in the four Canonical Gospels, Acts and Revelation, historical facts have been encoded into the text, that is, they were written (and may be revealed) by applying the method, forgotten for twenty centuries. Her theory has been widely disparaged and dismissed by scholars, and Thiering's thesis has received little support.[1][2]

See also


  1. Wright, N. T. (1993). Who was Jesus?. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans. pp. 19–23.
  2. Forbes, C.B. "Review of Jesus the Man". Archived from the original on May 3, 2003.

Further reading

External links

Look up pesher in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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