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The Zadokite Document

Updated on January 4, 2013


Often in our race to uncover new mysteries, decipher archaic clues and uncover ancient treasure we overlook what already exists; not recognizing that the treasure lies directly in front of us. Before we venture on our new quests, perhaps we should take time to reflect on what has already been found but never truly uncovered. In particular I speak of the Zadokite Document discovered in Cairo, Egypt over 100 years ago and laid to rest shortly afterwards following what might be construed as an inaccurate and mileading translation that never fully explained who wrote this highly significant and revealing book.


The Zadokite Document was found in the ancient archive of the Genizah of the main synagogue in Cairo. And it has laid there for a very long time, being copied once the older copy began to disintegrate with age, so that there was always a version preserved. This particular copy dated from the 14th century. How old the previous copy was will never be known. Likely an 8th century copy of its predecessor. All we can determine is that the original had to exist from the time of the first century AD.

Because it was found in the Genizah it was automatically assumed to be a Jewish document. Written in Hebrew, no one questioned its origins, especially since such care was taken to preserve it within a synagogue. What was its legacy that it had to be maintained for almost two thousand years. Having translated it myself, I have come to the conclusion that it has nothing to do with Rabbinical Judaism. That is one of the advantages of being Karaite. You have the ability to view articles from a variety of perspectives, never making assumptions based on your own leanings or beliefs. In fact it is probably the first Christian Document preserved from the Jerusalem Church. Being a descendant of the line of the Kahana, I can state emphatically it has nothing to do with the priesthood, from which the name Zadokite Document was derived, and it certainly wasn’t an Essene document as has been suggested by the first editors and translators.

So as you will soon see, this is very likely one of the first Christian Documents and like many today, they had to deal with the issue of homosexuality. And they did not approve, seeing it as an offence punishable by death. Unlike the Jewish courts which would stone a man for homosexuality, they preferred to have the Gentile courts carry out the punishment. The fact is, they could not and would not accept homosexuals within their order. If a man chooses to believe otherwise, that’s fine, but he can’t claim to be a member of the Church that James headed.


It was written by those that called themselves ‘the Many’ and they claimed to follow ‘the Way.’ These people considered themselves to be children of righteousness following the teaching of the ‘Righteous Teacher’, whom we know to be an Essene personage, but also following the ‘Unique Teacher’.  These are two separate and distinct individuals.  There is no Essene correlation to someone called the ‘Unique Teacher’. This particular person had been recently involved in their lives, only to have been taken away from them suddenly. As is now being historically understood, the Essene's Teacher of Righteousness existed at the time of the Hasmonean revolution or what is commonly called the Maccabbean War around 167 BC. Just to give you somehting more to think about, I propose that the Teacher of Righteousness was my ancestor Alcimus, whom stood against the Hasmoneans only to be portrayed as a lover of the Helenistic lifestyle and a vassal of Antiochus.  Whereas the ‘Unique Teacher’ referred to was more current and interacted with the authors of this book.  He is obviously Jesus and ‘the Many’ were the initial members of his following within the Jerusalem Church. The fact that we now understand that they referred to their beliefs as "The Way" meant that this was obviously overlooked by the first translators of the Zadokite document because they did not understand the reference. As far as those following The Way were concerned, they had inherited the new covenant between man and God. And what they write about is how they were finding themselves being overwhelmed by their contemporaries that had hijacked their teachings and were now distorting them beyond recognition.  Therein lay the failing of the first translators.  Because they did not understand that the Jerusalem Church was at odds with Paul's Church in Damascus they did not comprehend this theological battle that was occurring between sects and attributed it to the Essenes whom they knew withdrew themselves from society to live in the desert and therefore fit the description. 

As we know from early Church history now, the Jewish sect in Jerusalem following the Nazarene were doing exactly what was laid down for them by Jesus and which was reinforced by his brother James and cousin Cleophas. Therefore they saw any other Christian Sect, especially the followers of Saul as a threat to their true religion. 


The most telling signs of the origins of the Zadokite Document are the ordinances or laws that governed the community itself. How anyone could have mistaken what was written as Essene law is mystifying.  To go even further to say that it was Zadokite or what later became Karaite is even astounding, especially since some of the ordinances bear no resemblance to Torah law which was the foundation for both the priesthood and later Karaites.

Page Nine begins the Laws of Proper Behavior or Ordinances of the community. Oddly, the first ordinance deals with homosexuality. The translation by Shechter does not come out and directly say this. In so doing he fails to provide the student with a truthful accounting of Kol Adam sentence which reads 'All men which are uniting man from (with) man'. It would appear that the letter deleth of uniting was replaced by the letter rosh as the statement was found to be offensive in its original. One who commits homosexuality is no longer to be considered to be a living man and is to be put to death by use of the Gentile court system. By using the Gentile courts, the congregation is not guilty of committing murder of one of its own community members which would not be acceptable. Very different from the existing Jewish religious courts which would pass and enforce its own sentence.

Still, the question that must be asked is, why was this so important that it became the first law of the community. It can only be said that the initial appeal of "the Way" may have been towards a male oriented congregation. Everything we know of early development of Christianity suggests that it was predominantly a brotherhood and therefore subject to attracting a disproportionate number of single males. The other matter may have concerned Saul of Tarsus or Paul whom was considered to be homosexual as well as the enemy of this congregation.  By outlawing his lifestyle they made it impossible for him to take control.  The historical record of animosity between Paul and the Jerusalem Church would suggest that there was more than a personal dislike amongst the leadership that kept them at odds. Whether this was the case, cannot be stated for certain, but it must be noted that homosexuality was clearly not tolerated by "THE MANY FOLLOWING THE WAY".

The next ordinance dealt with the proper levelling of an accusation against a fellow member of the congregation.

The third ordinance dealt with the proper making of an oath.

The fourth ordinance dealt with lost or stolen property.

The fifth ordinance deals with the return of unowned stolen goods.

The sixth ordinance is concerned with lost items that are found but have no owner.

It is interesting that all lost or stolen property for which there is no owner becomes the property of the congregational leader. One would have thought it would have been shared communally but it was obvious that the leader was expected to have a better lifestyle than the rest which was clearly not the way of the Essene but does have some similarity to the Zadokite rules where the High Priest received a greater portion of the tithe.

The seventh ordinance is about sinning against the Old Testament or Torah.

The eight identifies who is to be considered a proper witness in cases of capital crimes.

The ninth is concerned with identifying a reliable witness.

The tenth outlines the membership of the Elder Court or Tribunal. There are to be four priests, and six of Israel that have been instructed in the teachings of the covenant and the Hagu. The reliance on Jews in the early community is quite evident. Basically they were saying that in the Court of Laws for the community, only the full blooded Jews must be maintained as a prominent percentage.  All members of this Court must be between 25 and 60 years old. This is where we first have mentioned the Hagu. This word likely refers to navigation or guidance. It would be a book of instruction, outlining the basics as to the beliefs, history and celebrations amongst the congregation. It would exist in parallel to the Old Testament, complimenting it but not supplanting it.  In all likelihood, this Zadokite Document that I'm discussing is either in its entirity or part of the Hagu. The Hagu is neither a Pharisaic term nor an Essene one. Clearly it represents a new order.

The eleventh clearly states that men over sixty have diminished capacity and therefore cannot remain as judges.  An interesting concept since wisdom and age were practically synonymous in Judaism with many of the old priests still providing leadership in their old age as in the reference to Ananias, Caiaphas's father-in-law whom is still a formidable presence even though Caiaphs was in charge.

Ordinances twelve and thirteen are concerned with the proper baptism procedure.  Immediately we can rule this out as being Zadokite in any shape or form.  The baptism procedure was not part of the priestly ceremony.  Where there were specific rituals involved in the bathing of the high priest prior to service in the Temple, at no time was this a formal baptism.  The Essenes did have a baptismal procedure which may have provided the protocol for this community.

Ordinances fourteen to thirty-nine deal with the proper keeping of the Sabbath. To the early Jerusalem Church, the Sabbath was Saturday, and the preservation of the Sabbath was based strongly on Old Testament law. Number 35 concerns itself with treatment of slaves on the Sabbath. Since the Essenes did not have slaves, it is obvious that this document belonged to a different group and this group had to comprise people other than the aforementioned sect.

Ordinance 37 cautions against having Sabbath in a place where there is contact with Gentiles. This would directly oppose Saul's instruction to his followers to encourage services with the congregation made of both Jews and Gentiles. It also indicates that to be a member of the Jerusalem Church you first had to adopt Judaism.  As one recalls the struggle between Peter and Paul or between the circumcision party and the non-circumcison party, we are reminded here that under James, there was no compromises.  Gentiles could belong as long as they went all the way.

Ordinance 39 gives us a glimpse of the elimination of the animal sacrifices in the early Christian church. The personal offerings have been eliminated. Only the sacrifice for the Sabbath is continued. It is understood in Christian doctrine that Jesus's sacrifice eliminated the need to continue the practices of the personal offering but those offerings on God's behalf were still continued as seen in Ordinance 40. But the alter sacrifices mentioned in this ordinance refers primarily to those made of grain and non-animal sacrifices with the emphasis on prayer being the greatest offering. As it says, "but the prayer of the righteous is like an offering of delight." Clearly a change of thinking from the traditional Jewish animal offering occurred and this was definitely contrary to Zadokite thinking.

Ordinances 47 and 48 deal with the sale of material to Gentiles that would be used in their religious services. It was forbidden to sell unblemished animals to the Gentile populace as they would use them for sacrifices to their gods. But even more important was that at no time was wheat, or any grain, wine or oil to be sold to the Gentiles. Once again, the non-animal materials for offerings had superseded the animal offerings amongst the Jerusalem Church. James was still very concerned in preserving the separation between his followers and the Gentile worshippers of pagan gods.  This is an interesting concept of community interrelationships which didn't exist anywhere else.  It would suggest that the Jerusalem Church was even more restrictive with its relations with Greek and Roman neighbours.

And if ever there was an obvious incongruity, it would be ordinance 54, the last law of the community. It reads, "And every nail, or peg in the wall which are with the dead in their house will become as one unclean like a working tool. The tools of the dead person's trade were often considered imbued with the essence of the person and therefore could become defiled by the Rabbis of Pharisaic Judaism but the nails in a wall had no particular significance within the Jewish religion to any of the sects. Findings of iron nails in some of the second Temple period tombs suggests that they may have had some magical significance, a practice common amongst the Greeks as well, but this would suggest the exact opposite that iron nails were special and therefore not unclean.  So, why this concern about nails within the Jerusalem Church? Why the reference to nails or pegs or any other object inserted for hanging purposes in the wall? Why wouldn't nails in the floor or the roof be just as unclean.  Why make the issue of defiled nails the last law of the community? I believe it is not a law of defilement so much as a law of sanctifying a memory. By remembering Jesus’ crucifixion by treating nails in a wall in a dead person's home as defiled objects, those entering the home would be automatically drawn to relive the crucifixion, recall their history. Much in the same way that certain items have particular importance during Jewish Holy Days.  Of course this is speculative and open to interpretation but this unique law clearly places the Zadokite Document outside the scope of mainstream Judaism and any of the known sects.


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      Ilan Leibowitz 7 years ago

      Avrom Shalom,

      As usual I am quite amazed reading this & changing my "SIGMAS" from what I learned growing up etc!

      Do you truly feel that World Jewery & Mankind will become aware of this? Will something break down the "RABBINET" control in Israel as well?