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Alex P. Jassen





The Wood Offering Celebration – “As Written in the Torah”





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Alex P. Jassen





The Wood Offering Celebration – “As Written in the Torah”








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The Wood Offering Celebration – “As Written in the Torah”

Bringing wood for the altar was an important celebration in Second Temple times. To ground this practice in the Torah, Nehemiah (10:35) describes it as a Torah law, while the Temple Scroll (11Q19) and the Reworked Pentateuch (4Q365) include it in their biblical festival calendar.


The Wood Offering Celebration – “As Written in the Torah”

Pixabay, adapted

Early Sources for the Wood Offering Festival

During the Second Temple period, a ritual or festival of bringing wood to the Temple was observed.[1] Josephus describes the practice (War 2.425):

On the next day (=14th of Av),[2] which was the Feast (ἑορτῆς) of Wood-carrying, on which it was a custom for everyone to bring chopped wood to the altar so that fuel for the fire might never fail (it continues always without being extinguished).

Josephus implicitly connects the practice of donating wood to Leviticus 6:5-6.

ויקרא ו:ה וְהָאֵשׁ עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ תּוּקַד בּוֹ לֹא תִכְבֶּה וּבִעֵר עָלֶיהָ הַכֹּהֵן עֵצִים בַּבֹּקֶר בַּבֹּקֶר וְעָרַךְ עָלֶיהָ הָעֹלָה וְהִקְטִיר עָלֶיהָ חֶלְבֵי הַשְּׁלָמִים. ו:ו אֵשׁ תָּמִיד תּוּקַד עַל הַמִּזְבֵּחַ לֹא תִכְבֶה.
Lev 6:5 The fire on the altar shall be kept burning, not to go out: every morning the priest shall feed wood to it, lay out the burnt offering on it, and turn into smoke the fat parts of the offerings of well-being. 6:6 A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out.

Josephus places this wood donation and its accompanying feast on the 14th of Av, one day earlier than the date in Megillat Ta‘anit,[3] the Hasmonean-era calendar of commemorative days on which fasting is prohibited:

בחמשה עשר באב זמן אעי כהניא ודלא למספד בהון.
On the fifteenth of Av is the time for the wood (offering) of the priests and it is forbidden to eulogize on them.

The earliest source for the ritual of bringing wood to the Temple appears in Nehemiah 10:35, presented as part of a list of Torah laws that the people promise to observe:

נחמיה י:לה וְהַגּוֹרָלוֹת הִפַּלְנוּ עַל קֻרְבַּן הָעֵצִים הַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם וְהָעָם לְהָבִיא לְבֵית אֱלֹהֵינוּ לְבֵית אֲבֹתֵינוּ לְעִתִּים מְזֻמָּנִים שָׁנָה בְשָׁנָה לְבַעֵר עַל מִזְבַּח יְ־הוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ כַּכָּתוּב בַּתּוֹרָה.
Neh 10:35 We have cast lots [among] the priests, the Levites, and the people, to bring the wood offering to the house of our God by clan annually at set times in order to provide fuel for the altar of YHWH our God, as is written in the Torah.

Comparing the Sources

These three sources disagree on several details. First, while Nehemiah simply refers to a ritual, Josephus identifies the bringing of wood as a festival. This status is also implicit in Megillat Ta‘anit’s inclusion of it in its list of commemorative days. Second, unlike Josephus and Megillat Taʿanit, Nehemiah provides no one date for this offering. Instead, the text states that it is to be performed at set times throughout the year, as presumed in later rabbinic sources (see m. Ta‘anit 4:5; t. Ta‘anit 3:5).

The Mishnah, which lists nine different days throughout the year for bringing wood to the Temple, five of which occur in the month of Av, may even reflect a midpoint between the vision of periodic wood bringing in Nehemiah and a festival of wood bringing in Josephus. Each day is designated to a given family group, but out of these nine days of wood-bringing, the 15th of Av, assigned to the family of Zatu ben Judah, is unique (m. Taʿanit 4:5; Neusner trans.):

בחמשה עשר בו בני זתוא בן יהודה ועמהם כהנים ולוים וכל מי שטעה בשבטו ובני גונבי עלי בני קוצעי קציעות.
On the fifteenth of that month [is the offering of] the family of Zattu b. Judah; and with them [comes the offering of] priests, Levites, and whoever is in error as to his tribe, and the families of the pestle-smugglers, and fig-pressers.

Thus, the 15th of Av works as almost a catch-all for people who did not fit in the other days to be able to participate in the wood offering.

Wood Offering as a Torah Law?

The passage in Nehemiah ends by saying that this wood-bringing requirement is done “As it is written in the Torah” (כַּכָּתוּב בַּתּוֹרָה). Possibly, Nehemiah’s version of the Pentateuch contained a reference to a required wood offering. More likely, however, this passage offers an example of pseudo-citation of the Torah employed to claim authority for innovation.[4] In so doing, Nehemiah engenders its own authoritative status and presents later readers with a festival that is linked to Pentateuchal authority, though nowhere explicit there.

Temple Scroll (11Q19)

Another way of connecting this practice to the Torah’s authority is to include it in a new text comprised of Torah laws and phrases. For example, the Temple Scroll (11Q19), a legal text that rewrites scriptural material in order to craft a model for an ideal Jewish society, includes the Wood Offering Festival in its rewritten version of the festival list.[5]

11Q19 13:10–30:2 comprises an extensive festival calendar that harmonizes the disparate Pentateuchal festival calendars and modifies their content to cohere with the ritual and cultic vision of its author.[6] In its rewriting of the festival calendar, the Temple Scroll adds several additional festivals:

Annual ordination of the Priests, 1st-7th of Nissan (11Q19 15:3-17:4);
New Wine, 3rd of Av (11Q19 19:11-21:10);
New Oil, 22nd of Ellul (11Q19 21:12–23:02);
Wood Offering, 23rd-28th of Ellul (11Q19 23:2-7).

The Wine Festival occurs fifty days after Bikkurim/Shavuot, the biblical wheat festival. The Oil Festival occurs fifty days after that,[7] and is immediately followed by the Wood Offering Festival which lasts six days. The calendrical text 4Q327 locates the Oil Festival on the 22nd of the sixth month, presumably the same date as envisioned in the Temple Scroll.[8]

Unlike the passages about ordination, wine, and oil, the passage about the wood offering in the Temple Scroll is very fragmentary, and we do not know if it ever refers to the Wood Offering as a “festival” the way it does, for instance, with the New Oil festival (מועד היצהר). But the Temple Scroll does introduce the wood offering into the festival calendar alongside the New Oil festival.

The Reworked Torah (4Q365)

The Dead Sea Scrolls manuscript known as 4Q365 is related to a broader collection of manuscripts that scholars first labeled “Reworked Pentateuch” (4Q158, 4Q364–367).[9] In light of the growing awareness of the diversity of biblical texts in the Second Temple period and the role that exegesis played in this textual fluidity, most scholars now call these texts 4QPentateuch(?)—in other words, they view it as one of many diverse Torah texts that circulated then.

4Q365 consists primarily of textual material that matches the text of the Pentateuch as known in its various attestations. Scholars have demonstrated that all five manuscripts share features that marks them as part of a particular group of ancient Pentateuch texts that Sidnie White Crawford characterizes as “harmonistic/expansive.”[10]

What Is an Expansive Text?

The scribes who transmitted these Pentateuch texts did not copy their texts verbatim, but engaged in the editorial practices of harmonization and expansion. The most famous example from this group is the pre-Samaritan Pentateuch – the Second Temple period textual version of the Pentateuch that would later be adopted by the Samaritan community as its Pentateuch.[11]

The “Reworked Pentateuch” manuscripts contain several features commonly found in exegetical literature, such as harmonization, paraphrase, omission, and addition. For example, they

  • Combine the textually disconnected story of the daughters of Zelophehad in Numbers 27 and 36 into a single seamless narrative (4Q365 36);
  • Introduce seven new lines into its transcript of Miriam’s song after the crossing of the Red Sea (4Q365 6a ii + 6c 1-7).

These harmonizations and expansions, however, are few in number. 4Q365 on the whole matches the text of the Pentateuch as known from the various ancient versions (e.g., the LXX, the pre-Samaritan, the proto-MT). In this sense, 4Q365 looks much like what we know of as the Pentateuch and what Jews in the Second Temple period would have recognized as aPentateuch.

The Festival Calendar of Leviticus 23 in 4Q365

4Q365 23 preserves material that parallels the festival calendar from Leviticus 23 and expands it. Thus, lines 1–4 are essentially the same as Leviticus 23:42–24:2a. First comes the final law of Leviticus 23 about building Sukkot:

א [בסו]כות תשבו שבעת ימים כול האזרח בישראל ישב בסוכות למ[ען ידע]ו דו[רותיכם] ב כי[ בס]וכות הושבתי את אבותיכם בהוציאי אותם מארץ מצר[י]ם אני י־הוה אלוהיכ[ם]
1 [“In sh]elters you shall dwell seven days; every citizen of Israel should dwell in shelters, so that [your descendants may know] 2 that I made your ancestors live [in sh]elters when I brought them out of the land of Egy[p]t. I am YHWH your God.” (=Lev 23:42-43)

Next comes the summary verse of chapter 23 and the opening of the next chapter:

ג [ ] וידבר מושה את מועדי י־הוה אל בני ישראל [
3 vacat Then Moses spoke of the festivals of the Lord to the children of Israel. vacat (=Lev 23:44)
ד וידבר י־הוה אל מושה לאמור צו את בני ישראל לאמור…
4 YHWH spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the children of Israel, saying; (=Lev 24:1-2a)

Unlike all known ancient texts of the Pentateuch, however, which continue by describing the requirement to light the eternal flame with olive oil, 4Q365 here adds to the Pentateuchal festival calendar both a requirement to bring wood and a New Oil Festival (4Q365 23 1–11). As in the Temple Scroll, the New Oil is explicitly identified as a festival, while the wood offering is not (unless it is lost in the unpreserved portion of the manuscript). As in the Temple Scroll, both are included alongside one another as part of an expanded festival calendar:

ד …בבואכמה אל הארץ אשר
4 …‘When you come to the land that
ה [א]נוכי נותן לכמה לנחלה וישבתם עליה לבטח תקריבו עשׄצים[12] לעולה ולכול מלאכ[ת]
5 I am giving you as an inheritance, and you shall dwell upon it securely, you shall bring wood for a burnt offering and for all the wo[r]k of
ו [הב]ית אשר תבנו לי בארץ לערוך אותם על מזבח העולה [ו]אׄת העגל[י]ם[
6 the house that you will build for me in the land, to arrange it upon the altar of burnt offering; and the calv[es and also the wood ]
ז [ ]◦םׄ לפסחים ולשלמים וׄלתודות ולנדבות ולעולות דבר יום[ ביומו
7 […] for Passover sacrifices and for whole burnt offerings and for thank offerings and for free will offerings and for burnt offerings, daily [
ח [ ]ל◦[ ]ל◦[ ]◦מים ולד[ל]תות ולכול מלאכת הבית יקרי[בו
8 […] and for the do[o]rs and for all the work of the house the[y] will br[ing
ט [ מ]ועד היצהר יקריבו את העצים שנים [שנים
9 […] the [fes]tival of new oil. They will bring the wood two [
י [ ]◦◦י המקריבים ביום הריש[ו]ן לוי ◦[
10 […] the ones who bring on the fir[st] day, Levi [
יא [ ראו]בן ושמעון[ וב]יום הרב[יעי
11 [ Reu]ben and Simeon [and on t]he fou[rth] day [

At this point the fragment ends entirely. The expansion in these lines is motivated by the dilemma of why a festival clearly quite common in the Second Temple period – and moreover identified as having a Torah source in Nehemiah – seemingly has no Pentateuchal basis.

4Q365’s Technique: How the Festivals Were Added

Why was this supplement added here? On a simple level, the scribe clearly chose to include the new festivals at the very end of the Pentateuchal list, just as the Holiness scribe did with the supplementary commandments about the Festival of Sukkot (vv. 39-43) that appear after the original ending of the chapter (vv. 37-38).[13] But the scribe’s technique is subtler than this.

Leviticus 24:1-2a contains a divine command formula to Moses followed by a set of commands to be directed at the Israelites, in this case requesting oil for the lampstand in the Tabernacle.

ויקרא כד:א וַיְדַבֵּר יְ־הוָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר. כד:ב צַו אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ שֶׁמֶן זַיִת זָךְ כָּתִית לַמָּאוֹר לְהַעֲלֹת נֵר תָּמִיד.
Lev 24:1 YHWH spoke to Moses, saying: 24:2 Command the children of Israel to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly.

A Repurposed Opening

4Q365 23 4 preserves the exact same twofold formulation (i.e., God commands Moses to tell the Israelites), though it notably adds a second “saying” (לאמר) at the end of the clause:


וידבר י־הוה אל מושה לאמור צו את בני ישראל לאמור
YHWH spoke to Moses, saying, “Command the children of Israel, saying

Leviticus 24

וַיְדַבֵּר יְ־הוָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר צַו אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
YHWH spoke to Moses, saying: Command the children of Israel

Tailoring the Opening to be Like Other Festival Openings

A twofold command formulation (וַיְדַבֵּר … דַּבֵּר) appears throughout Leviticus 23 to introduce several of the festiva[14] 4Q365 diverges from this formula by using the word “speak” (דבר) followed by “command” (צוה) because it is revising the opening in Lev 24, which was not about another holiday but about the lampstand oil. The repurposed opening, now introducing the wood offering and the oil festival, reinforces its connection to the holiday calendar by its use of the second “saying” (לאמר) – absent in Leviticus 24:2a but present in the last two festival openings (Teruah and Sukkot).[15]

Replacing the Oil for Fire with Oil and Wood Festivals

The suitability of an expansive unit on the Wood and Oil Festivals as the replacement of the literary unit regarding the lampstand in Leviticus 24:1-4 is tied to the prominent role of oil in both. Leviticus 24:2 implores the Israelites to bring oil (שמן) to the Tabernacle for kindling lamps, which provides the exegetical cue for the expansion in 4Q365.[16] The details of the Oil Festival are not delineated in 4Q365, but the festival likewise involved the bringing of oil to the Temple, as known from the Temple Scroll.

4Q365 does not state the exact dates for the wood offering and Oil Festival. If 4Q365 presumes the same dating system as the Temple Scroll, it is notable that 4Q365 does not introduce these festivals in their appropriate location during the festival calendar (presumably before the day of Teruah). The placement of these two festivals at the end of the calendar is likely guided by the exegetical link provided the imperative in Lev 24:2 to bring provisions of oil for the lampstand.[17]

“When You Come to the Land”

Immediately following the twofold introductory formula, 4Q365 23 4–5 introduces the Wood offering:

בבואכמה אל הארץ אשר [א]נוכי נותן לכמה לנחלה וישבתם עליה לבטח
“When you come to the land which I am giving to you for an inheritance, and you dwell upon it securely…”

Introducing a law by stating that it takes effect when the Israelites enter the land appears in a number of places in the Pentateuch (the use of the final ה in the words בבואכמה and לכמה is uniquely Qumran spelling).

A Composite Verse

The verse combines phrases found elsewhere in the Pentateuch:

בבואכמה אל הארץ – The opening participial form (בבואכם) appears only in the law about taking terumah (the priestly gift) in Numbers 15:18.[18] The more common opening is with the word “when” (כִּי) followed by an imperfect verb, either in 2nd person singular (תָבֹא)[19] or 2nd person plural[20] (תָבֹאוּ).

אשר [א]נוכי נותן לכמה לנחלה – The second phrase, “which I am giving to you,” appears in a number of “when you come into the land” verses,[21] including the one in Leviticus 23 about the omer offering (v. 10), though “as an inheritance” appears only in Deut 26:1, and none use the longer אנכי rather than the shorter form, אני.

וישבתם עליה לבטח – Dwelling on your land in security is a phrase unique to the end of Leviticus (25:18-19, 26:5).

Thus, the new verse uses classic biblical style and phraseology while introducing an entirely new passage.

Appearance of Antiquity

The Wood and Oil Festivals are presumably tied to the enjoyment of the land’s bounty, and thus only take effect upon entrance into the land. At the same time, literary and exegetical motivations explain this particular framing of the Oil and Wood Festivals.

Appearance of Antiquity (Literary)

Highlighting that the Wood and Oil Festivals only take effect “when you come into the land” reinforces the antiquity of this command, as stemming from the wilderness period. This would help the author obscure the festivals’ late origins in the Second Temple period.

This technique matches Deuteronomy’s well-known tactic of referring to the location of the future central sanctuary as “in the place where YHWH will choose” (המקום אשר יבחר י־הוה; e.g., Deuteronomy 12:5 in the Masoretic Text). While Deuteronomy clearly has Jerusalem in mind, it nuances its insistence on a central shrine to comport with the narrative fiction of Mosaic origins.[22]

4Q365 makes use of a variation on this Deuteronomic concept, i.e., “the future Temple,” and states that the purpose of bringing this wood is to use for a burnt offering:

ולכול מלאכ[ת] [הב]ית אשר תבנו לי בארץ
And for all the wo[r]k of the house that you will build for me in the land

As in Deuteronomy, this phrasing locates such a command in the time before the Temple was chosen, again reinforcing its antiquity.

Follow Up to Sukkot (Literary)

Another possible reason for the place of this law is to present the wood offering and oil festival as a foil or culmination to Sukkot. The previous section ended with the explanation for dwelling in sukkot as reminding the Israelites of when God had them dwell in sukkot(booths) when he brought them out of Egypt. When this is followed immediately by the wood offering and oil festival as occurring when Israel enters the land, these celebrations mark the next phase of Israelite history. In other words, these are not exodus or wilderness themed festivals, but entrance into the land festivals.

Solving the Nehemiah Problem (Exegetical)

4Q365 is motivated in part by the glaring exegetical problem presented by the observance of the Wood Offering Festival in Nehemiah 10:35, but he transforms this dilemma into an opportunity. By casting the origins of the Wood Festival into the Pentateuchal, Mosaic, past, 4Q365 makes Nehemiah 10:35 the realization of the ancient Pentateuchal command, not its inspiration. The Wood Festival in Nehemiah is first celebrated by the post-exilic community upon their return to the land of Israel and the reconstitution of Jewish life – exactly as prescribed in this version of the Pentateuch.

Giving the Wood Festival Mosaic Authority – Three Strategies

The Wood Offering and Oil Festivals presented Second Temple period Jews with a clear tension between the received authoritative text, in this case the Pentateuch, in which this festival is absent, and the real-life setting of Jewish ritual activity, in which the festival plays a prominent role.

In contrast to Chanukah and Purim, which are missing in the Torah since they commemorate post-Mosaic events, the absence of the Wood-festival in the Pentateuch could not be explained with ease. For this reason, Second Temple Jews looked for a way to connect these practices to the Pentateuchal festival calendars.

The texts I have examined represent distinct strategies for responding to this tension in order to craft a scriptural origin story for the Wood Offering Festival:

  • Nehemiah simply states the Wood Offering Festival is in the Torah.
  • The Temple Scroll introduces it alongside other additional festivals in its expanded festival calendar.
  • 4Q365 carefully interjects it into its exegetical rewriting of the festival calendar in Leviticus 23.

Each of these strategies reflects how each writer regarded the status of his composition:

Quoting the Pentateuch – Nehemiah grounds its authority in an explicit (pseudo)citation, thereby marking its exegetical process as taking place outside of the presumed scriptural source.

Supplementing the Pentateuch – The Temple Scroll engages in a wholesale rewriting of Pentateuchal law. In so doing, however, the Temple Scroll does not seek to replace the Pentateuch, but rather to supplement it.

Reworking the Pentateuch – 4Q365 fashions itself as a bona fide Pentateuch manuscript. As such, it seeks to conceal any traces of its exegetical rewriting in the pursuit of ritual innovation. In 4Q365, creative reinterpretation of sacred texts responds to the tension between seemingly rigid authoritative Scripture and the need for Scripture and ritual practice to be perpetually evolving entities.


May 3, 2018


Last Updated

May 27, 2024


View Footnotes

Dr. Alex P. Jassen is Associate Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University. He received his Ph.D. in 2006 from New York University. He is the author of Mediating the Divine: Prophecy and Revelation in the Dead Sea Scrolls and Second Temple Judaism (Brill, 2007), which won the 2009 John Templeton Award for Theological Promise, and Scripture and Law in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Cambridge University Press, 2014).