What will the Newly Found Tefillin Scrolls Reveal?

Who was Right—Rashi or Rabbeinu Tam?


May 17, 2014

Prof.Marc Zvi Brettler


Marc Zvi Brettler


What will the Newly Found Tefillin Scrolls Reveal?

Qumran Tefillin Cases

Various Torah passages mandate that certain words should be as “a sign on your hand and a frontlet between your eyes” (Exodus 13.9, 13.16; Deuteronomy 6.8, and 11.18)—but was this meant literally, or perhaps was this a metaphor that these words should be as important as such a sign, as suggested by Rashbam? The earliest evidence that they were taken literally is from the Letter of Aristeas (159), which deals with the translation of the Torah into Greek (the Septuagint), from the second century b.c.e., and more than a century later from Matthew 23.5 and Josephus (Jewish Antiquities 4.213).

But what words should be inscribed? And in what order?

The rabbis mandated that the following passages be included in tefillin, although they did not resolve in what order: Exodus 13.1–10, Exodus 13.11–16, Deuteronomy 6.4–9, and Deuteronomy 11.13–21; indeed the order continued to be disputed through the middle ages, when two different orders were suggested by Rashi of Rabbeinu Tam. (That is why some Jews don two pairs of tefillin!) Over twenty tefillin were unearthed previously from the Dead Sea area—some have Rashi’s order, others that of Rabbeinu Tam. Most significantly to my mind, some include different biblical texts, including the Decalogue (the ten commandments); this is not surprising since in the context of Deuteronomy 6.8, “these words,” hadeaverim ha-eleh, likely refers to the Decalogue.

Just recently, the news came out that more tefillin have been discovered—I wonder—what texts will they contain in what order? See the story below:

The Times of Israel: Uncovered in Jerusalem, 9 tiny unopened Dead Sea Scrolls
Researcher finds tantalizing tefillin parchments from Second Temple era, overlooked for decades and unread for 2,000 years

Prof. Marc Zvi Brettler is Bernice & Morton Lerner Distinguished Professor of Judaic Studies at Duke University, and Dora Golding Professor of Biblical Studies (Emeritus) at Brandeis University. He is author of many books and articles, including How to Read the Jewish Bible (also published in Hebrew), co-editor of The Jewish Study Bible and The Jewish Annotated New Testament (with Amy-Jill Levine), and co-author of The Bible and the Believer (with Peter Enns and Daniel J. Harrington), and The Bible With and Without Jesus: How Jews and Christians Read the Same Stories Differently (with Amy-Jill Levine). Brettler is a cofounder of TheTorah.com.


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