The Qumran Teacher of Righteousness is Onias III

In the fields of Hebrew and Biblical studies, one of the world’s most outstanding discoveries occurred over a ten year span between 1946 and 1956. In that time a number of Bedouin tribesmen found 100s of ancient writings near the ancient ruin of Qumran by the Dead Sea. The ancient writings were contained in scrolls found in clay jars or scattered among 1000s of fragments in eleven caves. They named the monumental find of documents, the Dead Sea Scrolls. Most scholars agree that these scrolls were written by the Hebrew sect called the Essenes (See Supplement 2). The Essenes were one of the three most prominent sects from 2nd Century bc to 1st Century ad Israel; the other two sects being the Sadducees and the Pharisees. Within the scrolls the Essenes wrote of the most outstanding and mysterious character and likely their founder, called the Teacher of Righteousness. Onias III is another noble figure in historic documents (Josephus Antiquities and 2 Maccabees from the Greek Septuagint) who was the High Priest of Israel in the early part of the 2nd Century bc.. Both the Teacher and Onias were honorable leaders given high regard according to the respective writings. This research draws the conclusion that they are one and the same individual.  

The most important verse of the Dead Sea Scrolls, particularly in identifying the Teacher of Righteousness is contained in the Damascus Document:

In the era of wrath – three hundred and ninety years at the time He handed them over to the power of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon – He took care of them and caused to grow from Israel and from Aaron a root of planting to inherit His land and to grow fat on the good produce of His soil. They considered their iniquity and they knew that they were guilty men, and had been like the blind and like those groping for the way twenty years. But God considered their deeds, that they had sought Him with a whole heart. So He raised up for them a teacher of righteousness to guide them in the way of His heart…1

According to the above text, when Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem in 587 bc, there would follow 390 years of the era of wrath. 587–390=197. Then (at about 197 bc) a root of planting had blossomed for Israel, possessing the land and after 20 years of groping blindly they received one who would teach the Law correctly. They would call him the Teacher of Righteousness (Joel 2:23; Hosea 10:12), a true High Priest of Zadokite lineage and, as stated above, the possible founder of the Essene community of Qumran.

If the end of the era of wrath as described by the Damascus Document is indeed 390 years after the 587 bc fall of Jerusalem, that means in 197–8 bc something significantly liberating happened for Israel. And indeed there was just such an event. In the Battle of Panium (named after the Greek god Pan), 198 bc, the Syrian king, Antiochus III the Great, had taken Israel and Jerusalem from the Egyptian tyrant, Ptolemy V.2

Prior to the Egyptians defeat, the Jews experienced religious persecution and heavy taxes from Ptolemy V. Ptolemy himself was less to blame than his guardians who were the known tyrants of Egypt. They had full control of Egypt, since Ptolemy only began his reign at the age of five, in 205 bc and was only 12 years old when the Battle of Panium took place. In any case, the Jews had enough of Egyptian control and so they not only gave Antiochus provisions, but they assisted the Syrians in taking the Egyptian garrison in Jerusalem. From Josephus’ Antiquities it states:

…the Jews, of their own accord, went over to him [Antiochus], and received him into the city [Jerusalem], and gave plentiful provision to all his army, and to his elephants, and readily assisted him when he besieged the garrison which was in the citadel of Jerusalem.3

Antiochus then set all Jewish prisoners free (even those who sided with Ptolemy, such as, the Tobiads). Pleasing to the Jews even more, Antiochus became a benefactor of the Temple providing all the expenses for sacrificial use, such as wine, wheat and wood.4 Egypt was humiliated on the world stage. And so at the age of 14, in 196 bc., Ptolemy and his guardians had the Rosetta Stone carved to declare a new era of peace in Egypt where all the provisions Antiochus declared for his domain were copied by Ptolemy for the remaining Egyptian lands. At the age of 16, in 194 bc. Ptolemy married Cleopatra, in order to seal a peace treaty with Rome. Ptolemy V died in 180 bc., a year after Onias III became High Priest.

If it was liberation from Egypt by the Syrians that ended the Era of Wrath after 390 years from the Babylonian exile to around 197 bc, how where the Jews groping blindly for the next 20 years? This was the time of Onias II whose High Priesthood lasted until his death in 181 bc, almost 20 years. Josephus calls him unwise and greedy, which could be understood as a blind groper in the eyes of pious Jews (Josephus, Antiquities 8.4.10.).

These twenty years were also a time when Simon the Benjamite attempted to gain the High Priesthood of Israel by bribing the Syrian king, Seleucus IV Philopator, with wealth stolen from the Temple. According to legend, this groping for the High Priesthood by Simon failed due to the intervention of angels. As a result, by the end of the twenty years groping blindly, it was 177 bc. and the legitimate High Priest was now Onias III (Yohanan). Is Onias III the Teacher of Righteousness?

The father of Onias III was Simon II who died in 199 bc. Onias III did not become High Priest until 181 bc. These dates are very close to the 390 and 20 year timeline stipulated in the Damascus Document. Simon II was considered a pious man, many scholars believe he was Simon the Just, who was highly praised in Sirach 50:1–21. Simon II, and Onias III himself, were considered legitimate High Priests of Zadokite lineage and Onias is called the anointed by the prophet Daniel (Dn 9:26). How would Onias III become a rooted plant raised up by God to teach the Law correctly and guide them in the way of His heart? The journey would be a trying one, since with every plant there is a seed that dies.

Antiochus III, king of Syria, was a proud benefactor of the Temple in Jerusalem. But in 175 bc he died and was replaced by his son, Antiochus Epiphanes IV, who was less favorable to the non–Helenized Jews. Onias` own brother, Jason, had his eye on the priesthood and took the change in Syrian leadership as his opportunity. So Jason bribed the Syrians for a leading role in converting Jerusalem into a Hellenized city (2 Maccabees 4:7–20).  That is, Jason supported the Greek culture by converting Jerusalem into a Greek polis, even building a gymnasium to prepare Jewish boys for the Olympic Games. For this reason, Jason may well be considered the Man of the Lie, or Spreader of Lies and the Absalom of Qumran literature (1QpHab). Just like Absalom had denounced his father David, Jason defamed his father, Simon the Just (Simon II), who had appointed the elder son Onias III as the next High Priest, not Jason. Therefore, in claiming himself as High Priest, Jason would be Man of the Lie. Consider Jason’s attempt to Hellenize Jerusalem reflected in Qumran’s Commentary of Habakkuk:

This refers to the Spreader of Lies, who deceived many, building a worthless city [Hellenizing Jerusalem] by bloodshed and forming a community by lies for its own glory [with a gymnasium], making many toil at useless labor [for the Greek Olympic games], teaching them to do false deeds [using the Hellenized moon calendar instead of the old solar calendar].5 [Parentheses added]

Meanwhile, Onias III, the legitimate High Priest, became an outcast, perhaps even punished and pursued by his own brother, Jason. The Qumran Commentary on Psalm 37 refers again to this Spreader of Lies, here called, Man of the Lie:

“Be silent before the Lord and wait for him, and do not be jealous of the successful man who does wicked deeds” (37:7)

This refers to the Man of the Lie who led many people astray with deceitful statements, because they had chosen trivial matters [Helenistic teachings], but did not listen to the spokesman for true knowledge [the legitimate High Priest and Teacher of Righteousness, consider Onias III], so that they will perish by sword, famine, and pestilence.6 [Parenthesis added]

According to Young’s Late Biblical Hebrew and the Qumran Habbakuk, both the Commentary on the Psalms and the Habakkuk Commentary though written in the setting of Late Biblical Hebrew contain a strong influence of Early Biblical Hebrew. Young states that the scribe(s) of the Commentary of Habikkuk “write Early Biblical Hebrew successfully because the author was trained to do so by mastery of earlier, classical texts in Early Biblical Hebrew.”7 Ben Sira, which contains the high praises of Simon the Just, father of Onais III, also is written in Early Biblical Hebrew though written in the time and setting of Late Biblical Hebrew. The Community Rule and the War Scroll have the same authorship who preferred the use the writing style of Early Biblical Hebrew. Young noticed that some of the Qumran texts (200 bc–100ad) have even more Early Biblical Hebrew writing than texts that were written at the end of the First Temple Period (600–500bc). This means that the Qumran authors’ school of Hebrew learning had a profound and longstanding tradition that stretched back in time for over 600 years. This is the kind of tradition you would expect from a school founded and organized by the legitimate hierarchy of the High Priesthood of Israel, particularly one set against the Helenistic option. Jason had other plans, to be High Priest he would have to replace this Hebrew tradition with the Greek Helenistic tradition of the Syrian overlord. As stated above, Jason succeeded in bribing his way to the High Priesthood in 175 bc..

Things only got worse in 172 bc when the Benjamite Menelaus stole from the Temple treasury to usurp Jason and gain the High Priesthood for himself under Antiochus IV (2 Maccabees 4:23–26). Onias III publicly exposed Menelaus sacrilege and then fled and found refuge in a small garden retreat, called Daphne, near Antioch (2 Maccabees 4:30–34). Daphne was named after the nymph pursued by Apollo. To resist his advance, she also fled to this location and turned into a laurel tree beside a beautiful spring of water. So they called her Daphne, which means Laurel, the tree or the crown woven from the Laurel tree. And they built a Temple to Apollo in Daphne, setting up a sacrifice with a pagan high priest appointed by the king of Syria. As a devout Jewish high priest, Onias III, would have resisted this pagan sacrifice in his exile, while maintaining most customary Hebrew prayers and offerings.

Onias’ refuge was short lived. In 171 bc, Onias III was assassinated by the Syrian general Andronicus under the urgings of Menelaus (2 Maccabees 4:34–35). The death of Onias III shocked the masses, both Jew and Gentile:

As a result [of the murder of Onias], not only the Jews, but many people of other nations as well, were indignant and angry over the unjust murder of the man. When the king [Antiochus of Syria] returned from the region of Cilicia, the Jews of the city, together with the Greeks who detested the crime, went to see him about the murder of Onias. Antiochus was deeply grieved and full of pity; he wept as he recalled the prudence and noble conduct of the deceased. Inflamed with anger, he immediately stripped Andronicus [Syrian general] of his purple robe, tore off his other garments, and had him led through the whole city to the very place where he had committed the outrage against Onias; and there he put the murderer to death.8 – 2 Maccabees: 4:35–38 [Parentheses added].

Three years after the death of Onias III, in 168 bc, Jason attempted to regain power causing a stir in Jerusalem that reached the ear of king Antiochus. In retaliation, this Syrian overlord pillaged the temple of Jerusalem, killed many devout Jews, and erected a statue of Zeus in the Holy of Holies, fulfilling Daniel’s prophesy regarding the Abomination of Desolation (Dn. 9:27; 11:31; 12:11). This abomination was the greatest sacrilege and it could only be a wicked priest that would stand for it. For this reason, Menelaus is a primary candidate for the Wicked Priest. Confirmation to this theory is that Menelaus succeeded in his plot to kill Onias III. Consider the following Commentary of Habikkuk:

“For the murder of a man and injustice in the land, the city and all who live in it” (Habikkuk 2:8b). This refers to the Wicked Priest. Because of the crime he committed against the Teacher of Righteousness.9

If Menelaus, who organized Onias’ murder, was truly the Wicked Priest, Onias III could only be the Teacher of Righteousness. Also, consider the following verse of the same commentary:

“Woe to the one who gets his friend drunk, pouring out his anger, making him drink, just to get a look at their holy days” (Habikkuk 2:15).
This refers to the Wicked Priest, who pursued the Teacher of Righteousness to destroy him in the heat of his anger at his place of exile. At the time set aside for the purpose of the Day of Atonement he appeared to them to destroy them and to bring them to ruin on the fast day, the Sabbath intended for their repose.10

When Onias III was in exile in Daphne, he was lured out of his sanctuary. As the legitimate High Priest, Onias III continued in some fashion the Temple prayers over Israel. If it was the Day of Atonement, Onias was praying that the all sins of Israel would be forgiven, even the sins of those plotting against his life, such as Menelaus. Again, the Commentary of Habikkuk identifies the Wicked Priest:

For the crimes perpetuated against Lebanon he will bury you, for the robbery of beasts, he will smite you; because of murder and injustice in the land, he will destroy the city and all who live in it. Habikkuk 2:17.

This passage refers to the Wicked Priest, that he will be paid back for what he did to the poor, for ‘Lebanon’ refers to the party of the Yahad, and ‘beasts’ refers to the simple–hearted of Judah who obey the Law. God will condemn him to utter destruction, just as he planned to destroy the poor. As for the verse that says, ‘because of murder in the city and injustice in the land,’ ‘the city’ refers to Jerusalem, where the Wicked Priest committed his abhorrent deeds, defiling the Temple of God. ‘Injustice in the land’ refers to the cities of Judah where he stole the assets of the poor.11

Menelaus stole from the Temple treasury, much of which through the Temple tax was acquired from a compliant, yet relatively poor Jewish community.  Notice that the Wicked Priest is associated with Habikkuk’s ‘murder in the city’, but that it does not say Daphne, near Antioch where Onias III was murdered. Rather it says, ‘Jerusalem, where the Wicked Priest committed his abhorrent deeds’. Menelaus, while in Jerusalem, plotted the murder of Onias III, and was successful through the assassin and Syrian governor Andronicus. Moreover, when Menelaus handed Temple treasure over to the Syrians he ensured his place as High Priest. Several Jews who resisted Menelaus and his desecration of the Temple were subsequently killed in Jerusalem.

In the Commentary of Micah (1Q14), the Spreader of Lies and his evil works are placed in the same time and setting as the Teacher of Righteousness and his noble deeds. The Teacher’s following is called his party, the chosen of God and the party of the Yahad.             

‘…for the sin of Jacob is all of this and for the transgressions of the House of Israel. What is Jacob’s sin? Behold, it is Samaria. What are the high places of Judah? Behold, it is Jerusalem’ Micah 1:5. ‘I will make Samaria a heap in the open country, a place for planting vineyards’ Micah 1:6. 
This refers to the Spreader of Lies, who will lead astray the simple–hearted. ‘And what are Judah’s high places? Behold, they are Jerusalem (1.5). This refers to the Teacher of Righteousness who himself shall teach the law to his party and to all those who are willing to be added to the chosen of God, the ones who observe the law in the party of the Yahad who will be saved on the Day of Judgment.12

If Onias III is the Teacher of Righteousness and this Teacher is considered a possible author of the Thanksgiving Hymns, then perhaps there are clues in these hymns that identify the sufferings that Onias experienced at the hands of his brother Jason and usurper Menelaus.  

[Behold, I am] carried away with the sick; [I am acquainted] with scourges. I am forsaken in [my sorrow] ... and without any strength. For my sore breaks out in bitter pains and in incurable sickness impossible to stay; [my heart laments] within me as in those who go down to Hell. My spirit is imprisoned with the dead for [my life] has reached the Pit; my soul languishes [within me] day and night without rest. My wound breaks out like burning fire shut up in [my bones], whose flames devour me for days on end, diminishing my strength for times on end and destroying my flesh for seasons on end. The pains fly out [towards me] and my soul within me languishes even to death. My strength has gone from my body and my heart runs out like water; my flesh is dissolved like wax and the strength of my loins is turned to fear. My arm is torn from its socket [and I can] lift my hand [no more]; My [foot] is held by fetters and my knees slide like water; I can no longer walk. I cannot step forward lightly, [for my legs and arms] are bound by shackles which cause me to stumble. The tongue has gone back which Thou didst make marvellously mighty within my mouth; it can no longer give voice. [I have no word] for my disciples to revive the spirit of those who stumble and to speak words of support to the weary. My circumcised lips are dumb.  – Thanksgiving Hymn 23 (formerly 18 and 14)

Notice also that the Teacher’s voice has been restricted and he writes, I have no word for my disciples. Fleeing for his life from Menelaus, Onias III had little opportunity to teach. Was Onias scourged when Jason and/or Menelaus banished him from the High Priesthood? If it is Onias III writing certain Thanksgiving Hymns, then he looks on the bright side and considers his affliction (banishment from his rightful High Priesthood) an opportunity for divine purification.

Thou hast strengthened the spirit of man in the face of the scourge, and hast purified [the erring spirit] of a multitude of sins, that it may declare Thy marvels in the presence of all Thy creatures. [I will declare to the assembly of the simple] the judgements by which I was scourged, and to the sons of men, all Thy wonders by which Thou hast shown Thyself mighty [in me in the presence of the sons of Adam]. – Thanksgiving Hymn 9 Col. 9.33b

When Menelaus usurped the High Priesthood of Israel, Jason also fled and died in exile in Greece. Of Jason’s miserable end it reads, “he who had cast out so many to lie unburied went unmourned himself with no funeral of any kind or any place in the tomb of his ancestors.” (2 Maccabees 5.10). Perhaps the following Thanksgiving Hymn refers to this:

Announce and say: Great is God, Ma[ker of marvels]. For He humbles the proud spirit with no remnant and from the dust He lifts up the poor to [eternal heights]. And He lifts him up to the clouds to share a common assembly with the ‘gods’ [according to Wise, Abegg and Cook: with the divine beings in the congregation of the Yahad]. – Thanksgiving Hymn 34 v26b–28a

Jason was humbled when he fled with no support or remnant from those who followed him in the past. Are not the poor ones those who belong to the common assemble or yahad of the Essenes? The Spreader of Lies is considered to be Jason and /or Menelaus, their lies being to Hellenize Jerusalem and claim the High Priesthood. The Teacher of Righteousness meanwhile taught the law to his party and that party has become the Yahad, those who are willing to be added to the chosen of God. The murder of Onias III further supports him as candidate for Teacher of Righteousness. Was it not Onias III who planted the true community of the Jewish law in the wilderness of Qumran by the Dead Sea? And when the Commentary of Nahum (4Q169) hints of when the Essenes were founded, it is precisely during the reign of Antiochus IV who rejected Onias III for Jason: …from Antiochus [175–163 bc], until the appearance of the rulers of the Kittim [Romans from 63 bc]13

The Messiah would return and vanquish the enemies of Israel only 40 years after the death of the Teacher of Righteousness according to the Damascus Document:

So it is with all the men who entered the new covenant in the land of Damascus, but then turned back and traitorously turned away from the fountain of living water. They shall not be reckoned among the council of the people, and their names shall not be written in their book from the day the Beloved Teacher dies until the Messiah from Aaron and Israel appears….

Now from the day the Beloved Teacher passed away to the destruction of the warriors who went back to the Man of the Lie will be about forty years. Now at that time God’s anger will burn against Israel, as He said, “Neither king nor prince” (Hos. 3.4) nor judge nor one who exhorts to do what is right will be left.14


This portion of the Damascus Document is telling what happened 40 years after the death of the Teacher. Therefore, it is written at least 40 years after the Teacher. And it regards the leader of Israel at that 40th year to be a Messianic figure. Forty years from the death of Onias III in 171 bc takes us to 131 bc. during the reign of John Hyrcanus. The Essenes were looking for a Messiah to liberate Israel. The Maccabees brothers of the Hasmonean dynasty, together with the Hasidim (Pious Ones) of Israel, had done just that, they liberated Israel from Syrian domination. It is an epic story, surreal, yet true. When, in 168 bc, the Syrians placed Zeus in the Temple of Jerusalem, in a holy rage of fury Judah Maccabees led a resistance that defeated the Syrian army in every battle until the enemy garrison in Jerusalem was defeated. In 164 bc, Judah Maccabees successfully purified the Temple. As the war continued, Judah was killed in battle in 161 bc..

The brothers of Judah, Jonathan and Simon, led the rebellion to the point of re–establishing the independence of Israel from foreign rule (1 Maccabees 9:73; 13:41). The Hasidim and Hasmoneans were victorious. It is noted that Hasid is the Hebrew plural equivalent of the Greek Essenoi, which supports the relationship between the Hasidim and the Essenes (Jerome Bible Commentary 68:84). Still the Onias family were the immediate priestly heirs before the Maccabees. The Essenes under Onias III son, Onias IV, would have been overjoyed when Jonathan Macabbees made peace with Syria. But Onias IV was rejected and Jonathan took the High Priesthood for the Hasmoneans in 152 bc instead of reinstating the true heir. Simon Macabbees was named High Priest in 143 bc until a true prophet should appear (1 Maccabees 14:41). There must have been some animosity between the Hasmoneans as interim High Priests until a prophet appear and the legitimate High Priest with his camp. Yet, how was Jonathan able to sway the Essenes against Onias? Onias IV had started a new temple sacrifice in Leontopolis, Egypt. Such an action was regarded as betrayal of Jerusalem on the part of the High Priest. Many Essenes themselves would have felt betrayed by Onias IV and turned to the Hasmoneans for their hopes of a Messiah.

For this Messiah, the author of the Damascus Document may have had in mind the son of Simon Maccabees, John Hyrcanus. The prophesy stipulated forty years from the death of Onias III, when John Hyrcanus was beginning his 30 year reign. Over this time John succeeded in Judaizing Israel from Galilee to Idumea. He destroyed the competing Samaritan Temple on Mt. Garizim and forbade the observance of Pharisee practices. At the death of the Syrian Antiochus IV, John Hyrcanus stopped paying foreign tribute and re–established Israel’s independence. The Essenes, would have praised him at every turn and no doubt held Hyrcanus in high esteem, perhaps even regarding him as Messiah.

But then he died and his son, Aristobulus I, took his place and was first to add the title of king to that of High Priest. He died only after one year. John Hyrcanus had a second son, Alexander Jannaeus (Jonathan), who ruled from 103–76 bc.. Though the Hasmoneans were usually allied with the Sadducees, this king also received the high praises of the Essenes. Qumran scroll 4Q448 reads,

Awake, O Holy One, for Jonathan, the king, and all the congregation of Your people Israel that is (dispersed) to the four winds of the heavens, let peace be upon all of them and Your kingdom.15

A certain adversary of Israel had risen in Egypt about this time, named Ptolemy Lathyrus. He had disposed of the true ruler of Egypt, Cleopatra III on Cyprus and then proceeded to attack Israel, under Jannaeus. Meanwhite, the grandson of Onias III, the true heir to the High Priesthood, Ananias ben Onias, and his brother Helkius, remained loyal generals of Cleopatra. Together with their small army of Egyptian Jews, and allied with Jannaeus, they defeated Ptolemy (~100 bc). This not only saved Israel from defeat, but reinstated Cleopatra to her Egyptian throne. Ananias ben Onias then convinced Cleopatra to remain pure allies with Jannaeus, rather than annex Israel into and Egyptian province.16

This would explain why the Essenes also praised Jannaeus, since he fought side by side with the grandsons of their founder, Onias III. Perhaps the Essenes and the Jews of the Land of Onias in Egypt were content to await the return of the Messiah before reinstating their priesthood at Jerusalem. That is, they expected the Messiah to be a Son of David, a Son of Zadok and a Son of Onias III and were willing to support the Hasmoneans whom they regarded as interim High Priests. The Hasmoneans were content to take on the High Priesthood following loosely the condition specified at Simon Maccabees inauguration, until a true prophet arises, namely the Messiah. Until then, the safety of Israel against foreign invaders depended on this internal unity and support behind the current High Priest. 

As a result of this unity among the Jews behind their king, Jannaeus was able to expand Israel beyond the domain of his father, Hyrcanus. Though he was backed by most of Israel, Jannaeus had to face a small faction of the Pharisees (the Flattery Seekers of 4Q169 Commentary of Nahum) who attempted to convince the Syrian king Demetrius III to reign over Israel. Demetrius entered Israel in 88 bc, but then withdrew when he found how little support he had against Jannaeus and his army of 6000 patriotic Jews. Only the Pharisees were set against Jannaeus, since he had the support of the Sadducees and the Essenes. Josephus records Jannaeus crucifying 800 rebels, mostly Pharisees, and he mercilessly killed their wives and children in front of the crosses. 

Such an act can cause much empathy and even the heart of Jannaeus own wife began to stir for the Pharisees. When he died, she became Queen Salome Alexandra from 76–67 bc and she sided with the Pharisees. She gave them control, until her death, which left her two sons to fight over the leadership of Israel.

And in the midst of this civil strife the Romans found their opportunity, along with Antipas, the Idumean, whose son Herod would govern Israel for the Romans until shortly after the birth of another Messianic candidate, named Jesus of Nazareth. There is a claim that the forty year prophecy in the Damascus Document refers to the time between Jesus crucifixion (about 30 ad) and the fall of Jerusalem (70 ad). 17

Now from the day the Beloved Teacher passed away to the destruction of the warriors who went back to the Man of the Lie will be about forty years. Now at that time God’s anger will burn against Israel, as He said, “Neither king nor prince” (Hos. 3.4) nor judge nor one who exhorts to do what is right will be left.18

Proving Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah is beyond this chapter of the research. Yet, who was the Teacher of Righteousness? Was he indeed the founder of the Essenes? And was he the banished and murdered High Priest, Onias III?

Thus far in summary, the Era of Wrath in the Damascus Document lasted 390 years and there followed 20 years of groping blindly until a root planting was risen up who would be called the Teacher of Righteousness. It follows exactly 390 years from the Babylonian Exile of 587 bc to 197, where at the Battle of Panium, Israel was liberated from the Egyptian tyrant, Ptolemy V. 20 years later the High Priest of Israel is the highly praised Onias III. 40 years from his death Israel is liberated from Syrian domination by the Hasmonean John Hyrcanus.

One difficulty with this timeline is that the Commentary of Habakkuk included the name Kittim several times. Most scholars believe Kittim (meaning Cyprus) referred to the Western Coastlands of the Mediterranean and, therefore, means the Romans. But that is not all it means, since an early designation for Kittim was the island of Cyprus (Isaiah 23.1; Jeremiah 2:10). But if the Habakkuk Commentary speaks of the Teacher as Onias III, the Liar as his brother Jason and the Wicked Priest as Menelaus, then Kittim must also refer to the Greeks, under Antiochus IV. In fact, in Genesis 10:4 the Kittim belong to the sons of Javan who brought forth the Greek nation. This is the land of Alexander the Great: After Alexander the Macedonian, Philip’s son, who came from the land of Kittim. 1 Maccabees 1:1. When Alexander died in 321 bc, civil war and strife followed to determine how his kingdom would be divided. After 40 years his son was murdered and kingdom was split into four: a Seleucid Mesopotamia, an Attalid Anatolia, And Antigonid Macedon and a Ptolemic Egypt.19      

Here is how the understanding of Kittim unfolds at Qumran. Onias III’s High Priesthood was usurped by his brother Jason, who bribed Antiochus IV for this promotion in 175 bc. Since Antiochus was Seleucid, it makes perfect sense for the Commentary of Habakkuk to call the enemies of the Teacher of Righteousness (Onias III) the Kittim. From Greece came Alexander; from Alexander’s domain came the Seleucid and the Ptolemy domain, all considered the Helenized Kittim. Ptolemy V of Egypt, (who received Alexander’s Greek portion of Egypt) also represented the Hellenized Kittim. To the Qumran Essenes, Rome became identified with the Kittim in as much as they too were being Helenized by the Greeks. One sure instance of this occurred in Onias III day when Ptolemy V married Cleopatra III to make a peace bond between Helenized Egypt and Rome.  

These dates not only determine the Teacher of Righteousness as Onias III, but the Wicked Priest and Man of the Lie are identified as his immediate contemporaries. It should surprise no one that those writing the Qumran scrolls (the Essenes) who were so protective of a pure Hebrew tradition from Early Biblical Hebrew would also remember the name of the founder of their sect, Onias III, whom they called the Teacher of Righteousness.     

The evidence continues to support that Onias III was the Teacher of Righteousness who founded the Essenes for the purpose of maintaining a remnant for Israel who were faithful to the covenant. There is also indication that the Thanksgiving Hymns from the Dead Sea Scrolls were written by the Teacher of Righteousness in Daphne, near Antioch, which could only mean that the Teacher is indeed Onais III.

Consider the Thanksgiving Hymns of the Dead Sea Scrolls. As they are quoted above, these hymns are a self–affirmation that the Teacher is pursued by his enemies, the Wicked Priest and Man of the Lie. Therefore, some scholars believe that the Teacher of Righteousness wrote these hymns. As well, the claims the author as this Teacher of Righteousness regard his own post was of heavenly significance, much like that of a High Priest, such as, Onias III. Most significantly, the Thanksgiving Hymns speak of an abode of refuge for the Teacher that could be none other than Daphne, near Antioch, the same place of sanctuary chosen by Onias.

Josephus states that the Essenes adopted children and raised them in the way of the congregation (Jewish War 2.120). The author of Thanksgiving Hymn 20 speaks of himself as a foster–father.

[For in] Thy righteousness Thou hast appointed me for Thy Covenant, and I have clung to Thy truth and [gone forward in Thy ways]. Thou hast made me a father to the sons of grace, and as a foster–father to men of marvel; they have opened their mouths like little babes ....like a child playing in the lap of its nurse. Thou hast lifted my horn above those who insult me, and those who attack me [sway like the boughs] (of a tree)… – Thanksgiving Hymn 20

There is also evidence that Onias III is the Teacher of the Thanksgiving Hymns in regard to how they both receive heavenly protection. In order to usurp Onias III of his high priesthood, Simon of Bilgah attempted to bribe the Syrian overlord with the temple treasury. A certain Syrian general named Heliodorus went with his soldiers into the Temple to confiscate the treasure. The book of 2 Maccabees describes what happened next:

There appeared to them a richly caparisoned horse, mounted by a dreadful rider. Charging furiously, the horse attacked Heliodorus with its front hoofs. The rider was seen to be wearing golden armor. Then two other young men, remarkably strong, strikingly beautiful, and splendidly attired, appeared before him. Standing on each side of him, they flogged him unceasingly until they had given him innumerable blows. Suddenly he fell to the ground, enveloped in great darkness. – 2 Maccabees 3:25–27.

This heavenly defense of the Temple is the responsibility of Onias and is reflected in the Teacher’s Thankgiving Hymns 11 and 12:

… Violent men have sought after my life because I have clung to Thy Covenant. …From Thee it is that they assail my life, that Thou mayest be glorified by the judgement of the wicked, and manifest Thy might through me in the presence of the sons of men; for it is by Thy mercy that I stand. And I said, Mighty men have pitched their camps against me.… But although my heart melted like water, my soul held fast to Thy Covenant, and the net which they spread for me has taken their own foot; they have themselves fallen into the snares which they laid for my life. … Thanksgiving Hymn 11

In the following Thanksgiving Hymn there is a symbolic name, called the seekers of smooth things (flattery seekers).

I thank Thee, O Lord, for Thou hast [fastened] Thine eye upon me. Thou hast saved me from the zeal of lying interpreters [Jason and Menelaus], and from the congregation of those who seek smooth things [the Pharisees]. Thou hast redeemed the soul of the poor one [an Essene leader] whom they planned to destroy by spilling his blood because he served Thee. Because [they knew not] that my steps were directed by Thee, they made me an object of shame and derision in the mouth of all the seekers of falsehood. But Thou, O my God, hast succoured the soul of the poor and the needy against one stronger than he; Thou hast redeemed my soul from the hand of the mighty. Thou hast not permitted their insults to dismay me so that I forsook Thy service for fear of the wickedness of the [ungodly], or bartered my steadfast heart for folly. – Thanksgiving Hymn 12 (parenthesis added)

This designation is used first in Isaiah 30 to represent those who wish to make an alliance with Egypt. The Qumran Commentary of Nahum identifies those who seek smooth things as the Pharisees (in 4Q169 with Alexander Jannaeus` crucifixion of 800 Pharisees, paralleled with the Lion of Wrath who used to hang men alive). If the Thanksgiving Hymns were written much earlier by Onias III, then the Pharisees were born out of the 198 bc transfer of power over Israel from Egypt to Syria. Since Israel was liberated from the tyranny of Egypt, under Ptolemy V, these flattery seekers must have been attempting to gain Egyptian support to overthrow Onais III who was protected by the Syrian Antiochus III. This would make Jason and/or Menelaus the founder or supporter of the Pharisee movement. 

As well, the use of language such as, the soul of the poor one, reflects language used by Josephus, who wrote, “They hold their possession in common” Antiquities 18.20. Philo wrote, “None of them allows himself to have… property… they put everything into the public stock and enjoy the benefit of them all in common” Hypothetica 10.4. For more on the poverty of the Essenes see the Manual of Discipline 1QS1.11–12; 1QS5.1–2; 1QS6.17–22; and the Damascus Document CD9.10–16; CD14.12–13. Also, see Supplement 2: Josephus Essenes and the Dead Sea Sect. That the Pharisees have been regarded as the seekers of smooth things contemporary with the Teacher of Righteousness, would place their sect as early as 180 bc, provided Onias III is the Teacher and author of these hymns. This date is not much later than Josephus who placed the Essenes, the Pharisees and the Sadducees around the High Priesthood of Hasmonean Jonathan Maccabee (152–142 bc Antiquities of the Jews 13.171).

As well, the Teacher of the Thankgiving Hymns is insulted and under attack, not unlike Onias III when his own brother, Jason, usurped him for the High Priesthood. Hymn 16 adds weight to the theory that the Teacher of Righteousness is Onias III, since Menelaus drove him out from the land, as a bird from its nest.

… their works are deceitful, for good works were rejected by them. Neither did they esteem me; even when You displayed Your might through me. Instead they drove me out from my land, as a bird from its nest. All my friends and acquaintances have been driven away from me; they esteem me as a ruined vessel. But they are mediators of a lie and seers of deceit. They have plotted wickedness against me, so as to exchange Your law, which You spoke distinctly in my heart, for flattering words directed to Your people. They hold back the drink of knowledge from those who thirst, and for their thirst they give them vinegar to drink, that they might observe their error, behaving madly at their festivals and getting caught in their nets. – Thanksgiving Hymn 16 Col.12 v.9–13a

Notice the plural mediators of a lie (bold emphasis added) possibly attributed to both Jason and Menelaus. Also notice flattering words quoted above and smooth things written below (bold emphasis added) may again refer to the actions of the Pharisees and places them again before the death of Onias III (171 bc).

I thank Thee, O Lord, for Thou hast illumined my face by Thy Covenant, I seek Thee, and sure as the dawn Thou appearest as [perfect Light] to me. Teachers of lies [have smoothed] Thy people [with words], and [false prophets] have led them astray; they perish without understanding for their works are in folly. For I am despised by them and they have no esteem for me that Thou mayest manifest Thy might through me. They have banished me from my land like a bird from its nest; all my friends and brethren are driven far from me and hold me for a broken vessel. And they, teachers of lies and seers of falsehood, have schemed against me a devilish scheme, to exchange the Law engraved on my heart by Thee for the smooth things (which they speak) to Thy people. And they withhold from the thirsty the drink of Knowledge, and assuage their thirst with vinegar, that they may gaze on their straying, on their folly concerning their feast–days,… – Thanksgiving Hymn 16

In the last few words of the above quotation, the author writes of the folly concerning their feast–days. Such a statement would apply to Onias III who stood by the old solar calendar, while his enemies chose the Greek moon calendar in an attempt bring Greek (Helenistic) teachings into Israel (see Wise, Abegg & Cook pp. 379–385). The author above is banished like a bird, like Onias III, being driven out of Israel he is left to develop his High Priestly following in the wilderness.
Notice in Thanksgiving Hymn 16 above it reads, they drove me out from my land, as a bird from its nest, reflects the book of Maccabees regarding that Onias’ primary nest and refuge was in Daphne near Antioch. This location was very much like a haven in the wilderness as the following Thanksgiving Hymn relates:

I [thank Thee, O Lord, for] Thou hast placed me beside a fountain of streams in an arid land, and close to a spring of waters in a dry land, and beside a watered garden [in a wilderness]. [For Thou didst set] a plantation of cypress, pine, and cedar for Thy glory, trees of life beside a mysterious fountain hidden among the trees by the water, and they put out a shoot of the everlasting Plant. But before they did so, they took root and sent out their roots to the watercourse that its stem might be open to the living waters and be one with the everlasting spring. And all [the beasts] of the forest fed on its leafy boughs; its stem was trodden by all who passed on the way and its branches by all the birds. And all the [trees] by the water rose above it for they grew in their plantation; but they sent out no root to the watercourse. And the bud of the shoot of holiness of the Plant of truth was hidden and was not esteemed; and being unperceived, its mystery was sealed. Thou didst hedge in its fruit, [O God], with the mystery of mighty Heroes and of spirits of holiness and of the whirling flame of fire. No [man shall approach] the well–spring of life or drink the waters of holiness with the everlasting trees, or bear fruit with [the Plant] of heaven, who seeing has not discerned, and considering has not believed in the fountain of life, who has turned [his hand against] the everlasting [bud]. And I was despised by tumultuous rivers for they cast up their slime upon me. But Thou, O my God, hast put into my mouth as it were rain for all [those who thirst] and a fount of living waters which shall not fail. When they are opened they shall not run dry; they shall be a torrent [overflowing its banks] and like the [bottom]less seas. They shall suddenly gush forth which were hidden in secret, [and shall be like the waters of the Flood to every tree], both the green and the barren; to every beast and bird [they shall be an abyss. The trees shall sink like] lead in the mighty waters, fire [shall burn among them] and they shall be dried up; but the fruitful Plant [by the] everlasting [spring shall be] an Eden of glory [bearing] fruits [of life]. By my hand Thou hast opened for them a well–spring and ditches, [that all their channels] may be laid out according to a certain measuring–cord, and the planting of their trees according to the plumb–line of the sun, that [their boughs may become a beautiful] Branch of glory. When I lift my hand to dig its ditches its roots shall run deep into hardest rock and its stem ... in the earth; in the season of heat it shall keep its strength.…. Thanksgiving Hymn 23 (formerly 18 and 14)

Remarkably, the Teacher of the Thanksgiving Hymn writes, trees of life beside a mysterious fountain hidden among the trees by the water, and they put out a shoot of the everlasting Plant and the mysterious fountain of Daphne contains Daphne herself, who turned into a laurel tree. She is the everlasting Plant of the Greeks. The Teacher is transferring the myth back to the Jewish believe in the Messiah as the Shoot of David. As the Teacher continues to write he states how their trees (those of the Hellenists) have sent out no root to the watercourse (boldface added above) and that his own authority is hidden and not esteemed. And above also in boldface, the sun is used to line the trees in this analogy according to the proper Essene Calendar, not the moon calendar of the Greeks.

Hymn 32 confirms the seasonal use of the Solar Calendar in the prayers of the Essenes, as well as, the divine analogy of fountains and springs, like those of Daphne.

Bowing down in prayer I will beg Thy favours from season to season always: when light emerges from [its dwelling–place], and when the day reaches its appointed end in accordance with the laws of the Great Light of heaven; …. I, the Master, know Thee O my God, by the spirit which Thou hast given to me, and by Thy Holy Spirit I have faithfully hearkened to Thy marvellous counsel. In the mystery of Thy wisdom Thou hast opened knowledge to me, and in Thy mercies….How then shall dust reply to its Maker, [and how] understand His [works]? How shall it stand before Him who reproves it? [and the Spring of] Eternity, the Well of Glory and the Fountain of Knowledge.… Thanksgiving Hymn 32

The Greeks worshipped Apollo at the Temple in Daphne. Her own name means Laurel, from the tree she turned into to hide from Apollo’s advances. And every four years in Delphi, the winners of the games were given a woven crown, called the Laurel. This was given for the specific reason to honor Apollo for his love for Daphne. In Qumran there were a number of fragments (of 4Q380–1) that puzzled together confirmed the agony of the Teacher was related to this woven crown of pagan worship:

The days of my existence are treasured up. What can a man say (but) ‘Here I am’? And how [dost Thou deliver] to the sword those who wait for me, those who say... on the day of wrath? They have woven a crown for my head…. Non–canonical Psalm 4Q381

Onias III was surely aware of the Daphne legend that when the leaf from this laurel tree was dipped in the spring of Daphne there appeared on it a miraculous and prophetic inscription (Sozomen, Historia Ecclesiastica 5.19). In the Thanksgiving Hymns, the Teacher writes: …what can I say that is not foretold? All things are graven before Thee on a written reminder for everlasting ages… (Thanksgiving Hymn 9 Col. 9.23). This written inscription would also call the mind the Rosetta Stone of Plotemy V, which contained the engraved laws that brought peace to the land of Egypt which were copied from the Syrians who liberated Israel from Egypt in 198 bc.

These parallels between Onias III in Daphne and the Teacher of the Qumran writings may be taken by themselves as mere coincidence. But the amount of parallels begins to tell of the hidden author of the Thanksgiving Hymns that he was a banished leader, even High Priest, like Onias; his life was threatened and taken, like Onias; he was in the Daphne of mysterious springs, like Onias; he contemplated the very leaf with an inscribed prophecy from Daphne, like Onias. The burden of proof now rests on those who believe otherwise. Yet, this is not a contest to see who can master the profound discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The discovery of these scrolls is itself a miracle, a prophecy, and a great sign for our times and it comes from our Master and Creator. There is more here at stake than the identification of a man, named Onias. Onias himself knew his limitations and that he was a small part of a much greater event. That is, the coming of the Messiah. The life of Onias was expendable to a world that would also not recognize and even hate the Messiah. This author has come to the place of realization where these poor ones, like Onias and the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, are among the best this world has to offer. And every word that falls from their lips is worth cherishing and keeping forever, while the words of so many kings and scribes will be forgotten. Onias himself sensed the coming of the Messiah and his spirituality prepared his Jewish people for this primary Event in human history. Onias own Thanksgiving Hymns are filled with prophecies of the approaching Messiah. Consider Hymn 13, which pulls together all the prophecies of Isaiah’s Messaih.

For the children have come to the throes of Death, and she labours in her pains who bears a man. For amid the throes of Death she shall bring forth a man–child, and amid the pains of Hell there shall spring from her child–bearing crucible a Marvellous Mighty Counsellor; and a man shall be delivered from out of the throes. When he is conceived all wombs shall quicken, and the time of their delivery shall be in grievous pains; they shall be appalled who are with child. And when he is brought forth every pang shall come upon the child–bearing crucible. And they, the conceivers of Vanity, shall be prey to terrible anguish; the wombs of the Pit shall be prey to all the works of horror. The foundations of the wall shall rock like a ship upon the face of the waters; …  Thanksgiving Hymn 13

In identifying the Teacher of Righteousness of the Dead Sea Scrolls to be the High Priest Onias III, sense can be made of the exact date concerning the Era of Wrath. As well, the Wicked Priest and Man of the Lie become contemporaries to the Teacher Onias. Menelaus as the Wicked Priest participates in the most wicked act a High Priest can perform. He stole from the Temple to sponsor the foreign king who set up the Abomination of Desolation, a statue of Zeus in the Holy of Holies. Jason becomes Man of the Lie when he embraces the lie of Helenism to steal the High Priesthood from his own brother. Born out of these great and terrible events is the spirit of a movement founded by Onias, called the Essenes. In the wilderness they would fast and pray for the day the Messiah would return and re–establish the true High Priesthood of Heaven on earth. How Jesus the Messiah was anticipated and recognized by the Essenes and how the Essenes solidified the foundations of Christianity are presented in another chapter of this research.

1. The Dead Sea Scrolls – A New Translatioin (A comprehensive translation of the controversial ancient scrolls, with material never before published or translated – including the most recently released texts). Translated and with Commentary by Michael Wise, Martin Abegg Jr., & Edward Cook. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996. 4Q268 Frag. 1 Geniza A Col. 1: v3–11.
2. Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Seleucid Dynasty s.v. Antiochus III. the Great". Encyclopædia Britannica. 24 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 604–605. And retrieved in Sept. 2017 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of _the_history_of_the_region_of_Palestine.
3. Josephus, Antiquities xii. 3, 3; http://sacred–texts.com/jud/josephus/.
4. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/1588–antiochus–iii–the–great.
5. Ibid. The Dead Sea Scrolls. 1QpHab Col. 10: v9–12.
6. Ibid. The Dead Sea Scrolls. Commentary on Psalms, 4Q171 F.1–2 Col.1.17–2.1
7. Young, I.. Late Biblical Hebrew and the Qumran Pesher Habakkuk. From “The Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, ISSN 1203–1542 http://www.jhsonline.org. Atla Religion Database, RAMBI, and BiBIL. Archived in Library and Archives Canada Vol.8, Art.25.
8. The New American Bible. New York: Catholic Book Publishers Company, 1970. 2 Maccabees: 4:35–38.
9. Ibid. The Dead Sea Scrolls. 1QpHab Col. 9: v8–10a.
10. Ibid. The Dead Sea Scrolls. 1QpHab Col. 11: v2b–8a.
11. Ibid. The Dead Sea Scrolls. 1QpHab Col. 11: v17–12: v1–10.
12. Ibid. The Dead Sea Scrolls. 1Q14 Frag. 8–10: v1–9.
13. Ibid. The Dead Sea Scrolls. 4Q196 Frag. 3–4 Col. 1: v3b.
14.  &nbs


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Views: 4188      Comments: 5

Comment תודה רבה על עבודה שלכם We thank you very much for this work! This research connected vital points of the historical scriptural and Scrolls narrative... look forward to reading and studying more! May the Almighty the true God and power of Israel bless your works in the name of the Messiah and the saviors of israel!.... Recall the Obadiah prophecy!

Rasiadonis Tafari
12-Dec-2022 15:42 PM

Comment The Teacher is Yeshua aka Jesus, Student of Joshua ben Perachiah. Born 100 BCE went to Alexandra when Pharisee Revolt 88 BCE, return 76 BCE.
Perachiah banned Jesus. Jesus became Essene Teacher.
Killed by Sanhedrin 43a. 67 BCE
Story in Talmud .
Other names Jesus ben Panthera. I have a book at Amazon, Jesus, his life and times. You are very good Jesus is the Teacher of Righteousness!

Wardell Lindsay
12-Dec-2021 00:28 AM

Comment Mark. Do you have an article on Onias III as Teacher of Righteousness to share?
That Onias as Yohanan is taken up as a patron of John the Baptist is highly likely.

14-Jun-2021 19:23 PM

Comment Mark. Do you have a paper in regards to Onias III?

14-Jun-2021 19:15 PM

Comment Brilliant analysis! Thank you for publishing this article, I had been exploring the possibility that Onias III was the “Teacher of Righteousness” and that Menelaus was the “Wicked Priest” who desecrated the temple and you have provided confirmation of that. I was interested to see that Onias III was also known as “Yohanan”as it seems to be a link to John the Baptist. Perhaps a sign to the Qumran community that the genuine prophet awaited by the Maccabees had come? Matthew 11:7-15

05-Jun-2021 19:41 PM

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