Ritual Purity Laws

The Dead Sea Scrolls: Bailey: Ritual Purity Laws (4QTohorot-a) =4Q274
Paraphrase and comments by Cynthia Bailey


The ritual purity laws are found in Leviticus 13-15 in the Bible. It addresses diseases and discharges that cause contamination such as: leprosy, seminal discharge, discharge of blood, the Niddah[1], and contact with corpses. All of these impurities are alike for one reason: people with these impurities were ostracized from the towns and from the holy temple.

The destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 586 BC and 70 CE helped to remove the “justification of the laws of impurity” (Biale 147). After the destruction of the temple, the laws concerning a Niddah became less severe. Before the temples were destroyed, a woman who had her menstrual cycle was not allowed to touch anyone until her menstruation was over. After the destruction the laws were not as strict, and it came to be that the only thing a Niddah was not allowed to do was have sex with her husband.

There are some difficulties that one will run into when researching these laws. Some translations will show three fragments while others will show only two.
Although the numbers of fragments are different, the content is the same. For example, Martinez uses fragment 1, fragment 2 col.1, fragment 2 col.2, and fragment 3, Wise, Abegg, and Cook use fragment 1 col.1, fragment 1 col.2, fragment 2 col.1, and fragment 2 col.2, while Vermes uses three fragments. There are also other complications concerning these laws. There is no information on the laws themselves, like what language they are in. The information about the laws is very scarce and is mostly on what the laws contain.

Paraphrase 4Q274

Fragment 1 col.1:

1He will begin by not] casting his lot [?for priestly service?]. He will lie down in the bed of trouble, and reside in a house of grief. He will live away from the pure, 2with all the unclean at the distance of twelve cubits . He will live to the northeast of any habitation at the same distance. 3Anyone who has a discharge, will bathe and wash his clothes and afterwards he may eat[2]. For it says (Lev. 13:45) “unclean, unclean” 4they will shout all the days of their discharge. And she who is discharging blood, for seven days she may not touch the man who has a discharge or any of the objects that he uses. 5Also for any of the objects he has laid on or sat on. And if she touches anything she will wash her clothes and bathe and afterwards she may eat. In no way may she mingle during her seven 6days so she does not contaminate the camps of the holy ones of Israel. She may not touch any woman who has had a discharge of blood for several days. 7And the one who is counting their seven days, whether they are male or female may not touch … during the start of her period, unless she is clean from her menstruation. For the blood 8from menstruation is considered a discharge for anyone who touches it. And if a flow of semen is discharged, it is a misfortune. And he will be unclean… and anyone who touches 9any of these unclean people, they will not eat during their seven days of their impurity, just like the person who is unclean through contact with a corpse. And they will bathe and wash and then…

Fragment 1 col.2:

1…which they sprinkle on themselves the first time, and they will bathe and wash before 2… they will immerse themselves the seventh time on the Sabbath day. 3They may not touch the pure food until they change their clothes 4… anything that touches the discharge of semen, whether it is a person or an object, they will immerse, and the one who carries it 5will immerse… and they will immerse the garment which is on them and the object which they carry 6… And if there is a man in the camp whose hands or feet has not reached…7 the garment which has not touched it. Only they may not touch their food. And the one who touches it,8 will immerse… they will live alone. If they have not touched it, was their clothes in water and if 9… and they will wash. And concerning all holy things, they will wash in water…

Fragment 2 col.1:

1…when God reveals the apple of his eye and he calls out 2… and every statute…3 who eats… 4not… 5it is their flesh and it is unclean 6… their drink and they may not eat the pure food and all 7… after they are pressed and their juices run out, no one may eat them 8… if the unclean person touches them and also the greens…9 or boiled cucumber, and the person who waters…

Fragment 2 col.2:

1…they are unclean. The…3 Anything which has a seal… 4they will leave all the greens for the person who is cleansed…5 from the moisture of the dew, they may eat, but if not…6 in the middle of the water unless a person…7 the land, if they come against it…8 the rain on it, and if the… touches it… 9on the field in all its measures in respect to the season of the year…10 any clay object that will fall in it… and any 11that are clean in its middle… and every 12drink that they will drink…


[1] Niddah- a mentraunt woman.
[2] The impure have to fast until they are clean again.
Works cited
Biale, Rachel. Women and Jewish Law. 1984: pg. 147-174.
Martinez, Florentino Garcia. The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated.1994:pg 88.
Vermes, Geza. The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English. 1997:pg 230-231.
Wise, Michael, Martin Abegg, Edward Cook. The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New
Translation. 1996: pg 281-283.


prepared for Intro. to the Hebrew Bible
by Cynthia Bailey

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