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Words of Thanks from 1QH
Highlights
The Dead Sea Scrolls from the end of the first millennium BC contain some of the first prayers of gratitude to God ever composed. Here's one of them, from column 10 of 1QH, also called the "The Thanksgiving Hymns," or, in Hebrew the hodayot.

The text here pits a lone individual against a rich and powerful majority, and praises God's power to help people endure in the face of public mockery. The style of the Hebrew is poetic and reminiscent of the Bible1 and the text quotes the Bible frequently. But the content is completely new. Alas, we have only fragments of the final lines.

The Text Speaks
"I offer thanks to you... My God, you helped this poor and needy soul against the hand of those who are stronger than him."

Translation
I offer thanks to you2 Lord, for your eye stood guard3 over me and you saved my soul4 from the zeal of those who spread lies, and from the community of those who seek rumors. You redeemed5 this downtrodden one6 whom they conspired to finish off7 by pouring out his blood on account of his service to you. It failed because they did not know that my steps come from you.8 They made me a mockery9 and a ridicule in the mouths of everyone who seeks deceit. But you helped10 this poor and needy soul11 against12 the hand of those who are stronger than him13 and redeemed me from the hand of the mighty. When they condemned me you did not let me dismay14 and abandon your service for fear of destruction by the wicked, or substitute folly for sound judgment15 which they [...] laws, and the documentation that was placed in their ears [...] offspring [...] your followers....

Notes
1. Hebrew is poetic and reminiscent of the Bible: The Hebrew combines two biblical elements: poetic words and imagery, such as we find, for instance, in Psalms and Isaiah; and the style of biblical prose, including the "conversive vav" and apocopated verb forms. (For instance, the verb for "redeemed" in the phrase "you redeemed me from the hand of the mighty" is the four letters vav-tav-peh-daled. The [conversive] vav here introduces an imperfective verb used to indicate past-tense; the root is peh.daled.heh, with the final heh apocopated; the middle tav represents the subject "you.") This combination suggests an educated author, probably in the first century BC, trying to mimic biblical style with his poetry.

2. I offer thanks to you: Or, "I thank you," "I give you thanks," etc. But the verb may refer more narrowly to "acknowledgment."

3. Eye stood guard: Literally, "eye stood." As in our English translation, the Hebrew poetically has the eye doing something it normally does not.

4. Saved my soul: Or perhaps just "saved me." The Hebrew is literally "saved my nefesh," a Hebrew word that in the Bible often just means "person." Indeed, the Bible lacks our modern notion of "soul." But the Dead Sea Scroll author here may have had the soul in mind, so we use the word in translation.

5. Redeemed: Others, "have redeemed," suggesting that this kind of redemption is an attribute of God. We read it differently, as explained in the next note.

6. This downtrodden one: Others, "the downtrodden one," or similar variations, again (as in the last note) suggesting a generic saving of downtrodden people. We read the text as referring specifically to God saving the author of the thanksgiving prayer. This is why the Hebrew text alternates between "me/my/etc." and terms of rejection. They both refer to the author.

7. Finish off: So reads the Hebrew, using the verb for "finish."

8. My steps come from you: Perhaps paraphrasing Psalm 37:23 or Proverbs 20:24: "Human steps come from the Lord..."

9. Made me a mockery: Hebrew, the more poetic "put me as a mockery," perhaps paraphrasing Psalm 44:14, "you have made us ["put us as"] a ridicule...."

10. Helped: "Helped" is an odd verb here, because what comes next — literally, "from the hand of those who are stronger than him" — is more consistent with "saved," "redeemed," "freed," "rescued," etc. Perhaps this verb, from the root ayin.zayin.resh had taken on another meaning in Qumranic Hebrew.

11. This poor and needy soul: As above, we assume that the author is referring to himself poetically in the third person. As for "soul" (again, the Hebrew nefesh), this may refer to an actual soul or more generally to the person.

12. Against: Literally, "from." We opt for "against" in light of the verb, "help." But see above ("Helped").

13. The hand of those who are stronger than him: Hebrew, the pithy three-word phrase "from-the-hand-of stronger than-him," which we find in Jeremiah 31:11.

14. When they condemned me you did not let me dismay: In keeping with Isaiah 51:7, "when they condemn you do not dismay."

15. Sound judgment: Quoting Isaiah 26:3.



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