The Unabridged Bible:  exploring the complete set of ancient holy writings

Words of Thanks from 1QH
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 19 of 1QH, also called the "The Thanksgiving Hymns," or, in Hebrew, the hodayot.

The text here starts by praising God for doing wonders with humans, fashioned from mere dirt and clay. Then the text acknowledges God as the source of thanksgiving.

The style of the Hebrew is poetic and reminiscent of the Bible.1

The line breaks and other punctuation are modern interpretations based on the original language.

The Text Speaks
"I offer thanks to you... You have put thanksgiving in my mouth."

I offer thanks to you2 my God, for acting wondrously with dirt,3 and with a creature of clay acting very4 powerfully.
What am I that you have taught me your true secrets, instructed me about your wondrous acts?
You have put thanksgiving5 in my mouth, and praise6 on my tongue, and my lips' guiding star7 in a place of jubilation.
I will sing your kindness and ponder your power.8
I will bless your name all day, forever, and recount your glory among the children of Adam.
My soul9 delights in your abundant beneficence.
For I know that your mouth is truth,10 that in your hand is righteousness, that in your thought is all knowledge, that in your strength is all power, and that all glory is with you.
In your anger11 are all punishing judgments, and in your goodness abundant forgiveness.
Your compassion is for those in whom you find favor, for your have taught them your true secrets, instructed them about your wondrous mysteries.
For the sake of your glory, you have purified humans from offense in order that they become holy for you, from every impure abomination and guilt through unfaithfulness,
In order that they become united with the children of your truth, to join the lot with those who are holy to you —
From the dirt of worms to raise the dead up to an everlasting secret, from a sordid spirit up to your wisdom —
And in order that they be positioned in place before you together with the eternal hosts and everlasting12 spirits,
And in order that they be renewed with everything, with those who know, in a community a jubilation.

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." (For instance, the verb for "put" in the phrase "you have put thanksgiving in my mouth" is the four letters vav-nun-tav-tav. The [conversive] vav here introduces an imperfective verb used to indicate past-tense.) We also find the poetic pattern A-B-B-A; for example, "acting wondrously with dirt ... with a creature of clay acting greatly," with "wondrously" matching "greatly," and "dirt" matching "clay." This pattern (technically called "chiasm") is also common in Scripture. In combination, these qualities of the Hebrew suggest 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. Dirt: Commonly the less accurate "dust." The reference is to the "dust and ashes" from which humans were created.

4. Very: The text reads "thank," (mem-vav-daled-heh) which is crossed out and, apparently, corrected to the same word "thank." The spelling of "thank" and "very" (mem-aleph-vav-daled)in Hebrew are close enough that we have reasonable confidence in reading "very" here instead of "thank."

5. Thanksgiving: Or perhaps a specific kind of thanksgiving poem for which we have no name in English. See note 7.

6. Praise: Or perhaps specifically a "psalm." See note 7.

7. Guiding Star: The Hebrew word here (mazal) generally refers to astrology of some sort. (This is where the word gets its modern meaning, "luck.") The imagery here seems to be that the guiding star, or "lucky star," will make its way to a propitious place. Another way to understand the Hebrew is that mazal, like — perhaps — the words for "thanksgiving" and "praise" above, refers to a specific kind of poetry.

8. Ponder Your Power: We would prefer "...your greatness, ponder," to preserve the chiastic poetry, but unlike the original Hebrew, English does not give us that option.

9. My Soul: Or just "I."

10. Your Mouth is Truth: Or perhaps the copyist left out the word "in," which is just one letter in Hebrew. If so, the text should read "in your mouth is truth."

11. Anger: Literally, "nose," continuing the theme of body parts (like hand). The nose was commonly used to connote anger.

12. Everlasting: The Hebrew text here is missing from the scroll. "Everlasting" is a guess.

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