Rethinking the Shema

One of the projects I have going on at present is another formal book review to be published in a forthcoming issue of the Stone-Campbell Journal. As I was methodically working through the book under review last night, something rather fascinating came to my attention. That “something” has to do with Israel’s infamous Shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one. And you will love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength” (Dt. 6.4-5).

Now, most of us have probably heard this, read this or even recited this. However, most of us have probably never asked what light the Dead Sea Scrolls have shed on this passage. Of course, the Scrolls were documents found in caves just a few miles inland from the Dead Sea—most notably the Qumran caves. Though it is debated, it is my contention that there was a Qumran community in this area, which was the breeding ground for a society of devout, religious, Hebrew men.

David Fiensy, among other Bible scholars, has pointed out that the Qumran sect was incredibly community oriented. This being true, one of the major aspects of making this close-knit community work was the mingling of funds. In other words, the Qumran sect had a stringent financial process that an initiate had to go through before being fully accepted and integrated into the Qumran group. The process consisted of a 1-year waiting period of various tests and tasks (to prove one’s faithfulness to the group) and another waiting period where, upon its completion, the initiate gave the community every cent he had. This money went into the general community fund, which any member could draw from (this comports with what both Josephus and Philo report).

There are a multitude of texts that speak of this process but there are also a number of texts that speak of money in general. Put simply, the men at Qumran either had a negative outlook on money, spoke of its potential to create a type of financial lust or cautioned persons against using or acquiring too much of it. They believed that their community fund or their setup, prevented men from falling prey to seeking after mammon.

This is precisely where the Shema comes back into play. In Qumranic interpretations of the Shema, we read: “…love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your מאד (money).” Now, the Hebrew Bible has מאד too but the difference is that there, it has the meaning of "strength" or "might". Scholar Catherine Murphy has cited at least four other Hebrew texts that read the same: The Damascus Document, Onekelos (Targum), Pseudo-Jonathon (Targum) and Neofiti (Targum). However, each of these texts along with the Qumran documents, interprets the Hebrew word with the Aramaic meaning of “money”. This is a huge difference from a plain Hebrew reading!!!

The point, then, is that for the Qumran sect (and evidently other groups of Hebrew heritage), loving God with all of one’s being (e.g. heart and soul), also entailed (and produced) the act of sharing or regulating one’s wealth or money with the community of believers. This, of course, is not at all far from Jesus’ teachings (Mk. 10.17-22) or the practices and aims of the Early Church (e.g. Pentecost, Paul and the Philippians, Corinthians, etc.). Today, though, in a society that has fallen head-over-heels in love with the prosperity Gospel, what might this fresh reading of the Shema say to us? It may say many things but to me, one thing seems certain: if we were to read and say it aloud enough times in our gatherings, people might really begin to believe it and practice it!


  1. Rashi rendered ובכל־מאדך as "with all your possessions" noting that "[t]here are men whose wealth is dearer to them than their bodies. It is therefore said, 'With all your possessions.'"

    I like the way the Stone Edition Chumash (and also the Tanach) translates the phrase as "with all your resources". This seems to capture both meanings (i.e., strength & money).

  2. Nick,

    Good stuff. Thanks for the pick-up on the other resources.