The anti-Roman message of 1 Thessalonians 5:2-8 inspired by the War Scroll (1QM I:9-12)

In chapter 6 of his book The Eschatology of First Thessalonians David Luckensmeyer mentions the extensive parallels between Paul’s 1 Thessalonians chapter 5 and the Qumran documents 1QS (The Community Rule) and 1QM (The War Scroll). Unfortunately his discussion of these parallels is superficial. A close comparison of 1 Thessalonians 5:2-8 and 1QM I:9-12 reveals the full dependence of Paul’s message on this War Scroll fragment.

1 Thessalonians 5:2-8 (in Luckensmeyer’s translation)

(2) For you yourselves know accurately that the day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night. (3) When they say: “peace and security”, then sudden destruction comes on them just as the birth pains on the pregnant [woman], and they shall not escape. (4) But you, brothers, are not in darkness, so that the day shall catch you unawares as a thief. (5) For you are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness; (6) so then let us not sleep as others, but les us keep awake and be sober. (7) For the ones sleeping sleep at night and the ones getting drunk are drunk at night; (8) but because we belong to the day, let us be sober by having put on a breastplate of faith and love and a helmet, a hope of salvation.

1QM I:9-12 (from The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English translated by Geza Vermes)

On the day when the Kittim fall, there shall be battle and terrible carnage before the God of Israel, for that shall be the day appointed from ancient times for the battle of destruction of the sons of darkness. At that time, the assembly of gods and the hosts of men shall battle, causing great carnage; on the day of calamity, the sons of light shall battle with the company of darkness amid the shouts of a mighty multitude and the clamour of gods and men to (make manifest) the might of God. And it shall be a time of [great] tribulation for the people which God shall redeem; of all its afflictions none shall be as this, form its sudden beginning until its end in eternal redemption.

The similarity of themes and wording (in bold and underlined) is shown in the table below.



1QM I:9-12

1 Thessalonians 5:2-8

(of the Lord)

On that day when the Kittim fall (…) before the God of Israel

That shall be the day appointed from ancient times

At that time

The day of calamity

Day of the Lord



They say “peace and security”


Sudden beginning of afflictions

Thief in the night

Sudden destruction

Surprise you like a thief


Sons of light

The people which God shall redeem

Sons of light

Sons of the day

We belong to the day


Sons of darkness

You are not in darkness

We are not of the night or of darkness


Battle of destruction of the sons of darkness

Destruction will come upon them

The connected light and darkness themes are the most conspicuous similarity between 1 Thessalonians 5:2-8 and 1QM I:9-12. Three other words are present in both fragments: ‘sudden’, ‘destruction’ and ‘day’.
The War Scroll fragment describes the future final war between the Essenes and the Kittim, the coded name for the Romans. The former had withdrawn into the Judean desert to prepare themselves for the overthrow of Roman rule. The War Scroll is their most belligerent writing. 

At first sight the Romans are absent in the 1 Thessalonians fragment, but at closer inspection this is not the case. The ‘peace and security’ phrase in verse 3 is the core slogan of Roman imperial Pax Romana propaganda, as Luckensmeyer also mentions. The identification of the Romans as the ones upon whom destruction will suddenly and inevitably come, provides an important supplementary parallel between both texts. The opposition in both texts is between the Romans (sons of darkness) and the messianistic Essenes (sons of light). In the Thessalonian context the inhabitants who accepted Roman rule probably were also included in the ‘sons of darkness’ party. Both texts foresee the future annihilation of the Romans on the day when God will intervene. The drunk/sober theme is absent in 1QM; this seems to be a Pauline addition.

In a world dominated by the Romans Paul of course could not write an overtly anti-Roman text, contrary to his fellow Essenes in the Judean desert (although the latter also took the precaution to encode the Romans as Kittim). Therefore the belligerent anti-Roman element seems to be absent in 1 Thessalonians. Nevertheless it can be discerned in the breastplate and helmet of verse 8. Luckensmeyer provides the following information on the helmet: Donfried observes numismatic evidence in Thessalonica of coins with the helmeted head of Roma on the obverse side. (p. 303) Therefore it is plausible to interpret Paul’s ‘helmet, a hope of salvation’ as opposed to the helmet of Rome’s patron goddess Roma, the symbol of Roman oprression.

In conclusion we can say that, like the War Scroll fragment, Paul describes the future clash between the Romans and the Essenes in the 1 Thessalonians fragment under discussion. Because an overtly anti-Roman stance would have been suicidal in a world dominated by Rome, Paul further encrypted the 1QM text. Paul shows himself as a prominent anti-Roman activist.