The Spirits of Light and Darkness

The Qumran text 1QS, otherwise known as the Rule of the Community (Serekh ha-Yaḥad), has an interesting depiction of two “spirits,” the spirits of light and darkness (רוחות אור וחושׁכ), that, the text explains, were created by God, “making them the cornerstone of every deed” (1QS III, 25). Of these two spirits, the text explains, “God’s love for one spirit lasts forever. He will be pleased with its actions for always. The counsel of the other, however, He abhors, hating its every impulse for all time” (1QS III–IV, 26–1).

What are these two spirits? One can recognize them by the actions they compel men to perform (cf. Matt. 7:16). Here is how 1QS describes the spirit of light.

Upon earth their operations are these: one enlightens a man’s mind, making straight before him the paths of true righteousness and causing his heart to fear the laws of God. This spirit engenders humility, patience, abundant compassion, perpetual goodness, insight, understanding, and powerful wisdom resonating to each of God’s deeds, sustained by His constant faithfulness. It engenders a spirit knowledgeable in every plan of action, zealous for the laws of righteousness, holy in its thoughts and steadfast in purpose. This spirit encourages plenteous compassion upon all who hold fast to truth, and glorious purity combined with visceral hatred of impurity in its every guise. It results in humble deportment allied with a general discernment, concealing the truth, that is, the mysteries of knowledge. To these ends is the earthly counsel of the spirit to those whose nature yearns for truth. Through a gracious visitation all who walk in this spirit will know healing, bountiful peace, long life and multiple progeny, followed by eternal blessings and perpetual joy through life everlasting. They will receive a crown of glory with a robe of honour, resplendent forever and ever. (1QS IV, 2–8)

By contrast, here is how 1QS describes the spirit of darkness (or falsehood).

The operations of the spirit of falsehood result in greed, neglect of righteous deeds, wickedness, lying, pride and haughtiness, cruel deceit and fraud, massive hypocrisy, a want of self-control and abundant foolishness, a zeal for arrogance, abominable deeds fashioned by whorish desire, lechery in its filthy manifestation, a reviling tongue, blind eyes, deaf ears, stiff neck and hard heart—to the end of walking in all the ways of darkness and evil cunning. (1QS IV, 9–11)

The text then goes on to list the consequences, both temporal and eternal, for following the spirit of darkness. (They are not at all pleasant.)

When I encountered this passage, I immediately thought of Paul’s discourse on the fruits of the flesh and fruits of the spirit.

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. (Galatians 5:19–23)

When I consider these texts, I am struck by how relevant they are today. One need only click on a few websites, or watch the nightly news, to see that the spirit of darkness is alive and well in today’s world. Thankfully, all men have the light of Christ, and members of the Church have the gift of the Holy Ghost, to guide them in following the spirit of light.

(Note: the translation of 1QS above comes from Donald W. Parry and Immanuel Tov, eds., The Dead Sea Scrolls Reader: Volume I [Leiden: Brill, 2013].)

2 thoughts on “The Spirits of Light and Darkness

  1. I enjoy information such as this.

    It saddens me that people who leave the church have listened to the spirit of darkness.

  2. Long before the Essenes, Zoroastrianism posited a continuous struggle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness.

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