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The Secret of the Way Things Are

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Title: The Secret of the Way Things Are  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: The Book of Mysteries, Dual messiahs, 4Q448, Hartmut Stegemann, 4Q510-511
Collection: Dead Sea Scrolls, Essene Texts, Wisdom Literature
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

The Secret of the Way Things Are

The Secret of the Way Things Are (also called the Sapiential Work Scroll) is considered a wisdom scroll among the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is authored by a spiritual expert, directed towards a beginner. The author addresses how to deal with business and money issues in a godly manner, public affairs, leadership, marriage, children, and family, and how to live life righteously among a secular society.


The scrolls were found in Qumran caves one and four, and date approximately from the first century BCE and early first century CE. Parts of six copies were discovered, indicating popularity and importance, especially to the supposed sect at Qumran. All of the Sapiential manuscripts are in Hebrew, which is deemed the original language of the text (Harrington 2000: 825). The actual ancient title is unknown, but the frequent use of raz nihyeh, translating to "the mystery of existence," "approaching mystery," or "the way things are" gave reason to title the work "The Secret of the Way Things are" (Davies, Brooke, and Callaway 2002: 140). A well-accepted theory is that the Sapiential Work was a pre-Qumranic text. In other words, it was not written for an isolated sect, but it was directed toward a specific audience (Elgvin 1996: 129). Many scholars assume the text to either have existed before the formation of the sect, or to have been a precursor to sect involvement (Harrington 2000: 826).

Although the text itself is not considered apocalyptic, and does not reflect the developed philosophical dualism of the War Scroll or the Community Rule (1Qs), the text does reflect motifs of the end times, judgment, and a predestined division of good and evil. The overall ideas and form of the text are comparable to Proverbs, Jesus' instructions and parables in the New Testament gospels, the book of James, and especially the book of Daniel.

Although there is no literal dependence between Daniel and the Sapiential Works, it is likely that they emerged from the same, or similar, scribal circles. Many phrases and ideas from Daniel pertaining to wisdom, revelation, and the elect recur in "The Secret of the Way Things Are." Similarly, both books reflect scribal activity with "a quest for divine communication," and "neither are concerned with the sacrificial cult of the Temple" (Elgvin 1996 : 131). The Work is also analogous to New Testament scripture, with recurring similarities found in Proverbs and the Gospel of Matthew. Although the terminology is not consistently parallel, the ideas and themes are comparable.

An unusual aspect of this particular text is that it addresses women, which is very uncommon for an ancient Jewish text. 4Q413 appears to give advice to a woman, presumably the wife of the beginner being instructed (Harrington 2000: 826). This particular section uses feminine verbal forms, rather than the singular forms used throughout the rest of the instruction (Harrington 1996: 57).


  • Davies, Brooke, and Callaway, The Complete World of the Dead Sea Scrolls, New York, NY: Thames and Hudsom Inc, 2002.
  • Wise, Abegg, and Cook, The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation, San Francisco: Harper, 2005.
  • Elgvin, T. Early Essene Eschatology: Judgment and Salvation According to Sapiential Work A, Current Research and Technological Developments on the Dead Sea Scrolls, 1996.
  • Harrington, Daniel J., Wisdom Texts From Qumran, New York, Routledge, 1996.
  • Harrington, Daniel J., Sapiential Work, Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Ed. Lawrence H. Shiffman and James C. Vanderkam, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000
  • Men's Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, 1997.
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