Qumran had a Jewish population as far back as the 8th century BCE (800 BCE). Around the end of the 2nd century BCE (200 BCE), according to the Dead Sea Scrolls, a group of priests descended from Zadok withdrew from Jerusalem to the Qumran. They were called the Essenes. According to Josephus (Ant. 18.1.5), there were about 4,000 Essenes in the second Temple period. Let’s see how our Jewish historian Josephus described more about the Essenes.
The Jewish War, Book II, Chapter 8
Communal Life: 122 the assets of each one has been mixed in together, as if they were brothers, to create one fund for all. …124 … and they (the newcomers) go in and stay with those they have never even seen before as if they were the most intimate friends. 126… They replace neither clothes nor footwear until the old set is ripped all over or worn through with age. 127 Among themselves, they neither shop for nor sell anything; but each one, after giving the things that he has to the one in need, takes in exchange anything useful that the other has.
Marriage Life : 161 To be sure, testing the brides in a three-year interval, once they have been purified three times as a test of their being able to bear children, they take them in this manner; but they do not continue having intercourse with those who are pregnant, demonstrating that the need for marrying is not because of pleasure, but for children.
the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS)
Most scholars believe that the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS), produced by the Essenes, were one of the biggest archaeological finds of the 20th century. Before the discovery of the DSS, the oldest Tanakh manuscripts were dated about the 9-11th centuries CE. Therefore, the DSS pushed back the history of the textual manuscripts by almost a thousand years.
Other highlights about The DSS are listed below:
- The Dead Sea Scrolls, approximately 2,000 years old, are ancient manuscripts that were discovered between 1947 and 2017 in twelves caves in Qumran. The 12th cave was discovered in Feb 2017.
- Most of the scrolls were written in Hebrew, with a smaller number in Aramaic or Greek dating back from the 3rd century BCE to the 1st century CE.
- Most of them were written on parchment, a few written on papyrus, and one written on copper (see below picture of the Copper).
- From approximately 950 different manuscripts, they fall into three major categories: sectarian literature, biblical manuscripts, and extra biblical literature.
- The DSS shed a light on the study of the Jewish literature, community, and people during the Hellenistic and Roman periods.
- Some of these scrolls are now on display at “The Shrine of the Book” in the Israel Museum. Click here for more information: https://www.imj.org.il/en/wings/shrine-book
The picture shows the location of cave 1. Since the caves were numbered in the order that they were found, it was the first cave that three Bedouin shepherds found in 1947. There are eight jars in cave 1 in which the scrolls of the book of Isaiah were found besides other manuscripts and Jewish literature.
Closer Look of Cave 1
This is the closer look for the entrance of cave 1. Dr. Carl said : “Just slightly above and right of center is a large vertical rock with a dark space to the right of it. Cave 1 is located behind the large vertical rock.”
Photo was contributed by Dr. Rasmussen.
Discovery of DSS
A sign illustrates the discovery of cave 1. I found a YouTube video which is very interesting. It is an animated film about the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Hebrew with English subtitles). Enjoy!
During the great Jewish revolt in 68 CE, the Essenes hid most of the scrolls in jugs and placed them in the various caves. Due to the dry climate in the desert, most of the scrolls had been preserved well for over 2,000 years when the first cave was discovered in 1947.
Bench for Writing Scrolls
At the site of Qumran, there is a small museum. Inside is a replica bench and scrolls. The remnants of benches were excavated around the “Scriptorium” area (see picture “Community”) and the archaeologists believe that the scribes would sit on these benches and the scrolls would be copied in the Scriptorium area.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
Scrolls hang in the Qumran’s Museum. Some of the scrolls are on display at the “Shrine of the Book” in the Israel Museum. As of 2021, the archaeologists have discovered 12 caves which preserved thousands of the Scrolls.
The 12th Cave
In Feb 2017, the 12th cave was discovered. However, the archaeologists found only some blank pieces of parchment for writing without written scrolls. The findings of the blank parchment indicated that the Essenes probably thought that they might need to leave temporarily and would return for their work later. It appeared that the situation did not get better and they never returned. The iron axes found in the cave indicate that the looters might have come and stolen the written scrolls.
Due to an erosion caused by an unconsolidated sedimentary rock, the original entrance might likely be on the top of the “open door” that we currently see. Cave 4 contained the greatest quantities of manuscripts than any other caves. There were about 550 manuscripts found in this cave.
The community had ancient cisterns, ritual baths, reservoirs, a tower, a scriptorium (the writing room — the rectangular area in the picture), a kitchen, an assembly hall and refectory, a pantry, a pottery workshop, and cattle pens etc. They lived in a self-reliant community.
This six feet wide miqveh (ritual bath) was built by the Essenes at Qumran. In 31 BCE, during the reign of Herod, there was a serious earthquake strike in this area (as you can see the fracture of this miqveh) and the Essenes abandoned the site. But during the rule of Archelaus, Herod’s son (4 BCE-6 CE), the Essenes returned to Qumran until Romans conquered Qumran and dispersed the Essenes during the great Jewish revolt in 68 CE.
The Jewish War, Book II, Chapter 8, the daily life of the community
In this picture, you can see a closer look of a large circular cistern. This complex has a total of eight of them. Each cistern could collect rainwater and water from the nearby valley (wadi) through a connection of a series of channels.
Map for Treasury
For the treasure hunters, this copper scroll must be on their bucket lists. Archaeologists translated the text which contains the directions of 64 hidden treasure locations. However, treasure hunters may need a lot of wisdom to solve them. The “map” does not indicate very clearly where exactly the locations are.
For example, one column reads: “In the salt pit that is under the steps: forty-one talents of silver. In the cave of the old washer’s chamber, on the third terrace: sixty-five ingots of gold.”
Since Qumran is in the West Bank now, due to the current political heat between Israel and Palestine, it’s very difficult to get free access to “dig” the treasure.
Photo was contributed by Dr. Rasmussen.