View the source of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Qumran National Park


In 1947, a goat wandered into a cave in the desert rocks near the northwest shores of the Dead Sea. The shepherd taking care of the sheep saw the goat entering the cave and threw a rock inside, hoping to get it out. That historic stone shattered an earthen jar that held three scrolls of the Dead Sea dating back 2,000 years.

This was followed by excavations in the caves where scrolls were found, and in Qumran, an ancient settlement under the rocks. Archaeologists working in Qumran until the late 1950s had uncovered the remains of buildings, a minaret, cistern, Jewish ritual baths and an aqueduct.

Yet while fascinating in their own right, the ruins of Qumran aren’t the real heart of the site—at least, according to Ben-Gurion University’s Dr. Not according to Daniel Vanstub.

Vanstub claims that the most historically significant part of Qumran is a smooth area of ​​land adjacent to the ruins, on which not a single artifact was discovered. It was on this plot, Weinstab claims, that thousands of members of an ascetic Jewish sect we know as the Essenes (but who called themselves Yahad in their writings) gathered each year for a sinister religious ritual. .

Vanstub, who has been studying Essen writing for more than 30 years and an expert on ancient languages, based his theory on a new interpretation of a scroll called the Damascus Document. They claim that their findings resolve questions that other theories have generally been left up to the air: why no bedrooms were discovered in Qumran, what purpose did the naturally flat, empty area serve, and the long , what was the purpose of the lower wall that moves along it?

Like the two other main Jewish sects of the time, the Pharisees and Sadducees, the Essen were scattered throughout the country, living in communities composed primarily of men only, and others consisting of families with children. The central headquarters of the sect was at Qumran by the Dead Sea.

Most experts believe that several hundred men lived in Qumran, which is today a national park. Wanstab thinks otherwise and claims that only a few dozen men made their home in Qumran, tasked with maintaining the site. With so few permanent residents, there was apparently no need for bedrooms; Presumably, men slept in caves.

The famous caves in Qumran, in which the Scrolls of the Dead Sea were discovered in 1947. (Samuel Barr-M)

In addition to maintenance, he says, the Essenes were also there to prepare the Qumran for an annual gathering of thousands of members, although he was circumcised after birth and thus had already entered into a covenant with God, They felt the need to renew the bond every year.

During the rituals, at least 2,000 members of the sect would stand in rows where they would take turns to be cursed by the Levites and blessed by the kohanim, or priestly class. After each curse or blessing, the men would answer “Amen”. Weinstub notes that according to the Essen belief, angels held a parallel ceremony in heaven, judging whatever they said and did and the men below. The idea is so terrifying that many Essen refused to participate and were expelled from the sect.

A huge ritual bath in Qumran National Park was used for ritual purification by an ascetic Jewish sect about 2,000 years ago. (Samuel Barr-M)

We visited Qumran National Park with Vanstub a few weeks ago, where he reported that the northernmost part of the site was built during the beginning of the Hasmonean – also known colloquially as the Maccabees – in Judea with 140 more Ruled between 37 BC.

The second part was built immediately to its south in about 37 BC, when the Romans put Herod the Great in charge of the region. Also there was a large kitchen to feed the men attending the annual gatherings, a huge ritual bath in which the men could purify themselves before the ceremony, and a huge pool to provide water to all.

The celebrations were probably held over the holiday of Shavuot in early summer, so, according to Vanstub, Essen may have slept under the stars. The food would have been prepared in the kitchen, which still has a window for handing out food to the crowd today. A floor was built next to the kitchen with thousands of small stones sticking out of the ground and sticking to each other.

A window in the ancient kitchen in Qumran National Park was used to distribute food to the hordes of Essenes who came to perform rituals on the site. (Samuel Barr-M)

A cemetery in which more than 1,100 graves have been excavated is located on the other side of a lower wall. Weinstub believes that its purpose was to protect Essenes passing through the ceremony: Jewish law states that cemeteries are unclean, but a wall provides protection from spiritual contamination.

Over a period of about 150 years, until Qumran was destroyed by the Romans during the Great Rebellion (66–73 CE), members of the sect wrote hundreds of different scrolls. Many of them, like the Damascus Documents, contained detailed accounts of Essen’s daily life and ceremonies at the site. Nearly 200 Featured Transcriptions of the Books of the Bible. Upon completion, the scroll was wrapped in linen, gently placed inside an earthen jar, and stored in rock caves.

Along the trail in Qumran National Park. (Samuel Barr-M)

All the scrolls discovered to date were found in the caves above the site. Very few were located intact – most of them were only fragments. But the reconstruction of these fragments has given rise to about a thousand different manuscripts.

Of all the scrolls, our favorite are the copies of the Bible. Until they came to light, the oldest surviving Bible in the world dates back to the ninth century. Yet to the surprise of experts (and anyone who’s ever played the party game “telephone”), the ninth-century Bible is roughly the word for the same holy book written by the Essenes in the Second Temple period. Even the letters were a revelation, as the script is in a familiar Hebrew that children of Israel can understand well.

Scroll Trail Walk in Qumran National Park before sunrise. (Samuel Barr-M)

While it’s exciting to climb the rocks and get a close-up view of the caves in which some of the scrolls were found, this reporter – who does not suffer from claustrophobia – was terrified that she would fall, and does not plan to take the climb again.

Fortunately, that won’t be necessary: ​​a new path over the national park, designed by conservation and restoration architect Marcos Adelkop, takes you as close to the caves as possible without having to climb rocks. Not only do you get a good look at some of the caves along the way but you also feel the freedom and emptiness of the desert around you.

called the “scroll trail”, or schwil hamigillot In Hebrew, it is only 1.6 kilometers (one mile) long, but it is rocky and has quite a few steps here and there. Highly recommended, if you can manage the difficulties caused by the terrain, it takes about half an hour to an hour to complete.

A device used for digging water by Haganah soldiers killed in 1938. (Samuel Barr-M)

A side trip from the trail takes you to a rock monument dedicated to Hanan Eshel, the famous Israeli archaeologist and desert sites expert who died in 2010.

Another monument consists of a large, rusted metal container completely out of place in the middle of the desert. It marks the spot at which in 1938 four Haganah soldiers sent by Palestinian Arabs to dig for water in the desert – the military body of ex-state Israel – were executed by Palestinian Arabs.

The Scroll Trail runs between Qumran National Park and Kibbutz Kalyan (or vice versa). It is open 24/7 and there is no charge for it. To cover the entire route, you can leave your car next to the kibbutz or in the national park; To make the trip a little shorter, park next to the kibbutz cemetery and skip the first part of the trail.

All Israeli trails are marked with colored stripes. One way to the other side is marked in green and the side trip in blue.

Kumram National Park is completely wheelchair accessible. Winter hours are 8:00 a.m. to 4 p.m. Adult admission is NIS 29 ($9); It is NIS 15 ($5) for adult seniors and children. Contact us for more specific information about the trail and parking lot [email protected],


Aviva is the author of Bar-M Seven English-Language Guides to Israel,
Samuel Bar-M is a Licensed Tour Guide who provides private, customized tours For individuals, families and small groups in Israel.