Qumran & the Dead Sea scrolls: Part one

The Israel Museum, Jerusalem The Great Isaiah Scroll

By Yoni

The most intact of the scrolls found so far is the Isaiah Scroll which is housed in The Shrine of the Book in the Israel Museum, a copy of which is displayed around the central column in the Shrine. At 7.34 metres it is also the longest scroll found to date.


I am old enough (just) to remember the dramatic, even spectacular, appearance of the Dead Sea Scrolls onto the world stage.
Just over 70 years ago the world was abuzz with news of the discovery of the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and for years after newspapers were full of stories regarding the newest discoveries in the caves surrounding Qumran. Movietone News at the “flicks” often showed news items about them and various religious groups put together short documentary films that although largely speculative were none the less entertaining.

Sadly today, one seldom, if ever, reads or hears anything about them at all. Our enthusiasm has waned and the Dead Sea Scrolls have been pushed aside whilst we pursue the next “new thing”.
However, for some of us, the Dead Sea Scrolls remain as spectacular as the day we first discovered them through news reports, books and film.

Many years ago I came to Israel for the first time, to spy out the land with a view to becoming resident here. I went on various tours and I did volunteer work with the IDF. During that time I got to see a sizeable portion of the country, but the place that made the greatest impression on me was a place called Khirbet Qumran. I can clearly remember stepping off the bus and being simply overwhelmed by the atmosphere of Qumran.

Something clicked in my being and I had a sense that somehow my life had suddenly changed forever. There were no sounds of Heavenly choirs or blowing of shofars and the only light I recall seeing was that of the white-hot sun, but I knew something had changed. There was a resonance in my spirit with the spirit over Qumran and I felt like I had finally found that piece of the jigsaw I had been searching for.

Qumran is as desolate a place as you will find anywhere, but to me it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I feel at home there and have returned many times to prowl among the ruins and to hike in the hills behind.

Qumran is a short, easy 40-minute drive from Jerusalem.
Jerusalem stands at 800 metres above sea level. Qumran which overlooks the Dead Sea lies 400 metres BELOW sea level; the lowest point on earth. A 1200 metre descent in just a few kilometres!

Rainfall is almost unheard of and temperatures in summer are in excess of 40’C. Actually, the weather forecast for next week in that area is already predicting 40’C and summer hasn’t yet begun!
And yet, somehow, over 2000 years ago a group of Jewish “settlers” managed to create a thriving community there.

Qumran was populated by an ultra-orthodox Jewish sect known as the Essenes. The Essenes were likely of considerable importance in Jerusalem where they even had their own entrance into the city.
A book published in 1989 and a series of articles in the Biblical Archaeological Review by Bargil Pixner give the details of this.

Because the Essenes considered Jerusalem in general and the Temple in particular to be polluted by the “corrupt practices ” of the Priesthood they removed themselves to Qumran where they established themselves as the “Sons of Light” in the second half of the second century BCE.

BCE = Before Christian Era and corresponds to BC in western thought.
CE = Christian Era and corresponds to AD in western thinking.

There were 3 periods of development which today are referred to simply as 1a, 1b and 2.
Partially destroyed by an earthquake it was abandoned and then reinhabited many years later.
It was finally totally destroyed by the Romans around 68 CE as they marched to Masada during the Jewish Revolt.

To be continued..

Part two will be published at 12.30 today.