Who are the people living in Qumran?

The question of which Jews lived Dead Sea Qumran settlement 2,000 years ago is still the subject of controversy.

caves 480 x 290 (photo credit: wikimedia)
caves 480 x 290
(photo credit: wikimedia)
Biblical scholars have now had 60 years to research the scrolls hidden in caves close to the Dead Sea Qumran settlement. The question of which Jews lived there 2,000 years ago is still the subject of controversy.
Ever since early 1947, when three Ta’amireh Beduin discovered large clay jars containing ancient scrolls in a cave close to the ruins of an abandoned settlement at Khirbet Qumran, the 150-year-old field of scientific biblical research sought to re-examine all the accumulated knowledge in light of these new findings. In 1952, Beduin discovered another cave with a number of additional texts, and in 1956 they found cave 11.
Israel was fortunate to purchase some of the scrolls and bring them to Jerusalem through the efforts of Prof. Eliezer Sukenik of the Hebrew University and his son, Yigael Yadin. For the past 60 years these 2,000-year-old scrolls have been studied by scholars, and have proven to be a historical, philological and religious treasure.
They were catalogued and photographed, and became a valuable guide for the study of Jewish Second Temple times – an original witness of the past.
The release in 1991 of the complete set of photographs of all scrolls ended the fight for access.
Their successful restoration put an end to undue expectations; today we know much more about the sect that lived and prayed at Qumran and called itself “Yahad” (together, a commune).
This intense study of the Dead Sea Scrolls embraced all previously known Jewish writings of the Second Temple period – a huge apocryphal and pseudoepigraphical library, the authors of testaments, sacred legends, apocalypses, psalms, ethics, wisdom literature and historical studies. The Book of Maccabees, works by Josephus, Philo Alexandroni, Plini the Elder and other ancient writers were enriched by the Qumran findings.
The research involved the rabbinic literature, Mishna, Midrashim, Talmud, the Jewish medieval apocalypses and mystical writings, as well as the early Christian sources and Christian apocrypha.
TODAY we know that Qumran settlers were members of the Essene movement, as described by Josephus, Philo Alexandroni and Pliny the Elder and proposed independently by Prof. Eliezer Sukenik in 1948; it was worked out in detail by Andre Dupont-Sommer in 1951 and later by many other scholars. Today, however, we understand that while the Qumran group lived according to the Essene principles, administered a rigorous entrance test for admission, shared one purse and imposed communal ownership, enforced restrictions on marriage, divorce and celibacy and insisted on the rules of cleanliness, it was a separate body, established by their leader, Zadok.
This ‘Teacher of Righteouness’ was a priest who no longer adhered to the rules of the Second Temple and together with a group of pupils had fled from Jerusalem to Damascus before settling at Qumran. The sect’s choice of sacred literature, their special reverence for Ezekiel and Daniel, the Book of Enoch, Jubilees, and the Sectarian Torah indicate that they had their own specific liturgy and ideology.
Ben Zion Wacholder, Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at HUC-JIR, and Prof. Shemaryahu Talmon of Hebrew University located the roots of the Qumran community in the anti-priestly circles of the Second Temple – a split which followed the Maccabean uprising.
According to them Zadok, the Teacher of Righteousness (once the pupil of Antigonus of Soho) found, or wrote by himself, the Sectarian Torah, instituted his own calendar and planned to establish his own Temple.
The sect believed in predestination, and perceived evil as an autonomous reality antecedent to humanity’s ability to choose, equating it with purity which had to be preserved at any cost.
The sect cherished Enoch 1 (the Ethiopian version) – a collection of five independent books: the Book of the Watchers, the Astronomical Book, the Dream Visions, the Epistle of Enoch, the Similitudes of Enoch.
Prof. Gabriele Boccaccini in her study “Beyond the Essene Hypothesis” divides post-Maccabean Judaism into three trends: the Samaritanism, Zadokite Judaism and Enochic Judaism.
Zadokite Judaism developed into Sadduceeism and Pharisaism, which in turn led to the development of rabbinic Judaism, while Enochic Judaism developed into Essenism and Qumran Judaism.
It was out of Essenism that some scholars trace the development of Christianity. Enochic Judaism favored Ezekiel, Daniel, the Books of Enoch, Jubilees, the Sectarian Torah, the Testament of 12 Patriarchs, and the Aramaic Testament of Levi.
In his The Dawn of Qumran, the Sectarian Torah and the Teacher of the Righteousness, Ben Zion Wacholder disputes and supplements the original findings published by Yigal Yadin in The Temple Scroll.
Accordimg to Wacholder, this scroll (which he named “The Qumranic Torah,”) was the sect’s constitution.
A study of its content, form and purpose shows a similarity to the legal sections of the Five Books of Moses. The “Qumranic Torah,” the Book of Jubilees and the Damascus Document were the sect’s ideological foundation. Wacholder traces the development of the Qumranic community and finds numerous references to its existence in the Talmud and other Jewish sources.
Gabrielle Boccaccini and Giovanni Ibba in their study: “Enoch and the Mosaic Torah” sum up the findings of over 80 scholars from all over the world who gathered at the Fourth Enoch Seminar at Camadoli, Italia in 2007. According to these scholars, the prophetically inspired Enochic Judaism challenged the more rational priestly Zadokite movement and found at Qumran an oasis of peace, as opposed to the pressures of Roman-occupied Jerusalem. The “Teacher of Righteousness” and his group of select individuals (each had to undergo a three-year probation) lived like the early Christians in their own closed community and shared messianic dreams and hopes in an attempt to bring a better world nearer by their own strict behavior.
According to Wacholder, the ideas of the Qumran sect, which originated in pre-Maccabean times, survived the destruction of the Second Temple by at least a millennium, and served as the basis of the faith of Anan, the father of the Karaite movement. There can be little doubt that Josephus oversimplified the Second Temple religious movements by dividing them into three main ideological groups of Pharisees, Sadduccees and Essenes. The real world was much more complicated.