Were the Qumranites preparing for the War of Gog and Magog?

A visit to Qumran National Park and the history of the Dead Sea Scrolls

The site of the Qumran Scrolls, known as the Dead Sea Scrolls (photo credit: HADAR YAHAV)
The site of the Qumran Scrolls, known as the Dead Sea Scrolls
(photo credit: HADAR YAHAV)
Have you ever met an Israeli who loves hiking and who hasn’t been to Masada? I doubt it. But did you know that just north of Masada, at the northwestern tip of the Dead Sea and down the road from Einot Tzukim (Ein Fash’ha), you’ll find Qumran National Park, one of Israel’s most fascinating archaeological sites?
Imagine you’re out on a hike when you suddenly come upon a cave and, upon entering, discover a treasure. Well, that’s what happened to a Bedouin goatherd one day back in 1946 when one of his goats had strayed from the herd. During his fateful search, he came across a cave in the crevice of a steep rocky hillside.
Upon entry, he discovered weathered ceramic jugs with ancient, rolled-up manuscripts inside. Following this discovery, investigations and then excavations commenced of this and the other Qumran caves, which led to the discovery of a village dating from 130 BCE, and to the uncovering of another 929 manuscripts, which are now known as the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Qumran Scrolls. A national park was built at the site, and tourists can visit Qumran to learn about its fascinating historical significance.
Israel might be geographically small, but it is laden with a diverse history of peoples belonging to a number of religions, who suffered through bloody battles. In fact, there’s almost nowhere in the entire country that doesn’t have some connection with historical events.
A number of researchers have concluded that the ancient village at Qumran was inhabited by a Jewish sect known as Qumranites, or Essenes, that lived in the Judean Desert and whose culture and values were far removed from its Jewish contemporaries.
These theories are based on the writings of Yosef ben Matityahu (aka Josephus) and some of the Qumran scrolls, which prove that this sect decided to withdraw to the desert after the establishment of Hasmonean control over Judea and to establish a community in isolation. Some researchers claim that the Qumranites believed that they had to prepare for the War of Gog and Magog, which is described in the Book of Ezekiel as a prerequisite for the coming of the Messiah.
WHEN YOU reach the entrance of Qumran National Park, the tour begins with a short film describing the archaeological findings uncovered at the site, including the scrolls. If you are interested in seeing the actual scrolls, you are welcome to visit the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
After the film, visitors can walk around the site, using the map they are given at the entrance to guide themselves through the site.
The first room contains a mikveh, or ritual bath, which lends credence to the thought that the sect had cut itself off from the main Jewish community. The Qumranites had served as priests in the Temple, but were pushed aside by the Hasmoneans, and the discovery of the mikvaot in their village shows that they were eager to remain ritually pure for the upcoming arrival of the Messiah. Although it is estimated that only about 200 Qumranites lived in the village, in a total of 30 caves, 13 ritual baths were found at the site.
The site of the Qumran Scrolls, known as the Dead Sea Scrolls (Hadar Yahav)
In the second room, you will find ceramic utensils and kitchenware that survived the earthquake that destroyed the village. Meals were extremely important ceremonies for the Qumranites, and sermons were oftentimes given while they ate. Sect members who didn’t follow the ways of the group were excommunicated or forbidden from participating in meals.
The third room was apparently where the scribes sat to carry out their writing. Next to the scribes’ room is the base of a defensive tower, and a kitchen was found in the northernmost section of the courtyard.
Next, the tour continues outside in the first courtyard, where you will see the ancient aqueduct that led researches to the conclusion that the Qumranites had constructed a complex water system that conducted water from the Qumran Stream to a number of cisterns. As you cross over the bridge, you will see down below remains from the many ritual baths that were uncovered at the site. At the end of the bridge, you will see a large cistern that’s connected by channels to the aqueduct.
The fifth room was also a room for the scribes, based on the discovery of a number of inkwells and a broken desk, which was refurbished and is currently on display at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem. A small adjacent room was apparently used to house the scrolls that were deemed invalid.
The large, tiled courtyard next to this room was supposedly used to dry dates, since archaeologists found an inordinate amount of date pits while excavating this section.
There are a number of benches in the courtyard, including one that overlooks Cave No. 4, where the Qumran Scrolls were discovered.
When you’re done looking down into the cave and contemplating what life might have been like here in the second century BCE, you can walk back to the parking area where you left your car.
I recommend ending the tour with a visit to the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.
Location: Northern Dead Sea.
Length: 6 km.
Time: Half day.
Season: All year long.
Type: Appropriate for families and the disabled. Circular path.
Directions: From Jerusalem, drive east on Highway 1. Turn right (south) onto Road 90 and follow signs for Qumran National Park. Situated next to Kibbutz Kalya.