Cave culture

Among the civilizations that were believed to inhabit Qumran is a Jewish cult that lived in isolation.

Cave (photo credit:
(photo credit:
In this tiny country of ours that has endured so many struggles, practically every step you take will be on a piece of history. The Dead Sea area – rich in archeological ruins – is a perfect example. As a history lover, my visit to the “Herod the Great” exhibit at the Israel Museum made me want to jump into my car and go visit the Qumran area on the northwest side of the Dead Sea, near the Qumran River.
The famous Qumran caves were discovered by accident in 1946, when a Beduin shepherd went looking for a goat that had wandered away. When he tossed a stone into a cave to scare the goat out, he heard the sound of cracking pottery. He went inside to investigate and found ancient pottery jars with scrolls inside of them.
Following this discovery, an excavation of the site began in the 1950s, from which archeologists discovered a number of civilizations that had lived there over the ages. Qumran was first inhabited in the eighth century BCE by a community that remained there until the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE and was rebuilt during the Second Temple period.
Most of the items discovered at Qumran – which are among the most important objects ever discovered in Israel – are from this period.
Most researchers estimate that the site was home to a Jewish cult that lived in isolation in the Judean Desert. Opinions are divided as to their identity; based on the writings of Josephus, they are believed to have been part of the Essenes.
However, the Essenes are not explicitly mentioned in the scrolls. Cult members lived completely separate lives, and disconnected from the mainstream Jewish community. They were celibate and dedicated their lives to asceticism and voluntary poverty. They believed that the most important thing was to prepare for the fight with Gog and Magog, which would destroy the world. A small number of researchers believe that the site was used later as a Roman military base or as an estate by a noble family.
A visit to Qumran begins with a short movie that describes the numerous objects discovered there, including the scrolls and their contents. The hidden scrolls (also known as the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Qumran Scrolls) are a rare relic dating from the Second Temple period, and scholars are still undecided as to the identity of its authors. The scrolls include all the books of the Torah (except for the Book of Esther) in addition to other writings and rabbinical commentaries written by Judean Desert cult members.
Some portions of the scrolls were damaged, but most were well preserved due to the area’s dry air. The scrolls are on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
The tour continues, as can be seen on the map handed out at the site entrance, down a short corridor to the first room.
This room contains a ritual bath, which gives us a glimpse into the lives of cult members, who made an effort to be spiritually clean at all times to be ready for the coming of the messiah. Despite the fact that the ruins at Qumran cover a very small area, 13 ritual baths were discovered there.
From here we move on the second room, which holds food containers that survived the earthquake that was probably the cause of the destruction of the structures. Meals were times for important ceremonies and, according to researchers, were used for giving sermons.
The third room was used by the scribes.
These rooms all open up into a courtyard, parts of which are still under excavation today. It includes an ancient aqueduct that brought water from the Qumran River to the site to fill the many ritual baths and the cemetery that comprised more than 1,000 graves.
Now it’s time to move on to the fifth building, which was also used by the scribes. In this room, archeologists found inkwells and a broken table, which has been renovated and is on display at the Rockefeller Museum. A small room next to the scribes’ room contained defective scrolls. A large, tiled courtyard opens off this room. One theory suggests that dates were dried under the tiles, since an incredibly large number of date pits were found there.
If you sit down on one of the benches in the courtyard at the end of the tour, you will be treated to a clear view of the cave where the scrolls were first discovered (cave No. 4).
Location: Northern Dead Sea Length of path: 6 km.Duration: Half day Recommended season: All year long Description of path: circular, appropriate for families and handicapped individuals Directions: Qumran National Park is located just off of Road 90, near Kibbutz Kalya
Translated by Hannah Hochner