Qumran

Qumran (in Arabic: Khirbet Qumran; its ancient name is unknown) is located on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, several kilometers south of Jericho. In a cave in the Judean Desert cliffs south of Qumran, Bedouins in 1947 found the first Dead Sea scrolls. Following this discovery, Qumran was excavated by the Dominican Father R. de Vaux in the years 1951-56. A complex of buildings, extending over an area of 100 x 80 m. was uncovered, dating to the Second Temple period.

The location of the site and its plan, the scrolls found in the vicinity and the simple ceramic vessels of the inhabitants, bear witness in de Vaux's view, to a settlement of the Essene sect. We also know of the presence of the Essenes in the Judean Desert and near the Dead Sea from the writings of Pliny the Elder. (Naturalis Historia V, 17)

The view of Qumran as an Essene center is opposed by those who propose that the site was a villa, an inn or a fortress. These views are not supported by archeological evidence, and most scholars accept de Vaux's interpretation. Recently, an ostracon (a potsherd with writing) with several lines of Hebrew script, was found at Qumran. It is a contract in which a man named Honi bestows his possessions, including a building, an olive and a fig orchard, to a group called yahad (Hebrew, together). If this reading is correct, it provides evidence for identifying the sect that inhabited Qumran, and the name by which members of the group designated themselves. The term occurs in other manuscripts of the Essenes.

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