Qumran caves

In 1947 a Bedouin shepherd followed a stray animal from his flock into a cave on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, Israel only to discover what have come to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Qumran Caves are located next to an ancient settlement, Qumran, which had been occupied over the years by various societies going back to the Iron Age of the 7-8th century BC. The Qumran caves are within the Qumran National Park which lies west of Road 90 (the Dead Sea Highway), about 7km south of the Haarava turn off and about 25km from Jerusalem.

History of Qumran

The settlement of Qumran which is today an archaeological site saw occupants come and go and during most of that time the caves were used as sleeping areas and storage for those in the settlement. The people living in Qumran cleared out three cisterns, several rooms and even had pottery kilns. The cisterns were incorporated into an aqueduct and reservoir system in later years.

During the Great Revolt (the same Jewish War which saw the Jewish Zealots take the Masada mountain top fortress) Jews occupied the settlement and the Romans seem to have destroyed the community, then a Roman garrison occupied the settlement themselves for the next 20 years. In 132-135AD Bar Kokhba activists used the caves and settlement as a hide out.

The scrolls are thought to have belonged to a group of people living here c.130BC-70AD called the Dead Sea Sect. The group were a Jewish extremists group which focused on the eminent “end of days” and what would happen at that time. They believed that they were the future leaders of a society which would exist following the end of days. They lived in solitude in this remote area in preparation for the end of days and God’s coming. The sect rejected the Temple of Jerusalem and conducted their own religious services, they saw their life and regime as having religious significance.

The Dead Sea Sect was the only society at the time to know the correct order of the planets and to know that there should be a 364 day calendar. The founder of this sect was called the “Teacher of Righteousness” and acted as a religious and social leader. Almost all of the information about the Dead Sea Sect was gleaned from the Damascus Document (Zadokite Fragment) which was one of the texts among the discovered Dead Sea Scrolls. The Rule of the Community and the MMT (Miqtzat Ma’asei Hatora Document) were other Dead Sea Scrolls which threw light on the authors of the scrolls.

The Caves and Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls were authored by the society living in the Qumran settlement, the scrolls were stored for safe keeping in sealed jars in the nearby caves. In all there have been 11 discovered caves containing scrolls. Following the discovery in 1947 of 7 scrolls in “Cave 1“, “Cave 2” with 300 fragments from 33 texts and  “Cave 3” were discovered in 1952. “Cave 3″ was the only cave where the scrolls were photographed in their original surroundings. “Cave 4” is the best known of the caves and held the largest number of texts. “Cave 5” held about 25 texts and was discovered next to “Cave 6″, which unlike the other caves was not used to sleep in but only to store the scrolls. This cave can be reached by following the aqueduct from Qumran. “Cave 7” collapsed soon after discovery and contained Greek texts. Apart from Genesis and other texts “Cave 8” contained 100 small leather squares. “Cave 9” had been carved into the rock and was accessible from the Qumran settlement together with Caves 7 and 8. In “Cave 10” two ostraca (broken pieces of pottery with writing on them) were found. Only “Cave 1” and “Cave 11” had complete intact scrolls, “Cave 11″ had a total of 30 scrolls. The caves which contained the scrolls were both manmade and natural limestone caves, the manmade caves are carved into the marl (soft clay like rock) bluffs of the terrace where the Qumran settlement is located. The manmade caves would have been specifically dug out to use as storage. Many other caves have been found in the area both natural and manmade.


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