Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Qumran

Qumran is a ruin from the days of the Second Temple and an archaeological site in the West Bank of Israel. It is located on a dry plateau about a mile from the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea and about 10 miles south of Jericho.  It is best known as the settlement nearest to the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.  
Extensive excavations have taken place in Qumran since the discovery of ancient manuscripts known as the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947.   Nearly 900 scrolls have been uncovered, most written on parchment and papyrus.  In addition, pottery, cisterns, Jewish ritual baths and cemeteries have been located in the same area.  
The scrolls were located in a series of eleven caves around the settlement.  The first seven scrolls were found accidentally when two Bedouin shepherds came across a clay jar in a cave near Khirbet Qumran which contained seven parchment scrolls.   
The scrolls came into the hands of dealers in antiquities who offered them to scholars.  The first scholar to recognize their antiquity was E.L. Sukenik, who succeeded in acquiring three of them for the Hebrew University.  The four other scrolls were smuggled to the United States where a collector purchased them and brought them back to Israel.  The Israel Museum in Jerusalem constructed a special site for exhibiting the scrolls - The Shrine of the Book, which we visited earlier in the trip.  
In the meantime a group of scholars began to search and excavate the cave where the first scrolls were found, as well as some 40 caves in its vicinity. Many scrolls and thousands of fragments were found in 11 caves.  The fragments were painstakingly pieced together over many years of work.  The documents found there include copies of all the books of the Bible except for the Scroll of Esther.  
The most famous manuscript discovered was the complete Isaiah Scroll written in Hebrew and authoritatively dated around 100 -150 BC and recently confirmed by a radiocarbon examination of a sample of the parchment.  The book of Isaiah was written on 17 sheets of parchment and measures about 24 feet long and 11 inches high. The books of the Qumran library are regarded as the oldest existing copies of the books of the Bible.     
Additional manuscripts were discovered that describe the life of the Qumran community; the Manual of Discipline, the Damascus Document, the Thanksgiving Psalms, and the War scroll. They tell about the community's origin and history, its rules of life, and expectations for the future.  
The scrolls and other objects found in the areas around Qumran were both in natural caves in the hard limestone cliffs and in caves cut into the marl cliffs near the site.  The dry climate of the Dead Sea region kept these manuscripts for over 2000 years!  It was incredible to be able to visit Qumran and to see the artifacts there.  The site itself contains a small museum, a theatre telling about Qumran, a small walkway to view the caves in a distance and a nice gift shop.  

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