view southeast from Qumran to oasis of Ain Feshka on Dead Sea


Ruins [Arabic: Khirbet] of a settlement on a low plateau on the west bank of the Dead Sea at Wadi Qumran, 1.5 miles north of the spring/oasis of 'Ain Feshka & about 8 miles south of Jericho, near the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered (1947-1956).

Khirbet Qumran was the site of a sizeable fortified Judean town from the 8th-6th c. BCE, but was abandoned until the reign of Johanan Hyrcanus (135-104 BCE) when a large integrated complex of buildings including rooms identified by excavators as a "scriptorium", "refectory", kitchen, & stables was constructed. An aqueduct supplied water to an elaborate system of reservoirs & ritual baths. This complex was destroyed by earthquake in 31 BCE but rebuilt on the same plan about the beginning of the current era. 

This settlement did not employ usual architectural features of the Hasmonean & Herodian eras. A cemetery with more than 1000 tombs to the east of the city held exclusively male skeletons. A handful of women & one child were found buried in a separate section. These facts, combined with the discovery of fragments of hundreds of scrolls concealed in large pottery jars in many caves in the hills above the settlement led excavators to conclude that Qumran was the center of the secretive ascetic sect of the Essenes who had been described by Josephus, Philo & Pliny. That conclusion has been challenged, however, by scholars & archaeologists who point out discrepancies between classic descriptions of the Essene religious sect & the archaeological evidence found at the site. 

scroll caves in cliffs above settlement at mouth of Wadi Qumran

For further information about archaeological & historical evidence, see:

  • Rousseau, John J. & Rami Arav. Jesus & His World. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995) pp. 233-236.

Other resources on line:

Perspective on the World of Jesus

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