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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Visiting Qumran: Home of the Dead Sea Scrolls

By Stan Wilson
Special to ASSIST News Service

QUMRAN, ISRAEL (ANS) -- The Ministry of Tourism of the state of Israel invited publishers of 10 American Christian newspapers to tour Israel this June, and I was fortunate enough to be one of the visitors. I've heard many people say, "Visit Israel and you will never be the same." Without a doubt, this has to be the understatement of the millennium.

SCRIBEROOM: Our Israeli tour guide, Ikey Korin, is standing in the center of the scriptorium in Qumran and explains how the Essenes lived in this brutal area, and how they hid the scrolls in the caves of the mountains just behind the city so that the Romans would not get them in their impending invasion of the city. It is believed that many of the scrolls were actually written in this room.

One of the most important biblical archaeological discoveries of all time came in one of the most desolate and uninhabitable places on earth: Qumran, Israel and the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Shortly after leaving Beit She'an (Scythopolis), traveling south, we entered what is known as The West Bank. The geography changed almost immediately as we entered some of the most desolate land on earth. As we drove along the Jordan Valley, to our left was the Jordan River as it headed into The Dead Sea. We didn't realize how much we had descended, but the Dead Sea is the lowest spot on earth at 1,378 feet below sea level. To our right, the Wilderness of Judea was taking shape. Soon, some of the most lifeless mountains that I've ever seen developed to our right. Some refer to them as the Judean Wilderness (a totally lifeless area) and others the Judean Desert.

Only a few miles south of the northern end of The Dead Sea we came to the remains of Qumran and the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were hidden from the Romans. The city was built at the base of the Judean Mountains and the front view was the Dead Sea; located just three thousand feet away. Qumran had a Jewish population as far back as the eighth century B.C. The fame of the city, however came when a break-away sect, known as the Essenes lived and studied there starting around 200 B.C. They abandoned the town about 31 B.C. when an earthquake stuck the area, but returned and rebuilt the city about 25 years later during the rule of Archealaus, Herod's son.

It was during the Jewish revolt around 68 A.D. when they hid the scrolls in the caves to prevent the Romans from finding and destroying them. The scrolls were actually hand-written copies of various books of what Christians refer to as The Old Testament. In addition to the biblical scrolls, others were of the sect's own works including lists of hidden caches of valuables including gold.

The first seven scrolls were accidentally discovered by Bedouin shepherds in 1947. They had been hidden in clay jars within the difficult-to-reach caves in the mountains just to the back of Qumran. These scrolls were written on leather which had become brittle, but survived the extreme heat and arid climate of the area. To date, 900 manuscripts have been discovered in eleven caves surrounding Qumran.

The original scrolls were brought to a Bethlehem antiquities dealer who returned them after being warned they may have been stolen from a synagogue. Then they fell into the hands of another antiquities dealer. Arrangements with the Bedouins left the scrolls in the hands of a member of the Syrian Orthodox Church while a sale could be negotiated. Soon, other scrolls appeared and made their way to various individuals, archaeologists and collectors. Violence erupted between Arabs and Jews in what is now the State of Israel and the scrolls were moved to Beirut for safekeeping.

Father R. de Vaux a team of French archaeologists excavated the area between 1951 and 1956 and found additional scrolls and early structures of the town. Some of the scrolls are on display at "The Shrine of the Book" in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. We later were fortunate enough to view these relics in their temperature and atmosphere controlled displays.

Other scrolls, including a copper scroll are in the possession of Jordan, and are on display in the Amman Museum. Every Old Testament book is represented except Esther in the various scrolls which have been found. Most of the scrolls were written in three dialects of Hebrew, but a few were in Aramaic and others in Greek. Unfortunately, many of the scrolls found their way into the hands of thieves, looters and the black market. It may never be known what they contain.

Experts examining the scrolls have identified several hundred different "hands" writing the scrolls with only about a dozen repetitions. This suggests that the scrolls may have actually been written over a period of centuries, and all may not have been written in Qumran.

QUMRAN MOUNTAINS: The caves in these lifeless, rocky mountains behind Qumran held and protected their secrets for almost 2,000 years. Most of the scrolls were placed in clay jars for protection. The caves range from small one-man size caves to some as large as a room in your home.

The Essenes paid great attention to ritual bathing and purity. Many of the remains of Qumran are the various bathing facilities. It was a communal life constructed to make them as self-reliant as possible. In addition to the bath facilities, assembly halls, a central dining room, a kitchen, a laundry room, a watch tower, a stable, a pottery workshop and most importantly the scriptorium have been discovered. Desks and inkstands were actually found in this scribe room. This was the room where many of the Dead Sea Scrolls were most likely written.

While foundations and remains of walls have been found, the members of the sect actually lived in huts, tents and the caves located around Qumran. While living in such an arid area, the Essenes had to channel water from the infrequent winter storms and a dam has been found which helped to divert the water into an aqueduct.

In addition to the actual structures, tables, cups, plates and bowls have been found in the buildings. The Qumran cemetery has also been discovered with some 1,200 tombs.

The last known inhabitants of Qumran were members of a Roman garrison stationed there during the Bar Kochba revolt around 132 A.D.

If you have missed any of the previous stories of my trip to Israel, they are all posted (with color photos) on my website:

For further information about Israel and tour information., I suggest that you visit This is the official website of the Israel Ministry of Tourism. They offer several "virtual tours" online and you can get complete information and find links to help you make your plans. You can actually spend days just navigating the website in preparation for your "trip of a lifetime." Yes, I'll go back...and take my wife. Tours are much less expensive that I had thought. One of the tourism magazines that we received featured several all-inclusive tours including airfare from New York for $1200 to $1500. Of course, putting together a tour with members of your church would just be the icing on the cake. Shalom!

Stan Wilson is a lifetime journalist after graduating from college in 1970 with
a B.A. in journalism. He worked in various positions in newspapers in Texas,
Oklahoma, Nebraska and Kansas prior to starting Southwest Kansas Faith and
Family in 2001. Faith and Family is a monthly Christian newspaper serving Dodge
City, Garden City and 18 other surrounding communities. He can be contacted by
email at

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