Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
King Uzziah's towers and cisterns in the wilderness.

Qumran, while not specifically a Bible site, is of interest because of the manuscripts and historical finds related to it. Khirbet Qumran is located about 9 miles south of Jericho and approximately 1 mile west of the northern shore of the Dead Sea - notably almost 900 feet below sea level, as is the whole Dead Sea area. Most of this site dates from the time of the Maccabean revolt (circa 167 B.C.) until the fall of Jerusalem to Rome (circa 70 A.D.), though evidence exists that there was some earlier usage dating back to the time of King Uzziah. The hot and dry climate of the area is ideal for the preservation of ancient parchment manuscripts, of which many have been found.

A host of caves surround Qumran and riddle the hill country extending southward along the Dead Sea. The generally accepted story is that a Bedouin shepherd accidently discovered the first of the Dead Sea scrolls in one of these caves in 1947. This likely apocryphal story holds that he threw a rock into a cave in an attempt to drive out a missing animal and was startled to hear the sound of shattering pottery. From this he "discovered" several ancient jars and scrolls wrapped in linen. It is far more probable that he was actively looking for artifacts which have always been marketable.

 Tower at Qumran - northern end of Dead Sea in background.

Subsequent searches found scrolls in 11 caves spread out over a considerable distance from Khirbet Qumran, cave #4 being the closest (about 410 feet/125 meters) to Cave 1 (about 1 km/.6 mile). No scrolls were found at the actual settlement. It is the close proximity of the ancient site of Khirbet Qumran that led to its excavation in an effort to explain a connection to the discovered scrolls. Early findings led to the generally accepted conclusion that the occupants of Khirbet Qumran were responsible for hiding the scrolls in the nearby caves. The community is held to be one belonging to the sect of the Essenses, though others, more recently, have speculated that it was a commercial estate or military outpost. If, as is generally accepted, it was an Essenses community, it appears to be a secondary use of a site that was originally a Hasmonean villa.

 Shrine of the Book display of Isaiah Dead-Sea scroll in Jerusalem

Nearly 900 scrolls - in various states of preservation and completeness - have been found and extensively researched. Most were written on parchment, a notable exception being the copper scroll (see photo later in article). Like any good religious library, the materials found represent a wide variety of subjects. Dating of the manuscripts places them from the late fourth century B.C. until 68 A.D. A number of works, such as the book of Isaiah and Daniel, were found in multiple copies. An Isaiah scroll represents one of the complete manuscripts found (see photo above), while many others exist only in fragments. All three biblical languages are represented in the documents: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

The documents found can be categorized into three main divisions:

  1. Scriptures - Works contained in the Hebrew Bible, which included every book of the Bible except for Esther.1

  2. Apocryphal or pseudepigraphical - Various religious works that were never accepted as Scriptures, or rejected by test, by the Jews. No defined canon of Hebrew Scriptures ever accepted them (i.e. Josephus, Council of Jamnia, etc), though some sects of Christianity later adopted some of them.

  3. Sectarian/Contemporary/Commentary - These scrolls are in regards to the life and administration of a pietistic commune, plus contain their interpretation or application of Scriptures as biblical commentaries, apocalyptic visions, and liturgical works.

 Scroll on display at Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem

A non-exhaustive list of examples, encompassing all three groupings, is as follows:

  • Psalms (Tehillim)

  • Leviticus (Va-Yikrah)
  • Book of Isaiah (Sefer Y'sha'yah)
  • Daniel (Daniyyel)
  • Phylactery (Tefillin)
  • The Community Rule (Serkeh ha-Yahad)
  • Calendrical Document (Mishmarot)
  • Some Torah Precepts (Miqsat Ma`ase ha-Torah)
  • Enoch (Hanokh)
  • Hosea Commentary (Pesher Hoshe`a)
  • Prayer for King Jonathan (Tefillah li-Shlomo shel Yonatan ha-Melekh)
  • Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice (Shirot `Olat ha-Shabbat)
  • Damascus Document (Brit Damesek)
  • The War Rule (Serekh ha-Milhamah)

Pottery in which Dead Sea Scroll was found - on display at the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem


As mentioned earlier, under the present ruins, there are foundations of a large building from the 8th-7th centuries B.C. It had a nearby smaller building, to the west, containing a large round cistern. Additionally a number of pottery shards and ostracon from the period contained Paleo-Hebrew (first temple period) writing. About 1000 yards (900 meters) further to the south another, perhaps older, building was also discovered. It featured a large court surrounded by a number of rooms. These finds and approximate dating are in accord with Scriptures concerning Uzziah...

2 Chronicles 26:9-10 Uzziah built towers in Jerusalem at the Corner Gate, at the Valley Gate and at the angle of the wall, and he fortified them. 10 He also built towers in the desert and dug many cisterns, because he had much livestock in the foothills and in the plain. He had people working his fields and vineyards in the hills and in the fertile lands, for he loved the soil. (NIV)

Some have speculated that this area is the place referred to during the settlement of Canaan as the City of Salt, part of the territory of Judah. While no hard evidence exists to support this, the Copper Scroll lends its supposition that the Hebrew name of Wadi Qumran was "sekaka" (Secacah). This, and its proximity to En-Gedi, all lend support to these ancient biblical places being in the area.

Joshua 15:61-62 In the desert: Beth Arabah, Middin, Secacah, 62 Nibshan, the City of Salt and En Gedi - six towns and their villages. (NIV)

Subsequent time frames of building and occupation have been archaeologically divided into loose Periods...

Period Ia (circa 134-104 B.C.) - Building were built over existing foundations and supplementary rooms were added, plus two pottery kilns and two new cisterns.

Period Ib (circa 103-76 B.C.) - Buildings were enlarged and adapted for community life. A tower was erected to protect the entrance plus a kitchen, laundry, assembly hall, a library, several workshops, a number of storage rooms, a new pottery kiln, and a complete water system were added. This water system captured water from the cliffs and cascade of Wadi Qumran and utilized canals to transport the water through basins to seven cisterns (three old, four new large ones).

A pantry, which was likely collapsed by an earthquake in 31 B.C., included more than 700 bowls, 200 plates, 75 goblets, 20 jars, 10 pitchers and three dozen earthenware dishes. (See photos far below of pantry and ritual bath that was split)

Period II (King Herod until A.D. 70) - After a brief interruption following the earthquake of 31 B.C., the area was reoccupied. The tower was surrounded by a sloped bank, several walls were repaired and a number of rooms were subdivided. Some rooms and two cisterns that could not be repaired were completely abandoned. Community usage of the site remained virtually the same. A scriptorium complete with benches and inkwells were discovered from this period. The site was violently destroyed by the Romans during the First Jewish revolt.

Period III (Post First Jewish Revolt) - Far fewer inhabitants effected repairs to some of the structures including the tower and a cistern. It appears to have been used for a while as a military outpost before falling further into decline. During the Second Jewish Revolt (circa 132-135 A.D.) some Jews took refuge in the ruins of the tower and surrounding caves.


Nearby graveyards have about 1200 tombs, only a few of which have been examined. Some are of women and children, raising questions regarding usage of the site by the Essenses who where a monastic type of community. Restrictions on excavating burials in Israel have prevented further exploration and perhaps better answers to this question.

Overall evidence supports that the Dead Sea Scrolls had a relationship to the Qumran community, based on pottery found in the caves and at the site, plus the scriptorium. The manuscripts were not discarded but had been intentionally and carefully stored and hidden. Unlike other period locations, the buildings at Qumran were not designed for individual or family usage but rather specifically were designed to facilitate a collective community. This and the location, combined with references from Pliny the Elder and Josephus, lend support to the conclusion that this was an Essenses community.

Cave #4 at Qumran

Ritual Bath at Qumran

Dead Sea fragments manual pieced together (Shrine of the Book display)

Dead Sea scroll pottery - on display at Jordanian Museum in Amman

Copper Scroll and imprint replica - on display at Jordanian Museum in Amman

Cistern and aquaduct at Qumran

Large pool at Qumran


Display illustrating how scroll Jars were found in one cave

Dead Sea Scroll Fragment from Cave #4 - on display in Amman, Jordan

Dead Sea Scroll Fragments from Cave #1 - on display in Amman, Jordan

Dead Sea Scroll Fragment from Cave #4 - on display in Amman, Jordan

Looking west from the tower - with hills having caves in the background


End Notes

1. For reference, dealing only with the fragments of Cave number 4, here is a breakdown of what Biblical manuscripts they found.

    Law (4Q1-4Q46), 51 manuscripts
    Prophets (4Q47-4Q82), 52 manuscripts
    Writings (4Q83-4Q118), 29 manuscripts
    Phylacteries and mezuzah (4Q128-4Q155), 27 items

Every book of the Bible (Old Testament) is represented, most in multiple copies, except for the book of Esther which was not among their collection. There were 22 copies of Psalms, 19 of Deuteronomy, and 16 each of Isaiah and Genesis. The category of Phylacteries and mezuzah, while containing Scriptures, are very specific passages with a defined purpose.

Looking southeast from the tower - down the Dead Sea

Close up of Cave #4

Ritual bath split from earthquake in 31 B.C.

Pantry or Pottery Storeroom at Qumran

Hills and scroll caves northwest of Qumran

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