Qumran Caves

Qumran Caves are a series of caves, some natural, some artificial, found around the archaeological site of Qumran in the Judaean Desert of the West Bank. It is in a number of these caves that the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Map.

According to the story, a Bedouin boy of the Ta’amireh tribe, Muhammid Ahmed el-Hamed tossed a stone into a desert cave near the Dead Sea during the winter of 1946-47 while looking for a lost goat. Hearing the sound of shattered pottery, he scrambled inside to investigate. What the boy discovered was the first of 11 caves along the cliffs near the ruins of Qumran, forgotten storehouses for the oldest surviving texts of the Hebrew Bible. Other writings found in the caves cast new light on the diverse beliefs of the ancient Near East that would coalesce into the three major monotheisms—Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Mostly written on parchment or papyrus, in Hebrew and Aramaic with a smattering of Greek, the hundreds of documents known as the Dead Sea Scrolls became the most famous archaeological discovery since the opening of King Tut’s tomb.

Qumran Caves
Qumran Caves

Ta’amireh visited the cave more times and he took the scrolls to their encampment. They were shown to Mar Samuel of the Monastery of Saint Mark in April 1947 and the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls was made known. The location of the cave was not revealed for another 18 months, but eventually a joint investigation of the cave site was led by Roland de Vaux and Gerald Lankester Harding.

Qumran Caves
Qumran Caves

The limestone cliffs above Qumran contain numerous caves that have been used over the millennia: the first traces of occupation are from the Chalcolithic period then onward to the Arab period. The artificial caves relate to the period of the settlement at Qumran and were cut into the marl bluffs of the terrace on which Qumran sits.

Qumran Caves
Qumran Caves
Qumran Caves
Qumran Caves

During the investigation, more caves were discovered and some of them contained artifacts, others few fragments. Each cave containing artifacts got a code starting with a Q and a number (order of discovery).

There are 230 natural caves, crevices and other possible hiding places were examined in an 8 kilometer area along the cliffs near Qumran, only 40 contained any artifacts and one alone, 3Q, produced texts, the most unusual being the Copper Scroll.


Wim organizes twice a year a Cave Tour, which explores many of the 230 natural caves along the cliffs near Qumran. For information, please contact Wim. It’s mostly a group of people (cave enthusiasts, religious people, Pilgrims and others) under a real cave guide. We sleep outside at a Bedouin camp and eat Bedouin food and stay there 5 days and nights.


The Copper Scroll from Qumran
The Copper Scroll from Qumran

The Copper Scroll (3Q15) is one of the Dead Sea Scrolls found in Cave 3 near Khirbet Qumran, but it’s not written on parchment or papyrus, but almost pure copper. The content is not literary work, but a list of locations at which various items of gold and silver are buried or hidden and it’s written in Hebrew. Likely, the scroll did not come from the Qumran community because his dating puts the scroll “well after the Qumran settlement was destroyed.

 

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