The caves of Qumran are famous since the discovery of the The Qumran Scrolls, the oldest manuscript of the Hebrew Bible in 1920. Tens of thousands of scroll fragments written in three different languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. They were stored in cylindrical pottery jars with a lid of a type unknown elsewhere. Map.
The jars are about 50cm high and 25cm in diameter. More than 2000 years ago, during the Second Temple Period, members of the Essenes, a separatist Jewish sect, lived in this area. They formed an ascetic monastic community.
This landscape was a desert like today, but a nearby spring made Qumran a flourishing oasis. They had many well educated members, and produced copies of biblical scrolls, which they stored in nearby caves. To protect the valuable books, they used small caves in the wall of the nearby wadi, to hide them.
In the year 68 those people were struck by a huge earthquake and had to leave their home. They closed the caves with walls of raw stone, which made them nearly invisible. As the Essenians never returned, the knowledge about the caves was lost, and the books were save until the 20th century.
The first book was discovered by accident. Later other books were also discovered by accident. It took nearly 80 years until consequent scientific exploraton started. The books were restored in the institute of books in Jerusalem, which naturally took a rather long time.
The old parchment was very fragile and the most important goal was, to prevent further damages. Some of the books were broken into small pieces, and it was difficult and time consuming to reassemble complete pages. But while this work was going on, the Qumran roles became rather famous among pseudo scientists.
They argued, if the content were only one more copy of a well known book, it would not be necessary to hide the content from the public for decades. So there must be written something which the “officials” do not want the ordinary people to know. The rumors were things like “God was an extraterrestrial making genetic experiments with mankind 3000 years ago”.
Today’s Qumran is an archaeological site, where the ruins of the habitation of those who deposited the scrolls in the nearby caves are shown. The caves are explained, but there is no possibility to visit them.
- Qumran Caves – Wadi Qumran, about 25km east of Jerusalem.
- Classification: natural/artificial.
- Guided tours: only for the archaeological site, not for the caves.