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The Mysteries of Qumran

Location – Qumran

Map Coordinates - 31.740978, 35.459122


Qumran is always a must-do for our Octagon Tour groups. It’s an archeological site near the Dead Sea that thrived for well over a hundred years before Jesus lived on this earth, and it was occupied until about the year 73 AD, when it was eventually destroyed by the Romans. 

Qumran is only about 16 miles from Jerusalem. However, because this area is far below sea level, the land turns to desert very quickly, and very little grows here in the hot greenhouse of the Jordan Valley.

John the Baptist


Why is this site important from a New Testament standpoint? Qumran is more than just an archeological site. It’s likely that this place is related to the Gospels.  When John the Baptist’s parents died, Luke 1:80 says that he went into the desert, and re-emerged many years later, at age 30, when he started baptizing in the Jordan River. People have always speculated that during this silent period in John’s life he was a resident of this community. But there was no direct evidence of that until a certain Dead Sea Scroll, called the Manual of Discipline (5:13-14) was discovered. 

The Manual of Discipline

John’s baptism of repentance was unique. The Jews always had periodic ceremonial washings prescribed in their law, and they commonly used ceremonial cleansing pools, called mikvehs, for frequent and repeated full-body immersions. But when John added to baptism the element of repentance for past sins, scholars asked, “Where did that come from?” The answer seems to be found in the Dead Sea Scrolls.  From the Manual of Discipline scholars have concluded that each person who wanted to join the Qumran community had to go through an initiation ceremony by first repenting of their sins, and then being baptized by immersion. It was an initiation right that only needed to be done once to be included in the Qumran community.

Here are some direct quotes from The Manual of Discipline:

All who would join the ranks of the community must enter into a covenant in the presence of God to do according to all that He has commanded…Anyone who refuses to enter the society of God and persists in walking in the stubbornness of his heart shall not be admitted to this community of God's truth…He cannot be cleared by mere ceremonies of atonement, nor cleansed by any waters of ablution, nor sanctified by immersion in lakes or rivers, nor purified by any bath…Only through the holy spirit can he achieve union with God's truth and be purged of all his iniquities…Only thus can it really be sprinkled with waters of ablution. Only thus can it really be sanctified by waters of purification…Then indeed will he be acceptable before God like an atonement offering which meets with His pleasure, and then indeed will he be admitted to the covenant of the community forever.

This sounds almost exactly like John’s once-for-all baptism of repentance. This is one thing that links John to Qumran.


The Messianic Apocalypse

Another thing that links John to Qumran was found in another manuscript discovered here. The people of Qumran were expecting a coming Messiah.  And a manuscript found in Cave #4, called The Messianic Apocalypse, which was written before Jesus was born, says this,

“For He will honor the pious upon the throne of His eternal kingdom, release the captives, open the eyes of the blind, lifting up those who are oppressed. For He shall heal the critically wounded. He shall raise the dead. He shall bring good news to the poor.”

The word apocalypse means revelation. Hence the book title is literally translated The Revealing of the Messiah. The above passage is very similar to what Christ said in Luke chapter 7:21-22, when John the Baptist’s disciples came to Jesus and asked Him if He was the Messiah. Jesus responded,

“Go tell John what you have seen and heard. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news brought to them.” 

An artist’s rendition of the Qumran community.

Let me break down what I think. When John was wondering Who Jesus was, I think that Jesus was saying, “John, you’re from Qumran. Do you remember reading this description in the Messianic Apocalypse? That’s Who I am. I am the Messiah you read about.

1. By using this language, a phrase that was common in the Qumran community, it suggests to us that Jesus knew that John would be familiar with the Messianic Apocalypse when describing Himself.

2. It suggests that Jesus had knowledge of the Messianic Apocalypse, although we have no proof that He ever read it, nor that He ever visited the Qumran community.

3. What the Messianic Apocalypse reveals to us is that the Jews, living a century before the time of Jesus, were expecting a man to appear to the Jews, having divine attributes. 

In the Essene sect, a sect to which both John and Jesus were related, the Jews were actually expecting two messiahs. The first would be a priestly Messiah. The second one would be a warring Messiah who wins the final victory against the evil forces of this world. The New Testament clearly teaches us that the Essenes’ ancient belief in two Messiahs would be fulfilled by one Man Who visits this world twice. That man is Jesus, Who is both our High Priest and the Messiah Who was, Who is, and Who is to come.

The Tower.


The Site

The tower, suggesting to some that Qumran was a fort at one time.

This tower has tempted some scholars to assume that the Qumran settlement, at one time before the first century, was a military fort, probably used by the Hasmoneans. Probably all of the inhabitants were men, and the few nearby graves that contained females were probably from the time that the site was used as a fortress in the Hasmonean period, or in the Bar Kochba revolt of 132-136 AD.

The refectory (communal dining hall).

Many archeologists believe that the inhabitants of this settlement were of the Essenes sect, a religious group of Jews that placed special emphasis on the study of eschatology, the apocalypse, and the coming of the Messiah. What we do know is that the people who lived here didn’t want anything to do with the politically-charged atmosphere that was so prevalent in the Jewish Temple. It seems that the corrupt religious hierarchy in Jerusalem roused these people to leave, and to worship God in their own way in this austere desert environment. In a sense, Qumran was similar to the Christian monasteries that popped up throughout the desert hundreds of years later, both of which became a retreat from the world’s enticements.


Cave #4.


Qumran Cave #4 is an artificial cave cut into the face of a cliff, where several hundred scrolls were found. It was discovered in 1949 by a local Bedouin boy. Since that day, eleven caves have surrendered ancient scrolls hidden by the Qumran community.


Cave #4.

One thing that we do know about the people of Qumran is that they were writers and copyists. Around 1000 documents have been discovered in eleven caves near this settlement. Among them were fragments from every book of the Old Testament, except for Esther. One of the most significant discoveries was a well-preserved scroll of the entire book of Isaiah. Tucked into clay jars, many of these scrolls described the way of life in Qumran, Biblical commentaries and details about their many religious beliefs. 


The way that all of these scrolls were stashed in caves throughout this region seems to suggest that they were deliberately hidden for their protection sometime in the middle of the first century, probably from the Romans whose army was then cascading southward through Galilee, Samaria and Judea, killing and destroying as they went. Either these Jews escaped on foot to remote parts of the desert, hoping someday to be reunited with their scrolls, or else they were slaughtered in this village. Either way, the wilderness sect of Qumran was never heard from again, and the memory of their scrolls died with them. For 1900 years everything that we know today about these people lay silently waiting to be discovered in the caves of these mountains.


The Accuracy of our Old Testament.

Another thing that we learned from the Dead Sea Scrolls was how accurate the Old Testament scribes had been throughout the centuries as they copied the Old Testament. Up until 1949, the earliest hand-written copy of the Hebrew Scriptures was no older than the tenth century. However, the Old Testament scrolls from Qumran go back to the third century BC. What is so amazing is that the text of the Qumran Scriptures, and the same books inscribed a thousand years later are almost identical, meaning that the incredible accuracy of the Hebrew Bible has been maintained for over 2000 years.

The Cisterns and Ritual Baths.


Throughout this site you see cisterns, which were designed for catching and storing fresh water. Fresh, drinkable water was very scarce in the desert, and when the rainy winter season flooded the valleys around the settlement, this water was diverted through water channels to the various cisterns around the camp. Qumran's water arrived perhaps twice a year from rainwater runoff. Although we know that some of the step cisterns in the settlement were used as ritual baths, there is some confusion as to which cisterns these might have been.


The Scriptorium.


The Scriptorum.

There is a long room that has been referred to as the "scriptorium", because writing instruments were found here, and scholars have concluded that some of the Dead Sea Scrolls could have been written in this room. Some people believe that this room was a dining hall, but others think that it could have been a drying floor for the production of clay pottery. 

The Pantry.

The Pantry.

Because there were many bowls and over 1000 ceramic items found in this room, it is considered to have been the pantry of the entire community. Scholars have estimated that during the 170-year history of this community, Qumran was inhabited by between 20 to 200 people at any one time.


The Largest Step Cistern.

The largest step cistern.

This is the last and largest pool in the water system at Qumran. This enormous structure could hold 300 cubic meters of water, more than all the other stepped pools combined.

The Broken Cistern.

The broken cistern, destroyed by an earthquake.

One of the most interesting discoveries at Qumran was a cistern with steps going down into it, visible from the east boardwalk. One can see a crack in the middle of this cistern, and seismologists believe that this crack was created by an earthquake that rocked this area between 25 and 35 AD. This information was published in the May 2012 edition of the International Geology Review. Take note that 25 to 35 AD is the same period in which Jesus died, and, if you recall, Matthew 27:51 says that when Jesus died the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The same earthquake that split this cistern could have been the same one that split the rock at Mount Golgotha – a crack that can be clearly seen at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

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