Essene Settlement (Qumran)

By the Editors of the Madain Project

Qumran's Essene Settlement is possibly a Hellenistic period settlement was constructed during the reign of John Hyrcanus (134–104 BCE) or somewhat later, located on a dry marl plateau about 1.5 km (1 mi) from the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea.

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Following this discovery, Qumran was excavated by the Dominican Father R. de Vaux in the years 1951-56. A complex of buildings, extending over an area of 100 x 80 m. was uncovered, dating to the Second Temple period. The location of the site and its plan, the scrolls found in the vicinity and the simple ceramic vessels of the inhabitants, bear witness in de Vaux's view, to a settlement of the Essene sect. At the end of the First Temple period (8th-7th centuries BCE), a first settlement was established at the site. Sparse remains of a small, fortified farmhouse or Judahite fort were found. The site was identified by some as Secacah, or the City of Salt, two of the six cities in the desert territory of Judah. (Joshua 15:61-62)


circa 100 BCE

In the main building was a long room, in which remains of benches, or low tables, made of mud and plastered on the outside, as well as small clay inkwells (inspect) were found. According to the excavator, these finds indicate that the room was a scriptorium, where the settlement's scribes copied the holy writings and the laws governing the community.

circa 100 BCE

A large number of mikva'ot (ritual baths) was found throughout the site. Excavated into the marl soil, they were waterproofed with thick, gray hydraulic plaster. The ritual baths were fed by water from the aqueduct. Mikva'ot similar to those at Qumran were typical of public and private buildings in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the Second Temple period. Unusual at Qumran is the large number of these installations and the size of some of them, relative to the settlement. The latter probably served the members of the community for communal immersion, a central part in their daily rituals.

circa 100 BCE

Probably the library chambers, along the scriptorium.

circa 100 BCE

Pottery Workshop
A workshop, in which pottery vessels for use of the community were produced, was discovered in the southeastern part of the site. The workshop included a basin for preparing the clay, a potters wheel made of stone and two round kilns for firing. Looking down from the tower westward is a worker's installation that may have been the bottom of a kiln (or some other structure that was heated from beneath).

circa 100 BCE

Looking south-east one sees a long narrow room built against the main southern wall of the settlement on the left. The far end once featured pillars, which gave de Vaux the idea there was a second storey—though no traces were found of such a storey. De Vaux considered this room a refectory, because an adjacent room, commonly referred to as a pantry, contained over a thousand pieces of pottery (inspect). This pottery was thought by de Vaux to have been used for communal meals.

circa 100 BCE

This location is commonly known as the "pantry". At the southern end of this room 708 bowls, 204 plates, 75 goblets, 37 terrines, 21 jars, 11 jugs, and other ceramic items were found by de Vaux, mostly neatly stacked. De Vaux believed that this crockery was used for meals. The southern end of the room had been walled off. The effects of an earthquake may be indicated by the fact that this wall later collapsed over the pottery, crushing it, and that the southern walls had to be strengthened externally.

circa 100 BCE

Stepped Cistern
One of the most interesting discoveries at Qumran was the unearthing on the eastern side of the main building of this stepped cistern featuring a crack down the steps marking where the land dropped, apparently due to an earthquake. A channel farther to the south fed the largest of the Qumran cisterns, which was broken at the same time by the same means. As that cistern was used in a late phase of the site, we can surmise that the cistern we see was also damaged then. Also of interest are the dividers that run down the steps. The partitions may have served to aid in channeling water into the pool.

circa 100 BCE

Large Cistern
Looking south one sees a long narrow pool dug into the southeast corner of the settlement. 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. During Period III, (i.e., after the Jewish War), a water channel was partially rerouted to remedy prior destruction and continue to fill this pool. Scholars debate whether it was a miqvah (Jewish ritual bath), a cistern, or a clay collection vat.


circa 100 BCE

The "Scrollery" was a small institution established to carry out the restoration and study of the discovered scrolls. It was established in the Rockefeller Museum, where the Cave Q4 (inspect) scroll fragments were assembled in to the remains of over five hundred manuscripts.

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