The worldviews of Qumran's community

You can get acquainted with the history of the discovery and archaeological research of the settlement of Qumran, located on the western coast of the Dead Sea until the middle of the 1st century AD, in the article Qumran & The Dead Sea Scrolls.

The revelation of the Dead Sea Scrolls is considered to be one of the biggest archaeological discoveries of the 20th century.


Its significance lies, among other things, in the fact that during the excavations and searches, a complete version of the biblical book of the prophet Isaiah in Hebrew was discovered, dating from 125 BC, 1000 years older than any complete book of the Bible collection known before that to scientists.


 Subsequently, thousands of documents were found written on leather and papyrus, less often on copper and silver. About a quarter of these documents were copies of books of the Hebrew Scriptures (in other words, the Christian Old Testament). The most common books were Genesis, Exodus, the prophet Isaiah and the Psalms.


Some books of the Bible, for example - the Psalter, a collection of religious poetry, are presented in 36 copies, the last book of the Mosaic Pentateuch - Deuteronomy, was rewritten in 27 copies. And the book of the prophet Isaiah, which is often called the good news of the Old Testament, due to the abundance of prophecies predicting the coming of the Messiah, is represented by the 21st copy.


And the rest of the documents were religious books written among the community of Jews who lived in the settlement of Qumran.


According to many historians, this community was one of the three dominant religious schools of that time. These schools were the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. The latter is known only from the works of historians who wrote in Latin and ancient Greek. It is also important to note that the members of the community do not identify themselves as Essenes in any of the documents found at Qumran. They called their community "Yahad", which means - together.


One of the most important sources of our knowledge about the Essenes is the work "Natural History" written by the Roman commander and geographer Pliny the Elder (23 - 79 AD). In the section devoted to the land of Israel, he, in particular, writes:


"On the western coast of the Dead Sea, but far from harmful coastal vapors, lives a solitary tribe of the Essenes, who differ from all the tribes of the earth in that they have no women between them and suppress all sexual desires, have no money, and only date palms are their true friends.

Day after day, many fugitives, tired of life, join their ranks and, brought here on the wings of Fortune, accept the charter of the community.

So for thousands of years (inconceivable to the imagination) a tribe has been living in which no one has ever been born, so abundant for their prosperity is the weariness of human life."

(Translated  from Greek by V. Severgin)


Archaeological excavations at Qumran and the surrounding area unearthed an ancient burial site consisting almost exclusively of the remains of men.


Another historical source is the work "Antiquities of the Jews" by Josephus Flavius. He repeatedly mentions the Essenes and calls them one of the three "philosophical schools", by analogy with the Greek philosophical schools of the Pythagoreans, Stoics and Epicureans.


The very word Essenes probably comes from the Hebrew "עושים - Ossim", which means doers, executors (of the law of Moses).

Unlike the Sadducees, who recognized only the authority of the Pentateuch of Moses, and the Pharisees, who held to the canon of the Masoretic Bible (39 books of the Old Testament of the Bible), which had not yet been established by that time, the Essenes revered a lot of sacred literature, recognized in our time as apocryphal. These include, in particular, the book of Jubilees and also the pseudepigraphic (that is, written on behalf of the famous author) book of Enoch.


The Essenes, according to Flavius, believed in the judgment and resurrection of the dead, the spiritual world, angels and demons. They also recognized the authority of oral tradition.


 However, their distinguishing feature was, says Flavius, that

they lived in poverty and simplicity and did not own anything, everything belonged to the community, they completely rejected all private property and did not indulge in any bodily pleasures. Most of them abandoned married life, preferring to it the life of male brotherhood, eating at the same table. They devoted themselves to the study of the scriptures, and especially to prophecy, having many prophets among them, renowned for the accuracy of their predictions. They dressed in simple white robes and performed a ritual bath every day, followed by the adoption of bread and wine blessed by the priest.


It is noteworthy that everything that this historian told about the Essenes was confirmed by the archaeological finds of buildings and caves in Qumran, or at least a connection was traced between historical material and what was found.


In many circles, the opposite is claimed, and Josephus is often accused of historical unreliability. And although he, like many other ancient and modern historians, conveyed historical facts subjectively and sometimes with a degree of bias, his description of the life of the Essenes was confirmed quite accurately during the excavations of Qumran (Todd S. Bill, Magen Broshi and others write about this).


For example, Flavius, describing the customs of the Essenes, tells that they performed a daily ritual ablution in a font (mikveh). And on the territory of the settlement of the Qumran community, several similar fonts were found, they make up 17-20% of all the buildings found. The number of fonts was enough to perform ablution for 100 people at the same time.

Another example is the description of two social groups among the Essenes: the celibate and the family.


 "These Essenes reject earthly pleasures as evil, but revere temperance and curbing the passions of men"


( to be continued...)