The Qumran Community

Like the scrolls themselves, the nature of the Qumran settlement has aroused much debate and differing opinions. Located on a barren terrace between the limestone cliffs of the Judean desert and the maritime bed along the Dead Sea, the Qumran site was excavated by Pere Roland de Vaux, a French Dominican, as part of his effort to find the habitation of those who deposited the scrolls in the nearby caves. The excavations uncovered a complex of structures, 262 by 328 feet which de Vaux suggested were communal in nature. In de Vaux's view the site was the wilderness retreat of the Essenes, a separatist Jewish sect of the Second Temple Period, a portion of whom had formed an ascetic monastic community. According to de Vaux, the sectarians inhabited neighboring locations, most likely caves, tents, and solid structures, but depended on the center for communal facilities such as stores of food and water.

Following de Vaux's interpretation and citing ancient historians as well as the nature of some scroll texts for substantiation, many scholars believe the Essene community wrote, copied, or collected the scrolls at Qumran and deposited them in the caves of the adjacent hills. Others dispute this interpretation, claiming either that the scroll sect was Sadducean in nature; that the site was no monastery but rather a Roman fortress or a winter villa; that the Qumran site has little if anything to do with the scrolls; or that the evidence available does not support a single definitive answer.

Whatever the nature of the habitation, archaeological and historical evidence indicates that the excavated settlement was founded in the second half of the second century B.C.E., during the time of the Maccabees, a priestly Jewish family which ruled Judea in the second and first centuries B.C.E. A hiatus in the occupation of the site is linked to evidence of a huge earthquake. Qumran was abandoned about the time of the Roman incursion of 68 C.E., two years before the collapse of Jewish self-government in Judea and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E.

For more information about the people who lived in Judea during this time, see The Late Second Temple Period (200 B.C.E. - 70 C.E.).

You can explore various artifacts excavated from the Qumran Site

Library of Congress materials relating to the Qumran Community