Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Everyone should have friends as awesome as mine. They watch my kiddlets so I can go explore ancient ruins in the Holy Land with my sweetheart, Tom (who I have officially been married to for 7 years now - how lucky am I?).

We were finally able to go see the ruins of Qumran near the Dead Sea. We went with a visiting group of scholars from all over the world that were here with the Bible Lands Museum for a conference. Tom was asked to help staff the conference, so when they made this field trip I was allowed to tag along.

Most scholars believe that Qumran was a religious settlement that dates as far back as 150 BC. Many inhabitants lived strict monastic lives - completely devoted to their God. All of them would have been strict in their observance of the laws of ritual purity, and all of them would have been male.

These zealous believers sought spiritual perfection. They were required to abide by very strict rules, and if they didn't obey, they were kicked out. One interesting note - the wilderness where John the Baptist would have spent so many years would have been very near here, so it is likely that he would have passed through, or even spent time studying here.

This would have been the primary entrance for people coming from the North.

The following two pictures show a couple of the ritual baths they had throughout the settlement. The plaster on the steps is original. In fact, 99% of what you see of these ruins are exactly the way they were when first discovered.
"They labor with great diligence until the fifth hour after which they assemble themselves into one place. And when they have clothed themselves in white veils they bath their bodies in cold water. And after this purification is over, they meet together in an apartment of their own...while they do in a pure manner into the dining room as into a certain holy temple." -Josephus
They would have cleansed themselves at least twice a day, often several times more.

Qumran is famous for the surrounding rocky mountains where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. In the late 40's, a local bedouin began discovering the 11 caves that contained around 900 scrolls total. You can see a couple of the caves in this picture.

The scribes of the scrolls wrote with sharpened reed pens and ink on parchment sheets that were sewn together. When a scroll was completed, it was rolled up and tied with straps made of leather and then placed in clay jars. (The scholar who gave us the tour was quick to point out that not all of the scrolls found would have come from the Essenes that lived in Qumran. Many could have come from different time periods and/or different parts of Israel).

The Qumran settlement is amid one of the harshest environments in Israel. It took a lot of planning on their part in order to construct an environment conducive to daily living in such a dry climate. There was a very complex system of aqueducts and cisterns in order to channel the runoff water from the mountains and store for year-round use.
One small section of an aqueduct that wound its way throughout the settlement, with some remaining cover rocks still in place.

This is an enormous cistern/reservoir they used to store water. I wish I had something else in the picture to show how big it was. It was many stories deep. This was one of several cisterns found at the site.

This is the remains of one of two large kilns found - one was for making their own pottery, and one was for making their own bread. Things were set up in order to be very self-sustaining. They even found "100,000 date pits and an apparatus for the production of date and honey."

Ever wondered what the "pot" would have looked like 2000 years ago? :)

Looking down on several rooms.

Touring in the desert is interesting with a husband who hates the sun. :) Tom is using my sweatshirt to drape over his head and neck.

This area was a huge communal dining hall which is very unique to these ruins (with a hazy view of the Dead Sea in the background). A nearby storage room held over 1,000 neatly stacked dishes. The communal meals were a central event in the daily life of the community. Before gathering in the dining hall they would cleanse themselves in one of the ritual baths. One of the signs explained it further: "An aura of sanctity enveloped the dining hall which also served as the meeting hall. Each member of the sect was served a modest portion of bread and cooked food. A priest conducted the meal and after he pronounced the blessings, the community ate in silence."

There is a lot of debate over how many people would have dwelt here. The estimates range from 12 to 200. The reason it is so debated is because some believe that everyone would have resided right here on site, others believe they would have lived up in the mountains (in caves), and others believe they would have dwelt in tents.

Looking down on one of the caves, down on the left. This particular one was man-made.

Last but not least, after we were done touring we ate at a restaurant overlooking the Dead Sea and Jordan, and watched the moon rise.


Devon said...

SO COOL! What an adventure!!!

I took biblical Hebrew my freshman year at BYU...it was so fascinating. I'm so jealous you guys are doing this!!! And glad for you too. :)

Kristine said...

that looked like so much fun. I am jealous. I love all this old stuff. You are so great with your narrative and it makes me feel like I am actually there.

That is awesome that you got to go!

Kristin Aiello said...

Amy, I am so glad you do this blog. It is more interesting and entertaining that you an imagin. Frank really likes it too. He thinks you should write books, like traval books. I think you could write any kind of book and it would be entertaining. You are a great writer. Heck, I might even read a history book if you wrote it.

Evelyn said...

I frequent your blog every so often. I'm from the LDS babyboard (fivekiddos). I love this post...such incredible history! What an awesome experience for you and your family!!