Qumran served as a study site for the Essenes, a Jewish sect existing in Jesus' day. Located at the edge of the Judea Wilderness, Qumran was an isolated community. The Essenes could live out their beliefs in separation from other religious groups of their time.

As is true with many ancient settlements, Qumran was destroyed and rebuilt various times. The earliest settlement uncovered at the site dates to the Israelite period shortly before the Babylonian Captivity (600 BC), when it was probably destroyed.

Around 140 BC, Qumran was resettled during the region of the Hasmonean King Hycanus, but the settlement was abandoned after a damaging earthquake (31 BC).

Resettled about the time that Jesus was born, Qumran became an active community until the Roman army destroyed it in approximately AD 68. Hundreds of years later, a Bedouin shepherd stumbled upon an amazing discovery at Qumran. In the nearby caves, he found what would become known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of writings from the Essene community.

Major Structures

The major structures in Qumran provide significant evidence of the lifestyle and beliefs of the community:

Aqueduct and Reservoir System
Water played an important role in the Essene's theology. They believed that water as a symbol of purification must be "living" or moving, not drawn by the hand. So they developed a system in which rainwater ran on its own into a ritual bath.

New members were cleansed with water in a type of baptism that apparently symbolized the spiritual cleansing that resulted from repentance and forgiveness after breaking God's laws.

Defense Tower
Scholars debate the importance of the large tower that once stood in Qumran because it was essentially a religious community of separatists who lived in a peaceful, almost monastic existence.

The Essenes did, however, believe in the Messiah's imminent arrival and that a great battle would ensue between the sons of light (themselves) and the sons of darkness (followers of evil). The tower most likely provided protection against bandits or other less "military" threats.

Main Assembly Hall and Refectory
In this room, archeologists believe the Essenes practiced a ceremonial communal meal in anticipation of the great Messianic age. Scholars have discovered many similarities between the Essene's ceremonial meal and the Last Supper recorded in the Gospels (Matt. 26:26-29).

Potter's Workshop
Here, archeologists have found a basin for preparing clay, a base for a potter's wheel, and two kilns. The clay jars, which helped preserve the Dead Sea Scrolls for nearly two thousand years, were probably made here.