By Jurek Schulz
Visiting the ruins of Qumran is part of almost every trip to Israel. The scene is located 325 meters below sea level on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, where there is a searing heat almost all year round. For some tourists, a hike through this more than 2,000-year-old settlement is rather tormenting, especially since the sight of dust and stones looks rather bleak and tiring. Until 1947, only archaeologists were interested in this plateau of ruins, rock walls, cisterns and tombs. The place does not appear in the Bible by name. However, researchers suggest that this is the biblical settlement of Sechacha (Josh. 15:61). It belonged to the tribe of Judah and probably existed between the 8th and 6th century BC. The first small sensation came when three royal seal imprints of King Hezekiah (2 Kings 18-20, reg 728-697 BC), that is, from this epoch, came to light. After the abandonment of the first settlement, it is only about 100 BC. Again mentioned, this time under the name Khirbet Qumran (German “the gray ruin”).
A forgotten place
By a contemporary of Jesus, Philo of Alexandria (about 15 BC – 40 AD), we know that there was an Essen settlement in this place. The Essene religious group was a secession of the Pharisees. She developed her own theology with regard to the “end times” for which she prepared herself ritually. Also Josephus Flavius (about 37-100 AD) lived for a while with the Essenes and wrote about them (Vita 10-11).
Qumran was destroyed by the Roman war in 68 AD. After that, the place was only occasionally used as a sanctuary, for example, during the Bar Kochba war in 135 AD and at the beginning of the Byzantine period (about 4th century). Eventually, Qumran was forgotten, and no one would have thought of expecting a scientific sensation from there until the “writings” of 1947.
A whole series of myths entwine around the course of that discovery. It is certain, however, that at the beginning of 1947 the Bedouin boy Muhammed edh-Dhib spotted a small cave opening about 1.5 kilometers north of the ruins of Qumran. Why he was traveling in the cliffs, could never be clarified. Anyway, he threw a stone through the opening and heard something crack. Curious, he climbed into the cave and found several 60-centimeter large clay jugs. Including the one who was shattered by his stone throw. But what a disappointment: Instead of the hoped-for treasure he only saw leather rolls wrapped in sheets. Without further ado, he took some of them home with him to his tribe. But nobody could do anything with the writing on the reels. Tradition has it that some of the finds were used by the children as toys and as a result, some leather or parchment snippets fell victim to the desert wind. But some roles brought the Bedouins to Bethlehem to the shoemaker Khalil Iskander Shahin, known as Kando, who ran a sideline antique trade. He offered those first roles to the Syrian Orthodox Bishop Samuel, who recognized the extraordinary age of the roles. From then on, the sensation took its course.
Gradually, between 1947 and 1956 around Qumran, a complete Jewish library of Essenes was discovered in eleven caves. Of some of the 15,000 scriptural fragments of more than 800 scrolls (some over 8 meters long), only fragments were left, rolls only fragments were present, but the Bible parts could until the 3rd century BC. Backdated. Except for the book of Esther, copies of the entire Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, were found.
Most copies existed from the 5. Book of Moses and the Psalms (39). Probably the most famous copy is the completely preserved Isaiah roll from the 2nd century BC. But now came the sensation. The more than 1000 years older documents proved the exact accuracy of the tradition of the Bible. That is, the text that we read in the Old Testament today is absolutely identical to the one that men possessed in the time of Jesus, as well as Jesus Himself. Qumran is therefore proof that God is watching over His Word.
The Qumran expert Alexander Schick offers municipalities a unique Qumran exhibition in Europe: http://www.bibelausstellung.de/