Who were these Jews, whose
settlement was situated on the narrow plateau between the Dead Sea and the
gaunt cliffs of the wilderness? It is generally felt that they were an
Essene sect because of the striking similarity between what is known of the
Dead Sea sect from the scroll which was their Manual of Discipline and what
is known about the Essenes from the writings of Josephus. Pliny and Philo of
Alexandria. [Josephus War of
the Jews, book 2 ch8 para 2,10,12,13.]
The members of the Khirbet Qumran community
nowhere describe themselves in any of the scrolls discovered as Essenes, and
the evidence that they were is circumstantial. Pliny seems to refer to this
Qumran settlement when he writes:
'On the west side of the Dead Sea
but out of range of the noxious exhalations of the coast, is the solitary
tribe of the Essenes, which is remarkable beyond all the other tribes in
the whole world, as it has no women, has no money, and has only palm-trees
He says the number of the members is
sustained by the accession of persons prepared to adopt the life of the
sect, thus replacing the losses due to death.
They appeared to have been moved to adopt a
monastic life owing to their grave misgivings of the way things were tending
in Jewry, They retired to the settlement at Qumran and lived according to
the very strict discipline laid down in the 'Manual of Discipline.' It was
their view that they were living in the last days and that it was their duty
to prepare themselves by self-discipline, righteousness and attention to the
requirements of Moses law, so that they would be on the side of the Children
of Light in the final war in which the Deity would destroy the wicked and
bless the righteous.
The ruins at Khirbet Qumran are those of
the community centre of the sect. The members themselves dwelt in tents and
booths. Excavations during the past 30 years have shown that the original
structure was a communal building of comparatively large proportions, with
four main features, namely a fortress with a corner tower, a group of halls
that served as prayer rooms, dining-rooms or writing rooms, the water pools
for domestic and ritual requirements, and a group containing kitchens and
workshops. It is estimated that the number of members was at least 200.
Fragment of scroll
The building was abandoned for a time due
to the severe earthquake in the spring of 31BC. Josephus
says that 10,000 died through the fall of buildings in Judea. Evidences of
the earthquake are clearly seen in the Qumran ruins, in the tower and the
pools. Later the Qumran sect repaired the ruins and reinhabited the place.
Among the most import and recent finds was a table made of plastered clay
about 16 or 17 feet long and two shorter tables. Also found in the same
place were two inkpots, one in clay and one in bronze. It is therefore
presumed that the large room was a scriptorium or writing room where some of
the scrolls now found were actually written.
MANUAL OF DISCIPLINE SCROLL
The rules of the Qumran sect are contained
in great detail in this scroll. Anybody wishing to join the body had to
enter a solemn covenant to turn to the Law of Moses, with all his heart and
soul and to separate himself:
'from all the men of error who
walk in the way of wickedness. No man or the community shall answer when
asked by them (the men of error) regarding any law or ordinance. And he
shall not eat or drink anything from their wealth and shall not take from
their hand anything at all except for a price, as it is written "Cease ye
from man, whose breath is in his nostrils.'
'Everyone who has offered himself
from Israel to be added to the council of the community shall be examined
by the man appointed at the head of the masters as to his understanding
and his works.'
If satisfactory he was to be brought within
the covenant of the sect 'to turn to the truth and to run away from all
The novice had to complete a year before
being permitted to touch the sacred food of the masters. Then he was
examined as to his spirit and deeds. If approved he was admitted to the
assembly of the community, but had to complete a second year of probation
before touching the sacred drink of the masters. If the vote determined he
should be fully admitted, then his property was shared by the community and
he was registered in the order of his position among his brethren.
All members had to obey their neighbours,
the lesser obeying the greater. No one at the sessions of the masters was
allowed to speak out of turn, or interrupt a neighbours words. If a man
wished to speak he had to stand on his feet and say 'l have a word to speak
to the masters'. If they assented then he could speak.
The Manual contains a list of punishments
for offences, as the following examples show:
- A man who lies about his wealth -
Excluded from the sacred food of the masters for one year and shall he
deprived of a fourth part of his food ration.
- 'One who lies about what he knows -
Shall be punished six months.`
- 'One who speaks with his mouth the
word of a fool - Shall be punished three months.'
- 'One who laughs foolishly making his
voice heard - Shall be punished thirty days.'
- 'A man who gossips about his
neighbour - Shall be separated for a year from the sacred food of the
masters, and he shall be punished.'
For the meals the members wore white
garments which they removed before resuming their daily tasks. All wealth
was shared by the community. The members were industrious and compliant to
the rigid discipline of the sect.