A goat, a mere goat. Not an impressive and sharp fanged predator, and not even a magnificent bird of prey that dives from high up in the sky with the help of its powerful wings. One simple goat – which was probably pretty scruffy at that – that changed the course of history. OK, perhaps it did not really change it, but it did most certainly revealed an important part of it, and on the way also put a spark in the eyes of researchers, archeologists, scholars and travelers from all around the world.
So what are we actually talking about here? Here is a short version of how it all happened. The year was 1946, the place – the north of the Dead Sea (also known as the end of the world). A young Bedouin teenager by the name of Muhammed edh - Dhib, went out to find a missing goat, which was probably not a very conformist one and decided to run away from the herd and go on a walk about. While Muhammed edh - Dhib was walking around in search of the goat he came across a cave. Muhammed was afraid to go into the cave and thus he threw in a stone. The stone hit a clay pot, which brought back a faint sound to the boy and raised his curiosity.
Muhammed edh - Dhib looked inside the cave and discovered a few old scrolls. The young teenager collected them and brought them to his family’s tent. Some of these scrolls ended up being used as a burning material for the family’s cooking and heating fire, and the rest of them were sold. And from here the story starts getting more complicated: the Dead Sea Scrolls changed hands – an antiques merchant from Bethlehem, a priest by the name of Georg, a grave looking bishop by the name of Mar Samuel, and some others. Google it and you will discover a plot fitting that of a thriller movie.
But wait just a minute. Before you run with a draft of a screenplay to your nearest movie producer – stop. Someone has already beaten you to it. A persisting rumor claims that the figure of Indiana Jones is based on Dr. Vendyl Jones, one of the archeologists who were enthusiastically looking into the Copper Scroll which was found at Qumran.
Either way, eventually the area ended up being thoroughly excavated for almost a decade and in it were discovered 11 caves with the Dead Sea Scrolls in them –thousands of rare scrolls segments that were written during the 1st and the 2nd centuries BCE, and are considered to be the most ancient and authentic source of Biblical writings.
In order to see most of the Dead Sea Scrolls, you have to go and visit the Rockefeller Museum in the city of Jerusalem, but in order to feel them – come to the Qumran National Park which is located near kibbutz Kalia.
Asceticism, Modesty and Sharing
If the northern area of the Dead Sea today looks to you like the end of the world, try to imagine the way it must have been like more than two thousand years ago. Back then, at the time of the Second Jewish Temple, the water level of the Dead Sea was much higher than it is today. Perhaps the water even reached to lap at the edges of the city. And everything looked so terribly surreal and frightfully quiet. There was no farther place than this one and it seems like no one in their right mind would come to live here. Perhaps only a few of the forefathers of that lost Bedouin goat.
And then, these sect members, probably those that belonged to the Jewish Essenes sect, arrived at this place. They looked to get away from the big and corrupt city of Jerusalem to the most secluded place that they could possibly find. Here, at the place in which the Qumran stream pours into the Dead Sea, they built in the mid 2nd century BCE Qumran, a settlement which was utterly and completely all about asceticism, modesty and a life of sharing.
The separatist people of Qumran considered themselves to be the real Chosen People, the spearhead of the whole Jewish people. Just so. And as befitting this kind of an obligating position, they chose to live without the indulgences that come with a big city such as Jerusalem, and even, as some of the researchers claim – without a sex life. If we are talking about a desert and dryness, then all the way.
The archeological remains which were found at Qumran attract many Jewish Israelis as well as tourists from outside the country, as this place reveals an important part of the fascinating history of the time of the Second Jewish Temple and tells us about the way of life at that time. But the Qumran National Park is one of the most popular sites in Israel among Christian travelers as well, as there are also those who claim that it was from this place that the Christian religion started developing in the Land of Israel.
Our recommendation to you is to walk around here without a ready made opinion or expectations, but with a lot of pre-acquired background material in mind. And then the picture will become clear and you will be able to envision in your mind’s eye the life as it must have been here in those days: based on ancient historic texts it looks like the members of this underground sect got up every morning before the sun has risen, gathered together for a joint prayer, and after that each went on about his own business, such as maintenance work, preparing food, writing scrolls or herding sheep. In the afternoon the sect members got together again for another joint prayer, immersed in the Mikvehs - the Jewish ritual baths - which were spread in the area, and in the evening they would dine together in a communal dining room. And what about the night life? That was made out of a lot of studying and little sleep.
In addition to all of that, the Essenes believed with all of their hearts that the big war was coming, that which they called "The War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness”. The Essenes believed themselves to be "the Sons of Light”, of course. The Essenes also despised wealth, opposed the rule of the Hasmonean priests, and in general everything that had to do with the establishment. The Essenes even had their own private calendar and holidays.
The Rooms in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were Written
A wooden bridge will take you through a winding path among the numerous archeological remains which were found here about half a century ago: a tall tower, various halls, water cisterns and aqueducts, different halls in which took place all kinds of gatherings, a large kitchen, a variety of storage spaces and more. Please note the rooms in which the scribes worked. Here were found the remains of the desks and writing tools which were used by the scribes. It seems that many of the Dead Sea Scrolls were written by the same scribes who worked hard on them in these rooms day and night. And even today, so many generations later, a special muse lies over this place and everything in it is filled with inspiration.
And what if you do not have a developed active imagination? This is the reason for the elaborate entrance which was built at the Qumran National Park, such that will put you well into the right atmosphere. This is a somewhat dark space and a little labyrinth like which is slowly being revealed the farther that you get. Here you will find silent clues of those lives of long ago: from clay pots through sandals that are made out of leather and all through to segments of ancient scrolls.
And in the city itself, in front of the archeological remains all set so closely together, with all of this past laying heavily on you, lift your gaze up toward the high cliffs of the Judean Desert on the one side and toward the Dead Sea on the other, and take in the clean and pure desert atmosphere. Much in the same manner in which the Essenes have done it, so many years before you.
* If you have children with you, it is very much recommended to ask at the entrance to the Qumran National Park for the tasks game "Following the Copper Scroll – a journey for the whole family between riddles, landscapes and mysteries from the past”. What your children will not see with their eyes they will feel with the help of this lovely kit.
* The Qumran National Park is located next to road number 90, near kibbutz Kalia, on the northern part of the Dead Sea. There is an entrance fee to the site. Opening hours of the Qumran National Park are: Sundays – Thursdays and Saturdays between 8 am – 5 pm (During the winter the Qumran National Park closes at 4 pm). On Fridays and Holiday Eves the Qumran National Park is open between 8 am – 3 pm. The entrance to the site will be allowed until an hour before the official closing time.
The Qumran National Park telephone number: 972-2-9942235.