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Reconstruction drawing of the Qumran settlement in the local museum

Khirbet Qumran ( Arabic خربة قمران, DMG Ḫirbat Qumrān  'the gray ruin'), usually just called Qumran or Kumran , is the name of an ancient settlement preserved in ruins on a flat marl terrace in the West Bank near the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea . The place was since about 800 BC. Occasionally settled. The youngest settlement was destroyed by Legio X Fretensis in 68 AD in the course of the Jewish uprising against the Romans (66-70) .

Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in eleven rock caves in the vicinity (1947–1956), the ruins were completely uncovered from 1951 to 1958. During this and afterwards, mainly coins from different eras, ceramics , various tools and everyday objects as well as mostly male, but also female and child skeletons were found. The interpretation of the finds and their possible connection with the scriptures are highly controversial.

Since the late 1980s, Qumran has become a much-visited tourist attraction.


Under the direction of Roland de Vaux

Based on the writings found in cave 1 (about 1.3 km north of Qumran), Khirbet Qumran was first randomly examined at the end of 1951. The archaeological site was excavated in five campaigns under the direction of Roland de Vaux :

  • November 24 to December 1951: start of archaeological work
  • February 9 to April 4, 1953: Second campaign
  • February 15 to April 15, 1954: Third campaign
  • February 2 to April 6, 1955: Fourth campaign
  • February 18 to March 28, 1956: Fifth Campaign

De Vaux only announced a selection of the finds; they were stored in Paris in a disordered manner until 1994 . He died in 1971 and left only a diary with unsystematic entries, but no excavation report. In 1996 and 2003 two editions of the excavation diary appeared with photographs of ostracas , graffiti , bones and jewelry as well as data on the grave fields.

Locus numbers

The individual findings of the excavation were numbered consecutively by de Vaux as Loci (singular: Locus ). With this system you can assign a single find (for example a coin or an inkwell) to the context of the find. The term locus (Latin: place) is used for “installations (e.g. ovens, storage pits) or walls, the space between two walls, the area of ​​a room, etc. a. "

In contrast to today's practice, Roland de Vaux retained the loci numbers that had been set at the start of the excavation through all the strata of the excavation. It is therefore often no longer possible to determine in which stratum an individual find was discovered.

Important loci in Khirbet Qumran

Abbreviation: L [ocus]

  • Defense tower: L8 – L11
  • Pottery: L65 large pottery wheel, L64 and L84 kilns
  • Kitchen: L38 and L41
  • Mills: L102 and L104
  • Ritual baths ( mikvahs ): L48 + L49, L56, L68, L71, L117, L118, L138; Immersion baths for objects: L83 and L69
  • Great hall (dining room): L77
  • Crockery compartment: L86 + L87 + L89
  • Toilet: L51
  • Cisterns: L91, L110
  • Different interpreted scriptorium : L30
  • Different interpretations of the room complex, perhaps a meeting room or library: L1, L2, L4

Later research by other archaeologists

From 1965 to 1967 Solomon H. Steckoll uncovered twelve graves in the main cemetery. In 1967 a team led by RW Dajjani carried out two smaller excavations in Qumran. From 1993 to 2004, Yitzhak Magen and Yuval Peleg carried out new excavations in Qumran. They found a wide range of items, including imported ceramics, Nabataean utility ceramics , glass, remnants of metalworking, and references to ceramic manufacture. During geophysical surveys of the underground, James Strange found an ostracon with a Hebrew inscription, which he read as Yakhad, in 1996 . From 1997 to 1999 the Israeli Nature Conservation Authority restored the ruins. Water channels, cisterns and mikvahs were measured and the graves were counted. Short excavations by Yizhar Hirschfeld in 2001 focused on a building from Roman times and a small tower from the late Iron Age that was only discovered in 1999 . In 2001, Magen Broshi and Hanan Eshel mapped the cemetery. In 2002 they excavated a small building at the east end of the cemetery where one male and two female skeletons were found. During further excavations in small areas of the marl field, Randall Price found cooking pots with animal bones and remains of grain silos in 2002.

Location of Qumrans



The settlement lies on a natural marl plateau about 325 m below sea level, 97 m above the Dead Sea. In the west about 200 m, in the south 50 m away are slopes of the Judean Mountains, in the southeast and east the plain drops steeply into the Wadi Qumran . At this point met between 539 BC. and AD 70 three roads: from Jerusalem in the west (25 km away), from Jericho in the north (15 km away) and from Ein Gedi in the south (32 km away). When the weather is very clear, the oasis of Jericho and the Jordan River confluence with the Dead Sea can be seen in the north, the mountain range of Moab in the east and the 3 km away oasis of Ain-Feshkha and its access roads in the south . This was also not excavated until 1956. In ancient times, Qumran was a traffic junction, a strategically excellent overview point and was economically connected to neighboring oases.

Buildings and objects

Locus 77: dining room
Locus 86: crockery room

In the center of the settlement is a two-story building with a square base (15 × 15 m), connected to a tower. The basement was made of quarry stone, the upper floor consisted of wooden walls and a wooden roof, which were burned with arrows during the attack of the Romans in 68 AD. On the upper floor there was an elongated room (14 × 4.5 m) with rectangular, flattened elevations made of clay, jugs and pottery shards with short inscriptions (ostraka). In the basement there was a windowless room with all-round projections at seat height and a breakthrough to the neighboring room. There were a total of five inkwells in both rooms. In several smaller rooms there were leftover grains and grain mills. One of them had small double openings. Three pots with 561 coins were found there. In total, most of the coins from all excavation sites in the area were found on the site, with over 1200 coins. There was a small stone pedestal in front of a large room with an entrance door. In one room there were vessels made from the same ceramics as the jars for scrolls in the caves. Spearheads and a hoe were scattered in and around the settlement.

The ancient ruin site was known even before the scrolls were found and was interpreted as a Roman military post. But apart from the tower, there are no walls or fortifications that indicate a military base. Until 1998, no scrolls, leather or parchment, smoothing or writing tools, needles or threads for sewing were found in Qumran.

Water supply


A system of moats, cisterns and plunge pools ran through the settlement. A small aqueduct was supposed to catch meltwater and rainwater and channel it into irrigation channels. A larger hall (22 × 4.5 m) had a plunge pool in front of the entrance: This was interpreted as a ritual bath before entering the room.


A main field near the settlement had around 1000 individual graves in which only male skeletons were found. About the same number of male and female skeletons were found in three smaller grave fields. Family graves are missing. About 10 percent of all those buried had broken bones. All graves discovered up to 1998 are aligned uniformly at a 23-degree angle to the north-northeast, the skulls of the buried lay at the southern end of the grave, facing east. Tombs aligned in the same way were found in other places in Judea , for example in Khirbet Qazone south of the Dead Sea and in Beit Safafa in the south of Jerusalem. Inside and outside the rooms, some animal bones were also found buried under plates and in pots.

Entrance to cave 4 in the rock opposite the marl plateau

Adjacent caves

Six of the caves discovered (No. 4, 5, 7-10) are within sight of the settlement. In contrast to the natural karst caves (No. 1–3, 6, 11), they were created by humans. They showed no signs of habitation; only in cave 8 was a prayer strap capsule and possibly a door post capsule found. From 1986 to 1991, a systematic search revealed another 17 caves with ceramic remains and small finds in them, including a small oil jug with oil wrapped in palm fibers. This is considered to be evidence that some caves near Qumran were temporarily inhabited.

Cave 4 contained the remains of around 600 scrolls, including mostly cultic-liturgical texts. The remaining caves contained only a few and heavily fragmented remains of scriptures.


Essen monastery

From 1952, the head of the first excavation team, Roland de Vaux, hypothesized that the settlement was a kind of monastery of a religious sect that had separated itself from the rest of Judaism and withdrew into the uninhabited desert, where God's final judgment was expected. He identified them with the Essenes , a Jewish group mentioned by ancient Jewish historians such as Flavius ​​Josephus that is believed to have existed until 70. They collected, owned, partly produced the writings and deposited them in the caves to protect them from the attacking Romans. Her beliefs were reflected in some of the scriptures.

The starting point for this theory were the writings found in cave 1, one of which (1QS) was interpreted as a “sect rule”. It contains information about a shared fund, shared meals, a trial period for new members and the possibility to exclude them. This seemed to confirm some characteristics of the Essenes that ancient authors named. The Damascus script (CD) was also discovered in cave 1 : its text was already known from younger manuscripts among the discarded roles of a geniza in Cairo and was already assigned to Essenian circles. This assumption now seemed plausible and determined the interpretation of the other writings and archaeological findings.

De Vaux interpreted the system of water pipes and basins as a means for intensive ritual ablutions and immersion baths before entering the main assembly room. He interpreted the rooms as common rooms, to which he added names from European monastic culture ( scriptorium , refectory ). The Israeli Antiquities Administration adopted his explanatory model, which is also reflected in the tourist development of the excavation site.

De Vaux did not classify the finds in his excavation diaries exactly and ignored some, especially women's graves and traces of a high standard of living.


The Essen monastery theory remained predominant, especially in France and Germany, until about 1994, although it encountered contradictions early on: In 1960 Karl Heinrich Rengstorf pointed out its weaknesses, but still met with little response. In 1994 the American Norman Golb questioned the previous interpretation of the archaeological findings, followed by Robert and Pauline Donceel. In 1996 Ferdinand Rohrhirsch published a critical analysis of the previous premises and methodology of Qumran research. In 2006, Yizhar Hirschfeld presented a comprehensive inventory of the findings and their problematic interpretations.

The main archaeological objections are: The women's graves refuted the assumed celibacy handed down from the Essenes . Ancient scribes would not have sat at tables. The fragments of alleged writing desks can also be interpreted as loungers for eating. In addition, the inkwells were not found in the “ writing room ”. Similar clay jugs existed throughout the 1st century, including in other excavation sites on the Dead Sea. They could also have been bought locally by those who hid the scriptures in the caves. The surrounding benches could also indicate a synagogue . Coin finds from different epochs contradict the alleged lack of property and money of the Essenes. The plinth, interpreted as the seat or pedestal of a “council chairman”, is located directly in front of the door, not in the room, and could easily have been assembled and disassembled. All pious Jews would have taken ritual baths. Traces of armed conflict such as arrow and spearheads could not be reconciled with an allegedly unarmed sect. The relatively frequent bone fractures resulting in death also indicated possible exposure to armed violence.

The main literary objections are: There is no reference to the place Qumran and the names Esseni or Essaioi in the scrolls . In 1QS ("sect rule") there is a self-designation Jachad (unity, community), but no evidence for a precisely contoured special group. The variety of topics dealt with can hardly be assigned to a single Jewish group. According to a report by Pliny the Elder, Essenes lived on the west bank of the Dead Sea; however, he named En Gedi as their place of residence. A settlement of 20 stone huts from the 1st century was discovered near the oasis of the same name in 1998: This means that the ancient location information does not necessarily refer to Qumran.

Scroll workshop

Hartmut Stegemann sticks to the origin of most of the scrolls from Qumran and takes on an extensive on-site tannery and an equally highly effective copyist's workshop , possibly completed with a library in which samples of frequently requested writings were kept (that would then be the older roles in the found material to explain). He judges the total number of around 800 rolls to be an enormous financial exchange value, also with regard to the animal hides processed. Around 500 different scribes have been distinguished so far, which indicates an enormous commitment of human labor.

He is looking for customers for this literary production in Jerusalem; As part of the streams of pilgrims to the main Jewish festivals , a book trade for all kinds of religious literature is conceivable there. Stegemann would like to explain the decentralized location of Qumran in relation to Jerusalem with the salt as a resource of the Dead Sea: Here ideal conditions were available for tanning.


Had Qumran been a tannery and writing workshop, the remains of the building would have to be interpreted as functional rooms for the manufacture and study of the scrolls. Then there was a lack of living space for the at least 500 different clerks. If it were assumed that they lived in the excavated buildings, the assumed number of residents for Qumran would be reduced far below the number of people required to produce the scriptures.

Above all, one would then have had to find clear indications of the production of scrolls in the field of ruins: Remnants of leather and parchment, needles for sewing, threads. None of this was found there.

The depositing of expensive scrolls in jugs and in caves does not correspond to the pattern of an ancient library, but to that of other deposits, such as coins, and indicates a war scenario: the treasures are brought to safety in the run-up to the fighting; the owners do not survive the fighting and do not take back their roles. The hiding place is forgotten. This scenario was possible with the war between Jews and Romans 66-70. Then the scrolls from Jerusalem would have been brought to the caves at Qumran before its siege. The residents of Qumran would have had to participate in this elaborate undertaking, so that some of their own writings may also have ended up in the caves.

Trading center and oasis

According to Yizhar Hirschfeld and Jürgen Zangenberg, it is now considered certain that the landscape during the settlement phases of Qumran was not as desert-like and hostile to life as it is today. At that time there was still a closed plant cover, and accordingly agriculture and human settlement in this area. Qumran was integrated into the ancient network of roads and was not a place of refuge where access from Jerusalem could be avoided. The assumed, emphatically simple, “monastic” material culture of Qumran could not be corroborated by comparative finds. The proportion of women's skeletons in the cemetery was less than that of men, but too large for a celibate community; the surplus of men can also be explained by agricultural or handicraft activities.

In the sometimes very sharp debate, critics complained that Hirschfeld was destroying an outdated image of the Essenes and thus arguing against non-existent positions. Today most researchers assume that those who hid the scrolls in the caves and wrote some of them were a sub or special group of the Essenes (the "Qumran Essenes"). It remained open where the roles come from; it was assumed that here (among other things) the temple library and / or holdings of holy scriptures from synagogues or private libraries in Jerusalem and / or Jericho could have been relocated.

See also


Web links

Commons : Qumran  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Jodi Magness: The archeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Eerdman, Grand Rapids 2003, p. 1.
  2. Martin Peilstöcker: Qumran. A chronology of events . In: World and Environment of the Bible . No. 87 , January 2018, p. 10-13 .
  3. Jean-Baptiste Humbert, Alain Chambon (ed.): The Excavations of Khirbet Qumran and Ain Feshkha. Synthesis of Roland de Vaux's Field Notes. Editions universitaires, Friborg 2003, ISBN 3-7278-1444-6 .
  4. Dieter Vieweger: When stones speak: Archeology in Palestine . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2004, ISBN 3-525-53623-2 , pp. 163 .
  5. ^ Daniel Stökl Ben Ezra: Qumran . S. 94 .
  6. Yizhar Hirschfeld: Qumran - the whole truth. The finds of archeology - reassessed. Gütersloh 2006, pp. 51–54.
  7. Karlheinz Müller: New Testament Science and Judaic Studies. In: Lutz Doering, Hans-Günther Waubke (Hrsg.): Judaism and New Testament Science: Locations - Limits - Relationships. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2008, ISBN 3-525-53090-0 , p. 48 note 71 .
  8. ^ Klaus Berger: Qumran. Finds - texts - history. Reclam, Stuttgart 1998, ISBN 3-15-009668-5 , pp. 103-106.
  9. ^ Klaus Berger: Qumran. Finds - texts - history. 1998, p. 106.
  10. ^ Klaus Berger: Qumran. Finds - texts - history. 1998, p. 99 f. and 106.
  11. Yizhar Hirschfeld: Qumran - the whole truth. The finds of archeology - reassessed. Gütersloh 2006, p. 51f.
  12. ^ Klaus Berger: Qumran. Finds - texts - history. 1998, p. 17ff., 112.
  13. Roland de Vaux: Archeology and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Oxford University Press, London 1959, 1973. ISBN 0-19-725931-6 .
  14. ^ Karl Heinrich Rengstorf: Hirbet Qumran and the Dead Sea Library. Brill, Leiden 1960.
  15. ^ Ferdinand Rohrhirsch: Theory of Science and Qumran. Goettingen 1996.
  16. ^ Yizhar Hirschfeld: Qumran in the Second Temple Period. A reassessment. Brill, Leiden 2006. ISBN 90-04-14504-4 .
  17. Norman Golb: Qumran. Who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls? Hamburg 1994, ISBN 3-455-11024-X . Referred to by Klaus Berger: Qumran. Finds - texts - history. 1998, pp. 101-108.

Coordinates: 31 ° 44 ′ 30 "  N , 35 ° 27 ′ 33"  E