Qumran and the Dead Sea

9:30:00 AM Brooke Neal 4 Comments

The Dead Sea desert is such an interesting place to visit.  Even with all its barrenness there is beauty in the rock formations.  I wish we'd had more time to hike, but in the winter hours are short and even shorter on the eve of Shabbat.  We hit two hotspots in the same day, Qumran, home of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls and the Dead Sea.  
There are caves all over this region and with a bit of time you can hike to many of them although it's actually illegal to enter the caves because the high salinity in the area makes them unstable and susceptible to collapse.  There are even road signs warning of sink holes which pock mark the landscape like land mines.

Below is the famous cave 4 where the largest stash of Dead Sea Scrolls were found, 14,000 fragments in total.  It is believed that the stash was discovered anciently and the parchments torn up which accounts for the many bit and pieces.   Below are a few facts, to see a complete list go here.

1. Scrolls were found in 11 caves between 1947-1956 by Bedouins.
2. Fragments from every book in the Hebrew Bible (except for Esther) have been identified.
3. Prophesies by Ezekial, Jeremiah and Daniel not found in the Bible were found on the scrolls. 
4. The Isaiah scroll, the most complete, is 1000 years older than any copy known previous to it's discovery.  
You hear a lot about the scrolls themselves, but what you don't hear about is the archaeological site of the Essenes, the ultra orthodox group of Jews believed to be the writers of the scrolls.  They removed themselves to the desert around the time of the second temple to practice "pure" Judaism, believing the mainstream had strayed and become corrupt.

The picture below is of a ritual bath.  The Essenes, were very particular in their observance of ritual cleansing; 7 such baths were found at the site.  According to the ancient historian Josephus, the men would dress in white veils and bath in cold water.  After this "purification" they would gather to a room to eat in silence.  They spent the bulk of their writing scrolls and observing other religious practices.
An aqueduct of sorts was found leading from the nearby mountains to the site.  A channel runs through the complex allowing cisterns and baths to be filled with water.  
After our visit to Qumran we headed over to the Dead Sea for a super quick dip just so we could say "we did it!"  We stopped at one of the few public beaches, but to be honest it was a bit of a disaster.  They were doing some maintenance on the beaches and so access to the water was limited and very difficult, down a very steep rocky path.  At the water's edge there was literally about 5 feet of "rocky beach" to leave your things on--I guess it didn't really matter since we weren't there to sunbathe.
So, with the sun setting we jumped into the water to get our float on and I'm super glad we did.  It is a very interesting sensation to literally be buoyed up with no effort on your own part.  We didn't swim long though because Eden got water in her eyes (can you say burn baby burn!) but 20 minutes was enough. The sea left us looking like salt licks once the water evaporated, but the next day my skin and hair were so soft--not what I would have expected from a salty sea.

I bought some Dead Sea mud to recreate my experience at home, but to be truthful, the mud isn't giving me the same result as the sea and it stinks to boot! All in all, we had a super fun day in the Dead Sea valley.  I'd like to go again when I could devote more time to hiking and do a proper Dead Sea spa package!


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4 comments:

  1. What a fun tour, I've heard about this area and enjoyed visiting the area through your post.

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  2. The scrolls containing excerpts from the Hebrew Bible was an amazing find, and only in 1947 and 1956. Thank goodness he Bedouins new they were important.

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