No other archeological discovery from antiquity has created as much controversy and aroused as many hopes as have the Dead Sea Scrolls. A treasure trove of ancient Jewish writings, often in many copies, they comprise an unusual library of around 800 documents. But to whom did they belong? Most scholars working in the field agree that the "library" belonged to a Jewish sect, called "the Essenes," and that a nucleus of them lived in a desert community at Qumran, near the spot that most of the scrolls were found. But there are many unanswered questions, and some serious scholars challenge these conclusions.
Scholars refer to three kinds of writings represented in the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS). A little under 1/3 is made up of biblical texts, containing all the books of the Hebrew Bible in whole or in part, except for Esther. About 1/4 are writings (known and unknown) which were part of the Jewish literary heritage that remained outside the Bible, such as apocryphal books like the Testament of Levi. A third are writings which pertain to the specific beliefs, practices, and membership requirements of a Jewish sect, headquartered at Qumran. An eighth of the fragments are unidentified. Many documents are found in multiple copies, with Isaiah and Psalms appearing most frequently.
The Judean Desert
The Judean Desert is bordered by the Mountains of Judea to the west and by the Dead Sea to the East. It is considered a relatively small desert, spanning only 1,500 square kilometers, but it contains many fascinating nature reserves, historic sites, monasteries and primeval panoramas that make it an exciting and unique place to visit.
The Judean desert is full of breathtaking views that are constantly changing. Mountains, cliffs, and chalk hills stand alongside plateaus, riverbeds, and deep canyons. The width and breadth of the desert is crossed by several rivers that have created canyons up to 500 meters deep. Some of these rivers have water all year round, and create oases such as Nahal Arugot, Nahal Prat, and Nahal David. The ancient cliffs on the eastern edge of the desert tower to a height of 300 meters above the shore of the Dead Sea, and nature reserves such as Ein Gedi and Einot Tzukim lie at their feet.
The Judean Desert is close to Jerusalem and relatively sparsely populated. The few settlements that are there were established at its perimeter. The desert is known for its rugged landscape, which has provided a refuge and hiding place for rebels and zealots throughout history, as well as solitude and isolation to monks and hermits. During the days of the Maccabees (about 2,000 years ago) large fortresses such as Massada and Horkenya were established in the desert. During the period of the great rebellion against Rome the last battle of the Jewish zealots was fought on Massada, and during the period of the Second Temple members of the Judean Desert cult lived there.