The Importance of Qumran

Preface: Knowledge of the past helps pave the way to a better future. The purpose of this document is to convey some background information on several ancient documents; their correlation with Qumran; and why they are important to Israel’s future. There is a substantial amount of information to digest in this document. It is lengthy because it needs to be. I’ve been careful to separate fact from theory. However, it is important to convey a complete picture. If you have any questions you can write to me. I’ll do my best to answer.

Archaeological Excavations: One of the things I try to convey to the general public is the idea that if you use archaeology to look for something specific, especially something of value, it ceases to be archaeology and instead it becomes a treasure hunt. At least that’s how the academic community would look at it. We agree. Still, there are times when these things tend to overlap. For example, we know that there are hundreds of caves in Qumran. Since a wealth of scrolls have already been discovered at this location, there is a high probability that more will be found. These scrolls help us understand the past and are quite literally a treasure. Should we not excavate these caves because there might be more scrolls? Of course not. The picture below shows scroll jars recently found in the Caves of Qumran. It was the first such find in 60 years. 


Scroll Jars

In the case of Qumran, there are things of far greater value said to be hidden (examples will follow). Failing to excavate these caves because something of great value would be absurd. And what exactly constitutes great value? Several things that have already been found would seem to fall into that category.

Juglet of Congealed Oil: The first example is a juglet of congealed oil hidden in a hollow niche. Curiously enough, it was still viscous after being there for thousands of years. Since it was found to the immediate north of Cave 11 where the Temple Scroll was found in 1956, some have suggested that the juglet may represent a small fractional portion of the anointing oil that was stored in a single, but larger container.

Photo below: Juglet now in the Israel Museum

In the Talmud (Horayot 11b), Rabbi Yehuda points out that the anointing oil was constantly, miraculously replenished. The first batch of anointing oil made by Moshe consisted of twelve lugin (approximately one gallon) but even after it was used to sanctify the entire Mishkan, twelve lugin remained. It was an ongoing miracle. Even as oil was poured out for use, the quantity of oil in the container never diminished. Was the oil in the juglet found in Qumran used for anointing? We don’t know, but it is an interesting possibility. One source indicates that a container with the 12 lugin of oil was hidden along with the Ark and the Tabernacle (more on this in a moment).  

The Incense Spices: Several years later a cache of spices was found just south of Cave 11 (all of these locations are no more than a few minutes walk from one another). The discovery of these spices created quite a stir. Some believed it was just red dirt. However, an Israeli university reported finding six of the eleven spices that were used in the making of Ketoret. For this reason they contended it could not be the incense which contained 11 spices. However, all 11 spices were later identified in a paleonological assessment performed by Dr. Terry Hooter.

Photo below: Mixture of Spices

The cache was found in a natural silo that was buried under approximately 100 tons of earth at a cave that had been intentionally sealed. Tests actually show what species of each spice were in the mix. Dr. Hooter found it difficult to write his report on a mixture associated with biblical requirements for its use, without referencing those sources. Some authorities considered such references unacceptable and the discovery was largely ignored.

The Copper Scroll: One of the more interesting scrolls found in Qumran was the Copper Scroll which identifies this area when it refers to (“the ruins of the Valley of Achor ... on the road from Yericho to Sucacah,” etc.). It then proceeds to list 64 locations where the vessels and treasures of the Temple were hidden before the exile.

According to this text, any number of things were sealed in nearby tunnels and caves including at least one additional scroll, specifically one that is just like the enigmatic Copper Scroll, but without its many references being couched in riddles (G. Vermes: The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, Penguin Press, Second Ed. 1990, Pg. 12).

Photo of Copper Scroll Currently in a Museum in Amman Jordan

The scroll is particularly interesting in that it provides a very specific location when it describes a cave with a pillar with two openings facing east beside a wadi which is a dry riverbed. There is a location that matches that description on the short road from Jericho to Sucacah, and it just happens to be a stone’s throw south of where the above items were found. 

A Cave with a Column and Two Openings on the Road from Jericho to Sucacah

The Cave of the Column: In the picture displayed below you will see a drawing from the Copper Scroll that not only appears to depict these two openings but also the wadi to the immediate south. Note the Caf-Caf preceding the drawing of the two openings and the tower of the Lamed on the line below. The tower is out-of-place with respect to the other letters on the line, and appears to point to a spot on the column where a natural letter Caf is embedded into the stone pillar at this site. The letter Caf was the symbol of the priesthood that was drawn onto the foreheads of the priests, prophets and kings, while they were being anointed with the oil mentioned above.

A Portion of Text on the Copper Scroll and Photo of Caf Embedded into the Column

(please take a moment to contemplate what you see above)

The letters of the scroll are in the form of those given to Moshe at Mt. Sinai, later resurrected by Ezra. A double Caf “like this” is immediately followed by the tower of the Lamed that points to the spot on the column (shown above in a picture of this portion of the scroll) exactly where a natural “Ezra” Caf is found between the two openings in the actual column of stone.

One might think this a coincidence, save for the fact that these caves are within 100 meters of the cave where the juglet of oil was found. Coincidence? Maybe. However, the text below the picture in the scroll (not shown) is the part that talks about a cave with a column that has two openings facing east. That being the case, it’s a very strange coincidence.

None of the Temple treasures have ever been found and some contend that the Copper Scroll was no more than a hoax. Others vehemently disagree, and believe it to be authentic. Its authenticity would seem to be confirmed by a kabbalistic book known as Emek HaMelehk which contains a copy of a more ancient Mishnaic text often referred to as Messeket Kelim, but more properly entitled “the Twelve Mysterious Mishnaot on Kelim in Sefer Emek HaMelehk.

Emek HaMelehk - HaRav Naftali Hertz ben Elchanan, Amsterdam 1648

In Mishnah 1, we read, “These are the vessels dedicated and concealed when the Beit HaMikdash was [about to be] destroyed: The Mishkan (Tabernacle) together with the Parokhet (Curtain), the holy Menorah (Candelabra) and Aron HaEdut (Ark of the Testimony), the golden Tzitz (forehead Nameplate) and the holy Nezer (crown) of Aharon HaCohen, the Choshen HaMishpat (Breastplate of Judgment)…the Mizbei’ach HaOlah (Altar of burnt offerings)…” and the list goes on. Then in Mishnah 2, we read, “These [the above] holy vessels as well as the vessels of the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) in Jerusalem, as well as in other locations… were inscribed by Shimur HaLevi and his companions on a luach nechoshet (copper plate or scroll), with all the vessels of the Holy of Holies that Shlomo ben David made…” The fact that this Mishnah (as transcribed by HaRav Naftali Hertz in 1648 in Emek HaMelekh) cross-references a body of text inscribed on copper is intriguing. Although we note that while the Copper Scroll lists where certain things were in fact hidden, it does not specifically mention the Ark by name. It does mention the Mishkan (Tabernacle), which of course connects it back to the Mishnaic portion of Emek HaMelekh, lending it more than sufficient credibility, if not providing actual confirmation of the scroll’s validity.

Perhaps more interesting, these Mishnaot not only mention the Mishkan (Tabernacle) but they also list additional items like the Aron HaOlah (Altar of burnt offerings), the Tzitz (forehead Nameplate), and basically everything from the Holy of Holies that was secured and hidden away before the exile. All of this was by order of Yoshiyahu, king of Israel, who sanctioned their removal from under the Temple Mount after learning from Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) of the impending destruction.

A model showing how the Tzitz (forehead Nameplate) may have appeared

According to the author of Emek HaMelekh, the Mishnayot on the Kelim were written by those who actually carried out the work of securing these items before the exile. The authors of the Mishnaot on the Kelim were Shimur HaLevi, Hizkiyah, Zidkiyah, Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah, son of Ido the prophet. These were the men who “concealed the vessels of the Temple and the wealth of the treasures that were in Jerusalem,” before the exile. As noted, the Mishnah explicitly states that they “recorded where they were hidden on a luach nechoshet (copper plate or scroll).

Emek HaMelekh was written in 1648 (Gregorian), over 400 years before the Copper Scroll was found in Qumran “on the road from Yericho to Sucacah.” The Mishnaic portion that it cites dates back to the Hebrew year 3331 (430 BCE), over 2,000 years prior. All this would seem to indicate that the scroll is not only genuine, but that it is an actual record of where these things were hidden.

The Marble Tablets: A number of years ago, two marble tablets were found in the basement of a museum in Lebanon. The text on these tablets was written in bas relief. That is, it protruded from the surface (the letters inscribed in the copper scroll also appear to protrude). More importantly, the text was identical to that of the Mishnaot on the Kelim.

Most people involved in research pertaining to this period of time are unaware of the connection between these documents, and those who do seem to be unaware of the subtle references contained within its words and sentences, or how the documents tend to cross-reference one another, let alone the many implications.

One example is the last sentence of Mishnah 7 where it is stated that everything was hidden in a place called Borsif. Researchers have looked for such a place. However, it is not found in any other record. The place simply does not exist.

Letter Games: As you likely know, the Sages of Israel played games with the letters in various texts in order to hide subtle truth. The book of Esther comes to mind, where the size of certain letters in the list of the names of Haman’s ten sons presage the date when the hanging of another ten men (after the Nuremberg trials) would take place. I won’t go into detail as I’m sure you are already familiar with this amazing story.

There are many other examples of these letter games, including those pertaining to the Atbash cipher. In the case of the Mishnaot on the Kelim, the Hebrew letters of Borsif are bet, resh, samekh, yud, peh-sofit. The yud is an interchangeable letter that may be read as a vav. A few knowledgeable scholars have noted that when it is read this way, it becomes bor-sof which would mean that things were hidden sof bor (at the end of a tunnel).

Is this a veiled reference to the tunnel that purportedly starts in the Quarry of Solomon and extends due east for 18 miles, with an exit in the Jordan River Valley (Bamidbar Rabbah 2:9; Rashi, 2 Kings 25:4)? We do not know for sure, but it is an interesting possibility.

The Mysterious Tunnel in the Wadi: More interesting is the fact that we have found no less than four man-made tunnels not far from the Jordan River Valley that were hand-hewn from solid bedrock. Two of these have been partially excavated, two have not been excavated at all and are filled nearly to the top.

We do not yet know what is at the end of these tunnels. However, given the possible references to borsif (the end of a tunnel) in Mishnah 7 of the Mishnaot on the Kelim, it presents some equally fascinating possibilities.

Tunnel/Tomb Found in a Wadi South of Qumran

Copper Scroll: Col 5, Line 12 “ the tomb that is in the wadi... dig 7 cubits"

Sefer Maccabi’im: The apocryphal writings in Sefer Maccabi’im (2:2) dealing with the period just before the exile would seem to confirm this, at least in part where it says: 

[Editor's Note: The above text refers to the mountain that Moshe ascended to see the Land. As recorded in the Torah (Deuteronomy 32:48-50), this is Mount Nebo, which is due east of Qumran on the other side of the Dead Sea, in what the Torah called TransJordan. A close reading of Sefer Maccabi’im indicates that the cave in which Yirmiyahu hid the Ohel and Aron (and other artifacts) was along the way “as they approached” Mount Nebo. Qumran is not only along the way but in full view of Mount Nebo.]

The original Hebrew books of the Maccabee’s were presumed to have been taken by the Greeks or Romans, which is why we find them now only in Greek (or various translations). The historical references nevertheless ring true and taken together with other records such as the Copper Scroll, the Mishnaot on the Kelim (as recorded in Emek HaMelekh) and the marble tablets on which the same Mishnaot were recorded in bas relief, suggests that those who hid these items fully intended for them to be recovered.

The text of Sefer Hoshea (2:15) would seem to concur when it says: “I will...make for Israel a Petach Tikvah (Door of Hope) in the Valley of Achor” which runs north/south by Qumran. Were this the case, the “door” to the cave mentioned above could very well be the opening at “the end of the tunnel” mentioned in the Mishnaot on the Kelim. I’ve often wondered what Yirmiyahu and Shimur HaLevi thought when they “closed up [the cave’s] mouth” where they hid these things (as just quoted in Sefer Maccabi’im above). Assuming these references are connected, they must have marveled at how their work in hiding them would lay the groundwork for the fulfillment of Hashem's words to Hoshea HaNavi. This is a personal opinion of course. Until something is found at this location, it is very much in the realm of theory.

I should mention that some contend the Valley of Achor is north of Yericho. This is because the Gilgal pictured on modern maps is north of Yericho and because Sefer Yehoshua/Joshua indicates they are opposite one another. I wrote an article on this subject entitled “Qumran and the Valley of Achor” in which I disprove this assumption. The current “location” of Gilgal on modern maps is the result of monks who came to Israel early in the last century and proclaimed various places they believed to be of biblical importance. The error is perpetuated to this day, which is why I felt it important to write the article.

I would only add that Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) and Shimur HaLevi surely knew where the Valley of Achor was located, since they hid the items and wrote the text of the scroll. The road from Jericho to Sucacah is south of Yericho, not north.

The point of all this is to emphasize how unusual the circumstance, that despite the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and despite the references to the aforementioned items in texts like the Copper Scroll and the Mishnaot on the Kelim of Emek HaMelehk, few have made the effort to search for them. It is a shame because the area is riddled with so many chambers and tunnels. Who knows what might eventually be found? How many secrets do they hold? Is one connected to a tunnel that goes all the way to Jerusalem?

Cave Where the Scroll Jars Were Found in 2017
(additional items were found in a subsequent excavation)


The People of Qumran and the Essenes: This brings us to the group of people who worked in the facility (generally called a village) at Qumran and the lay group, more commonly known as Essenes (Ishai was the father of King David and his descendants were known as the Ishaiim) that lived nearby and followed their teachings.

At this point I will propose “a theory” that has never been considered. In truth, it is much more than a theory. My intent is to fully support this assertion in a future paper on the subject, with the facts and the application of logic that will address the obvious objections. For now, I think it important to at least present the premise to the general public.

When the paper is complete, it will provide ample support for the assertion that the men of Qumran were none other than the legitimate priesthood comprised of the Cohenim and the Levites that performed the Temple service, who went into exile when the last heir to the hereditary line of Zadokites (Onias III) was murdered at the hands of Antiochus, king of the Seleucid Empire. In the interest of Hellenizing the people of Israel, Antiochus supplanted the legitimate priests, with those who ascribed to his hellenist ways, eventually going so far as to convert the Temple into a sanctuary for Zeus. Having no other alternative, the “sons of Zadok” (Onias the IV with family and followers) who had been high priests since the days of Solomon, went into exile. Where did they go?

With a price on his head, Onias IV fled to Egypt where he found refuge under the Ptolemies who were generally friendly toward the Jewish people. Since the days of Alexander, the ‘Egyptian’ Greeks respected HaShem and the Temple service in Jerusalem. There he is said to have violated Halacha (Jewish law) and built a duplicate of the Temple so that he could continue with Temple worship that had ceased with his father’s death. Nonsense.

First, it is foolish to assume that a “son of Zadok” who was heir to this position  would forsake his heritage and violate Halacha. Second, it is an established fact that the building was not a duplicate of the Temple. As such, it was just a building.

The prime directive of any Cohen HaGadol or heir to the position, given an interruption of Temple service, would be to preserve knowledge of what constituted proper procedure and if possible to preserve the hierarchical structure of the priesthood and levites in service at any given time. This would include a pool of properly trained “service people,” ranked according to their knowledge and ability, who, with sufficient training, could immediately pick-up where their forebears had left off, given the opportunity. I suggest that the so-called “Temple” at Leontopolis was no more than a training facility where the current heir could meet this obligation.      

Onias IV’s enemy (Antiochus) was eventually neutralized when Alexander Balas usurped the Seleucid throne, at which point the price on Onias head would have likely been null and void, making it possible for him or one of his son’s to return to the land of Israel.

Indeed, the mysterious “teacher of righteousnesss” (mentioned in the scrolls) shows up   shortly after the new leader of the Seleucid’s empire usurps his predecessor. Antiochus is out. The new guy is in, and who suddenly shows up at Qumran? A son of Zadok becomes the Maqqabur (leader) of the people at Qumran.

It is known and accepted among scholars that other priests serving at the time of Onias III’s murder had already fled to Qumran. However there, they purportedly “stumble in darkness” because they did not have a leader. Why? Because their leader had fled to Egypt, as mentioned above. But then, 20 years later, when Antiochus is usurped, the “teacher of righteousnesss” shows up in Qumran! He begins initiating eligible candidates into the priesthood. He teaches them, then tests them annually, and ranks them according to their knowledge (all documented in the Dead Sea Scrolls). A specific hierarchy is established and procedures for the training and ranking of each potential candidate are put in place as would be expected of the Zadokite heir. Meanhile, his identity remains a secret lest the current Seleucid king attempt to murder him as he did his predecessor.

Known only as the “teacher of righteousnesss” who was this man? Was it Onias IV? One of his sons? Or was it some other relative from another branch of the family? We do not know. What we do know is that he was in fact, one of the sons of Zadok, and as such, a potential heir to be the high priest.

Celibacy? It has been asserted that the men of Qumran were celibate, even though the skeletons of women (at least one with fetus) are found in a nearby cemetery. The men of Qumran were not celibate in the normal sense of the word. Rather, Temple service (according to Zadokite tradition) required separation from one’s wife for specific periods of time because of the precedent set by Moshe, who separated from his wife during his tenure, serving/speaking with God in the Tabernacle.

Who lived in Qumran? No one! Both John Strugnell and Yigael Yadin noted that no sleeping quarters were ever found in the archaeological ruins at Qumran. Why? It was not a residential community. Rather, it was, in effect, a university for those who would eventually become priests.

Today the academic community dates the Qumran community to roughly 200 BCE. However, this is based on tests dating the organic material used to wrap and tie the scrolls, rather than the buildings themselves (because inorganic material such as stone cannot be carbon dated). The problem with this assumption is that it does not take into account the fact that when the legitimate priests serving in Jerusalem were forced to flee in 171 BCE, they took their precious library with them, so what the date really represents, is the date the scrolls were wrapped, tied, and taken to Qumran (to protect them from Antiochus) NOT the age of the buildings themselves. Logic, would seem to suggest that the “priestly university” dates back, at least to a time well before the exile, and that it was an integral part of the process used by the Zadokites to prepare candidates for the priesthood (there is now hard evidence to support assertion that the community does date back to before the exile but it has not yet been released to the public).

Scholars often say that “the people of Qumran believed they should be running the Temple.” They are correct. However, the reason they are correct is because the Zadokites really were supposed to be running things in the Temple. Just as David and his descendants would inherit the throne, so too, Zadok and his descendants were to be heirs to the position of Cohen HaGadol (Sotah 48b, Kohelet Rabbah 1:4) and they did in fact hold this position for nearly a thousand years until Onias was murdered by Antiochus (with a brief period of absence before the destruction of the first house). 

When the legitimate priests fled from Jerusalem, not only did they take the scrolls in the great Jerusalem library with them; they also took their most precious scroll, the one mentioned above, the one written by their predecessors so many centuries before. What was this scroll? Why was it considered the most precious?

The Copper Scroll recorded where their forefathers had hidden the Ark and the Tabernacle before the exile (per the
Twelve Mishnaot on Kelim). Their descendants held to the belief that the place where these things had been hidden “would remain hidden until God regathered His people in mercy” (when Israel would once again be sovereign) at which time God would reveal the location (Sefer Maccabi’im). They were also keenly aware of what Hosea had said: “[HaShem would] heal [the Nation of Israel] after two days [two thousand years]” (6:2). The nation of Israel was in fact “healed” (re-established) 2,000 years later in 1947/48.

Their scroll of Copper (intended to have great longevity) was hidden in the cave furthest from their facility at Qumran (lest it be found by Israel’s enemies). Cave Q3 is the northern most cave where scrolls were hidden. It was found on March 14, 1952 a mere four years after the re-establishment of the State of Israel.

In summary, this is who the people of Qumran were; this is what they were doing at this location; this is why Qumran is important. Considering all of the above, this is why excavations at Qumran should be pursued. There is a group currently excavating this area using sophisticated remote sensing and other techniques and if you are interested in their work, you can visit "Project Qumran" for more information.

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