Christian Leadership Center



Biblical Archaeology Index


Class Nineteen





1.   PETRA


“Those who dwell in the cliffs of the rock”


Petra, the capital of the Nabataean Kingdom in the region of Edom, lies 47.5 miles south of the Dead Sea.  Even though the place is remote and takes some effort to reach (which is why the Nabataeans sought refuge here in the first place when they were fleeing from Antigonus I in 312 B.C.), the journey is well worth it.  Most of the buildings in this unique city have been carved out of the rocky cliffs (hence the Greek name Petra) on either side of a valley, and the colors in the stone are amazing.   Some folks might remember the facade of one of the grandest of these buildings from the sensational movie The Temple of Doom.


Historical Overview

The city was apparently not settled prior to the Hellenistic period.  There were no coins and no pottery found in the city that date from a time before the fourth century B.C. (or in any other Nabataean location as far as that goes).   Apparently the valley where the city is now to be found was simply a place of refuge for the Arabian tribes known as Nabataeans when they were fleeing from the Greek ruler Antigonus I Cyclops, in 312 B.C.  When they settled in the region they stayed for several centuries.

The Nabataeans were a semi-nomadic South Semitic people who came into the area in the fourth century B.C. from North West Arabia.  By the second century B.C. they had made the transition to settled life.  They controlled the former lands of Edom and Moab, squeezing the Edomites out of the region and into southern Judea.  That region then became known by Roman times as Idumaea.  It was bounded in the north by Hebron (where they mostly settled), the Dead Sea on the east, in the south by a line just to the south of Arad and Beersheba, and in the west by a line inland from Gaza and Ashkelon, along the edge of the lowlands. 

The Edomites, or Idumaeans as they now were called, were forced to convert to Judaism by John Hyrcanus in 125 B.C.  Antipater I, the Edomite king, was appointed the governor of Idumaea by Alexander Janneus.  Then, in 47 B.C. Antipater II was made the procurator of Judea by Julius Caesar, and he arranged for his son to be appointed the governor of Galilee that same yearhis son was Herod the Great (who ruled from 37-4 B.C.).  So one can see the animosity that the pious Jews had for Herod when he was their king.  He was an Edomite, descended from Esau, and not Jacob!

As far as the Nabataeans are concerned, the first known king was Aretas (according to 2 Macc. 5:8).  But it is Aretas II (also called Aretomos) who is credited with being  the founder of the Nabataean kingdom; he ruled from 100-96 B.C.  It was not a trouble-free kingdom.  In the reign of Aretas III (87-62) southern Syria and Damascus were conquered.  But there was also the first attempt to crush the independence of the Nabataeans; they were forced to pay tribute to the Romans.

As a tributary to Rome the Nabataean kingdom  under Ododas II (309 B.C.) and Aretas IV Philodemos (9 B.C.40 A.D.) flourished with the routing of the trade caravans [this Aretas we have already met in the power struggle for Judea and Galilee by Herod; and we will meet him againt when Paul goes to Damascus]. 

In 106 A.D., after the reign of Rabel II, Trajan annexed the little kingdom; but because the caravan routes changed Petra all but died out. 

In the fifth century Christianity arrived in Petra, which seemed to be an ideal location for the many Christians who chose to live in the desert.  Eventually Petra became a See of an archbishop.  In the time of the crusaders it was called The Valley of Moses.

The first European to see Petra was a fellow named Seetzen who arrived in 1807.  He had no idea what it was.  Burckhardt received the credit for being the discoverer of Petra; he came in 1812 (he had to dress as a bedouin and convince the guides to take him there).  He wanted to ascend the nearby mountain to the tomb of Aaron, but studied Petra instead, making as many sketches as he could without drawing opposition.  But the actual excavation of the area did not begin until 1929.


Archaeological Discoveries

The whole place is an archaeological discovery--and it is immense.  But for the purpose of this survey, we may only note its most significant things and its setting.  The valley in the mountains is a thousand meters long, running from north to south; it is four hundred meters wide.   Wadi Musa crosses it lengthwise.  The steep cliffs on either side of the valley reach heights of three hundred meters.  The mountains to the east of the valley are cut by a narrow canyon called Wadi Siq.  This is the approach taken to enter into Petra.  The walk down through the Siq is quite spectacular in its own rights.

Most of the amazing buildings come from the Roman period from the first century B.C. to the second century A.D.   And they remain a mystery!  Petra was probably not a proper city.  There was a royal house of course, national shrines, a theater, a necropolis, a colonnaded streetbut the common people probably did not live here.  They probably lived in Gaia just east of Petra, or in tent cities in the region.

The Treasury.   The first building that one sees from the Wadi Siq is the spectacular Khaznet Farun, popularly called The Treasury.   It is the most magnificent monument in Petra.  What an entrance!  This building has two Corinthian orders for the facade, one above the other.  In the portico there are three entrances, one to the main hall, and two side entrances to lateral halls.  But what was this building?  A tomb? Or a temple?  From comparisons with other buildings the evidence points to its being a tomb, perhaps a royal tomb.  There is another grand tomb in Petra, called ed-Deir.  It also has a two story facade to the tomb, constructed with Nabataean capitals, with niches between the columns.

But we are still left with questions.  Were the facades copies of buildings they actually lived in, the steps copies of steps to their homes, or like the buildings in Alexandria?  Or were they patterned after paintings like Pompeii?

The Theater  The mystery continues with the theater that one passes down the valley.  It is not exactly what it appears to be on closer scrutiny.  The seats of the theater were cut into the Nubian sandstone cliff[1] of course; but the archaeologists found tombs in and around them.  It is not likely that this theater was used for normal performances since it is in the midst of a necropolis and was used for burials during its existence (not after).  Perhaps the theater was for funerary rites.

The Colonnaded Street.   The colonnaded street runs along the south bank of the Wadi Musa.  The large pedestals were found in situ.  At the western extremity there is a monumental gateway.  West of the tri-partite gateway is a temple, Qasr Bint Far’um.   Here no doubt there were processions up to the top, sacrifices and incense, as well as festal meals.

Edomite Remains As far as earlier archaeological discoveries are concerned, the Edomite ware from the Iron Age (Israelite kingdom period) was found in the mountains west of the valley.  The Edomites apparently chose to live up in the mountains over the valley; it may have seemed to them a very secure place since access could only be gained by the valleys and they had the advantage from the heights as well. 

But the pottery, the lamps, and the coins all come from the end of the third century B.C. and later.


Biblical Observations

The Bible identifies Edom as the region in which Esau settled after he separated from the family (way back in the Middle Bronze Age).  The name Edom means red, probably referring to the reddish color of the hills.  Esau was given a descriptive name at birth, reddish (admoni); the choice of this word in the narrative report was designed to anticipate the outcome of the story when Esau (also called Edom) would dwell in Mount Seir in Edom. 

The Edomites who lived in this region, then, were partly aboriginal tribes of the region of Mount Seir and partly relatives of the Israelites (Gen. 36 does not always distinguish these).  When the Israelites came up from the desert under the leadership of Moses, the king of Edom refused to let them have safe passage through their land (Num. 20:14-21).  So the Israelites had to go all the way around this region.  This long detour was very discouraging to the people, and when they complained they began to be bitten by serpents.  And so Moses set up the fiery serpent on the pole so that they could be healed  (21:4-11).  Eventually they came around and pitched camp on the edge of Moab by the Arnon.

Some archaeologists have argued that the biblical accounts are not credible because as far as they know there were no Edomite cities in the region before 1200 B.C.   But the Edomite material found in the area would certainly indicate people were there, and probably there a good while before the evidence of settlement begins to show up (otherwise, who were the Edomites).  And, if we are talking about tent cities, there would not be much evidence of a settled population at all.  Moreover, if the king of Edom lived in a region such as Petra, it would be an easy place to defend with a small force against any invading army. 

The Book of Obadiah rebukes the Edomites for their treatment of Israel and announces their doom.  In the short oracle the prophet refers to their dwelling in the cliffs of the rock.   The identification of Petra with biblical Selah (rock) of Edom has been made since the time of the Greek translation of the Bible (285-135 B.C.), as well as by Eusebius (Onomasticon 36,13; 142,7; 144,7).   Josephus identified Rekem who is listed in Numbers 31:8 as one of the Midianite[2] kings Israel slew with Petra (Antiquities iv, 82).   And this seems to have been confirmed by an inscription found in Petra with the name Raqmn.   

Nevertheless, most scholars are not willing to make the link until more Edomite pottery is found, at least more than the ware from Iron Age II.   But while we cannot be dogmatic, we can say that when Obadiah referred to the Edomites who were dwelling securely in the cliffs of the rocks, he had this area of Edom in mind. 

For further reading, see P. C. Hammond, The Nabataeans, Their History,Culture and Archaeology.  Gothenburg, 1973.  Also, A. Negev has an article in Revie Biblique 83 (1976); and G. R. Wright has one in the Palestinian Exploration Quarterly (1969, 1970).


[1] Recall that when the earth’s plates shifted along this fault, the eastern side of the valley slid north.  The eastern side of the Jordan Valley today are much higher than the western side, because they were originally farther south.

[2] The name “Midianite” in the Bible refers to desert tribes from the region of Midian.





One of the Principal Cities of the Decapolis


Jerash, or Gerasa, is situated in the hills of Gilead, about twenty-five or thirty miles north of Amman, and twenty miles east of the Jordan River.  It was identified first by the similarity of the modern Arabic name to it, and then confirmed by inscriptions in the place that read “ton proteron Gerasenon.”  The city was founded where the valley widens, near a rich spring called ‘Ein Qeruan, and surrounded by arable lands, pastures, and woodlands. 

It was one of the principal cities of the Decapolis, a league of ten cities mostly in the northern area of Jordan but including Beth Shean in Israel that were populated at first by Greeks who came with Alexander the Great.  Pompey called the region of these cities the “Decapolis” (deka, “ten” and polis, “city”).  These cities had their own courts, their own coins, their own armies, and as the visitor can see, a very high culture.

So Jerash was a wealthy, sophisticated city, but throughly pagan.  And yet, in the early Christian period, there were more than a dozen churches in Jerash.  The oldest is the Cathedral Church, dating from the fourth century A.D.  Transjordan became a leading center of Christianity after the destruction of Jerusalem (70 and 135 A.D.) and before the invasion of the Persians (mid-sixth century). The Jewish leadership seems to have re-located in Israel in the area of Tiberias; and the Christians in Transjordan.[1]

According to the Gospels, Jesus traveled and ministered in all the region of the Decapolis (Matt. 4:24,25; Mark 5:1-20; and Mark 7:31-37).  No doubt he visited this major city, although there is no direct statement that he came to Jerash, only that he went through all the Decapolis.  


Historical Overview

Burckhardt again was apparently the first European to visit the region (in the early 1800s); he only saw a few columns on the surface that marked the location of the city.  He could not have had any idea of what lay beneath the surface.

Jerash was founded in the Hellenistic period.  But that does not mean this area was not inhabited earlier.  Nelson Glueck found significant Early Bronze (3000-2000 B.C.) remains two hundred meters to the north of the city, which ended in the Middle Bronze period (2000-1500 B.C.).  There was a walled enclosure on the hill, with EBI pottery.

But the history of occupation of this rich area goes back beyond that, way back.  Instruments of the Acheulean-Levalloisian type were found in a hill east of the triumphal arch.  Also, remains of the Neolithic period (animal bones, arrowheads, chisels, spears, denticulated blades, and awls) were found.

But our interest now is with the Greek city.  Perdiccas, Alexander’s general and regent of the kingdom, probably founded the Hellenistic settlement--there was a group of Macedonians among the first inhabitants.  The city was subsequently called Antioch on the Chrysorrhoas (after Antiochus III or IV) when in about 200 B.C. it passed to the Seleucid kings who ruled from Antioch.  It was one of a link of towns made to fortify against the desert tribes.  On the hill of Zeus there were found Rhodian stamped jar handles (210-180), attesting to the fact that a cult of Zeus preceded the Roman occupation.

The city was captured by the Jewish king Jannaeus (102-76 B.C.).  But after Rome under Pompey took over the region it was made part of a Decapolis.  It seems to have enjoyed a long and peaceful occupation.  Even in the time of the Jewish revolt, 66 A.D., the Jews and the Romans got along well here.  The Romans did not harm the Jewish citizens when the city was attacked by zealots.[2]

The city developed over the years.  In the time of the emperor Claudius (40s A.D.) a new street plan was laid out, using a cardo (this will be discussed more fully in regard to Jerusalem, but in brief it was a wide avenue with walkways on each side and shops along the way).  The city wall was begun at this time also.  In Domition’s time the southern theater was built.  In Flavian’s the temple to Artemis. Then in 129 the triumphal arch and the new south gate were built; the temple of Artemis was also rebuilt.  In 165 in the time of Marcus Aurelias the north theater was built.  Coins from this period have Artemis, Tyche of the city, on them.  Then, by the  middle of the third century the city began to decline. 

As far as we know the first Christian church was built around 400, and the rest of the churches between that time and 611 (although Christians were here and worshiping much before 400).  The churches had raised platforms with altars and a schola cantorum enclosed by chancel screens.  The bishop’s throne was in an apse with semi-circular benches for priests on both sides.  The colored mosaic floors have human figures, birds, animals, plants and other designs.  All human figures were deliberately effaced, probably later by the Moslems. 

Gerasa fell to the Persians in the sixth century, and then almost immediately to the invading Moslems (ca. 635 A.D.).  But the churches remained; and the settlement continued until 774 when the capital of the Caliphs was moved to Baghdad.  A series of earthquakes hastened the ruin of Gerasa.  By the eleventh century the temple of Artemis had been made a temple fortress.  The crusader king of Jerusalem, Baldwin IV, destroyed the walls of the city in 1172.     


Archaeological Discoveries

Once again, what in Jerash is not an archaeological feast?  But we may highlight some of the most important things.  As for the city itself, the city wall is of a uniform construction, with 101 towers (one every seventeen to twenty-two meters).  It has five gates, one each on the north and the south of the city, two on the western side, and then the water gate on the east.  The cardo runs north to south across the town; two of the east-west streets (decumani) are known, one crosses the cardo at the southern tetrapylon and runs east to cross the river by a bridge, and the other crosses at the northern tetrapylon.[3]  The cardo leads to the great forum in the south.  The most important remains in this city are the following:

The Triumphal Arch.   Four hundred meters south of the city is the Triumphal Arch.  This is the first thing that the visitor encounters when entering Jerash.  The arch was a main gateway with subsidiary passageways on each side.  It was designed to be a gate in a southern wall, but this was never carried out.  The arch is from Hadrian’s time, 130 A.D.

The Hippodrome.  As you move north to the city you pass the hippodrome on the left side.  This was the oval chariot racetrack.  It measured 244 meters in length in the interior.  The arena could hold 15,000 people.  On the southern end there were ten compartments from which the chariots started.   There is a debate over whether this all comes from the first or the third centuries.

The Forum.  At the southern end of the city is the forum, a broad ellipse surrounded by a portico of Ionic columns, open to the southeast.  This was made at the beginning of the first century.  By the fourth century there were dwellings in its colonnades.

The Temple of Zeus.  On the southern hill by the forum is the temple to Zeus.  There were two successive temples, one in 22 A.D., and the other in 43 A.D.  It was then rebuilt in 161.  A large wall encloses the court; the shrine is on the westerly terrace.

The Southern Theater.  Right next to the temple is the large theater. It had twelve segments, which could apparently hold about 3000 people.  There are four main exits (vomitoria) from the gangway passage into the orchestra on each flank.  The facade (scena frons) behind the stage had two stories and three doors, the central one in a niche.  The acoustics in this theater are amazing, and can be easily tested by speaking from the central spot in the orchestra.

The South Tetrapylon.  The southern and middle sections of the cardo are lined on both sides with colonnades in Corinthian style; these are from the middle of the second century.  North of the northern tetrapylon the cardo is lined with Ionic columns.  The tetrapylon is a circular piazza at the intersection of the streets.  It has four pedastals, one on each corner; and the piazza is surrounded by an ornamental facade of columns, behind which shops were built (at the beginning of the fourth century).

The Nymphaeum.  Further up the cardo one comes to the central area with the steps up to the temple.  On the cardo is the ornamental public fountain, the nymphaeum.  It is the most resplendent of the ornamental buildings.  It is two stories high, with a central apse, pool, and portico.  It was built about 191.

The Temenos of the Temple of Artemis.  The grand access starts east of the Chrysorrhoas, crosses the river on a bridge to an entrance portico, flanked by shops, with steps that ascend to the triple gate; then a Corinthian colonnade continues to a trapezoidal court[4] opening to the Cardo. Then a grand stairway ascends to the outer court.  Another portico, also fronted by steps, bounded the court on the temple side and gave access to the inner court, surrounded by colonnades, chambers, and an outer wall. The temple is on a podium, with steps from the east.  The building and its annexes come from about 150.

Other remains from the Roman period include the North Theater, a much smaller theater, but deeper, made somewhere between 162-166; the Western Baths made in the second half of the second century; and the North Tetrapylon, a circle inscribed in a square, which was added later


The Churches of Jerash

The remains of the early churches in Jerash are also fascinating.  Of greatest significance are:

The Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.  This is in the southwest half of the city.  It is a basilica with three apses, with an Ionic atrium at the western end.  Based on the mosaics that were found here, this church has been dated to 540 A.D.

The Church of Procopius.  At the end of the southern decumanus in the southeastern part of the city is this church.  It is also a basilica with three apses, a nave and aisles.  It dates to 526.

The Cathedral of Gerasa.   This is the oldest church in the city, dating from about 400.  Located north of the southern decumanus and west of the cardo, its buildings are set on four terraces rising westward.  The main approach is from the cardo by monumental colonnade and steps (from the second century).  Apparently there was a temple here in the first century on the second terrace.  West of the cathedral on the second terrace is the Fountain Court, where apparently the Christians celebrated a festival on the anniversary of Cana (John 2:1).  It originally was a festival for Dionysias-Dushara, the Nabataean god of wine.  On the third terrace is the Church of St. Theodore with its mosaics (494-96), and on the fourth are the Baths of Flaccus.  To the west of the Fountain Court was the clergy house.

The Synagogue Church, west of the Temenos of Artemis, is so-named because it was built over a synagogue. The synagogue had mosaics of all the animals entering Noah’s ark.   The church dates from 530, 31.


Biblical Observations

The city of Jerash was one of the major cities of the Decapolis.  Did Jesus ever come to this city?  We have no stated evidence that he did.  However, we know from the Gospels that he ministered throughout all the Decapolis.  There are some who contend that since Jesus was an observant Jew he would never have set foot in a Gentile city like this.  But that is wrong on two counts.  First, Jesus did do things that the very self-righteous Jews would never have done, such as enter Gentile houses, eat with sinners and Gentiles, and travel in Samaria and the Decapolis.  It is in harmony with Jesus’ ministry to come to these places, especially when the Jews began to reject him.  Secondly, observant Jews did enter Gentile facilities.  There are accounts of famous rabbis who even went to the baths, not to worship Roman gods, but to bathe.  The fact that they had to explain what they were doing indicates that the self-righteous people may have criticized them for it.  Jesus did go through all the Decapolis.  Does that mean he came here?  Probably. 

There is a difficult problem in identifying one of the locations of a miracle that Jesus performed.  According to the Gospels, Jesus cast a Legion of demons out of the demoniac (Matt. 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; and Luke 8:26-39).  The demons then entered some pigs and ran headlong down into the Sea of Galilee.  The problem is the way that the Gospel accounts identify the man.

According to the best manuscripts of Mark and Luke, the place where he did the miracle was the region of  Gerasa (see the translation in the NIV and the RSV).  But Gerasa (Jerash) is thirty miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee--the miracle was done near the sea for the pigs to rush down the bank into the water.  According to the best manuscripts of Matthew, the region was Gadara (see NIV and RSV); the city of Gadara is Umm Qeis (contemporary Muqeis), just six miles southeast of the Sea of Galilee, near the Yarmuk River.  Following later manuscripts, the KJV has a variant spelling of Gergesenes in Matthew, and Gadarenes in Mark and Luke. 

There are several possible suggestions for this difficulty.

1)                  Mark and Luke were referring to a smaller town named Garasa, not the larger one identified as Jerash.  The ruins of Kursi and Gerga on the eastern side of Galilee seems to attest to such a possibility.  This would still not explain the difference with Matthew.

2)                  There were two similar but distinct events, which today scholars try to make into one event, or, that in the past became confused and were taken to be one.  It is certainly possible that they were different events, although the details are so close that this is highly unlikely.  And to say they were originally different but the biblical writers got them confused raises all kinds of problems for the Bible.

3)                  The original reading of Mark had Gerasa, but Matthew, realizing that Gerasa was too far inland, corrected it to Gadara.  This also is a very problematic solution that assumes errors in the text (“assumes,” does not demonstrate).

4)                  The best solution to me is to follow closely what the text says, i.e., that this was “the region of” the Gerasenes/Gadarenes.  He is not saying that this took place in one of the cities, but in the region.  The territory of these cities could all be identified as one region, but seen from a different perspective by the Gospel writers.  The miracle took place on the shores of the lake; but the region was the Decapolis, including these different cities and their regions.


For further reading, see C.H. Kraeling, Gerasa, City of the Decapolis (New Haven, CT: Yale, 1938).



[1] This does not mean there were no churches in Palestine (today’s Israel), or no synagogues in Transjordan.  In fact, many Christians remained in Palestine and built their churches, especially in all the holy places.  But Christians apparently flocked to this region judging from the number of ancient churches in Transjordanian areas.

[2] Josephus mentions that the Romans captured Gerasa before destroying Jerusalem (Antiquities iv. 487. 8).  That was obviously another city known as Gerasa, since is was not destroyed.

[3] Roman cities are laid out in a cruciform shape, the cardo being the main oad, and the dekumani the cross road.

[4] A Byzantine church was erected right here, the trapezoidal court being the atrium, and the apse located in the triple gate.




                                 3.   QUMRAN AND THE ESSENES


The Essenes


Until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Judean wilderness, the only material available on the Essenes came from the classical historians.  Because the community was semi-monastic and separatist, it is not surprising that the information was sometimes vague or incomplete.  Furthermore, the philosophical biases of the writers may account for some inconsistencies in our  understanding the sect. 


The Classical Sources

The oldest accounts of Essenes we have come from Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 B.C.--50 A.D.): Quod omnis liber probus sit (Every Good Man Is Free) and Hypothetica also called Apologia.[1]  He tended to idealize the Essenes and accommodate their ideas and lives to his Greek readers.  

There are three major references to the Essenes in Josephus.  The best known and earliest (shortly after 70) is Bellum Judaicum (History of the Jewish Wars) 2. 8. 2-13.  The other two notices are in Antiquitates (Jewish Antiquities) 13.5.9 and 18.1.5.  Josephus also pointed to features in the Essenes that would appeal to the Greeks.  He compared the Essenes to Pythagorus, the Pharisees to the Stoics and the Sadducees to the Epicureans (Ant., 15.10.4).

The elder Pliny, a Latin writer who accompanied Titus in the 66-70 A.D. war, briefly mentions the Essenes in his Natural History, V, 17, 4.  He writes about the marvels of the Dead Sea; and he locates and describes the Essenes in that area.


The Name “Essenes”

The Greek name Essenoi or Essaioi is related to the Aramaic hasya, “pious,”[2] and this Aramaic word has been confirmed in the west in a Palmyrene inscription.[3]  Moreover, Philo in a couple of places connects the name with Greek hosiotas, “piety” or “holiness.”[4]  So the name is an Aramaic plural of the Semitic word for “pious.”  The Hebrew equivalent would be hasidim, “the pious” or faithful.


Classical Descriptions of the Essenes

Their Founding.  The literature refers to a teacher or lawgiver who encouraged communal living and founded the Essenes;[5]  because no one was permitted to blaspheme him, he must have been a revered contemporary, perhaps the leader of the community, the Teacher of Righteousness,  himself.[6]  References to the Essenes begin in the governorship of Jonathan, 160-143 B.C. (Ant., 13.5.9).  Individual Essenes are mentioned occasionally:  Judas, in the reign of Aristobulus I (104-103) predicted the day and place of the death of Antigonus (Ant., 13.11.2);  a Menahem greeted Herod as the future king when Herod was yet a boy; consequently, Herod had high regard for them (Ant., 15.10.5);  another Essene named Simon interpreted a dream of Archelaus in A.D. 6. (Ant., 17.10.3).

Pliny locates a community of Essenes on the shore of the Dead Sea, just north of “Engada” (En-Gedi) and “Masada.”  But other Essenes lived in towns and villages and had an open house policy for traveling Essenes (BJ, 2.8.5; Philo, Apol. 1).  There were apparently different orders of the sect; in fact, Josephus refers to the customs of one “order of Essenes” (BJ, 2.8.10).

Characteristics.  Admission required a postulant to live outside the camp for a year with minimal provisions and follow the rules of discipline.  If he remained faithful he could draw near to the purification water.  Then, after two more years as a novitiate, he could take the oath and join the meal (BJ, 2.8.7). 

The Essenes were ascetics. Their life was one of self-denial for the performance of virtuous acts.  They had no money, no luxuries, no pleasures of love (with women); they sought  contentment away from the world.[7]  One whose name was Banus lived in the desert, wore only what grew on trees, ate only what grew of its own accord, and bathed in cold water to preserve his chastity.[8]

The Essenes held all things in common.  They were indeed a brotherhood; all activity was for the common good of the community (Philo, Apologia, 4,5).  When they joined they relinquished all their personal property (BJ, 2.8.3).  When they worked, their salaries were handed over to a common purse.[9]  If any were in need, they could simply take from the common supplies (BJ, 2.8.4).  And no one had a private house, for the dwellings were open to all travelers (Quod omnis, 85).  Any Essene traveling could therefore go unencumbered, except for being armed for safety (BJ, 2.8.4).

The Essene orders differed on marriage and children.  They generally were celibates, but there were exceptions.  Josephus says that they adopted children for instruction, but Philo says that there were to be no children because they would be a hindrance (BJ, 2.8.2; Philo, Apologia 3, 16).  With regard to marriage, Philo affirms that the Essenes banned marriage because women were selfish, jealous, deceitful, seducing, and leading the sovereign mind into bondage to her and the care of children (Apologia 14-17).  But Josephus says that marriage was important for the continuation of the race; therefore, there were Essenes that married and had sexual intercourse, but only for the purpose of procreation (BJ, 2.8.2 and 8.13).  Josephus is probably correct because he apparently lived with the Essenes for three years; whereas Philo seems to be turning the information towards Greek philosophy.

The Essenes did virtuous deeds.  Because this was their ideal, their righteousness was incomparable (Ant., 18.1.20).  Because of their belief in the immortality of the soul, they engaged in virtue for the hope of reward and the fear of immortal punishment (BJ, 2.8.11).

A good portion of their time was spent repeating a vow, which was said before eating as a constant reminder of their dogma: they vowed piety to God, justice to man, hatred of the wicked and love for the just; they also promised to love the brethren,  love truth, conceal nothing from one another and reveal nothing to outsiders (BJ, 2.8.7).

The Essenes were diligent workers.  They had fled the unholy cities but still worked in their occupations--not now for profit but for the necessities of life (Philo, Quod omnis, 76).  We have a good description of the daily routine: With great piety they would all arise in silence with no speaking until after the ancestral prayer facing the sun.  Afterwards they would be dismissed by supervisors to their crafts, working until the fifth hour (11), when they reassembled, bathed in cold water, entered the restricted room and were seated, wearing sacred garments.  They were each served just the right amount of food.  The priest prayed, then they ate, then they prayed again and the priest blessed God, the giver of life.  They would then return to their work.  They would take dinner in the same way, allowing each other to speak in turn with no shouting or vulgar talk.  This silence was a mystery to the outsider (BJ, 2.8.5).

The Essenes observed strict religious orders.  They functioned as scribes and prophets, studying and preserving the Scriptures, the books of their sect, and the names of angels.[10]  Their work of healing involved ascribing properties to stones and roots for protection.[11]  And they were expert at foreseeing future events (BJ, 2.8.12).

They worshiped in obedience to the Law.  There was daily instruction except on the holy Sabbath.  During instruction they sat in order, one man reading, one elder explaining usually by symbols and allegories (Philo, Quod omnis, 81,82).  They were in disagreement over the sacrificial system in Jerusalem, either because of the priesthood or the calendar (they actually followed the solar calendar of Jubilees).  They sent offerings to the Temple, but no sacrifice; they made the sacrifices among themselves since their customs of purification were different (Ant., 18.1.5).  Their purifications were strict; they washed in cold water for purity.  And, interestingly, oil to them was a defilement, necessitating washing (BJ, 2.8.3).

The Essenes had strict discipline.  Those caught in grave faults would be expelled from the camp, often dying of starvation.  The community took many of them back at their last gasp, believing that they had suffered for the expiation of their sins.  But their judgments were exact and impartial; their decisions irrevocable (BJ, 2.8.8).  Some of their laws were very detailed.  For example, one could not spit in the middle of the company on the Sabbath day.  Another more superstitious law related to this is that no one could spit to the right (BJ, 2.8.9).  With the Essenes the Sabbath day was more rigorously kept than with other groups--one could not even go to stool.

But they certainly cared for their own and for those in need.  The sick, the elderly, travelers, and any in need, were provided for out of the common purse.  As a result, many lived to a ripe old age of 100 (Philo, Apologia 13; Quod omnis, 87).

The Essenes honored virtue in this life and hoped for rewards in the world to come.  They were able to endure the persecutions of the Romans because a glorious death was better than capitulating.  If they gave up their souls they would recover them again.  To them the body was corruptible, a prison which entwined the immortal soul.  At death the soul was freed from bondage and could rise to a heavenly world.  Josephus says that in this they were like the Greeks (BJ, 2.8.10), but Hippolytus contested that they believed in a resurrection as well, and his view is more likely.[12]

According to the classical writers, then, the Essenes were  ascetic, semi-monastic Jews who separated themselves from the pagan world to pursue a life of virtue which they believed was not possible apart from the seclusion of the brotherhood.  Being conscious of evil, they engaged in purifications, instruction, communal meals instituted by the priests, and their own sacrifices.  It was a hierarchical system based on love and obedience.  Admission was rigid, discipline hard.  Nevertheless, the system was a legalistic life of work and love for fellow man to live in peace and virtue.  To the Greek mind, which was the interest of Philo, this was the means of obtaining freedom.


The Witness of the Dead Sea Scrolls

The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the caves around Qumran on the northwest shores of the Dead Sea in 1945.[13] In all there were over 400 manuscripts and fragments from eleven caves.

From archaeology we know that there were three occupations of the community.  A few coins and sherds from the early era show that the community began to flourish in the reign of Hyrcanus (134-104 B.C.).[14]  While there clearly were earlier settlements here (in the time of the conquest under Joshua and in the days of Uzziah in the 8th century B.C.), the first major community was built around 110 and flourished until an earthquake in 31 B.C. ripped through it and cracked the cisterns.  A few people continued living there among the ruins, but there was an interval in the occupation; we know this because of the absence of coins of Herod and the infrequent number of manuscripts.  The reign of Archelaus gave them reason to rebuild for the second occupation was from 4 B.C. until 68 A.D. when the place was destroyed by the Romans.  The third occupation was Roman.

So the evidence of archaeology and the scrolls points to the same time that Josephus describes the Essenes; and the location is the same as that given in Pliny.

The Rule of the Congregation, also known as The Manual of Discipline, first states the aim of the community: to leave the evil way and serve God in accordance with the Law of Moses, seeking the pure life and hating the sons of disobedience.  Then the scroll describes the ceremony of admission, the annual census, and the common life.

Instruction concerning the two spirits forms a major part of the scroll.  God the creator allotted two spirits to man, which constantly struggle.  One is truth, whose origin is the fountain of life, and this has dominion over all the princes of light.  The other is perversity from the power of darkness, and it is in the hand of the Angel of darkness.  For those in the right path there is bliss, perpetual life and joy, and everlasting light.  The reward for evil is the blow of the Angel of destruction in the everlasting pit by God's wrath.  God has set an end for all perversity--he will at that time destroy it forever.[15]

After this instruction in theology the Rule spells out the discipline of the community.  Those converted from evil became a community of law under the authority of the sons of Zadok, priests who kept covenant.  In the oath the newcomer promised to obey all that was revealed to the Zadokites about the Law of Moses, and to be separated from men who walk in wickedness.  For the first year the newcomer could not touch the purification of the Many; after that all his wages and property would be mingled with the community's, but he would spend another year of testing before coming to the meal.

Reproof for misconduct was with humility and love and not with anger, disrespect, or a spirit of wickedness.  The scroll lists different errors with their punishments; for example, saying the holy name, death, but if accidental, dismissal; falling asleep during instruction, ten days' separation; malice, revenge, and foolish words, three months; going naked before another, six months; or murmuring, final dismissal.

In sum, the community was a Jewish sect that went into the wilderness to prepare the way.  The members were priests, Levites, common people, women and children included; but the priests were prominent.  They looked for two messiahs, a priestly messiah and a messiah of Israel, probably a ruler.[16]  The Law was supreme; nevertheless there was no reference to animal sacrifice.  There was a strong emphasis on election, but with human responsibility.[17]

In the additional Rule of Annexe and the Benedictions, there is recorded the procedure when Adonai shall have begotten the Messiah among them.  The priest enters at the head of the congregation, then the heads of the sons of Aaron, and then the Messiah, followed by the chiefs of the tribes, the wise men and the holy.  When they gather for the community table, no one may reach for food before the priest stretches out his hand over the food, and then the Messiah will do the same.[18]

The Habakkuk Commentary offers interpretations on the biblical text.  The members of the community believed that these interpretations (called pesher) of mysteries (called raz) were revealed to the chosen interpreter, the Teacher of Righteousness.[19]  But in addition the community thought it stood in the prophetic line of Daniel;[20]  Daniel wrote, “None of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise (maskilim) shall understand” (Dan. 12:10).  They believed they were in the end times and that they were the maskilim, the “sons of light,” for secrets and their interpretations were revealed to them.

The scroll refers to the Kittim as the enemies of Israel.  Although the term in the Old Testament refers to Cyprus, it receives a wider use in the time of the scrolls, namely, ruthless pagan warriors trampling over the land and its inhabitants, sacrificing to military standards, using weapons of war as objects of worship.  Since the commentary was written around 63 B.C., the immediate reference was to the Romans.[21]

But the scroll also mentions the “Teacher of Righteousness,” who arose in opposition to the teacher of falsehood, and founded the community.[22]  Such a title could be used of many different individuals at different times;[23] but this individual was the founder, a priest who received divine revelation, an interpreter whose interpretations were binding, and a strict ascetic.  The references show how high this holy person stood in their memory.

The source of all the troubles was the “Wicked Priest.”  This individual began well, but soon forsook God and the Law, amassing wealth by violence and becoming famous for wickedness.[24]  It may be that he slew the Teacher, for the commentary refers to the iniquity he did to him, for which God humbled him with a devastating blow.

The task is to fit all these titles and events together to identify the persons and therefore the founding of the community.  It is a sad commentary that there is no lack of candidates for the role of the wicked priest.  One view is that the events are pre-Maccabean, that the wicked priest was Menelaus who desecrated the Temple, and caused Onias III, the High Priest, to flee, leaving the priesthood without a Zadokite.  A second view is that the wicked priest was Hyrcanus (134-104), who broke with the Pharisees.  A man named Judas who demanded that Hyrcanus lay aside the priesthood would then be the founder of the Essenes.  Another view is that the wicked priest was Aristobulus I in view of the infliction of diseases he experienced before his death.  A fourth view is that the wicked priest was Alexander Jannaeus, who was delivered into the hands of his enemies, but escaped; because the people hated him so much he massacred the Pharisees.

Another view with more connecting links puts it in the time of Aristobulus and Hyrcanus II.  The comments on Habakkuk 2:7-8 refer to the “last priests of Jerusalem” who amassed wealth by plundering (which could be the tribute of 63 B.C.).  Hyrcanus II would then be the wicked priest.  The comment on Habakkuk 1:13b says that the “House of Absalom” was silent when the charges were made against the Teacher.  This might refer to Absalom, the uncle and father-in-law of Aristobulus II.[25]

While this view is appealing, Milik makes a stronger case with his description of the earlier period (pp. 80-84):  The Hasidim of the Maccabean period was a group drawn from the priesthood and laity; they broke with the Maccabeans and supported Alcimus, the ungodly but Aaronite nominee for priest by the Seleucid king.  But when Alcimus turned on them and slaughtered sixty people, part of the faithful abandoned Jerusalem for the wilderness commune.  They disapproved of Hellenism; they disapproved of ruling priests, they disagreed over the calendar, and they were stunned by the unworthy conduct of the new priests, especially since many of them were priests themselves. 

Milik focuses on two important facts about the wicked priest: 1) he rebuilt Jerusalem, and 2) he died in torment in captivity.  Jonathan (160-142) rebuilt the city; and Balas gave him the priesthood in 152.  His involvement in Syrian politics brought in a process of secularization.  The Kittim of Assyria (usually read Syria) would then be the major enemies referred to when the Jews abandoned Jerusalem for their desert home.  And finally, the Essenes are first mentioned during the reign of Jonathan (Ant., 13.5.171).      

Although one cannot be dogmatic, this last view makes the best sense.  But one must not miss the point--the controversy was basically over the priesthood, its power and its degeneration.

The War Scroll offers a description of the final war, real or unreal, between the righteous and the wicked, drawing on eschatalogical passages from the Old Testament.  The righteous are called “sons of light,” for they were led by the spirit of truth; they were the Jews of Levi, Judah, and Benjamin, those that were true to David, the true line of Israel.  The “children of darkness” refers to Edom, Moab, and Amon, the immediate enemies, as well as the Kittim of Syria and Egypt, Greek powers ultimately.

The Temple Scroll has a large section of instructions for the rebuilding of the Temple.  The community viewed it as the missing law of 1 Chronicles 28:19, the plans given to Solomon.  But the plans do not fit Solomon’s, or Zerubbabel’s, or Herod’s temples--the author had in mind a future temple.


Concluding Observations

Millar Burrows summarizes the comparison between the Essenes described by the historians and the material from the scrolls with a cautionary note:

“The current tendency to use the term ‘Essene’ in a broad way to include the Qumran sect along with others of the same general character is not seriously objectionable . . . we may consider it possible, though by no means certain, that Josephus was thinking of the Qumran community when he wrote of the ‘other order’ of Essenes, which practiced marriage.  It is thoroughly possible, even probable, that Pliny’s Essenes were the men of Qumran.  One must still, however, protest . . . the assumption that both bodies of data apply to one and the same group.”[26]

What are the difficulties in equating the Qumran community with the Essenes?  First, the name “Essene” is not used in the scrolls; second, there is a greater sectarianism at Qumran than among other Essenes who lived in towns; third, at Qumran the oath was central for admission, but elsewhere it came at different times; fourth, the group at Qumran was under a hierarchical order of priests, something not mentioned of the Essenes; fifth, the Essenes sent gifts to the Temple (but did not go to sacrifice), but Qumran repudiated the Temple; and sixth, the later works of the scrolls are more militant than some think the Essenes were.

Before we try to explain these inconsistencies we must remember that the community concealed things from outsiders; the scrolls, then, being the product of the community, should provide additional and sometimes different information.  We must also recall that Josephus and Philo were coloring things for the Greek readers. 

The similarities make it clear that this was an order of Essenes: first, the location fits the reference in Pliny; second, the description fits well--purity, asceticism, a common life, care for the sick and aged, but division over marriage and children; third, both groups have washings and lustrations; fourth, admission was by graded examination periods; fifth, both have a common meal, with Qumran giving more details; sixth, the Qumran community was in the prophetic line, interpreting mysteries and seeing visions of the end times, and the Essenes were known to interpret dreams and predict events; seventh, both groups had a hierarchical system with strict rules and rigid discipline; eighth, the Essenes believed in fate (as Josephus saw it), and predestination was strongly held at Qumran; ninth, both groups refused to sacrifice in the Temple, strictly observed the Sabbath, and loved to study the ancient books.

The Bible does not refer to the Essenes or to the community at Qumran directly.  Yet there are indications that John the Baptist might have had contact with such a group in his early years.  John was born into a priestly family in a nation that was divided over the priesthood; his father expressed great expectations with his birth.[27]  He apparently seceded from that role.  Luke 1:80 says that John was in the wilderness until the day of his manifestation.  There is no indication of when he left home; but it is reasonable to conclude from this that he spent most of his youthful years there, a belief that has led to the speculation that his parents died and the Essenes cared for him as an orphan and trained him.[28]  His parents were old at his birth, after all.

Not only did he live in the wilderness, he was an ascetic, clothed with camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey (Mark 1:6).  The Damascus Document mentions locusts as an active diet (XII, 14).  Nothing is said of honey; but many Essenes were bee-keepers and knew how to handle such liquids.  John came preaching as a voice in the wilderness (Isa. 40:3); this phrase was used in the Rule of the Congregation (VIII, 14 and IX, 19) for the purpose of the community (with a little different meaning).  And of course John’s ministry included baptism, within ten miles of Qumran. Finally, John's denunciation of the Pharisees and the Sadducees would have been perfectly acceptable to the Essenes.  The fact that Essenes are not mentioned in his rebukes in Matthew 3:17 may be significant.

But John was no Essene.  His baptism was unto repentance, but the community’s was a repeated lustration to maintain purity.  John was called to evangelistic efforts, but they were cloistered, refusing to give secrets to the wicked.  And, of course, John saw Jesus as the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  As far as we know, the people in Qumran did not--they remained a Jewish sect until the end of the Roman wars.

With Jesus there are even more differences with the Essenes: He was no ascetic, He was not a legalist, He was not bothered by oil, He did not separate Himself from the Temple, and He was not secretive about His message.  He did, of course, withdraw from the crowds and the cities for prayer.  But this is not the same as living in a community.  The differences between the Essenes and Jesus will be developed in subsequent chapters.

Down through the history of the Church there have been groups of Christians who separated themselves from the unholy cities and formed such communities, calling them by a variety of names to reflect the nature of their orders.  Their purposes and functions were not unlike those of the Essene communities; and on occasion their theology has been similarly preoccupied with the events of the end of the age.  Even today Christian communities exist; they may be part of an historical order known for monastic life, or they may be independent communes.  Living in a community that shares all things, has an ordered devotional life, and follows a rigid code of discipline does not appeal to the rank and file of Christians.  And neither should it, for such communities do not facilitate the whole mission of the Church in the world.  Moreover, such communities can easily fall under the control of individuals who abuse their power.

But there is also something of the spirit of the Essenes in many Christians who prefer that their communities, their schools, and their workplaces if possible, be thoroughly Christian and separated from the evil society.



The ruins of Qumran are on a low hill above the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea.  It is about seven miles south of Jericho, two miles north of the spring ‘Ain Feshka, and a mile from the sea itself (although the sea is drying up, and the distance will increase).  This place seems clearly to be the home of one sect of Essenes; but it is more significant to students of the Bible because of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.


History of the Discovery

After some of the scrolls were discovered in a cave in 1947, archaeologists began to look for more caves and for the community that might have copied them.  In 1949 they discovered the caves; and in 1951 they uncovered Khirbet Qumran, the site of the community.  The archaeological work revealed that this place had been first settled in the eighth century B.C. as part of the Kingdom of Judah.  It may have been among King Uzziah’s towers in the wilderness (2 Chron. 26:10).

In the Old Testament period we have no clear reference to this site.  Some scholars think it was occupied even earlier than the eighth century, and suggest that it was referred to as the “City of Salt” which is listed next to En Gedi (Josh. 15:62).

The first members of the sect of the Essenes to settle here came during the second century B.C., possibly during the time of Hyrcanus II (as mentioned above).  They abandoned the site when it was destroyed by an earthquake in 31 B.C., especially since the cisterns were ruined.  Members of the group returned and rebuilt it during the reign of Archelaus (4 B.C.--6 A.D.).  But the community came to an end with the Roman invasion (68 A.D.).   Qumran was then taken over by the Roman legions and used as a garrison (because of the spring of water and settlement) up to the end of the first century A.D.  During the Bar Kochba rebellion (132-135 A.D.) It was used as a hideout for Jewish rebels.  After that the place was abandoned and lay buried in the sand and rubble until 1947 when the bedouin discovered the scrolls in the first cave.


The Site

The excavations at Qumran supported the idea that the inhabitants followed a collective or communal way of living.  On the site there is a communal dining hall, a kitchen and laundry, a watchtower, stables, a pottery workshop, two kilns, an oven, a mill, seven cisterns or baths, and a scriptorium for the scribes (which was on the second floor; the debris had fallen through to the first floor).  Aqueducts brought water from the wadis on the west that came down the canyons in the rainy season, and directed the water to an intricate systems of pools and cisterns.

In the debris from the scriptorium there was also found the tables (15 feet long and 20 inches high) and two inkwells, one of which had dried ink in it (made of lampblack and gum).  The tables are perhaps too low to be writing tables, unless the scribes were sitting on the ground; they may have been used for preparing and sewing together the hides.  Many coins also turned up at Qumran, and these helped the dating of the place immensely.

The interesting feature here is that there were no dwelling places in Qumran at all.  It must have served as the community center; the people must have lived in the caves and canyons, or in tents and huts in the area.  And while it is hard to imagine today, the area just south of the center was farmed by the members to produce a variety of crops.  They were able to grow things because of the waters of the spring (the waters of the Dead Sea could not be used, of course [see below]).


The Scrolls

The scribes in the community made copies of the Scriptures and of their own sectarian writings; some of these were preserved in sealed pottery jars and hidden in the caves in the cliffs all around the area.

The first scrolls were discovered by bedouin who took them to Bethlehem, and then to Jerusalem to Samuel, the Metropolitan of the Syrian Monastery of St. Mark.  Samuel took the five manuscripts to the USA when the Arab revolt broke out; he sold them to an “anonymous” buyer, who turned out to be Yigael Yadin, Israeli archaeologist and army general.  Yadin paid $250,000 and took them back to Israel.  His father, E. L. Sukenik, was able to buy five more in an antiquities market.  So the scrolls became the property of the State of Israel.  The first group included a complete scroll of Isaiah, a partial Isaiah, the Habakkuk commentary, the Manual of Discipline, Thanksgiving Hymns, the Genesis Apocryphon, and Wars of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness (an account of a spiritual war).

The discovery from Cave 1 prompted a diligent search in the other caves, about 270 caves in all.  Of these, 40 yielded pottery and other items, 26 had materials from the Hellenistic and Roman periods identical to what was found in Cave 1, and eleven more had manuscripts.

Cave 2 had about 100 fragments of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, Job, Psalms and Ruth.  Cave 3 had the Copper Scroll with directions to hidden sites (none of which has been found).

Cave 4 is the cave closest to the community (and the one in most of the photographs).  It was the most interesting, providing about 40,000 fragments, 400 of which have so far been identified and classified.  About 100 fragments were biblical books, covering all the books except Esther.  One of the fragments is of Samuel and dates back to the third century B.C., one of the oldest Bible manuscripts to date.  Caves 5-10 had a wide variety of manuscripts.  Cave 11 included excellent pieces of Psalms (41 biblical and 7 non-biblical) as well as Leviticus.

Also discovered in the caves was the Temple Scroll.  It was obtained during the Six Day War in 1967.  This manuscript includes a description of how the Temple should be rebuilt in the future.

In Jerusalem at the site of the Israel Museum the Shrine of the Book was but to house the manuscripts and other items discovered in the desert around Qumran.  The architecture of the buildings was made to represent the tops of the pottery jars.


The Dead Sea

Because of the location of the Qumran community, a few words about the Dead Sea may be helpful here.  The sea lies at the end of the Jordan Valley.  Its basic measurements are 48 miles long and about ten miles wide--although the length is shrinking because water is no longer flowing into it from the Jordan.  The surface of the Dead Sea is 1292 feet below sea level; and at its deepest point is 1319 feet deep, making the Dead Sea the lowest place on earth--2600 feet below sea level!

The sea has had several names over the centuries.  In Genesis 14:3 it is called  the Salt Sea.  Joel (2:20) and Ezekiel (47:18) refer to it as the Eastern Sea.  Zechariah (14:8) calls it the Former Sea.  It is called the Sea of Arabah (Deut. 3:17).  In Arabic it is the Sea of Lot or the Dead Sea.  The Greeks and Romans called it Lake Asphatites.

As mentioned above, the water of the sea is drying up because water from the Jordan is not reaching it--it is being drained off to Israel on one side and Jordan on the other for irrigation of crops.  The southern end of the sea, below what is called the Tongue (the peninsula about two-thirds down the eastern side), was only 13-20 feet deep any way, so it dried up rather quickly.  But the level of the sea has fluctuated greatly over the centuries, even at one time filling the whole Jordan Valley to make an inland sea.

Nothing lives in the Dead Sea because of its high mineral content.  There is no outlet for the waters that have flowed into it, so the salt content is roughly 25% (compared to 3.5 % for the Mediterranean Sea).  The high iodine, sulphur, and mineral content has made the sea useful in the treatment of skin diseases.  It is rich in potassium chloride, magnesium bromide, sodium chloride, magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, and gypsum.  All of this, combined with the dry heat and the quality of the air at this level, has made the sea an appealing place for therapeutic purposes--in antiquity and even today with its many spas and resorts.  No doubt the Essenes, who were so keen on herbal and natural medicines, made use of the sea for this purpose as well.

The ancient Mesopotamians, Egyptians, and Nabataeans found bitumen or asphalt deposits that had washed up from under the sea (see the story in Genesis 14).  This is the reason for the name given by the Greeks and Romans.  Most of the soil around the sea is salty marl, and at the southern end stands Jebel Usdum (Mount Sodom), a salt mountain with many unusual shapes and projections, no doubt related to the account of Lot’s wife.  Along the western shore are several important places: Masada, En Gedi (the oasis where David found Saul in the cave), the chalcolithic temple on the hilltop over En Gedi, and of course Qumran.

The eastern side of the sea is in the Kingdom of Jordan, and so not as accessible to visitors on the Israeli side.  The heights on the Jordan side are much higher; the King’s Highway (the route the Israelites took) passes along the top of the Jordanian plateau.  Half way along the shore of the sea is a great gorge where the river Arnon flows down to the sea (mostly in rainy season).  North of that is Machaerus, one of Herod’s fortresses, and the place according to Josephus where John the Baptist was beheaded. 

Aharoni says, “The general picture of the area is therefore a heavy, dead sea, surrounded by a salty desert and gigantic heights, covered by a dusty haze and an almost unbearable heat during most of the year.  Nevertheless, wherever rivers or springs of fresh water combine with arable land, oases of inexpressible beauty are found.  On the western shore En-Gedi is the only great oasis; its beauty and fertility is celebrated in the Song of Songs (1:14).”[29]


     [1]This latter work is lost; but the passage on the Essenes from it is quoted by Eusebius of Caesarea in Praeparatio Evangelica, Book VIII, chapter 11.

     [2]Frank Moore Cross, Jr., The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Biblical Studies (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1958), p. 51.  Another view of the derivation is to relate the word to Hebrew ‘etsah, "council,"--the party of the council (Andre Dupont-Sommer, The Essene Writings of Qumran, p. 43).

     [3]This usage of the verb shows that the word was not limited to Eastern Aramaic.  See J. T. Milik, Ten Years of Discovery in the Wilderness of Judaea (London: SCM Press, 1959), p. 80, n. 1.  The original discovery was made by Cantineau and written up in Syria 14 (1933):177.

     [4]Philo, Quod omnis, XII. 75.

     [5]Philo, Apologia pro Judeis (=Hypothetica), 1.

     [6]Dupont-Sommer, p. 31.

     [7]Pliny, V.17.4; Philo, Apologia, 11; Quod omnis, 77.

     [8]Josephus, Life, 2ff.

     [9]Philo, Apologia, 10; Quod omnis, 86.

     [10]Josephus, BJ, 2.8.7 [135,142].  The use of the term for the names of angels has been seen as a connection with Iranian religious beliefs.

     [11]It is this reference that has led some to define the name of the group to mean “healers” ('asayya) similar to Egyptian groups known to Philo as Therapeutai.  See Geza Vermes, “The Etymology of  ‘Essenes’,” Revue de Qumran 2 (1959,60):427ff.

     [12]Hippolytus, The Refutation of All Heresies, 9:21.

     [13]A young bedouin throwing stones into the caves hit one of the clay pots that held them.  After two years they were acquired by the Metropolitan at St. Mark's Monastery in Jerusalem.  Eventually they were obtained by those able to study them (Milik, pp. 12,13).

     [14]Ibid., pp. 51,52.

     [15]This theology has more than a hint of dualism; for a discussion, see the literature on this aspect of Qumran.

     [16]This may still reflect an earlier bitter opposition to the political leaders holding the priestly office as well.

     [17]See Eugene Merrill, Qumran and Predestination.

     [18]Dupont-Sommer concludes that this must be the Messiah of Israel, and the Priest the Messiah of Aaron (p. 108).

     [19]F. F. Bruce, Biblical Exegesis in the Qumran Texts (London: The Tyndale Press, 1960), p. 9.

     [20]Compare the scroll of the Hymns of Thanksgiving (1QH) to see examples of this, notably I, 21; II, 13; and IV, 27-29.

     [21]Charles F. Pfeiffer, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1969), p. 68.  This is the most widely held view.

     [22]The clear reference to his founding the community is in the Damascus Document.

     [23]See J. Weingreen, “The Title Moreh Sedek,” Journal of Semitic Studies 6 (1961):162-174.

     [24]Pfeiffer, p. 71; see also a summary of the Damascus Document in Milik, pp. 56-58.

     [25]It might also refer to the actual son of David, and therefore be a figurative description of the Great Sanhedrin as traitors.  If this is so, the Teacher would have been tried before the Sanhedrin, accused by Hyrcanus II, and condemned (Dupont-Sommer, p. 261, n. 4).

     [26]Millar Burrows, More Light on the Dead Sea Scrolls (London: Secker and Warburg, 1958), p. 273.  He adds, “To some it may seem pedantic to maintain this distinction, but for the purpose of accurate historical knowledge it is essential.”

     [27]It is interesting to compare Luke 1:68-79 with the material from Qumran; while both draw heavily from the Old Testament, there is the same expectancy of a new age and the end of darkness.

     [28]Burrows, p. 57.

     [29] Land of the Bible, p. 33.