Around 2000 years ago, Jerusalem was a city of Jewish people. Much is known about this period, and much more is unknown. Before this time we have certain accounts, and some are considered fairy tales, while others are much more factual, corroborated, and to me, interesting. The scrolls discovered near the Dead Sea, at a place called Qumran date from just before the year 0. Experts attest 150 to around 75 BCE. For more information, visit the wikipedia page and click to your heart's content. If you are interested in history, religion, the Middle East, this gem has it all.
Qumran is an incredibly intersting site. It is an enclave of scholars. Dedicated religious men who gathered there for potlitical reasons in order to be away from The Temple. The 2nd temple to be specific. This is the time of Herod, the time of the High Priests of The Temple, and an increase in political aspects of Jewish life. Back then, if you wanted to pray you had to go to The Temple and generally sacrifice a perfectly good animal. Or two, or three, or many many more.
These people at Qumran were known as the Essenes, and they felt that the dogma was getting out of hand. There is a letter preserved form this collection that specifically states this political position! it is amazing. Anyhow, I could go on and on because the tour my Mom and Rick, Rayna and I and the rest of her class went on was guided by her professor. Rabbi David Levine is an expert on this subject and teaches the Biblical and Late Antiquities history courses at Hebrew Union College. AMAZING! What an fantastic experience. it was electrifying and so educational.
So here we all are, on the tour and David took us through each area explaining not just what we were seeing (mikvas - ritual baths, cisterns and aquaducts, group eating areas and kitchens, and other architectural features) but how they are important to this site, and how they inform us about what was happening here and how this site was used. On top of all that David elucidated why this is all so important, and what it teaches us about Judaism then and now.
Feeling pretty cool after my "knock offs" joke. Some sunglasses in the bottom of a deep cistern below.
Look at my girlfriend! She's lovely!
Rabbi David Levine explaining the mikva. A mikva is a ritual bath. Below him is a pool with steps leading in to the very bottom. Because of the steps we can tell this is not a water storage cistern, because the steps take up 1/2 the volume. Also the two separate steps would separate the clean people from those entering the bath. This facility housed around 120 Men. It seems the major use was scriptural. The two most important rooms were the group dining hall and the scriptorium where parchment was produced and the writing was performed.
I'm pointing at Cave 4 where the many scrolls were discovered in their sealed clay jars. Apparently when the Romans decided to sack Jerusalem they stopped here and many of the scrolls were secreted away into these caves. Now these caves weren't just good hiding places, they were also the residential quarters of the men at Qumran. However this cave looks pretty hard to get to, but who knows what the topography was like then.
After the tour and a nice outdoor lunch we brought, David led us up the sloping desert to the cliffs.
It is a stark, dry, and sharp landscape. The stone crumbles easily into shards that can be quite painful to the hastily placed hand. We all helped each other around dangerous terrain. This wadi (river bed) becomes deluged with flash floods a few times a year. The Essenes knew this and built an aqueduct. Just above the complex in the flats is a fantastic wadi with three high waterfalls. This time of year they are all dry, but during the rain they flood. With this knowledge the inhabitants built aquaducts to bring the flashes of water into the complex and the deep cisterns and baths below.
At the top of our ascent we came to the flat area between falls 1 and 2 where the aqueduct terminates. Some of us decided to scramble up and crawl through the man made tunnel aqueduct and onto some amazing bouldering terrain.
You never know what you'll find in these caves.
Rayna and everyone was feeling the effects of the sun in this hot below sea level desert. But still smiling!
David explains more about the aqueduct features and feats of engineering.
I love jumping off things.
A short dusty hike back to the complex at the end of the day. Serously people, read that wiki page and discover this time capsule from just before the year zero. It is incredible to see and be in buildings and caves occupied by these wonderful historians.
Thanks for reading!