What are the Dead Sea Scrolls? Who were the Qumran Community? Who were the Essenes?


The Dead Sea Scrolls are hundreds of manuscripts found in about a half dozen caves in the desert hills to the west of the Dead Sea.  Some are entire documents, and others are mere fragments.  Most were on vellum, but other materials were used, including one that was actually on copper. Scholars believe that these scrolls were deposited in the caves during the Jewish rebellion that started in AD 67, which led to the eventual defeat of the Jews and the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.  The manuscripts are a mixture of biblical texts and non-canonical writings from an offshoot ascetic Jewish group.  They are as old as 200 or even 250 BC, but they also include manuscripts from the first few decades of the first century AD.
It is difficult to prove who put the scrolls in the caves, but there is a consensus that most or all of them were hidden in the caves by the Jewish community at Qumran.  This community was located just a few miles from the Dead Sea, at the foot of the mountains where the scrolls were hidden.  Archaeologists have discovered scriptoriums (buildings dedicated to the copying of manuscripts) and many writing implements. Apparently, the community at Qumran was devoted to copying both canonical and non-canonical texts.
There is also consensus (but less than unanimous) that the community at Qumran that created these scrolls were the same as the Essenes, as described by Josephus.  This group completely rejected the priesthood in Jerusalem and the leadership of the Sadducees.  They created their own community of Jews who had their own unique messianic expectation and even their own unique writings, such as the War Scroll. They were devoted to ascetic practices, to multiple washings in their mikvahs and other relatively extreme practices.  I believe that it is reasonable to conclude that the community at Qumran were indeed the Essenes, and that the Essenes were responsible for creating the Dead Sea Scrolls.  If so, both Jews and Christians have much to thank the Essenes for, as their work gives great credence to the reliability of the Hebrew Bible.
I hope this helps.
John Oakes

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