In the middle of a sand-covered desert next to the Dead Sea, two Bedouin goat herders seeking a lost goat in 1947 stumbled upon an unlikely treasure. Inside a cave that had laid quiet for centuries lay the famed dead sea scrolls written by the religious community called the Essenes. Eventually archeologists managed to uncover 800 manuscripts dating from 200 B.C. to 68 A.D.
I explored the 2,000-year-old ruins of the Essenes at Qumran where several of the caves were visible in the surrounding cliffs. The Visitors Center at the site recreates different examples of how the ruins would have appeared during the Essenes’ time, as well as a short video dramatizing the Essene culture.
“It was a closed off society,” said Yehuda Ben Baruch, certified tour guide of Israel. “New members had to prove themselves. In the scribes room, some of them would sit and write scriptures most of the day.”
Outside, markers reveal the purpose behind many of the rooms I walked through, such as the scribe room, dining hall and ritual bath. As I strolled through the extensive network of rooms, my guide explained the culture of the Essenes, who often put spiritual demands above spiritual ones.