I finally got to Qumran, the archaeological site located on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea. There is a lot of debate about who lived at Qumran. The latest theories argue that it was a pottery factory, and there are a huge number of kilns there. There are also a bunch of pools which were formerly thought to be mikves, Jewish ritual baths. Now they think that most of the pools were for water and clay for the pots.
These theories may or may not conflict with the traditional view of the place, which is that it was the home of the Essenes, who came to Qumran at the end of the second century B.C.E. They left because of an earthquake in 31 BCE, but returned and rebuilt it around 25 years later. They stayed there until 68 AD, when the Romans conquered the area.
M at Qumran
The reason the place is well known, of course, is because the caves around the site are where in 1947, Bedouin shepherds found some ancient scrolls, which we now refer to as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Archaeologists found additional scrolls between 1951 and 1956. The scrolls included included copies of the Old Testament, the Apocrypha, and the works of the Essenes. It is from these that we know so much about the Essenes, such as their focus on ritual bathing and purity. If the film at the visitor center is to be believed, among the writings are hints that members of the sect, upon hearing of the execution of John the Baptist, thought he was the same John who once lived among them.
Cave 4 at Qumran