Qumran Caves

Qumran Caves

Qumran Caves

Qumran Caves

The Qumran caves are near the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, 31 km north of En Gedi and 13 km south of Jericho. En route from Jerusalem to Masada, the Qumran caves are just before the Dead Sea. There are eleven caves at Qumran, which is a dry plateau. Some of the caves were formed naturally while others were dug out by the Essenes, a Jewish sect that lived in Qumran in the second and first centuries BC.

In 1947, a Bedouin goat herder hurled a rock into one of the Qumran caves to chase out a goat that had wandered in, heard something shatter, and entered to discover the clay jars containing the Dead Sea Scrolls. The ensuing archaeological expeditions discovered ~1,000 ancient texts, about 40% of which were manuscripts of the Old Testament, including every book except Esther. No New Testament books were found, as expected, since the Dead Sea Scroll predate the New Testament era. (In the center of the photo above is the entrance to cave #4, the most famous of the eleven Qumran caves. It yielded the highest number of those ancient texts, including Old Testament scrolls.)

Until the Qumran caves discovery, some Jewish theologians, who deny Jesus is the Messiah, had been claiming that chapter 53 of the Old Testament book of Isaiah, which prophesies about how and why Jesus will die, must have been written by Jesus' disciples and somehow spliced into Isaiah in or after the first century AD.

The highlight of the Qumran caves discovery was an 8 yard long, perfectly preserved manuscript of the entire book of Isaiah. In it was the entirety of what we know today as chapter 53. This "Isaiah Scroll," which predates the birth of Jesus, ended speculation about the authenticity of Isaiah 53's prophecy about Jesus (see below).

Why did the Essenes live in the Qumran caves?

Qumran Ritual BathJudaism used to have four sects: Essenes, Zealots, Sadducees and Pharisees.

The Pharisees sought to earn eternal life by obeying a plethora of man-made rules. The Sadducees believed our existence ends at death. The Zealots wanted to end the Roman rule by armed rebellion. The Essenes, on the other hand, understood that sin separates us from God but believed that asceticism, hence living in caves, and washing with water, hence the many ritual bath pools at Qumran (right), takes away sin.

Were they right?

The Bible says the penalty for sin isn't bath but death: "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23)

Only in Jesus?

See Why Was Jesus Crucified?

Isaiah chapter 53:
Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant,
And as a root out of dry ground.
He has no form or comeliness;
And when we see Him,
There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and He was afflicted,
Yet He opened not His mouth;
He was led as a lamb to the slaughter,
And as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
He was taken from prison and from judgment,
And who will declare His generation?
For He was cut off from the land of the living;
For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
And they made His grave with the wicked—
But with the rich at His death,
Because He had done no violence,
Nor was any deceit in His mouth.
Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him;
He has put Him to grief.
When You make His soul an offering for sin,
He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days,
And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.
He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.
By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many,
For He shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He poured out His soul unto death,
And He was numbered with the transgressors,
And He bore the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.

For what happened after this prophecy was fulfilled, see Jesus' Tomb.

Travel Tip
The Isaiah Scroll, including chapter 53 above, prominently displayed among the other Dead Sea Scrolls in Jerusalem's Israel Museum is a facsimile copy of the original, which the museum has locked away. The vast majority of the exhibits in the Israel Museum are originals and can be photographed either with or without flash. The one exhibit that cannot be photographed, even without flash, is the displayed Isaiah Scroll, which is a facsimile copy, and two security guards sit next to the Isaiah Scroll to enforce the ban.