The discovery of the ancient settlement of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls was thrilling to Christians and Jews alike. The Dead Sea Scrolls had sat undisturbed deep in the caves of the Judean Desert for millennia. From the scrolls and the more prosaic material artifacts found in the Qumran area, historians were able to patch together a clear picture of the way of life and manner of thought of the residents of Qumran. Although Qumran likely had no more than 200 inhabitants, it is hard to overestimate the importance of the ideas promulgated by these individuals.
There are a number of parallels between statements attributed to Jesus in the New Testament and chapters found in the scrolls. Paul cites passages written in Qumran in his Epistles and the author of the Gospel According to John expresses thoughts similar to those recorded in the scrolls. The concept of a uniform prayer service recited at set times during the day was an invention of the residents of Qumran that was adopted by the Sages after the destruction of the Second Temple.
The people of Qumram were apparently the Essenes, who were well known even before the discovery of the scrolls. In his description of Essenes and their radically isolationist world view, the historian Josephus Flavius felt compelled to remark that the members of the cult were of Jewish origin, lest his readers not realize this. The Essenes saw themselves as the chosen ones and believed that the Israelites should follow in their path or suffer the consequences. This approach was responsible for the Essenes` being set apart from the Jews and their departure for the desert, although there were pockets of Essenes in the cities as well, for instance in Jerusalem.
According to histories written at the time, the residents of Qumran cast off the trivialities of their world, pooled their capital, were forbidden to marry, and refrained from having sexual relations. Women did, however, live in Qumran, if we can judge by the skeletons found in graves near the site.
Despite their pessimistic outlook, it appears that members of the cult prepared themselves for Armageddon. They anticipated being at the core of a social revolution and expected that they would be the elite of the Jewish people at the end of time. They loathed the gentiles and believed that non-Jews would meet their judgment.
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