Qumran National Park is on many Israel itineraries, but you may not really know what that is based on the name alone. You are more likely familiar with what it’s known for: The Dead Sea Scrolls. The first of over 1,000 well-preserved scrolls were discovered here in the 1940s. The scrolls were hand-written copies of every book of the Old Testament (with the exception of Esther) dating back well over 2,000 years. Here are a few things you know before you see the caves for yourself.
It’s in the West Bank
This isn’t really a problem, just an issue of geography. Because it’s in the West Bank, you may (or may not) be asked for your passport on your way back across the border. Just make sure you have it with you. The caves and visitor center are about 45 minutes from Jerusalem, near the Dead Sea at Kalya. Unlike other West Bank sites like Bethlehem and Jericho, you don’t need a Palestinian guide or driver to visit.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are… Not Here
It may seem odd, but you won’t find any scrolls here, unless there are some undiscovered others still hidden away. The Dead Sea Scrolls were almost perfectly preserved here, due to the dry and salty climate, but since being discovered, they have moved to a variety of museums and climate-controlled museum warehouses. You can see some of the most intact scrolls in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
The Scrolls were Found by Accident
It’s true. A couple of teenage shepherd boys from the local Ta’amira tribe were tending their goats and sheep around caves in the Qumran area. One of the boys would throw a rock into one of the caves every time he passed it, and he would hear the sound of breaking pottery, which he thought was odd.
When they went inside the cave, they found several large, clay jars. Some of them contained what we now know as the Dead Sea Scrolls. At first no one thought much of them–in fact, some of the scrolls were sold in the Wall Street Journal’s classified ads in 1954! Once people realized their significance, however, everybody and their brother started poking around the caves to see what else was there. The rest is history.
It was Once a “City of Salt” and Home to the Essenes
The site where the Qumran Caves are located was once home to a Jewish sect called the Essenes. When you visit, you’ll see the foundations of buildings, pools for bathing, and other ruined elements of an entire city. These are possibly the people who copied and hid the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the visitor center and museum onsite will give you an idea of who these people were and how they lived.
It’s the Perfect Stop on a Day Trip to the Dead Sea
Qumran is definitely a worthwhile stop on a day trip from Jerusalem, but don’t make it your only stop. On your way here, be sure to stop off at Jericho and/or Jesus’ Baptismal Site (Qasr El-Yahud). Continuing on, you could also visit Ein Gedi and go for a float in the Dead Sea.
Would you like to take a day trip to see where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered?