Qumran National Park is located on a dry plateau about a mile inland from the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea near kibbutz Kalia. The Hellenistic period settlement was constructed during the reign of John Hyrcanus, 134-104 BCE or somewhat later, and was occupied most of the time until it was destroyed by the Romans in 68 CE or shortly after. It is best known as the settlement nearest to the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were hidden, caves in the sheer desert cliffs and beneath, in the marl terrace.
The initial discovery, by Bedouin shepherd Muhammed Edh-Dhib, his cousin Jum’a Muhammed, and Khalil Musa, took place between November 1946 and February 1947. The shepherds discovered 7 scrolls housed in jars in a cave at what is now known as the Qumran site. John C. Trever reconstructed the story of the scrolls from several interviews with the Bedouin. Edh-Dhib’s cousin noticed the caves, but edh-Dhib himself was the first to actually fall into one. He retrieved a handful of scrolls, which Trever identifies as the Isaiah Scroll, Habakkuk Commentary, and the Community Rule, and took them back to the camp to show to his family. None of the scrolls were destroyed in this process, despite popular rumor. The Bedouin kept the scrolls hanging on a tent pole while they figured out what to do with them, periodically taking them out to show people. At some point during this time, the Community Rule was split in two. The Bedouin first took the scrolls to a dealer but this dealer returned them, saying they were worthless, after being warned that they might have been stolen from a synagogue. Undaunted, the Bedouin went to a nearby market, where a Syrian Christian offered to buy them. A sheikh joined their conversation and suggested they take the scrolls to Khalil Eskander Shahin, “Kando”, a cobbler and part-time antiques dealer. The Bedouin and the dealers returned to the site, leaving one scroll with Kando and selling three others to a dealer for GBP7 (equivalent to US$29 in 2003). The original scrolls continued to change hands after the Bedouin left them in the possession of a third party until a sale could be arranged.
In 1947 the original seven scrolls caught the attention of Dr. John C. Trever, of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) who compared the script in the scrolls to that of The Nash Papyrus, the oldest biblical manuscript then known, and found similarities between them. In March the 1948 Arab-Israeli War prompted the move of some of scrolls to Beirut, Lebanon for safekeeping. On 11 April 1948, Millar Burrows, head of the ASOR, announced the discovery of the scrolls in a general press release.
Since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947-1956, extensive excavations have taken place in Qumran. Nearly 900 scrolls were discovered. Most were written on parchment and some on papyrus. Cisterns, Jewish ritual baths, and cemeteries have been found, along with a dining or assembly room and debris from an upper story alleged by some to have been a scriptorium as well as pottery kilns and a tower.
Many scholars believe the location was home to a Jewish sect, probably the Essenes. Others propose non-sectarian interpretations, some of these starting with the notion that it was a Hasmonean fort that was later transformed into a villa for a wealthy family, or a production center, perhaps a pottery factory or something similar.
A large cemetery was discovered to the east of the site. While most of the graves contain the remains of males, some females were also discovered, though some burials may be from medieval times. Only a small portion of the graves were excavated, as excavating cemeteries is forbidden under Jewish law. Over a thousand bodies are buried at Qumran cemetery. One theory is that bodies were those of generations of sectarians, while another is that they were brought to Qumran because burial was easier there than in rockier surrounding areas.
The scrolls were found in a series of eleven caves around the settlement, some accessible only through the settlement. Some scholars have claimed that the caves were the permanent libraries of the sect, due to the presence of the remains of a shelving system. Other scholars believe that some caves also served as domestic shelters for those living in the area. Many of the texts found in the caves appear to represent widely accepted Jewish beliefs and practices, while other texts appear to speak of divergent, unique, or minority interpretations and practices. Some scholars believe that some of these texts describe the beliefs of the inhabitants of Qumran, which, may have been the Essenes, or the asylum for supporters of the traditional priestly family of the Zadokites against the Hasmonean priest/kings. A literary epistle published in the 1990s expresses reasons for creating a community, some of which resemble Sadducean arguments in the Talmud. Most of the scrolls seem to have been hidden in the caves during the turmoil of the First Jewish Revolt, though some of them may have been deposited earlier.
Spanish Jesuit José O’Callaghan Martínez has argued that one fragment (7Q5) preserves a portion of text from the New Testament Gospel of Mark 6:52–53. This theory was recently falsified in the year 2000 by paleographic analysis of the particular fragment.
In recent years, Robert Eisenman has advanced the theory that some scrolls describe the early Christian community. Eisenman also argued that the careers of James the Just and Paul the Apostle correspond to events recorded in some of these documents