Introducing the Land: Caves of Qumran in Judea & Samaria Open to the Public

The Nature Reserves and Parks unit in the Civil Administration put on special tours of the Qumran caves in Judea and Samaria; these tours are an integral part of the free activities open to the public.

The Civil Administration, responsible for the Judea and Samaria region in the unit COGAT, provide a variety of tours and free activities during the year that are open to the public. One of these activities offered by administration officials are held in the area of the Qumran caves, where efforts and resources to maintain the sites are utilized due to the historical importance of the caves.

The Qumran caves were first discovered over 70 years ago by a Bedouin boy, who was out searching for his lost goat. In the caves, over 900 ancient scrolls were discovered and are known as the “Dead Sea Scrolls”. These scrolls remained buried for nearly 2,000 years, until found by chance by this boy. The scrolls are also known as the “Judean Desert Scrolls”, and belonged to the Essenes, who lived in the area during Bar Kochba era.

 

The Essenes were an ascetic Jewish group and a secret sect, which have retained their existence as a secret within its community. Belonging to the community was no easy task, since all who were interested in joining pledged to keep the sect and its leaders a secret, which makes them an accomplice in the “Only Secret”. The Essenes isolated themselves and did not publish about their community to the public. Their stories were passed through community members by word-of-mouth, and it is very likely that people not belonging to this community had little to no knowledge of their existence, during their lifetimes.

The “Dead Sea Scrolls” were discovered in the Qumran caves and were written at the start of the 3rd century BC until the 1st century BC. In some of the texts studied, descriptions were found about beliefs and practices of religious sects which may reflect the learning activities of the Essene community. The scrolls were written in several languages, mostly in Hebrew, but some in Aramaic and Greek.

 

Since the discovery of the caves, archaeological excavations were conducted in the area of settlement remains, which according to researchers, were built between 130 and 150 BC. Today, there is a park area open to visitors all throughout the year.

During Hanukkah of 2016, a variety of activities were held in the caves, which were designed to give a taste of the lifestyle that took place in this area. "We see great importance in preserving historical sites in the area. This is a way to learn the history of the area and to raise public awareness of the heritage and the importance of preserving it," said Naftali Cohen, Officer of the Nature Reserves and Parks unit in the Civil Administration.