The Essenes, a strict ancient Jewish sect devoted to religious purity and linked to the Dead Sea Scrolls, are one of the most interesting and mysterious religious elements in Judaea around the time of Jesus. Recent articles and news stories have questioned long-established scholarship about the Essenes and their relationship to the scrolls, arguing in particular that the inhabitants of the ancient settlement of Qumran, located in the Dead Sea area where the scrolls were found, had no relationship to the religious sect.
Now, new scientific findings from the settlement connect Qumran to details in the scrolls, and give direct evidence of Essene culture at the site. The discovery may also provide a window into dynamic relationships between the sect's rigorous religious practices and the community's health.
A forthcoming report presenting new bioarchaeological evidence from Qumran reconfirms the "Essene hypothesis" by showing the presence of unusual and extreme toiletry and hygiene practices in the ancient community. The evidence points to the Qumran inhabitants' detailed obedience to unique, rigorously demanding precepts that are specified in Dead Sea Scrolls texts and also documented in a Roman-era descriptions of the Essenes.
In an article forthcoming in the next issue (winter 2006/2007) of Revue de Qumran, an international research team reports the results of an investigation of a suspected remote latrine site. Located by following clues in the ancient sources that specify the remote placement of latrines, the team positively identified the site as a latrine area through analysis of sub-surface soil samples.
University of North Carolina at Charlotte biblical scholar James Tabor suggested the investigation at a site outside the ruins of Qumran, noting instructions in two of the Dead Sea Scrolls (the "War Scroll" and the "Temple Scroll") specifically requiring latrines to be located at a significant distance "north-west of
Contact: James Hathaway
University of North Carolina at Charlotte