By April 13, 2008 Read More →

Ein Feshka and Ein El-Ghweir, Lawrence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia 1994.

ein-feshkhaIt remains for us to discuss two other locations that may have been satellite settlements of the main Qumran community. From the documents of the sect, especially the Zadokite Fragments, we learn that other such communities existed. In fact, it is generally assumed that sectarians in small numbers were scattered throughout the Land of Israel. As far as we know, there were two such satellites in the immediate vicinity of Qumran.

The first, Ein Feshka, 2 miles (3 kilometers) south of Qumran, is today the location of a swimming beach on the shore of the Dead Sea. Visitors pass the ruins on their way into the parking lot. Just as Qumran was apparently chosen because the nearby wadi provided a plentiful water supply once its runoff was harnessed, so Ein Feshka (literally, “spring of Feshka”) was chosen because of its natural freshwater supply. The ruins of Ein Feshka consist primarily of a large building with an enclosure and shed on its south and a courtyard equipped with basins on the north.

The main building is a rectangle of 79 by 59 feet (24 by 18 meters). Its two entrances, leading to different parts of the complex, may have been segregated for human use and for animals kept in the courtyard. In the corners of the courtyard were smaller buildings—one apparently a storeroom and the other containing some waterworks for draining the courtyard. Two main rooms with fine doorways were found- one had a paved floor and two recessed cupboards, and the other had a partial flagstone floor and one such cupboard. Another storeroom and two paved rooms were also excavated. A stairway led to an upper story with a terrace or veranda. Archaeological evidence has definitely established that there was a second floor.

The most logical conclusion regarding the complex as a whole is that it contained living quarters and storerooms. The building as we know it reflects its latest stage, built upon a previous stage that had been abandoned earlier. This rebuilt structure, dating from period II, came to an end by fire. After this destruction, the building was apparently partly reoccupied.

The chronology of the building seems to match that of the Qumran complex. Period II of Ein Feshka coincides with period II of Qumran. The small pottery of the two occupations corresponds, although none of the large jars found at Qumran was found at Ein Feshka. Numismatic evidence confirms the dating. One interesting object is an almost complete limestone vase typical of Herodian-period Qumran and of Jerusalem, 2.25 feet (.7 meter) high, which had a two-line inscription beginning- “in the first year.” Unfortunately, we cannot restore or decipher the second line.

Less can be said about the dating of the earlier occupation, during period I. Only some pottery and a few coins have been found. The coins allow us to conclude that period I of Ein Feshka corresponds to period Ib of Qumran, dating to the Hasmonaean period.

Period III apparently dates from between the two Jewish revolts against Rome and, as was the case at Qumran itself, constitutes only a partial reuse of the complex. As opposed to Qumran, it does not appear that Roman troops were garrisoned at Ein Feshka immediately after the area was conquered in 68 C.E.

The conclusion of the excavators is fairly definite- These two sites—Qumran and Ein Feshka—are somehow related and were both occupied by similar inhabitants. Although Ein Feshka was not in use during the earlier stage of Qumran—period Ia—it was occupied during Qumran’s periods Ib and II.

The disagreement over the end of period Ib at Qumran has spilled over to Ein Feshka. If Qumran was in fact destroyed by an earthquake, then we have to assume that for some reason Ein Feshka escaped a similar fate, for there is no evidence there of destruction by earthquake. If, instead, the Qumran site was destroyed by enemies and abandoned, then we can understand the break between periods I and II at Ein Feshka. Perhaps publication of the complete excavation report will shed light on this question.

To the southwest of the building stands an enclosure about 48 square yards (40 square meters), which in period II was equipped with a small shed, perhaps for drying dates or storing reeds. In this desert region, the only large-scale cultivation possible is that of the date palm. Date culture is mentioned extensively in connection with Ein Gedi and is documented in texts from the Bar Kokhba caves. Though palm wood and leaves were used for building roofs at Qumran and though date stones were found there as well, there is no way conclusively to determine how the shed was used. The enclosure was most probably intended for livestock.

A second enclosure was built in period II at the northwestern corner of the building, measuring 75.5 by 131 feet (23 by 40 meters). In the eastern half is a series of plastered basins and small channels served by a water supply system. A sewage system to draw away wastewater was also built there. It is probable that this area was used for the processing of hides. Although no residue from the chemicals necessary for processing hides has been found in these installations at Ein Feshka, such chemicals were not used in the preparation of skins for writing scrolls. It has been suggested that the basins found there were used for rearing fish, but these installations are much too small for any significant fish farming. Whatever the case, the place was obviously some form of industrial facility. Preparing hides remains the most likely explanation. This installation was not reused in period III.

Why is this site important? Because this nearby settlement was occupied during the main periods that the sectarian community occupied Qumran, we can learn more about the activities of the sect. It seems likely that the people living in the area were engaged in raising livestock and had considerable stores. The area may have housed the sect’s tannery, where skins used for some of the scrolls were prepared. It would make sense for the sect to locate its industrial processes at a distance, especially since such processes required a fresh water supply and also because the tanning process generated noxious odors. In any case, it seems that this outpost was part of the Qumran community. It must have been one of the “camps” mentioned in the Zadokite Fragments.

Another site in the area, Ein el-Ghweir, is also probably relevant. As its name indicates, it is located on a spring, 9 miles (15 kilometers) south of Qumran. A rectangular building has been excavated there, measuring 64 by 141 feet (19.5 by 43 meters). It was occupied in two strata, which are separated by a layer of burnt material. The coins that have been recovered indicate that this site was in use during period II of the other two locations.

About half a mile (.8 kilometer) north of this building was a small cemetery. About twenty graves have been excavated there, containing twelve men, seven women, and a boy. Burial was in the same form as at Qumran. The pottery in the fill proves that the graves were contemporaneous with the building. One grave contained a jar inscribed with the name Yehohanan.

Although it is possible that this building and cemetery were also connected with the Qumran group, numismatic evidence suggests that occupation of this site may have begun later and ended earlier than at the Qumran site. Because Ein el-Ghweir is some distance from Qumran, we must be cautious in regarding this as an offshoot of the Qumran settlement. As is the case also with Ein Feshka, no scroll or document has been found in this area. Nevertheless, Jews definitely inhabited this area in the Second Temple period, and it is possible that their settlement could have been connected with Qumran.

It is helpful to say something here about the livability of Qumran and the surrounding region. Visiting the site today, one finds a most inhospitable area, hostile to human habitation. How then did the ancient community survive?

First of all, the inhabitants certainly had a sophisticated knowledge of irrigation techniques. They were adept at catching and retaining an adequate water supply during the rainy season; for that purpose they used large underground cisterns, which survive to this day. In addition, the area has always supported sheep and goat herding, and in the oasis of Ein Feshka, palms could easily have been grown with minimum irrigation facilities. Barley does grow on the hill above Qumran, and grindstones have been found in the ruins there. The reeds growing naturally in the region could have been made into baskets and mats and been used for thatching of roofs as well. Salt and bitumen could be mined from the Dead Sea. Asphalt has also been found in the excavations of Qumran and at Ein Feshka. Apparently, other industries connected with agriculture or shepherding were practiced at Ein Feshka. Pottery was also a successful venture, as evidenced by the kilns and potter’s workshops found at Qumran. Brushwood for fuel, especially for baking, could be gathered in the area. We know that the area also was occupied in Israelite and Byzantine times, and the economic basis must have been similar in all these periods.

What emerges from this survey of the archaeology of Qumran is a picture of a sophisticated and resourceful community. Those who hid the scrolls in the caves occupied the building complex at Qumran from sometime after 152 B.C.E. until Qumran was destroyed by the Romans. They amassed the bulk of their manuscripts in cave 4, which served as the group’s library that adjoined the settlement, affording them easy access to their manuscripts. Apparently, the sect also made use of Ein Feshka for herding and for industrial purposes, and it may also have maintained other “camps” in the desert area. There the sectarians developed an economy that sustained their particular way of life. To understand that way of life and how it emerged, we must first more fully understand certain aspects of Jewish history and Judaism in the Hellenistic period.

Pages 57-61

Posted in: Excavation

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