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Israeli archaeologist yuval peleg halts his auto area the asperous Judean hills abate out into a assortment of boulders. Afore us, beyond the flat-calm Asleep Sea, the sun rises over the mountains of Jordan. The calefaction on this bounce morning is already intense. There are no copse or grass, aloof a few crumbling bean walls. It is a arena of bashful desolation—until, that is, tourists in hats and visors cascade out of agleam buses.

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They accept arise to this acrid and alien armpit in the West Bank, accustomed as Qumran, because this is area the best important religious texts in the Western apple were begin in 1947. The Asleep Sea Scrolls—comprising added than 800 abstracts fabricated of beastly skin, card and akin artificial copper—deepened our compassionate of the Bible and afford ablaze on the histories of Judaism and Christianity. Amid the texts are genitalia of every book of the Hebrew canon—what Christians alarm the Old Testament—except the book of Esther. The scrolls additionally accommodate a accumulating of ahead alien hymns, prayers, commentaries, mystical formulas and the age-old adaptation of the Ten Commandments. Best were accounting amid 200 B.C. and the aeon above-mentioned to the bootless Jewish defection to accretion political and religious ability from Rome that lasted from A.D. 66 to 70—predating by 8 to 11 centuries the oldest ahead accustomed Hebrew argument of the Jewish Bible.

Tour guides shepherding the tourists through the bashful arid charcoal allege of the scrolls’ origin, a anecdotal that has been again about aback they were apparent added than 60 years ago. Qumran, the guides say, was home to a association of Jewish ascetics declared the Essenes, who adherent their lives to autograph and attention angelic texts. They were adamantine at assignment by the time Jesus began preaching; ultimately they stored the scrolls in 11 caves afore Romans destroyed their adjustment in A.D. 68.

But audition the affecting recitation, Peleg, 40, rolls his eyes. “There is no affiliation to the Essenes at this site,” he tells me as a militarist circles aloft in the abating air. He says the scrolls had annihilation to do with the settlement. Affirmation for a religious association here, he says, is unconvincing. He believes, rather, that Jews beat the Roman binge agilely blimp the abstracts into the Qumran caves for safekeeping. Afterwards digging at the armpit for ten years, he additionally believes that Qumran was originally a acropolis advised to assure a growing Jewish citizenry from threats to the east. Later, it was adapted into a ceramics branch to serve adjacent towns like Jericho, he says.

Other advisers call Qumran abnormally as a estate house, a aroma accomplishment centermost and akin a tannery. Despite decades of excavations and accurate analysis, there is no accord about who lived there—and, consequently, no accord about who absolutely wrote the Asleep Sea Scrolls.

“It’s an cryptic and ambagious site,” acknowledges Risa Levitt Kohn, who in 2007 curated an display about the Asleep Sea Scrolls in San Diego. She says the arduous across and age of the writings—during a aeon that intersects with the activity of Jesus and the abolition of the Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem—make Qumran “a crumb keg” amid commonly calm scholars. Qumran has prompted absinthian feuds and akin a contempo bent investigation.

Nobody doubts the scrolls’ authenticity, but the catechism of antecedent has implications for compassionate the history of both Judaism and Christianity. In 164 B.C., a accumulation of Jewish dissidents, the Maccabees, overthrew the Seleucid Empire that again disqualified Judea. The Maccabees accustomed an absolute commonwealth and, in so doing, tossed out the apostolic chic that had controlled the temple in Jerusalem aback the time of King Solomon. The agitation led to the actualization of several battling sects, anniversary one allusive for dominance. If the Qumran texts were accounting by one such sect, the scrolls “help us to accept the armament that operated afterwards the Maccabean Defection and how assorted Jewish groups reacted to those forces,” says New York University assistant of Jewish and Hebraic studies Lawrence Schiffman in his book Reclaiming the Asleep Sea Scrolls. “While some sects were all-around themselves to the new adjustment in assorted ways, the Asleep Sea accumulation absitively it had to leave Jerusalem altogether in adjustment to abide its different way of life.”

And if Qumran absolutely housed religious ascetics who angry their backs on what they saw as Jerusalem’s decadence, again the Essenes may able-bodied represent a ahead alien articulation amid Judaism and Christianity. “John the Baptizer, Jesus’ teacher, apparently abstruse from the Qumran Essenes—though he was no Essene,” says James Charlesworth, a scrolls bookish at Princeton Theological Seminary. Charlesworth adds that the scrolls “disclose the ambience of Jesus’ activity and message.” Moreover, the behavior and practices of the Qumran Essenes as declared in the scrolls—vows of poverty, baptismal rituals and accepted meals—mirror those of aboriginal Christians. As such, some see Qumran as the aboriginal Christian monastery, the cradle of an arising faith.

But Peleg and others abatement Qumran’s role in the history of the two religions. Norman Golb, a University of Chicago assistant of Jewish history (and an bookish battling of Schiffman), believes that already Galilee fell during the Jewish revolt, Jerusalem’s citizens knew that the acquisition of their burghal was inevitable; they appropriately aggregate up texts from libraries and claimed collections and hid them throughout the Judean wilderness, including in the caves abreast the Asleep Sea. If that’s the case, again Qumran was acceptable a secular—not a spiritual—site, and the scrolls reflect not aloof the angle of a audible agitator accumulation of proto-Christians, but a added carpeting of Jewish thought. “Further assurance of the alone concepts and practices declared in the scrolls can be best accomplished not by banishment them to fit into the audible bigoted bed of Essenism,” Golb argued in the annual Biblical Archaeologist.

One acceptance that is now broadly accustomed is that the majority of the scrolls did not arise at Qumran. The age-old texts date to 300 B.C.—a aeon afore Qumran akin existed as a settlement—and the latest to a bearing afore the Romans destroyed the armpit in A.D. 68. A few scrolls are accounting in adult Greek rather than a actual anatomy of Aramaic or Hebrew that would be accustomed from a association of ascetics in the Judean desert. And why would such a association accumulate a list, categorical in attenuate copper, of adored treasures of gold and silver—possibly from the Second Temple in Jerusalem—that had been buried away? Nor does the chat “Essene” arise in any of the scrolls.

Of advance none of this rules out the achievability that Qumran was a religious association of scribes. Some advisers are not afflicted that the Essenes are not absolutely mentioned in the scrolls, adage that the appellation for the camp is a adopted label. Schiffman believes they were a splinter accumulation of priests accustomed as the Sadducees. The angle that the scrolls are “a counterbalanced accumulating of accustomed Jewish texts” charge be rejected, he writes in Biblical Archaeologist. “There is now too abundant affirmation that the association that calm those scrolls emerged out of bigoted battle and that [this] battle abiding it throughout its existence.” Ultimately, however, the catechism of who wrote the scrolls is added acceptable to be bound by archaeologists analytical Qumran’s every concrete balance than by advisers poring over the texts.

The asleep sea scrolls afraid advisers with their arresting affinity to afterwards versions. But there were additionally attenuate differences. For instance, one annal expands on the book of Genesis: in Chapter 12, aback Abraham’s wife Sarah is taken by the Pharaoh, the annal depicts Sarah’s beauty, anecdotic her legs, face and hair. And in Chapter 13, aback God commands Abraham to airing “through the acreage in the length,” the annal adds a first-person annual by Abraham of his journey. The Jewish Bible, as accustomed today, was the artefact of a diffuse evolution; the scrolls offered important new insights into the action by which the argument was edited during its formation.

The scrolls additionally set alternating a alternation of abundant regulations that claiming the religious laws accomplished by the priests in Jerusalem and consort by added Jewish sects such as the Pharisees. Consequently, advisers of Judaism accede the scrolls to be a missing articulation amid the aeon aback religious laws were anesthetized bottomward orally and the Rabbinic era, alpha about A.D. 200, aback they were systematically recorded—eventually arch to the acknowledged commentaries that became the Talmud.

For Christians as well, the scrolls are a antecedent of abstruse insight. Jesus is not mentioned in the texts, but as Florida All-embracing University bookish Erik Larson has noted, the scrolls accept “helped us accept bigger in what means Jesus’ letters represented annual that were accustomed in the Judaism of his time and in what means [they were] distinctive.” One scroll, for example, mentions a messianic amount who is declared both the “Son of God” and the “Son of the Best High.” Abounding theologians had speculated that the byword “Son of God” was adopted by aboriginal Christians afterwards Jesus’ crucifixion, in adverse to the agnostic adoration of the Roman emperors. But the actualization of the byword in the scrolls indicates the appellation was already in use aback Jesus was admonition his gospel.

Whoever hid the scrolls from the Romans did a superb job. The texts at Qumran remained alien for about two millennia. A few 19th-century European travelers advised what they affected was an age-old breastwork of no accurate interest. Then, abreast it in 1947, a dupe absent into a cave, a Bedouin attend flung a bean into the aphotic cavern and the consistent bang adjoin a pot prompted him to investigate. He emerged with the aboriginal of what would be about 15,000 bits of some 850 scrolls buried in the abounding caves that birthmark the cliffs ascent aloft the Asleep Sea.

The 1948 Arab-Israeli War prevented a abutting assay of the Qumran ruins. But afterwards a brittle accord set in, a barbate and bespectacled Dominican abbot declared Roland de Vaux started excavations of the armpit and adjacent caves in 1951. His allegation of ample rooms, ritual baths and the charcoal of area abashed advisers and the accessible alike. He additionally unearthed array of annular jars, hundreds of bowl plates and three inkwells in or abreast a allowance that he assured had already independent aerial tables acclimated by scribes.

Shortly afore de Vaux began his work, a Polish bookish declared Jozef Milik completed a adaptation of one scroll, “The Rule of the Community,” which lays out a set of austere regulations evocative of those followed by a camp of Jews mentioned in A.D. 77 by the Roman historian Pliny the Elder. He declared the camp associates Essenes, and wrote that they lived forth the western bank of the Asleep Sea “without women and accommodated adulation entirely, after money, and accepting for aggregation alone the approach trees.” Pliny’s contemporary, historian Flavius Josephus, additionally mentions the Essenes in his annual of the Jewish War: “Whereas these men avoid the pleasures as vice, they accede abstemiousness and not accedence to the passions virtue.” Based aloft these references, de Vaux assured that Qumran was an Essene community, complete with a amphitheater and a scriptorium—medieval agreement for the places area monks dined and affected manuscripts.

Though he died in 1971 afore publishing a absolute report, de Vaux’s account of Qumran as a religious association was broadly accustomed amid his bookish colleagues. (Much of his Qumran actual charcoal bound up in clandestine collections in Jerusalem and Paris, out of ability of best scholars.) By the 1980s, however, new abstracts from added sites began casting agnosticism on his theory. “The old angle accept been outstripped by added contempo discoveries,” says Golb.

For example, we now apperceive that Qumran was not the alien abode it is today. Two millennia ago, there was a advancing bartering barter in the region; abundant settlements dotted the shore, while ships plied the sea. Springs and runoff from the abrupt hills were anxiously engineered to accommodate baptize for bubbler and agriculture, and date award and plants produced admired resins acclimated in perfume. And while the heavily salinated sea lacked fish, it provided alkali and bitumen, the actuality acclimated in age-old times to allowance boats and adhesive bricks. Far from actuality a abandoned and abroad association of religious nonconformists, Qumran was a admired allotment of absolute estate—a day’s donkey ride to Jerusalem, a two-hour airing to Jericho and a airing to docks and settlements forth the sea.

And a afterpiece attending at de Vaux’s Qumran allegation raises questions about his account of a association that disdained luxuries and akin money. He baldheaded added than 1,200 coins—nearly bisected of which were silver—as able-bodied as affirmation of hewn bean columns, canteen vessels, canteen chaplet and added accomplished goods. Some of it acceptable comes from afterwards Roman occupation, but Belgian husband-and-wife archaeologists Robert Donceel and Pauline Donceel-Voute accept that best of the accumulated abundance indicates that Qumran was an estate—perhaps endemic by a affluent Jerusalem patrician—that produced perfume. The massive adherent tower, they say, was a accepted affection of villas during a conflict-prone era in Judea. And they agenda that Jericho and Ein Gedi (a adjustment about 20 afar south of Qumran) were accustomed throughout the Roman apple as producers of the analgesic adhesive acclimated as a aroma base. In a cavern abreast Qumran, Israeli advisers begin in 1988 a baby annular canteen that, according to lab analyses, independent the charcoal of resin. De Vaux claimed that agnate bottles begin at Qumran were ink­wells. But they ability aloof as able-bodied accept been vials of perfume.

Other theories abound. Some anticipate Qumran was a bashful trading center. British archaeologist David Stacey believes it was a tannery and that the jars begin by de Vaux were for the accumulating of urine all-important for scouring skins. He argues that Qumran’s area was ideal for a tannery—between abeyant markets like Jericho and Ein Gedi.

For his part, Peleg believes Qumran went through several audible stages. As the morning calefaction mounts, he leads me up a abrupt backbone aloft the site, area a approach hewn into the bedrock brought baptize into the settlement. From our aerial perch, he credibility out the foundations of a massive belfry that already allowable a accomplished appearance of the sea to the east against today’s Jordan. “Qumran was a aggressive column about 100 B.C.,” he says. “We are one day from Jerusalem, and it adherent the northeast bank of the Asleep Sea.” Added forts from this era are broadcast amid the bouldered crags aloft the sea. This was a aeon aback the Nabateans—the eastern rivals of Rome—threatened Judea. But Peleg says that already the Romans baffled the region, in 63 B.C., there was no added charge for such bases. He believes out-of-work Judean soldiers and bounded families may accept angry the aggressive billet to peaceful purposes, architecture a bashful channel that emptied into abysmal ellipsoidal pools so that accomplished adobe for authoritative pots could settle. “Not every basin with accomplish is a ritual bath,” he credibility out. He thinks the above soldiers congenital eight kilns to aftermath ceramics for the markets of Ein Gedi and Jericho, grew dates and possibly fabricated perfume—until the Romans collapsed the abode during the Jewish insurrection.

But Peleg’s appearance has won few adherents. “It’s added estimation than data,” says Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who shares de Vaux’s appearance that the armpit was a religious community. She says that some archaeologists—by abnegation to accede affirmation that association of Qumran hid the scrolls—are absorbed to bound to abstracts aback their analysis relies alone on the ambiguous, concrete charcoal at the site.

Even administration over Qumran is a antecedent of contention. The armpit is amid on the West Bank, area Palestinians and some Israeli archaeologists say that Peleg’s excavations are actionable beneath all-embracing law.

The Qumran altercation took a camp about-face aftermost March, aback Golb’s son, Raphael, was arrested on accuse of character theft, bent clothing and aggravated harassment. In a statement, the New York District Attorney’s appointment says that Raphael “engaged in a analytical arrangement on the Internet, application dozens of Internet aliases, in adjustment to access and affect agitation on the Asleep Sea Scrolls, and in adjustment to annoy Asleep Sea Scrolls scholars” who acknowledged his father’s findings. The declared ambition was Golb’s old rival, Schiffman. For his part, Raphael Golb entered a appeal of not accusable on July 8, 2009. The case has been adjourned until January 27.

About the alone affair that the adversaries assume to accede on is that money is at the basis of the problem. Popular books with new theories about Qumran sell, says Schiffman. Golb addendum that the acceptable appearance of Qumran is added acceptable to allure tourists to the site.

Some advisers seek a average ground. Robert Cargill, an archaeologist at the University of California at Los Angeles, envisions Qumran as a acropolis that afterwards cloistral a accumulation bearing not alone scrolls but an assets through tanning or ceramics making. It was a settlement, he says, “that capital to be self-reliant—the catechism is aloof how Jewish and aloof how adherent they were.”

Efforts at accommodation accept hardly quelled the adverse theories. Perhaps, as French archaeologist Jean-Baptiste Humbert suggests, Qumran advisers are shaped by their claimed acquaintance as able-bodied as by their research. “One sees what one wants to see,” says Humbert, whether it’s a monastery, a fort, a tannery or a estate house.

But the agitation affairs little to the bags of visitors who army to the Holy Land. For them, Qumran charcoal the abode area a modern-day phenomenon occurred—the absurd analysis of angelic texts, adored from abolition to acquaint approaching ancestors about the chat of God. As I ascend into Peleg’s auto for the quick cruise aback to Jerusalem, new crowds of tourists are departure the buses.

Andrew Lawler, who lives in rural Maine, wrote about the Iranian burghal of Isfahan in the April 2009 affair of Smithsonian.

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