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One of the many fascinating questions about the Dead Sea Scroll community living at Qumran is whether its members were celibate. Did they marry and have children or not?
According to the ancient Jewish historian Josephus and the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, the Essenes were indeed celibate.1 The Roman philosopher and naturalist Pliny the Elder agrees and seems to locate an Essene community at Qumran. The question, of course, is whether the Qumran community was in fact Essene.
Essenes - Group - Pharisees - Sadducees - Number
The Essenes were a Jewish religious group, like the Pharisees and the Sadducees (and a number of other smaller ones). Whether the Qumran community was Essene is a much-debated question. According to a recent comprehensive review of Dead Sea Scroll research by leading Israeli Scroll scholar Devorah Dimant, the Qumran community probably was Essene.2 “In my judgment,” she writes, “the fundamental identity has stood the test of time.” But that doesn’t tell us whether the Qumran community, even if Essene, was celibate.
Tending in the opposite direction, two major Dead Sea Scrolls, the Damascus Document and the Rule of the Congregation (1QSa I), speak of women and children. The Damascus Document spells out special rules for a community consisting of families.
History - Meaning - Dead - Sea - Scrolls
Interested in the history and meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls? In the free eBook Dead Sea Scrolls, learn what the Dead Sea Scrolls are and why are they important. Find out what they tell us about the Bible, Christianity and Judaism.
The Damascus Document discovered at Qumran. Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority, Jerusalem.
Time - Burials - Women - Children - Cemetery
For a time, the burials of women and children in the large cemetery adjacent to Qumran were thought to weigh against the argument that the Qumranites were celibate. But it turned out that these were burials of medieval-period Bedouin, so the cemetery seems to argue in the opposite direction.
In the end, the question...
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