Three types of documents have been found in the caves near Qumran: copies of books of the Hebrew Bible, e.g., Isaiah, of which two almost complete scrolls have been found; copies of books now collected in the Old Testament Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, e.g., Tobit, 1 Enoch, and Jubilees; and documents composed by an ascetic community, e.g., a book of community rules called The Manual of Discipline, an allegorical account of the community called The War of the Sons of Light with the Sons of Darkness, a group of devotional poems called The Thanksgiving Psalms, a commentary on the Book of Habakkuk, and an extensive work, known as the Temple Scroll, containing ritual law.
Documents from the third group have been identified by some scholars with the Essenes, a Jewish religious sect living an ascetic communal agricultural life in the region between the 2d cent. B.C. and 2d cent. A.D. It has also been hypothesized that the Qumran scrolls are the secreted library of a community, perhaps Essene, that lived at Qumran, and thus survived the destruction of the settlement in c.A.D. 68. Startling parallels in expression and thought between the Qumran materials and the New Testament have led to speculation as to their influence on early Christianity. The Temple Scroll, for instance, revealed a list of rules of conduct resembling standard Christian ethics. Some scholars have tried to establish that Jesus and John the Baptist were influenced by, or members of, a Qumran Essene community, but such interpretations are widely disputed. More recent work by other archaeologists and biblical scholars has questioned the association of the scrolls with the Qumran ruins and the Essenes.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.