Studium Theologicum Salesianum
Salesian Pontifical University : Faculty of Theology - Jerusalem Campus

Archaeological Excursion to En Gedi
and Qumran National Park


9 February 2017, STS-Jerusalem

On 9th of February 2017, the students of STS had an archaeological excursion to En Gedi and Qumran National Park. The history of the sites was inspiring and aroused the curiosity of the students of STS to acquire more knowledge about them in connection to Biblical History and Archaeology.  

The En Gedi (from the Hebrew meaning: Spring of the wild goat) is located on the eastern edge of the Judean desert. It was inhabited starting from the Chalcolithic period (approximately 5,000 years ago) to the Mameluke Period. During this time, the use of copper became more prominent in the Land and consequently the temple was erected above En Gedi for religious veneration. Four hundred and twenty nine copper and ivory ceremonial vessels were discovered during the excavation. There are four major springs which makes the site unique in the desert. Different kinds of mammals (Ibex, Rock Hyrax, and Hyena), birds (fan-tailed raven, the Arabian babblers, the sand partridge) and a variety of tropical plants (Christ-thorn jujube, the Jericho balsam) bring a splash of colour to the reserved site.

En Gedi was known in the Biblical period as a fertile and prosperous land. According to Biblical sources, King David reached En Gedi and hid there after fleeing from King Saul (1 Samuel 23 29). Prophet Ezekiel in his vision speaks about a unique temple in Jerusalem and En Gedi (Ezekiel 40). Furthermore, Joshua, during the division of the land gave En Gedi to the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15). The ancient En Gedi is located on Tell Goren on the north bank of Nahal Arugot. The Kings of Judah encouraged the settlement in the desert. Consequently, a small village was established in the 7th Century, during the Judean Kingdom. The development of the Jewish settlement in En Gedi began in the Hasmonean period and continued until the decline of the Byzantine period (550 CE). The area flourished and grew through the development of agriculture on the mountain slopes.   

The discovery of the Chalcolithic Temple of En Gedi (3500 BC) proves the religiosity of the people in antiquity. It was discovered by Yohanan Aharoni in 1956 during an archaeological survey of En Gedi.  However, Yohanan could not name the discovery; Yosef Naveh carried out the excavation and found some animal bones and ashes. He recognized this site as the public place or shrine dating back to the Chalcolithic period. After some years, this temple was abandoned by the people. Some of the equipment belonging to the temple was found in the surrounding cave. The location of the temple around two springs indicates the people’s devotion towards nature. The remains of the ancient synagogue indicate the Jewish settlement in ancient En Gedi. The synagogue’s floor is decorated with animals, inscription and Mosaic.

The remains of the ancient settlement of the Qumran are located on the north-western shore of the Dead Sea. During the 8th century B.C.E, the land was occupied by the separated sect of the Jewish population, known as the Essenes. They lived and studied here for two centuries (the end of the Hashmonean period to the revolt of the Jews against the Romans) and left some written scrolls in the surrounding caves which contain some books of the Jewish scripture and instructions pertaining to Jewish tradition.

The Dead Sea scrolls were discovered in 1947. Moreover, these oldest copies unveil some of the religious customs of the community in the second temple period. Interestingly, many biblical scholars assume that John Baptist was part of this Jewish community. The Essenes arrived at Qumran towards the end of the second century but were dispersed by the Romans during the great Jewish revolt.

The two Bedouins shepherds, Jum’a and Muhammed ed-Dib belonged to the Ta'amireh tribe.  In their search for a stray goat, they discovered the first cave and the well preserved collection of large clay jars containing the old scrolls. They sold them to an antiquities dealer at Kando.  To satisfy his curiosity the dealer sent them back to the caves in search of other scrolls. To his surprise, they brought back seven scrolls and sold four to him and the other three to another antiquities dealer. The first dealer then resold the four scrolls to Archbishop Samuel, head of the Syrian Orthodox Monastery of St. Mark in Jerusalem. The bishop took the scrolls to USA for further research and investigation. Due to regional tension in 1949, the bishop placed those scrolls at the Syrian church in New Jersey. In 1954, in a wall advertisement, Bishop Samuel offered the scrolls for sale. Yigael Yadin, son of Professor Sukenik bought the scrolls and placed them in the Museum in Jerusalem. Between 1947 and 1956, eleven Qumran Caves were discovered. Some of the documents and remains found during the excavation include : The community Rule, Isaiah A (8.5 m) and Isaiah B, Habakkuk Commentary, five books of Moses, Jeremiah, Psalms, a copy of the book of Jubilee, Leviticus tefillin, oil lamps, food remains etc.

The archaeological excursion to En Gedi and Qumran National Park was a memorable experience and broadened our knowledge on historical findings.    





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