Figure 14 on the Maps and Images page shows a proposed reconstruction of one of the buildings at Qumran, based on a project of scholars at UCLA who investigated this site near the Dead Sea and re-imagined its original design. But there is no certainty as to its purpose. The conventional theory is that the Essenes, an esoteric group with its own rules and secret writings, occupied this site from some time in the Hasmonean era, beginning approximately in 150-160 B.C.E. until the complex was destroyed by the Romans in 68. C.E. on their way to Jerusalem to battle the Judaeans. They were ascetic, their life was monastic, and they were opposed to worship in the Jerusalem temple, but their language was Hebrew (and Aramaic) and their sacred writings included all the works of Jewish Scripture. Again, according to the majority view, one portion of their establishment was a scriptorium where they copied and re-copied documents for their own use and for distribution elsewhere.
There are other views of this group and their facilities, including the idea that this was a fortress of some sort, or the vast estate of some wealthy individual, or a sort of hotel/way station for travelers. There are even some who cast doubt on the concept that the community included a scriptorium.
The situation is complicated, or enriched, by the fact that documents of great importance in Jewish history were hidden in eleven caves in the cliffs and escarpments that are within sight of the community. These documents were preserved in scrolls in large clay pots stored in the caves. The dry, desert air helped to keep the documents from deteriorating.
The scrolls were first found by Bedouin in 1947, and their value not was initially recognized. The pots and their contents followed a checkered history until they were finally acquired by the government of Israel, and they are maintained and displayed in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem. Ninety percent of the scrolls were found in a single cave, “Number 3,” but no-one knows how many were hidden in this area originally, nor can anyone be certain that all of them have either been found, or even whether some remain, undisclosed in “Private” hands or in the possession of some government.
Amazingly, the scrolls include all of the books of the Hebrew bible with the exception of the Book of Esther, and although they may have been written in the second century B.C.E., their text is almost identical to the Masoretic text of approximately 900 C.E. This is a tribute to the scribes who copied and recopied these texts over as much as one thousand years. Unfortunately, the documents which are now described as the New Testament, have not had as happy a history, and while there are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of copies of the gospels, and other Christian writings, their authenticity is far more difficult to ascertain.
The connections between the Essenes and Johannon the Immerser and Jesus (Joshua) of Nazareth are of great interest to me, and I have researched and written about these matters to the best of my ability, and I am personally convinced that the relationship between them not only exited but was of considerable importance in the development of Jesus’ ministry and actual course of his life and death.