The Historical Context
The Qumran Sect and Scrolls
On the basis of the scrolls and excavations at the site, most scholars
have concluded that Khirbet Qumran and its environs were inhabited
by a sect of Jewish Essenes. This sect existed side by side with
other Essene sects, as well as Pharisees, Sadducees, early Christians,
Samaritans, and Zealots, who together comprised the Jewish society
of the land of Israel in the Late Hellenistic-Roman period - from
the rise of the Maccabees through the destruction of the Second
Temple (167 BCE-70 CE).
The sectarians, who had divorced themselves from the main body
of the Jewish people, espoused fervent messianic beliefs. After
having left Jerusalem following a harsh dispute with the Jerusalem
priesthood regarding theological and ritual matters, it became their
goal to return to the city in order to restore the "desolate"
Temple (as they perceived it). The question of when the sectarians
first began to settle in Qumran is still the subject of much debate.
It is now commonly accepted that the sect's founder, an unknown
personality referred to in the scrolls as the "Teacher of Righteousness,"
established the community in the second half of the 2nd century
BCE. As for its end, the general consensus is that the community
met its fate in 68 CE, when the Roman army destroyed the settlement
on its way to suppressing the revolt that had broken out in Jerusalem
(later to be known as the Great Revolt).