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  “IN THOSE DAYS CAME JOHN THE BAPTIST, PREACHING IN THE WILDERNESS OF      JUDEA, AND SAYING  'REPENT, FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS AT HAND'!"        MATTHEW 3: 1-3
 

Holy Sites -- Gila's Highlights

Let's decipher the meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran

 
Last August the thermometer of our bus in the Qumran parking lot read 48 degrees. That’s 118 degrees Fahrenheit!  As I sat with my small group of Californians under the shade netting opposite cave number 4, the heat was almost bearable.  What astounded me is that my pilgrims were so engrossed in the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls, they didn’t seem to take notice of the heat.
 
Question followed comment, as we explored the relationship of John the Baptist to the group of protestors (we think) who fled Jerusalem to establish a retreat center in the wilderness of Judea opposite the Dead Sea.

Unlike Christianity in which the disciples and followers from the very beginning organized around one charismatic leader, the Qumran sect was initially a loose, unstructured group.  They eventually united around one leader whom they called the teacher of righteousness.
 
At Qumran itself, there weren't more than a few hundred people.  Members of the sect were male and most carried on a normal lifestyle, scattered throughout the towns and villages of Judea.  They married at age 20 and lived within the family unit until age 30.  Then they would retreat for a 10-year period of service, dwelling in huts or caves in the vicinity of Qumran, their monastic-type center perched on a plateau overlooking the Dead Sea.  Josephus, first century AD historian, called this sect Essenes.
 

View of the Essenes' kitchen at Qumran

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

View of the Essenes' kitchen at Qumran -- and see photo below

 

Excavator Roland de Vaux in Qumran's kitchen

Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority

Excavator Roland de Vaux examining bowls and goblets in Qumran's kitchen

 
It's possible that John the Baptist who wandered in the Judean wilderness met with the Essenes, although until now there's no proof. We can just speculate.

We know from the Gospels that John was convinced that the end of the world was at hand and that salvation demanded that men purify themselves and share their worldly goods with others.  Likewise with the Essenes: purification was attained by immersion in water and meals were held in common.
 
And the center of John's ministry was located right at the River Jordan in the land of Judea, no more than five miles as the crow flies from Qumran.  John, as did the Essenes, quoted Isaiah's instruction to prepare for the messiah in the wilderness.
 
Qumran lends itself to a rich, far-reaching discussion of first century AD expectations of redemption.  And it has a cloak and dagger story of the discovery and purchase of the first Dead Sea Scrolls on the eve of Israel's war for independence.  The cast of characters include: a stray goat, two shepherds, a cobbler, an antiquities dealer, a bishop of the Syrian Orthodox church, a gutsy Jewish scholar and his Armenian buddy and an American expert on ancient biblical manuscripts.
 
But the saga continues to this very day.  There are rumors of outstanding scrolls stashed not in a jar in a cave, but in a bank vault in Switzerland!
 

Map of the caves at Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found

Courtesy of Benny Arubas

Map of the Dead Sea Scrolls Caves plus Qumran

 
Come with me to Qumran and we'll try to decipher the mystique and meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  I'd be happy to share my cache of stories, collected in the course of guiding over three decades.  For example, one of my pilgrims as a volunteer digger at Qumran found an inscribed potsherd – the first inscription found at Qumran in forty years!  Another pilgrim, a nun named Sister Betty, had studied with the Qumran excavator and scholar Roland de Vaux.  She told us why he ventured into cave number 4 (later dubbed the "Cave of the Finds") after ignoring it for two solid excavation seasons.
 

Judean wilderness above the Dead Sea

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

The black triangle in the center is Cave # 4 at Qumran

 
Don't forget to ask me to read the Ten Essene Community Commandments so you can decide if you would have wanted to belong to that community.  Here's a sneak preview of Commandment #9: Whoever shall laugh loudly and foolishly in the public assembly shall be punished for 30 days.  I'll leave you trying to imagine the other nine commandments until we tour Qumran together, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.
 

Copyright 2011 Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed to reprint in any medium.

 
Gila Yudkin is a Connecticut-born Yankee living in King David’s Court.  In June 2008, Gila was startled to find herself all alone in an Israel Museum exhibition hall – just her and all 66 chapters of the Great Isaiah Scroll, dated to about 120 BC.  (Ask her to share that story on tour.…)

Gila doesn't mind the 100+ degree Fahrenheit temperatures in the Judean wilderness during the summer months, but suspects her pilgrims would prefer visiting wilderness sites in cooler temps.  On tour, Gila mixes fun, fantasy and facts with a passion for archeology and Bible.
 
Postscript
 
In response to this highlight, Professor David Depew from Burbank, California emailed me an interesting comment comparing the Dead Sea Scrolls written on parchment to a scroll found in 1952 written on copper.  The Copper Scroll was found in cave number 3 near Qumran by archeologists and is now exhibited in the government archeological museum in Amman, Jordan.

"The Jewish people of the Second Temple Period apparently inscribed the info on the hiding places of temple treasury materials on two copper scrolls (one has been found and one not).  But, the OT Scriptures were written on perishable animal skins and papyri which would have to be recopied every 50-300 years.
 
Why was this done?  The most valuable "things" which the devout priests (even the various sects such as the Essenes) possessed were the Hebrew Scriptures, not the temple treasury!  They recalled that the whole temple and treasury had been lost to the Babylonians over 500 years before.  But, the OT Scriptures (i.e. Hebrew Bible) which were written before the first destruction of the temple by the Babylonians were still in existence in the first century A.D.
 
Perhaps this was because those devout men very much trusted the process of copying and recopying the Scriptures quite accurately.  The Scriptures did NOT have to be inscribed on metal to preserve their integrity!

 

In a way, I believe that the existence of the Copper Scroll and the absence of any metallic scrolls of Scripture (or even references to their past creation or existence) can be used as a reasonable additional argument for the general accuracy of the OT Scriptures up to the time of the Second Temple."
 

Comment by Pastor Randy Ticer of Mukilteo, Washington:

 

"Commandment #9 would do me in...I mean I do enjoy laughing!"

 
Read more about the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in Shepherds, Scholars and Scrolls.
 
To fill any gaps in your general knowledge about the scrolls, see "The Dead Sea Scrolls from A to Z"
 

April 2006 waterfall opposite Qumran

Photo:  Courtesy of David Schlaegel

Extraordinary waterfall and flash flood at Qumran in April 2006

 

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"Holy Sites: Gila's Highlights"

Read about what happened to Bishop Pike when he tried to explore the Judean Wilderness without a guide.

View from Bishop Pike's grave in Jaffa

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

View from Bishop James Pike's grave at Joppa


GILA YUDKIN TCHERNIKOVSKI 64A JERUSALEM ISRAEL
gila@itsgila.com

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Holy Land Photography by Gila Yudkin