In spite of a considerable amount of documented evidence - archæological and written, from many sources including Josephus and modern scholars, considerable doubt remains as to who precisely, and which one of the so-called "Dead Sea Sects" lived here.
The generally accepted opinion today - and for some years, has held to the belief that this was the home of the Essenes, the most orthodox and rigid of the three main-streams of religious thought in the two centuries before the birth of Jesus and lasting until the destruction of the Second Temple, about thirty years after his crucifixion.
Generally speaking, theirs was the belief that they were in constant preparation for the final battle between the forces of "Light" against the forces of "Darkness" and that no interpretation of the scriptures was admissable; every single word was as written. Their lives were lived in extreme ascetism far, far away from the rest of society on the inhospitable shores of the Dead Sea. Indeed, it is only in the last half-century, after two thousand years, that their immediate vicinity has become more accessible than heretofore and the description of their habitation as being "at the ends of the world" was not far from accurate at that! In fact it was only after 1967 that a decent road was constructed linking the northern part of the Dead Sea coast with the southern part which previously had reached only as far north as Ein Gedi.

It is they who left for posterity the famous "Dead Sea Scrolls". These scrolls, found by chance in 1947, became the earliest known writings on Jewish religious and social themes found so far. Until then, the earliest that were available dated to around the late-middle ages - circa 14-15th Centuries.
Having been written and preserved from 250 B.C.E. onwards, until the Essenes' last days, they threw our knowledge backwards by nearly 1500 years!

The writings consist mainly of three distinct types: Their social order; parts of their secular writings and writings on theological topics, like the use of phylacteries, some of the Psalms and an incredible complete Book of Isaiah. This last is remarkable in that it is identical - after two thousand years - to the Book of Isaiah currently known and used by Jews all over the world. When one considers that these scriptures may only be copied by hand, and by that process have been copied countless time over the centuries, one can only wonder that not one single error has crept in to the script. This is undoubtedly indicative of the absolute care and devotion - to say nothing of the religious zeal of the scribes- that was expended and invested in this holy work.

This artists reconstruction, based on the actual archælogical finds, looks south with the Dead Sea in the background. The slightly darker areas of brickwork, such as the base of the tower and the walls leading from it to the left and enclosing the garden, represent sections actually discovered in situ. For the complete text of Josephus' description of the Essenes, you can click here  and for a glimpse of the Dead Sea Scrolls, some of which are housed in the "Shrine of the Book" in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, you can look here

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