In the Qumran cliffs, an expedition digs up new Dead Sea Scroll caves

In the Qumran cliffs, an expedition digs up new Dead Sea Scroll caves

Winter excavation yields information on how an ascetic desert community lived and where it hid its precious sacred texts — and gives pointers for where to search next

A Bedouin huntsman and his dog, climbing on rocky mountainous cliffs above the Dead Sea, spotted a likely prey. The dog chased it into the mouth of a cave where inside, the Bedouin discovered jars containing scrolls with writing upon them. The find was reported to Jews living in Jerusalem, who mounted an expedition into the Judean Desert to retrieve them. They discovered many scrolls written in Hebrew script, including books of the Bible.

The year was 790 CE.

For a new team of Qumran excavators, who this week finished a third dig season high above the Dead Sea, the story is a beacon of hope.

“The Bedouin were not the first ones to find the scrolls in 1947,” said Dr. Oren Gutfeld, co-director of the Cave 53-Qumran Excavation.

The question is, will looters be the ones to discover any remaining scrolls?
On Tuesday, The Times of Israel joined the Qumran expedition on the last day of its three-week winter excavation of a new cave complex. Based on results from two previous seasons, the team, led by Hebrew University archaeologist Oren Gutfeld and Randall Price from the private Virginia-based Christian institution, Liberty University, believes there are more undiscovered finds that have slipped through the fingers of archaeologists — and even of intrepid looters.

For example, no one knows the whereabouts of Timothy’s particular cave, described in his letter as being in the vicinity of Jericho. Perhaps it was fully emptied, its scrolls used by the community and eventually deposited in the Cairo Genizah. Or maybe it is one of the 11 major caves that held the 900-plus manuscripts and 15,000 tiny text fragments that have been unearthed since the besieged Qumran community stashed them away from the Romans circa 68 CE.

Or maybe, just maybe, Timothy’s cave is still out there to be discovered. If so, Gutfeld is positioning his team to find it — as well as a wealth of information on the people behind the Dead Sea Scrolls and their everyday lives. The previous two excavation seasons of Cave 53 bear out the possibility of overlooked artifacts.

This remnant of a casing for a two-millennia-old scroll was found in Cave 53 at Qumran and, archaeologists say, belongs to the Second Temple-period Dead Sea Scrolls, February 8, 2017. (Courtesy Hebrew University)

“We prove in Cave 53 that the caves of Qumran were not excavated, they were surveyed,” said Gutfeld. The previous archaeologists “just entered, they found the scrolls or the jars and they took them,” he said. There was no digging, and certainly no fine sifting of materials during the heady days of the first excavations.

Beginning in 1949, teams of excavators — authorized and not — combed the cave-dotted cliffs of Qumran in search of scroll caches. For a while, the finds were abundant. And then, after the mid-1950s, there was nothing new discovered under the blazing Dead Sea sun.

For the past three winter seasons, Gutfeld’s team has re-examined previously surveyed, but unexcavated caves. This year, the team took to the heights and examined an uncharted cave to discern if more finds await in the sheer cliffs.

Before the expedition concluded, Gutfeld took a pair of journalists up to the cave complexes numbered 52 and 53, based on earlier archaeological surveys that found some 600 caves in the cliffs. After ascending the steep, often unmarked path high above the Qumran National Park, the view is breathtaking (and not only because this journalist needed to catch her breath from the rope-aided climb) from the small man-made terrace outside Cave 52, some 212 meters (695 feet) above the Dead Sea.

A view of the Qumran archaeological site from a recently excavated Dead Sea Scroll cave above, January 22, 2019. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

It is commonly accepted that the major scroll finds originated in 11 caves, explained Gutfeld before we entered the cave located high above the park’s hiking trails. The assignation, he said, is often based on secondhand Bedouin testimony, since several of the manuscripts were purchased, not excavated. He thinks it possible that the massive hoard may have originated in other caves as well, which have until now been overlooked by archaeologists.

A faint, spray painted 52 points out the mouth of the cave. In the 1950s, it was surveyed by a member of the original Qumran excavations team, Józef Milik, a one-time Catholic priest and archaeologist. Milik, said Gutfeld, wrote an article in the 1950s suggesting that this spot was in fact the cave described by Timothy. Milik hypothesized that it had been emptied of scrolls by monks sent by Timothy from the Jericho Caranthal Monastery, over a thousand years prior to his survey.

“We believe maybe — we don’t know, but it’s a possibility — that it’s not the Bedouin who looted the cave, but that it was done hundreds of years earlier by the monks of the Caranthal Monastery,” said Gutfeld.

Fragments of shattered jars believed to have contained stolen Dead Sea scrolls, found in Cave 53 near Qumran. (Casey L. Olson and Oren Gutfeld, Hebrew University)

In the three seasons of excavations so far, the team has discovered indications of “scroll activity” — accessories including jars, textile wrappings, leather ties. This winter, the team also examined a pair of hard-to-enter elevated caves, reachable only with full climbing gear and metal guides hammered into the rock.

Taking in the Dead Sea panorama, Gutfeld swept his arm out and said with a smile, “This is my office.”

What Cave 52 yielded

Spoiler: No scrolls were discovered this winter, either.

From an academic point of view, the 2019 excavation was launched asking the question of whether caves found so high on the cliff were used as living spaces or only for hiding scrolls.

Through the excavation of Cave 52 this season, and the paucity of material culture from every day life, the conclusion is that it was only meant as a vault. A probe excavation of the even higher Cave 52B offered the same result, said Gutfeld.

Researcher Oren Gutfeld descends from Cave 52, at the Qumran archaeological site, January 22, 2019. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

“The story of the cave and the excavation is more about the climbing, bringing up the tools, and rappelling when going down,” he said. “Just think about the Essences who climbed with jars in their hands — what we did with the ropes — how many jars fell?”

The opening of Cave 52 “was a rabbit hole tunnel,” which the team enlarged with small picks. “Everything was sifted from the first bucket, even the dirt piles outside the cave,” said Gutfeld, on the assumption that perhaps some of the looters had dropped some pottery.

The entrance to a recently excavated Cave 52 at the Qumran archaeological site, some 200 meters (656 ft) above the Dead Sea, January 22, 2019. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Inside Cave 52, the team found Second Temple scroll jar pottery sherds and a few organic materials.

“The minute we lowered the level of the dirt we started to find the pottery sherds from Second Temple period jars,” he said. But there were few other finds, even after excavating a promising back tunnel. “Unfortunately we dug here for two weeks, it’s a very nice tunnel, but we didn’t find anything,” he said.

“Our conclusion is that it was used as a scroll cave, but the minute the jars were taken, it was empty,” said Gutfeld.

What was found in ‘juicy’ Cave 53

Excavation co-director Price, a pastor and Jewish Studies professor, fervently believes there are more mysteries to be discovered here. Joining Gutfeld and The Times of Israel at the mid-cliff level Cave 53, Price explained how the cave — and its surprise adjacent Cave 53B twin —  were excavated beginning in 2017.

“We had hoped to find a scroll cave,” Price said honestly of his initial goals. He told The Times of Israel that to find a cave holding the sacred scripture given to the people of this land would be thrilling.

Randall Price, researcher at Qumran, January 22, 2019. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

“This is one of the first caves excavated south of the plateau. The more famous caves are in the north. And in excavating this,” Price said, sweeping his hand around the cave, “we did find scroll jars — seven in total.” But no scrolls.

The cave was identified in a 1993 IAA survey and has interesting man-made features, including a column which supports an overhang ceiling at the cave’s edge. Although it is has remained stable thus far, it is definitely not a place to set a chair and enjoy the view.

A second, previously uncharted cave was discovered in an easy climb above Cave 53, and is called Cave 53B.

The path to and from these caves is unmarked, but at only 100 meters (328 feet) above the Dead Sea it is much less strenuous than that of caves 52 and 52B, which were the focus of this dig season. (At its highest, this year’s path is only accessible through rappelling).

Volume 90%

Today, the mouth of Cave 53 gapes wide open, but during initial checks in 2010, it would have been more hidden from view. Then, Price and Gutfeld spotted sleeping mats made of palm fronds next to the man-made pillar in the back of the cave, as well as pottery.

Price secured funding for the excavation from private donations (digs are not funded through the Israeli government or universities) and a license was granted by the Staff Officer for Archaeology in the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, which is responsible for excavations in the West Bank, where Qumran is located.

Yakov Kalman holds the 2,000-year-old bronze cooking pot discovered in Cave 53B at Qumran, above the Dead Sea. (Casey Olson)

Ahead of the 2017 winter excavation, all signs were positive. “The expectation was that there was something here to be found,” said Price.

And there was: What was originally scheduled as a two-week excavation stretched into an intense five. In addition to pottery pieces for seven scroll jars, through careful sifting of the dust and dirt the team uncovered hundreds of olive and date pits, as well as seeds, telling of ancient habitation of the cave. There was “scroll activity,” including 15 fragments of linen textile that used to cover the scrolls, cut leather straps, and a carved stick which Price said was used to wound the manuscripts into the jars.

Through sifting, the team discovered “an acorn that was brought from the Judean Hills over 50 kilometers [31 miles] away,” said Gutfeld. In sum, they filled an almost unprecedented 450 bags of organic material.

The two most astonishing finds were discovered in Cave 53B: an intact Qumran-style oil lamp that was discovered at the mouth of the cave, and a beautiful bronze pot that was found in the back in a previously undiscovered chamber.

2,000-year-old oil lamp, in situ, discovered in Qumran’s Cave 53B at recent excavations above the Dead Sea. (Casey Olson)

The cave complex also offered signs of much earlier habitation: Within moments of arriving to the terrace outside its mouth, Gutfeld bent over and picked up several pieces of pottery. In one hand he held a few sherds from the Second Temple period. In another, prehistoric pottery from thousands of years ago, possibly Neolithic or Chalcolithic.

Other prehistoric finds include arrow and spear heads, flint blades, an interestingly carved carnelian seal and a piece of precious obsidian, which would have somehow made its way from Turkey.

“There was a lot of activity here, but it wasn’t until the Second Temple period that the jars were brought in, probably from the Qumran community, and placed here,” said Price.

Ancient potsherds found outside a cave at Qumran, above the Dead Sea. The shards on the left date back around 2,000 years, the shard on the right is thousands of years older, January 22, 2019. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Price has a theory why the scrolls are absent from this spot: When the Qumran community was attacked in 68 CE and the Romans turned the plateau into a fortress, the northern path was closed. So the residents turned south, possibly to Masada, and picked up their scrolls from this cave on the way.

Cave 53 is now excavated in parts down to bedrock. Charcoaled remains of thousands of year old fires can be seen on the pillar next to straggly strands of 2,000-year-old sleep mats. The team said there is no more work to be done here, and it will soon look for another location.

Ahead of the 2020 excavation

In early February, Gutfeld will begin surveying for locations in the middle terrace of the cliff for the 2020 excavation. “Hopefully we’ll find another ‘juicy’ cave, like Cave 53,” he said.

“There is still much more to do, especially in this region,” said Gutfeld.

Researcher Oren Gutfeld inside Cave 52 at the Qumran archaeological site, January 22, 2019. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

According to a recent Haaretz article, head of the IAA Yisrael Hasson is on board with the team’s goals. “The desert is full of hiding places. Until we have thoroughly checked and mapped them all, we won’t declare the work finished,” said Hasson.

Hasson said his archaeologists are also working in the area: “Six months ago we excavated six caves and more recently we excavated two more caves in the northern Dead Sea area, but I won’t say more because I don’t want to give information to robbers… We’re doing ‘low profile’ work to stay ahead of the competition,” said Hasson.

Each year the team must apply for a new dig license from the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, , which implements Israeli policy in the West Bank, administered by Israel since 1967. Part of the application process includes secure funding for both excavation and publication of finds. For this team, the funding comes through private donations — not always easy to come by despite its high-profile objectives.

Visitors at the Qumran archaeological site, January 22, 2019. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Because of the very real threat of looting in the area, the dig is considered a “salvage excavation” and is permissible by law to save and rescue the potential precious heritage items, said Gutfeld.

The contention of the archaeologists is that looting would constitute destruction of cultural assets and should therefore be prevented through ongoing excavations. This interpretation is contested by some on the world stage, including by the Israel-based NGO Emek Shaveh, which reports on excavations throughout the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

According to the 1999 Second Protocol to the Hague Convention of 1954 for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, any archaeological excavation is prohibited in “occupied territories” (a designation widely applied internationally to the West Bank), “save where this is strictly required to safeguard, record or preserve cultural property.” Article 9 of the Protection of Cultural Property in Occupied Territory further prohibits “any alteration to, or change of use of, cultural property which is intended to conceal or destroy cultural, historical or scientific evidence.”

Gutfeld said all excavation is only conducted after securing a permit from the proper authority, in this case the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria. (Asked whether the West Bank location was an obstacle to garnering funding, Gutfeld said the only blow-back he has felt so far was from a Jewish woman at a conference in the States.)

But his third reason for why the excavation’s West Bank location is not significant is that scrolls are overwhelmingly important to Judaism and early Christianity. They are a direct tie to the historical Land of Israel, which predates modern borders.

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His leadership and television interviews have gone trough out the world, Luden Centeno Perez of Spanish Converso Marano Jewish background who's ancestors came from Spain during the Inquisition .Uriel speaks on terror related issues concerning Israel resides permanently in Jerusalem. His analysis of Middle Eastern events as they relate to Israel is regularly broadcast through internet radio and television through out the world. Luden has given close to 500 television interviews in Israel Jerusalem and broadcasts live from Jerusalem Israel on the radio.And once a month speaks to 147 nations via the USA radio. On his last 8 radio programs he has had over 500,00 listeners listening live from Jerusalem On one of our last video we had over 40,000 who watched live our video from Jerusalem. Our main goal is totell the world that Israel has the right to defend herself from any form of agression and terrorism that comes out of Ramallah and the occupied territories that belong to Israel. Israel faces many difficult challenges and dangers in the days and weeks and months to come mark my words see Psalms 83' . There is an unprecedented propaganda campaign initiated by the Arab League and many others to demonize, discredit and delegitimize the Jewish people and their state, within their own land! The efforts of the Arab League were recently seen in the UN Resolution 2334 text as follows, adopted by the UN Security Council at its 7853rd meeting, on 23 December 2016. Reaffirming its relevant resolutions, including resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973), 446 (1979), 452 (1979), 465 (1980), 476 (1980), 478 (1980), 1397 (2002), 1515 (2003), and 1850 (2008), guided by the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and reaffirming, inter alia, the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force, reaffirming the obligation of Israel, the occupying Power, to abide scrupulously by its legal obligations and responsibilities under the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949, and recalling the advisory opinion rendered on 9 July 2004 by the International Court of Justice, condemning all measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, including, inter alia, the construction and expansion of settlements, transfer of Israeli settlers, confiscation of land, demolition of homes and displacement of Palestinian civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law and relevant resolutions. In order to achieve their goals, the Arabs and many other countries have for more than 30 years resorted to a deliberate misinformation campaign. This propaganda campaign by the Arab League and many other nations – both in their own countries and for the last four decades exported to Europe and North America has caused Israel what would seem irreparable damage and indeed, it was the main culprit in the reawakening of dormant European anti-Semitism. Israel continues to suffer many attacks from terrorists within and should give in to any presure imposed by the USA, the EU. the Quartet, nor the UN. The former Obama administration and others have been working behind the scenes to get many UN Resolution passed against Israel as we see here on Un resolution 2334 to pass. even while allowing Iran to continue to develop their nuclear facilities by using John Kerry and others to fulfill their hidden agenda. On December 23rd 2016 the US abstained from exercising its veto to UN resolution 2334 which allowed it to pass. Then John Kerry immediately blasted Israel over the presence of Israeli settlements within Israel's own land. The Obama Administration's hidden agenda came to light. The former Obama administration was trying to force Israel to give up more land for false peace as we have seen in the past. Judea and Samaria and possibly the Jordan Valley were on the negotiating table. For perspective, if the so-called fake Palestinians obtained Judea and Samaria and possibly the Jordan Valley, Givat HaRoe’eh in the Samaria community of Eli, Ramat Gilad and Giv’at Assaf (also in Samaria), and Mitzpeh Lachish, near Nehogot outside Hebron. they could easily rain down rockets towards any city within Israel, leaving without defensible borders. We say NO to land for false peace as we have seen in Gush Katiff offered in the past. US President Barrack Hussein Obama had a hidden agenda against Israel and many other nations Israel will face many difficult days and months ahead (see Tehillim / Psalms 83) As we have seen what happened with Gush Katif where over 18,000 rockets have been fired towards Israel.Many Jews were forced out of their own Jewish land due to US pressure, now Bet El Almuna and Migron and Judea and Samaria face the same threat. More than 24,000 rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel since Israel uprootedmore than 10,000 Jewish families. Over 24.000 rockets have been fired from Gaza towards the southern Israeli city of Sderot Ashkelon Tel Aviv by Islamist extremist whose end-game is the total destruction of my people Israel. Hamas terrorists are supported by Iran and now Hamas has joined hands with Fatah. The Iranian Lebanese proxy Hezbollah who also operate in Syria are committed to the total destruction of Israel. Now Al Qaeda and ISIS who are operating in Syria Egypt and the Sinai Desert will do anything in their power to destroy my people Israel and all Jews. Judea and Samaria (the heartland of Israel also known as the West Bank) face many challenges in the days to come as Abu Mazen will try to pressure the entire world and former US President Barrack Hussein Obama the EU and the Quartet into giving more land for false peace. We saw what happened after the Oslo Accords were signed, dramatically increasing Islamic terror against Israel. Abu Mazen the Palestinian Authority leader approached the United Nations in November 2012 and petitioned to be declared as a recognized nation within Israel's known borders. The time has come to tell the entire world the real truth about the enemies of Israel. We speak on the Quran using a Power Point video presentation. We have been aired on CNN, German TV, Finland TV, CCTV, China Al Jazera, Al Arabiya Turk TV and many radio stations on the current issues of Israel. Luden Centeno has a heart for his people Israel and will continue to inform the entire world the real truth as many News Media outlets throughout the world hold anti-Semitic views and won’t tell you the real truth. Centeno, a former police officer who studied Political Science at Temple University USA was born in the USA and currently lives in Jerusalem Israel, knowing karate and boxing having played semi-pro baseball. He has two children, a girl and a son, both born in Jerusalem. Centeno discovered in 2004 that there were possible Converso Marrano Jews from Spain whose ancestors were forced to convert to Catholicism during the time of the Inquisition in 1492. The family names Centeno and Perez are registered in El Libro Verde De Aragon in Spain. The Roman Catholic Inquisitors maintained all the names of all Jewish families who were forced to convert to Catholicism during that horrible time period in Spain. Since 2004 Centeno has been flying intercontinentally to the USA speaking to the nations on the current issues of the the state of Israel (see Psalms 83′ as the nations gather against Israel.) He has spoken on Al Arabiya TV Al Jazeera, Dubai TV, Holland TV, German TV Finland TV and also on American Family Radio which links up with 700 radio stations. His goal is to educate the entire world that Israel has the right to self-determination and the right to defend itself from terrorism. The Moslem Arabs in that area started calling themselves “Palestinians” merely only 40 years ago. “Palestinian” refers to people who live in Palestine: Arabs (“Arabic speaking peoples”), Bedouins, Druze, Christians, and Jews lived in then the British Mandate of Palestine. No people or nation called Palestine ever ruled as a sovereign national entity on this land. There is no Palestinian language or culture in past history. Palestine, as a country does not presently exist. No Arab nation has their historical roots on the land and no one had laid claim to this territory other than the Jews. The Jewish rule of this land extended over a period of over 2000 years. Israel became a nation in the land in 1312 BC. God gave them the land in a covenant (Deuteronomy 29:1-30:20) and they lived there. See the following Quote from the Quran, "Death to the enemies of Allah! Those that make war against Allah and His apostle and spread disorder in the land shall be slain or crucified or have their hands and feet cut off on alternate sides, or be banished from the land. They shall be held up to shame in this world and sternly punished in the hereafter: except those that repent before you reduce them. For you must know that Allah is..." This is what radical Islam says about us Jews’ “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Muslims, O Abdullah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, (a certain kind of tree) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.” (related by al-Bukhari and Muslim) A letter from leading rabbis here in Israel ? 'You will be remembered in the history of the Jewish people' "We are privileged to be seeing the rebuilding of Jerusalem," wrote the rabbis. "'Children play in its streets' (Zechariah 8:4) and we are confident in the fulfillment of all the prophecies. The United States is privileged to be one of the first nations to support the establishment of the State of Israel. US presidents have had the privilege of being at Israel's side and being a partner in the fulfillment of the vision of the prophets regarding the return to Zion and the establishment of the State of Israel." They continued, "We are confident that you will be remembered in the history of the Jewish people as one who stood at the forefront fearlessly. May it be His will that God's promise to Joshua (1:9) should be fulfilled in you: 'Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go'—amen, amen." "With this recognition, we see the fulfillment of another step in the completion of the prophecy of Isaiah that the nations of the world will recognize the centrality of Jerusalem," said Rabbi Eliyahu. "'For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her vindication shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. The nations will see your vindication' (Isaiah 62:1). We hope that other enlightened and believing nations will follow in the footsteps of the United States." Psalms Chapter 83 תְּהִלִּים א שִׁיר מִזְמוֹר לְאָסָף. 1 A Song, a Psalm of Asaph. ב אֱלֹהִים אַל-דֳּמִי-לָךְ; אַל-תֶּחֱרַשׁ וְאַל-תִּשְׁקֹט אֵל. 2 O God, keep not Thou silence; hold not Thy peace, and be not still, O God. ג כִּי-הִנֵּה אוֹיְבֶיךָ, יֶהֱמָיוּן; וּמְשַׂנְאֶיךָ, נָשְׂאוּ רֹאשׁ. 3 For, lo, Thine enemies are in an uproar; and they that hate Thee have lifted up the head. ד עַל-עַמְּךָ, יַעֲרִימוּ סוֹד; וְיִתְיָעֲצוּ, עַל-צְפוּנֶיךָ. 4 They hold crafty converse against Thy people, and take counsel against Thy treasured ones. ה אָמְרוּ–לְכוּ, וְנַכְחִידֵם מִגּוֹי; וְלֹא-יִזָּכֵר שֵׁם-יִשְׂרָאֵל עוֹד. 5 They have said: ‘Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.’ ו כִּי נוֹעֲצוּ לֵב יַחְדָּו; עָלֶיךָ, בְּרִית יִכְרֹתוּ. 6 For they have consulted together with one consent; against Thee do they make a covenant; God’s word says in Zechariah 8:23 "Thus saith the LORD of Hosts: In Those days it shall come to pass, That ten men shall take hold, out of all the languages of the nations, shall even take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying: We will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you." 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