No Women at Qumran?

Qumran as an Essene scribal center

Qumran Caves

SOME NATURAL, SOME MANMADE, the caves in the vicinity of Khirbet Qumran have produced some 900 fragmentary scrolls. Some of the writings recorded in these scrolls—especially from Cave 4Q, in the cliff pictured here—suggest that women were accepted constituents of the Essene movement.
Credit: Lux Moundi/CC BY-2.0

Qumran is widely believed to have been a settlement established by the ancient Jewish sect of the Essenes. Most scholars further agree that there is a connection between the settlement and the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered between 1947 and 1956 in the nearby caves. What is not clear is whether the Qumran inhabitants had a role in composing the Dead Sea Scrolls writings, or if they were manufacturing

Qumran Pottery

DINING DISHES—more than 1,000 of them—were found at Khirbet Qumran on the floor of this pantry (L86), which was adjacent to the communal dining room and assembly hall. The pottery represents a complete table service (plates, cups, bowls, and jugs) and points to communal meals with many participants.
Credit: From Jean-Baptiste Humbert and Alain Chambon, Fouilles de Khirbet Qumrân et de Aïn Feshkha I, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck Ruprecht, 1994, p. 165.

the scrolls, or reading and studying them. Or were they possibly, involved in all of these aspects.
Writing for the Spring 2020 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Sidnie White Crawford of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is asking a different set of intriguing questions. In her article “Were There Women at Qumran?” she asks what do we know about women at Qumran? Did any women live there? How do we know, and how can we reconcile the seemingly conflicting historical evidence coming from the three localities that make up the archaeological site of Qumran: the settlement (called today Khirbet Qumran), the caves, and the extensive cemetery?

“There is evidence for writing and scroll manufacture and repair in the settlement. Six to eight inkwells

have been recovered, along with scroll tabs and ties, writing implements, and a bronze needle that may have been used for sewing scroll sheets together. In the main building of the settlement, rooms have been plausibly identified as library rooms and a scroll repair workshop,” writes Crawford, proposing to identify Qumran as an Essene scribal center.
This interpretation, Crawford argues, explains why there are no traces of women in the archaeological record from the settlement: professional scribes would have invariably been all male, and they might have abstained from any relations with women while working on the sacred scrolls.
Yet 9 out of 93 graves excavated from the cemetery (located to the east of the settlement) belong to women, and the Dead Sea Scrolls themselves attest to the existence of women within the Essene movement. To see how Crawford proposes to reconcile this seemingly contradicting evidence, read “Were There Women at Qumran?” published in the Spring 2020 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.


Qumran Scriptorium

WRITING AND SCROLL MANUFACTURE at Qumran is attested by implements and installations found in the southwest corner of the main building, including in this room L30, which is known as the scriptorium.
Credit: R.R. Cargill/CC BY-SA-3.0


Subscribers: Read the full article “Were There Women at Qumran?” by Sidnie White Crawford in the Spring 2020 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
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Read more about Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls in the BAS Library:

“Machaerus: A Palace-Fortress with Multiple Mikva’ot,” by Gyozo Soros. Several mikva’ot, similar to the one at Machaerus, were found at Qumran (home of the Dead Sea Scrolls)—on the western side of the Dead Sea, opposite Machaerus.

“The Qumran Settlement—Monastery, Villa or Fortress?,”, by Hershel Shanks. Not long after archaeologists confirmed the location of the cave where Bedouin shepherds had found the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls, an archaeological expedition was organized to excavate the nearby site known as Khirbet Qumran, the ruins.

“A View from the Caves,” by Sidnie White Crawford. The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 11 caves in the Judean Desert near a site known as Khirbet Qumran, or the ruins of Qumran.

“Scribe Links Qumran and Masada,”  by Sidnie White Crawford. Recently Ada Yardeni, the foremost paleographer working in Israel today, made a startling claim: More than 50 Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts were copied by the same scribe.1 The 54 manuscripts came from six different caves: Qumran Caves 1, 2, 3,

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