First Person: Was the Dead Sea Scroll Community Celibate?

As published in the May/June 2017 Biblical Archaeology Review

hershel-shanksOne of the many fascinating questions about the Dead Sea Scroll community living at Qumran is whether its members were celibate. Did they marry and have children or not?

According to the ancient Jewish historian Josephus and the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, the Essenes were indeed celibate.1 The Roman philosopher and naturalist Pliny the Elder agrees and seems to locate an Essene community at Qumran. The question, of course, is whether the Qumran community was in fact Essene.

The Essenes were a Jewish religious group, like the Pharisees and the Sadducees (and a number of other smaller ones). Whether the Qumran community was Essene is a much-debated question. According to a recent comprehensive review of Dead Sea Scroll research by leading Israeli Scroll scholar Devorah Dimant, the Qumran community probably was Essene.2 “In my judgment,” she writes, “the fundamental identity has stood the test of time.” But that doesn’t tell us whether the Qumran community, even if Essene, was celibate.

Tending in the opposite direction, two major Dead Sea Scrolls, the Damascus Document and the Rule of the Congregation (1QSa I), speak of women and children. The Damascus Document spells out special rules for a community consisting of families.

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The Damascus Document discovered at Qumran. Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority, Jerusalem.

For a time, the burials of women and children in the large cemetery adjacent to Qumran were thought to weigh against the argument that the Qumranites were celibate. But it turned out that these were burials of medieval-period Bedouin, so the cemetery seems to argue in the opposite direction.

In the end, the question of the Qumran community’s celibacy remains just that—a question or “a thorny problem,” as Dimant characterizes it. “Unsolved difficulties remain.”

And this is just one of the remaining difficulties concerning Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls, which over time have multiplied rather than resolved, in Dimant’s view. What seemed clear in early analyses now seems more complicated. Perhaps, for example, there were two Dead Sea Scroll groups or one group with two aspects—one apocalyptic reflecting commonalities with later Christian groups and one more halakhic or legal, reflecting commonalities with contemporaneous Judaism.

The nature of the Qumranites’ relationship with contemporaneous followers of Temple Judaism is another matter that must now be treated with more subtlety, Dimant believes. The break is not so clear-cut.

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What is clear, however, is that the Qumranites adopted a 365-day calendar, rather than the lunar calendar of Temple (and modern) Judaism. This meant that the Qumranites observed holy days on different dates than followers of Temple Judaism. This is not unique, however; the 365-day calendar is also found in other texts such as 1 Enoch, which is a nonsectarian text. In Dimant’s view, the Qumranites’ different calendar does not necessarily imply a religious schism. She quotes the British Qumran scholar Sacha Stern approvingly: “The notion that the calendar was critical to Qumran sectarianism remains no more than a modern scholarly assumption.” Dimant goes on to wonder whether terms such as “schism” and “rift” are really “appropriate” when describing the relationship between the Qumran group and mainstream Temple Judaism.

This introduces another kind of scholarly divide—between those who emphasize the apocalyptic aspect of the scrolls and find a strong similarity to “the beliefs and organization of early Christian groups” and those who, in contrast, emphasize the Qumranites’ devotion to halakhah (legal rules), as illustrated by six partially surviving copies of the so-called Halakhic Letter (4QMMT) that lists legal disputes mainly concerning cultic purity between the Qumran group and presumably mainstream Judaism. (Incidentally, BAR was successfully sued in an Israeli court for copyright infringement by Ben Gurion University scholar Elisha Qimron for publishing his reconstruction of MMT prior to his official publication of it.) Another Qumran commitment to Jewish halakhah is reflected in the Temple Scroll, the longest of all the Dead Sea Scrolls, which is in the form of a divine address to Moses concerning the construction and operation of the Temple. It is entirely confined to legal matters.

In the end, Dimant refers to the “unsettled scene of Qumran research.” The issues are complex; Dimant cautions against “the reaching of sweeping and simplistic conclusions.”

“First Person: Was the Dead Sea Scroll Community Celibate?” by Hershel Shanks was originally published in Biblical Archaeology Review, May/June 2017.



1. Josephus, Antiquities 18.21 and Jewish War 2.120–121; Philo, Hypothetica 11.

2. Devorah Dimant, History, Ideology and Bible Interpretation in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014), pp. 1–24.

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on May 8, 2017.


11 Responses

  1. Rick C says:

    What if celibacy was a hyperbolized internal code the Essenes used to describe their own separation and holiness? Their texts emphasize these qualities. Then, ‘celibacy’ could have been seized upon by outsiders as an all-too-easy delineation and description of them.

  2. Rick C says:

    What if some of the different calendars were merely academic exercises by scholars of the time?

  3. Denia Joiner says:

    Does the book of the dead sea say anything about women shouldn’t wear pants and they should cover their heads .And are Christan covered​ with the blood of Jesus did Jesus die for all our sins.

  4. Alan Schuetz says:

    Joe, the DSS and the Scriptures confirm one another whether you believe it or not. It’s false church traditions, the machinations of men (incorrect theology), and the doctrines of demons (assimilated paganism) that have led us astray.

  5. Joe says:

    I don’t think they should alter the Bible we have because the scrolls disagree with the text. The idea that the text is automatically more accurate simply because it is older is nonsensical.

  6. Alan Schuetz says:

    They were certainly celibate; these were the “wise men of the east” of Jerusalem — 15 miles as the crow flies. Qumran was where Yochanan (John) the Levite went to study in the desert wilderness; see Luke 1:80. The primary Congregation of men and women of the “sect” called The Way (Heb. HaDerech) in Acts lived in the LITERAL Damascus, Syria, where there is a “street called Straight” to this very day! Where was Sha’ul (Saul) going to persecute the men and women of The Way under orders from the Great Sanhedrin? This community would dedicate their first-born sons to the Lord and send them to Qumran to study. Over the course of nearly three centuries, the 144,000 of Revelation were prepared there; they were sons of Israel, and they were celibate just as the Scriptures state! Were they Pharisees or Sadducees celibate? No! What did Yehoshu’a HaMashiach (Joshua the Messiah) think of the Pharisees in the Eight Woes of Matthew 23? They also followed a 364-day calendar — not 365 as the author erroneously states; see Our modern day is short by a little less than five minutes, and it’s very easy to prove. Our religious leaders and Biblical “scholars” have deceived us!
    The Way in Acts

    So, where is the “sect” called The Way (Heb. HaDerech) mentioned explicitly in Acts?

    * Acts 9:1-31
    * Acts 19:8-10, 23-27
    * Acts 22:1-16
    * Acts 24:1-16 9:1-31; 19:8-10,23-27; 22:1-16; 24:1-16&version=NASB

    The following bears repeating from the words of Paul the Apostle:

    Acts 24:14 But this I admit to you, that according to [T]he Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets;15 having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. (NASB)

    Recall that (Titus Flavius) Josephus (né Yosef ben Matityahu) — a Jewish historian, Roman citizen, and self-described Pharisee — applied the term “Essenes” (=pious ones) to this “sect.” He even had a spurious claim of living among those in Qumran before deciding to practice pharisaism; however, his timeline does not mesh up (i.e., he lied on his résumé). The Dead Sea Scrolls mention “the way” repeatedly in significant manuscripts.

    The Damascus Document describes how the Congregation of men and women lived. They sold all their earthly possessions and donated the proceeds to the collective — living a communal lifestyle. This is confirmed in Acts including some of the problems they encountered:

    * Acts 2:44-47
    * Acts 4:32-37
    * Acts 5:1-11
    * Acts 6:1-6 2:44-47; 4:32-37; 5:1-11; 6:1-6&version=NASB

    John (Yochanan) was instructed in the desert wilderness of Qumran based on Luke 1:80:

    Luke 1:80 And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel. (NASB)

    Do you think that John’s parents — whose father was a Levitical priest — would allow their only son to roam aimlessly in the desert? How would he become “strong in spirit?” The Holy Spirit had not been sent yet!

    Like it or not, THIS was the early church… And, for the Catholic folks, Peter NEVER visited Rome, but as a Roman citizen, Paul definitely did! Again, that is documented in Acts et al.

    Shema Yisrael!
    Who penned the Dead Sea Scrolls?

    The answer is exceptionally easy as to whom penned the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS); the mystery is revealed in the Book of Acts. Luke and Acts were written to Mattathias ben Theophilus (recorded simply as “Theophilus” — just as Yosef ben Caiaphas was referenced as “Caiaphas”). Theophilus was the kohen gadol (=chief priest) in Jerusalem in 65-66 CE at the start of the First Jewish-Roman War that lasted from 66-73 CE. Luke was explicitly written in chronological order taken from eyewitness accounts; see Luke 1:1-4 concentrating on v3.

    The “sect” was called THE WAY (Heb. HaDerech) in Acts. Josephus, a self-described Pharisee (and we know what Christ thought of them in The Eight Woes recorded in Matthew 23) coined the derogatory term “Essenes” (=pious ones). These “wise men from the east” of Jerusalem — 15 miles as the crow flies — in the desert wilderness of Qumran had resided there for nearly two centuries before Christ’s conception on the Feast of New Oil in 5 CE and His birth on the Feast of Weeks in 6 CE. (And, yes, I have confirmed what the “star of Bet Lechem” was with our local planetarium.) Yochanan (John), who was a Levite, went to study in Qumran; see Luke 1:80. Recall that he was “the voice crying out in the (desert) wilderness.” The Feast of Weeks is when The Way made new covenants; Yehoshu’a (Joshua, falsely called “Jesus” from the Latin transliteration — NOT translation — of His name) ushered in the ultimate New Covenant with His birth.

    Malachi was the Teacher of Righteousness, and John Hyrcanus, the first Jew to “proselytize by the sword,” was the Wicked Priest when this “sect” was in its infancy. Malachi explicitly speaks of The Way and of the coming of Yochanan before Yehoshu’a:

    Malachi 2:8 But as for you, you have turned aside from THE WAY (emphasis mine); you have caused many to stumble by the instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi,” says the Lord of hosts. (NASB)

    Malachi 3:1 “Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear THE WAY (emphasis mine) before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts. (NASB)

    The original prophesy in Isaiah:

    Isaiah 40:3 A voice is calling,
    “Clear THE WAY (emphasis mine) for the Lord in the wilderness;
    Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. (NASB)

    Here is the confirmation to this prophesy focusing on Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4, and John 1:23: 3:1-3; Mark 1:2-4; Luke 3:1-6; John 1:19-23&version=NASB

    The Congregation, or men and women of The Way, lived in Damascus, Syria, where there is a “street called Straight” to this very day. They would dedicate their first-born sons to the Lord and send them to Qumran to study. Where was Sha’ul (Saul) going to persecute the men and women of The Way under direct orders of the Great Sanhedrin? It’s all right there in Acts, folks! You just have to open your eyes and quit listening to “Biblical scholars” and their false machinations.

    Of those in Qumran, the last vestiges of them were discovered at Masada according to research via the Biblical Archaeology Society (BAS). Scribal remnants were crossed matched at both locations (

    So, how does The Way factor into prophesy? They are the 144,000 of Revelation! What other Jewish males in that number (12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel) were chaste? Neither the Pharisees nor Sadducees were celibate. The DSS clearly state that those in Qumran were. This “sect” separated themselves from the corruption being practiced in Jerusalem, and they lasted for just under three centuries (early second century BCE to 73 CE). The generation that existed in the time of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection in 36 CE certainly witnessed the destruction of the Second Temple.

    Modern day Israel/Jerusalem follow the Babylonian mysteries. They place more faith in the Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) than they do in the TaNaKh (OT); they follow a Babylonian calendar in which the fourth month is named after the Babylonian deity Tammuz (; and they recite “Adonai” for the Tetragrammaton, which is a reference to the Greek Adonis and the Babylonian Tammuz. They are “Mystery Babylon” from Revelation, and Jerusalem will certainly be destroyed! After the new Heaven and Earth are created, New Jerusalem, the bride of Christ, will descend from Heaven! So be it (amen)…

    Shema Yisrael! (Hear, Israel!)

  7. John Smith says:

    The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible is more important than sexual preferences of any kind.

  8. Jan van Puffelen says:

    The therapeutae as described by Philo of Alexandria in his De vita contemplativa are IMHO the equivalent of the Essenes in Palestine. These therapeutae consisted of men and women. And as I remember, Josephus describes how Essenes could marry after a year or so. Perhaps the community in Qumran was celibate.

  9. edward woolf says:

    They did not have a 365 day calendar; it was 364 days. Unless they added a month once in a while, they would be out of season after a hundred years

  10. AF says:

    Is it possible that some of the differences of ideological emphasis in the various Qumranic writings are reflecting not just static polarities existing in the community at any given time, but also the compiling of shifting concerns that developed generationally?

    For instance, doesn’t Josephus mention how, leading up to the revolt, the youth of that generation were particularly captivated by an apocalyptic/messianic/revolutionary fervor?

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