Biblical Archaeology Review 19:3, May/June 1993

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 of Qumran.

Directed by a Dominican father, Roland de Vaux, the excavation and survey was sponsored by the École Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jerusalem (de Vaux’s institution), the Jordanian Department of Antiquities and the Palestine Archaeological Museum. Five seasons of excavation were conducted between 1953 and 1956.

De Vaux never used the word “monastery” with regard to the Qumran settlement, so far as I have been able to find. Yet he used words that led some scholars to ascribe this conclusion to him. Thus, he described the room where he thought scrolls were written (inkwells were found there) as “a scriptorium in the sense in which this term later came to be applied to similar rooms in monasteries of the Middle Ages.”1 He referred to the dining room of the settlement as “the refectory.”

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