The cliffs of Qumran in the Judean desert, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, have long been thought to have been occupied by some sort of Jewish sect, with which a number of the scrolls seem to be connected. For years the opinion prevailed that it was the dwelling place of the ascetic group known as the Essenes, but many scholars have contested that opinion, with one even arguing that no such sect ever existed. Drawing both on the scrolls themselves and manuscripts found in the Cairo Genizah, one researcher has come to a different conclusion. Rossella Tercatin explains:
Why have archaeologists only found remains of public buildings [at Qumran] and not of private dwellings? How is it possible to explain the presence of thousands of pottery vessels in a place that had a few dozen residents at most? And why did the area feature such a multiplicity of mikva’ot (ritual baths), including very large ones, for such a small population?
According to Daniel Vainstub [of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev], Qumran was intimately connected to the Essenes, but rather than a permanent settlement of the group, it was the site where all its members and candidates would flock from communities all over the country to hold their annual celebration of the “passing of the covenant.”
The ceremony was modeled after one described in Deuteronomy, chapters 27-28. In the passage, Moses instructs the Israelites on how to proclaim God’s blessings and curses on Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim after they enter the land, which is subsequently described in the book of Joshua.