Scrolls From the Dead Sea: The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Scholarship

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These artifacts from the Qumran Site were on display in the exhibit at the Library of Congress, May - August 1993. They were provided courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority. The exhibit captions (below) provide background on the objects and their relationship with the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Qumran Community, and its Library.

Phylactery (Leather)

Qumran Phylactery Cases Qumran Phylactery Cases
First century B.C.E.-first century C.E.

4Q Phyl cases 1008
Case A: length 3.2 cm (1 1/4 in.), width 1 cm (3/8 in.)
Case B: length 2.2 cm (7/8 in.), width 1.2 cm (1/2 in.)
Case C: length 2 cm (3/4 in.), width 1 cm (3/8 in.)
Case D: length 2.3 cm (7/8 in.), width 2.6 cm (1 in.)
Case E: length 1.3 cm (1/2 in.), width 2.1 cm (13/16 in.)
Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority (84)

Phylactery case A is constructed of two pieces of stitched leather. It contains four chambers and each compartment can hold a minute slip containing a prayer. Meant to be worn on the arm, phylactery case B has only one compartment. It is formed of a single piece of leather folded in two, with one half deeply stamped out to contain a tiny inscribed slip. A fine leather thong was inserted at the middle, and the halves were folded over and stitched together. Cases C-E are similar to the four- compartment case A.


               C         D         B

                    A         E

Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, I, p.7. Oxford, 1955.


Wooden artifacts are rare finds in the material culture of the ancient Near East, and few specimens from the Roman period have survived. Because of unusually arid climatic conditions at Qumran, however, many wooden objects were retrieved including bowls, boxes, mirror frames, and combs. Their fine state of preservation facilitates the study of ancient woodworking techniques.

First century B.C.E.-first century C.E.

52.3, 52.3a
Comb A: length 6 cm (2 3/8 in.), width 9.5 cm (3 3/4 in.)
Comb B: length 6.3 cm (2 1/2 in.), width 8 cm (3 1/8 in.)
Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority (85, 86)


Similar to most ancient combs, these combs are two-sided. One side has closely-spaced teeth for straightening the hair, and the other side provides even more teeth for delousing the scalp. Both combs are fashioned from boxwood.



First century B.C.E.

Height 4.9 cm (1 15/16 in.), diameter 26 cm (10 1/4 in.)
Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority (87)

This deep bowl has a flat base, expertly turned on a lathe. Several concentric circles are incised in its base, and the rim of the bowl is rounded. Most wooden objects found in the Qumran area are of "acacia tortilis," a tree prevalent in the southern wadis "valleys" of Israel.


Locating pottery, coins, and written material at an archaeological site establishes a relative and an absolute chronological framework for a particular culture. Pottery vessels found in the immediate area of Qumran and items from the surrounding caves and cliff openings are identical. The area seems to have been a regional center and most likely was supplied by a single pottery workshop.

A large number of cylindrical scroll jars were found at Qumran. Utilitarian items found in Qumran include small jugs, flasks, drinking cups, cooking pots, serving dishes, and bowls. A storeroom found during the excavation contained more than a thousand pottery items arranged by function. This trove included vessels for cooking, serving, pouring, drinking, and dining.

De Vaux, R. Archaeology and the Dead Sea Scrolls. London, 1973.

Lapp, P. Palestinian Ceramic Chronology, 200 B.C.-A.D. 70. New Haven, 1961.

Qumran Pottery Examples

Large Jar

Two-handled Jar

Two-handled Jar
First century B.C.E.-first century C.E.

KhQ 1634
Height 37.25 cm (14 1/2 in.), diameter 18.7 cm (7 1/4 in.)
Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority (55)

This elongated barrel-shaped jar has a ring base, a ribbed body, a very short wide neck, and two loop handles. The vessel was probably used to store provisions.


Herodian Lamp
Pottery with fiber wick
First century B.C.E.-first century C.E.

Height 4.3 cm (1 11/16 in.), length 10 cm (4 in.)
Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority (74)

Herodian Lamp

This type of lamp was found in strata associated with Herod's reign (37-4 B.C.E.). A similar lamp was uncovered in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem, in strata dating to the destruction of the Second Temple (70 C.E.), thus raising questions as to the date of the lamp.

Characteristic features of this lamp type are a circular wheel-made body, a flat unmarked base, and a large central filling hole. The spatulate nozzle was hand-built separately and later attached to the body. Traces of a palm-fiber wick were found in the lamp's nozzle.



First century B.C.E.-first century C.E.

KhQ 1591 a-o
Height 2.6-5.5 cm (1-2 3/16 in.), diameter 13.6-16.4 cm
(6 7/16-13 3/8 in.)
Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority (40-54)

Plates, bowls, and goblets were found in one of the rooms at Qumran, with dozens of vessels piled one on top of the other. This room probably served as a "crockery" (storage area) near the assembly room, which may have functioned as the dining room.

These fifteen, wheel-made plates are shallow, with a ring base and upright rim. The firing is metallic. Hundreds of plates were recovered, most of them complete, some with traces of soot.

Stacked Goblets
First century B.C.E.-first century C.E.

KhQ 1587 a-h
Height 26.5 cm (10 7/16 in.), diameter 16 cm (6 1/4 in.)
Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority (65-72)

Stacked Goblets

During the excavation of the Qumran ruin, these V-shaped drinking goblets were found stacked in what had been a storeroom. The quality of their construction and craftsmanship leads some contemporary archaeologists to argue that the site was a Roman villa, because the presence of vessels of this quality would not be in keeping with the austerity of an ascetic community.

Vase, Jug, Cooking Pots, Bowls, Pottery

First century B.C.E.-first century C.E.

KhQ364, KhQ 1192, KhQ 1565, KhQ 2506, KhQ 2506/a, KhQ 1601/a-b
Height 8.5-22 cm (3 3/8 in.-8 5/8 in.), diameter 17-26 cm (6 5/8-10 1/4 in.)
Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority (59-64)

These objects are representative of the finds from the immediate area of Qumran. The repertory of pottery from Qumran chiefly consists of modest utilitarian items including cooking pots, vases and small jugs, serving dishes, drinking cups, and bowls. These items on display are a small selection of the more than 1000 pottery items found at the site.

no image for this item


An elongated piece with a ribbed body and a ring base, this vase has a short neck that is turned inside out.

Height 17 cm (6 5/8 in.), diameter 9.5 cm (3 3/4 in.) KhQ364


Height 19.5 cm (7 5/8 in.), diameter 14 cm (5 1/2 in.) hQ 1192

This globular jug has a ribbed body and a long, tapering neck ending in a splayed rim. A single-loop handle extends from the rim to the upper part of the body.


Cooking Pot (1)

Cooking Pot (1)

This flattened pot has a ribbed shoulder and a short, wide neck. The firing is metallic.

Height 15 cm (5 7/8 in.), diameter 24 cm (9 3/8 in.) KhQ 1565

Cooking Pot (2)

Cooking Pot (2)
Cooking Pot (3)

These two pots have a similar globular-shaped design. The surface of the body, from shoulder to base, is ribbed. Two ribbed handles span the vessel from the rim to the upper part of the shoulder. The firing is metallic. Traces of soot are discernable over the lower part.

Height 20.5 cm (8 in.), diameter 26 cm (10 1/4 in.) KhQ 2506
Height 22 cm (8 5/8 in.), diameter 23 cm (9 in.) KhQ 2506/a

Cooking Pot (3)


Hemispherical in shape, these bowls have a ring base and an inverted rim.

Bowl A: Height 8.5 cm (3 3/8 in.), diameter 12.4 cm (4 7/8 in.)
Bowl B: Height 9.2 cm (3 5/8 in.), diameter 13.5 cm (5 5/16 in.)
KhQ 1601/a-b


Basketry and Cordage

Basketry and cordage represent major types of perishable finds retrieved in this arid part of Israel. The basketry fragments on display are made of date palm leaves, a material convenient for making baskets and mats. Reconstruction of weaving or plaiting techniques is possible because of the exceptional conditions inside the caves of the Dead Sea region. The technique used is a type of plaiting that was popular during Roman times and remained in favor through the following centuries; a variant is still used in the Near East today. Basketry was probably very common, as it is to this day, in various household activities. However, in times of need, baskets and mats also served for collecting and wrapping the bones and skulls of the dead.

Cordage was made from materials indigenous to this region: palm leaves, palm fibers, and rushes. Cords had various uses as packaging and reinforcing material and as handles for baskets.

Basket Fragments

Basket Fragments
Palm leaves
First century B.C.E.-first century C.E.

Fragment A: Length 26 cm (10 1/8 in.), width 16.5 cm (6 1/2 in.)
Fragment B: Length 21.2 cm (8 1/4 in.), width 19.5 cm (7 5/8 in.)
Four courses preserved
Technique: Braid of 13 elements in 2/2 twill plaiting
Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority (77, 78)

Because of the exceptional conditions inside the caves of the Dead Sea region, several baskets and mats of plaited weave survived intact, allowing the reconstruction of weaving or plaiting techniques. The Qumran plaited basket is made of a single braid ("zefira" in Mishnaic terms) composed of several elements (qala`ot) and spiraling from base to rim. The coiled braid was not sewn together; instead, successive courses were joined around cords as the weaving progressed. In a complete basket the cords are not visible, but they form horizontal ridges and a ribbed texture. Each basket had two arched handles made of palm-fiber rope attached to the rims by passing reinforcing cords through the plaited body of the basket.


Cords and Ropes
Palm leaves, palm fibers, and rushes
First century B.C.E.-first century C.E.

Cords and Ropes

The cordage on display represents binding materials of varying thickness and use. Fragment A may have functioned as a ridge or reinforcing cord. Fragments B-D are heavier cords and may have been used in packaging or to tie bundles and waterskins. Fragment E (image not available for online exhibit) is a detached handle.

Fragment A:

Palm leaves
1Q and 2Q
Diameter 3 mm (1/8 in.)
Technique: 2-ply cable, final twist in "S" direction (z2s)

Fragments B-D:

Palm leaves and undeterimined rushes
Diameter 7-10 mm (1/4-7/16 in.)
Technique: 3-ply cable, final twist "Z" (s3z); one rope has an overhand knot

Fragment E (image not available for online exhibit):

Heavy Rope
Diameter 15-20 mm (5/8-13/16 in.)
Technique: Compound 3-ply cable, final twist "Z" (z3s3z)

All fragments courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority (79-83)


The Judean Desert at the Qumran site has yielded a number of leather objects which permit the study of ancient tanning techniques. Water skins, large bags, pouches, purses, sandals, and garments have been found in various desert sites.

The majority of these leather objects are fashioned from sheepskin; a few pieces, particularly those used as patches, are of goatskin and calfskin. These skins were tanned by using vegetable matter, specifically tannic acid extracted from nuts and pomegranates.

Sandal ASandal B

Sandal A
Sandal B
First century B.C.E.-first century C.E.

Sandal A: length 22 cm (8 5/8 in.), width 6.8 cm (2 5/8 in.)
Sandal B: length 21 cm (8 1/4 in.), width 5.5 cm (2 1/8 in.)
Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority (88, 89)

Shown here are sandal soles of the "soleae" style. Intact sandals of this type, dating from different centuries, were found at Masada and in the Cave of Letters, all in the Dead Sea region.

These soles are made of three layers of leather secured with leather bindings. Through slits situated near the heel, tabs entered the upper sole. The upper part of each tab was pierced by two vertical slits through which the main strap was threaded. The two ends of the main strap were then threaded into a slit on the upper part of the sandal, near the toe, where they were tied, holding the foot onto the sole.


Stone vessels, usually manufactured of malleable limestone, were commonly found in the Jerusalem area in the late Second Temple period. There are abundant examples in Qumran, in a variety of shapes and sizes, which demonstrate expert workmanship.

The reason for the use of some of these vessels can be found in Jewish ritual law (halakhah). Stone, in contrast to pottery, does not become ritually unclean (tamei). Jewish law maintains that pottery vessels which have become ritually unclean must be broken, never to be used again, whereas in similar circumstances stone vessels retain their ritual purity and need not be discarded (Mishnah. Kelim 10:11; Parah 3:2).

Widespread use of these stone vessels is particularly evident because of their discovery in the excavations of the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem. Some of these vessels served the same functions as ceramic vessels, and some had particular shapes and functions. Although the raw material is common in Jerusalem, the cost of production was, no doubt, far greater than that of pottery. The flourishing manufacture of stone vessels came to an end in the wake of the destruction of the Second Temple (70 C.E.).

Measuring Cups
First century C.E.

KhQ 1036, KhQ 1604
Cup (A): height 7.5 cm (3 in.), diameter 8 cm (3 1/8 in.)
Cup (B): height 12.8 cm (5 in.), diameter 19.4 cm (7 1/2 in.)
Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority (38,39)

Measuring Cups

Cylindrical cups of this type are frequently found in sites of the Second Temple Period. It is believed that their capacities correspond to the dry and liquid measures mentioned in the Mishnah, a collection of rabbinic laws governing all aspects of Jewish life.

The surfaces of these vessels were pared with a knife or adze, and their surface was left un-smoothed. The vertical handles rule out the possibility that they might have been produced on a rotating lathe.


Large Goblet
First century C.E.

Height 72 cm (28 1/4 in.), diameter 38.5 cm (15 1/8 in.)
Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority (37)

This large goblet-shaped vessel was produced on a lathe, probably in Jerusalem, and is extremely well crafted. It is surprising that an ancient lathe was capable of supporting and working such a large and heavy stone block. The vessel may shed light on the shape of the "kallal," mentioned in the Talmudic sources as a vessel for holding the purification ashes of the red heifer (Mishnah Parah 3:3).


In 1955, three intact ceramic vessels containing a total of 561 silver coins were found under a doorway at the Qumran excavation site. The vessels were filled to the brim with coins and their mouths were covered with palm-fiber stoppers. Two out of three of the hoard vessels are of a type otherwise unknown at Qumran. New members of the sect may have had to surrender their worldly goods to the treasurer of the community. The vessels and their contents then, would constitute the deposit of one or a number of new adherents. On the other hand it should be noted that depositing coins at a building's foundation, often under doorways, was a common practice in antiquity.


Coins Coins

The Qumran Hoard of Silver Coins
24 silver coins
Between 136/135 and 10/9 B.C.E.

Diameter 3/4-1 1/8 in.
Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority (13-36)

Coan Hoard

Pere Roland de Vaux, a mid twentieth-century excavator of Qumran, relied heavily on coin evidence for his dating and interpretations of the various strata of the site. The early coins in the hoard were minted in Tyre and included tetradrachms of Antiochus VII Sidetes and Demetrius II Nicator (136/135- 127/126 B.C.E.), as well as six Roman Republican denarii from the mid-first century B.C.E. The bulk of the hoard represents the autonomous continuation of the Seleucid mint: the well-known series of Tyrian shekalim and half-shekalim, minted from 126/125 B.C.E. onward. These are the same coins that were prescribed in the Temple for the poll tax and other payments (Tosefta. Ketubot 13, 20).

Meshorer, Y. Ancient Jewish Coinage. Dix Hills, N.Y., 1982.

Sharabani, M. "Monnaies de Qumran au Musee Rockefeller de Jerusalem," Revue Biblique 87 (1980): 274-84.

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