Archeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls



Historically, The Dead Sea Scrolls are some of the most fascinating and valuable archeological discoveries made in the 20th century. The excavation at Qumran provided invaluable information about Judaism and the past Jewish world. Similarly to the Scrolls, the Qumran site continued to be at the center of scholarly debates. Decades after Fr. Roland de Vaux’s excavations at Qumran, the interpretation and reconstruction of the site was hotly contested. In her book The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jodi Magness acknowledges that archeology contributes to every debated topic of buildings nature and identity of the inhabitants of Qumran. In an effort to shed more light on the archeology of Qumran, this article reviews a book by this veteran archeologist.

Book Review

The Archeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls by Jodi Magness is a portion of archeological series titled Studies in the Dead Sea and Related Literature. As a part of the series, the book supplements the Dead Sea Scrolls literature. The book is designed for general readership, hence being suitable for students, scholars, and the general public interested in the history of the Dead Sea. Magness’s book introduces readers to the subject of archeology in Qumran, but also covers the introduction to archeology as well as the excavation methods used by archeologists. In these subsections, Magness introduces readers to the methods of archeology such as dating, pottery chronology, and sheds light on why archeologists use the highlighted methods in the reconstruction of historical sites, particularly Qumran. For this reason, specialists will find the book useful because it collects and analyzes the latest archeological research. Additionally, its audience is largely undergraduates and the shelves of specialists in Dead Sea Scrolls. In other words, the book is valuable for any individual who needs a concise and clear guide through the archeology of Qumran.

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Throughout the volume, Magness assumes that the original source text from the site contains legitimate data that can form the basis for interpreting the site. The texts used in the volume include the ancient historical source and the scrolls discovered in the 11 caves. This approach is heavily contested in the Dead Sea Scroll literature because it has been argued that the original excavator of the Qumran text, de Vaux, allowed his knowledge of Qumran to skew his understanding of the site. However, Magness (43) argues that there are tangible archeological backing for assuming a link between the scroll excavated from the 11 caves and the archaeological site of Qumran. One of the reasons presented is that the same type of ceramics (pottery) was discovered in the ruins and the in the caves. For this reason, she used the scroll as her primary source of data and evidence for recreating the site. Further, Magness (44) counters those who contend that not scroll fragments were found at this site because Qumran was destroyed by fire twice, leaving no organic material.

Magness’s book is well written and easy to comprehend even for non-scholars and specialists in the realm of archeology. The references at the end of each chapter assist readers to find more resources in the growing literature on the archeology of Qumran. Based on her arguments and the fact that the text in the scrolls presents some anomalies, the book has gained popularity among archeologists and specialists in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Another strength of the volume is linked to the author’s willingness to employ the scrolls as a key source of evidence. As of consequences, Magness is able to shed light on the ubiquity of the ovoid and cylindrical jars found in the caves and at the site. In the same respect, archeological data illuminate how the inhabitants of Qumran enforced their regulations. Magness (15) defends the conventional model as a correct interpretation of the site. Additionally, she adopts the de Vaux’s model in which textual and archeological evidence are combined to yield a coherent picture of sectarian settlement at Qumran. Magness skillfully modulates her standpoint throughout the book regularly adding new and valuable insights that strengthens her perspective.

Magness covers various subjects about the archeology of Qumran in chapters 3 to 9. She discusses neighboring settlements in chapter 10. One of the limitations noted in the book regards its structure. For instance, all the illustrations in the volume are located in the beginning of the book. For this reason, readers are forced to flip back and forth between the subsection and the figures. Ideally, each figure should be positioned next to the corresponding text. Another weakness of Magness’s book is the lack of de Vaux’s final publication on the original excavations. She notes that De Vaux passed away in 1971 without publishing his final report on the excavation (Magness 2). In the introduction, Magness highlights this problem and concludes by pointing out that “most of the interpretations and conclusions presented in this book are tentative” (Magness 4). However, it is unlikely that the broad summations reached by Magness are considerably changed in the final publication.


The Archeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls by Jodi Magness is an excellent book covering the archeology of Qumran. Thus, it is likely to continue gaining a larger readership by students, scholars, and the general public. Jodi Magness certainly fills the literature gap left by de Vaux and felt by scholars and the interested public. The resources at the end of each chapter also bridge the gap in the literature about Qumran. Despite the few shortcomings in the book, it is definitely an informing book that introduces the readers to the archeology of Qumran.

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