Community centre of the Essenes who produced the famous Dead Sea Scrolls. They lived in natural caves in the adjoining cliffs, in tents, and in underground chambers cut in the soft marl. They gathered here for all the religious and economic activities of the sect. the well-preserved ruins, situated on a little plateau on the north-west shore of the Dead Sea, make it easy to visualize the daily life of these people whose austere dedication excited the admiration of the Roman statesman Pliny the Elder and the Greek orator and philosopher Dio Chrysostom.
The Essenes were not the first to occupy this site. In the C8 BC the Israelites established here a small fort.; it may have served as the centre of a farming settlement, the ‘City of Salt’ mentioned in Josh.15:61-2. The fort had been long abandoned when the Teacher of Righteousness and some fifty Essenes settled there about 150 BC. They took over the earlier building with its round cistern, and modified the plan only to the extent of adding two rectangle stepped cisterns beside the round one, and two kilns in the south-east corner.
At the end of the reign of John Hyrcanus (134-103 BC) an influx of new members necessitated an extensive rebuilding programme. These buildings (which we visit) were damaged by an earthquake in 31 BC, after the Essenes had been forced to abandon the site as the result of military action in the days when Herod the Great fought for his kingdom (40-37 BC). They returned after some years to continue their monastic form of life until the Romans expelled them in AD68. They were no threat to the Romans, but the fortress-like building would have been visible when Vespasian came to the north end of the Dead Sea to test its reputed properties by throwing in a number of bound non-swimmers to see if they float (War 4:477). A small Roman garrison remained on the site to control the traffic on the Dead Sea until the fall of Masada in AD74.
Source: The Holy Land by Jerome Murphy- O’Connor