The Ground: Qumran, Essenes, Jesus and John

Looking south from Qumran
Looking south from Qumran


The Jordan enters the Dead Sea to the left, where the dense growth of trees and plants are visible. The baptism site is about four miles upriver.
The Jordan enters the Dead Sea to the left, where the dense growth of trees and plants are visible. The baptism site is about four miles upriver.

Baptism site from the Israeli bank.

Looking at the Jordanian bank.
Looking at the Jordanian bank.

We were in Qumran in 2009. I took the photo that appears on the cover of my book there. It shows Cave 4, where the first Dead Sea Scrolls were found by a Bedouin boy chasing his goats, or so the story goes. Khirbet Qumran was an Essene settlement. Essenes, a strict, conservative Jewish school, bitterly opposed to the Jews who controlled the High Priesthood, and therefor the Temple in Jerusalem, lived in different places. Accounts also put them in Jerusalem itself, probably not to far from the old Gate of the Essenes there. But, the best known settlement was in Qumran.

Some religious historians think that John, called the Baptiser, and Jesus from Nazareth, possibly one of John’s kinsmen, taught principles that have much in common with the Essenes as disclosed in the writings discovered in the Scrolls. There are, of course, no direct mentions of either John or Jesus, but there are interesting congruences with their teachings and those of the Essenes. A topic to be discussed later.

Now, I would like to observe some physical features of the geography relative to the Jesus and John stories that only became apparent to me while we were there, on the ground. One of my areas of continuing interest is military history. Good historians will tell you that in order to really understand a piece of history, to get a grounding, so to speak, in that area and time, one must at some point be on the ground. Obviously, this will provide a ‘feel’ for the place and any other accounts of the event, a battle for example. But more than a feel, it can provide some real information and even evidence that is applicable to various and different accounts of an event. If terrain and ground features contradict what an account would have one believe, then the ground furnishes evidence to decide what must be true.

In the case of Qumran, the ground revealed something else to me. Standing there amid the ruins, I looked to the east at the shimmering, leaden waters of the Dead Sea. I could easily see where the Jordan River entered the Dead Sea by the strip of winding riverbank foliage marking a bright green path through the brown desert sand and rock. Looking up that river path from where it emptied in the Dead Sea, only a couple of miles or so, I could see the place where we had spent the morning, the traditional place in the Jordan where Jesus was baptized by his kinsman, John. In my mind’s eye, my memory of the stories of this even from the Gospels, I had no idea that these places, Qumran, the Dead Sea and the baptism spot were so close together.

This is important because it lends credence to the idea that John and the Essenes were associated, and also that Jesus, especially if he was a kinsman of John, was also associated with them too. Perhaps an Essene, or a candidate for their brotherhood? After all, if John was at the river there baptizing, the news would have quickly spread though the surrounding area, south to Qumran and north to Jericho. One could have walked out the gate at Qumran and seen the place where John was at work and it would have been a small matter to have walked the few miles to that place for Jesus, or anyone else at Qumran or the neighboring communities.

Of course, I have no ‘hard evidence’ of these suppositions. No one does. Yet. But, standing on the ground at Khirbet Qumran and looking north over the short distance to the Jordan River, I feel much more confident that such a theory has merit and does not contradict any material evidence of the ground.


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