Were Qumanites Essenes?
The famous Dead Sea Scrolls continue to interest many students of ancient Jewish life. One question the scholars of the Dead Sea Scrolls have not resolved is whether the Qumran community was indeed Essene. This was a common assumption during the early years of Dead Sea Scrolls research. The Qumran Jews were seen as Essenes, known to scholars from various historical sources. But today more and more scholars differentiate between the groups as Essenes and Qumranites. Qumranites or Qumran Jews is the community of that geographic location connected to the Scrolls, but Essenes are seen as a broader movement. Though there is much overlap, there are also substantial differences between them. Essenes seemed to have lived in places besides Qumran and even possibly outside of Israel.
Some scholars of the scrolls see Quman Jews through the prism of the apocalyptic beliefs that frequently surface in the scrolls. They find some similarities of Qumranite ideas with the beliefs and the organization of early followers of Jesus. But another group of researchers focuses on the devotion of Qumran Jews to Torah-based Halakhah (legal rules). The six partially surviving copies of 4QMMT outline a number of legal disputes, mostly about cultic purity between the Qumran group and presumably other groups within early Judaism. And then the Temple Scroll, the longest of all the Dead Sea Scrolls, features God’s address to Moses about the construction and operation of the sanctuary. That text is very much preoccupied with legal matters of all sorts.
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