As I anticipated, my last day in Israel was the real climax. We did three things of note (and several other things not of note): the ruins of Qumran, Masada, and the Dead Sea itself.
I was disappointed with how our tour dealt with Qumran. At the visitors’ center they now have a rather ridiculous little film to introduce the site, but it consists almost entirely of a dramatization, in which an imaginary member of the Essene community describes his experience in the community; much of the description involves a “human interest” element, suggesting that John the Baptist may have been connected with the sect. There is little in the film about the ancient evidence for the Essenes, and almost nothing about the modern discovery of the scrolls themselves, what they contain, why they’re significant, or the substantial debates surrounding the character of the ruins of Qumran (is it the Essenes’ community? A Roman villa? A fort? What are the arguments?) and surrounding the relationship of the scrolls to it (what ties them to the ruins? etc.). The film didn’t discuss at *all* what the scrolls actually were and how they have advanced our knowledge of early Judaism and the birth of Christianity. Very disappointing indeed. And our tour guide, I’m sorry to say, didn’t spend much time in the ruins to talk about the significance of the site and the controversial aspects of it (e.g., the cemetery, which included some female remains), and so on.
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