Mikvah, Qumran

Mikvah, Qumran

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Mikvah, Qumran - History

The Jewish Background of Christian Baptism by Ron Moseley, Ph. D.

Jewish Mikveh

The term mikveh in Hebrew literally means any gathering of waters, but is specifically used in Jewish law for the waters or bath for the ritual immersion. Ancient sages teach that the word mikveh has the same letters as Ko(v)Meh, the Hebrew word for "rising" or "standing tall," therefore we see the idea of being baptized "straightway."

The building of the mikveh was so important in ancient times it was said to take precedence over the construction of a synagogue. On the third day of creation we see the source of the word mikveh for the first time in Genesis 1:10 when the Lord says,

Because of this reference in Genesis the ocean is still a legitimate mikveh to orthodox Jews.

Tovelei Shaharit (Dawn Bathers)

The Essenes were anciently known as regular practicioners of daily immersion. In the Talmud these daily Mikveh practicioners are called tovelei shaharit or "dawn bathers."Not only Nasarenes, but several other Jewish groups observed ritual immersion every day to assure readiness for the coming of the Messiah. Epiphanius mentioned one of these groups called Hemerobaptists which means "daily bathers" in Greek. The Clementine Homilies, or Recognitions of Clement, tell us that Peter always washed, often in the sea, before dawn which was no doubt a custom of all Nasarenes of his time. This practice received great attention by early historical writers on the Essenes. Qumran is certainly filled with ritual bathing pools and one quite large community Miqvah has been uncovered outside of the Essene Synagogue / Temple site in the Essene quarter of Jerusalem.

Ancient dawn bathing Nasarenes used at least three forms of Baptism, or mikveh purifications. We know this because the surviving remnants of these Nasarenes, the Nasorai sect (Mandeans), still preserve these forms of this ancient Nasarene purification rite once practiced and promoted by Yeshua (Jesus). They are the daily Rishama Mikveh immersion, performed before dawn. The Tamasha immersion, and the Masbuta immersion. The surviving Mandean versions of these are:

  • RISHAMA BAPTISM: The first of the miqvah purifications performed is the rishama (signing), the priests presence is not required, such that each man or woman is his or her own priest or priestess. This should be performed daily, and with covered head, just before sunrise after the evacuation of the bowels and before all religious ceremonies.
  • TAMASHA BAPTISM: The second, the tamasha , is a simple triple immersion in the river, again this is performed without the aid of the priest or priestess. In present Mandean tradition, it must be performed by women after menstruation and after childbirth. Both man and woman must perform this ablution immediately after sexual intercourse, it must be performed after touching a dead body, after nocturnal pollution or any serious defilement or contact with a defiled person, as impurity is contagious - a person touching an unclean person, himself becomes unclean. These practices are related to the ritual purity laws of the Jews and were no doubt taught and practiced to some degree, and after their own fashion, by early Nasarenes (See Clementine Homiless ). In the Qumran Temple Scroll , the first of the regulations concerning people who were excluded from the holy temple precincts concerned a man who had a nocturnal emission. He was not permitted to re-enter “until three days have passed. He shall wash his garments and bathe on the first day, and on the third day he shall wash his garments and bathe, and after sunset he shall enter the sanctuary.”
  • MASBUTA BAPTISM: The third ablution, or ‘full baptism’, encompasses all aspects of baptism and must be performed by a priest or priestess. This ablution is known as masbuta ( maswetta ) includes the sacraments of oil, bread (known as pihtha ) and water (from the river only, known as mambuha ), the kushta (the hand grasp and kiss) and the final blessing by laying the right hand of the priest or / and priestess on the head of the baptised person. The masbuta should take place on the first day of the week, in association with major initiations and after major or shameful defilement’s. Major sins such as theft, murder, and adultery require more than one baptism.

The modern B'nai-Amen version of these three immersions are:

  • RISHAMA MIKVAH: This is a daily pre-dawn self-immersion.
  • TAMASHA MIKVAH: This is the weekly immersion held at the outset of the lunar Sabbath. It is a three-fold self immersion during the Sangha refuge.
  • MASBUTA MIKVAH: This is the special Shekinah Day baptism ceremony held anually and semi-annually. It is performed jointly by one's Godmother and Godfather (i.e. Spiritual Guardians).

The rabbinical tradition attributes, in its Mishnah, to Ezra a decree that each male should immerse himself before praying or studying. Immersion was so important among the Pharisees that it occurred before the high Priest conducted the service on the Day of Atonement, before the regular priests participated in the Temple service, before each person entered the Temple complex, before a scribe wrote the name of God, as well as several other occasions.

Essene & Pharisee Temple Mikvaot

The New Testament tells us that many of the early church's daily activities were centered around the Essene Temple. Historically, we know that there were also many ritual immersion baths (mikvaot) on the Bloody Temple Mount including one in the Chamber of Lepers situated in the northwest corner of the Court of Women (Mid. 2:5). Josephus tells us that even during the years of war (66-73 A.D.) the laws of ritual immersion were strictly adhered to (Jos. Wars, 4:205). Herod's Temple itself contained immersion baths in various places for the priests to use, even in the vaults beneath the court (Commentary to Tam. 26b Tam. 1:1). The High Priest had special immersion pools in the Temple, two of which are mentioned in the Mishnah. We are told one of these was in the Water Gate in the south of the court and another was on the roof of the Parva Chamber (Mid. 1:4 Mid. 5:3). There was an additional place for immersion on the Mount of Olives which was connected with the burning of the red heifer (Par. 3:7). A special ramp led to the mikveh on the Mount of Olives from the Temple Mount, which was built as an arched way over another arched way to avoid uncleanness from the graves in the valley below. Recent archaeological excavations have found 48 different mikvaot near the Monumental Staircase leading into the Temple Complex.

Rabbinical Mikveh Use

According to non-Essene Jewish law there are three basic areas where immersion in the mikveh is required.

  • Immersion is required for both men and women when converting to Judaism. There were three prerequisites for a proselyte coming into Judaism: Circumcision, baptism, and sacrifice (Maimonides, Hilkh. Iss. Biah xiii. 5). Essene Law also included conversion immersion, but not circumcision or animal sacrifice.
  • Immersion is required after a woman has her monthly period (Lev. 15:28). Essene Law also included immersion for some forms of sexual pollution, but not all sexuallity was considered defiling.
  • Immersion is required for pots and eating utensils manufactured by a non-Jew (Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion p-263). Essene Law also included utensil immersion.
  • It is customary to be immersed in the mikveh before Yom Kippur as a sign of purity and repentance and before the Sabbath in order to sensitize oneself to the holiness of the day.

There are six descending orders of Mikveh spoken of in the non-Essene Mishnah (Oral Law), the highest being that of a spring or flowing river, such as the Jordon. Nasurai (Mandean) texts tell us that this was considered the highest form of Mikveh among Nasarenes as well.

The six non-Essene restrictions on the water used in the mikveh come from the corrupt Leviticus 11:36 text. They are:

  • The mikveh can not contain other liquid besides water.
  • The water has to be either built into the ground or be an integral part of a building attached to the ground.
  • The mikveh can not be flowing except for a natural spring, river or ocean.
  • The water can not be manually drawn.
  • The water can not be channeled to the mikveh by anything unclean.
  • The mikveh must contain at least 40 sa'ah or approximately 200 gallons of water. (Rabbi Yitzchok ben Sheshes said the amount of 40 sa'ah was derived from the idea that the largest normal human body has a volume of 20 sa'ah, therefore the amount of water needed to "nullify" this body is double this amount or 40 sa'ah.)


To the ancient Jews, both Essene and non-Essene, the mikveh was a process of spiritual purification and cleansing, especially in relation to the various types of Turmah or ritual defilement when the Temple was in use. We learn from the Clementine Homilees that Peter practiced daily pre-dawn Mikveh immersion. We may infer from this that all Nasarenes, including Yeshua and Maria, also practiced daily purifications. The orthodox (Rabbinic Judaism) clasifies Mikveh laws under the Chukim group:

Mishpatim Laws: The moral or ethical laws that are necessary for man to live in harmony are known as Mishpatim and are literally translated judgments.
Edos Laws: The rituals and festivals which reawaken us to important religious truths such as Sabbath, holidays, the Tefillin and the Mezuzah that remind us of God's presence are known as Edos and are literally translated witnesses.
Chukim Laws: The third group often has no explicit reason given for their existence except for Israel's identification as God's chosen people to the other nations (Deuteronomy 4:6). This group of laws are known as Chukim and are literally translated as decrees. Among the decrees of this group are the dietary laws as well as ritual immersion.

Squatting Immersion

In ancient times immersion was to be performed in the presence of witnesses (Yebam. 47b). The person being baptized made special preparations by cutting his nails, undressed completely and made a fresh profession of his faith before the designated "fathers of the baptism" (Kethub. 11a Erub 15a). This is possibly where churches, sometime later, got the term Godfathers. The individual stood straight up with the feet spread and the hands held out in front. The candidate would totally immerse themselves by squatting in the water with a witness or baptizer doing the officiating. Note the New Testament points out the fact that Jesus came up straightway out of the water (Matthew 3:16).

The concept of immersion in rabbinic literature is referred to as a new birth (Yeb. 22a 48b 97b Mass. Ger. c.ii). Note six other important aspects of ancient rabbinic Jewish immersion:

1. Immersion was accompanied by exhortations and benedictions (Maimonides Hilkh. Milah iii.4 Hilkh. Iss, Biah Xiv .6). A convert would reafirm his acceptance of the Torah by declaring, "I will do and I will hear" which was a phrase from the oath that was originally taken by the priests not to forsake the Torah (Deuteronomy 29:9- 14). Mandeans had a similar saying they were known to utter at such times. This ritual demonstrates the willingness of the convert to forsake his Gentile background and assume his Jewish identity by taking on the status of one who keeps the commandments.

According to a number of Jewish sages, mayim, which is the Hebrew word for water, shares the same root as the word "mah", meaning "what." This teaching points out that when a person immerses in water, he is nullifying the fleshly ego and is asking, "what am I?" in the same manner that Moses and Aaron did in Exodus 16:7 when they said to the Lord, "we are what?"

2. The Jewish baptism candidates were often immersed three times. The idea of total immersion comes from the Scripture in Leviticus 15:16 when it says, "he shall wash all his flesh in the water." One reason it was customary to immerse three times was because the word mikveh occurs three times in the Torah. We know this to have been an early Nasarenes practice under Yeshua.

3. According to Jewish law the immersion had to have a required witness. Dr. William LaSor in the Biblical Archaeology Review says apparently the Biblical phrase "in the name of" was an indication of the required witness. In several New Testament references such as I Corinthians 1:13, 15 Matthew 21:25 Acts 1:22 and Acts 19:3 we see early baptism mentioned in conjunction with the name of individuals such as John and Paul. Further information on this can be found in Jewish literature concerning proselyte baptism where it indicates his baptism required attestation by witnesses in whose name he was immersed.

4. The immersion candidate was not initially touched by the baptizer in Yeshua's (Jesus') day. Because Leviticus 15:16 says "He shall wash all his flesh in the water," Rabbinical Judaism stresses that the entire body must come in contact with the water of the mikveh. To insure the immersion was valid, no clothing or individuals could touch the candidate. Any such intervention that prevented the water from reaching a part of the body was known as Chatzitzah and rendered the immersion invalid. Although the mikveh was more spiritual than physical, often the bath had two sets of steps, one entering and another leaving so as not to defile what had been purified. We know from Mandean tradition, and also Cyril of Jerudalem, that early Nasarene baptisms were performed without restricted clothing. Once relativily pure from preliminary self immersions, catecumens could be touched by the oficiating Priest and Priestess for full Baptism.

5. The baptismal water (Mikveh) in rabbinic literature was referred to as the womb of the world, and as a convert came out of the water it was considered a new birth separating him from the pagan world. As the convert came out of these waters his status was changed and he was referred to as "a little child just born" or "a child of one day" (Yeb. 22a 48b 97b). We see the New Testament using similar Jewish terms as "born anew," "new creation," and "born from above", although among Nasarenes one was seen as born anew and separated from the non-Essene world, and among B'nai-Amen the immersion meant separation from all the world, including the unconsecrated Nasarenes.

6. Jewish law requires at least three witnesses made up of qualified leaders to be present for certain immersions (Yebam 47b). Ordinarily a member of the Sanhedrin performed the act of observing the proselytes immersion, but in case of necessity others could do it. Secret baptism, or where only the mother brought a child, was not acknowledged. Essene law had similar injunctions.

The Jerusalem Talmud states, "nothing can stand before repentance" (Yebamos 47b). According to Dr. David Flusser, the Dead Sea Scrolls as well as the New Testament teach that water can purify the body only if the soul has first been purified through repentance and righteousness.

The Jews believe that uncleanness is not physical, but rather a spiritual condition as related in Leviticus 11:44 where it states by wrong actions one can make the "soul unclean." Therefore, the purification through ritual immersion, as commanded in Essene tradition, and rabbinical scripture, is basically involved with the soul, rather than the body. In rabbinical tradition, water and blood symbolism intertwine. In true Essene tradition, purification comes thru the Earthly Mother and her consecrated elements of earth, water, air and fire. There are two types of each of these four elements, making eight consecrated substances used for purification among the B'nai-Amen. The are Grain and Salt (Earth) Water and Oil (Water) Ash and Spirit (Air), and Incense and Wine (Fire).
Associated with these 8 substances are eight everyday cleaning agents: Corn Starch and Borax (Earth) Water and Soap (Water) non-phosphate Detergent/Washing Soda and Hydrogen Peroxide (Air), and Aromatics and Vinegar (Fire).

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Qumran gained its present name from the Bedouin who often used its more visible ruins for shelter and eventually brought the site, Qumran, to fame when they came across scrolls hidden in caves close to the site in the middle of the 20th century – the Dead Sea Scrolls.
To understand Qumran and its many confusing or even contradictory discoveries and theories, we must first look at the excavated architecture – the community buildings and constructions the lifestyle(s) which they seem to represent and use simple logic too, before trying to tie in these discoveries with the findings in the cave-scrolls.
What is clear and agreed upon by academics and archaeologists, is that Qumran was:

  • Qumran was first used as early as Iron Age II – meaning the 8th-9th centuries BCE, identified by pottery, tools, and wall construction from the earliest strata shows this.
  • Qumran expanded to what we see exposed today, with most of the excavated and visible buildings having been constructed during the Hasmonean Period (Maccabean Dynasties).
  • Qumran was inhabited continuously from around 130 BCE until its destruction by Titus’ Roman forces in 68-69CE.
  • Qumran was occupied as a Roman garrison for a period of 20 years at the end of the 1st century CE.
  • Qumran was re-used during the 3rd Jewish revolt against Rome, the Bar Cochva Revolt, in the years 132-135 CE.

Exploration of Qumran.

By the middle of the 19th Century explorers and archaeologists had already come across both the clearly visible ‘tower’ at the Qumran site and the graveyard with over 1000 tombs to the east of Qumran.

Many surveys were made in the 19th and early 20th centuries even before the discovery of the nearby scrolls. Excavations under Israeli control in the early 1970s uncovered the Qumran site in detail for the first time, beneath the debris of destruction and time which had really left only the Roman-era tower clearly visible above the surface.

The ‘Refectory’ of Qumran

The discovery of a room identified as a ‘dining room’ due to an adjacent ‘clay dining vessel’ room, judging both by its size and by its long rectangular shape, similar to that of the typical ‘Beit Midrash” for the late 2nd Temple Era, led to the conclusion that this room was the one used for teaching, eating and most community business.

In most 2nd Temple Era communities, this is defined as the “Beit Knesset” (synagogue) used for all community gatherings as well as its school but would only have been used as a dining room too for wedding feasts. One type of construction is conspicuously absent from Qumran – all the buildings are community ones. No constructed dwellings of any kind have been found, suggesting they dwelt in the caves and in tents or under date palm trees around the site.

Craftwork in Qumran

Various rooms, as well as kilns, show that the inhabitants made their living from Agriculture as well as creating their own tools, pots and processing the locally grown products such as date honey – over 100,000 date pits were found on the site.

Scribes in Qumran

The discovery of inkwells and many quills in another community room showed perhaps that another income for the community was in the creation and copying of the scrolls of Holy Scripture – the Hebrew Bible. This said it must be pointed out that scrolls were not discovered in the community buildings.

Engineering of Qumran

The discovery of the dam over the Nahal (flood torrent), which had held back the rainwater draining from the Jerusalem area and the aqueduct into which the water was directed, showed a degree of engineering skill as well as creativity.

The water was directed into many single and dual-storage facilities. ‘Single’ refers to a cistern or Mikveh (Jewish ritual purification bath) and ‘dual’ being where a cistern and a Mikveh are side-by-side, fed by a single branch of the aqueduct system.

The Scrolls of Qumran

The scrolls were all discovered too close to the constructed site to be able to divorce them from the inhabitants and life of the community.

  • Over 100 copies of the Hebrew Bible in original Hebrew, as well as some copies based on the 200BCE Greek ‘Septuagint’ translation, and some copies of the Torah closer to the Samaritan one.
  • The writings of the rules and extra-Scriptural beliefs of the Sect, or Sects, who had lived at the site throughout its late 2nd Temple Era heyday.
  • Detailed commentaries on the Hebrew Scriptures, quoting the original text directly before extrapolating a view of the meaning of the passage.
  • The Book of Esther, which was out of favor and excluded from the Jewish Canon for much of the late 2nd Temple Era, is the only Book of the Hebrew Bible which was not discovered in the caves around Qumran.

Religious Community – “The Dead Sea Sect” (Yahad)

If we take the “Scrolls of Community Rule” found in the caves, together with descriptions in the writings of 1st Century Jewish Historian Josephus Flavius (Yosef ben Matityahu), and furthermore tie in the reports of Philo and Pliny the Elder with their Greco-Roman historian background, all of whom mention the site or the sects we can understand a community with a strictly ascetic lifestyle, its own very specific set of apocalyptical beliefs in the coming Day of Judgment, which had separated itself from the central Jewish worship site of the Jerusalem Temple. This separation is described as being due to the “wicked priest”, who would presumably have been a High Priest from the dynasties of the Hasmoneans.

In their ‘Scrolls of community Law’, the sect refers to itself as being the ‘Sons of Lightness’ whose enemies are the ‘sons of darkness’. The term used widely is ‘Yahad’, a Hebrew word meaning ‘together’, used in Josephus’ description of their lifestyle.

The word is significantly used in the first verse of Psalm 133:

“How goodly it is and how pleasant, for brothers to dwell together”.

The Damascus Document

This document, found along with the Community Rule documents, point to not a single form of religious sectarian life, but to the existence of different versions of the lifestyle, possibly co-existent, and possibly over different periods of time.

The fact that the site was not built, inhabited, and destroyed in a 200 year period of a single uniform sect occupying it, should be seen as logical, not surprising, as all religious sects develop their beliefs and lifestyle over a period of time.

Why the caves?

To understand the reasons behind the storage of so many copies of the Hebrew Bible and other scrolls in jars in many dispersed caves around Qumran, we have to look at the historical context for the time, but also at lessons of history before that era.

During the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, with the subsequent exile of the educated elite in the 6th century BCE, the Judeans and remnants of the Tribes of Israel almost lost the Scriptures of the Hebrew Bible. This is described by the Prophet Jeremiah who was present at the time.

According to a book no longer in the Jewish Canon by the 1st Century BCE – the 𔄚nd Book of the Maccabees”, chapter 2, Jeremiah hid the “Aron HaKodesh” (referred to in English as the Ark of The Covenant) in a cave on Mount Nebo which he sealed and hid access to. Mount Nebo sits opposite Qumran on the eastern ridge.

Perhaps an explanation for the hiding and/or storage of the scrolls in the caves was the imminent Roman destruction and a desperate need to preserve the Scriptures, the work of the sect, or even perhaps, the works and Scriptures from various groups, including the city-dwelling but monastic Essenes, were given to the Dead Sea Sect to hide and protect from the Romans.

Conclusion – Enigma

The discoveries and documents of Qumran have created more questions than answers. There is no unity of opinion on the nature of the site in its heyday, but rather, ever more theories and hypotheses have been created, causing confusion to the layman who visits the site and simply hopes to understand it in its historical context.

What do we actually know about them?

We have two classes of information about who the Essenes really were. The first class is writings of people outside their community. Here we include Josephus, Philo and Pliny the Elder as the main contributors. The second class of documents is what the community itself recorded. This is based on the theory that the people who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls were Essenes.


In his book, The Wars of the Jews, Josephus described the Essenes as one of the major groupings within Judaism. He mentioned that they were the more conservative sect and that they had a strong communal bond. They lived a simple life, with little focus on material things. He described their way of sharing their assets and that all people were equal in the community. He also mentioned that they did not have dedicated cities but lived within cities with others. Josephus also mentioned that they had a person dedicated in every community to look after strangers. In this book, he clearly mentioned that there were two groups within this grouping. One of these groups practiced celibacy, while the other believed in marriage. 2 In one of his other books, Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus described their doctrine in a bit more detail. He also mentioned that there were around 4,000 men. Josephus mentioned that the Essenes believed in:

He also stated that they did not offer sacrifices in the Temple, but rather offered their own sacrifices.


In his document, Every Good man is Free, Philo gives us a description of the Essenes. He starts by confirming the number of Essenes as around 4,000 men. He states that this group is known for the piety and their service to YHVH. He also confirms that these people live a simple life. Some work the earth and others devoted themselves to arts that are a result of peace. Both Philo and Josephus mention that there were no slaves among the Essenes and that all men were free. Philo disagreed with Josephus on some topics. Philo stated that the Essenes did not live in cities in order not to contaminate themselves with evil. He also mentioned that they did not collect earthly possessions and lived a “poor” life. Based on the amount of coins that archeologists found at Qumran, this is difficult to believe. Philo also recorded that the Essenes did not participate in any form of war. They refrained from making any weapons or machinery that could be used for war. Josephus mentioned cases where Essenes were involved in warfare and praises them for their courage. Most interesting, Philo made the statement that the Essenes did not offer any animal sacrifices. 3

Pliny the Elder

In his book, The Natural History, Plinius (aka Pliny the Elder) gave us a different view of the “Esseni“, as he called them. He describes a group of people that lived in the Judean dessert, near the Dead Sea in the area of Masada. It is this geographical description that historians used to first link Qumran to the Essenes. He described a different view of the Essenes. He stated clearly that they lived completely apart from the world and did not have any money. He also made the statement that they were celibate. They sustained the existence of the group by recruiting strangers into their group. We know that researchers question these two statements. Archaeologists found physical evidence at Wadi Qumran that allows us to question these statements. For example, they found a significant number of coins in the compound. They also found bodies of women and children in the graves surrounding the site. This is also a contradiction to the fact that one of the fragments found at Qumran, 4Q502, described the liturgy for the “Ritual of Marriage.” The statement of course have made many people ask if this is even the same group that Pliny was referring to. 4

Their own writings

The other source of history we have is the writings that were found in the Judean Dessert. The most significant document in this context, is the Damascus Document. This document is known by many names including:

We do not have one complete scroll of this document. We have two scroll fragments that researchers used to create a complete scroll (CDa & CDb). The complete document consists of 22 columns. This document consists of two sections according to the academics. The first part of the document is called the Admonition. It comprises of history, moral instruction, exhortation, and warning addressed to the members. The second part of the document describes the Laws. It looks at the laws as expressed to them through the teachings of the Teacher of Righteousness. In the scroll, columns 1 to 4, the writer gives us a summary of the history of the community. This document describes the history of the Jewish nation from before the time of Noah up to the exile to Babylon. It mentions that the people came to realize that the exile was a punishment for their sin. A group of people, the sons of Zadok, decided to keep themselves to the commandments of YHVH. They saw the sons of Zadok as the elect of Israel. They supported this, using the verse in Ezekiel.

Ezekiel 44:15 15 “But the Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who kept charge of My sanctuary when the sons of Israel went astray from Me, shall come near to Me to minister to Me and they shall stand before Me to offer Me the fat and the blood,” declares YHVH Elohim.

These sons of Zadok are the ones that will stand to the end of days. The concept of YHVH’s covenantal faithfulness is emphasized and given as the reason for the election of the sons of Zadok.

Discovery and description

The Dead Sea Scrolls come from various sites and date from the 3rd century bce to the 2nd century ce . The term usually refers more specifically to manuscripts found in 11 caves near the ruins of Qumrān, which most scholars think was the home of the community that owned the scrolls. The relevant period of occupation of this site runs from c. 100 to c. 68 bce , and the scrolls themselves nearly all date from the 3rd to the 1st century bce . The 15,000 fragments (most of which are tiny) represent the remains of 800 to 900 original manuscripts. They are conventionally labeled by cave number and the first letter (or letters) of the Hebrew title—e.g., 1QM = Cave 1, Qumrān, Milḥamah (the Hebrew word for “war”) or 4QTest = Cave 4, Qumrān, Testimonia (i.e., a collection of proof-texts). Each manuscript has also been given an individual number.

The documents were recovered in the Judaean wilderness from five principal sites: Khirbat Qumrān, Wadi Al-Murabbaʿāt, Naḥal Ḥever (Wadi Khabrah) and Naḥal Ẓeʾelim (Wadi Seiyal), Wadi Daliyeh, and Masada. The first manuscripts, accidentally discovered in 1947 by a shepherd boy in a cave at Khirbat Qumrān on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, were almost immediately labeled Dead Sea Scrolls. Later (especially from the 1950s to the mid-1960s) finds in neighbouring areas were similarly designated.

A great number and variety of manuscripts were discovered at Qumrān. The best-preserved documents at that site are those found in Cave 1, including an Isaiah Scroll the Rule of the Community (also called the Manual of Discipline) The War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness, or War Scroll a scroll of thanksgiving hymns and a commentary on Habakkuk. Cave 2 contained only fragments, but Cave 3 yielded the Copper Scroll, a list of Temple treasures and their hiding places. Cave 4 sheltered the main deposit of what some believe to have been an Essene library, which contained approximately 400 manuscripts, generally in poor condition. Most of the manuscripts are sectarian writings, and about 100 of them are biblical texts, covering the entire Hebrew Bible except Esther. Several well-preserved documents were recovered from Cave 11, including a large scroll with canonical, apocryphal, and unknown psalms. There was also a copy of Leviticus (dated to the 3rd century bce ) as well as the very important Temple Scroll. Its 66 preserved columns give details for the construction of the ideal Temple of Jerusalem.

Wadi Al-Murabbaʿāt, a second site 11 miles (18 km) south of Qumrān, contained documents left by fugitives from the armies of Bar Kokhba, the leader of the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome in 132–135 ce . Archaeologists recovered two letters of Bar Kokhba, legal documents in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and fragmentary biblical works of the 1st and 2nd centuries ce . They also found a remarkably well-preserved scroll of the 12 Minor Prophets that is virtually identical with the traditional biblical text.

A third site was discovered by shepherds in 1952 south of ʿEn Gedi. The discoveries at this site include a lost Greek translation (1st century ce ) of the Minor Prophets, a letter of Bar Kokhba, biblical fragments, and legal documents of the Bar Kokhba era in Aramaic, Greek, and Nabataean. Excavations at Naḥal Ẓeʾelim, in the “Cave of Scrolls,” uncovered clear evidence of the Bar Kokhba era and, in the “Cave of Letters,” 15 papyri of Bar Kokhba with a psalms fragment. Later diggings produced additional letters of Bar Kokhba and a large body of Nabataean, Aramaic, and Greek documents. At Naḥal Ḥever, in the “Cave of Horrors” (containing skeletal remains), there were bits of a Greek recension of the Minor Prophets.

A fourth site, 8.5 miles (13.6 km) north of ancient Jericho, yielded about 40 badly damaged documents deposited in a cave by Samarians, who were massacred there by soldiers of Alexander the Great in 331 bce . These legal documents are all in Aramaic except for seals in Paleo-Hebrew. As the earliest (375–335 bce ) extensive group of papyri ever found in Palestine, they are of immense value to historians.

A fifth site, at Masada, produced a Hebrew manuscript of Ecclesiasticus (c. 75 bce ) and fragments of Psalms, Leviticus, and Genesis. Found also was a Scroll of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, possibly of Essene authorship. A similar manuscript was found in Cave 4 at Qumrān.

The discoveries at the various sites include a wide variety of texts, but the greatest interest remains with the sectarian writings, which can be classified as follows: (1) rules, or manuals, like the Rule of the Community, describing the dualistic doctrine, constitution, and regulations of the “Union,” as the community owning the scrolls at Qumrān called itself and the War Scroll, which tells how the “children of light” finally conquer the “children of darkness” (2) interpretations of biblical texts, such as commentaries on Isaiah, Habakkuk, Nahum, or Psalms or groupings of texts by topic, such as the Florilegium or the Melchizedek Fragments—all of these typically relate scriptural passages to the sect and its times (3) liturgical texts, including the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, which focus on angelic worship in the heavenly Temple (anticipating later Jewish mystical traditions), and the Thanksgiving Hymns, which express a powerful anthropology of human depravity redeemed through divine grace (4) collections of laws, frequently dealing with cultic purity, such as the Halakhic Letter, the Damascus Document, and the Temple Scroll and (5) ethical tracts (e.g., several sapient works, and the Song of the Sage).

Although heralded as one of the great events in modern archaeology, the discovery of the scrolls is not without controversy. All the manuscripts were placed originally under the control of a small committee of scholars appointed by the Jordanian Department of Antiquities (a responsibility assumed after 1967 by what is now the Israel Antiquities Authority), who, some claim, monopolized access to the scrolls. Most of the longer, more complete scrolls were published soon after their discovery. The majority of the scrolls, however, consists of tiny, brittle fragments, which were published at a pace considered by many to be excessively slow. Even more unsettling for some was the fact that access to the unpublished documents was severely limited to the editorial committee. In September 1991 researchers at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, announced that they had created a computer program that used a previously published concordance to the scrolls to reconstruct one of the unpublished texts. Later that month officials at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, announced that they would allow researchers unrestricted access to the library’s complete set of photographs of the scrolls. With their monopoly broken, the official scholars of the Israel Antiquities Authority agreed to lift their long-standing restrictions on the use of the scrolls. In 2011 researchers from the Israel Museum, which housed the scrolls, collaborated with the American search engine company Google Inc. to publish five of the larger scrolls, including the Isaiah Scroll, online.

Mikvah, Qumran - History


These excavations begun by Benjamin Mazar in 1968 were the largest earth-moving archaeological projects in Israel. Work continued until 1978, then resumed in the 1990s under the direction of Ronny Reich. These excavations are the most important for understanding the Temple Mount because of the impossibility of excavating on the mount itself.

First Century Street

This street was uncovered in the mid-1990s and dates to the decades before the city’s destruction by the Romans in AD 70.

It is 32 feet (10 m) wide and was paved with large slabs up to a foot (0.3 m) thick. The street was covered with massive stones pushed down by the Romans only part of the street has been fully cleared by the excavators.

Trumpeting Stone

The top stone on the southwest corner of the Temple Mount bore an inscription which read in part, “to the place of trumpeting.” The priests would signal the start of Shabbat and festival days by blowing the shofar from this point. The inscription was apparently only a notice to the construction workers as to the final destination of this specially-cut stone.

Southern Steps

The western flight of stairs leading to the main entrances of the Temple Mount was 200 feet (61 m) wide. Excavators uncovered the easternmost part of this staircase with its alternating long and short steps. Some suggest that the fifteen long steps may have been one of the locations where pilgrims sang the fifteen Psalms of Ascent (120–34) as they went up to worship.

Double Gate

The Double Gates and Triple Gates provided access to the Temple Mount through subterranean passageways. Half of the lintel stone and relieving arch of this Herodian gateway is visible above the later protruding arch. Above and to the right is a stone with an inscription mentioning Hadrian’s son (AD 138). Its position upside down clearly indicates that it is in secondary use.


A series of public ritual bathing installations were found on the south side of the Temple Mount. Because of the demanding laws regarding purity before entering holy places, demand for mikvot was high and many have been discovered from first-century Jerusalem. Larger ritual baths such as this one have a small divider wall separating the entrance route from the exit.

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Related Websites

The Jerusalem Archaeological Park (All About Jerusalem) This website gives basic visiting information for the archaeological park, accompanied by a 3-minute video and a few pictures.

Stone Piles that Memorialize Jerusalem’s Destruction ( From the Jerusalem Post’s archives, this article was written upon the opening of the “Herodian Street” to the public in April 1997. Good description of the finds and significance of this site.

Jerusalem – the Herodian Street Along the Western Wall (Israel MFA) Summary of the history, geography, and archaeology associated with the Southern Excavations. Strong in its descriptions of the important archeological finds from the area.

Robinson’s Arch (Dig the Bible) Great basic explanations with links to related subjects at the same web site. Pictures clearly illustrate the subject at hand.

Robinson’s Arch (Jewish Virtual Library) A nice introduction, accompanied by a small reconstruction image.

“To the Place of Trumpeting” Stone (Israel Museum) The official museum page about this fascinating artifact, offering a nice photo and plenty of information.

Solomon’s Stables and the Southern Gates ( Detailed scholarly description of this area of the Temple Mount. Focuses mainly on Solomon’s Stables, but also contains good sections on the Southern Gates.

Solomon’s Stables: History and Destruction (TM Sifting) Accompanied by a video, this gives some background to the Solomon’s Stables area.

Ronny Reich (City of David official site) A short biography of the man who headed up years of excavations in the southern Temple Mount area.

Mikvah, Qumran - History

Khirbet Qumran

Ten miles (16 km) south of Jericho, Qumran was on a “dead-end street” and provided a perfect location for the isolationist sect of the Essenes to live.

The site was excavated by Catholic priest Roland de Vaux from 1953–56. More recent excavations of the site have taken place under the direction of Hanan Eshel.

Qumran Dam

Requiring vast amounts of water for their daily purification rites, the Essenes had to channel the water from the wadi during the infrequent winter storms.

This dam helped to divert the water into an aqueduct which led to the site which in turn had dozens of cisterns, mikvot, and pools.

The Scriptorium

On the basis of inkwells and “writing benches” found in this room, archaeologists have suggested that the second-story room of this building was the place where scrolls were copied.

No scrolls were found in this room or in the ruins of the site itself. But the same type of unique pottery was found both on-site and in the caves with the scrolls, helping to connect the two.

The Dining Hall

This long room was used for communal meals. Three rows of tables were apparently in place where the Qumranites ate in silence.

In the next room over, more than 1,000 complete vessels were found including 708 cups, 210 plates, and 108 salad bowls. All of these were serving vessels as they were never fired.

Earthquake Crack

Numerous mikvot (ritual purity baths) were in use at the site for this community that practiced immersion twice daily.

This mikvah evidences the site’s destruction by earthquake in 31 BC. The crack shifted the left side of the mikvah by nearly 12 inches (30 cm).

Qumran Cemetery

Of 1,200 tombs found in the cemeteries of Qumran, nearly 50 have been excavated. The main cemetery has 1,100 burials, the northern cemetery 30, and the southern cemetery 30.

The presence of female burials in what has been regarded as a celibate male community has been a mystery. Joe Zias determined that the female burials were more recent interments of Bedouin.

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Related Websites

See Qumran Caves at for a tour of the places the scrolls were discovered. See also the related sites of the Dead Sea, En Gedi, Masada, Jericho, and the Judean Wilderness.

Qumran (Jewish Virtual Library) An excellent introduction to the site, including some background on the Essenes.

Who Were the Essenes? (Bible History Daily, Jewish Ideas Daily) An introduction to the Essenes.

Artifacts from the Qumran Site (Library of Congress) Wonderful descriptions and photos of archaeological discoveries at Qumran.

The Dead Sea Scrolls and the New Testament (Bible History Daily) How do the DSS connect with the New Testament? Do they talk about Jesus? What about His world? This article talks about these things.

Qumran (Tourist Israel) Helpful site for preparing to tour Qumran.

The Orion Center for the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Hebrew University, Jerusalem) The site for extensive research on the scrolls. Includes publications, other resources, and a “virtual Qumran tour.”

Shrine of the Book (Israel Museum) A nice explanation of the scrolls including rather extensive information on the Aleppo Codex and links to exploring the scrolls online.

Qumran (The Israeli Mosaic) Contains informative sections on the ruins of Qumran, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Dead Sea sect. Links throughout allow for in-depth study.

Qumran (Into His Own) A brief, encyclopedia-type article with multiple links to related words and topics for further study.

Qumran Controversy ( A relatively short article from 1997, discussing the controversy surrounding the assumed Essene authorship of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Qumran: A Day in the Life ( A fictional story, written about a man whose name was actually mentioned in one of the scrolls, based on details of daily life taken from the scrolls and other relevant sources.

Qumran (Donald D. Binder, SMU) An article focusing on the dwellings of the community at Qumran, including a few images.

Qumran Library (ibiblio) Photos, descriptions, and translations for various scroll fragments, including Psalms, phylactery, Community Rule, Calendrical Document, Enoch, Hosea Commentary, Leviticus, Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, Damascus Document, and War Rule.

In the Qumran Cliffs, an Expedition Digs Up New Dead Sea Scroll Caves (Times of Israel) This 2019 article is accompanied by several videos and discusses some of the most recent finds at the site.

The Qumran Quandry (Jerusalem Post) This article leaves something to be desired in formatting and illustration, but the information is quite interesting and extensive for those interested. Written in 2008, it discusses the academic debate about the presence of women and children, along with other interesting aspects of Qumran.


The destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 586 BCE challenged traditional notions about the inviolability of Jerusalem. Consequently, Judeans reconsidered the issue of Yahweh’s rule during the Persian period (the late 6th century BCE). This is attested in the biblical book of Isaiah. Scholars typically divide Isaiah into two sections on the basis of content and language: 1st Isaiah is chapters 1-39 and 2nd Isaiah is chapters 40-66, with the latter typically dated to the Persian period. In Isaiah 44:9-20, the author speaks against non-Yahweh centered worship of other deities, specifically worship via idols: “They [the idols] do not know, nor do they comprehend for their eyes are shut, so that they cannot see, and their minds as well, so that they cannot understand” (New Oxford Annotated Study Bible).

In Mesopotamia, deities were often worshipped via a statue with an understanding the presence of the deity resided in that statue. Consequently, by regarding statues as lifeless idols, Isaiah seems to be expressing that the deities were not actually present in the statues. Therefore, Many scholars view this as some of the earliest evidence of Judean monotheism. This idea is developed further in Isaiah 45:1-7, where Yahweh claims to have specifically called Cyrus, king of the Persian empire, to take over Babylon as a way of judging Babylon. The text indicates that Yahweh utilizes foreign kings as tools for his judgment, which fits within the broader picture of chapters 40-48 where Yahweh is seen as the author of history itself.

The Hebrew Bible, though, does not represent every tradition of Judeans. Distinct groups of Judeans thrived in both Mesopotamia and Egypt. In Mesopotamia, cuneiform tablets, typically called the “Murashu tablets” and “Al-Yahudu” (translated “Judahtown”) tablets, attest to a community of Judeans who lived and worked near Babylon between the 6th and 5th centuries BCE. Unfortunately, the records are primarily legal and financial documents. Because the title “Yahu” (Yahweh) is attached to many personal names in the documents, they likely worshipped Yahweh. Unfortunately, it is difficult to identify the religious ideas of these exiled Judeans beyond this, such as the possibility of these Judeans worshipping Mesopotamian deities.

Similarly, letters and documents from a 5th-century BCE Judean settlement at Elephantine, Egypt attest to worshippers of Yahweh. Within these documents, evidence exists that some Judeans may have also worshipped the deities Anat and Ashim. Thus, these respective Judeans did not necessarily follow the monotheistic tendencies of Persian-period biblical literature.

Tablet B5304, Murashu Archive. Contract for the supply of dates, written in Akkadian with a summary in Aramaic. / Penn Museum, Creative Commons

Additionally, there were forms of folk religion religious ideas and practices which did not take a prominent position or become the standard ways of religious belief and practice. Because the Hebrew Bible likely reflects the ideology of wealthy scribes, common folk religion is not well represented in historical evidence. Despite possible opposition by certain groups, by the end of the Hellenistic and Roman period, it is generally accepted that monotheism was a defining factor of Judaism.

There is one major shift in ideas which helped monotheism to become more standard in Judaism. Namely, Judean scribes reimagined the former divine pantheon as angels. This shift is best exemplified in 1 Enoch. Typically dated to the 3rd century BCE, 1 Enoch is one of the earliest texts which attests to the belief in angels as “helpers of the deity and responsible for the workings of the cosmos as well as for carrying out divine tasks relating to the human sphere” (Grabbe, 243). The appearance of these beings, who serve as Yahweh’s council, is a re-imagination of the older West Semitic gods, who served as Yahweh’s council. Furthermore, because no ideas emerge in a vacuum, it is likely that categorization of angels and demons were in full force by the end of the Persian period and 1 Enoch simply reflects already circulating traditions. Thus, with the creation of 1 Enoch, Judean scribes were able to deal with the problem of the West Semitic pantheon in a satisfactory manner.

Israel in the First Century

Salt Sea Scripture - Genesis 14:3 All these were joined together in the vale of Siddim, which is the salt sea.

Salt Sea Scripture - Joshua 15:2 And their south border was from the shore of the salt sea, from the bay that looketh southward:

Salt Sea Scripture - Joshua 18:19 And the border passed along to the side of Bethhoglah northward: and the outgoings of the border were at the north bay of the salt sea at the south end of Jordan: this [was] the south coast.

Salt Sea Scripture - Numbers 34:3 Then your south quarter shall be from the wilderness of Zin along by the coast of Edom, and your south border shall be the outmost coast of the salt sea eastward:

Celebrating Baptism: The Jordan River in the Time of Jesus

The Jordan River flows through the Jordan Rift Valley into the Sea of the Galilee and then continues down into the Dead Sea with no outlet. It is a place of many important biblical events. However, for most Christians the first association with the river would be the scene of Jesus Christ being baptized by John the Baptist.

According to the Christian faith, the Jordan River is considered the third most holy site in the Holy Land, just after Nativity Grotto in Bethlehem and Golgotha in Jerusalem, because it is the site of the most important event of Jesus’ life – His baptism and beginning of his ministry.

John the Baptist

It was John the Baptist who decided to baptize people in the Jordan River. Many scholars think that he might have been influenced by the Essens, who like John, were leading an ascetic life in the wilderness of Qumran or Ein Gedi. One of their principal religious rituals was a daily immersion “tvilah” in the ritual bath “mikvah” to regain purity. Jordan river represented a perfect mikvah of continuously running water.

John is also commonly referred to be a precursor of Jesus, and the Gospel of Matthew describes him as the person mentioned by Isaiah in his prophecy: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” (Isaiah 40:3) John also announced that Christ – the Messiah is coming, with the words: “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Matt. 3:11)

Jesus’ Baptism and Its Meaning

Christ was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love with him I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:16-17) This event marked the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.

Baptism with water, practiced since the beginning of the Church, represents admission into the Christian community and is essential for salvation. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.” (John 3:5) In Christianity, baptism is a sign of “repentance and forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4) and the beginning of the life in Christ within the Church. We are baptized in the name God: “Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit”(Matt. 28:19) As well, through baptism Christians associate with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus: “And this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you […] by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21)

Different Christian denominations have various baptismal practices. Orthodox and Catholic Christians are receiving the sacrament when still infants. The Catholic baptism is done by effusion, meaning pouring water over someone’s head. However, according to the rituals of the Orthodox and some other Eastern Churches, a baby would be completely submersed in water. Within the Anabaptist (baptised again) and Baptist practices, a person would receive baptism as an adult in order to understand the significance and be aware of accepting Christ as a Saviour.

Site of Jesus’ Baptism – Qasr el Yahud

Qasr el Yahud, one of the most important sites for Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land, is identified as the traditional site of Jesus’ baptism. The place is located in the wilderness of the Jordan River Valley, north of the Dead Sea and east of Jericho. Remains of a Byzantine church from the 4-5 th century, still visible on the site, point to the ancient tradition associate with this site.

To be baptized in the same place where Jesus was baptized, is a uniquely spiritual moment for the Christian believer. Qasr el Yahud is furnished with facilities required to assist visiting pilgrims and enhance their experience. There are on site showers, facilities for prayer, wheelchair access and improved car parking. Baptismal robes are available for purchase for $10 (35 IL).

Baptism of the Lord Celebration

The Baptism of the Lord Celebration is a feast commemorating the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by the John the Baptist. In the Holy Land, this event takes place at Qasr el Yahud.

According to the Catholic Church’s tradition, the holiday is celebrated always on the first Sunday after the feast of Epiphany.

Other Biblical Events Connected to Qasr el Yahud

There are other biblical events also associated with Qasr el Yahud. Joshua, leading the Israelites crossed there the Jordan River, and entered the Land of Canaan (Joshua 3). In additiona, Elijah the Propet ascended to heaven on a fiery chariot (2 Kings 11) at the site of Qasr el Yahud.

How to get there: Qasr el Yahud is just north of the Dead Sea. If driving from Jerusalem, take the highway #1 towards Jericho’s bypass road, then turn north on the highway #90, drive approximately 2.5 km (1.5 miles) until you reach a grove, and then turn east in the direction of a sign saying Qasr al-Yahud. Currently, there is no public transportation which goes exactly to the site. Hiring a taxi driver or a private tour could be an option.

Opening hours: Qasr el Yahud is open daily from 8 am till 5 pm in the summer and till 4 pm during the winter, except on Fridays from 8 am till 3 pm (summer) or till 2 pm (winter). There is no entry fee. Pilgrims are advised to call before visiting on (02) 650-4844.

Many pilgrims come to the Holy Land especially to be baptised in the Jordan River, thus the site of Yardenit was established in 1981 as a result of the closing of Qasr el Yahud which occurred at the time due to the unstable political situation in the region. This picturesque baptismal site, located south of the Jordan River’s outlet from the Sea of Galilee, welcomes everyone who would like to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and follow Jesus’s life by experiencing the baptismal waters.

‘The Wall of New Life’ is Yardenit’s special feature that consists of panels in multiple languages that portray a verse from Mark describing the baptism of Jesus. “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove, and a voice came from heaven “Thou art my beloved Son, with thee I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11) ‘The Wall of New Life’ is dedicated to all who have received baptism at this place, and symbolizes the beginning of their new life.

The site can accommodate several groups of pilgrims at once and at the site’s gift shop one can either rent or buy a white baptismal robe and a towel. In addition, there are spacious change facilities with showers and toilets.

How to get there: If driving a car, follow the signs leading to the Yardenit baptismal site along the road between Tiberias city and the Tzemach junction to its east. If you are planning on taking public transportation from Jerusalem, Egged bus #961, which continues to Yardenit, leaves from Jerusalem Central Bus Station at 2:15 pm and 3:15 pm. After 2 hours and 35 minutes on the way, get off at the bus stop next to Ezori Beit Yerah School and then walk south around 250 meters.

Opening hours:

March – November: Sun. – Thur. from 8 am till 6 pm and on Friday from 8 am till 4 pm. December – February: Sun. – Thur. from 8 am till 5 pm and on Friday from 8 am till 4 pm. Call on (04) 675-9111 to check site’s opening hours around the major Jewish holidays. There is no entry fee.

Daily Tours:

You can visit Qasr El Yahud on the Qasr el Yahud and West Bank tour which takes place weekly on Saturday and leaves from Jerusalem. The price of the tour is ab 355 shekel per person (around $90). Alternatively you can visit with a private guide (and combine many other area sites as well, including Mt. Temptations, Jericho, Qumran, and the Dead Sea).

Beata Andonia works for the Bethlehem tourist bureau and blogs regularly about Bethlehem for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. She is originally from Poland and moved to Bethlehem in 2010.

Watch the video: The Gift of Mikvah (May 2022).


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