A recent study1 has sought to determine by sophisticated new methods whether Qumran was home to a religious community (as Sidnie White Crawford argues in the accompanying article based on her study of the 11 scroll caves and their comparative contents) or whether it was something else—a fortress, a villa, a caravanserai or a pottery factory.
The new study by Eyal Regev of Bar-Ilan University examines the architectural plan of Qumran and applies so-called “access analysis” to map the site’s spatial organization in order to uncover the social ideology of Qumran’s inhabitants.
Regev characterizes this approach as social archaeology, “now an established field of research which uses archaeological records to reconstruct the belief system and social organization of past societies.”
By physically dividing up and demarcating spaces—walls, doorways and entrances that are used on an everyday basis—the architecture thereby classifies and controls the movement of people and the spaces they inhabit.
In a detailed analysis of the spaces at Qumran, Regev finds the occupied area is divided into different space segments, “each connected to a controlling central passage with minimal connections between segments.” The spaces within segments are also “minimally connected.” Access to most spaces is therefore “limited, and several boundaries must be crossed to reach most spaces from any starting point on the site.”
The large rooms (such as the dining room and the so-called scriptorium) “were not easily accessible and were out of view of casual entrants.” This, says Regev, means that “social encounters between the inhabitants were quite uncommon.”