Findings by Yuval Peleg, an archaeologist who has excavated Qumran for 16 years, are challenging long-held notions of who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls. Artifacts discovered by Peleg's team during their excavations suggest Qumran once served as an ancient pottery factory. The supposed baths may have actually been pools to capture and separate clay.
Some of the scrolls found by Bedouin shepherds in 1947 were discovered in cylindrical pottery jars of this type, which are unknown elsewhere. Many authorities consider the discovery of these unique vessels in the Qumran excavation as well as in the caves, as convincing evidence of the link between the settlement and the caves. These jars, like the other pottery vessels recovered at Qumran, were probably manufactured locally.
Courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority
To some experts, the code suggests that religious leaders from Jerusalem authored at least some of the scrolls.
"Priests may have used cryptic texts to encode certain texts from nonpriestly readers," Cargill told National Geographic News.
According to an emerging theory, the Essenes may have actually been Jerusalem Temple priests who went into self-imposed exile in the second century B.C., after kings unlawfully assumed the role of high priest.
This group of rebel priests may have escaped to Qumran to worship God in their own way. While there, they may have written some of the texts that would come to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The Essenes may not have abandoned all of their old ways at Qumran, however, and writing in code may have been one of the practices they preserved.
It's possible too that some of the scrolls weren't written at Qumran but were instead spirited away from the Temple for safekeeping, Cargill said.
"I think it dramatically changes our understanding of the Dead Sea Scrolls if we see them as documents produced by priests," he says in the new documentary.
"Gone is the Ark of the Covenant. We're never going to find Noah's Ark, the Holy Grail. These things, we're never going to see," he added. "But we just may very well have documents from the Temple in Jerusalem. It would be the great treasure from the Jerusalem Temple."