The Qumran Community
“After this purification, they assemble in a private apartment . . . pure now themselves, they repair to the refectory, as to some sacred shrine” (Josephus, Jewish War II, viii, 5)
After purifying themselves through ritual immersion, the sectarians crowded into a special hall for a communal meal. In a room adjacent to this hall, more than a thousand dining and serving utensils were discovered. During the meal the participants probably sat on mats, in rows parallel to the long walls of the building; according to Josephus, they dined in absolute silence. Their food included bread, dates, date honey, dairy products, meat, and “new wine” (possibly unfermented grape juice).
The sectarians aimed to establish, in the desert, a community that would serve as a “spiritual temple” or, as the scrolls put it, a “temple of man,” that is, a human substitute for the Temple in Jerusalem. Their lives were therefore modeled symbolically on the lives of the priests serving in the Temple. Indeed, their communal meals may have even symbolized the sacrificial rites in the Temple. Another possibility is that the meal was perceived as a prefiguration of the banquets of the righteous in the End of Days.