Leen Ritmeyer

Hilkiah’s palace, a private rural estate just 35 miles southwest of Qumran, should provide our closest contemporaneous comparison to the Dead Sea settlement—if Qumran was in fact a villa rustica. But, although both sites were protected by fortification walls and had similar square towers, their overall design and decoration differed significantly.

The rooms of Hilkiah’s palace (named for an inscription found at the site) encircle a peristyle courtyard, with a triclinium at its center. A Roman-style barrel-vaulted roof sheltered the storage rooms, clustered on the southern side of the enclosure. Stucco molded in elaborate geometric patterns adorned the walls of the palace entrance and the spacious triclinium. The palace also had a Roman bathhouse, with a changing room, warm bath, cold-water plunge bath and barrel-vaulted hot bath.

Qumran, however, had no Roman baths, and its courtyards lacked peristyles. The long room identified as Qumran’s dining hall was simply finished, with no molded stucco decorations, and storage rooms and workrooms were scattered throughout the Qumran settlement.

The few similarities in layout and decor indicate equally meager parallels in the uses of the two settlements, suggests author Jodi Magness.