Yizhar Hirschfeld

A two-edged sword. Artifacts are sparse at Upper Ein Gedi, and are mainly limited to storage jars like this one, a handful of low-denomination coins, and sherds from simple glass bowls and bottles. No stone vessels have been found, nor any high quality pottery.

Hirschfeld says the paucity of luxury wares strongly suggests the site’s inhabitants were poor. There are also no animal bones at the site, which Hirschfeld takes as evidence that its inhabitants were vegetarians. According to his interpretation of the first-century C.E. Jewish historian Josephus, vegetarianism was probably an important part of the Essenes’ simple, world-denying lifestyle.

But other scholars strongly disagree. In a harsh reply to Hirschfeld, archaeologists David Amit and Jodi Magness say that the nature of the finds at Upper Ein Gedi argues against its having been used for human habitation at all. The cells weren’t dwellings, they say, but agricultural storage sheds. This would explain why the bulk of the pottery consists of plain storage jars and why there is no large central structure that would have served as a communal dining hall.