Roland de Vaux’s plan of Qumran—shown here with de Vaux’s numbering of each locus—has been the basis of every theory regarding the nature of the settlement. One noteworthy feature, the elaborate water system (colored blue), channels water from the cliffs at the north end of the settlement into various mikva’ot (ritual baths) and cisterns, including the large mikveh at the southeast corner (number 71). Is this an excessive amount of water for a small community like Qumran? Is it more or less water than in other contemporaneous desert sites? Does it indicate that the inhabitants were concerned with ritual purity and were therefore a religious community?

Other features, some inexplicably absent from de Vaux’s plan, are even more controversial. Excavators in 1993 are reported to have found evidence of a wall stretching along the eastern edge of the settlement. This wall was not marked on de Vaux’s original plan and would be a crucial fourth side, completing a central square. Yizhar Hirschfeld also reports finding an archaeological seam not on de Vaux’s plan (indicated in dark purple as a proposed reconstruction) that would complete the square. Was this square the original settlement at Qumran, with the structures on either side added later?

Hanan Eshel divides Qumran into two distinct compounds: To the west, encompassing rooms numbered 100+, was an administrative center, as indicated by coin hoards and storage jars found there; to the east (the square structure) was a community center where meals were eaten, perhaps in room 77, which de Vaux christened a refectory.

Yizhar Hirschfeld, however, sees the settlement as a residence (as illustrated by the drawing, opposite), with two phases of building. He interprets the remains as a well-planned square structure with the tower in the northwest corner. The crooked, thin, uneven walls in the center (such as those surrounding rooms 25 and 37) are secondary additions in what was originally the courtyard of the square structure. In Hirschfeld’s view, de Vaux’s refectory and the adjoining pantry (number 86) were added to the original square during the Herodian and early Roman periods (37 B.C.E. to 70 C.E.).