More than six decades after their discovery, all but two of the hundreds of documents in the Qumran caves have been published. Researchers at the University of Haifa have finally determined that one of these two—a scroll that was found in 60 tiny fragments and written in a sort of code—is a calendar used by the desert sect to whom the scrolls belonged. Daniel Eisenbud explains:
The researchers spent a year painstakingly studying the tiny fragments, . . . some of which measured smaller than one square centimeter. . . . According to the researchers, the calendar was involved in one of the fiercest debates among different sects during the late Second Temple period. “An important peculiarity of the present discovery is the fact that the [Qumran] sect followed a 364-day calendar,” the university said.
“The lunar calendar, which Judaism follows to this day, requires a large number of human decisions. People must look at the stars and moon and report on their observations, and someone must be empowered to decide on the new month and the application of leap years.” By contrast, the researchers described the 364-day calendar as “perfect.”
“Because this number can be divided into four and seven, special occasions always fall on the same day,” they said in a joint statement. “This avoids the need to decide, for example, what happens when a particular occasion falls on the Sabbath, as often happens in the lunar calendar. The Qumran calendar is unchanging, and it appears to have embodied the beliefs of the members of this community regarding perfection and holiness.” . . .
“The scroll is written in code, but its actual content is simple and well-known and there was no reason to conceal it,” they said. “This practice is also found in many places outside the land of Israel, where leaders write in secret code even when discussing universally-known matters, as a reflection of their status.” The custom . . . was intended to show that the author was familiar with the code, while others were not.