Bar-Ilan University Mourns the Passing of Prof. Hanan Eshel
Date: 2010-04-12 Hour: 11:17
Beloved Bar-Ilan University Prof. Hanan Eshel, a leading Israeli and global scholar of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bar Kochba Revolt, has passed away after a battle with cancer.
Prof. Eshel, a senior historian and archaeologist, was a graduate of the Hebrew University, and a professor in Bar-Ilan's Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology. Prof. Eshel headed the Department from 2002-2004, and served as director of the University's Jeselsohn Epigraphic Center of Jewish History since it was established more than a decade ago.
Born in 1958, Prof. Eshel was a world-renowned expert on the history and archaeology of the Dead Sea Sect at Qumran and in Dead Sea Scrolls research. His archaeological career began with the excavation of the Ketef Jericho caves, where unique artifacts from the Chalcolithic period were uncovered, along with letters from the second temple period. Later, he directed the Horvat Yatir excavations. In recent years, Eshel conducted a number of excavations at Qumran, as well as in some caves in the Judean Desert, where Jewish refugees arrived at the end of the Bar Kokhba Revolt.
"Hanan had the unique ability to combine a deep and thorough study of the Dead Sea Scrolls with archaeology. Very few scholars were capable of this. Most of those dealing with archaeology at first hand could not study the texts by themselves, whereas most of those who studied the texts did not deal with archaeology," said Prof. Avraham (Avi) Faust, Chairman of Bar-Ilan's Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology. "Hanan was able to master both."
Few people believed it would be possible to find dramatic, new archaeological discoveries in Qumran. Yet, many years after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Prof. Eshel found the dwelling caves of the religious group probably responsible for the writing and safekeeping of the Scrolls.
Prof. Eshel's eagerness to resolve the enduring mystery regarding the identity of the Dead Sea Scrolls safe-keepers led him to search for their elusive dwellings. In his hunt for their sleeping quarters, he made headlines by discovering irrefutable evidence signifying considerable traffic between the Dead Sea Scroll caves and the nearby Qumran ruins. Together with his colleague, Magen Broshi, retired curator of the Dead Sea Scroll collection at the Israel's Museum's Shrine of the Book, he led a six-week excavation searching the paths that led from the Qumran settlement to the caves for evidence of human habitation. The two scholars not only found three man-made caves showing signs of habitation, but also a circle of stones that may have served as tent holder in ancient times. Along the trail between these caves and the Qumran site, they found coins and nails from ancient sandals dated from the first century CE, providing proof of considerable human traffic between the two locations.
"There are several conflicting viewpoints about the kind of people who were the safe-keepers of the scrolls and their dwelling places. We believe our finds underscore the conservatively held view that Hirbet Qumran was probably an Essene center of religious recluses living in caves," Prof. Eshel said at the time.
Prof. Eshel published several books and more than 200 articles. His most groundbreaking research focused on the Qumran scrolls and the Hasmonean state, documents from the Bar Kokhba Revolt period, Numismatics of those periods, and more.
Prof. Eshel's most recently published books included "Refuge Caves of the Bar-Kochba Revolt: Second Volume", "The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hasmonean State, and three "Carta Guides" for Qumran, Masada, Ein Gedi.
Prof. Eshel divided his time between teaching archaeology at Bar-Ilan University's Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology, scholarly studies with his wife, Esther, a noted philologist, and continual research into the everyday lives of individuals who lived over two thousand years ago.
Prof. Eshel is survived by his mother Shulamit, his wife, Esti, and two children, Avshalom and Michal.