Religious ritual can make you very, very sick, and even kill you. This somewhat morbid, mildly gross, and terribly sad story about the Essenes, the religious zealots who authored the Dead Sea scrolls, is an interesting anthropological look at an ancient failed cult.
It seems that their requirements for dealing with their own waste were mistakenly ineffective. They excreted into pits that protected parasites, which they would then carry back…and before they could return to the group, they had to bathe by total immersion in a cistern, which meant they’d basically soak in each other’s infestations.
The ritual cleansing “is a total immersion, which means that it gets in your ears, in your eyes and in your mouth,” Zias said. “It is not hard to imagine how sick everyone must have been.”
The sickness is reflected in the Qumran cemetery, which had been partially excavated previously.
“The graveyard at Qumran is the unhealthiest group I have ever studied in over 30 years,” Zias said.
Fewer than 6% of the men buried there survived to age 40, he said. In contrast, cemeteries from the same period excavated at Jericho show that half the men lived beyond age 40.
Bleh. I think I need to take a shower.
There is a kind of metaphor here, though—this is what you get when you seek religious purity.