But two Israeli archaeologists who have excavated the site on and off for more than 10 years now assert that Qumran had nothing to do with the Essenes or a monastery or the scrolls. It had been a pottery factory.The article is based on a Biblical Archaeology Review article ("Qumran—The Pottery Factory") which is behind their subscription wall. The NYT piece also discusses the theory of Norman Golb and concludes as follows:
The archaeologists, Yizhak Magen and Yuval Peleg of the Israel Antiquities Authority, reported in a book and a related magazine article that their extensive excavations turned up pottery kilns, whole vessels, production rejects and thousands of clay fragments. Derelict water reservoirs held thick deposits of fine potters’ clay.
Dr. Magen and Dr. Peleg said that, indeed, the elaborate water system at Qumran appeared to be designed to bring the clay-laced water into the site for the purposes of the pottery industry. No other site in the region has been found to have such a water system.
By the time the Romans destroyed Qumran in A.D. 68 in the Jewish revolt, the archaeologists concluded, the settlement had been a center of the pottery industry for at least a century. Before that, the site apparently was an outpost in a chain of fortresses along the Israelites’ eastern frontier.
Despite the rising tide of revisionist thinking, other scholars of the Dead Sea scrolls continue to defend the Essene hypothesis, though with some modifications and diminishing conviction.This is neither accurate nor fair. The Essene hypothesis is still the most widely held position and continues to be refined (notably, in recent years, by the work of Gabriele Boccaccini). Certainly a good many Qumran specialists continue to hold it with no particular lessening of conviction.
Chris Weimer has also commented on the article.
UPDATE (16 August): More here.