Toilet Practices in Ancient Jewish Sources

            The rules respecting toilet practices in the scrolls found at Qumran take Deuteronomy 23 as their point of departure. Note, too, the similarities between the practices described in the Qumran documents and the practices ascribed by Josephus to the “Essenes.”

Deuteronomy 23:9–14

               When the host goes forth against your enemies, then keep yourself from every wicked thing. If there be among you any man, that is not clean by reason of uncleanness that happens to him by night, then shall he go abroad out of the camp, he shall not come within the camp: But it shall be that when evening comes on, he shall wash himself with water; and when the sun is down, he shall come into the camp again. You shall have a place also without the camp, to which you shall go out [to relieve yourself]: And you shall have a paddle with your weapon; and it shall be, when you relieve yourself outside, that you shall dig therewith, and shall turn back and cover that which comes from you:  For the LORD your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you, and to give up your enemies before you; therefore shall your camp be holy: that He should see no unclean thing in it, and turn away from it.

The War Scroll: 1QM 7:6–7
                Any man who is not ritually clean in respect to his genitals on the day of the battle shall not go down with them into battle, for holy angels are present with their army.  There shall be a distance between all their camps and the latrine of about two thousand cubits, and no shameful nakedness shall be seen in the environs of all their camps.

The War Scroll: 4Q491 Manuscript B: Frag. 1–3 lines 6–8
                This is the rule when they camp and [... and in] their divisions [...] around, outside [...] and women, young boys, and any man who is afflicted with impurity in his flesh shall not come near] [the battle] line. The craftsmen [and blacksm]iths and those enlisted as [...] for their watches [... the battle line until they return. And there shall be two thousand cubits between the [camps and the latrines so] no nakedness might be seen in their surroundings.

The Temple Scroll: 11QT 46:13–16

                You are to build them a precinct for latrines outside the city.  They shall go out there, on the northwest of the city: roofed outhouses with pits inside, into which the excrement will descend so as not to be visible.  The outhouses must be three thousand cubits from any part of the city.

Josephus: Jewish War 2, 147–149

                 [On the Sabbath] they do not even go to stool.  On other day they dig a trench a foot deep with a mattock – such is the nature of the hatchet which they present to neophytes – and wrapping their mantle about them, that they may not offend the rays of the deity, sit above it.  They then replace the excavated soil in the trench. For this purpose they select the more retired spots.  And though this discharge of the excrements is a natural function, they make it a rule to wash themselves after it as if defiled.