– Within the virtually unfurled En-Gedi scroll, researchers have discovered a very early copy of the Book of Leviticus. It has now been confirmed that it also contains the earliest known copy of a Pentateuchal book, the first five books of the Bible.
En-Gedi scroll is a charred ancient scroll found in the ark of a synagogue on the western shore of the Dead Sea. Discovered in 1970, the lump of carbonized parchment could not be opened or read for many years. There was nothing anyone could do, except preserve it.
Modern sophisticated technology has now let scientists unravel the mystery of this precious ancient document.
Through virtual unwrapping, scientists from the University of Kentucky have unlocked writings in the ancient En-Gedi scroll. It turns out to hold a fragment identical to the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible and, at nearly 2,000 years old, is the earliest instance of the text.
“This work opens a new window through which we can look back through time by reading materials that were thought lost through damage and decay,” said lead researcher Brent Seales from the University of Kentucky.
“There are so many other unique and exciting materials that may yet give up their secrets – we are only beginning to discover what they may hold.”
The writing retrieved by the computer from the digital image of the unopened scroll is amazingly clear and legible, in contrast to the scroll’s blackened and beaten-up exterior. “Never in our wildest dreams did we think anything would come of it,” said Pnina Shor, the head of the Dead Sea Scrolls Project at the Israel Antiquities Authority.
The scroll’s content, the first two chapters of the Book of Leviticus, has consonants — early Hebrew texts didn’t specify vowels — that are identical to those of the Masoretic text, the authoritative version of the Hebrew Bible and the one often used as the basis for translations of the Old Testament in Protestant Bibles.
Scholars say this remarkable new technique may make it possible to read other scrolls, including several Dead Sea scrolls and about 300 carbonized ones from Herculaneum, which were destroyed by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79.