JERUSALEM — American and Israeli archaeologists and researchers have announced that they have deciphered what they believe is the oldest biblical text discovered since the finding of the Dead Sea scrolls.
“This is a really big discovery,” Pnina Shor, curator at the Israel Antiquities Authority, said during a press conference on Monday.
The charred 1,500 year-old parchment had been discovered in 1970 among the remains of the ancient Ein Gedi synogogue, located on the shore of the Dead Sea. David had once sought refuge in the caves of Ein Gedi when he was being hunted by King Saul.
However, at the time, forensics could not decipher script on the scroll. But now, through the use of medical and digital technology, it has been found that the parchment contains the first eight verses of the second chapter of the Book of Leviticus.
“The most advanced technologies allowed us to virtually unroll a scroll, part of a bible, from about 1,500 years ago,” Shor said.
According to reports, the Israeli medical company Merkel Technologies had volunteered to use its micro-CT scanner to obtain 3D scans of the parchment. The scans were then sent to the University of Kentucky, where professor Brent Seales assisted with providing further images using the university’s digital imaging software.
The Israel Antiquities Authority’s Dead Sea Scrolls laboratory in Jerusalem then worked to decipher the text on the parchment fragment, and noted that it contained biblical text.
“We need to compare this material with on the one hand the Dead Sea Scrolls, which is few centuries younger … and the Aleppo codex which is four centuries later,” Shor stated. “So in that sense, its unbelievable. And this is why I said with all the excitement of working with these Dead Sea scrolls that was astonishing.”
The entire Ein Gedi settlement is believed to have been destroyed by fire during the Byzantine Period, and none of those who fled returned to salvage any items that might have been buried in the rubble. In addition to the parchment, a bronze menorah and over 3,000 coins were found in the remains of the city 40 years ago.
The fragment was stated to have been found inside of an ark, which was one of the most holy places inside of the synagogue. Shor believes that the scroll likely consisted of the entire Torah at one time.
“The discovery absolutely astonished us. We were certain it was just a shot in the dark, but decided to try and scan the burnt scroll anyway,” she said during the press conference. “Now, not only can we bequeath the Dead Sea Scrolls to future generations, but also a part of the Bible from a Holy Ark of a 1,500-year-old synagogue.”
Reports state that the translation of the text on the scroll did not differ from the Book of Leviticus found in Bibles today.