HAIFA, Israel — Archaeologists in Israel have decoded one of the last Dead Sea Scrolls needing to be deciphered, finding that it reflected the use of a 364-day calendar, as opposed to today’s lunar calendar used by many Jews.
According to reports, Dr. Eshbal Ratson and Professor Jonathan Ben-Dov of the University of Haifa had been working for the past year to reassemble the more than 60 fragments that comprised the scroll—the last two of 900 that have been researched and published.
It had previously been thought by another researcher that the tiny fragments came from separate scrolls, but Ratson and Ben-Dov were able to prove that the pieces belonged to a single parchment. Some of the fragments were stated to be less than one square centimeter.
Once the researchers were able to crack the code written on the parchment, they realized that it provided insight into a 364-day calendar observed by the Qumran sect known as the Yahad, who some believe is the Essenes.
“The scroll is written in code, but its actual content is simple and well-known, and there was no reason to conceal it,” Ratson and Ben-Dov remarked in an announcement posted by the university. “This practice is also found in many places outside the Land of Israel, where leaders write in secret code even when discussing universally-known matters, as a reflection of their status. The custom was intended to show that the author was familiar with the code, while others were not.”
The calendar differs from the long-followed Jewish lunar calendar, and also notes two festivals observed by the people—the festivals of New Wine and New Oil—which are not mentioned in the Scriptures, but were still observed as an extension of Passover and Shavout. Special transitional days between seasons called “Tekufah” were also marked on the scroll.
“The lunar calendar, which Judaism follows to this day, requires a large number of human decisions. People must look at the stars and moon and report on their observations, and someone must be empowered to decide on the new month and the application of leap years,” the researchers outlined.
“By contrast, the 364-day calendar was perfect. Because this number can be divided into four and seven, special occasions always fall on the same day. This avoids the need to decide, for example, what happens when a particular occasion falls on the Sabbath, as often happens in the lunar calendar,” they noted. “The Qumran calendar is unchanging, and it appears to have embodied the beliefs of the members of this community regarding perfection and holiness.”
Read the announcement in full here. You may also read more about the encrypted scroll here.
Christian News Network reached out to Answers in Genesis for their analysis of the announcement. Researcher Bodie Hodge, author of books such as “Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions” and “A Flood of Evidence,” expressed enthusiasm surrounding the significance of the scroll, which he said “cannot be underestimated.”
“Most people will not fully grasp its importance unless they understand the time of the Essenes, which was a Jewish sect responsible for the scrolls,” he said.
Hodge explained that the Essenes were surrounded by pagan influences.
“The area was a central crossroads in the Middle East. We often think of Israel as an isolated place leading up to, and during, the time of Christ. We envision the Israelites simply following the rule of law from the Old Testament in a blissful time. However, this view of the Israelites, and Jerusalem specifically, is heavily watered down from reality,” Hodge outlined.
“After Babylonian, Persian, and Greek rule in the region, the Roman Empire, yet another foreign power, was in control. We find Herod the Edomite, a descendant of biblical Esau, as the king over Judea, though under the control of Rome,” he continued. “Foreign influences abounded more than we may think, and Israelites were pressured to follow after their gods, customs, and politics.”
He further expounded that the lunar calendar is actually derived from the Babylonians, most likely from when the Jews were held in captivity in Babylon.
“By way of example, the lunar Jewish calendar is actually the Babylonian calendar (a left-over of the Jews’ Babylonian captivity), replete with Babylonian gods no less. For example, Tammuz, a Babylonian god, is one of the months in the Babylonian and Jewish calendar,” Hodge noted. “Hellenistic Greeks had influence over the city of Gadarenes and even raised pigs, a common food source in the area (Matthew 8:28-34), which were not clean during Old Testament times. No worries: Jesus famously dealt with that situation as recorded in Matthew 8.”
He said that the Essenes therefore wrote in a secret code at times as a way to set themselves apart from the various influences around them, and to keep in step with their set festivals.
“The calendar of the Essenes shows that no one particular calendar was dominant in Israel,” Hodge also stated. “This should be obvious, for the Roman calendar, including the Julian modification, was in use throughout the empire; and Greek calendars were also used, and so forth. Even within the divisions of Jews like the Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, and Essenes, various calendars were in use.”
“It makes sense why certain Israelite divisions like the Essenes kept things private. They had political and customary reasons,” he continued. “It also makes sense why they used a calendar different from the other groups—it was an effort to follow their local customs and festivals. Some of these festivals were mentioned in the new Dead Sea Scroll fragment.”
Hodge said that the decoding of the scroll helps modern society understand the Essenes better, but urged Christians not to read into the matter more than what is plainly written.
“The significance of this find helps us understand the finer points of what was occurring in the Essene camp two millennia ago. But I would still suggest caution about speculating beyond what we can directly learn from deciphered text and historical sources,” he advised.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were first discovered in the 1940’s by Bedoin shepherds in the Qumran caves near the Dead Sea, and have been regarded as the oldest known biblical manuscripts in existence.