Advanced imaging technology reveals unnoticed writing on Dead Sea Scrolls

Cristina Cross
May 4, 2018

Fragments of a possible new manuscript of the Dead Sea Scrolls have been identified thanks to a technology specifically developed by NASA for this research, reported researchers from the Dead Sea Scrolls Unit at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

A curator from the Dead Sea Scrolls lab shows off a fragment of one of the Sea Scrolls in Jerusalem, Israel.

Experts may even have found evidence of a previously unknown manuscript. Due to their small size and precarious physical state, some of these fragments were placed in boxes without being sorted or deciphered.

Advanced imaging technology revealed script on fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls that was not visible to the naked eye until now, shedding new light on one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the 20 century.

Scribed onto parchment or linen, principally in various Hebrew dialects (a few are in Aramaic or Greek), the scrolls are copies of the five books that constitute the Torah - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy - plus versions of passages within the wider, 24-book Hebrew Biblical canon, and non-canonical spiritual or instructional texts.

It was during this ongoing work that scroll researcher Oren Ableman chose to take a closer look at fragments found in cave 11.

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Another fragment contains letters written in the ancient Hebrew script (paleo-Hebrew).

The scrolls were found by shepherd Muhammed Edh-Dhib as he searched for a stray among the limestone cliffs at Khirbet Qumran on the shores of the Dead Sea in what was then British Mandate Palestine - now the West Bank.

The authority said the newly deciphered texts "provide new insights" to archaeologists studying the scrolls.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, which include tends of thousands of parchment and papyrus fragments (file photo), contain parts of what is now known as the Hebrew Bible. When he examined a few dozen fragments that were discovered in "Cave 11" near Qumran, he was excited to discover traces of ink on many fragments that appeared blank to the naked eye.

The 2,000-year-old fragments belonging to cave number 11 of the Qumran complex were stored in cigar boxes because "the archaeologists of the 1950s (when the manuscripts were discovered) used the cigar boxes as tupperware", Ableman to the newspaper The Times of Israel. This raises the possibility that it belonged to a still unknown manuscript.

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