Scientists Decipher Biblical Text From 1,500-Year-Old Scroll

Old_BibleThroughout the U.S., nearly every household has access to the Bible. About 88% of homes have at least one copy of the Bible, with the average number of Bibles per household hovering around 4.4.

None of them, however, can say they have a Bible quite like this.

According to a July 20 Discovery News article, Israeli archaeologists recently discovered the oldest existing copy of biblical text since the Dead Sea Scrolls on the charred remains of a Hebrew scroll.

Researchers with the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) used virtual unwrapping software to decipher the scroll’s contents, and found the first eight verses from the Book of Leviticus. The 2.7 inch scroll, which has been dated to about 500 AD, was first discovered 45 years ago inside the Holy Ark of the synagogue at Ein Gedi, located on the western shore of the Dead Sea.

“This is the first time in any archaeological excavation that a Torah scroll was found in a synagogue, particularly inside a Holy Ark,” the IAA said in a statement.

From the Byzantine period of the 4th through 7th centuries AD, Ein Gedi had been a thriving Jewish village whose synagogue had an exquisite mosaic floor and Holy Ark. However, the village completely burned down in antiquity — and none of the people living there ever returned.

To decipher the contents of the 1,500-year-old charred scroll, the IAA, working with Merkel Technologies Company, Ltd. Israel, scanned it with a micro-computed tomography machine. The scans were then sent to Brent Seales of the University of Kentucky, who authored a digital-imaging software that was able to virtually unroll the scroll and display its contents. This allowed the researchers to read the scroll without physically unrolling it, which could have caused the scroll to disintegrate.

Pnina Shor, curator and director of the IAA’s Dead Sea Scrolls Projects, said there was initially little hope that the scans would reveal anything on the scroll. To find one of the oldest copies of biblical text in the world was a pleasant surprise for the team, as a result.

“This discovery absolutely astonished us,” Shor said. “We were certain it was just a shot in the dark, but decided to try and scan the burnt scroll anyway. Now, not only can we bequeath the Dead Sea Scrolls to future generations, but also a part of the Bible from the Holy Ark of a 1,500-year-old synagogue.”

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