Thursday, May 3, 2018

NASA technology helps decipher hidden fragment of Dead Sea Scrolls - Hanan Greenwood

by Hanan Greenwood

Cutting-edge imaging technology photographs tiny fragments of scrolls found near Qumran and reveals unknown sections of Deuteronomy, Leviticus and a different version of Psalm 147

A tiny fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls contains a part of the 
Book of Deuteronomy  
Photo: Shai Halevi / Israel Antiquities Authority 

Rare sections of the Dead Sea Scrolls that have never been published or properly inspected – including a section of the Temple Scroll and a version of a chapter of Psalms shorter than the one familiar today – were presented Tuesday at a special conference titled "The Dead Sea Scrolls at 70: Clear a Path in the Wilderness."

In the 1950s, researchers and a group of Bedouin discovered a trove of tens of thousands of scraps of parchment and papyrus comprising parts of about 1,000 manuscripts that had been inscribed 2,000 years earlier. Because of their small size and delicate condition, many of the fragments were stored in cigar boxes and shelved.

Video: Israel Antiquities authority

Recently, the Israel Antiquities Authority took the fragments off the shelves as part of its ongoing project to digitize the entire body of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The special imaging equipment in use for the project, originally developed for NASA, not only shed new light on some of the scrolls but raised the tantalizing prospect that there could be an entire additional Dead Sea Scroll whose existence was unknown until today.

One section written in proto-Hebrew did not appear to belong to any of the 1,000 manuscripts known today, causing researchers to wonder if there were parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls that had never been discovered.

The fragment was discovered by Oren Ableman, a doctoral candidate at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a researcher with the Dead Sea Scrolls Unit at the IAA, who conducted the initial inspections of a few dozen fragments that were found in a cave near the famed Qumran Cave, known as Cave 11.

The writing was indecipherable at first. After in-depth research, Ableman was able to decode the fragments and figure out which sections of the scrolls they came from.

In some cases, the fragments contain only a few letters, but in others, sufficient text remained to enable the fragment to be slotted into the right manuscript. Researchers stress that because of the small size and delicate condition of the fragments, the identification is not definitive. However, it appears that the fragments contain new sections from the books of Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and the Book of Jubilees, which belong to already-known copies of the scrolls.

One of the new sections discovered in Cave 11 is part of the Temple Scroll, and addresses the religious laws for worship in the ideal Temple.

Another major discovery is a part of Psalm 147 – "Praise to God for His Word and Providence" – which indicates that version of the psalm that was read two millennia ago was somewhat shorter than the current one.

Hanan Greenwood


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