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New Dead Sea scroll fragments discovered

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John Burger - published on 03/16/21

Israeli authorities trying to prevent looting of artifacts from desert caves.

Decades after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls wowed the world with ancient biblical manuscripts, dozens of new scroll fragments have been discovered in the caves of the Israeli desert.

But while the scrolls now housed in the Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem were discovered by Bedouin shepherds beginning in 1946, the new discovery is part of a major operation to preempt any plundering that may take place in the countless caves of the Judaean wilderness. 

The newly found fragments, presented by the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) on Tuesday, also bear biblical texts. The New York Times reported that they are “verses from Zechariah 8:16-17, including part of the name of God written in ancient Hebrew, and verses from Nahum 1:5-6, both from the biblical Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets:”

Experts managed to reconstruct 11 lines of text from Zechariah, including the verses, “These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates. And do not contrive evil against one another, and do not love perjury, because all those are things that I hate — declares the Lord.”

Based on the writing style, the IAA believes the fragments are from around the First Century, the Associated Press reported. The wire service also explained:

The Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of Jewish texts found in desert caves in the West Bank near Qumran in the 1940s and 1950s, date from the third century B.C. to the first century A.D. They include the earliest known copies of biblical texts and documents outlining the beliefs of a little understood Jewish sect.

The roughly 80 new pieces are believed to belong to a set of parchment fragments found in a site in southern Israel known as the “Cave of Horror” — named for the 40 human skeletons found there during excavations in the 1960s — that also bear a Greek rendition of the Twelve Minor Prophets, a book in the Hebrew Bible. The cave is located in a remote canyon around 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Jerusalem.

“The fragments are believed to have been part of a scroll stashed away in the cave during the Bar Kochba Revolt, an armed Jewish uprising against Rome during the reign of Emperor Hadrian, between 132 and 136,” AP reported. “Coins struck by rebels and arrowheads found in other caves in the region also hail from that period.” 

“We found a textual difference that has no parallel with any other manuscript, either in Hebrew or in Greek,” Oren Ableman, a Dead Sea Scroll researcher with the IAA, told the wire service. There are slight variations in the Greek rendering of the Hebrew original compared to the Septuagint — a translation of the Hebrew Bible to Greek made in Egypt in the third and second centuries B.C., he said. 

“When we think about the biblical text, we think about something very static. It wasn’t static. There are slight differences and some of those differences are important,” added Joe Uziel, head of the antiquities authority’s Dead Sea Scrolls unit. “Every little piece of information that we can add, we can understand a little bit better” how the Biblical text came into its traditional Hebrew form. AP continued:

Alongside the Roman-era artifacts, the exhibit included far older discoveries of no lesser importance found during its sweep of more than 500 caves in the desert: the 6,000-year-old mummified skeleton of a child, an immense, complete woven basket from the Neolithic period, estimated to be 10,500 years old, and scores of other delicate organic materials preserved in caves’ arid climate.

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