Archaeologists have learned a pleasant surprise: One of the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls that never has been understood turns out to be a 1,500-year-old copy of the beginning of the Book of Leviticus (VaYikra).
Modern technologies made it possible for the first time to read the contents of the burnt scroll that was found 45 years ago inside the Holy Ark of the ancient synagogue at Ein Gedi excavations, 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 extraordinary find, presented at a press conference Monday, was the conclusion of efforts during the last year that brought the Biblical verses back to life after state of the art and advanced technologies preserved and documented the Dead Sea scrolls.
The scroll of the first chapter of Leviticus, was written in Hebrew and was dated by Carbon 14 analysis to the late sixth–century CE, making it the most ancient scroll from the five books of the Hebrew Bible to be found since the Dead Sea scrolls, most of which are ascribed to the end of the Second Temple period (first century BCE-first century CE).
The Israel Antiquities Authority Israel’s Merkel Technologies Company last year cooperated to perform high-resolution 3-D scanning of some Dead Sea Scrolls fragments and phylactery (tefillin) cases by means of a Micro-CT scanner.
The fragment of the Ein Gedi scroll was scanned along with the phylacteries and phylactery cases. The Israel Antiquities Authority then sent the outcome of these scans to University of Kentucky Professor Brent Seales, who developed digital imaging software that allows to virtually unroll the scroll and visualize the text.
This enabled the first eight verses of the Book of Leviticus to suddenly became legible:
The Lord summoned Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying:
Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When any of you bring an offering of livestock to the Lord, you shall bring your offering from the herd or from the flock.
If the offering is a burnt-offering from the herd, you shall offer a male without blemish; you shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, for acceptance in your behalf before the Lord. You shall lay your hand on the head of the burnt-offering, and it shall be acceptable in your behalf as atonement for you.
The bull shall be slaughtered before the Lord; and Aaron’s sons the priests shall offer the blood, dashing the blood against all sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. The burnt-offering shall be flayed and cut up into its parts.
The sons of the priest Aaron shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the parts, with the head and the suet, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar. (Leviticus 1:1-8).
Dr. Sefi Porath, who discovered the scroll in the 1970 Ein Gedi excavations, said, “The deciphering of the scroll, which was a puzzle for us for 45 years, is very exciting. Ein Gedi was a Jewish village in the Byzantine period (fourth–seventh century CE) and had a synagogue with an exquisite mosaic floor and a Holy Ark.
“The settlement was completely burnt to the ground, and none of its inhabitants ever returned to reside there again, or to pick through the ruins in order to salvage valuable property. In the archaeological excavations of the burnt synagogue, we found in addition to the charred scroll fragments, a bronze seven-branched candelabrum (menorah), the community’s money box containing c. 3,500 coins, glass and ceramic oil lamps, and vessels that held perfume.
“We have no information regarding the cause of the fire, but speculation about the destruction ranges from Bedouin raiders from the region east of the Dead Sea to conflicts with the Byzantine government.”