Who says history can’t be exciting? Space technology brought down to Earth by NASA is being used to unlock the secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls. When apparently blank fragments are bathed in a shifting spectrum of 28 different wavelengths of light, invisible ink script dramatically appears, and researchers are thrilled by the find.
The amazing discovery is reminiscent of the original find, which many people believe to be a prophetic sign of the rebirth of Israel. Ezekiel 37:1-14 outlines the valley of ‘dry bones,’ and many Jewish and Christian scholars consider the founding of Israel, 70 years ago, as fulfillment of this scripture.
Doctoral student Oren Ableman found the pieces when sorting through museum boxes, during regular maintenance.
“I do feel honored to be part of it. Sometimes I feel like, I’m just a PhD student and I’m finding these discoveries,” Abelman said, “It’s exciting.”
Like a giant jig-saw puzzle, historians are putting together bits and pieces of somewhere around 1,000 different manuscripts. Three-thousand-year-old handwritten parchments show the Word has not changed. A cigar box full of scraps removed from Qumran cave number 11 “preserves the beginning of Psalm 147:1” It only shows the first line. Luckily, historians had the larger fragment that it broke away from already cataloged. After they pieced them back together, the version Jesus knew well is one insignificant word shorter than today’s version.
“They had different versions, some identical to the Masoretic texts we use today, some different to more or less degree.”
Other enticing Torah tidbits hiding in the cigar box for the past 70 years turned out to be from Deuteronomy and Leviticus. Jumbled fragments of the Jubilees and pieces of the Great Psalms Scroll have also been imaged, sorted, and added to the public database.
Thanks to modern technology, anyone with access to the internet can look at the Bible in the original untranslated form. As more and more fragments are imaged, analyzed, identified and positioned, more and more of the truth emerges.
The first five books of the Christian Bible correspond to the Jewish Torah because of the common shared heritage. One of the writings recovered from the same cave as the recently examined fragments is called the “Temple Scroll.” One of the big mysteries is whether or not this particular scroll should be part of the Torah.
Experts had years of fierce debate over whether the document was something that the librarians who gathered the scrolls in the dim and distant past, the Essenes, used in their own faction, or if it was more mainstream.
Research supports the mainstream theory. Only two copies of the Temple Scroll have been found. On the other hand, with writings closely associated to the Essenes, dozens of copies typically exist, largely because they were in active use. Only having two or three copies indicates it was simply included in their library collection.
There were 25 different copies of Deuteronomy for instance, along with 18 Isaiah copies. More evidence this is not an original work of the Essenes is that the philosophical positions that the scroll takes are in conflict with their known separatist ideals.
Instead, the Temple Scroll was probably intended as a sixth book of the Torah. Without a doubt, the document is “a book of the authoritative religious law, in the strict sense of that term. It is not simply a collection of material pertaining to a particular area of religious life.”
Archaeologists had already cataloged two identical copies of the Temple Scroll. The one recently imaged from Cave 11 appears to be yet a third copy. Surprisingly, it may not be an exact copy.
Scholars aren’t even sure it is a copy. It may be something based on the content which is a similar but separate text of its own.
It was intentionally written not to overlap with anything found in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, or Deuteronomy and it goes into great detail about how the temple should be run. That probably explains why it was cut out of the five-book “Pentateuch” of the Torah.
“The authors fondly hoped their writing would actually persuade the Temple authorities that that is how things should be done. We do not know if they had any success.”
In 1948 Archaeologists started digging out the religious writings after Bedouins sold a few scrolls on the black market and word got around the religious historian community that a secret library had been discovered.
Beginning with the Isaiah scroll, the first numbered scroll removed from cave one at the Qumran complex, thousands of mostly Hebrew manuscripts written on parchment and papyrus were recovered from a total of twelve caves. Time and the elements had reduced them to tatters.
Photographer Shay Halevi has the painstaking job of imaging the pieces. Ranging in size from tiny scraps with a letter or two, up to entire scrolls. Halevi is taking “multi-spectral” images of both sides of each fragment “for scientific and conservational purposes.”
Reporters were fascinated as flash after flash of light– green, blue, red, orange, and so forth would suddenly illuminate otherwise invisible lettering.
As scientists piece together the clues, patterns are quickly starting to emerge. By analyzing handwriting, and other contextual aspects of the fragments, experts are convinced a previously unknown manuscript is included.
“What was exciting about this particular fragment is that I could tell that the handwriting was not identical to other fragments of this type of script,” researcher Oren Ableman explains. “This leads me to believe we are dealing with a manuscript that we didn’t know about.”
The entire collection will someday be available to the public on the internet.
The timing of the discovery is certainly interesting, given the 70 year time frame.