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Scientists Discover Text of Leviticus on 1,500-year-Old Parchment: 'It's Most Significant Find of a Written Bible Since Dead Sea Scrolls'

( [email protected] ) Jul 22, 2015 12:14 PM EDT
Nearly 45 years after a burned parchment was discovered during excavations on the western shore of the Dead Sea, researchers have identified it as part of the book of Leviticus from a 1,500-year-old Torah scroll.
An Israel Antiquities Authority worker displays a scroll (L), found in 1970, along with other findings, that are yet to be analysed, at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem July 20, 2015. Israeli archaeologists said on Monday they had discerned biblical writing on the 1,500 year old scroll they deemed the oldest biblical text found since the Dead Sea Scrolls. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Nearly 45 years after a burned parchment was discovered during excavations on the western shore of the Dead Sea, researchers have identified it as part of the book of Leviticus from a 1,500-year-old Torah scroll.

"The historic discovery before us is fascinating and important," said Culture Minister Miri Regev, who was at the press conference on Monday in which the Antiquities Authority revealed the discovery. "It is instructive about the Jewish people's deep connection to its country and homeland." 

According to Haaretz, the piece of parchment from the sixth century AD was found in the ashes of an ancient synagogue at Ein Gedi, on the shores of the Dead Sea, in 1970. However, the scroll was so badly charred, scientists were unable to decipher any part of it.

Recently, researchers used a new, microcomputed tomography machine to scan the parchment, and were shocked to discover the first eight verses of Leviticus, the third book of the Hebrew Bible, inscribed on it.

The verses include God giving instructions to Moses, and begin:

"The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting. He said, "Speak to the Israelites and say to them:" 'When anyone among you brings an offering to the Lord, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock,'" (Leviticus 1:1-2).

"This discovery absolutely astonished us; we were certain it was just a shot in the dark but decided to try and scan the burnt scroll anyway," said Pnina Shor, curator and director of the IAA's Dead Sea Scrolls project, according to phys.org.

Dr. Sefi Porath, who led the Ein Gedi excavations, noted that Ein Gedi was once a prosperous community that housed a synagogue featuring a mosaic floor and ark. However, the settlement eventually burned to the ground for unknown reasons, and none of its inhabitants ever returned to claim their valuables.

"In the archeological excavations of the burnt synagogue, in addition to the charred scroll fragments, we found a bronze seven-branched menorah, the community's money box containing 3,500 coins, glass and ceramic oil lamps, and vessels that held perfume," Porath said, the Jewish Press reported.

Shor told reporters that the complete scroll would have contained the whole of the Torah, the Jewish bible and said that in the future, they will continue deciphering the rest of the scroll's layers and additional fragments in similar condition.

"After the Dead Sea Scrolls, this is the most significant find of a written bible," she added, explaining that the discovery filled an "important gap" in between the Dead Sea Scrolls, written more than 2,000 years ago, and the 10th century Aleppo Codex.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, which are the oldest written records of the Old Testament ever found, are believed to have been written between the third and first centuries BCE. They were hidden in 11 caves in the Judean desert on the shores of the Dead Sea, around 68 BCE, apparently to protect them from Roman armies.

In turn, the Aleppo Codex, a medieval bound manuscript of the Hebrew Bible, was written in the Galilee in the 10th century AD.  It was named for the Syrian city to which it resided from the late 14th century until it was smuggled to Israel in the 1950s by a Syrian Jew.