The earliest copy of Leviticus is unearthed in the ancient Jewish community of En-Gedi. The researchers said the 1,700-year-old Hebrew scroll was ravaged by fire, making it unreadable. But with the help of modern technology, the researchers deciphered its contents.
"We're reading a real scroll," Dr Brent Seales said, lead author of the study from the University of Kentucky. The ancient scroll contains the first two chapters of the Book of Leviticus that identical to those of the Masoretic text, the basis for translations of the Old Testament. The Hebrew scroll also contains consonants but does not have vowels.
Furthermore, the scroll holds the earliest copy of a Pentateuchal book ever found in a Holy Ark, an ancient chest that holds the Torah scrolls.
As we mentioned earlier, the scroll was found in En-Gedi, an ancient Jewish community formed in the late 700 B.C. The researchers believe the site was ravaged by fire thousands of years ago. The charred scrolls were discovered in excavations of the synagogue's Holy Ark.
"This is quite amazing for us... text has not changed in 2,000 years," co-author Emanuel Tov said. He is a professor emeritus in the department of Bible at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
In order to decipher the scroll, study co-author Pnina Shor digitally scanned the ancient text with X-ray-based micro-computed tomography (micro-CT). The feat was also made possible by software programs developed by Dr Seales.
According to New York Times, the virtual unwrapping technology was initially developed to read the many charred and unopenable scrolls found at Herculaneum, near Pompeii in Italy.
The deciphering of the text took time and involved three steps: segmentation, texturing and flattening. In segmentation, the researchers identified the essential parts of the scroll, which had five complete revolutions of parchment. After that, they created a virtual geometric mesh for each layers to make the text more readable.
In the final step, the experts digitally flattened the texts in the scroll, and merged the different layers together into one. The flattening step created 2D image of the text that could be easily read.
The latest study about the book of Leviticus is published in Sep. 21 issue of the journal Science Advances.
Moses wrote the book of Leviticus. It is God's guidebook for His newly redeemed people. It contains 27 chapters and 659 verses.