The Biggest Archaeology Discovery of this Decade

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70 years after the first Dead Sea Scroll texts were discovered in the caves above the Dead Sea, more than new “Dead Sea Scroll” fragments, including scrolls that display text from the Hebrew Bible, have surfaced.

The new scroll fragments record parts of the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, Proverbs, Ruth, Samuel, Micah, Joel, Nehemiah, Kings, Jeremiah, Psalms, Ezekiel and Jonah. An additional scroll is yet to be authenticated – if it is, it will be the first to feature verses from the Book of Nehemiah. This would be big news – pundits are even discussing the possible release of an upcoming Dead-Sea-Scrolls-themed online casino slots game!

Archaeologists are aware that since 2002, approximately 70 newly discovered fragments have appeared on the antiquities market. In Israel, where the scrolls have been discovered, experts believe that looters are searching the caves in the Judean Desert and are finding new scroll fragments that they’re trying to sell.

Last year the Israel Antiquities Authority began to sponsor a new series of scientific surveys and excavations so that they can find these scrolls before looters do.

The Dead Sea Scrolls

The first batch of Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in a series of 11 caves near Qumran, an archaeological site in the Judean Desert, located near the Dead Sea. The scrolls first came to light in the years between 1947 and 1956 when local Bedouin Arabs unearthed thousands of fragments that came from nearly 900 manuscripts.

The Bedouins sold the scrolls in an antiquities market in Bethlehem to representatives of Israeli scholars and archaeologists. Researchers believe that the scrolls were written in the Qumran caves during the period of a Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire in about 70 A.D. They are believed to have been written by members of  the Essenes, a Jewish sect that, many believe, influenced Jesus.  

In addition to the scrolls found at Qumran, there have also been scrolls found in caves at other sites in the Judean Desert. 

New Scrolls

Archaeologists have been saying for years that the early scroll discoveries are likely only the tip of the iceberg. They believe that there are many more to be found and the recent acquisition of the newest scrolls proves that theory.

The 25 newly published scroll fragments were purchased by two separate collectors in locations around the world. Steve Green, owner of Hobby Lobby, bought 13 of the fragments. He donated his collection to the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC.  

A summary of Green’s donated fragments, which include twelve Hebrew Bible fragments and one non-biblical fragment,  has been published in “Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments in the Museum Collection.” Emanuel Tov, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem wrote “Some of these fragments must have come from Qumran, probably Cave 4, while the others may have derived from other sites in the Judean Desert. Unfortunately, little is known about the provenance of these fragments because most sellers did not provide such information at the time of the sale.” 

The other batch is owned by Martin Schøyen, a collector from Norway. The texts from those fragments are described in the book “Gleanings from the Caves: Dead Sea Scrolls and Artifacts from The Schøyen Collection”. The book also describes other artifacts that were found that are related to the scrolls, including a linen wrapper inside which one of the Dead Sea Scrolls was found.

Schøyen, who has been collecting antiquities since 1986, tracked down scroll fragments that were for sale by different dealers, from a Swiss family collection, from descendants of collectors and tourists who had purchased scrolls from the original Bethlehem dealer in the 1950s and from researchers who had worked in the Qumran caves as students in 1948  and received the fragments as gifts from a bishop who supported the work.

Schøyen has amassed a collection of approximately 115 fragments from around 27 different scrolls. He says that some come from other caves in the Judean Desert  while others come from Caves 1, 4 and 11 at Qumran.

Verses

The scrolls contain some of the oldest writings of the Old Testament which are written exactly as modern Bible readers know them today. They include fragments from the Five Books of Moses as well as from the Judges, Prophets, Kings and more.

Some of the most noteworthy finds include the following:

Book of Nehemiah

The Museum of the Bible holds a fragment from the Book of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:13-16), a prophet who rallied the Children of Israel during their Babylonian exile. Nechemiah arose at a time that Persia had conquered the Babylonian Empire and had given the Jews permission to return to Jerusalem.

In the fragment, Nehemiah wrote of the gates of Jerusalem as having been “consumed by fire” and starts work on rebuilding them. 

Martin G. Abegg Jr., a professor at Trinity Western University who led the team that analyzed the fragment wrote in the book Dead Sea Scrolls Fragments in the Museum Collection, “It is assumed to come from Cave 4 [at Qumran], but in the final analysis it must be said that the provenance of the fragment remains unknown.”

Book of Leviticus

A highlight of the Schøyen Collection is a fragment containing part of the Book of Leviticus. The fragment text is that of  Leviticus 1:1-8, where God promises that if the Children of Israel observe the Ten Commandments and the Sabbath, they will be rewarded.

“If you walk according to my laws, and keep my commandments and implement them, then I will grant your rains in their season, so that the earth shall yield its produce and the trees of the field their fruit,” part of the fragment reads (translation by Torleif Elgvin).

“I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down untroubled by anyone; and I will exterminate vicious beasts from the land, and no sword shall cross your land,” the fragment continues. “I will look with favour upon you, and make you fertile and multiply you.”

Schøyen published a note from William Kando saying that the Leviticus scroll fragment was once owned by his father who got it from Bedouin in 1952 or 1953 and it was sold, along with other fragments, to a customer in Zurich in 1956.

As we said….this is just the tip of the iceberg.  The amount of fragments discovered or, as yet undiscovered, is unknown.  Surely, there will be updates on this subject in the near, and continue into the distant, future. 

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