Ancient Biblical Scroll Is Deciphered by Computer |


Some 1,500 years ago, a fire raged through an oasis on the Dead Sea’s western shore, destroying a thriving Jewish community that had lived there for centuries. Yet amid the conflagration, the town synagogue’s Holy Ark survived—housing a fragmented animal-skin scroll that the searing heat essentially converted into charcoal.

For decades, the Israel Antiquities Authority guarded the document, known as the Ein Gedi Scroll, careful not to open it for fear that the brittle text would shatter to pieces. But last year, scientists announced that they had scanned, virtually unrolled, and translated the scroll’s hidden verses—a feat now formally described in the scientific literature.

“I’ve worked for two decades now with technology and damaged materials, and over that time, I’ve become convinced that this day was possible,” says study author Brent Seales of the University of Kentucky, who specializes in digitally reconstructing damaged texts. “The Ein Gedi Scroll is proof positive that we can potentially recover the whole text from damaged material, not just a few letters or a speculative word.”

Based on preliminary scans, Seales and his colleagues announced in 2015 that the Ein Gedi Scroll was a biblical text from the sixth century A.D. containing a column of text from the book of Leviticus. But the full CT scan results...tell a deeper story.

Further analysis revealed an extra column of text, ultimately fleshing out the first two chapters of Leviticus—ironically, a book that begins with God’s instructions for burnt offerings. What’s more, radiocarbon dating of the scroll suggests that it may be between 1,700 and 1,800 years old, at least 200 years older than previously thought. In fact, the scroll’s distinctive handwriting hearkens back to the first or second century A.D., some five centuries earlier than the date ascribed to the scroll last year.

(Greshko, “Ancient Biblical Scroll is Deciphered by Computer,” National Geographic Online, 9/21/16)