Breaking News: Hidden Text Found on Blank Dead Sea Scroll

In last week’s Nugget I pretended to give you a News Flash about a fire that had burned up all of the New Testament documents. That was pretence, but this week I am sharing with true Breaking News. These fragments were presented Tuesday evening (May 1st 2018) as part the Dead Sea Scrolls at Seventy: Clear Path in the Wilderness Conference.

There have been a number of scholars and computer technicians working on digitalizing the Dead Sea Scrolls in order to preserve their delicate message as well providing the public with the best images of the scrolls. Oren Ableman, a PhD student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was one of those working on the digitalisation project. When Oren examined a few dozen fragments that were discovered in “Cave 11” near Qumran he was excited to discover traces of ink on many fragments that appeared blank to the naked eye. After a detailed study released Tuesday these examinations revealed that although no script can be seen with the naked eye, there was indeed hidden text written there. New imaging technology (originally developed for NASA) used in the digitization project identified script on some fragments. The identification of new letters and words provides new data for the study of the scrolls. One of the fragments may even indicate the existence of a hitherto unknown manuscript.

A fragment of Deuteronomy (11Q3) after Reverse Imaging at the scroll lab Shai Halevi (Israel Antiquities Authority)

Due to Reverse Imaging Software the team have successfully deciphered the script on many of the fragments and have even identified the original manuscripts that some of the new fragments probably belonged to. Although only a few letters survived in these small fragments, sometimes this was enough to reconstruct the text. Still, due to the fragmentary nature of the evidence these reconstructions are highly likely but are expressed with degree of uncertainty.

This photo shows the process of digital imaging at work and the ease with which a text which is difficult to read can be enhanced with Reverse Imaging software. This fragment has been identified as belonging to the Great Psalms Scroll (11Q5). The new fragment preserves part of the beginning of Psalm 147:1. The end of the same verse is preserved in a large fragment that was purchased and originally published by Yigal Yadin. The new fragment indicates that the text of Psalm 147:1 in this manuscript was slightly shorter than the Hebrew text commonly used nowadays. Another fragment contains letters written in the ancient Hebrew script (paleo-Hebrew). This fragment could not be attributed to any one of the known manuscripts. This raises the possibility that it belonged to a still unknown manuscript.

During the 1950s, tens of thousands parchment and papyrus fragments written 2000 years ago and belonging to approximately 1,000 different manuscripts were discovered in the caves near Qumran. Due to their small size and precarious physical state, some of these fragments were placed in boxes without being sorted or deciphered. There is still much work to be done in Dead Sea Scroll research but with the help of modern technology new insights are coming forth on the Qumran text and the significance and trustworthy nature of the text of the Bible.

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