Hidden Script Uncovered in Fragments of Dead Sea Scrolls

The Great Psalms Scroll (11Q5) together with the new fragment containing Psalm 147:1. Photo by Shai Halevi/Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library

NASA technology reveals paleo-Hebrew writing, not visible to the naked eye, pointing to the possibility of an unknown Dead Sea Scroll

Two-thousand-year-old Dead Sea Scroll fragments, containing script previously invisible to the naked eye, were discovered and presented last week at an international conference honoring 70 years since the scroll’s discovery in Judean Desert cave.

The script was identified by an Israel Antiquities Authority researcher using advanced imaging technology originally developed for NASA. The discovery provides new clues and information for the study of the scrolls, one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th century.

Dead Sea Scroll researcher Oren Ableman examining the ink traces that have been discovered. Photo by Shai Halevi/IAA

When the fragments were discovered in the 1950s by archaeologists and Bedouin in the caves near Qumran, they were placed in boxes without being sorted or deciphered due to their small size and delicate state.

Recently, as part of a project by the Israel Antiquities Authority to digitize the scrolls and make high-quality images available to the public, samples from the boxes were examined using new imaging technology capable of identifying script on some fragments. One of the fragments may even indicate the existence of a previously unknown manuscript.

The new script was discovered by Oren Ableman, a scroll researcher at the Dead Sea Scrolls Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority and a PhD student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as he examined fragments found in “Cave 11” near Qumran.

Ableman observed that traces of ink on certain fragments appeared blank to the naked eye. He was able to decipher the script and identify the manuscripts some of the new fragments may have belonged to.

New fragments of known scrolls were discovered and identified from the books of Deuteronomy, Leviticus and Jubilees.

Of particular interest to researchers are a fragment from the Temple Scroll, a text dealing with directions for conducting the services in the ideal Temple; a fragment from the Great Psalms Scroll (11Q5); and a fragment written in ancient Paleo-Hebrew that may be part of an unknown manuscript.

By: Rebecca Stadlen Amir
(Israel 21C)

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