Using X-ray scanning technology, researchers from Israel and the US have managed to read an ancient, charred Biblical scroll discovered in the 1970s in a synagogue on the shores of the Dead Sea.
The document, made from carbonized parchment, was too fragile to be opened and read, leaving its caretakers unable to do anything but conserve it. After nearly fifty years of waiting, new technology has arrived that is able to reveal its contents.
Researchers from the University of Kentucky, along with biblical scholars in Jerusalem, used a computer to create a three-dimensional image of the document using X-ray scanning technology. Using this technology they found that it contained a series of passages from the Book of Leviticus virtually identical to the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible dating back to at least the fourth century.
At nearly 2,000 years old, the fragments represent the earliest known copy of the text ever found by archaeologists. According to the Times, the digital image was able to capture words which were amazingly clear and legible.
“We were amazed at the quality of the images,” Michael Segal of the School of Philosophy and Religions at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem told BBC News. He went on to say that much of the text is close to as readable as actual unharmed Dead Sea Scrolls of high-res photographs of them.
This technique could be used to read other damaged ancient texts as well.
The scroll contains the first two chapters of the Book of Leviticus, and like the Masoretic texts, it contains only consonants as early Hebrew texts did not include vowels.
Previously, the oldest known fragments of the Old Testament dated back to the 8th century. The researchers believe that the newly identified texts may help them to learn more about how the modern Hebrew Bible was developed. They are confident that this x-ray scanning technology will help them read other fragile scrolls.
“Never in our wildest dreams did we think anything would come of it,” Pnina Shor, the head of the Dead Sea Scrolls Project at the Isreal Antiquities Authority (IAA), told the Times. Now that their technique has been used successfully, the researchers believe that it could also be useful in reading other Dead Sea scrolls, and nearly 300 carbonized texts destroyed when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79.
In their paper, the study authors wrote that their approach for recovering text from a damaged object results in readable columns at a high quality, allowing critical textual analysis to take place. Hence, they wrote, “this work creates a new pathway for subsequent textual discoveries buried within the confines of damaged materials.”
An amazing new development using x-ray technology!
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