Ein Gedi Scroll: Ancient Document Virtually Unwrapped With Micro-CT Scanner

The Ein Gedi Scroll, which was reduced to charcoal amid a devastating synagogue fire, was virtually unwrapped using a micro-CT scanner. On Monday, scientists revealed the document, which is estimated to be 2,000-years-old, contains the first eight verses of the Book of Leviticus.

During the Byzantine period, Ein Gedi was a thriving Jewish village with an impressive synagogue. However, the settlement and the synagogue were burned to the ground amid a conflict with Byzantine emperor Justinian.

Although priceless treasures, including the Ein Gedi Scroll and several other significant documents, were buried in the ruins, the survivors did not return to the site after the fire.

During a 1970 excavation of the former Ein Gedi synagogue, archaeologists with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Israel Antiquities Authority unearthed an animal-skin scroll, which appeared to be damaged beyond repair.

Antiquities Authority reports the Ein Gedi Scroll resembles a hunk of charcoal. In addition to being charred, the ancient document is incredibly fragile. Therefore, it could not be opened, and the text was impossible to read. With few options, the researchers were forced to place the scroll in a box and store it among scores of other heavily damaged scrolls.

Although it took more than 40 years, scientists found a way to virtually unwrap and read the burned scroll.

Last year, Merkel Technologies, Ltd. Israel offered to help researchers who were attempting to preserve the Dead Sea Scrolls. Using a Bruker Skyscan model 1176 Micro-CT scanner, the researchers found a way to make 3D images of the documents without causing further damage.

The researchers also used the technology to scan the Ein Gedi Scroll. To everyone’s surprise, they scan revealed legible writing.

The results from the scan were published by Science Advances on Wednesday. Essentially, the scientists learned the Ein Gedi Scroll contains “the book of Leviticus, which makes it the earliest copy of a Pentateuchal book ever found in a Holy Ark and a significant discovery in biblical archaeology.”

As reported by New York Times, historians believe the standard Hebrew Bible originated approximately 2,000 years ago. However, they were unable to find any physical proof to substantiate their theory.

Prior to the scan of Ein Gedi Scroll, the oldest confirmed fragments of the standard Hebrew Bible were estimated to be from the eighth century. Mashable reports the recently scanned scroll was likely written between the first and fourth centuries C.E.

Although carbon dating suggests it was not written until the third or fourth century, paleographic data suggests the Ein Gedi Scroll is much older and was likely written closer to the end of the first century C.E. or the beginning of the second-century C.E.

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The scroll is especially significant because the text does not differ much from scrolls written thousands of years later.

“The En-Gedi’s scroll’s writings are nearly 100 percent identical to the medieval texts, both in consonants and in paragraph divisions…”

Interestingly, the verses found on the En Gedi Scroll, which were determined to be Leviticus 1:1-8, outline the process of offering burnt offerings to the Lord.

“The LORD summoned Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying: Speak to the people of Israel and say to them… You shall lay your hand on the head of the burnt-offering, and it shall be acceptable in your behalf as atonement for you… The burnt-offering shall be flayed and cut up into its parts.”

Tel Aviv University Dead Sea Scroll expert Noam Mizrahi was not part of the En Gedi Scroll research team. However, he said the Micro-CT scanner results are promising and offer hope for interpreting and preserving other similarly damaged documents.

[Featured Image by Nejron Photo/Shutterstock]