Israeli archaeologists on Tuesday announced the discovery of dozens of new Dead Sea scroll fragments bearing a biblical text found in a desert cave and believed hidden during a Jewish revolt against Rome nearly 1,900 years ago.
The fragments of parchment bear lines of Greek text from the books of Zechariah and Nahum and have been dated around the 1st century AD based on the writing style, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority. They are the first new scrolls found in archeological excavations in the desert south of Jerusalem in 60 years.
The Dead Sea scrolls, a collection of Jewish texts found in desert caves in the West Bank near Qumran in the 1940s and 1950s, date from the 3rd century BC to the 1st century AD. They include the earliest known copies of biblical texts and documents outlining the beliefs of a little-understood Jewish sect.
Fragments belong with ‘Cave of Horror’ finds
The roughly 80 new pieces are believed to belong to a set of parchment fragments found in a site in southern Israel known as the “Cave of Horror” — named for the 40 human skeletons found there during excavations in the 1960s — that also bear a Greek rendition of the Twelve Minor Prophets, a book in the Hebrew Bible. The cave is located in a remote canyon around 40 kilometres south of Jerusalem.
The artifacts were found during an operation in Israel and the occupied West Bank conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority to find scrolls and other artifacts to prevent possible plundering. Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 war, and international law prohibits the removal of cultural property from occupied territory.
The fragments are believed to have been part of a scroll stashed away in the cave during the Bar Kochba Revolt, an armed Jewish uprising against Rome during the reign of Emperor Hadrian, between 132 and 136 AD.
Coins struck by rebels and arrowheads found in other caves in the region also hail from that period.
“We found a textual difference that has no parallel with any other manuscript, either in Hebrew or in Greek,” said Oren Ableman, a Dead Sea scroll researcher with the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Archeologists race against plunderers
Alongside the Roman-era artifacts, the exhibit included far older discoveries of no lesser importance found during its sweep of more than 500 caves in the desert: the 6,000-year-old mummified skeleton of a child; an immense, complete woven basket from the Neolithic period, estimated to be 10,500 years old; and scores of other delicate organic materials preserved in the caves’ arid climate.
In 1961, Israeli archeologists Yohanan Aharoni excavated the “Cave of Horror” and his team found nine parchment fragments belonging to a scroll with texts from the Twelve Minor Prophets in Greek, and a scrap of Greek papyrus.
Since then, no new texts have been found during archeological excavations, but many have turned up on the black market, apparently plundered from caves.
For the past four years, Israeli archeologists have launched a major campaign to scour caves nestled in the precipitous canyons of the Judean Desert in search of scrolls and other rare artifacts.
*With information from CBC, AP, Kathimerini