Ancient Hebrew scroll burned in centuries-old fire finally deciphered

To unlock the mysteries contained in the charred parchment, the remains of the Ein Gedi Scroll were analyzed in Israel using a micro-CT scanner.

September 22, 2016 14:16
1 minute read.
Ancient Ein Gedi Scroll

Ein Gedi Scroll fragment. (photo credit: Israel Antiquities Authority)


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A Hebrew scroll burned in an ancient fire and thought to be unreadable for over 1,000 years has finally revealed its contents to American and Israeli scientists who struggled to unravel its text.

Experts believe the ancient parchment contains verses from the book of Leviticus, according to

The important archeological discovery announced Wednesday was made possible through the use of a state-of-the-art technological process called “virtual unwrapping.”

“We’re reading a real scroll,” said University of Kentucky professor Brent Seales, who published the first paper on the subject in the journal Science Advances this week. “It hasn’t been read for millennia. Many thought it was probably impossible to read.”

Although unsure of the manuscript’s precise age, radiocarbon dating of the parchment suggests it dates back to the third or fourth century.

The parchment, known to be part of the Ein Gedi scrolls discovered in 1970, was likely burned in a fire that destroyed a synagogue in the year 600 CE, according to the report.

To unlock the mysteries contained in the charred parchment, the scrolls were analyzed in Israel using a micro-CT scanner. They were then methodically analyzed in conjunction with Antiquities Authority expert Pnina Shor and her team.

“The real joy came when [Shor] sent me back the result of having read our first results, because then I knew not only were we seeing writing, but it was readable,” Seales said.

“She and her team were able to identify it as a known text, and at that point, we were absolutely jubilant, I have to say.”

According to Seales, the radiocarbon dating on the charred remains of the Ein Gedi scroll means that the scroll is the oldest found text in Hebrew from the first five books of the Bible (the Pentateuch).

Dr. Michael Segal, a coauthor of the study and professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said he was “amazed at the quality of the images.”

He added that it was safe to say that “since the completion of the publication of the corpus of Dead Sea Scrolls about a decade ago... the Ein-Gedi Leviticus scroll is the most extensive and significant Biblical text from antiquity that has come to light.”

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