A small, seemingly unremarkable burned parchment fragment found 45 years ago during excavations on the western shore of the Dead Sea has emerged after hi-tech sequencing as part of the Book of Leviticus from a 1,500-year-old Torah scroll.
The find from an excavation of the ark of the synagogue at Ein Gedi was deemed the most important discovery since the Dead Sea Scrolls at its unveiling Monday at the Antiquities Authority’s Jerusalem laboratory in the Israel Museum.
“The deciphering of the fragment, which was a puzzle for us for 45 years, is very exciting,” said Dr. Sefi Porath, who led the Ein Gedi excavations.
According to Porath, Ein Gedi – a Jewish village in the Byzantine period during the 4th-7th centuries CE – was once a prosperous community that housed a synagogue featuring a mosaic floor and ark.
“The settlement was completely burned to the ground, and none of its inhabitants ever returned to reside there again, or to pick through the ruins in order to salvage valuable property,” he explained. “In the archeological excavations of the burnt synagogue, in addition to the charred scroll fragments, we found a bronze seven-branched menorah, the community’s money box containing 3,500 coins, glass and ceramic oil lamps, and vessels that held perfume.”
While Porath noted that the cause of the fire remains unknown, he said that speculation about the destruction ranges from Beduin raiders coming from east of the Dead Sea, to conflicts with the Byzantine government.
At the conference, hosted by the IAA and Culture and Sports Ministry, the archeologist said it took scientists and researchers around the globe over one year to decipher the Torah verses, which he found with his late colleague, Dr. Dan Barag.
The grueling process, he said, was undertaken at the Lunder Family Dead Sea Scrolls Conservation Center of the IAA, which uses state-ofthe- art and advanced technologies to preserve and document the Dead Sea scrolls.
The burnt relic is the most ancient scroll from the five books of Moses to be found since the Dead Sea scrolls, most of which are ascribed to the end of the Second Temple period, he said.
To decipher the charred remains, about one year ago the IAA began working with Merkel Technologies Company, Ltd. Israel, which performed high-resolution 3D scanning of some Dead Sea Scrolls fragments and phylactery cases via a Micro-CT scanner.
After the fragment of the Ein Gedi scroll was scanned, the IAA sent the results to Professor Brent Seales of the University of Kentucky, who developed a digital-imaging software capable of visualizing the text.
Seale’s software was then able to discern the first eight verses of the Book of Leviticus.
Pnina Shor, curator and director of IAA’s Dead Sea Scrolls Projects, said this is the first time in any archeological excavation that a Torah scroll fragment was found in a synagogue ark.
“This discovery absolutely astonished us,” said Shor. “We were certain it was just a shot in the dark, but decided to try and scan it anyway. Now, not only can we bequeath the Dead Sea Scrolls t o f u t u r e generations, but also a part of t h e Bible from the ark of a 1,500-year-old synagogue!”