New discoveries in the Dead Sea Scrolls

©University of Manchester

New finds have been made on fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls that were previously assumed to be blank. After a more thorough study of the fragments, clear traces of Aramaic and Hebrew are visible.

The Dead Sea Scrolls is a collection of manuscripts found in Qumran on the West Bank. The texts are Jewish religious texts found in the Christian Bible and are of immense religious, cultural and linguistic significance and are written in Hebrew and Aramaic.

According to the University of Manchester, where the fascinating discovery was made, the fragments were given as a gift by the Jordanian government to Ronald Reed during the 1950s. Reed was a leather expert at Leeds University, so he could study their physical and chemical composition. It was assumed that the pieces were ideal for scientific testing, as they were empty and relatively useless. These were studied and published by Reed and his student John Poole and was then safely stored.

In 1997, Reed’s collection was donated to the University of Manchester on the initiative of Ryland’s professor of biblical criticism and exegesis, George Brooke. The fragments have since been stored and have been relatively untouched ever since. Upon a closer look at these fragments during the new study, Professor Taylor believed that it was possible that one of them actually contained a letter and therefore, according to the university, decided that all existing fragments over 1 cm should be photographed with multispectral imaging.

Of 51 fragments that were photographed, 6 were selected for a more detailed investigation. Of these, four were found to have readable Hebrew / Aramaic text written with carbon-based ink. The study has also revealed ruled lines and traces of letters on other fragments.

The most significant fragment shows remnants of four lines of text with 15-16 letters, most of which are only partially preserved, but the word Shabbat (Sabbath) can be clearly read. This text may be related to the biblical book of Ezekiel (46: 1-3).

In addition to the linguistic and religious connection for Arameans (Syriacs), an Aramean played a crucial role in the story of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

In 1947, then Archbishop of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem, Mor Athanasius Yeshue Samuel, received news that some ancient texts had been discovered and arranged a meeting to see the scrolls. After examining them and suspecting that they were old, he expressed his interest in buying them. All four scrolls that had then been discovered would be in his possession, including the now famous Isaiah scroll.

He later took the scrolls with him to the United States (he became archbishop of the United States and Canada) but they were sold in 1954 to raise money for a fire-affected congregation. An Israeli archaeologist bought the scrolls for $ 250,000 and they are now in a museum dedicated to the Dead Sea Scrolls in Jerusalem. The archbishop did however save three fragments that the church keeps in a bank vault, except for when they are displayed in museums.