Researchers Reconstruct Early Version of Old Testament Text From Burned Scroll
Digital technology helps scientists read one of the earliest known versions of Leviticus
From a charred Hebrew scroll, researchers resurrected one of the earliest known versions of the Old Testament using a new digital reconstruction technique that may prove invaluable in revealing words from other previously unreadable finds, said scientists who plan to make the imaging software freely available.
“Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O LORD God of hosts.” Jeremiah 15:16 (KJV)
EDITOR’S NOTE: At WHATSHOTN, we receive emails on a regular basis from people trying to assert that the Jews living in regathered Israel today are not the Jews of the Bible, and that the Hebrew spoken in Israel today is not the Hebrew language of the Bible. Those people are wrong on both counts as this exciting revelation for the ancient En-Gedi scroll of Levitcuis proves. God’s promise to preserve His word, His people and His Holy Land is an eternal promise you can count on.
In research published in Science Advances Wednesday, computer analysts at the University of Kentucky in Lexington detailed the technology they used to reveal text within a roll of parchment reduced to charcoal in a burning synagogue 1,500 years ago, “virtually unwrapping” the scroll without ever actually touching the artifact.
En-Gedi Scroll Of Leviticus Virtually Unwrapped:
This is absolutely amazing….
While important to archaeologists, the digital reconstruction technique also may prove useful for forensic experts intent on recovering words from more modern texts damaged by fire or shredding, they said. The recovery software can be used in conjunction with almost any digital scanning technique.
“Damage and decay are the natural order of things but sometimes you can pull a text back from the brink of loss,” said Kentucky computer scientist William Brent Seales, who led the digital reconstruction. “We were absolutely jubilant.”
The words recovered from the En-Gedi scroll, first made public by the Israel Antiquities Authority last year, are verses from the Book of Leviticus, making it the most ancient scroll from the five books of the Hebrew Torah to be found since the Dead Sea Scrolls. Religious scholars in Israel this week who analyzed the text said it is the earliest known copy of a central book of the Torah exhumed from a holy ark—one that is identical to the text printed in most versions today.
“You can’t imagine our joy when we realized that this was part of the book of Leviticus,” said Pnina Shor, head of the Dead Sea Scrolls project at the Israel Antiquities Authority in Jerusalem.
Archaeologists unearthed the parchment scroll—little more than a sausage-sized chunk of disintegrating debris—in 1970 at the site of a Jewish village in Israel called En-Gedi. The entire town and its synagogue burned to the ground sometime around the year 600, perhaps during a military raid. The scroll was so fragile, however, that nothing at the time could be done to decipher it.
The recovery process began in 2015 when, at Dr. Shor’s request, Merkel Technologies Ltd. near Tel Aviv created a high-resolution 3-D X-ray of the artifact with an imaging technique called micro-computed tomography. They used a commercial micro-CT scanner normally employed to study cancer cells and other bio-medical samples. Those 3-D digital images became the raw material for the computerized reconstruction, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and Google Inc.
The computer scientists in Kentucky analyzed the raw digital data in stages. They first mapped the internal structure of the cylindrical roll, like detecting the layers of an onion without peeling it open. Then they analyzed variations in the intensity of the X-ray images that might represent ink, Dr. Seales said. Lastly, they digitally flattened the resulting images, so that any writing on them could be read.
The digital unrolling process gradually revealed five sections of the animal skin that contained about 35 lines of legible Hebrew text written in a metallic ink. The words contained only consonants and no vowels, in the practice of the oldest Hebrew script.
“Most of the text is as readable as the original,” said Biblical studies scholar Michael Segal at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who has analyzed the scroll. “We were immediately struck that the En-Gedi scroll is identical in all details to what we call the authoritative Jewish text in use today.”
Radiocarbon dating of the charcoal parchment performed at the Weizmann Institute and the text analysis suggest the scroll may have been composed as early as the 2nd or 3rd century—about the same time as the creation of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
“For scholars, the scroll brings the good news that the text has not changed for 2,000 years,” said Biblical linguist Emanuel Tov at Hebrew University and the former editor in chief of the international Dead Sea Scrolls Publication Project. “This is quite amazing to us.”