JERUSALEM – Israeli researchers uncovered dozens of newly discovered Dead Sea scroll fragments Tuesday that contain biblical texts spanning nearly 2,000 years. They complement the collection of artifacts that shed light on the history of Judaism, early Christian life, and ancient humanity.
The parchment fragments from just a few millimeters to a miniature picture are the first to be discovered in archaeological excavations in the Judean Desert in around 60 years. They were found as part of a four-year Israeli national project to prevent further looting of antiquities from the remote desert caves and crevices east and southeast of Jerusalem that span the border between Israel and the occupied West Bank.
The project produced many other rare and historical finds, including a large wicker basket with a lid dated approximately 10,500 years ago and possibly the oldest such intact basket in the world. The archaeologists also found a 6,000-year-old partially mummified skeleton of a child buried in the fetal position and wrapped in a cloth.
“The desert team showed extraordinary courage, commitment and dedication and let themselves be rappelled in caves between heaven and earth,” said Israel Hasson, the outgoing director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, which holds about 15,000 fragments of the scrolls.
He added in a statement that their work in the caves was “to dig and sift them, endure thick and choking dust, and return with gifts of immeasurable value to humanity.”
The Dead Sea Scrolls, most of which were discovered in the last century, contain the earliest known copies of almost all books in the Hebrew Bible, with the exception of the Book of Esther, which is written on parchment and papyrus.
The biblical and apocryphal texts, which range from the third century BC to the first century AD, are widely regarded as the most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th century and are the subject of heated academic debates around the world.
The arid conditions of the Judean Desert provided a unique environment for the natural preservation of artifacts and organic materials that would normally not have stood the test of time.
The latest fragments come from a scroll that was first discovered in the so-called Horror Cave south of Ein Gedi on Israeli territory. It was written in Greek by two scribes and dates from the time of the Bar Kokhba uprising almost 1900 years ago, when Jewish rebels fled with their families and hid in the caves from the Romans.
The Romans discovered and besieged the refugees in the horror cave until they starved to death there. The first archaeologists to arrive in the last century found their skulls and bones in baskets in the cave.
The new fragments contain verses from Zechariah 8: 16-17, including part of God’s Name written in ancient Hebrew, and verses from Nahum 1: 5-6, both from the biblical book of the twelve minor prophets.
Experts have managed to reconstruct 11 lines of text from Zechariah, including the verses: “These are the things you must do: speak the truth to one another, do true and perfect justice in your gates. And do not invent evil against each other and do not love perjury, because these are all things I hate – explains the Lord. “
Oren Ableman, a member of the Antiquities Authority team that preserved and examined the new fragments, described the artifacts as “another little piece of the puzzle from the past.”
In the laboratories of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where the fragments were displayed for reporters Tuesday morning, he said that the concept of equal justice for all was set forth in these verses, “which will be read by people and for people until then by.” Meaning are day. “