One Of The Last Dead Sea Scrolls Deciphered

The Hebrew scroll provides insight into ancient Judean celebrations.

ARCHAEOLOGISTS MAY BE one step closer to decoding the mystery of the famous Dead Sea Scrolls.

Researchers from the University of Haifa in Israel have restored and deciphered one of the last untranslated Qumran Scrolls. The collection, which consists of 900 ancient Jewish manuscripts, has been shrouded in controversy since it was unearthed more than 70 years ago. 

An Ancient Calendar

The university's Eshbal Ratson and Jonathan Ben-Dov spent one year reassembling the 60 fragments that make up the scroll. Deciphered from a band of coded text on parchment, the find provides insight into the community of people who wrote it and the 364-day calendar they would have used.

"Because this number can be divided into four and seven, special occasions always fall on the same day," Ratson and Ben-Dov say in a press release. "The Qumran calendar is unchanging."

The scroll names celebrations that indicate shifts in seasons as "Tekufah," which is Hebrew for "period." These celebrations have been known from other texts but have not been officially named until now. 

It also details two religious events known from another Dead Sea Scroll. The festivals, for New Wine and for New Oil, would have been tacked onto the Jewish harvest festival Shavuot 100 and 150 days after the first Sabbath of Passover, respectively.

This scroll also gives information about its authors, who would have roamed the region's desert between the second century BC and second century AD. Dates for the aforementioned celebrations appear to have been scribbled in the margins between columns of text, giving the impression that they were added to the scroll by one person after it was authored by another.

Virtually unwrapping an ancient Hebrew scroll. 

The Mystery of the Scrolls

As religious documents, a wave of controversy surrounds the Dead Sea Scrolls. They were written between the second century BC and the second century AD, but their exact authors are highly contested. Scholars agree, however, that the documents—which consist of explanatory, wisdom, apocalyptic, and calendrical texts, in addition to hymns and prayers—were written by Judean desert dwellers. (Read: "New Dead Sea Scroll Find May Help Detect Forgeries")

About 230 "Biblical" manuscripts make up the Scrolls, which refer to practices found in the Hebrew Bible. Other "non-Biblical" documents relate to biblical texts, describing religious beliefs and community practices rather than explicit stories mentioned in the Bible.

The scrolls are mostly written in Hebrew and code, although Aramaic and Greek scrolls have also been found. Most are scribed on parchment, but some are written on papyrus, and one has been found on copper. Scanning efforts have been made to preserve the ancient texts. 

Now, only one more known scroll remains untranslated.

A previous version of this story misidentified when the scroll's authors lived in the desert and the language most of the Dead Sea Scrolls were written in. The story has been updated.

Lead Image: A piece of parchment rolled up in a jug that was being processed for writing, found in a cave on the cliffs west of Qumran by Hebrew University archeaologists. PHOTOGRAPH BY CASEY L. OLSON AND OREN GUTFELD

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