New Text Found Hidden On "Blank" Dead Sea Scroll Fragments

All of these small pieces were unearthed in the official excavations of the Qumran caves. University of Manchester/Kings College London/Faculty of Theology of Lugano/University of Malta

Hidden pieces of tiny text have been discovered on four Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts previously thought to be blank. 

With the help of a humble magnifying glass, researchers in the UK recently discovered their small collection of Dead Sea Scroll manuscript fragments contain hidden text written in Hebrew.

Some of the newly found text is heavily faded and could perhaps be lost to ages (for now at least), but they managed to decipher the word Shabbat (or Sabbath) on one of the most lengthy fragments, which contains four lines of text with 15 to 16 letters. The researchers now hope to take a further look at the "blank" fragments with the hope of uncovering more insights into these treasured artifacts. 

The Dead Sea Scrolls include some 950 ancient manuscripts that have been carbon-dated to between the third century BCE and the first century CE. They were first discovered during the 1940s and 1950s in the Qumran Caves near the shores of the Dead Sea in the West Bank. Among them are some of the world’s oldest surviving Judeo-Christian texts, providing researchers with an unparalleled source to study the history of the Jewish people in ancient times, along with the origins of Christianity and Islam.

Another shot of the UK's collection of Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts. University of Manchester/Kings College London/Faculty of Theology of Lugano/University of Malta

The recent research, undertaken as part of a Leverhulme-funded study, analyzed the 51 manuscripts that were gifted by the Jordanian government to the University of Leeds in the UK for chemical analysis because they were assumed to be blank. However, as the new investigation shows, the manuscripts do in fact bear some written text. 

“Looking at one of the fragments with a magnifying glass, I thought I saw a small, faded letter – a lamed, the Hebrew letter 'L',” Professor Joan Taylor, an early Christianity historian and archaeologist at King’s College London, said in a statement. “Frankly, since all these fragments were supposed to be blank… I also thought I might be imagining things. But then it seemed maybe other fragments could have very faded letters too.”

After picking up on these hints, the 51 fragments were scanned using multispectral imaging techniques, revealing that at least four have readable Hebrew-Aramaic text written in a carbon-based ink. 

“With new techniques for revealing ancient texts now available, I felt we had to know if these letters could be exposed,” said Professor Taylor. “There are only a few on each fragment, but they are like missing pieces of a jigsaw puzzle you find under a sofa.”

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