Scanned burned biblical scroll deciphered

High-tech scan contains 1, 500-year-old Bible verses from the 3rd book of Moses

Charred like a briquette: the 1500-year-old Ein Gedi © Shay Halevi scroll
Read out

Biblical text as a phoenix from the ashes: Researchers have managed to make a 1, 500-year-old, heavily burned scroll readable again. High-tech methods revealed on the historical document the first eight verses of the third book of Moses. So this scroll is the oldest biblical document since the famous scrolls of the Dead Sea. The scroll was found in a burnt Byzantine synagogue in Ein Gedi, Israel.

To make burnt scrolls readable for a long time was considered impossible. Because most of them are charred and compressed so that they can not unroll. Meanwhile, however, new scanning methods have been developed, and especially computer programs that can virtually unroll these rolled scanned documents. It was not until the beginning of 2015 that such a method made it possible to read a burnt papyrus from the ancient Herculaneum.

Now, researchers from the Israel Antiquities Authority and the University of Kentucky at Lexington have done the same with one of the oldest biblical scrolls. The heavily burned document was discovered in 1970 during excavations in the ruins of Ein Gedi synagogue. Shortly before the end of the sixth century AD, the Byzantine village and its church were burned down - by whom and why is still unclear to this day.

Scanned and virtually unrolled

The role recovered in Ein Gedi was scanned using high-resolution micro-computed tomography. These scans make it possible to image the superimposed document layers three-dimensionally. In the next step, Brent Seales and his colleagues from the University of Kentucky analyzed the scans using specialized software developed by them.

On the virtually unrolled document Hebrew characters are recognizable. © Seth Parker / University of Kentucky, Ehud Shor / Jerusalem

"Because the surfaces are not flat, but rolled, the visualization of the pages and the font is a very complex process, " says Seales. The program determines the location of each layer and any traces of ink on it, then presents parts of these curved surfaces three-dimensionally. The researchers can now select specific segments that are further resolved st and be converted into a flat representation. display

Eight verses with sacrificial regulations

To the surprise of the researchers, this method not only made single words readable, but even allowed the decipherment of a whole passage of text from an inner layer of the scroll. The Hebrew text turned out to be a transcript of the first eight verses of the third book of Moses. It describes how priests have to offer animal sacrifices in the temple.

The scroll from Ein Gedi is thus the oldest testimony of a Bible text from one of the five books of Moses after the 400 years of the Dead Sea Scrolls. "This discovery was absolutely amazing for us, " says Pnina Shor of the Dead Sea Scrolls Project of the Israeli Antiquities Authority. "Because we were actually sure that it does not bring much, but then have decided to scan this scorched roll."

(Israel Antiquities Authority / University of Kentucky, 24.07.2015 - NPO)