The Assemblies of God Center for Holy Lands Studies (CHLS) provides a regular column to PE News that offers deep and sometimes surprising insight into the Word of God through close examination of the culture of the day, biblical sites, and archaeological records. In this article, Wave Nunnally, Ph.D., professor of Early Judaism and Christian Origins at Evangel University and a regular instructor in Israel for CHLS, examines the significance of what was recently found in the Ein Gedi scroll and the technology that allows it to be read.
On the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea lies the ruin of Qumran, whose 11 caves have yielded parts of almost 900 scrolls, now referred to as the Dead Sea Scrolls. The recovery of most of these materials took place between the years of 1947 and 1956. What most people are unaware of, however, is that the recovery of ancient texts directly relevant to our understanding of the Scriptures today is still underway, albeit at a much slower pace.
One such scroll was found in a destroyed synagogue at nearby Ein Gedi. This small village is also located on the western shore of the Dead Sea, but some 20 miles further south of Qumran and 10 miles north of its more famous neighbor, Masada. Ein Gedi (Hebrew for “spring of the wild/young goat”) more than once provided refuge to David when fleeing from King Saul (1 Samuel 23:29; 24:1). The wife boasted of the attractive fragrance her husband exuded, “My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards of Ein Gedi” (Song of Solomon 1:14). Even the prophets employ this location as a point of reference when describing the abundant life that will characterize the new heavens and the new earth, “And it will come about that fishermen will stand beside it [the Dead Sea, which is 33 percent saline and mineral!]; from Ein Gedi to Ein Eglaim there will be a place for the spreading of nets” (Ezekiel 47:10).
After all this time, a scroll discovered there in the early 1970s has this somewhat obscure location back in the spotlight today. According to Emanuel Tov and Ada Yardeni, both expert paleographers from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, this scroll contains portions of the first two chapters of Leviticus (1:1-9 and 2:1-11) and derives from the first century AD. That determination makes the Ein Gedi scroll the oldest complete copy of this part of Leviticus in existence (there are six fragments from the Dead Sea Scrolls that overlap parts of the text that the Ein Gedi scroll provides, but all are badly damaged, not preserving the complete text). This also means that it is almost 2000 years old, and that it was in use about the time of John the Baptist, Jesus and His disciples, Paul, and the writing of the New Testament! During the period that witnessed the spread of Christianity throughout the Mediterranean world and the composition of the New Testament, this scroll was also being copied and read by a thriving Jewish community that revered its every word!
If this discovery is so important, one might ask, why would it take half a century for us to hear about it? In the destruction of ancient Ein Gedi, the synagogue was burned and its scrolls with it. The Leviticus scroll was carbonized by the heat and vapors, and looking much like a cigar, could not be unrolled for fear of destroying it. Other ancient scrolls, when they were found in similar condition, simply crumbled into unreadable tiny flakes when attempts were made to unroll them. For this reason, this scroll was left unopened, its contents a mystery, until September of 2016 — four short months ago.
This past September however, Professor W. Brent Seales of the University of Kentucky announced the recovery of these Bible passages that was made possible by a breakthrough in technology. After 13 years of work, he and his team were able to create a software program that refined existing “X-ray-computed tomography,” which is similar to CT-scan technology. This enhanced technology enabled them to digitally recreate the surface of the parchment without opening it. Once the surface of the document had been “mapped”, subsequent scans on a different setting mapped the raised areas on its surface created by the dried ink of the writing on it. What emerged from this still-unopened scroll amazed almost everyone.