In 1970, while excavating En-Gedi, a Jewish village on the western shore of the Dead Sea that was destroyed by fire around 600 A.D., archaeologists found the community’s synagogue. Inside the synagogue, they discovered a Holy Ark, the cabinet where Torahs are stored. The En-Gedi ark held charred debris that had once been sacred scrolls.
The En-Gedi manuscript—a burned, 1,500-year-old Hebrew scroll—required a new digital analysis technique. Previous studies had identified text within ancient artifacts, but the En-Gedi manuscript represented the first severely damaged scroll to be virtually unrolled and non-invasively read, line by line. (see video below) To scholars’ astonishment, the newly divulged text matched exactly both the letters and format of text found in modern Torah scrolls read by most Jews today.
The scroll showed two distinct columns of Hebrew writing that contain lines, words, letters, and spacing that revealed the phrases:
- ‘If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, a male’
- ‘without blemish he shall offer; to the entrance of the tent of meeting, he shall bring’
- ‘it is for acceptance on his behalf before the Lord. ‘He shall lay his hand upon the head …’
Further analysis revealed the scroll’s writings to be the Book of Leviticus, which makes it the earliest copy of a Pentateuchal book ever found in a synagogue.