Nearly half a century ago, archaeologists found a charred ancient scroll in the ark of a synagogue on the western shore of the Dead Sea.Most of this is old news from 2015, but the last quoted paragraph brings us to something new:
The lump of carbonized parchment could not be opened or read. Its curators did nothing but conserve it, hoping that new technology might one day emerge to make the scroll legible.
Just such a technology has now been perfected by computer scientists at the University of Kentucky. Working with biblical scholars in Jerusalem, they have used a computer to unfurl a digital image of the scroll.
It turns out to hold a fragment identical to the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible and, at nearly 2,000 years old, is the earliest instance of the text.
The date of the En-Gedi scroll is the subject of conflicting evidence. A carbon-14 measurement indicates that the scroll was copied around A.D. 300. But the style of the ancient script suggests a date nearer to A.D. 100. “We may safely date this scroll” to between A.D. 50 and 100, wrote Ada Yardeni, an expert on Hebrew paleography, in an article in the journal Textus. Dr. [Emanuel] Tov said he was “inclined toward a first-century date, based on paleography.”The original reports said that the carbon dating indicated a sixth-century CE date. I don't know how we get from there to 300. And this is an interesting case where the results of materials-science testing conflict with results from a more traditional method of dating — paleography. This sort of mixed result is a reminder that we can't always take evidence from materials science as decisive. And so here is where we currently stand regarding this scroll:
Both Dr. Tov and Dr. [Michael] Segal said that scholars might come to consider the En-Gedi manuscript as a Dead Sea scroll, especially if the early date indicated by paleography is confirmed.The original report was noted by PaleoJudaica here, with past links on the use of non-invasive technologies and on the work of Professor Brent Seales, who accomplished the virtual opening of the scroll and who is also working on the carbonized Herculaneum scrolls. Subsequent posts mentioning the Ein Gedi Leviticus scroll are here, here, and here.
“It doesn’t tell us what was the original text, only that the Masoretic text is a very ancient text in all of its details,” Dr. Segal said. “And we now have evidence that this text was being used from a very early date by Jews in the land of Israel.”
Incidentally, the assertion quoted above in the current NYT article that the manuscript "at nearly 2,000 years old, is the earliest instance of the [Masoretic] text" is open to debate. I edited a manuscript of Genesis called 4QGenesisb (mentioned here) for DJD 12 which has a text (of fragments of Genesis 1, 2, 4, and 5) which is perfectly identical to the Masoretic Text apart from one tiny spelling difference and which dates paleographically to around the same time as the Ein Gedi Leviticus scroll. I believe that the biblical manuscripts found in the Bar Kokhba-era caves (placed there c. 132-135 CE) also consistently agree with the Masoretic Text. So there was already evidence that it was very old.