'Silver scrolls' are oldest O.T. scripture, archaeologist says (Baptist Press News
Feb 27, 2004
By Gary D. Myers
NEW ORLEANS (BP)--While excavating a burial tomb near Jerusalem in 1979, Gabriel Barkay uncovered the oldest known copy of Old Testament scripture. The priestly blessing, recorded in Numbers 6:24-26, was discovered on two small silver scrolls dated to the 7th century B.C.
�This was a discovery of utmost importance,� said Barkay, professor of archaeology at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv. �These verses pre-date the famous Dead Sea Scrolls by approximately four centuries. They are the only biblical verses we have from the time of the First Temple [period].�
The two silver scrolls were discovered by Barkay�s team in a rock-hewn burial cave southwest of the ancient city of Jerusalem. The structure of the tomb was of interest to Barkay because it dated to the First Temple period, but it appeared that over centuries looters had taken all the artifacts. The tomb had last been used for storing Turkish army rifles during the Ottoman period.
However, Barkay and his team discovered that some artifacts had been preserved in a bone repository in the tomb. When a family member died, he or she was placed on a burial bench in the tomb along with personal items such as vases and jewelry, Barkay explained. After the dead body decayed, the bones were collected and placed in a bone repository located in a separate area of the tomb. The practice is referred to in the Old Testament as being �gathered unto his fathers.�
The larger of the two scrolls was only about three inches long when it was unrolled. The smaller one was just over two inches long. Barkay said the thin fragile silver of each scroll was etched with 19 lines of tiny, Hebrew script. It was years before researchers realized that the inscription was an almost exact representation of the priestly blessing found in Numbers. Careful study revealed that the Hebrew characters used were distinctive of the 7th century B.C.
In English the verses read: �The LORD bless you and keep you; The LORD make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.�
Barkay published a book about the find in 1986, but recent advances in computer technology have helped researchers discover additional verses on the silver scrolls. The new research technique revealed that the scroll contains other verses from the Pentateuch. Barkay has written a manuscript about these other finds and plans to publish it in the near future.
You can see a photograph of the unrolled larger amulet here.