Thursday, February 09, 2017

Qumran Cave 12

HEBREW UNIVERSITY PRESS RELEASE: Hebrew University Archaeologists Find 12th Dead Sea Scrolls Cave.
Hebrew University archaeologist Dr. Oren Gutfeld: "This is one of the most exciting archaeological discoveries, and the most important in the last 60 years, in the caves of Qumran."

Excavations in a cave on the cliffs west of Qumran, near the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, prove that Dead Sea scrolls from the Second Temple period were hidden in the cave, and were looted by Bedouins in the middle of the last century. With the discovery of this cave, scholars now suggest that it should be numbered as Cave 12. [Photo links below]

The surprising discovery, representing a milestone in Dead Sea Scroll research, was made by Dr. Oren Gutfeld and Ahiad Ovadia from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology, with the collaboration of Dr. Randall Price and students from Liberty University in Virginia, USA.

The excavators are the first in over 60 years to discover a new scroll cave and to properly excavate it.

The excavation was supported by the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, and the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), and is a part of the new “Operation Scroll” launched at the IAA by its Director-General, Mr. Israel Hasson, to undertake systematic surveys and to excavate the caves in the Judean Desert.
Only you have to keep reading to learn that they pretty much didn't find any actual scrolls there:
Excavation of the cave revealed that at one time it contained Dead Sea scrolls. Numerous storage jars and lids from the Second Temple period were found hidden in niches along the walls of the cave and deep inside a long tunnel at its rear. The jars were all broken and their contents removed, and the discovery towards the end of the excavation of a pair of iron pickaxe heads from the 1950s (stored within the tunnel for later use) proves the cave was looted.

Until now, it was believed that only 11 caves had contained scrolls. With the discovery of this cave, scholars have now suggested that it would be numbered as Cave 12. Like Cave 8, in which scroll jars but no scrolls were found, this cave will receive the designation Q12 (the Q=Qumran standing in front of the number to indicate no scrolls were found).
I say "pretty much" because of this:
Dr. Gutfeld added: “Although at the end of the day no scroll was found, and instead we ‘only’ found a piece of parchment rolled up in a jug that was being processed for writing, the findings indicate beyond any doubt that the cave contained scrolls that were stolen. The findings include the jars in which the scrolls and their covering were hidden, a leather strap for binding the scroll, a cloth that wrapped the scrolls, tendons and pieces of skin connecting fragments, and more."
This isn't phrased terribly clearly, but it seems to be saying that the piece of parchment has no obvious writing on it, but it is being analyzed to find any faded writing that is not obvious.

Despite the lack of scrolls, the discovery of this cave is very important for many reasons explained in the press release.

At present, Operation Scroll has produced inscribed but (so far) unreadable scroll fragments from the Cave of Skulls and now a new scrolls cave at Qumran with what (so far) seems to be just one uninscribed parchment fragment. In one sense, that's a disappointing haul. But in another it is encouraging. It does demonstrate that there are still scroll fragments in those caves. Let's hope a big discovery still awaits the investigators.

There is also the possibility that more scrolls will be found during the new excavations currently underway at Masada. And there's even an outside chance of very old scroll fragments turning up at the ongoing excavations at Timna.