Sunday, December 02, 2018

Two more caves unsealed at Qumran

OPERATION SCROLL: Newly discovered caves may hold more Dead Sea Scrolls. Though no new manuscripts found so far, archaeologists are hopeful after unearthing objects at Qumran used in the storage of ancient scripts (Times of Israel). Okay, all this talk of new scrolls caves at Qumran is getting complicated. I think I have sorted it out, so here goes.

Back in 2017 there were reports of "Qumran Cave 12," in which some blank parchment and jar fragments were found. There was hope that some actual Dead Sea Scrolls fragments might turn up there too. Now they seem to be calling this cave "Cave 53." I take that as a tacit admission that, no, there were no Dead Sea Scrolls in it apart from the blank fragments.

Past posts on "Qumran Cave 12" (Cave 53) are here, here, here, and here.

In January of this year, there was a report of the discovery of a new cave at Qumran, for which no cave number was specified (at least in the report that I saw). Once again, the report expressed hope that more Dead Sea Scroll fragments would be found in it.

Then last month National Geographic published an article on the search for ancient Bible-related manuscripts and the discoveries and fakes that resulted. It opened and closed with a discussion of Cave 53 (with no mention that it was once called "Cave 12"). It disclosed that excavation was still ongoing in Cave 53 and they were still finding pottery.

Now we have this new report, at the first link above, which refers to two new Qumran caves, 53b and 53c, which are currently being excavated. So far the excavation has produced "jars, wrappings, and possible scroll fragments," but no verified inscribed scrolls or scroll fragments. It turns out that the Cave 53 of the National Geographic article is apparently Cave 53b. It is also the undesignated cave in the news in January (above).

What does all this add up to? As far as I can figure out: (1) No inscribed scrolls turned up in Cave 12/53; (2) another cave, in some unexplained way closely connected to Cave 53, turned up in January and is called Cave 53b; (3) Cave 53b was partially looted 40 years ago, but nevertheless some interesting ancient artifacts (but no scrolls) have just been excavated there; (4) a third cave, again closely related in some unclear way to Cave 53 has turned up and is called Cave 53c and there is no report on its contents or whether it is important; and (5) the excavators really hope that if they just keep digging they will find the "mother load," presumably of new scrolls.

I think the above is accurate, but if anyone else has better information, please send me corrections.

In sum, Operation Scroll is still unsealing new caves that we occupied in antiquity, but they haven't found any new scrolls yet.

UPDATE: More here, especially pertaining to point 4 above.

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.