Thursday, March 18, 2021

Are there more scroll finds coming?

LET'S HOPE SO: Are the newest Dead Sea Scrolls just the beginning? Some 600 Judean Desert caves surveyed so far, Israeli Antiquities Authority's Eitan Klein tells 'Post' a day after discovery of first fragments in some 60 years unveiled (Rossella Tercatin, Jerusalem Post).
Hundreds of caves in the Judean Desert are still left to explore, offering a concrete possibility that new biblical texts will emerge, Israel Antiquity Authorities researchers said a day after it unveiled the first such discovery in over 60 years.


By the way, this claim that this is the first such discovery in 60 years is correct, but needs some careful nuancing. The IAA press release says "For the first time in approximately 60 years, archaeological excavations have uncovered fragments of a biblical scroll."

I know of at least one biblical fragment found outside of an archaeological excavation, as well as one Hebrew documentary text. And numerous non-biblical scrolls and fragments were excavated near Jericho in the 1980s and 1990s. Not all of the recent headlines have grasped the nuance. Here are the specifics, as far as I know them.

The Ketef Jericho excavation in 1986 and 1993 discovered a total of 19 documentary texts in Aramaic, Greek, and Hebrew. They date from the fourth century BCE to the Bar Kokhba Revolt. Their condition ranged from complete to highly fragmentary. They are published in DJD XXXVIII.

Since then, a couple of unprovenanced scrolls have surfaced. In 2005 Hanan Eshel obtained an ancient scroll fragment of Leviticus from the Bedouin. He got in a bit of difficulty over this. In 2009 the IAA seized a documentary Hebrew scroll that at the time was dated to the first or second century CE. As far as I know they are both still accepted as genuine, but it's been a while since I heard any more about either.

I should also mention the "Jerusalem Papyrus," also unprovenanced, which was seized by the IAA in 2016. It looks like a 7th-8th century BCE Hebrew papyrus, but there are serious concerns that it may be a forgery.

That is everything I know offhand. If you know of more, please drop me a note.

The find in the Cave of Horror further encourages our hope for new scroll discoveries, biblical or otherwise.

While we are on this subject, I hope that excavators at the Timna Valley and Megiddo archaeological sites will keep the possibility in mind as well. For years I have been harping on the fact that recovery of very early textiles and other organic fragments from both sites raise the possibility that scroll fragments could turn up at either. Wouldn't it be nice to find some scroll fragments from the tenth century BCE?

Background here, here, and here.

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