Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Intact 52-foot Book of the Dead scroll found in Egypt

SCROLL DISCOVERY: 52-foot-long Book of the Dead papyrus from ancient Egypt discovered at Saqqara. For the first time in 100 years, a full "Book of the Dead" papyrus has been uncovered at Saqqara (Owen Jarus, Live Science).

A few observations.

This scroll is about twice as long as the longest Dead Sea Scroll, the Temple Scroll.

One would have thought that the Saqqara necropolis would have long since been cleared of all notable antiqities. It was steadily plundered for thousands of years. Archaeologists have been exploring it since the nineteenth century. Yet somehow this enormous intact scroll escaped attention until just now. As the article notes (and as I did), a shorter, damaged scroll, also containing material from the Book of the Dead, was also discovered in 2022.

Saqqara has recently produced other remarkable finds, including a large cache of mummies still in their sarcophagi and a mummy covered in gold leaf.

Egypt in general has been relentlessly plundered since civilization got underway there and, for more than a century, thoroughly explored by responsible archaeologists. Just in the last couple of years archaeologists have found a very old monastery, golden-tongued mummies, a misplaced city, an inscription of Pharaoh Hophra, a cache of 18,000 inscribed ostraca, a "new" Cairo Geniza, a temple of Zeus, a temple of Isis with tombs, documentary texts, etc., and a big tunnel, maybe to Cleopatra's tomb. These are just stories that I happened to notice and thought would be of interest to PaleoJudaica readers.

The point? Even in Egypt, one of the most intensely explored regions for antiquites, discoveries are still coming in right and left. There is every indication that there is more to be found.

And if there are intact 16-meter ancient scrolls still lying around in Egypt, what does that say about the potential for new scroll finds in Israel? Israel has fewer areas that have the right climactic conditions to preserve scrolls. But there are still promising regions. Besides the Dead Sea region and Samaria, both of which have produced remarkable scroll discoveries, both Megiddo and the Timna Valley have potential. I have discussed the matter here.

Searchers continue to find small bits of scrolls and they probably will for a long time. But the two scrolls found recently in Saqqara give me additional hope that there may be substantial ancient scrolls still buried in Israel, waiting to be found.

We'll see.

UPDATE (3 February): For another new discovery at Saqqara, see here.

Also, I should have mentioned the recent discovery of 1,300-year-old textiles in the Arava. This is another region where scroll or book fragments could be awaiting us.

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