A 2,000-year-old biblical scroll has been unearthed in the Judean desert, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Tuesday. The groundbreaking discovery marks the first time that such an artifact has been uncovered in decades, since the time of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The two dozen fragments were found in a cave in the Judean Desert, as a result of a several-year-long breathtaking rescue operation with the purpose of surveying all the caves of the area, carried out by the IAA in cooperation with the Archaeology Department of the Civil Administration.
The scroll was written in Greek, but God’s name appears in paleo-Hebrew. It contains passages from the Minor Prophets, including Nahum.
Besides the manuscript, the cave harbored several other unique findings, including a trove of coins from the time of the Bar Kochba Revolt, the skeleton of a child dating back to some 6,000 years, and a 10,000-year-old exceptionally well-preserved basket which experts say might be the earliest item of this kind ever uncovered.
“These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates. And do not contrive evil against one another, and do not love perjury, because all those are things that I hate – declares the Lord,” one of the fragments reads, featuring an excerpt of the biblical book of Zechariah.
“The aim of this national initiative is to rescue these rare and important heritage assets from the robbers’ clutches,” IAA director Israel Hasson said in a press release. “The newly discovered scroll fragments are a wake-up call to the state. Resources must be allocated for the completion of this historically important operation. We must ensure that we recover all the data that has not yet been discovered in the caves, before the robbers do. Some things are beyond value.”
The cave, known as “the Cave of Horror” in the Judean Desert reserve’s Nahal Hever, stands some 80 meters below the clifftop and can be accessed only by clinging to ropes.
“This is definitely an exciting moment, as we present and reveal to the public an important and significant piece in the history and culture of the Land of Israel,” said Hananya Hizmi, Head Staff Officer of the Civil Administration's Archaeology Department in Judea and Samaria. “In as early as the late 1940s, we became aware of the cultural heritage remains of the ancient population of the Land of Israel with the first discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls," he said.
"Now, in this national operation, which continues the work of previous projects, new finds and evidence have been discovered and unearthed that shed even more light on the different periods and cultures of the region."The finds attest to a rich, diverse and complex way of life, as well as to the harsh climatic conditions that prevailed in the region hundreds and thousands of years ago.”
The conditions of the region remain challenging to this day. Some 80 kilometers of caves have been surveyed within the operation, including very remote and inaccessible hollows. Drones and mountain equipment have been employed; about half of the area is still to be explored.
The skeleton, which probably belonged to a child aged 6-12, was wrapped in a cloth and mummified.
"On moving two flat stones, we discovered a shallow pit intentionally dug beneath them, containing a skeleton of a child placed in a fetal position,” IAA prehistorian Ronit Lupu explained.“It was obvious that whoever buried the child had wrapped him up and pushed the edges of the cloth beneath him, just as a parent covers his child in a blanket," she said. "A small bundle of cloth was clutched in the child's hands.
The child's skeleton and the cloth wrapping were remarkably well preserved, and because of the climatic conditions in the cave, a process of natural mummification had taken place; the skin, tendons, and even the hair were partially preserved, despite the passage of time."