Dozens of fragments of a 2,000-year-old biblical “Dead Sea” scroll have been found in a cave in the Judean desert, Israel. It is the first time such text has been found in 60 years, since the motherload of Dead Sea scrolls was found in the 40’s and 50’s. They are one of a number of finds made in a largescale historic survey by the Israeli authorities of the Judean desert cave system.
Antiquities Rescue Mission Finds Dead Sea Scroll Fragments
The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) have announced “magnificent and rare” finds after completing an operation to protect the cultural treasures that were vulnerable to looting in the Judean Desert Nature Reserve.
According to the IAA, this is the first time such text fragments have been found since the last find of the famous Dead Sea scroll parchments were recovered from caves in Qumran in the West Bank. These famous parchments are remains of the oldest copies of biblical text in the world, dating back to between the 3 rd century BC and the 1 st century AD.
The operation to survey and excavate the desert caves and ravines has been running since 2017. It is a collaboration between the IAA and the Staff Officer of the Archaeology Department of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria, with funding from the Landmarks Program of the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, explained the IAA statement .
Since the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered in the region over 70 years ago, the area has been targeted by thieves and looters. The aim of the survey was to find and recover any antiquities that might remain in the area, to save them from the hands of thieves.
According to Amir Ganor, head of the Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit, the operation has been a real success. Ganor stated that “since the commencement of the operation in 2017 there has been virtually no antiquities plundering in the Judean Desert,” reports AP News .
Investigator repels into Cave 8 at Nahal Hever known as the Cave of Horror, where the Dead Sea scroll fragments were recently discovered. (Eitan Klein / Israel Antiquities Authority )
Missing Pieces Miraculously Found In The “Cave of Horror”
According to an IAA film on the discovery, around 20 fragments were initially discovered in the new find, and this number rose to 80 in total according to AP News . Based on the writing style they are from the 1 st century AD, states the IAA.. The content of the text includes sections from the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets including lines from the books of Zechariah and Nahum, written in Greek.
It is thought that the new parchment finds are some of the missing pieces of a larger group of scroll fragments that were previously discovered in the cave known as the “Cave of Horror.” This cave, designated as “Cave 8,” is located in Nahal Hever, and lies 80 meters (262 feet) below the clifftop, so it is only accessible using climbing equipment .
In 1952, the cave was found to contain the remains of 40 men, women and children that were hiding out from the Romans during the Bar Kokhba Revolt . This was when the Jewish rebels attempted an uprising against the Roman regime of Emperor Hadrian. The revolt lasted from 132-136 AD, and initially Jews gained a great deal of territory, including 50 strongholds and almost a thousand towns and villages, including Jerusalem.
But their success was to be short lived. They were defeated by the tactics of Julius Severus, who besieged the Jewish fortresses and camps until rations were exhausted and the people were weak. This seems to be what happened at the Cave of Horror. The group hid for as long as they could last but are thought to have eventually died of starvation or thirst.
Found along with the Dead Sea scroll fragments in the cave was a cache of coins. The entire coin hoard is thought to have been hidden during the Jewish Bar Kokhba revolt.
Coins from the Bar Kokhba period recovered from the Cave of Horror. (Dafna Gazit / Israel Antiquities Authority )
Other Ancient Finds From The 500 Plus Nahal Hever Caves
The survey has been a massive operation and has included the investigation of over 500 caves. The arid conditions of the caves have allowed items to be preserved over many millennia. Other important finds discovered during the survey were far more ancient than the Roman period.
These include the 6000-year-old mummified remains of a child, and what is believed to be the oldest completely intact woven basket and lid in the world, which has been radiocarbon dated to as old as 10,500 years.
6,000-year-old skeleton of a girl or a boy who was buried wrapped in cloth in one of the many Nahal Hever caves. (Emil Aladjem / Israel Antiquities Authority )
The ancient skeleton had been wrapped in a material and placed in a dug out pit, underneath two stones, reports the Jerusalem Post . The remains included naturally mummified flesh and other organic matter and “a small bundle of cloth was clutched in the child’s hand,” said Ronit Lupu, an IAA prehistorian, who went on to state:
“…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.”
The 10,500-year-old basket as it was found in the Muraba‘at Cave. (Yoli Schwartz / Israel Antiquities Authority )
The Oldest Basket In The World?
The oldest find on the list of outstanding discoveries was recovered from Muraba‘at Cave, 18 km (11.2 miles) south of Qumran. It is a woven basket , complete with lid. It has been dated to the Neolithic period, around 10,500 years ago, and the IAA claim this is possibly the oldest complete basket ever to be found anywhere in the world.
These finds are highlights of what has been deemed an extremely successful archaeological search and rescue operation.
Top image: Sections of the Book of the Twelve Minor Prophets scroll discovered in the Judean Desert expedition prior to their conservation. Source: Shai Halevi / Israel Antiquities Authority
By Gary Manners