Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
Breaking News

Digital Imaging ‘Unwraps’ 1,500-Year-Old Biblical Scroll

Israeli archaeologists said on Monday they had discerned biblical writing on a charred 1,500-year-old parchment with the help of digital imaging and described the text as the oldest found since the Dead Sea Scrolls.

U.S. and Israeli researchers made the discovery using advanced medical and digital technology to examine the object, first unearthed 45 years ago when then-standard forensics could not decipher any script on the scroll.

“This is a really big discovery,” Pnina Shor, curator at the Israel Antiquities Authority, told a news conference where the five-centimeter-long (two-inch) cylindrical object was put on display.

“After the Dead Sea Scrolls, this has been the most significant find of an ancient Bible,” said Shor, referring to hundreds of ancient texts found in the late 1940s near the shores of the inland sea for whom the scrolls were named.

Scientists estimate that the Dead Sea Scrolls, widely considered the oldest written biblical fragments ever found, date to between the third century B.C. and 70 A.D.

The scroll presented on Monday was uncovered in 1970 at Ein Gedi, about 40 km (25 miles) south of the caves of Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.

Archaeologist Sefi Porat, 75, co-director of the dig, said the scroll dated to around the year 600 and turned up inside the remains of an ancient synagogue, which he chanced upon while exploring ceramic tiles at the beachside site.

At the time it was found, forensics technology then used to analyze ancient finds could not discern any writing on the badly charred scroll, he said. But a few years ago he sought more help from Israeli experts handling the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Merkel Technologies, an Israeli company specializing in high-tech medical equipment, helped in the deciphering by providing micro C-T scanning, Shor said.

These findings were sent to Brent Seales, a computer expert at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. Seales said he used digital imaging software to “virtually unwrap” the scroll and visualize its text, discerning what experts said were the first eight verses of the Bible’s Old Testament book of Leviticus.

Shor said more research was needed to determine the full extent of text on the scroll and what lessons it might hold for biblical scholars. But she said the findings had already turned out to be far more significant than anticipated.

“The discovery absolutely astonished us. We were certain this was a shot in the dark,” Shor said.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.