Qumran Phylacteries Reveal Nine New Dead Sea Scrolls

Bible and archaeology news

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in 2014.—Ed.

Yonatan Adler’s work revealed new phylacteries containing unopened tefillin Dead Sea Scrolls texts, confirming a continuity of Jewish practice over the past two millennia. Photo: The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library

Yonatan Adler’s work revealed new phylacteries containing unopened tefillin Dead Sea Scrolls texts, confirming a continuity of Jewish practice over the past two millennia. Photo: The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library.

The thousands of fragments of Biblical text that comprise the Dead Sea Scrolls have shed light on the origins of early Christian thought, the development of the Hebrew Bible and the history of Judaic beliefs from the third century B.C.E. to 70 C.E. Often considered the greatest archaeological find of the 20th century, the Dead Sea Scrolls have received intense academic scrutiny by archaeologists, religious scholars and epigraphers alike over the past 60 years. And yet nine small Dead Sea Scroll fragments managed to escape the attention of scholars—until now.

The scroll fragments were hidden in ancient phylacteries, or tefillin, which are small leather boxes containing scripts from the Jewish law that observant Jews wear on the forehead and arm during recitation of certain prayers. Dozens of tefillin scroll fragments containing excerpts from Exodus and Deuteronomy have been uncovered at Qumran, and some of the phylactery texts that have been opened include different spellings from the traditional Biblical text.

After discovering a new Dead Sea Scroll text by conducting a CT scan on a phylactery from Qumran, Ariel University scholar Yonatan Adler began to look for additional tefillin texts. According to a Times of Israel article, Adler’s quest took him to the Dead Sea Scroll lab at the Israel Museum, where he discovered additional rolled up tefillin texts inside fragments of phylactery cases.

Interested in the history and meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls? In this free eBook, learn what the Dead Sea Scrolls are and why are they important. Find out what they tell us about the Bible, Christianity and Judaism when you download our FREE Dead Sea Scrolls eBook.


Plate 212 in the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls digital library shows a Hellenistic/Roman-era tefillin fragment from Qumran cave 4. Photo: Shai Halevi.

The extensive Dead Sea Scroll collection is undergoing a thorough imaging project, and once the new Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in the Qumran phylacteries have been unrolled, they will be translated and digitized before being preserved in climate-controlled environments. The process of unrolling a delicate Dead Sea Scroll can be complex, and similarly delicate techniques have been used to unroll other ancient rolled texts, including a gold leaf containing the ‘Shema Yisrael and the silver scrolls from Ketef Hinnom.

The Dead Sea Scrolls date from around 250 B.C. to 68 A.D. and were written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek; they contain Biblical and apocryphal works, prayers and legal texts and sectarian documents. While these new Qumran fragments are not likely to reshape our understanding of the Biblical text, the existence of phylacteries containing Biblical verses underscores two millennia of continuity in tefillin tradition.

Read more in The Times of Israel.

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on March 19, 2014.

Which finds made our top 10 Biblical archaeology discoveries of 2014? Find out >>

BAS Library Members: Read “Archaeological Views: At the Interface of Archaeology and Texts” by Yonatan Adler, the discoverer of the new Qumran texts, as it appeared in the November/December 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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  1. stephania says

    I wonder what they say on them.

  2. Meir says

    Controversy exists until this day as to order in which the verses in the Tefillin appear. Might this shed some light and perhaps resolve this controversy?

  3. Ben says

    Stephania,..It says, “SHOPPER’S BULLETIN FROM PIC PAC

  4. David says

    I’m amazed that these have been overlooked for seventy years; what did they think would be in tefillin? This is the first I’ve time I ever heard there were tefillin found at Qumran.
    Whatever the order, no-ones going to change the ones they wear today. They’ll just ascribe it to “another rabbi’s opinion.”

  5. Chris says

    Have scholars undertaken the work of inspecting ALL ancient manuscripts whether on skin or papyrus with modern day x-ray equipment for earlier writing underneath of what, were earlier writing to be identified, would make the document in question a re-scraped, that is to say erasured, “palimpsest’?

  6. nev says

    very interesting ..scholars will compare with true bible thro the prophets ..

  7. nev says

    not so ..

  8. GENE says

    Strips of parchment were used, on which four passages of Scripture were written, namely Exodus 13:1-10, 11-16; Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21. At least in later times, the parchment was rolled up in small cases of calfskin and fastened to the forehead and the left arm. Male Jews wore these during morning prayer, except on festival days and the Sabbath.http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200001572#h=5

  9. GENE says

    Although the Israelites were told that they should ‘tie God’s law as a sign upon their hand’ and have it as a ‘frontlet band between their eyes,’ this evidently did not refer to the literal wearing of Scripture texts. (De 6:6-8; 11:18) True, they were instructed to wear a literal fringe upon their garments as a reminder of God’s commandments. (Nu 15:38-40) However, the evidence that the “sign” and “frontlet band” were to be figurative can be seen from God’s instructions to the Israelites concerning their commemoration of his deliverance of them. This commemoration was also to serve “as a sign upon your hand and as a memorial between your eyes” and “as a frontlet band between your eyes.”—Ex 13:9, 14-16.

  10. GENE says

    It appears that Jehovah meant that the Law should be kept as distinctly in view and should be as carefully attended to as if it were written on a tablet between their eyes, and as if it were a sign upon their hands, so that, wherever they looked and whatever they did, they could not fail to have the Law before them. However, the Jews, sometime after their return from Babylon, developed a formalistic religion based on traditions of men (Mt 15:3, 9), in which they gave this law a literal application.http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200001572#h=5

  11. GENE says

    Jesus Christ condemned the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, who, in order to impress others with their righteousness, broadened the scripture-containing cases that they wore as safeguards. (Mt 23:2, 5) The Greek word phy·la·kteʹri·on, “phylactery,” which applies to such a scripture-containing case, means primarily an outpost, fortification, or safeguard. These were worn, therefore, as a safeguard, amulet, or charm.
    However, the Bible counsels that the thing to guard is, not beautiful or pious outward appearance, but the heart. (Mt 23:27, 28; Pr 4:23) It stresses that what will greatly benefit a person is, not the wearing of written Scripture texts on the body, but the safeguarding of practical wisdom and thinking ability and the acquiring of understanding.—Pr 3:21, 22; 4:7-9.

  12. GENE says

    source for above http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200001572#h=7

  13. yaakov says

    Christian comments are funny…Eben though teffilin was found from BCE and in Torah and Tanakh they still try to push their belief that G-d made a mistake and changed his mind about the eternal covenant and instead sent a man-god idol to be a pagan human sacrifice for worlds sins…and abolish all the laws in Torah…lol. Greco roman idolatry is hard to kick …like
    heroin. שלום

  14. yaakov says

    These scrolls may have been “shaimis” defective writings that have to be buried in a container …which they were. As per Jewish law. So Orthodox rabbis ignore them mostly.
    I would also add.that from their discovery in 1949 until 1992 no Jews were allowed to view them. Read NY Times article about how a bunch of antisemites had exclusive sole right to study and the leader called us dirty Jews. That’s when Israeli gov siezed them and now.all can research them.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Neuf nouveaux manuscrits bibliques trouvés à Qumrân (cave 4) | Didier Fontaine linked to this post on April 7, 2014

    […] en savoir plus : The Times of Isarael | Biblical Archaeology Society |  Breaking Israel News | Huffington […]

  2. Read the Full Article linked to this post on June 21, 2014

    Read the Full Article

    Qumran Phylacteries Reveal Nine New Dead Sea Scrolls – Biblical Archaeology Society

  3. Top 10 Biblical Archaeology Discoveries in 2014 | Pastor Dave linked to this post on December 31, 2014

    […] Qumran Phylacteries Reveal Nine New Dead Sea Scrolls Yonatan Adler’s work revealed new phylacteries containing unopened tefillin Dead Sea Scrolls texts, confirming a continuity of Jewish practice over the past two millennia. […]

  4. The Top Ten Biblical Archaeology Discoveries of 2014 | Restoring Liberty linked to this post on January 14, 2015

    […] Qumran Phylacteries Reveal Nine New Dead Sea Scrolls Yonatan Adler’s work revealed new phylacteries containing unopened tefillin Dead Sea Scrolls texts, confirming a continuity of Jewish practice over the past two millennia. […]

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