Digital Dead Sea Scrolls Reveal New Biblical Insights

Bible and archaeology news

Four and a half years of scans and reinterpretation of newly legible parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls have revealed intriguing insights into 2,000-year-old Biblical texts, including the idea that the roof of Noah’s Ark was pointed, reports Haaretz.


Digital Dead Sea Scrolls: The badly damaged textual fragment describing the apocalyptic struggle of Melchizedeck was barely legible before scanning (top), but once digitized, the faded ink becomes clearer (bottom). Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority.

The Israel Antiquities Authority created a laboratory, equipped with a custom camera, to scan tens of thousands of Dead Sea Scroll fragments and complete the Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library project. Researchers photographed each fragment 28 times in high resolution, employing different wavelengths of light. This technique allowed erased or burned fragments to be readable. The historical dictionary department of the Academy of the Hebrew Language read and reinterpreted these texts and presented their findings at a Dead Sea Scroll conference held at the academy.

In a passage describing Noah’s ark, the once-illegible word following “the ark’s tallness” can now be read as ne’esefet, or “gathered,” and describes the ark’s pointed roof, according to researcher Dr. Alexey Yuditsky. Yuditsky cited other sources as evidence, including a similar Greek verb in the Septuagint (the earliest ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible). Maimonides, the famous medieval Jewish commentator, also suggested the ark had a pointed roof, a claim now supported by the team’s discovery.

What is the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls? Why are they so important to our understanding of the Bible, Christianity and Judaism? In our free eBook The Dead Sea Scrolls: Discovery and Meaning, find out what the scrolls tell us about the Bible, Christianity and Judaism.

Yuditsky and fellow researcher Dr. Esther Haber deciphered an apocalyptic text that depicts a mythical hero, Melchizedek, triumphing over an enemy, Belial, by freeing “captives.” Researcher Chanan Ariel argues that these captives were forgiven of their sins because of the sabbatical—or shmita—year, thus suggesting that monetary debt could replace sin. This view is similar to the medieval Catholic Church and its use of pardons—and antithetical to Judaism—but the researchers do not know if the practice as recorded on the scroll was the inspiration for the Catholic Church.

Furthermore, after centuries of debate, the researchers discovered what the ptil was that Judah gave to his daughter-in-law Tamar, who was disguised as a prostitute, to guarantee his payment (Genesis 38). Two fragments, once reunited, explained that the “ptil is his belt.”

Exciting new interpretations may continue to be released as the researchers work to scan and interpret the last 20 percent of the scrolls. Who knows what the laboratory and academy will shed light on next?

Read more about the digital Dead Sea Scrolls in Haaretz.

David Malamud is an intern at the Biblical Archaeology Society.

Visit the Dead Sea Scrolls study page in Bible History Daily for more on this priceless collection of ancient manuscripts.


9 Responses

  1. alans73 says:

    Haber — not Habel. My apologies…

  2. alans73 says:

    Researcher Chanan Ariel needs to understand the concept of Grace, which is a judicial pardon. That is not “antithetical to [rabbinic] Judaism,” is it? This “researcher” needs to comprehend what the incarnate (i.e., made lower than angels) Yehoshu’a thought of Pharisaism, which became rabbinic Judaism today (in its many “flavors” of Orthodox, Conservative, Reform/Progressive, etc.) 23&version=NASB

    Yes, Yehoshu’a of the order of Malki-tsedeq will certainly judge the world on a future Yom Kippur. What is the flip side of atonement? Judgment! Only believers in Him will be given Grace! If you truly understood the mo’edim (appointed times), you would comprehend when and why this must take place.

    Shema Yisrael!

  3. alans73 says:

    I agree with Ryan having “Biblical scholars” — and I use that term very loosely — refer to Malki-tsedeq (Melchizedek) as “a mythical hero.” Maybe Dr. Esther Habel needs to have her credentials re-examined and possibly revoked! After all, she is named after a character in a book that was canonized with NO MENTION OF GOD — even once! — and no evidence of it discovered among the DSS.

    If He were a mythical hero, then why is He mentioned in Genesis 14, Psalm 110, and extensively throughout Hebrews 5-7? Maybe she needs to read Hebrews 7 with comprehension. Or, is that too much to ask of a “Biblical scholar?” 7&version=NASB

    This is why she and others reject Yehoshu’a as the firstborn of Creation and our Savior who sits at the right hand of the Most High while continually resisting the Ruach HaKodesh to this day:

    Acts 7:51 “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. 52 Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53 you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.” (NASB)

    Shema Yisrael!

  4. Joe says:

    I know that Melchizedek allegedly means “my king (melchi = the king to me or my king) is righteous (tsedeq)” Yet I also note that a Jebusite ruler of a later time was called Adonizedek, allegedly meaning “my lord is righteous”. Of course, the priest who supported Solomon’s claim to succeed David was named Zadok. The bible claims he is a descendant of Aaron through Aaron’s son Eleazar. All that is the standard understanding.

    I have heard a second understanding that, admittedly, is speculation. This theory claims that there was a Jebusite deity named Zadok and that Melchizdek and Adonizedek were Jebusite priest/kings whose deity was named Zadok. It goes on to claim that David had the Melchizedek story placed into Genesis to justify the choice of Jerusalem as his capital city. Then, according to this theory, Zadok was actually a Jebusite priest/king who ruled just before David took over Jerusalem and , realizing the new situation, wisely sided with Solomon in his claim to the throne.

    The problem with all of this is that I cannot remember where I first read this. Am I imagining all this or has someone else heard of it and, if so, can you tell me the source?

  5. Ryan says:

    Dr. Esther Haber deciphered an apocalyptic text that depicts a mythical hero, Melchizedek, triumphing over an enemy, Belial, by freeing “captives.”

    I resent the fact that he calls the Melek Tsedeq character a “myth,” when it is a prophecy concerning the Hebrew Mashyach [Messiah] Yahwshwa, who upon His resurrection, “freed the captives from Belyel [Satan, the deity of the Canaanites] ,” which interestingly enough, also means “the wicked men, or wickedness.”

  6. David Paul says:

    The paatthiyl (or ptil, as they call it) may be identified as a belt in a DSS fragment, but that doesn’t mean “belt” is the actual meaning. It only means that someone a century or two BCE declared it to mean “belt”. They could have been guessing, and given the usage of paatthiyl in the Bible, “belt” seems unlikely. The word “cord” is used in the NASB, and that seems pretty likely given the contexts in which the word is found. Perhaps Y’huudhaah used a cord as a belt, but “belt” as we understand the word today makes no sense for most, perhaps even none, of the Bible’s uses of the word.

  7. Joe Cantello says:

    If Judah left his belt after having relations with Tamar– I wonder how he explained that to his wife when he got home? 🙂

  8. Helen Spalding says:

    Fantastic news! This kind of work should also be able to open up other mss which have suffered over time.

    Interesting interpretations to go with 🙂

  9. Ricardo Brandão Paes says:

    “Researcher Chanan Ariel argues that these captives were forgiven of their sins because of the sabbatical—or shmita—year, thus suggesting that monetary debt could replace sin. ” The Catholic Church will love it. The indulgences will return! …

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