BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Scrolls Hidden During Bar Kokhba Revolt Discovered

First Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in the Judean desert through excavation in more than 60 years

Scrolls Hidden During Bar Kokhba Revolt Discovered

IAA operation aerial view.
Credit: Guy Fitoussi, Israel Antiquities Authority.

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced in March, 2021 that explorations in the Judean desert south of Jerusalem revealed scores of new scroll fragments hidden away in secluded caves during the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132–136 C.E.). The discovered parchment fragments feature Greek translations of the Books of Zechariah and Nahum, both of which are included among The Twelve Minor Prophets of the Hebrew Bible. They are the first scrolls discovered in the Judean desert through excavation in more than 60 years.

Scrolls Hidden During Bar Kokhba Revolt Discovered

The Scrolls Fragments before conservation in the IAA Lab.
Credit: Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority

Scrolls Hidden During Bar Kokhba Revolt Discovered

Opening the scroll in the IAA labs
Credit: Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority

Scrolls Hidden During Bar Kokhba Revolt Discovered

Scroll-Horror Cave
Credit: Shai Halevi Israel Antiquities Authority

The scroll fragments, along with coins and arrowheads dating to the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt, were recovered from the so-called Cave of Horrors, where earlier excavations in the 1960s had identified the remains of dozens of men, women, and children who died while hiding out from the advancing Roman army.[1] The original excavators had already found a handful of scroll fragments with Greek translations of the Twelve Minor Prophets, though this new discovery adds significant new information to our understanding of the Hebrew Bible’s history and textual transmission.

Scrolls Hidden During Bar Kokhba Revolt Discovered

Arrowheads found in the desert
Credit: Dafna Gazit, Israel Antiquities Authority

“When we think about the biblical text, we think about something very static,” said Joe Uziel, head of the IAA’s Dead Sea Scrolls unit. “It wasn’t static. There are slight differences, and some of those differences are important.”

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Scroll scholar and regular BAR contributor Sidnie White Crawford of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, is similarly excited by the new finds. Crawford believes that even though the fragments come from the previously known Greek Minor Prophets Scroll,[2] they nonetheless will help fill in some additional gaps in the text. “The most interesting thing about the new fragments is that they have been carbon-dated to the second century C.E.,” said Crawford. As certain elements of the text were stylistically dated to the first century B.C.E., she said, the carbon dating may provide new evidence of the conservatism of certain scripts over time.

Scrolls Hidden During Bar Kokhba Revolt Discovered

Basket from Murbaat Cave
Credit: Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority

The recent IAA investigations at the “Cave of Horrors” are part of a broader, multi-year campaign to survey the secluded Judean desert, including hundreds of caves, in search of scrolls and other artifacts that the IAA believes are under threat from looting and destruction. In addition to the recent scroll discoveries, the survey campaign, which began in 2017, has recovered an exceptionally well-preserved woven basket dating to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period, about 10,500 years ago, and the mummified remains of a child who was laid to rest in a cave more than 6,000 years ago.

6000 year-old skeleton
Credit: Clara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority

 

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NOTE: This article may reference sites, artifacts, or objects excavated or discovered in the Occupied Palestinian Territories since 1967. The First Protocol of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, to which both the State of Israel and the Palestinian National Authority are States Parties, obligates the respective state parties to mutual cooperation and support regarding the protection of cultural heritage within an occupied area.


Notes:

[1] For more on the original discovery of the “Cave of Horrors” and the nearby and equally significant “Cave of Letters,” see Baruch Safrai, “Recollections from 40 Years Ago: More Scrolls Lie Buried,” BAR, Jan/Feb 1993.

[2] Emanuel Tov, The Greek Minor Prophets Scroll from Nahal Hever (8HevXIIgr), Discoveries in the Judean Desert, Vol. 8 (Clarendon 1990).


A version of this post first appeared in Bible History Daily in March, 2021


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Dead Sea Scrolls Online: IAA Expands Digital Library

Qumran Phylacteries Reveal Nine New Dead Sea Scrolls

Ten Commandments Dead Sea Scroll to Be Displayed in Israel

The Curse of Ham—A New Reading in the Dead Sea Scrolls


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2 Responses

  1. Robert B. Thurston says:

    While of course the fragments are all important, it would be very
    interesting to place them in context of happenings that required the
    people involved to seek refuge in the specific caves. We are
    left to assume that Roman troops forced the hiding of the believers.
    What troops (units) (leadership if known) tactics of search, based where,
    fights/battles/equipment, if known. In other words try to bring the history
    to life, I think it would broaden your reader base, immensely.
    Respecfully,
    R. B.Thurston, CPA

  2. Ryan says:

    While informative, this article neglected to say which fragments were found. I was disappointed in this lack of detail; other articles were forthcoming that (part of) the fragments discovered have been identified as Nahum 1:5-6 and Zechariah 8:16-17, part of the book of the 12 Minor Prophets. Other fragments of the 12 were found in the cave on previous excavations.

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Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


2 Responses

  1. Robert B. Thurston says:

    While of course the fragments are all important, it would be very
    interesting to place them in context of happenings that required the
    people involved to seek refuge in the specific caves. We are
    left to assume that Roman troops forced the hiding of the believers.
    What troops (units) (leadership if known) tactics of search, based where,
    fights/battles/equipment, if known. In other words try to bring the history
    to life, I think it would broaden your reader base, immensely.
    Respecfully,
    R. B.Thurston, CPA

  2. Ryan says:

    While informative, this article neglected to say which fragments were found. I was disappointed in this lack of detail; other articles were forthcoming that (part of) the fragments discovered have been identified as Nahum 1:5-6 and Zechariah 8:16-17, part of the book of the 12 Minor Prophets. Other fragments of the 12 were found in the cave on previous excavations.

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