First Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in the Judean desert through excavation in more than 60 years
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.
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. 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.
“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.”
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, 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.
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.
 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.
A version of this post first appeared in Bible History Daily in March, 2021
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