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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  • 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.

  • 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

  • GENE says

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

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