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July 24, 2015July 24, 2015  0 comments  History

For the last 45 years a highly fragile mystery resembling a small piece of charcoal or two-day old dog poop has been ensconced in the bowels of the Israel Antiquities Authority here. Carbon 14 dated to c. 600 CE, the 7 cm long charred cylindrical shaped parchment was locked away in the IAA's offices in the sprawling campus of the Israel Museum. Protected by guards and doors with numeric locks, the tiny manuscript lay unread and illegible, defying scientists to discover a way to decipher it.

Excavating the 1,400-year-old Ein Gedi synagogue, archaeologist Dr. Dan Barag found the scroll and dozens more even smaller fragments among the ruins of the Jewish village's Torah ark. It was the first time texts had ever been found in the remains of a Torah ark. But the content of those texts remain tantalizingly out of reach.

Barag died in 2009 with the mystery still unresolved. But Dr. Sefi Porath, his co-excavator at the dig at the oasis on the western shores of the Dead Sea, never gave up hope that scientific advances would one day allow the leather scroll to be read.

Speaking at a press conference Monday at the IAA where the newly-deciphered biblical treasure - now revealing the text of Leviticus 1:1-8 in easy to read Hebrew albeit it with several lacunae - Porath grinned like a giddy teenager. "There was no such thing as a personal computer in 1970 when this scroll was discovered."

Even getting a telephone installed in Israel was no simple matter in those days following the Six-Day War. Every few years Porath would ring up the IAA to see if there were any encouraging developments. In more recent decades he would fire off an e-mail.

"I'm a lucky person. This is one of the peaks of my career," he added.

That's no small statement from the archaeologist who in 1960 discovered the Babatha letters at a nearby site in the Judean Desert known as the Cave of Letters where troops aligned with the rebel leader Bar Kochba hid out. The priceless archive of 35 documents in Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic, tied with twine and placed in a leather pouch, contained the legal history including marriage, property transfers and guardianship of a woman who lived on the eastern side of the Dead Sea 1,900 years ago. The documents discovered by Porath revolutionized scholars' views about the doomed revolt of 132-135 CE.

Last year, responding to one of Porath's nudnik queries, Pnina Shor, curator and director of IAA's Dead Sea Scrolls Projects which includes the IAA's Lunder Family Dead Sea Scrolls Conservation Center which uses state of the art and advanced technologies to preserve and document the Dead Sea scrolls, decided to take a gamble to try to decipher the mystery parchment using a combination of two new promising technologies.

The first involved an offer by Merkel Technologies Company, Ltd., based in Yehud, to voluntarily scan thousands of 2D images of the fire-damaged tiny scroll. Utilizing its microcomputed tomography machine (micro-CT), Merkel created a high resolution 3D image.

This in turn was sent to the University of Kentucky where a computer science team headed by Prof. Brent Seales was able to complete the virtual unrolling of the scroll last week using proprietary digital imaging software which allowed for the visualization of the unseen text. That software was developed with funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation.

This is "just like what they do in the doctor's office but at a very high resolution, probably a hundred times more accurate than the medical procedures that we do," Seales explained.

Adding to the extraordinary atmosphere of high tech, hard work and international co-operation, Seales said in a Skype conversation broadcast at the IAA offices at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem that he doesn't read Hebrew. "I've never seen the scroll. And that's indicative of our digital age," the chair of the Department of Computer Science at the university in Lexington, Kentucky noted. In the background were some of the eight students who worked with him at his pioneering lab in the tedious and exacting process of making the burnt scroll's text legible. Seales beamed "We've all been celebrating here."

He was not the only one reveling.
"After the Dead Sea Scrolls, this has been the most significant find of an ancient Bible," said Shor, referring to hundreds of ancient texts found in the late 1940s near the shores of the inland sea for whom the scrolls were named.

Until the virtual unrolling of the Ein Gedi fragment of Leviticus, there had been a millennium long gap between the 2,000-year-old Dead Sea Scrolls dating from the late Second Temple Period and the medieval Aleppo Codex written in the 10th century C.E. Now scholars have a point of reference in the middle centuries.

While only eight verses of Leviticus were decoded by Seales' team, that text - which details animal sacrifices brought to the Tabernacle - confirms the Masoretic text of the Torah, according to Shor. In other words, the discovery at the Ein Gedi synagogue suggests the Torah has been faithfully preserved over the millennia, and that copyists mistakes have not crept in.

"Dealing with the Dead Sea Scrolls on a daily basis is really a privilege. The knowledge that we are preserving the most important find of the 20th century and one of the Western world's most important cultural treasures causes us to proceed with the utmost care and caution and use the most advanced technologies available today. This discovery absolutely astonished us: we were certain it was just a shot in the dark but decided to try and scan the burnt scroll anyway. Now, not only can we bequeath the Dead Sea Scrolls to future generations, but also a part of the Bible from a Holy Ark of a 1,500-year old synagogue!"

What of the future?

Shor noted that 3D images made by Merkel's Micro-CT scanner of ancient phylactery (tefillin) cases discovered at the Dead Sea have also been sent to the University of Kentucky. The IAA is breathlessly waiting to discover if the texts placed 2,000 years ago inside those leather boxes are the same biblical passages which Orthodox Jews today wrap around their arm and head on weekday mornings.

The great surprise and excitement set off when the first eight verses of Leviticus suddenly became legible may be the harbinger of even greater discovers.

The text

The newly deciphered scroll, containing the first eight verses of the book of Leviticus in Hebrew, reads as follows:

"The Lord summoned Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying: Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When any of you bring an offering of livestock to the Lord, you shall bring your offering from the herd or from the flock. If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, you shall offer a male without blemish; you shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, for acceptance in your behalf before the Lord. You shall lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be acceptable in your behalf as atonement for you. The bull shall be slaughtered before the Lord; and Aaron's sons the priests shall offer the blood, dashing the blood against all sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. The burnt offering shall be flayed and cut up into its parts. The sons of the priest Aaron shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. Aaron's sons the priests shall arrange the parts, with the head and the suet, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar." (Leviticus 1:1-8).


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Gil Zohar is an Israeli tour guide as well as a professional journalist and he lives in Jerusalem. He is a frequent contributor to Travelujah-Holy Land Tours. Gil can be reached at GilZohar@rogers.com .


May 17, 2009May 17, 2009  0 comments  Biblical Archaeology

A document thought to be an ancient text written on papyrus was seized last week in an operation led by the Intelligence Office of the Zion Region and the Undercover Unit of the Border Police in Jerusalem, in cooperation with the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery and the Archaeological Staff Officer in the Civil Administration.

The document is written in ancient Hebrew script, which is characteristic of the Second Temple period and the first and second centuries CE. This style of the writing is primarily known from the Dead Sea scrolls and various inscriptions that occur on ossuaries and coffins. The document itself is written on papyrus. The papyrus is incomplete and was in all likelihood rolled up. It is apparent that pieces of it crumbled mainly along its bottom part. The holes along the left part of the document probably attest to the damage that was caused to it over time. The document measures 15 x 15 centimeters.

Fifteen lines of Hebrew text, written from right to left and one below the other, can be discerned in the document. In the upper line of the text one can clearly read the sentence "Year 4 to the destruction of Israel". This is likely to be the year 74 CE - in the event the author of the document is referring to the year when the Second Temple was destroyed during the Great Revolt. Another possibility is the year 139 CE - in the event the author is referring to the time when the rural settlement in Judah was devastated at the end of the Bar Kokhba Revolt.

The name of a woman, "Miriam Barat Ya‘aqov", is also legible in the document followed by a name that is likely to be that of the settlement where she resided: Misalev. This is probably the settlement Salabim. The name Miriam Bat Ya‘aqov is a common name in the Second Temple period. Also mentioned in the document are the names of other people and families, the names of a number of ancient settlements from the Second Temple period and legal wording which deals with the property of a widow and her relinquishment of it.

According to Amir Ganor, director of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery in the Israel Antiquities Authority, "Theoretically, based on the epigraphic style, the material the document is written on, the state of preservation and the text, which includes a historic date that can be deciphered, we are dealing with a document that appears to be ancient as defined by the Antiquities Law. Since this object was not discovered in a proper archaeological excavation, it still must undergo laboratory analyses in order to negate the possibility it is a modern forgery". Ganor adds, "The document is very important from the standpoint of historical and national research. Until now almost no historic scrolls or documents from this period have been discovered in proper archaeological excavations. A historic document that can be definitely dated based on a reference to a historical event such as the ‘destruction of Israel' has never been discovered. Much can be learned from this document about the names of people, their surnames names and the locations of settlements in Israel during this period. From an initial reading it seems that this document deals with the property of Miriam Bat Ya‘aqov, who was apparently a widow. The deciphering of the entire document by expert epigraphers and historians may shed light on how the people of the period managed their affairs and supplement our knowledge about their way of life. What we have here is rare historic evidence about the Jewish people in their country from more than 2,000 years ago, during the days following the destruction which sent the people of Israel into exile for a very long time - until the creation of the State of Israel".

A picture of the document can be downloaded from the Israel Antiquities Authority site via the following link: http://www.antiquities.org.il/about_eng.asp?Modul_id=14. Photograph: The Scroll Conservation Laboratory, Israel Antiquities Authority.


For further details, kindly contact: Yoli Shwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority spokesperson, 052-5991888, dovrut@israntique.org.il


March 21, 2013March 21, 2013  0 comments  Events

With around the clock news coverage of Obama's historic first visit to Israel as United States President, its pretty difficult not to have one of the millions of photographs or videos about Obama's arrival. But most news organizations didn't take the time to show the actual arrival so if you are interested in catching a glimpse of the first words and hugs at Ben Gurion airport yesterday watch this video covering the first couple minutes of President Obama's arrival including the comments with Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Peres and Ambassador Dan Shapiro. If you listen closely you'll hear President Obama telling Prime Minister Netanyahu that its "nice to be away from Congress".


This morning President Obama visitied the Israel Museum to view the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in Qumran in the 1940's. The ancient scrolls include  the complete manuscript of the prophet Isaiah as well as the Aleppo Codex, among other findings from the 3rd century BC to the first century AD. Israel Museum Director James Snyder, guided Obama through the Shrine of the Book exhibit, which is located within a separate building on the Israel Museum campus.


The President's visit then continued to technology exhibition entitled "Israel Technology for a Better Tomorrow" that was temporarily erected inside the museum to showcase Israel's world renowned high tech innovations and interesting start ups in a number of areas. Exhibitors were selected by a special competition created for Obama's visit. Some of the companies that were invited to participate include ReWalk, which developed a unique device that enables people with paralysis to walk and the president even hugged the paralyzed woman who was demonstrating the device. The device has not yet received FDA approval in the United States. ReWalk


Among other interesting innovations on display include the Phinergy aluminum-air battery for electric vehicles, which extends the distance electric cars can go before they need to be recharged, Mobileye's road safety alert system which notifies drivers regarding safety hazards on the road, ElMindA's Brain Network Activation technology platform which allows visualization of brain functionalities.


After his visit to Ramallah to meet with President Abbas, President Obama returned to Jerusalem to deliver a long awaited speech to over 2,000 people at Jerusalem's International Conference Center. Among the many areas that the president discussed in his speech was Israel's high tech innovations and how these innovations are reshaping society and the relationships that Israel has with the United States which are shaping security cooperation, health care, technology and other areas are indicative of the relationships that Israel could have with other countries, including   its closest neighbor, the Palestinian Territories.


"That is the kind of relationship that Israel should have - and could have - with every country in the world. Already, we see how that innovation could reshape this region. One program here in Jerusalem brings together young Israelis and Palestinians to learn vital skills in technology and business. An Israeli and Palestinian have started a venture capital fund to finance Palestinian start-ups. Over 100 high-tech companies have found a home on the West Bank, which speaks to the talent and entrepreneurial spirit of the Palestinian people." between Jews and Arabs as well as Palestinians and Israelis."


The venture capital fund that the President referred to in his speech, Sadara Ventures, was founded in 2011 by Yadin Kaufmann and Saed Nashef.


Tomorrow Obama will visit Yad Vashem and later, he will travel to Bethlehem in the Palestinian Territories, and visit the Church of the Nativity. He is expected to depart Israel tomorrow afternoon.

For a full text of Obama's speech click here.


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Elisa L. Moed is the Founder and CEO of Travelujah-Holy Land Tours, the leading Christian social network focused on travel to Israel. People can learn, plan and share their Holy land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.

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